Phase 3- The internal briefing
“What is the brief?’ The Boss asked, expecting nothing more than what he already knew. Afterall, he’d been in the business for way too long to expect any surprises. But he knew that he could keep morons like me motivated by feigning ignorance.
“They want an ad. A press ad. An ad about their achievements. The current government’s achievements, To make the people aware of what they have done.” I replied, stretching that single line in my notepad to its maximum length hoping that the connecting words will bring with itself some lightning of an idea.
“Interesting” replied The Boss ignoring the pessimism in my tone of voice. To him it was another opportunity to dispense his accumulated wisdom, that he had wasted on the previous year’s AE on this job.
“So they want a press ad?” he clarified knitting his eyebrows so close together till he was convinced that he has successfully contorted his idiotic appearance to that of a seemingly smart one.
“Yes sir. A press ad. A full page press ad. Some of the publications it will be in colour, the others in black and white.” I hurriedly rattled away again, hoping that this artful rephrasing of my limited notes will suddenly open up a universe of information needed for the job.
The Boss took a long drag of his Marlboro Lights, stared at the ceiling, artistically clouding the room with smoke digging deep meanings out of every word that I had uttered.
“Hmmm….you know….” He muttered, and paused taking a minute more to reconstruct the sentence and make it sound more intelligent, so that it justified the silence that preluded it.
“Ok ….you know what….let’s take a look at last year’s ad….Mahadeva….” he summoned the longest serving employee in the agency, who had to undoubtedly be the studio manager. The only thing longer than his tenure at Renaissance, was his little fingernail that he hadn’t cut since the day he’d joined here.
Mahadeva entered by putting on his happy to help face, that he revealed to only few.
“Can we get a copy of the DIP ad we released last year.” The Boss ordered reclining his seat to the maximum.
Mahadeva overperformed by returning with multiple copies of the last four years’ ads and laid out the spread on the table, and ironed out the creases in the paper with his freshly polished fingernail. “Sir…do you also want the half page adapts?’
“No” replied The Boss suppressing Mahadeva’s enthusiasm for displaying his housekeeping abilities.
The three of us clouded around the horrendous looking layout of the previous ad, but with expressions like we were watching a compile of the Cannes Grand Prix Winners.
“See….these are the key areas we need to focus on. Elecricity. Water. Housing. Education. Women and child welfare and development” The Boss pondered circling these key focus areas with a pen.
We agreed without really knowing what we were agreeing to.
“Let me also try and call Mr. Desai, and see if I can get any more information.”
Mahadeva proactively clarifed the doubt that he had spotted on my face. “Desai is The Secretary’s secretary. Very helpful man. And a good friend of Boss.”
And Boss offered further proof by greeting Desai with a loud guffaw on the phone “Ha ha ha Mr Desai….It is that time of the year isn’t it? …ha ha ha ha ha..Haan did you find a house finally…..Oh very good….Vasanthanagar……that is convenient….close to office….yes yes, it is important to find a good house near to the place of work…ha ha ha ha ha..Life has changed ever since I have moved closer to the office……Ha ha ha ha ha…….ha ha ha ha ha…………hmmmm……….oh! ha ha ha ha ha! yes yes, you are right…we only get faster to work, not faster home……ha ha ha ha ha……”
The Boss casually strayed away into the neighboring room continuing his conversation as loudly, and instantly dropped the volume the minute he was convinced that his rapport with Desai was clearly established.
I had never seen the boss laughing so much before. Not even for jokes that were a hundred times funnier. But Mahadeva was overwhelmed with emotion. Over the years he had seen this client vendor relationship blossom into an undying friendship. He nudged me with his long little fingernail and said holding back his tears “You know, Boss used to personally service this account. Right from when he was of your age. I have been seeing him…..He knows them all, and it is only and only because of him that we still get the business.”
Boss returned looking visibly content with some vital clues provided by Desai.
“He says nobody has a clue.”
Mahadeva looked embarassed that the little flashback story he had just narrated did not get its deserving end.
“Which means that we do exactly what we did last year. Let’s focus on the same areas, and plot their achievements on these sectors for the current year. That’s it.”
“But where do we get that info from?”
“I have personally requested Mr. Desai to hand over copies of the annual reports of these departments. He is doing us a special favour. He’s going to give us an exclusive letter requesting the authorities to give us copies of these reports. You carry this letter with you and meet the heads of these departments. And soon we’ll have all the information that we need. Juicy information.” He concluded making it sound like these annual reports were some delicious delights.
The Boss scribbled “Social Welfare. Housing. Electricity. Water. Women and child welfare.’ on his personal letterhead that somehow resembled the paper we had used for printing a real estate client’s brochure the previous week.
He ripped off the page and handed me the prescription.
“Sir, by when do you want all this?” I enquired nervously, mentally calculating the enormity that those five innocent words carried with them.
“What’s for lunch?’ The boss screamed at the office boy.
Phase 4 – The search
Armed with a copy of Desai’s concise letter, “For advertising purposes I request you to kindly furnish a copy of the annual report to the bearer of this letter’, I was packed off with a huge bag on my shoulder, with scary expectations that it will be furnished with precious knowledge on my return.
The trip was to Vidhana Soudha, the magnificient building that housed the various departments of the government.
It is impossible to get your timing right when you are visiting government offices. You always screw up by walking in on a holiday on account of ‘Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar’s death anniversary’, or during lunch, tea time, coffee break, or when the official you want to meet is on unofficial leave.
As I walked across the never ending corridors of the beautiful Vidhana Soudha, I realised that it did not look as appealing from the inside.
I spotted the first department on my list…..Social Welfare Department.
