Monday, August 29, 2005

Seeing Red

See the red planet! The closest we've ever seen it. The closest Mars has ever been to the Earth in recorded history. Closer than it'll be in the forseeable future. Let's call this "The International Doorstep Astronomy Week". Night sightings. Daytime sightings. A big red orb hanging in space. Opening up debate about the Zone of Life theory again... See Mars, as big as the moon (actually, it's a whole lot bigger, but you know what I mean). It's like a bloody fiesta.

I just have one question: WHERE THE !@#!% is it?

I've been looking, I really have, and I'm yet to see it, and it's already past 27th August (the day on which it was supposed to have been closest to Earth). Would someone please point me in the right direction?

I have a dirty suspicion, though, that I'm not actually going to get to see it. Years later, people will ask me, "how could you not have seen it? The whole world saw it." And I'll say, "Ummm." Really. These things happen to me.

Years and years and years ago, when Halley's Comet was doing it's once-in-70-something-years fly-by visit, we decided that those who planned ahead and prepared and got to a good sighting spot, saw. So in we piled, family and extended friends, into a couple of cars. Aluminium folding chairs in the boot (yes, it's a boot, not a trunk), gallons of coffee in flasks (and, possibly, jerry-cans). Stomachs full of food (luchi and alur dom, I suspect), and hearts filled with adventure and a sense of momentousness, off we drove to Diamond Harbour. And over the course of a long night, we waited and watched, and played word-games and I-spy (note to G: and some of us worked out 2 to the power 52, manually, something for which we will some day get our own back at the people that made us do it). Unfortunately, nobody spied the malevolent comet. Really. So I've got to wait for another 50 odd years for another shot at that.

So please, I'd really like to see Mars - up close and personal. If you have any information about where it is, please write in and tell me. I'll pay for the information. And oh, btw, it looks something like this:

Photograph courtesy

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Big Con

I learnt a lot today.
Mostly about how to make things up and sell them to peo... whoops, sorry, I meant about consulting.

Here's how: A couple of days ago, I went ahead and told a prospect something that I thought we could do for them, based on a briefing session by the head of consulting (HOC). And I provided numbers and everything. The same numbers the HOC gave me.

Me: Sure, we can save you 20-25% of ongoing ___ cost. As a matter of fact, we're already doing this for a, y and z.

Client___: (getting interested despite himself) I don't see how you could do that. I mean, there's not that much to do on an ongoing basis... ummm... are you sure about these numbers?

Me: (full of righteous salesmanship, basing my statements on the rock that I think my HOC is) Of course I am. In fact, let me do something: I will send you, by the end of the week, a roadmap, showing you how we're doing this, and then we can talk numbers, and see what we can do for you.

Client___: Sounds excellent.

Me: Alrighty then.

So, bursting with pride for getting somewhere selling a fairly new, unknown service, I go to my HOC, and tell him I need specifics - numbers and roadmaps - to send out to Client___. And he tells me, "Just speak to A, and get the numbers. She's the dude when it comes to this. And oh, if she can't get you good numbers, just ask her to make them up. I mean, she's better equipped to make them up than you are."

When I get over my coronary attack at hearing this, I spend 3 days chasing A and team (who ignore my pleas for information and keep saying, in an appalled manner, "you believed numbers that HOC gave you? Why, for the love of god, why? He's a consultant, he'll say anything!). Finally, with self-imposed mailout-deadline-cum-professional-suicide hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles, at 6:00 p.m. today, said team and I get into an empty conference room. We spend 45 minutes making jokes about the consulting profession (yes, they are consultants), throw some numbers around, do some tweaking, decide to call them real, and put them down for posterity.

No, the mail hasn't gone out yet - it'll be in Client___'s mailbox before he gets in on Monday morning. But next time, I'll be less worried about sending out information like this, secure in the knowledge that if I don't actually have information from consulting, I can just make them up. After all, whether they're making them up or I am can hardly matter.

Oh, and btw? These numbers are now going to be used to sell this same story to other prospects too, now that we have them.

Meanwhile, thinking of all this reminded me of one of the coolest columns ever: Fast Company's Consultant Debunking Unit. Here you go. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

That Thing That Makes The World Go Around

This is an ironic title for this post. Because, truth be told, I have no idea what that thing I've blithely put in the subject line is. None. Is it friendship? Music? Alcohol? Good conversation? Pink Floyd? Hot home-cooked food? Laughing till your sides ache and your jaw gets stuck?

