Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Miracle in the Meeting Room

An Unreal Story, That Happened to Me...

I have over three hundred powerpoint files on my laptop, which can roughly also mean that I have made the same number of presentations in the past eight years, plus minus a few that may have got lost, not been backed up, or missing for reasons that seem irrelevant today.

There are few things that I have almost got used to the routine of making these presentations.

The drive to the client's office is usually a long one, sometimes catching up with emails, phone calls, ideations, small talk, but one thing doesn't change, traffic, and the impatience that comes along with it. 

A standard template text message to the client informing about the duration of delay, expected arrival time, and an apology which in most cases I don't really mean from the bottom of my heart, but more of blame the infrastructure that our honest municipality offer us here in Mumbai.

Thirdly, comes the irritating security at the gates, most of them untrained in basics of manners, mostly making you look like a hindrance in their lives, and almost giving you the feeling that your laptop is a ticking time bomb. 

A register to mark your entry, with your name, company, mobile number, and some more details I have to give voluntarily. I wouldn't be surprised if they ask me my education qualification, underwear size, and other intricate and personal details. There always is a completely stupid form field, called Purpose, and its Official all the time, I can bet my life that if I write, Bombing, Mass killing, Data Theft and I'll happily be allowed to pass through. This is then followed with a leash around you neck, with a big black font of 72 point size, saying VISITOR.
So much for Atithi Dev Bhava. 

Part 5, is a rude, or fake smiled receptionist, who will ask who you want to meet, but never dials to tell them you have arrived, which you then have to inform via your cellphone.  

Then comes the "reception meditation" - Which is the endless silent wait for the client to finally have some pity on you lingering around.

Followed by the hunt for a meeting room, after battling with others, which is no less than the Panipat Battle of the 18th century. 

Finally you are in. A few handshakes, exchanging visiting cards, the treacherous long wait for the laptop to load, the projector to connect and Eureka! It's camera, lights, action!

Only this time the story takes a new turn.
An unexpected turn I would never ever forget in my whole life. Who knew?

So its the usual, loading the laptop, cards exchanged and a wait for a few more colleagues to join in. 

Small talk.

The man on the head of the conference table, is a senior, grey haired, jolly looking man, content with his position, and fairly senior in designation. His personality exhumed confidence and an aura of experience.  

My colleague is elated with his presence.

"It is an honor to have your presence in one of presentations Sir!"

He laughs at the compliment and doesn't accept it, humbly.

"I like this guy", I say to myself. Something nice about him.

The wait is a little longer than we expect. The man picks up my card out of lack of activity going around, and studies it...

"You know my first boss' surname was also Merchant, he tells me. We were in Indo Pharma, Biddle Sawyer and some other companies together." He says fondly almost slipping into nostalgia.

The companies he names sounded very familiar. I had heard them, and not because I work closely with the healthcare market, but for other reasons. I had heard these names in my childhood. These companies didn't exist anymore, and No! I wasn't an ardent reader of the newspaper then.

I am tempted to ask him, and for some reason I don't hesitate. 

An unusual question.

Sir, what was your first boss' name?

Yasin Merchant, he replies promptly.

I feel a huge surge of emotion. 
My ears feel the gush of blood. 
Adrenaline pumps.
Heart beats faster.
My excitement cannot be contained. 
My hands feel a tremble. 
I manage to mumble a sentence.

"That's my Dad"

Six people in the conference room. 
All turn their heads to me, unbelievably.

The gentleman verifies my statement. 
"You mean, Yasin Merchant, from Kemps Corner?" 
"The building which was near Cumballa Hill?"
"Tall, lean man who used to smoke?"

And I am just nodding my head in approval. Yes yes yes....

I stand up and shake hands with him again. This time it was different, not like a business handshake. It was on an emotional level, because words couldn't not explain 'our' excitement levels, and the entire room sensed it.

The gentleman, begins narrating anecdotes about my father. He recalls the times when he interacted with him. He starts with his personality, tall, dark, sharp, very good at his work, how he was mentored by him, how he was 'brewed' by him, my dad was his inspiration and how he was a big reason behind this man's success.
It is a five minute speech. 

In between the man's boss comes in, but that doesn't deter him from going on.

I am overwhelmed. I cannot contain my tears. I can almost feel my eyes moist. I quickly blink a couple of times and try to stop them. I manage to, with extreme difficulty. 

For a person like me, who can have tears rolling down my eyes for a flop movie, like Waqt, starring Amitabh and Akshay Kumar, this was a real story... MY dad's story, so you can imagine my plight.