A big room where all I could hear was the echo of a Remington typewriter in action. I followed the sound to the source and then realised why it was echoing so loudly. The room had noone except for the typist who had been engaged to make the room sound busy. An arrogant looking middle aged woman, who could have looked the same even without the help of her thick soda glasses.
“Excuse me maam” I politely interrupted her by placing a helpful finger on the fluttering page that was she was typing out of.
“What is it?” she scowled lifting her head, ignoring the kind act that I had introduced myself with, jabbing the last few keys that remained in her memory.
“I want an annual report. Who should I meet?”
She returned to the page, retraced her eyes back to the part where she was before this interruption, and got back to doing what she was being paid for.
I quietly slipped that letter of influence into her path of vision, and hoped that this reintroduction of mine would put her in her place.
“Mr Desai has sent me” I said strumming my fingers on Mr. Desai’s flourishing signature at the bottom.
She paused for a second and stared at the letter. And tossed it aside with such callousness that all the imagery I had built of Mr Desai came crumbling down in a second.
“You have to meet Mr. Nanjunda. He will come shortly. Till then you may please take your seat.” She said pointing towards a wooden chair with crisscross plastic wires, which closely resembled the one in the DIP’s office. I was struck with paranoia. I knew that these chairs were specially designed for long waits.
“Where is Mr Nanjunda?”
“He has gone for tea.”
“When did he go?”
“What for you? He’ll be here in some time, so wait till then.”
I folded the letter with lesser care than I had shown towards it before. And quietly retired into the corner that I had been relegated to.
After the six hour wait at the DIP’s office, I was now running short of topics to think about. Thankfully, the chair was located close to a table of an absentee with interesting objects within reach. A big blue bottle of glue. A bottle of correction fluid. A stamp pad with assorted seals strewn over and other interesting stationery to keep visitors engaged during the wait.
For the first one hour, I picked up a boring looking book and gave its cover an interesting design by thumbing my fingerprints all over it. I then analysed my fingerprints on various other surfaces. I carefully selected sheets that seemed unimportant, and randomly selected words in them that I felt needed correction. I stamped ‘URGENT’ on various documents with varying percentages of cyan. And finally took the liberty of stamping it on one document that needed it the most. Mr Desai’s letter.
I had put the stationery to every possible use. By now, I had even tattooed various parts of my body with seals of assorted shapes and sizes. But Mr Nanjunda never showed up.
“Maam, are you sure he’ll come?”
“I am fool or what? I told you no he’ll come.”
I then picked on the typist, and thought about her life. Could she ever fall in love? Did she always dream of being a typist? Does she hate her job as much as I hated mine? Is she as arrogant with her kids as well? Can her husband ever dominate over her? I spent some time constructing a little story arising out of these conflicting questions in my mind, waiting for Mr Nanjunda to arrive and rescue me from this story that had no scope of becoming any interesting.
After a long wait, a man who had all the makings of a Nanjunda arrived, ransacked a cupboard, and made a speedy exit with a stapler.
But the woman on the typewriter never lifted her head to see this fleeting guest.
I panicked that the Nanjunda I had been waiting for, slipped away even before I could legitimately vet his identity.
I called out to her anxisously “Excuse me maam. Was that Mr Nanjunda?”
“I told you no….to wait. He will come. Till then please dont disturb me.” She yelled back.
“Ya maam. But someone just came and went. I was only checking if that was Mr Nanjunda…..” I replied with immediate submissiveness.
“Was it because she hated Nanjunda? Or because she didn’t know or care who Mr Desai was? Or…..or could it be…that I am just a bearer of a letter…” I had found a new debate to keep my mind busy till the next Nanjunda arrived.
Another prospective candidate who even more resembled the Nanjunda I had imagined, arrived in a few minutes.
“Mr Nanjunda?” I enquired with the man himself, not bothering to seek a second opinion.
“Ya even I have come to meet him.” he replied. Slowly I began to recall his face. He was one of the Harijans in the DIP’s room. On one end I felt happy that atleast I was on the right path chasing the same things that others are chasing. On the other, I was doubting the edge my Boss had with the traitor Mr Desai, who had issued a similar letter that the man was proudly flashing around.
Finally a man arrived who was flocked by many other men. He resembled Nanjunda like nobody else could have. The typist smelt his arrival and stood up in stand by mode.
The man beside me promptly jumped up and showed him the letter he was holding “Mr Nanjunda…..what else…..the annual report.”
Mr Nanjunda threw a customary glance at the paper he was holding, and gave it to the typist.
“Give him our annual report”.
She ran to the table beside me and picked up a book with a brown cover and handed it over to the recent visitor.
I then walked up to Mr Nanjunda and showed him my letter praying that he wouldn’t notice the ‘URGENT’ stamped on it, in spite of all its relevance.
Mr Nanjunda looked at the letter unaffected by the sarcastic seal, and sighed “Oh God….how many more people…!!”
He called out to the recipient of the coveted book “Mr. Ananth….even he wants a copy of that. Sorry, but we only have one.” and then thrusted the book in my hands and instructed “go outside and take a xerox and give him the original.”
“But..sir…I was here even before him..” I mumbled not fully sure of the importance of chronology in this system.
Mr Nanjunda looked at the other man and said “Sorry Mr Ananth. Would you like to have some coffee?”
I strained my eyes to read the other man’s letter that Nanjunda was holding…
“For advertising purposes I request you to kindly furnish a copy of the annual report to Mr Ananth, our advertising partner.”
I felt stupid on discovering the reason for this discrimination. What felt even more stupid was that the book I was going to photocopy had my fingerprints smudged all over it. But I still couldn’t call it mine.
To be contd….