Whatever it is, it's working for me, at least for now. My weekend was one delightful, delightful extended moment in time, with all the above. The kind of weekend whose essence you want to distill and store, safe in a stoppered glass bottle in a cool dry place, and take out to sniff once in a while - but delicately, delicately. Imagine a 5 hour journey, with conversation about everything and nothing and whatever lies in between, a hot, home-cooked meal and good vodka at the other end, a room draped in shadow and shards of light, someone plays a guitar while others sing everything from hyms to Floyd, and somewhere along the way, the first song they ever remember trying to mumble the words to, ever spotless, ever pure, melody and harmony. Imagine excited conversation and the meeting of old friends and dear, squeezing together into one small bed and laughing into the night and everything has changed and nothing has changed and I thought I saw Mars out the window on the long way home and isn't the world wondrous?

In words that only some people who read this blog will understand, and that might make others who read this blog stop reading this blog, I am dzust laabh.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


The suicide rate among cold-callers must be sky-high.

This from B, 25th August 05:
Why have you stopped blogging? Spending all waking hours thinking of innovative ways to commit suicide?

Monday, August 15, 2005


It's thundering and lightning-ing outside. A bad-weather front that was not supposed to touch the coast has indeed struck the coast, and New York City was treated today to a deluge, a real storm. During which I was stuck at Penn Station, waiting for the North-East Corridor Line to be made functional again, and thinking to myself, nothing really changes... had I been in Bombay, I might have been stuck at Churchgate, waiting for the Western Line to be made functional again after heavy rain and flooding.

But now I'm back, and cozily sitting in my room, and thinking of the godawful workday I have tomorrow. And still smiling, because I picked up a couple of very exciting books from the Strand Bookstore today. "Over the Edge of the World" - the story of Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe, by Laurence Bergreen, and "Mercator - The Man Who Mapped The Planet" by Nicholas Crane.

And also because, this time while I was there, I saw signs for Bourbon Street and Bleecker Street. It's fascinating when street names from songs suddenly appear in front of your eyes, unbidden. Bleecker Street didn't look bleak, and the moon wasn't over Bourbon Street (it was a dark and stormy night...) but I still grinned like an idiot when I saw them.

Tomorrow will mark the first time I'll be working on the 15th of August. It'll be strange not to attend a flag-hoisting ceremony somewhere, sing the national anthem - I can't remember a time when I haven't. I'll miss the cars going by with little paper flags stuck in their bonnets, kids waving them around everywhere, shops selling flag pins to stick into blazers and collars. So distance does matter, after all.

Here's to all the flags that get stuck at half-mast, those that refuse to unfurl properly and that have to be taken down and re-hoisted... and the burst of pride one feels (even if one is a global citizen) each time one sees the flag open out and ripple in the wind.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

On The Road Again

So before you ask, let me tell you that
a. I didn't screw up at the meeting. (In fact, I barely spoke!)
b. It went OK (we agreed to have a meeting with the real buyer, and that will be where we stand or are shot to pieces. Imagine music from spaghetti westerns here. In fact, imagine me dressed in a shabby green poncho, squinting down an office corridor, my hand hanging by my side, hovering next to my Blackberry Handheld, ready to beat my opponent to the draw, the noon-day sun beating down outside the air conditioned office... But I digress...)

I had one heck of a day: 11 hours traveling or in transit, for the sake of a one hour meeting in the middle of the day. Holy Toledo! (hah! managed it!) And since it's the journey and not the destination that matters... here's an account.

To begin with, managed to catch an express on the NJ Transit, without realising (this blog is dedicated to the retention of Queen's English, at least as far as spelling goes) it. And guess what? The damn express doesn't stop at Newark Airport... only at Newark Penn Station. What kind of dimwit country has express trains which don't stop at major stops like an airport? It'd be like a fast train on the Mumbai western line not stopping at Santa Cruz or Parla, the closest stops to the airport... oh, wait. Umm. Hmmm. (Embarassedly drawing circles in the dust with my big toe.)

So anyhow, had to pay an extra 7 bucks to get back to the airport... found my way to the right terminal, boarded. Measured out my time with Sierra Mist. And then, looking down, saw this familar shape - a huge water body, shaped like a diseased pancreas... Lake Michigan! (I still can't get over the coolness of seeing things straight out of a geography book live and in the flesh - if from a height of 30000 feet). I'm told that in winter, the lake freezes over enough for people to drive trucks and buses over it (instead of all the way around).

Disembarked at Detroit, and made our way to Hertz to rent a car to drive to Toledo. Detroit is much as I'd imagined it in my mind: bright blue skies with wisps of cloud and noon-day heat shimmering over sprawling concrete. But we weren't there for long - just long enough to rent a car and get the hell out. My boss told me conversationally that we were just 10 minutes drive from the Canadian border, and since he's lived in Toronto and keeps talking about what a great place it is, I wondered for a few moments whether he was going to make a dash across the border (what a great movie this would have been: high-noon, the good the bad and the ugly and the three fugitives all rolled into one). But he didn't, and we set course for Toledo.

