Scenario : Delhi shuts down due to COVID-19

 

“The salesmen are not willing to venture out due to the panic.”

“Madam, the police are cracking down on those who are violating the lockdown.”

Lockdown. FYI, this lockdown is not due to some curfew resulting from Sec 144. I mean, Section 144 had been imposed last month. Due to the riots that ripped apart the secular fabric of the famed capital of my country.

But we persevered. We managed to sell. By we, I mean, my team. My team of 100+ salesmen and fourteen channel partners and seven territory sales managers.

But this was different. Remarkedly different.

“Can Telescion take responsibility for the safety and protection of its salesmen?”

Of course, I had no answer to that when a salesman asked me this question out of the blue. I was willing to risk my life with them, yes. But I could not guarantee that the virus would not attack them. Or me, for that matter.  

There is a fine balance between business and safety. But I don’t know if I know that balance yet. I am supposed to be leading this team of 110+ people who rely on my judgment. But how sound is my judgment? Should I ask the team to pack up and sit home? Or ask them to stand tall in these tough times and provide the service that my company boasts so much about? (at the risk of sounding preachy)

And then there are the customers. Raging fuming customers breathing fire. Because their lives have been upended. Because their networks are down. Because they can’t go out and must stay in. And to stay in, they need the sophisticated arrangement of entertainment that humankind has striven to create over the past decade.

“I want the 499 plan.”

“Excuse me?” I said for the umpteenth time to the nth customer who had suddenly learnt to climb the elaborate escalation matrix we had so thoughtfully put together and reached right up from the salesman to channel partner to the TSM to the ZSM a la me.     

“Actually, there is no 499 plan. We only have plans starting from 799.” I rambled on, feeling like a frustrated salesgirl which I probably was. Just a few rungs up the corporate ladder.  

“Your team assured me that there is one. You cannot get away with making false commitments.

DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHO I AM?!

I can tweet about your service and ruin you! I can file a case against you! I will post on facebook! I will take this case to the CEO…”

The good thing about the call was that it came during a meeting. My manager was holding a video conference – it was my first work from home experience as a sales team member. Which was turning out to be a complete disaster, by the way.

Her voice emanated from the laptop microphone and enmeshed with the mad ranting of the customer determined to take away my job. Somehow, that mixture ensured that I didn’t understand much of anything and could manage to keep my temper in check.

 

But then there were my TSMs expecting me to provide some way forward and take a decision. Decision. Duh. When had I ever taken a sane decision in my life?

I ordered whichever liquor my finger pointed to. Smoked up with strangers. Decided courses based on how often I would get to travel. Chose jobs based on how pretty the office buildings looked… 

Yeah, my decision making skills were pretty effing amazing.

“What should we do, ma’am? Our teams want to know the way forward. We are connecting you on the call.”

And this is when I wished I knew what to say. This is what happens when people who have always been followers are suddenly crowned as leaders.

“Sure,” I grimaced, wondering how I would stammer my response and lose dignity in front of my reportees.

“They are all connected, ma’am,” my TSMs replied. They had taken everyone on a video call and were looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to say something intelligible and wise. I thought of how much I was about to disappoint them and decided to wing it.

“Umm, okay shoot your questions.”

“Madam, all entries are banned due to coronavirus. Shops have been locked down, section 144 has been imposed. How are we supposed to work in such dangerous conditions? Our families are not letting us come.”

“So,” I began uncertainly. “I know it’s too much to ask this of you. Therefore, I wouldn’t. I will not ask you to come on the field and sell.”

No. No. Do not give them free rein.

“All the same, I want to remind you that some people have to keep certain services up and running. For instance, the ones who take the garbage…”

Bad example. Couldn’t have thought of a more sophisticated one, could you?

“And those who ferry us from place to place. The transport guys, the chemists. The doctors.”

Aah yes, that noble profession. Good save.

“And then there are those who connect all of us. Communication is something we cannot do without.”

Really? Doctors = telecommers? What bullshit.

“I mean, it’s not as essential but somewhat, yes. Life has to go on and to keep it moving, you need to maintain the services. So, I will not ask you for sales numbers or targets. All I ask you is to help keep the service up and running. If someone requires a connection, I would expect you as a responsible salesperson to go and provide it. With all protection, of course.”

