It’s a gingerly walk. You would be well within reason to assume that I was walking over shred glass if you saw my gingerly tread. Around me, an assorted bunch of bloggers are busy, blogging away. Peering into the keyboard with a precision that would befit a scientist launching a satellite to a planet beyond Pluto. I walk up to where Harish from Blogadda is standing. I tell him with my head held down in shame : ‘I cant… I cant blog like them, I cant blog at their speed’. He stares at me in silence. I keep my eyes trained on the carpet and ask for more time. He tells me, “The bus leaves at 2.00 PM”.
“I will write. I promise”, I tell him. He remains silent. “God Promise” I say, hoping to infuse some humour. I think I see his jaws clench behind his generous cheeks that mirror a far more generous heart, while he says ‘Ok’. My shame redoubles. He walks away.
You see, Blogadda invited me to a preview of a new car TATA Zest. I sweated buckets. Part out of excitement but more out of trepidation. Excitement at the prospect of ‘Goa’ again in the monsoon. (I love the monsoons every year. And Goa, at all times). Plus the prospect of meeting bloggers from different walks of life was akin to a lavish buffet for a famished glutton whose appetite for stories spans the universe.
The trepidation came from someplace else. A large dose of a lazy outlook combined with a philosophy of ‘writing for writings sake’ (and not for rewards and contests) masquerades as righteous nonchalance for ‘brands’ and product reviews. I laid out my condition with a missionary zeal : I would write what I want to write. No censoring. No interference.
“Of course”. They said. Matching the righteous tone in more than good measure. I wondered why the good people at Blogadda humoured me and people like me. But God was in his heaven and all was well with the world. So.
The TATA Motors’ proposition was not only novel, it was bold and it appealed. It was to assemble a set of bloggers from walks of life that are as divergent as spaces between continents, to review and talk about the car they were launching. Now, I have the amount of knowledge about automobiles that you would expect Manmohan Singh to have about Punk music. (But the difference was, he could ride on reputation and keep quiet about it. Here I was to write two blog posts) The idea was to get the Zest experience reach different bloggers and their audience groups. Food bloggers. Fashion bloggers. General interest bloggers. That was more than merely good thinking.
Brilliant thinking, you could think. So did I. Soon, I flew into Goa. Goa is always brilliant. Trading a precious weekend with the family and looking forward to the prospect of meeting people from different genres and getting to know their blogs. Accompanied by a firm relief, plastered all over my mind, that there were going to be no experts in automobiles.
As luck would have it,the first gentleman I met was a Formula One enthusiast, who spoke about cars and races as though he relishes clutch plates for lunch and grease filled engine oil for dessert! If not for his friendly, calm demeanour and were he speaking about ‘ religion’ instead of cars, Obama and his drones would have taken our bus down. That kind of passion and a studied opinion of automobiles. My heart sank. I reckoned that taping my mouth, acting worldly wise with a smile now and then, backed by knowledgeable nods were my last resorts to escape the ignominy of being a frog in a flower basket.
But God was in his heaven and better things were due. There were people in the room who had other interests. Like jalebis, for example. A sigh that could be heard in Singapore, escaped my lips. As it turned out awesome things were due.
The hospitality of TATA Motors and the Blogadda teams was immaculate. I sat listening to stories of journeys from fellow bloggers. Some images remain etched. Like the widening of eyes of the bird watcher as he explained his exploits including one where he walked miles in Ladakh to spot one single bird. The wanderlust in another that is set to take him across the country on his bike for two months. Riding for two months and going to Nepal on a bike is awesome-crazy enough. But making it sound like he was going to the corner grocery store, had the head reeling.
My jaw hit the carpet and seemed intent on going all the way to the basement, when I heard yet another story of walking away from Corporate life and setting up a business model around blogs and blogging. Fixing the jaw, was unnecessary, for it soon was going to drop at the intensity and the nonchalant narration from every other fellow blogger’s story that wafted through the monsoon drenched Goan air.
TATA Motors is in the business of selling cars. Higher order pursuits like getting bloggers to exchange their stories falls in a vacuous place that the P&L statement will not like! But of course! But of course! Very soon, we were in what was called a ‘Masterclass’. A clutch of people from the design, engineering and Corporate Communications teams from TATA Motors presented facts, figures and data about the TATA Zest. Now, in my line of work, being subjected to legions of presentations and shiny corporate films with plasticky claims (and returning the favour in good measure), is common place. So, when the TATA Motors folks rolled out the same, the jaw returned to its place and stuck still as it normally does at the sight of pedestrian stuff.
The masterclass made as much of an impression as a weather report on TV, when you are expecting your favourite movie to turn up. The masterstroke however was in the opportunity to interact with their designers and engineers over dinner. I am a sucker for stories and hearing them in first person was an experience to cherish. The TATA Motors folks wove magic for the rest of the evening.
I recall talking to a TATA Motors’ designer who designed the audio system. Sporting a trim, white beard, a black turtle neck T-shirt and a blue jeans, if you haven’t guessed who came to my mind, let me add that he also wore round glasses just like Steve Jobs. If not for the thick Bengali accent you would be in your rightful mind to think that TATA Motors resurrected the master of design himself. As he spoke of his design of the audio systems, the twinkle in his eyes could have powered all of the hotel’s electricity.