The man wants to talk to my father, right there, right now. I quickly dial my landline, but since its noon, the phone just keeps ringing, with no one to receive it. I then dial my wife, and ask her to hand the phone over to dad. She tells me he is sleeping, but I tell her to wake him up, someone wants to speak to him. 

Surprised, she gently asks dad to wake up. 

Its urgent, she says.

The gentleman takes my phone and humbly, very humbly, introduces himself.

Boss? Boss!
(And this wasn't like the Boss you refer to someone to meet in the train or bus, who you want to ask for way, or someone you intend to push of at the next stop.) in your senior. Someone who you call fondly 'Boss', because he or she is someone you look upto, and sometimes you don't want to refer by name, out of sheer respect.

Boss? Its me. (Introduces himself by name) Pehchana?

Kaise ho? How are you? Long time sir?

All good?

Your son is in front of me, making a presentation.

Very happy to speak to you Sir!

Yes Sir! Aata hoon. Ill come and see you soon.

Of course Sir!

See you.

Bye Bye Bye!.....

I am handed over the phone. He is beaming with joy. 

I am confused. I am now really wondering if my dad could really place the guy. But one thing was for sure, this man respected my dad to the end of the world.

The tough part begins now.

I am to start my presentation. Most of the times, I am labelled as passionate, energetic, and dynamic in my presentations. But I am full of doubts this time....of myself. 

I was suddenly going to be measured against this huge mammoth of a man, who meant the world to someone I was presenting to, and the bar was set so high, that I knew I would never be able to meet that standard, forget beating it. I had to only ensure that I don't create the impression of being a loser, compared to the man I was being put against.

It was like Rocky Balboa and his son.

I manage to put up a decent show, the ideas are liked, a few are shortlisted, its seems like the mission has been accomplished of getting the assignment. I am not even considering the impression part. I cannot contest this competition, and I am ready to succumb to my defeat. The white flag is raised in that department.

Nope! This is not a case of "Haar ke bhi jeetne waley ko Baazigar kehte hain"

We all stand up to sign off for the day, and we get the parting speech.

"There is no doctor who didn't know him. When he entered their clinic, they would stand up and greet him. They knew him by first name."

"Merchantsaab bolne ka."

"Yasinbhai bolne ka."

"Even the directors of the company would never accept his resignation.They went to his home when he put in his papers, and didn't allow him to resign."

He wanted to say more...I could sense it. But he stopped himself, I guess he was getting emotional talking about his mentor. My dad. 

I manage to gather some words...

"Sir, I make presentations almost everyday. But today I was nervous for the first time, not because of anything else, but because my dad's name was at stake"

He laughs. "Don't worry. You did well."

I'm still dazed. The drive back is mostly in silence. I had lived a moment that probably will never come back to me again. No discussions on the outcome of the meeting. No talk on the future possibilities. Just about the utter coincidence.

Coincidence- is too small a word for this. 

Serendipity - too frivolous.

Miracle, is what I am talking about.

God's perfect timing. 

Truth is, the past few days were worrisome for me. I was worried about my dads health and overall well being. Anything remotely bad happens to him, and I am all nerves, and this was just one of those times when I needed a little hand holding to get me through.

Imagine something like this happening to you, and it reinstates your faith in God's grand plan for each one of us. I was filled with optimism, hope and love.

I don't go back to office. I rush home. I want to see my father, hug him, and tell him how proud I am. I run up to the lift. Open the door, but he isn't home. I am disappointed. 

After a few minutes he arrives, but in my head that moment was lost. How I hate myself for that.

We look at each other, smile and I am still excited. I call everyone in the living room and narrate the incident. My dad smiles proudly at my story. I somewhere guess that he  senses my emotion.

He narrates his side of the story. Only this time I listen differently.

These stories I had heard from him many a times. About his work, his interviews, how he trained his juniors, how he knew all the doctors of Mumbai, and how they knew him. How his boss wouldn't accept his resignation and how they had come home to convince him. How he was liked by his colleagues because of his deeds and another hundred stories.

But this time I heard it in a new light.

I wasn't hearing it from my dad. I was hearing it from one of the best sales officers in the world. 
My world, and that gentleman's world, and God knows how many peoples world who he had touched in more than one way.

For me he was till yesterday, a humble, fun loving, sometimes solemn and strict, generous, talkative man. 
But starting today he was a larger than life hero.

A man who's standard I would never be able to match. I can only pay ode to.

I know for sure that I wont ever be able to reach where he has reached...ever. And the truth is I don't want to even try. What I want to do, is learn from him, and continue his legacy of touching peoples lives, transforming them in my own way, and maybe never know....I can just barely, slightly aspire that Samaira will meet someone, someday who will tell her. 

"I knew your dad, nice guy"

That much also will be enough for me.

