Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Not Abducted by Martians!

It has been a while.

Let us say, after notching up a 100 posts, I suddenly found myself with nothing to write. The feeling that I had nothing new to say, the feeling that I was repeating myself of late, and my blogger friends and other readers were indulging me purely out of a sense of obligation began to crop up. I stopped writing. My connection with my blog was confined to routine, mechanical publishing of readers’ comments.

But some of those comments expressed cautious concern, not wanting to pry, but obliquely enquiring: Is everything OK? Are you all right? Cynic’s was one such comment. El Furibundo’s was another. Thanks, people. I owe you.

But a lot has happened in the six weeks I have been off blogging.

For starters, I have turned entrepreneur now, joining up with an old friend and ex-colleague. In a way, it is an exhilarating feeling--to be at last your own master, orchestrating the sales and marketing push for an exciting new product, exactly the way you want it done, unfettered by other peoples’ notion as to how it should be done. Suddenly you are in the thick of action once again with product presentations, demos, negotiations and closing deals. You are travelling again to familiar cities, activating old networks and leveraging old contacts.

It’s a nice feeling.

It is also scary; sometimes I have butterflies in my stomach. The fact that you don’t have a pay-check waiting for you at the end of the month, does not exactly do wonders to your sense of security. The “what-if?” dragon raises its head with alarming regularity and has to be put down with a firm hand. You start scrutinising the monthly bills a bit more carefully and unconsciously start charting out strategies for cutting down on unnecessary expenses.

I have also resumed serious reading, having just finished Le Carré’s “A Most Wanted Man” and the first two books of the much-acclaimed, much-lamented Swedish author, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. No mean achievement this, I say so myself, considering that each of the Millennium books is at least 600 pages long!

So forgive me if I don’t blog as often as I used to. But rest assured, I will definitely pop in once in a while to update you on my life as an entrepreneur.


Monday, 21 September 2009

The Pink Flamingo

Ravan and I choke on our beers.

Have we heard right or has Sidekick gone mad? Does Malhotra saab really expect us to chaperone him to a strip-tease club? Malhotra saab -- the dignified, silver-haired patriarch of XYZ Corporation -- in front of whom, we sit on the edge of our seats to show respect lest he should take offence?

Ravan and I are in Dusseldorf for two weeks to participate in a trade-show and we are put up at the ritzy Ramada hotel. After a hard day’s work, we are back in the hotel and unwinding with a beer in the bar, when Sidekick, Malhotra’s Man Friday, successfully seeks us out and puts forward his boss’s request.

“It’s only 7.30 pm,” says Ravan. “I don’t think the night clubs open before 11 pm.”

Sidekick has it all worked out. We will go for a nice vegetarian dinner, he says. Afterwards, we will go clubbing.

Ravan and I look at each other, not much liking the whole idea. We have to be at work at 7.30 am the next day and can quite do without a late night out. But Malhotra saab is a VIP customer and it would be churlish to turn down his request. So we nod glumly at Sidekick and give our assent.

During dinner, Ravan explains the basics to both the guys. There will be a centre stage around which the tables are arranged in multiple tiers. The dancers will come one by one, do their routine and go back. Once we are seated, girls from the bar will come and try to sit beside us. Don’t encourage them. Their only aim is to make you buy champagne which would be exorbitantly priced. Tell them we are only having beer and they will go away. Then we can enjoy our evening in peace.

Malhotra Saab looks convinced. He nods sagely. Only Sidekick looks a bit disappointed.

But the plot runs off the rails at the Pink Flamingo, the club recommended to us by the concierge at the Ramada. The sight of so many scantily-clad women totally unhinges the normally sedate Malhotra saab. Ravan and I have hardly sipped our first beer when we see our customer with girls wrapped around him on both sides and grinning like an idiot. “What is your names, baby?” asks our Don Juan in his rustic, Punjabi accent. The girls giggle and ask for champagne.

Ravan tries to signal a warning. B-E-E-R, he mouths wordlessly, with not much hope.