Over the course of the 1 hour drive to Toledo, Ohio, I could see how easy it would be to fall asleep at the wheel on highways like this. Long, straight highways, heat-haze making me squint and not much around. The sameness of what you see can drag, pull ones eyelids down slowly. A friend of mine drives from NJ to Washington DC every week, and he tells me that music on the radio alone is not enough - he sings, to keep himself awake.

The coolest things about the drive, though were:
1. The hertz direction finder - a device that maps roads, shows you which turns to take and where you are... you programme it to where you want to go, and it guides you... so you keep looking at it, and take the turns indicated, and voila, you're there! I could barely keep my eyes of it, but eventually got distracted when we passed a sign for
2. Telegraph Road!!! There's almost certainly no link between this road, one of the major thoroughfares in Detroit, and the Straits song, but there's an ironic link between the words of the song and the economic situation in Detroit and other such towns.

And so, driving down the highway, we finally came upon a sign that said "Welcome to Ohio" and soon after, Toledo. Toledo seemed a small town - Calicut might be bigger - with tired peeling old brick buildings and a depressing air. I concentrated on our meeting, then left. I'd ordered a car from a place which ran out of smaller cars and sent me a limo! Unfortunately, the driver of the limo was a total conspiracy theorist, and for the one hour drive back to Detroit airport, regaled me with how George Bush was a CIA agent, or ran the CIA, or was run by the CIA (depending on which particular story he was telling); how if only the world knew how many murders Clinton had ordered, his image would be different, and so on... finally ending with how he wanted to go to Goa, and live in India for a year, and how he thinks India is the best democracy in the world. I don't know whether to be touched or just plain scared for the country when he lands in Goa.

The rest of my trip back was a crazy mishmash of varied versions of Murphy's law: my flight was delayed due to bad weather and we were told we'd have more information in 30 minutes, then, as I was buying coffee somewhere, 10 minutes later, I heard the last boarding call, forcing me to sprint the rest of the way to the gate with laptop, purse, wallet and coffee all over the place. Some disgusting passenger had spilt some gunk on the floor of the aircraft, as a result of which my laptop bag strap is soaking wet and smelly, and the padded part will probably discolour my clothes if I put it against my shoulder. NJ transit trains were running late, so I had to wait at the platform for 20 minutes (grumble grumble in Bombay there are trains every 4 minutes) when all I wanted to do was sink into a bath. NJ transit lines lost power while I was actually on the train, so that we were stuck on the track, with the air conditioning and lights out (grumble grumble at least the Bombay locals have ventilation).

Finally made it back at about 8:30 p.m. Staggered in, checked my mail (how I love wi-fi), and slept for a straight 12 hours.

Enjoy your weekend. I'm sure going to enjoy mine!

Friday, August 05, 2005

A for Anticipation

So I have my first client meeting tomorrow.
In Toledo, Ohio.

Scared shitless, hoping I don't screw up.

Excited, raring to go. Don't think I'm going to get a wink of sleep tonight.

Of course, given my history of work related gaffes, there's every chance that I'll screw up royally. Say something completely inappropriate, in an utterly FRIENDS moment.

So watch this space. The potential for mass entertainment looms large.

And until then, Toled-le-oo.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

On Second Thought...

The continuing saga of Christopher Columbus' daughter, many times removed.

People. Friendly, after all. So not everyone's a customs official. "How're you doing" greetings bouncing off the walls. Perhaps with fewer people than back home, it's possible to individually greet everyone whose eyes meet yours.

New Jersey. Clean, wide roads. Greenery. Woods. Backwoods, actually. Life here revolves around Route (pronounced to rhyme with "pout") 1 and Route 9, call-a-cab services, watching traffic zoom by on the highway, exits 131 and 130. And road signs. Every 5 yards. Still no people though - except, perhaps, at Metropark station, waiting for trains or cabs. Indian suburbs - filled with Kanha sarees, Dimple Fast Food, Dosa Express (muy excellente dosa) and Subzi Mandi.

New York. May-the-lord-be-praised-it's-a-city. I see land. Smelly. Noisy. Dirty. Tall buildings. Bars. People. Activity. And smack in the centre (center) - or close enough, Central Park. This is my heaven. Complete with two of my temples: 59th Street Bridge and Central Park. Fire engines passing by with shrieking sirens every 15 minutes. Confusing and chaotic - I bet this is how all non-Indians feel when confronted with an Indian city. I feel like the quintessential tourist, staring with open-mouthed wonder at the mythical monster. And recognising (recognizing) in it the family pet.

Hmmm. Yep, as long as I can get a weekly dose of The City, I think I'll make it.