Thanks Dad! You always were my hero, but now you are bigger, better, stronger! 

This made me feel like going back to nursery and telling my friends..."My dad is so strong, so strong, so strong, that he can.......


Love You Dad! You are an inspiration.

Monday, December 10, 2012

59 Minutes of Nostalgia

From all the duties I am assuming as a new Dad, one of the million ones is to be a driver to drop Samaira to birthday parties. The trip this time is to a residential locality near one of the beach line homes in South Mumbai. 

Since I am not invited for the kiddy party, my simple job is to simply drop and move on to do my own thing, until I get the call to pick up.

This time I'm kinda happy because I am in the middle of the place I grew up in. I call up a few friends, who I have known since over 25 years, but life has moved on, and priorities have changed. So I'm pretty used to not getting positive responses from them now, and trust me, it doesn't hurt either. It's now a matter of acceptance. 

Predictably, all of them are either busy, travelling or don't pick up the call.

Parking is an issue, so I drive across the lanes, until I'm pretty far from the drop location, but this area is very familiar. 

Not much has changed, yet so much had. 

It brings back memories of growing up, of cycle no. 28 for two rupees an hour, or defeating the fear to climb a jungle gym, cricket matches, escaping home for a late night bike ride and lots more.

The dark lane behind August Kranti Ground has a slot free, just enough to allow my car to sneak in. The cop on duty looks along suspiciously. As the door slams shut, I look at him in the eye, and turn away my gaze. I had seen cops guard that building earlier too, and I was reminded of the days when my dad asked me not to run on the road, or police uncle will catch me and put me in jail. 

My look is a mix of emotions. 

Of mock, because I know now that he can't arrest me for running on the road. Unless of course I had chain snatched. 
I also felt of fear, for no reason at all. Its just something that I had grown up with and I guess I didn't shrug off the feeling ever. 
But most importantly that of relief, because I smiled, and he reciprocated. 

Both my hands in my pocket, I looked around, walking rather lazily.
My body language was unapproachable, and I was creeping into a shell. There were things I wanted to defy. 

Identity for instance.

I enter the playground), and it seemed so much smaller now.  The path was slightly downhill. I recalled my elder sister Farhana, pushing me down the bicycle, minus the balance wheels, and I freewheeling down, petrified like it was the last day of my life, somehow managing to hold my balance and Viola! I had learned to ride. 

Groups of men, mostly laborers sat in circles, and I really don't know what they discussed then and I couldn't figure out what the discussed now. I tread carefully near them, trying not to get noticed, but they mostly sat in silence. I figured it was some sort of community meeting, where they seek a certain time of solace, after work. It seemed like this was a daily ritual, despite of whatever came in between, contrary to the call that wasn't picked up because the meeting to close a deal was more important.

I walk to another segment. This was mostly for kids in primary school. With jungle gyms, swings, and slides. Somehow these areas mould you as a child. I still recall not being able to sit on the swing for any longer, if I had a child waiting for his turn after I get done. I would simply leap out and walk away guarding my privacy, somewhere today also, I'm not tolerant of people stepping into my space easily, and nor am I any kind of extrovert, completely opposite of what many people think I am.

The jungle gym was a challenge to me. My younger sister, Sweetina, was a pro, at it. She went from one pole to another pole, like Tarzan, while I simply used the excuse of being shorter to get away.

"If you do this exercise, you'll get taller" they'd tell me, so I would try, but couldn't get past more than the safe distance, and hurried back, just to save my ass (literally). 

A little too late, I realized that height was a major virtue to have, and I gave it my all. Looking back I overcame the fear of the poles, but I couldn't overcome the 5 feet 5 inch mark, till date.
I smiled silently and moved on looking at a tallest part of my shadow.

Another part of the garden, was a greener pasture. I could visualize mom and dad sitting there, talking, and waiting for us to get done with our games. This was where I sometimes saw, how deeply my parents loved each other, and how they valued the time they gave to themselves.

I was at the end of the playground now, as I crossed the road, I was amazed to see that Imperial 'Dabba' school was now an upmarket Pre-School and Activity Centres, affiliated to some London counterpart. Imperial 'Dabba' was not the name of the school. It was a threat. 

"If you don't do well in your studies, we will put you in Imperial dabba".

It was the school for the kids of vegetable vendors, laundry walas, and other sundry people. I don't mean to be derogatory, because eventually I landed up spending a good part of my childhood with these guys, playing cricket, and they were bloody good at their game. Far better than some of the boys at my school in their Nike's and branded gear, and for all I know, they must be doing better in life, than I am.