Sigh. I don’t think that was very convincing but that’s the best I could do. For the time being.

As soon as I closed the call window, my phone began to ring.

“Yes?”

“When will my connection be installed?”

Aarrrghh!!! Another dumb customer! I have to find the idiot who gave them my contact.

This is when I need the ground teams working. Enough with the good boss behavior already.

 

Meanwhile, in another world…

“The rigor hasn’t dropped even in these times. The south zone has scored the highest ever numbers and is all set to make a record!”

Yeah, that was my boss, reminding us that after all is said and done, I have to ensure we get enough business rolling in day after day.

So much for working from home. I would choose a field visit any day. At least one gets to roam and have interesting food.   

image source : unsplash.com

Dear Seller of Fates,

 

You read the cards of my life and sold me fate. Of course, magic and unrealism were your more popular wares but your primary product was fate.  

And dreams. You peddled dreams packaged in hopes and expectations that grew in direct proportion to my clashes with reality.

In a world full of cracks, you peddled the light that crept in through the cracks.

You found a buyer in me because you knew who I was.

I was a settler, settling for scraps, for anything that even remotely resembled the dream you sold me.

Thinking that maybe this was what I had been striving for so long.

Maybe the settling, the compromises and the losses would build up to this. This explosion of happiness. This ending of a long wait because the fruits of long unending waits were supposed to be sweet.

But you, dream peddler, you didn’t tell me that long waits may end in bitterness too.

That the fruits may turn sour, the people may forget.

Sometimes, I wish you had sold me some fairy dust of forgetfulness.

Then I would have let my pride crumble, succumbed to lies and settled for less than what I deserved because I would have forgotten that you had sold me a larger-than-life fantasy.

 

Yours forever,

The Settler

Image Source : https://www.bu.edu/bpt/performances/absence/
Sometimes, I look at the light and wonder what if it was not light but dark. Pitch dark.
What if white was not white but black. Jet black.
If lies were not lies but truths.
If joys were not joys but sorrows.
In such a world and such a universe, would your absence not be an absence but your presence?
I dream of my tomorrows filled with our yesterdays.
Those light moments stolen from hefty realities that formed the constellations that I stare at. Night after night.
Hoping you stare at them too.
From wherever you are.
Right now.

I think I am a leaf.
Trying to attach myself to your tree even when I know that we were separated by the winds of time long ago.
I don’t know if I will ever realize that my forever just lasted for the moments that had you in them.

Lovers come with roses.
Roses and sweet words. 
But you?
You came to me with thorns.
Thorns and wars.
Thorns that you eased out of my bleeding surfaces.
The surfaces of my walls which were breached by sweet words and sweeter actions by those masquerading as lovers.
You came to me with war.
A war of words.
A war of words and thoughts and beliefs because you were a proponent of truth and would have chosen truth over me, had there been a choice.
And soon there did come a choice.
But then you chose me.
And I knew then that you were truth.
My truth.
I realized then that thorns are sweeter than roses and wars are better than words. Simply because they come from you.
    

I can tell you how I learnt to tie a shoelace.
Shoelaces are tricky.
Tricky little snips of fabric that untie themselves just to make you bend really low.
So that you stoop.
Low enough to make a mistake.
In that sense, shoelaces are like you and me.
Like people who flit in and out of our lives like flies through an open window.
And some of them untie themselves before you.
Just for the fleeting fun of seeing you try to figure them out.
To see you try to make out the tricks up their sleeves.
Like the wiles of a conman.
But the trick is to take them by the horns.
Avoid the fuggy world spinning past you and focus on the coils.
Take one of them and pull it in with the other.
And tighten.
So hard that not a single scream can escape.
And then you make a flower out of the repressed screams.
Out of all the asphyxiation and the garroting and the suffocation.
That is the trick.
You don’t tie a shoelace in knots, you make a flower out of it.

So, this trip happened in the midst of my work schedule. Like I am packing four hours prior to my flight, taking calls after checking-in to the airport, setting out-of-office mails, settling disputes and pacifying my boss. And then bam, the Delhi-to-Chennai flight takes me out of the work mode. I was wearing proper winterwear, replete with jacket and sweater and scarves and socks and the moment I landed at Meenambakkam airport, I fought with those fabrics and got them off in the midst of a call. A call from Madhouse, of course.