Kya pharak padta hai, yaar? Champagne order karo na!” says the Casanova, who has his hands full by now.

Frankly, I do not remember much about the rest of the night and I’m sure the same applies to Ravan as well. I have a faint recollection of dropping Malhotra saab and Sidekick off at their hotel and reaching the Ramada, well past 2 am.

What I do remember vividly is the attending the briefing session the next day at 7.30 am nursing the mother of all hangovers and not registering a word of what was being said.

Image Courtesy: www.iteamz.com

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

A Century of Posts: 2

In Praise of the Stenographer

If you look back over the last 15 years or so, the stenographer as a species has totally vanished from the office scene. You do not see him anymore. The advent of the PC and the laptop, word-processing programmes with spell check features and the unblinking focus companies have brought to bear on headcount-related costs have all played their part in vanishing what was once the constant in any organisation chart..

The Biscuit tin Rider

One hot summer day in May, I find myself stranded in Mangalore without a ticket to Bombay. Lugging my suitcase, with sweat trickling down my spine, I visit the tiny offices of all the major bus operators for a seat on a bus leaving that night, only to be turned away every time. No seats are available. All buses are totally booked out...

Landing in Mangalore

The problem was that the mere prospect of landing in Mangalore airport in the ageing Boeing 737s of Indian Airlines filled me with such abject terror; I could not sleep for days prior to the flight...

Strong Medicine

It is one of those early morning departures and predictably enough it is going to be an Airbus A320 that will fly us to Bangalore. At 6.30 am, we are securely strapped in our seats and about to start taxiing for take-off when Mike surreptitiously palms something onto me.

It is a miniature bottle of whisky...

An Unforgettable Dinner

I indicated to BS that there could be a small problem: while I knew for a fact that Iyer liked beer, I was equally certain that he was a strict vegetarian. He was, after all, a Tamil Brahmin from traditional, conservative, orthodox Chennai and maybe he would have eggs at the most, but fish and meat were definitely a no-no...


The drinks menu is passed around and Subbudu first orders orange juice. Seeing the others order scotch and soda, he changes his mind and asks the waiter to bring Chivas Regal because “he has heard so much about it.” By the time the others have barely finished the first round, our man is onto his third drink and showing alarming signs of inebriation...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

A Century of Posts: 1

Once I publish a blog post, I rarely go back and read it again.

But now that “Stepping Sideways” has completed a century of posts, I felt it is as good an occasion as any, to go through the archives and provide a link to those posts which, on re-reading, still managed to raise a chuckle. Pretty much narcissistic, you may say and I shall not demur. But, what the hell! Here are the links to six old posts that made me smile. In the next post, I will provide links to six more.

Modesty is my middle name, by the way.

The Missing Passport
It is well past midnight and all inmates of our bachelors’ pad in Vile Parle are fast asleep. An alarm goes off, but is quickly smothered after the first ring itself. My friend Moni gets up reluctantly and tiptoes softly to the toilet. Silently he finishes his shave, showers, sprays an expensive deodorant all over his body, gets into a freshly-laundered pair of trousers and puts on a spotless, white shirt...

Unsaintly Thoughts
A letter has come from the Rajneesh Ashram, enquiring about a product that the company markets. I am asked to go and make a sales presentation...

The Mumbai Local
Travelling in overcrowded suburban trains of Bombay forces you to learn many skills. Reading a broadsheet newspaper such as The Times of India holding onto an overhead strap with one hand in a swaying train compartment where people are packed in like sardines, is one of them...

Joshua’s Mumbai
Rakesh, by the way, is quite normal, compared to some of my other friends who have populated these blog posts off and on. Granted, there was that brief period in early 1990s when he declared undying allegiance to the state of Israel and started calling himself Joshua...

In Praise of the Beard
I have been having a beard for over two decades now. Many are the people I have misled into thinking of me as an intelligent, erudite, caring, sensitive human being by the sole virtue of my beard. Likewise, many are the sticky situations I have got out of with Houdini-like adroitness, by simply stroking my beard and looking thoughtful...

