The Quirky Brilliance Of The Head Guru
I have just swiped my card and entered the sixteenth floor through the glass door. I see Arthur sitting by himself through the glass wall of his office across the atrium – the bank of offices we have come to call the fish tank, overlooking the square. I hurry to my office, remove my outer garments and pick up the phone and dial Arthur’s three digit inter-office number. Might as well get it out of the way before I chicken out. Having to call Arthur is something of an ordeal, because you never know what kind of mood you might catch him in. But there is nothing I can do about it. I am the one who needs him. Most of our telephone conversations would go something like this:
‘Good morning Arthur!’
‘What’s so good about the morning?’
‘Hi Arthur. How are you?’
‘Why do you want to know?’
‘Hi Arthur. This is Haresh.’
‘I know who you are!’
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And Forget Paris – Think Lyon
It’s five minutes before six, the closing time for Lyon’s Place Bellecour tourist office. I am standing across the counter from the friendly blonde – petite and pretty. And sweet. This is the third time since three that afternoon that I have returned to her in the remote hope that maybe, just maybe something would have opened up in the meanwhile and I still would be able to find one of the charming French B & B’s in or near the center of the old town. Based on my one and only overnight stay in Lyon years earlier, I stayed at one of its most charming boutique hotels, Hotel Cour des Loges. I have a reason to believe that the city had to have similar but smaller and reasonably priced jewels tucked away in one of their obscure alleys.
I have arrived in Lyon by train from Avignon, with a back pack and a small carry on bag on wheels. I am doing south of France by train without any fixed timetable or an itinerary. Other than bit of a difficulty in Toulouse, I am lucky to have found nice places to crash at. Not cheap, neither expensive. My budget is between fifty and a hundred Euros a night. Seems like tonight I may have to settle for a four hundred Euro room at Sheraton. I am not looking forward to it. But what were my options? The closest the tourist office could offer me a room is 20 kilometers (about 13 miles) from the center. Certainly not what I want.
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Lifting Of The Fig Leaf
Zahir takes me by the hand.
‘Let me introduce you to some of the people here.’ I am one of the hundred some invited guests at Zahir and Bernadette Kazmi’s annual pre-Ramadan shenanigan at their spacious home in Chicago suburb of Oakbrook. Outside it’s raining cats and dogs and yet it has not deterred any of their friends and the families from showing up in droves. Only damper it has put on the event is that all of his beautiful oriental rugs are covered with large bed sheets and installed outside the house is a tent sized awning, shrouding the open sky.
The first person he introduces me is a tall and lanky Pakistani friend, whose name I promptly forget as soon as it is said.
‘Haresh used to be an editor at Playboy.’ Zahir can’t help but throw in. I think he gets a kick out of watching the reaction on the people’s faces. If not exactly ignoring, I try to slough it off with a hollow laugh.
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The Pirates of The Intellectual Properties
Soon, Playboy was no longer just a magazine. There was Playboy Mansion and were Playboy Clubs and Playboy Bunnies and even Playboy theater and Playboy movies and television show Playboy After Dark, hosted by Mr. Playboy Hugh M. Hefner himself. And then there were Playboy products. The first noticeable were air fresheners dangling from the rear view mirrors, mostly of the cabs, auto decals donning black and white image of the by now ubiquitous rabbit head, key chains. Mostly cheap products. Most of them unauthorized and unlicensed. When you have a fertile swath of land, and the year is good and it rains and rains and rains, what happens? Suddenly, you have shrubbery and uncontrollable weeds. Nothing you can do. This was not in the plan. Literally, you see your rabbits multiplying at the pace you never in your wildest dream imagined. No way to stop them fornicating and swelling in population unless a natural disaster the scale of Malthusian theory of population were to strike. You can’t keep your act together to keep it all under control, let alone begin to reign them from growing greater.
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The Dream That Never Died
It stands there in the middle of Mexico City, looking wrecked and devastated like the crudely chiseled and ravaged structures in the bombed damaged cities of Europe in the aftermath of the second world war. The walls half built and then left unfinished with their uneven rough edges sticking up, floors smeared with the dried out cement. The bare stairs next to the elevators are exposed with no doors concealing them. The haltingly moving lethargic lifts are pulled up and down by the sinister looking cables behind the barely lit entrance to the building. You need to strain your eyes to see the lone figure of the security guard sitting at his battered desk sprouting a dim desk lamp. The open wires devoid of the fixtures dangle down from the high ceilings like in the Snake Alley of Taipei.
When coming in from the street, you walk the rough dusty grounds of what was probably intended to be a Plaza to surround the tall structure planned to be the tallest building in the all of the Latin America. You climb the few unplastered scratchy cement steps to the lobby and make your way towards the elevators. You hurry past the guard and barely return his greetings. You wait for the elevator descend ever so slowly and watch the cables that control it in that semi-dark dusk like filtered vision.
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Terrorized By The Righteous Rage
I am impressed by the opulent looks of the agency. They show me around beaming with pride at the facilities they offered. I, as a senior executive would have my own office, they tell me. Each office is named after the wonders and the major landmarks of the world. Whenever possible, I would be assigned the Taj Mahal, they promise. I would have my own direct phone line and my personal voice mail. I would have access to the support staff.
Hanging on almost every wall are expensively framed inspirational quotations by Dale Carnegie, Orison Swett Marden, James Allan, Malcolm Forbes, Lee Iacocca, Albert Einstein and such. The tone of the quotations assumes that you are down and out and are in dire need of pick me ups. Unlike clients in other businesses, we are the fired lame duck executives.
I still am not clear about what exactly I am supposed to be doing sitting in one of those little larger than cubicle offices, and more importantly, what it is that they would do for me. So I sit down with the president of Benson and Associates, Bob Benson and his partner Herb Lester, face to face for an initial interview. The interview itself lasts for more than an hour, during which they ask me whether my “separation” from Playboy was voluntary, as if there were such a thing!
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Flying Free Like A Hawk
“You’re doing a good job if you manage to piss us off fifty percent of the time, and piss our partners off another fifty.” Our boss Bill Stokkan would often tell his managers, usually during one of his pontification sessions. More true of his international divisional heads who had not only to deal with the products but also with the cultural nuances of the people from several countries. In my case, it also worked to my advantage that I was not an American born American. Especially the people I worked with from the non-European and Asian countries felt that I understood them better just because I was born and grew up in India. That I brought a different sensitivity to our working together. Equally so with my American management, because by then I had spent as many years in the West. As difficult as it could be sometimes, I had developed a close rapport with the people on both ends and had earned their confidence and the respect.
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