Defining Images

The business of enterprise

This is the second post of the Defining Images ’08 series. Two more posts to go !

An autorickshaw meter. Mumbai ’08

2008 saw some of the craziest ends of the spectrum for ‘Enterprise’ ! From surging highs to commanding lows, we saw it all. We saw the investment banks zoom up and in no time go down to touch what seems like a bottomless pit.

No, This post isn’t about them. It isn’t about Madoff. Or of Lehman or that ilk. Or or Satyam or Satyam reversed, called ‘Maytas’ ! Or whatever. I hardly understand their world. This is about a world my plebian mind can understand. But hasnt connected to in a while. 2008 was when i dialled and reached out to them. Here are a few images, reminiscences and lessons.

Image 1
Mumbai ’08

I stumbled into this gent. A barber by day and an odd poster sticker by night. I caught him staring into faces, carrying a box and wandering around. His Modus Operandi is to stare just long enough into faces just to catch the subtle stubble or extra centimeters of hair on the head.

Upon such spotting, a quick conversation follows, and in no time, a roadside place identified and there is lather on a new chin. Every stroke on the chin, complimented by a new honk from a different car in the background.

10 – 20 customers is all that he gets a day. ‘On a good day, 20’. He adds. Rs. 50 – 60 a day is good enough. And then, with a smile he adds : ‘i sleep well’. ‘Where do you live’, i ask him ? With a toothless smile he asks, ‘Can i give you a shave ?’

Image II

Mumbai ’08

In a central suburb of Mumbai, early in the morning. These stores are yet to open. And these obviously are not stores demarcated with branding on neon signboards with semi naked men and women exhorting me to open a spent wallet.

These are road side stalls that have its occupants selling fish. Each stall having a loyal client base. I see them following simple principles : Arrive on time. Serve every customer well. Stick to business. Be fast. Recognise the ones who come back with a wave and quick value adding banter. Move on. Keep overheads low.

They sustain. Every day, thousands throng here. It truly is a fish market in the auditory sense, at peak periods. Recession or no recession, the din continues here.

Except during non business hours. Like this morning, when empty baskets and an expectant stray cat greet my camera. Somehow that is much unlike the neon sign that are yet to switched on giant malls some distance away.

Image III

In a market. Mahabaleshwar ’08

He says, with a slight hint of a gasp for breath. But only slight. “I do trips like this all day long. The man who sells me this, cant find good customers. And the man who i sell these to, cant find good quality sellers. I connect them up, but i cant find transporters who will ferry small units and my shoulders just grow stronger !!

My perfunctory questions follow. And he answers in the same vein. ‘I don’t keep count of the number of trips. I just watch for sellers and buyers. And their mood and what they say. Sometimes the sellers are desperate. Sometimes the buyer has a large order to service, and all they do is find me. Or someone like me.’

Someone who is truthful and honest’

I ask, why he does what he does. He looks puzzled. A new set of carrots arrive. He sorts and loads them on. With one final glance in my direction, shouts out, ” You wont understand’. He carries on.

I am left holding the camera and searching for meaning.

Those defined 2008 on the Enterprise side for me. Stick to simple principles. Seek out people and not things. Stay sensitive. Glitz is not growth. Honest still is the best policy, however cliched, old fashioned and disregarded that principle is. And don’t complicate things. A clear conscience and sound sleep is a natural consequence !

2008 reinforced all of that for me. Tapping me on my shoulder and helping me realise that i i perhaps could be veering off course, were i not careful.

Coming to think of this, this post was after all about satyam : The original straight forward satyam : Truth ! That was Enterprise ’08 for me !

Defining Images ’08 : Women of the year !

Clicked in Mumbai Sept ’08

There are iron rods that jut out in the incomplete apartment complex next door. Seeming to arch out and reach the sky. Getting closer to the blue beyond and cotton clouds, everyday, a new floor climbed. Hoisted with bricks, cement, mortar, steel.

All in exchange of perhaps three square meals, happiness on a toddlers face and for inflaming the hopes beyond. At lunch time, they take a break. All those who climb those incomplete stairs of the yet to be complete buildings, hauling over bricks and mortar.

There is one lady who i watch today. A lady who hurriedly canters to a small shed. From a distance, through all the din and dust, i hear a toddlers smirk of happiness and a mothers voice.

In a moment they emerge. An elder daughter swinging a discarded bottle follows. She has him on her hip. Sings a song in a language that is alien to me as they walk by. Mother. Daughter. Baby. Unaware of my or anybody elses presence, they seems present in her world. Fully present there.

The lady stops for what seems to be a fleeting second. With one swoop of her other hand and a slight bend, wipes clean construction equipment from the floor and ports it atop her head.

My camera goes click click obscuring the chord that tugs the heart. From somewhere, my own amma telling our childhood stories stream in. ‘kandhalile muthucharam kappathi kattivaithen..’ ( From tatters i saved this string of pearls just for you..), she used to say, repeating lines from a film song.

Today, with an elegance that could compare a Russian gymnast on a trapeze, this lady of this hot Mumbai afternoon sways along. Presumably for lunch. Lullaby on her lip, work load on her head and love on her hip.

Long after they are gone, the alien lullaby & toddlers response still rings my ear. And i do not wonder why.

Image II

Mahabaleshwar ’08

It is around 6.30 AM. Mahabaleshwar. I walk the road to breathe in the fresh air and soak myself in. In some distance, a bundle of quiver seems to canter in my direction, at a brisk pace.

As she comes closer, i see a frail old woman. A bundle on her head. Barefoot. Carrying her slippers along. One on each hand. She seems to canter on. Each step is a struggle, i can see. And it takes a while for her to cross me. Slippers. Bundle et al in hand.

I am curious. To say the least. I turn around. And walk. Following her. In an obscure distance.

From afar i see a young lady approaching us. We walk on. They cross each other, with a greeting and wave. A slippery wave that is ! And the young woman tells her aloud, just as they are passing each other, ‘you should be wearing those slippers and not carrying them’.

She replies, with a panting quiver, ‘Shiri gave this to me. I don’t want to damage this…these will look good on ..( i cant quite catch the name)..’. She walks on. A few seconds later, a louder quiver emerges from the same throat. ‘I can do without these..‘ and as the voice trails off, i realise that the trail leads somewhere where i have no access to.

I drop off the trail. Staring into the sun, and the mist soaked land. I don’t have to look very far for love & promise. I realise.

Pedantic incidents, these may seem to you. To me, these shaped my 2008. Perhaps re-shaped, my mental map about hope, possibilities and women! There are two other women that i wrote about earlier. Do check out Vanita and the other woman that i know for a while now.

PS: On a completely different note, the missus and the mother-in-law are not featured here. Given the fact that they have ‘controlling interests’ in my life and therefore on this blog, featuring them here may involve a certain degree of conflict of interests. So in the interest of probity in public life… !!!