Madhouse trip 2019 was on.

Let me introduce you to the cast that went to Sri Lanka. There were Pal, Slo, Ash, Jiggy, Sal, Saumi, Chan, Ag (also Silver, because Ag in the periodic table is the symbol for silver, so…yeah we are nerds of the highest order) and of course, yours truly.

To get you acquainted with the group:

(Namesake) Ash arranges trips and Pal accompanies him. Jiggy makes expert comments and Slo smiles at them. Sal has our back in case something runs out or someone runs away, or gets upset, especially Saumi, who has everyone’s back almost all the time. (Milo-lover) Chan finds strays to pet and ways to entertain Silver and me. And by entertain, I might also mean annoy, like the way he annoyed the hell out of me by first petting Betty (okay, she was a pretty sweet doggie) and then naming her after me. And scaring the hell out of both Silver and I at two in the night on a forest trail adjoining the two cottages in our Nuwara Eliya resort. But then, Ash is also a good contender for the annoyance award owing to his super weird songs.

Talking about annoyance, let me start from our first day in Kandy.

When Silver banged on my door for the nth time asking me to come out, I will honestly say that it got me a little miffed. I mean, I did ask her if she wanted to go first. She was happy enough to let me go and I told her I like to take my time…

So when I got out in my towel, I was even further bugged because the door was open. I asked Pal if she could close it and she looked at me as if I had just arrived from some other world.

“What?” I asked her.

“Why are you in a towel?”

“Because I just came from the shower? And umm I will get dressed if you close the door?”

“No, I meant why aren’t you packing? We got to leave this place.”

Wait what.

 

Poor Silver had been trying to tell me that the owners were shoving us out. So, it turned out that MMT had played us. It was a classic case of CID as Ash would happily tell us since he is from the hotel industry as well. And by CID, I did not mean Crime Investigation Department. It is short for ‘Check-In Denied’. Pretty cool, right?

No, it was not cool at all when I had to dress up hurriedly and re-pack my bags because the owner of the cute property with a cute terrace told us that he was renting it to some other group for the day and they were coming any moment so we had to leave. But at least, I got to bathe. Others had to take their lunches without a shower (I know, it’s a first world problem, but it is a legit problem when you have been traveling the entire night).

But wait, that’s not all the mishappenings. Not even the worst of it. Let me go in no particular order:

  • Pal goofed-up on her passport number on her visa.
  • We broke a bed.

Sorry, two beds.

Okay stop right there, dirty minds. I swear the ply just gave in the moment we climbed onto it. And it                              wasn’t me, duh.

  • We paid a whopping amount just to climb some 300 stairs.
  • Jiggy lost his specs in the waterfall (who asked him to wear it to the water in the first place, I will never be able to tell)
  • We ate at an attractively decorated restro in the midst of a carnival and had some atrociously bland food. (I know, a very Indian issue, but life without spices is not really life, is it?)
  • The boat that took us snorkeling in the middle of the Indian Ocean lost its anchor about thrice. And the constant right to left bobbing of the boat in the water got some of us pretty seasick. (One of them was yours truly.)
  • One of us couldn’t climb onto the boat. (Ummm, that wasn’t me. I was the one who kept freaking out when they put me in the water and refused to let go of my snorkeling trainer’s hand.)
  • One of us couldn’t see the water stuff too clearly because she did not wear lenses and specs weren’t allowed and she has an atrociously high power and yet she chose to snorkel. (This forever unprepared genius was doubtlessly me.)
  • The hotel guys were starting to charge us extra for overstaying because the water sports started late and we wanted to, of course, still do them, and one of us went in last to shower and spent an inordinately large amount of time to do so because she had to write her name on the sand five times before leaving Bentota. (You still wonder who this might be? It’s me, bro.)
  • We spent the final night standing in a never-ending queue and cracking slapstick comments and later rushing with a hasty dinner at 1:30 am to our respective flights to respective cities. One of us got delayed for about five hours and she got stuck with a bunch of kids who didn’t let her sleep a wink. And yes, that person was me.

So, that was that.

What were you expecting in the post? Some picturesque description of how beautiful Sri Lanka is and where all you should go and what you should experience in order to make it worth the while? If I tell you that, what will the tour operators and lonely planets of the world do?

