Friday, July 6, 2007

Vote for.. vote for...

17. That’s the number of times I voted for the Taj Mahal. And tomorrow I will get to know whether all my various fake IDs worked towards getting the Taj into the coveted and exclusive list of the 7 Wonders of the (new) World.

I got angry email messages (“Does India Care??”; “Last chance to redeem our beloved Taj”; “Doob maro kutton..” etc) which goaded me and prodded my national pride with an electric stick, over and over, and turned me into this rabid Taj Mahal supporter. One, who would create fake email IDs, with various combinations of ‘shome’ and ‘numbers’, and online-vote his nation to glory. I just could not stop. I had to make Taj Mahal win.

On 07/07/07 the media circus will begin and people around the world will get to know whether their chosen monument(s) made it to the list. Bipasha Basu along with Hilary Swank and Sir Ben Kingsley and a host of other stars will be hosting the ceremony at the Benificia Stadium in Lisbon.

Its quite amazing how lists work. The “top 10…”, the “100 most..”, the “big 3..” and now the “7 wonders..” No one cares if you are the 8th wonder of the world or the 4th biggest. No sir. Either you are in the list or you are nobody. Once a list that you care about is announced, you just have to be there...

Lists by their very nature play more on the principle of exclusion rather than inclusion. If you are excluded, you just have to figure out a way of getting in. But if you are included, then there is a feeling of brief joy followed by emptyness.

Once Taj Mahal is there on the list, we will rejoice for a day and then not know what to do next. If it did not make it (and that can only happen because you did not back up my 17 with your votes!), we would be burning effigies on the streets and uprooting railway lines in anguish and protest.

Which brings me to the question that if we did not make it, whose effigy do I burn?

To have a clear line of hate, I picked up a cup of hot tea and jabbed my fingers into the Google search box.. What I found out, took me by surprise.

Unlike the popular perception that this election is being conducted by some “World Council” [like “World Commission for Selecting the (new) 7 Wonders of the World], the man behind this is a Swiss chap called Bernard Webber. No government, no ‘world council’ no organization is affiliated to this election. The whole thing is orchestrated by an individual

This modern day Antipator of Sidon is not a poet but a rather shrewd business man who has pulled off probably the most successful global PR campaign EVER! Described as a “film maker, museum curator, aviator, and explorer”, they should probably add “astute business man” to his list of titles.

Webber’s project started in 2000, and for the last 7 years the man has sustained public interest in this. I remember stray mails on this over the last few years. Of course now the noise levels have reached a crescendo. Not only has this man got individuals to vote and SMS, he has got AR Rehman to produce a video, Airtel to launch a media campaign and all the news channels devote time and energy and space on his project. Without spending a dime of his own! How’s that for working capital management.

The official website, says that a million votes have been received so far. Imagine the money that the voting generated. The big bucks though will come in from people who spend $2 to get their “Official Certificate”, and from shoppers who will buy the Official NEW7WONDERS “Clothing and Fun Merchandise” (ranging from $2.49 to $200) , “Pins and Medallions” (ranging from $4.95 to $99.95), “Song”(!!), and go for the official NEW7WONDER “tour package” that the site offers (“see the candidates for yourself” is their clever tagline).

50% of the net revenue generated will be going behind restoring world heritage sites, including the Bamiyan Buddha in Afghanistan. The remaining is Mr Webber’s kharcha paani.

Now, I don’t know how to react to all the information that I dug up. On one hand I am disappointed that this entire thing is being done by an individual (or should I say an entrepreneur) and not a world body who has some direct stake in world heritage, like UNESCO. It would have given the whole effort more weight and credibility.

On the other hand, I am happy that there is this immensely successful campaign that puts world heritage sites under the spotlight and on centre stage. For a world thats obssesed with the future, its good to take stock of what we already have and celebrate it.

The case of apathy towards heritage is even more acute in India. India is a nation where every street has a story to tell and every rock is a part of history. It is also a nation where the people by and large care a hoot about conserving or respecting heritage monuments.

So what if Mr Webber makes money through this event? Atleast he got India aware and awakened on a fairly mass level on the importance of our monuments and our collective responsibility to promote and conserve them. This is in a country where every wall and lift door has some puerile proclamation of love or random mention of genitals is no small feat.