Ravan and the Cable Guy
Ravan explodes from his chair, draws himself to his full height and unships a few choice epithets in Hindi and Marathi, outlining the cable owner’s doubtful paternity, his unsavoury relationship with his sister, and his abject inability to satisfy his wife in bed...

Image Courtesy: www.gamespot.com

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Bell Hotel

When did Mr RS start working on the swimming pool? Was it after he made the container hotel rooms or before? Or, was it done at around the same time? I cannot recollect for sure.

But I do remember this interesting conversation I had had with him while the pool was being dug out. Sivakasi has no public swimming pools, he said. This one was going to be the first. It will give a chance for the townsfolk to learn swimming. It will be a standard size pool with changing rooms, lockers, and showers. Experienced male and female coaches will be available throughout the day and separate timings will be allotted for men, women, and children. The fee will be nominal. As for the hotel guests, they could use the pool at no extra charge, of course.

Amazingly enough, during my next visit to Bell hotel, I could see Mr RS had delivered on his promise. The small-built, soft-spoken genius showed me round the swimming pool complex and its immaculately maintained lawns and was visibly embarrassed when I profusely congratulated him on the successful execution of yet another project.

It did not take him long to realise the container park hotel concept, at best, was a stop-gap arrangement. By this time, he had also learned the ropes of hoteliering and realised the sustained demand for his compact hotel rooms, augured well for the future. So his next step was to totally demolish the container park, and build a brand-new brick-and-mortar hotel in its place.

Today’s Bell Hotel is an imposing structure, boasting of 40 well-furnished rooms, two restaurants, and a conference hall that can seat 100 people. A few weeks ago, after a fairly long gap, I visited Sivakasi and had lunch in one of the restaurants of the hotel and felt deeply nostalgic, reminiscing about its humble origins.

But Mr RS was nowhere to be found. But then, I was not surprised. The hotel brochure tells me that they are now a chain of hotels and Bell hotels can be found in the towns of Madurai, Tuticorin, and Alleppy as well. No doubt, Mr RS must be overseeing some fine detail in one of these properties or he must be scouring new towns in South India to set up yet another Bell Hotel.

P.S. This, incidentally, is the 100th post at Stepping Sideways, a small but significant landmark!

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Sivakasi Revisited

The Bell Hotel in Sivakasi, when it opened its doors to the public more than fifteen years ago, was not a hotel at all. It was just a restaurant. Set in the middle of a huge grove of fruit trees, it was a long rectangular dining hall kept cool by noisy air-conditioners, where the itinerant business traveller could find safe haven during those languorous hours from 1 pm to 3 pm, when the heat was its worst and the whole town hunkered down in an uneasy siesta. The menu was madly eclectic, mixing and matching the South Indian-Tandoori-Chinese cuisines with reckless abandon. But the food was decent and that was all that we cared.

When I visited the restaurant the second time, there were already changes in the air. Mr RS, the enterprising businessman who owned the restaurant, had purchased two 40-feet containers, mounted them on iron girders at a height of two feet from the ground, cut out windows on the sides and had converted them into hotel rooms with air-conditioning, TV, attached bathrooms and room service from the restaurant.

As innovations go, this one was simply marvellous and became a big hit with the small traders and businessmen who came to Sivakasi from all over the country and who, hitherto, had to make do with dingy lodges with smelly toilets near the bus stand.

Within a year or so, the number of “hotel rooms” multiplied–one part of the grove began to look like a well-maintained container park, with fresh water and sewage lines discreetly laid underneath the sturdy, metal trellis. I stayed in one of those rooms once; it was a refreshing experience to wake up to sound of birdsong and sit on the narrow veranda outside (it was actually a narrow platform running on all four sides of the room) and have my cup of morning tea.

But all this was just the beginning. The tip of the iceberg, if you will.

The visionary Mr RS had a few more aces up his sleeve.

Photo Courtesy: http:// fusions.files.wordpress.com
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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.