But okay, let this not be a waste of your time. Let me run the places briefly by you. If you are into history and mythology, basically the culture of a place, then you can go to the Dambulla royal cave temple and the tooth relic of the Buddha. You will see a lot of Buddhist rituals, even some cultural dance. You can visit the legendary AshokVatika temple where ‘Mom Sita’ (no offence) was rumored to have been trapped by Ravana (I made it a point to read up on the Asura literature before visiting this place, but even if you know the basic Ramayana, it will do).

Fan of tea plantations and strawberry farms? Well, you are at the right place. We had some amazing strawberry ice cream and shakes in a strawberry farm in Nuwara Eliya. Ramboda Falls and Gregory Park are other cute places that will make you love the destination you chose even more. Then you have the oldest post office in Sri Lanka with a beautiful colonial façade. Post a letter from there. Stare out at the aquamarine blue lake. Try and figure out whether the sky is turquoise or teal. Maybe the gem museum will help you with that. Sal almost paid with his kidney buying jewels for his wife in Colombo. (True story!)

 

Okay if I have been all about slip-ups and goof-ups on this entire trip, perhaps I haven’t learnt to count my blessings yet. Because, of course, there were the good things…

 

  • We received a warm welcome to Sri Lanka what with orchid garlands and all.
  • I got a fab dress and shorts in a steal deal. (Yeah, I am girly to the core sometimes. Totally middle-class girly.)
  • We did some jigs and funny dances in a cute street in Galle.
  • Watched a club match in Galle International Cricket Stadium.
  • Played cricket with the locals.
  • Had some rich and tempting dark chocolate, hazelnut, raspberry and blue bubblegum ice cream at a place called Carnival Café in Colombo.
  • Had ice lollies in Galle.
  • Had some more ice cream in Nuwara Eliya.
  • Had ice cream at every chance we got.
  • Watched people betting on horses and matches with the intensity of investment bankers.
  • Played Suspense (that’s a card game) to death. Played ‘Contact’ and Monopoly (GoT themed). Pictionary. Twenty Questions. Atlas. Pretty much all sorts of games you can devise. Of course, volleyball and throwball on the beach count as well. We guys do play a lot.
  • Karaoke-ed to our favorite songs. Sang along tunelessly and shamelessly and happily to all sorts of lyrics.
  • Chilled with cocktails and desserts at the beachfront (did I mention we were at a beach front hotel?) and at the swimming pool.
  • Oh wait, did I mention the duvet fight at 3 am? It was Silver and I vs Chan. There was one duvet kept on Chan’s bed (Chan, Silver and I were sharing the same room- can you imagine our superb luck? :for the uninitiated- that was sarcasm: ). And Silver and I wanted it. I remember telling Chan that there was another duvet kept in the closet, but then where would the fun be in that? Instead, we had a neat little tug-of-war where he naturally lost the battle after totally upending the bed and the carefully arranged sheets. Kudos, Ag! We make a nice little team.

 

So, when it was time to head back to the Colombo airport, my eyes were droopy and the news bits of Delhi hitting 1-2 degrees during the day already had me in its grip. Gone were the hours in the swimsuit- beachfront lazing, cocktail sipping and sunbathing. It was time to head back into the grind and collect enough moolah for the next adventure!

He saw life looking at him with beady eyes and turned away. 
He knew that life wore a monocle and knew how to lock its target on him. 
He knew that it would take him by the horns and play with his deepest fears. 
He knew how judgmental it was and realized that he didn’t have an extraction plan. 
That this mission had been ordered by him and was being carried out by him and there just was no one to get him out if things got out of hand. 
And things were never pretty much in hand in the first place.

Because he was under a curse. 
The most terrible one of all. 
He was cursed with love. 
Not just falling in love. 
But drowning in it. 
Gasping, floundering, hurting in love. 
Like Calypso, who was destined to lose her lovers. 
Because love is genuinely the wretchedest curse of all.  

Sure, he had stories in him. 
A bag full of heavy-duty scary stories about himself. 
And even some good ones. 
The ones that may make some laugh. 
And some others weep.