I didn’t quite get the constraints until he explained them. One of which, was the ‘The two second test’. A design of the front end of the audio system that would be approved only if a tester were to make sense of it in two seconds, because two seconds was just about the time one could take the eyes off the wheel, while changing music. Some constraint, that! The pride in having done something awesome shimmered and rose far above the turtle neck.
Similar chats with different people ensued. Another that stays in the mind is the chat with the car designer from Vizag who spoke of straight lines, proportions, shapes and figures with an incredulous everlasting smile. Of course, I didn’t utter a word about how I loathed the geometry box and didn’t think of lines as anything beyond a scratch on a paper, back in school. But to meet someone who made a happy living out of doing this, required deep reflection of where I went wrong, I told myself. And hoped to forget about it.
The TATA Motors folks that I saw that evening, seemed to have passion oozing from every pore, were helpful to a fault, knowledgeable beyond measure and inspired a certain confidence in very good cars that we were to drive the next day morning. One thing was clear, TATA Motors was giving this car its best shot ever and it showed.
That night,as monsoon showers hit the Goan seashore in seamless ever-on kind of mode, conversations flowered. Cars. Passions. Blogs. Bloggers. Comments. Events. Readers. Twitter. Negative comments. Paid posts. Sick people. Beautiful people. Genres. Writers. And the like. There are surprises in store for me too. A few bloggers met and told me in that they read my blogs. I mumbled a few ‘Thank you’s and meant if much more than I said it. A couple of them kept silent after I said thank you. I have an odd feeling that they expected to be more generously compensated than a mere ‘thank you’, for reading the stuff that I churn out. If I would be them, I would! 🙂
The morning seemed to emerge in a hurry. The cars were readied. 20 odd cars. Fifty bloggers.
I was to join two very popular food bloggers who knew each other well.. First they knew each other, lived close by and blogged about food. Celebrity stuff. The swarm of anxiety riddled butterflies that lined my stomach wall at the prospect of meeting them soon melted into oblivion when I indeed got driving with the ladies. They were delightful people who accepted my ordinary fumbling ways like a phone would accept a random SMS, marketing an insurance policy!
We took turns at the wheel. Clicked some pictures while the other drove. Connected our phones to the audio device in the car. Changed channels. Commented on stuff. Switched cars to drive the Petrol and Diesel variants. For a couple of hours! To do all of this on good cars that are yet to be launched in the company of wonderful people, indicated good Karma or at least, a feeling that I couldn’t have been all that bad in my past lives!
I cant afford to miss mentioning the GoPro cameras that were placed on the windshield, with three tonnes of adhesive tape, ‘to capture expressions, as the car is being driven’. My tryst with cameras span decades. Over the last several decades, there are reams of snaps that seem to capture me at the exact moment when am least prepared or doing something ranging from incredulous to mildly preposterous. Like seeming to wag my tongue at the chief guest while receiving an award, when I could have sworn to God that all I was saying was ‘thank you’. Or eyelids closed. Unkempt shirt. Hands mysteriously coming in the way of the face. Etc! But this was supposed to be GoPro and all that. God help the editor, I thought!
Driving through an apology of a highway and picturesque narrow lanes filled with quaint houses in bright colours that would tear through monsoon induced green cover soothed the soul and the calf muscle that suffer Kurla’s whims. At every fork in the road, a TATA Motors gent with a bunch of curious locals in tow, would hold a board giving directions. At every pit stop, a handy bunch would give the car a rub and a shine making me wonder if I should attempt a smile and a wave of the hand befitting Queen Elizabeth.
That was that. After all the driving, we now are to ‘Live blog’ the event. That is a tall ask. After a few paragraphs of furious typing later I realise I am lost like a marathoner who went in the wrong direction, in a foreign land. I realise this is a lost cause. Words stutter and the keyboard crackle refuses to produce anything that can remotely be called ‘coherent’, on the screen.
It’s a gingerly walk. You would be well within reason to assume that I was walking over shred glass if you saw my tread. Around me an assorted bunch of bloggers are busy, blogging away. Peering into the keyboard with a precision that would befit a scientist launching a satellite to a planet beyond Pluto. I walk up to where Harish from Blogadda is standing. I tell him with my head held down in shame : ‘I cant… I cant blog like them, I cant blog at their speed’. He stares at me in silence. I keep my eyes trained on the carpet and ask for more time. He tells me, “The bus leaves at 2.00 PM”.
“I will write. I promise”, I tell him. He remains silent. “God Promise” I say, hoping to infuse some humour. I think I see his jaws clench behind his generous cheeks, while he says ‘Ok’. My shame redoubles. He walks away.
The days after the event is a whirlwind of sorts at work and home. Work piles up. My computer crashes. Mr.Murphy decides to do his visits. A few days after the event, I call up Harish. He is in better spirits. I tell him, I have a post that will go live soon. I gather he knows me well. Between laughs and banter he asks me, “I hope it is about the car and the experience and not some…?” His voice trails.
I tell him, ‘Harish, the post about the car will be done too, but this one begins and ends with you’. Silence reigns on the other side. I think I hear his facepalm as I hit the publish button.