I do hope that the Taj makes it. And I do hope that it brings in a culture of respect and conservation for our national heritage. And I do hope Mr Webber makes lots of money through this. We need people like him to prove that the past is as exciting as the future.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Lost in translation

Office is a gift that keeps giving. Every time I feel that the world around is conspiring to make me unhappy, something or somebody in office does something bizarre and lights up my life.

Take BK, in Bangalore for example.

BK was the head mundoo in the Bangalore office. Dressed in spotless starched white safari uniform and always wearing Bata blue hawai chappals, he commandeered an army of less special mundoos (dressed in blue) who on his instructions would get us tea, deliver our mail, courier our stuff… you know, things that office mundoos do. From his demeanor and his uniform, you could make out that BK considered himself a white collar guy and his army most definitely blue collar.

BK was also an active part of the Brookefield’s Union. That role demanded of him a certain disgruntled look and slip up of service every now and then. Just to make the point to the management that they cannot get their tea on their desk if they piss him off.

Now everyone knows that managers in India cannot decide, deliberate, discuss or debate without their cup of tea. Hot, steaming tea served in white cups are the most critical decision making aids in corporate India (just a notch above Power Point Presentations, but above nonetheless). So BK had a really important role to play in the fortunes of this 10,000 Cr behemoth.

To keep BK happy, the management decided to give him an incentive. So on a grand stage they announced his name and gave him a certificate, a cash award and a small statuette (silver stick figure, arms raised, crossing the finishing line, pelvic first) for “Most Improved Behavior”. BK didn’t care what he got it for. He was happy being on stage getting cash.

Soon after the award, his performance did improve. He did not insist on talking in Kannadiga with you. He was prompt with the tea, and packages with fragile stuff went bubble wrapped.

I had a cubicle which faced away from the floor and looked out of the window. If you entered my cubicle, you would see a table that ran the length through the side of the cubicle and my back to you. The standing instruction to all the mundoos was to leave my mail on the table as you enter and not disturb me. Most of the mail was junk (“Rajasthan Patrika is No1 in Rajasthan”).

Only if there were some bills or estimates was I to be tapped on the back.

One fine day I hear BK’s raffish voice behind me.

BK: Saar?

Me: Hmmm?

BK: Good afternoon Saar!

Me: Yes BK what is it? Get me some tea please (I had a “Pavlovian Response” issue with BK. I saw him and I needed tea)

BK: Ok saar. Saar you saw box?

Me: Box? What box?

BK: (beaming) Saar I made box.

Me: (totally confused) Good, good (I usually say that when I am confused)

BK: Usha [my secy] told me saar. Not to disturb……. ~clicking sound with his tongue~ so I made box.

Me: You made a box for Usha?

BK: No saar. For YOU! (emphatic ‘YOU’, eyes widened)

Me: Oh! Thanks. What box? ~blinking quite rapidly now~

BK: For your bills saar. No one is disturbing you. All your bills coming. I take them all and put inside box.

Me: Oh that’s fantastic! (I use fantastic a bit too liberally).

BK: Thank you saar.

Me: Where is it?

BK: ~wide beaming smile~ In your BACKSIDE saar!

What followed next were two people staring at each other for a very long time.

BK was grinning, much like the spider who invited the fly to his parlor, and upon peeking out of his window, saw the stupid fly accepting the invite AND bringing a friend along!

I on the other hand, had the expression of the innocent by-stander who just got struck by a stray bullet.

I did not know whether he was being rude, whether this was some insidious Union ploy to enrage me or whether the old rogue had just lost all his marbles.

I spluttered and stammered a “What do you mean” while shifting uncomfortable in my seat.

BK: Here saar. This box. I keep it here. In your backside. No one come in and disturb you. All bills keeping in here.

Me: ~realization dawning~ Oh in the back! You have put the box at the back of the cubicle. ~nervous laughter~

BK: Yes Saar. All in the backside.

Me: (taking a deep sigh of relief) Thanks BK!

BK: No mention saar. Everyday your bills will be in the box in your backside

Me: I wish!

BK: ~with dedication~ No no saar. It will happen

Me: Ok. Can I have some tea?

BK: Just bringing saar… Thank you saar..

In one clever linguistic moment, BK had put my bills exactly where I wanted them to be.

I must admit, the box worked pretty well. No one came up and flung mail on my desk anymore. They were all there, inside the box, in my backside.

Then there was the time Michelle, from Unilever London, almost fainted when Ramesh told her with a smile, “You can put your laptop in my dickie”.

But that’s another story…..