Because most of those stories were about birthdays. 
Birthdays that were celebrated with love-shaped cakes. 
Love-shaped cakes of two kinds- the tastier one to be eaten and the creamier one to be smeared on the face. 
Because smeared faces reminded him of a handsomer visage and a sweeter time. 
When birthdays were never forgotten and didn’t have to be revived through Facebook reminders. 
When empty conversations and comfortable silences over countless cups of coffee felt richer and meant more than fancy wishes and elaborate presents sent through fedex.

He saw life looking at him with beady eyes and turned away. 
He knew that he was cursed. 
He was still very much in love. 
With what had been and what now could never be.    

 

She is not a round peg in a square hole. She is a shapeless mass looking for a fixture that would fit her or change as she does with each passing moment.
Her thoughts are bombs that can blast you out of your comfort zone.
Her words are poisoned barbs that can sting you with their truth and then stay in and infect your life.
Her love is a minefield. One wrong move and you may be destroyed.
Her love is a microscope searching for a spirit like hers among the parasites that hound her life.
Her love is a lie detector test. I fail at it everyday.
Her love is an active volcano situated right above my peak. The magic lies in her fire.
Her love is a balm that can soothe all my worries away.
Her love, you know, can take you places like the deep seas, the highest peaks, the hottest hells.
Her love is the light at the end of the tunnel, to reach which I can die a thousand deaths.

The Assassination of Rajat Gandy 
Author : Anurag Anand
Publisher : Readomania
Image result for the assassination of rajat gandy book cover