I now pass by the shops, and I look around if I can recognize the few faces I could recall. Shop to shop, I pass by, just to see no known faces. The oil-ghee wala, the electrician, the chana wala, the quiet 'permit bars', the bhaijiya wala, the vegetable vendors...I see no face I recognize. Some shops looked familiar, but most of them had changed interiors and facades. 

The path felt the same, but these roads weren't mine. They had forgotten me, and as much as I wanted to believe that I hadn't, I guess a lot of it was forgotten by me too, and I was simply trying to catch up with twelve years of metamorphosis.

My home is a few meters away. I still call it home, and not house, building, or apartment, because if I truly felt connected and grounded in this world, this is the place.

A door plate that said...
Yasin H Merchant

93, Mama Chambers
Ground Floor, Gowalia Tank
Bombay 400036
Tel: 8221574

Don't bother to google this..It doesn't exist.

I look hard, my quest to see a face I recognize was getting desperate. Finally I see him. 

A cold drink wala I knew.

Greyed and looking into the blank, expressionless. I should have felt happy, and content. I wanted to say Hi!, and ask him if he remembered me. 
But I didn't. I was clouded with a dark emotion.
I turned away my face. I didn't want him to recognize me.
I walked faster, looking the other way. 

More shops. More alleys. More missing pieces of my childhood memories that had now turned into a jigsaw. I somehow managed to put a few pieces together, but failed, miserably. 

The temple bells tinkled. The sound didn't seem a bit different. For a change, it felt like time stood still here. I looked at the temple from a distance. I had defied going in earlier also.My faiths were different. I felt it would be cheating on my multiple beliefs if I stepped in there.

The deep dark well was still there. The well in which we would throw stones in and analyse how deep it was. 
The fear of falling in, appeared in many dreams. I was tempted to take a peek, but I didn't. 

I'm tired now, and I buy a bottle of mango juice. Somewhere I felt a sense of self worth. I could buy something, without asking the price and knowing if I had that much in my pocket. Even previously it was the same, I wouldn't need to check if I had that much in my pocket, because I would go to the shop, counting my coins carefully again and again, to ensure I could afford it, and save myself any embarrassment. 

When I had gotten of my school bus, in my boyish mischief, I would walk along uncaring I had once had a chai wala spill boiling hot tea on me. The shop was still here, luckily the mark it had left on my chest, wasn't. Was that the reason i didn't sip hot tea even today? I wonder. I guess not. Childhood couldn't leave so many marks on you. Can they? Unanswered I scamper away.

I smell kababs. A pungent smell of spices overtakes the air. I look around. This couldn't be. It was just the same. I had never eaten them, and I always wanted to. I look around frantically. Where is he? My eyes search for him everywhere. I see him. I run across the road, half not seeing the car, that screeches pass, and I ignore the look of the driver. If I would ever dream about tasty kababs, this was the aroma I had in mind. Nothing could replace it. I could see myself munching into them. 

I reach out to my pocket to hand over the money to him, almost deciding my order, and then I change my mind. 
I walk on. I couldn't eat here.

The adult in me didn't allow me, for reasons unexplained. Somewhere I consoled myself. What if they tasted really bad? A huge part of this fairy tale childhood was suddenly diminish, and I simply couldn't afford this part to leave me anymore. 

Or was it my ego that had set in?
How could I eat at a road side joint, frequented by road dwellers? 
Ashamed of my pride, I turn away. 

The church is a block away. 

The bottle of mango juice was half empty, my pessimist mind didn't say - Half full. 

I give it to the beggar and she receives it smilingly. I wonder if she had ever tasted it before. I wonder if she will give it to her kids, or have it herself. And as I wonder, I am lost in the steps of the church. The same St. Stephen's Church that I used to frequent every Sunday with my sisters and mother, until the rebel in me took over, and I stopped going there. 

Why didn't I stop now? 
Why was I willingly ready to step in the church, and not the temple. They are both places of God. 
What about all those claims I make about believing in free religion? 
Was that a fake side of me?

My excitement to enter and kneel on one of the back rows ends with disappointment, as I look at the shut gates. It was past the opening hours. Ironically, God had shut his doors on me today.

The phone buzzes. Shwetal and Samaira are ready to go home now. 
My one hour is up.
I rush back the same path. 
Only this time emotionless. 


I wonder what memories I will create for you? I wonder if you will look back at your childhood pleasantly. I hope you do. Its a great time to live. It never comes back, they say.

Then does come back. 

We just don't have the eyes to look at it as a child anymore.

If we did I would have said Hi, to Sanjay, the cold drink wala, maybe had a bite into those mouth watering kababs, and been happy to just pray at the door of the church and felt I did my turn at thanking God today, for this wonderful life.

But I didn't...