Politics has always been a tricky knotty business and commenting on it even worse. The Assassination of Rajat Gandy is a quick read that takes you to the underbelly of the communal riots and the Hindu-Muslim divide that has been perpetually creating a chasm in the politics of the country, mixing religion and politics in an ugly mesh, causing loss of lives.
The book provides a peek into the minds and psyche of the people who run the show from up there in the government. The reader would find the usage of names very interesting. From Rajat Gandy, Madam (no prizes for guessing who that could be!), Ajit Seth, to Sachin Jaywardhan and my absolute favorite till now- Arunabh Gosain! It is a wonderful interplay on contemporary characters and their conduct in a fictional set up. Things are, of course, derived from the real world of politics but at the same time, have been contrived to reflect incidents and happenings that haven’t occurred and may or may not happen.
When Afsha Khan, a leading political correspondent gets kidnapped right after the communal riots that threaten to tear the secular fabric of the country just before elections, the environment begins to boil and the bigwigs start to take notice. Who has the upper hand in ordering the assassination of the prime ministerial candidate? What relation does that have to the biggest scam one has seen in the country till now? Troll attacks, communal uprisings, kidnapping and sudden accidents leading to the deaths of significant players in the game of political thrones make up this suspenseful potboiler.
Let’s have a chat with the author himself and find out what he has to say about his latest political thriller:  
Aashisha Chakraborty: A burning question that perhaps every reader will have after reading the title of this book- is there any basis for the biggest incident happening in the book? Is it inspired by some actual circumstance?
Anurag Anand: Well, the relationship between facts and fiction is a strange one. More often than not, the two are found jostling to mirror each other. This is exactly the relationship that my book, The Assassination of Rajat Gandy, shares with all that’s unfolding in the Indian political arena today.
However, the story of my book does draw partially from the prevailing political situation in the country. And this, when garnished with some degree of logic and common sense, makes for a plot that might appear inspired, or even a source of inspiration sometimes, for what we end up reading in the papers.  
AC: What made you give away the major plot of the book in the title itself?
AA: The title of the book does give away the central theme of the story, but it intends to keep the readers guessing on the why, who, how and what of it. The objective is to draw readers who are interested in mysteries and whodunnits in general and political thrillers in particular, and if the initial response to the book is anything to go by, it has been received well by the readers.  
AC: The pharma scam- how much truth is there to it?
AA: The pharma scam is entirely fictional, unless of course there is something transpiring behind closed doors that the investigating agencies and media are yet to get a whiff of. The thought, however, was triggered by the ensuing debate around the right of multinational companies to charge a premium for their patented drugs much in excess of the production costs. This is a tough one, for if their commercial prospects are curtailed, it acts as a deterrent for them to invest behind research, and if they are allowed a free reign the drugs remain beyond the reach of the masses.
AC: How difficult was it for you to keep from taking the side of a particular political party in the book?
AA: It wasn’t all that difficult, simply because I am personally not a big fan of unconditional alignment of ideologies with any political party or leader. In fact, the trend of hero worship that seems to be consuming political dialogues lately is toxic and unwarranted. We can witness this toxicity play out in debates on social media and other forums at an alarming regularity today. I believe that as informed citizens of the country, it is our duty to view every action of the government on its merit, irrespective of any biases we might harbor for or against the political entity in power.
As for the story of The Assassination of Rajat Gandy, you will find that I have donned the hat of a demanding and somewhat cynical Indian while writing it. So, if anything, both principal political parties – as and when they run short of pressing issues to focus their attention on – can come up with something or the other that doesn’t agree with them.
AC: Did you face any difficulty in getting this theme to publishers or getting the book out?
AA: Of course, I did. It’s a sad reality of the publishing industry that commerce takes precedence over everything else, even a good story. The decision makers are only too happy to keep away from anything having the remotest likelihood of stirring up a controversy. So, while I had obtained prior legal opinion on the manuscript of The Assassination of Rajat Gandy, two leading publication houses turned it down in the final stages of discussions. That’s where I would want to commend my current publisher, Readomania – a relatively new publication house, but passionate about bringing good and relevant stories to their readers – for taking up the project.
AC: Your bio states that you have dabbled in all genres. Did you intend that from the start? How has that experience been?
AA: Writing, to me, has always been very personal. It’s not a mere vocation or just a medium of expression for me, but a near-cathartic passion that makes me who I am. While I didn’t embark on this journey with a clear plan around whether I will write in one or multiple genres, I was certain that I didn’t want to restrain my writing. Thankfully, I have managed to keep it that way and write on subjects that I feel like writing about thus far. I can only pray that it remains so in the future.
There have been instances when I have been counselled by people more accomplished and informed than I am, about the need and importance of carving your own niche as an author. I respect their views and good intent, but as long as my readers are not complaining, I am happy to let things remain the way they are.   
AC: How did you start writing? How has the journey been up till now?
AA: I have been a voracious reader for as far back as I can remember. So, writing was a natural offshoot of my love for the written word. At a very early age, I would contribute articles to my school magazine and be elated to see my compositions in print. The euphoria I experienced then has not quite waned, and it is the need to experience it again and again that perhaps keeps me going.
My journey as an author has been a mixed bag, moments of exultations peppered by times of haplessness and despair, but I am not complaining. Each low that I have experienced has left me stronger, and I cherish them as much as I treasure my moments of glory.
AC: How much research did you have to put in for the book?
AA: A fair bit of research went behind the book, but not so much around politics and the machinations that make it. I have been fortunate enough to observe this world at close quarters and hence it didn’t prove much of a challenge to deal with. My research was primarily centered around technology and how it is likely to evolve in the future, making it a potent weapon in the hands of the nefarious and the ill-intentioned. This is a fear that we live with on an everyday basis, and to be able to weave it seamlessly into the plot of the book, I had to spend a fair bit of time perusing recent developments in this space.   
AC: Did your corporate job ever come in the way of writing or vice versa? How did you manage both the professions?
AA: It does become a challenge sometimes, as your personal passions have to take a back seat when pitted against the demands of the workplace. There are several abandoned manuscripts resting in my hard drive which stand testimony to this necessity of prioritization that a day job brings. However, if you happen to be working with an organization that supports individual creativity and colleagues who partake in your successes, the balance becomes much simpler to attain. I have been extremely fortunate so far in this regard.     
AC: Any messages for aspiring writers?
AA: I see aspiring authors often worrying about aspects like how their work will get published or how should they go about marketing it, even before they have set pen to paper. My sincere advice to them would be to focus on the one thing that an author is supposed to do – write and write well. A good manuscript will find its takers and churning out the best that we can needs to remain our primary agenda. 
Of course, another vital suggestion – read as much as you can, it helps you in more ways than you can imagine. And if you are looking for recommendations, you might want to get your hands on The Assassination of Rajat Gandy. 
AC: That was a wonderful exchange, I must say! I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. I am sure the readers loved the extra bytes about the journey of the book. All the best for your current as well as further endeavors!