In the autumn of 1994 we moved office to a friend’s flat ( apartment, if American ) about 5 minutes walk away from the house. The two rooms and separate entrance allowed us to host the expanded team and have a separate office for me and the Beloved Bangalan. Things had improved a bit since the early struggles!
We’d become more confident with our approach to sales. Over the previous 2 years or so, I’d driven the length of Taratala Road between Taratala More and Hindustan Lever in Garden Reach many, many, many times. On the regular beat to the greasy and fragrant Lever factory where they made things like Sunsilk shampoo, I would often stop, on my way back, at Britannia Foods. Britannia is synonymous with biscuits ( cookies, if American, though not quite, being snappier, crunchier, think Peak Freans .. ). I would drop in between 3-4 pm, or teatime, and hang out with Mr A, the HR Manager. He was always welcoming and we would shoot the breeze for 30 minutes or so. He’d told me he wasn’t ready to install the time clocks and attendance system and therefore I did not attempt to sell anything to him. We just had a cup of tea each and some fresh biscuits and talked of this and that. This went on for a couple of years.
One day in the late spring of 1995, I made my usual stop at the Britannia plant and found Mr A in his office with another gentleman. Mr A’s office looked disheveled.
“Ah, you’re here”, he said. “Perfect! Meet Mr H. He’s taking over and I’m out of here.”
Introductions were made, cups of tea showed up with fresh biscuits, presumably right off the baking line. Mr H was curious about who I was, what I did and why I was there. He asked if I was able to come and see him the next week. I readily agreed.
Over the next few weeks, I suddenly found that my two years of drinking tea with Mr A were starting to pay dividends. I set up demonstrations of the system, did a presentation or two to the managers of HR, IT, Plant Operations and the Plant Manager himself. The Beloved Bangalan was quite pregnant at the time and I suspect we won some sympathy votes. After weeks of negotiations over price, installation, hardware setups, wiring, process changes, wrangling over the legalese in the contract, it turned out we had a deal breaker, viz. the Unions. Yup! With a capital U and in the plural. There were 4 active unions, split along religious and language lines ( I know, this might be hard for modern Western readers to grasp.. ) and they would not deign to share presentations with the other unions.
The Plant Manager said, “Would you be able to set up presentations for the unions?”
“Sure”, I said, “No problem at all”
He turned to the HR Manager and said “Schedule 4 different presentations”.
Then to me he asked “Can you do the presentations in Hindi and Bengali too?”
“Oh yes”, The Beloved Bangalan jumped in.
I agreed. I could do the Hindi and she, a native Bengali speaker, could do the Bengali version. Dates were set up: Two presentations on the 15th and two more on the 16th of June, 1995. Britannia would host lunch for us on the two days.
Came the 15th, I and my wife, now 9 months into her pregnancy, set up the presentation at the plant. We got through the day, carefully picking our way through the correct terms for a very crowded and highly animated room. We had been coached on things to say and not to say and we were apprehensive of the throng of unionized plant workers, bakers, technicians, packers, shippers and office clerical staff. We drove home feeling quite satisfied. We’d somehow managed the presentations in English and Hindi. Tomorrow, we had a presentation in Bengali and finally one in English / Hindi.
I dropped my wife home and headed over to the office, to review progress from the team there and finish off some more of my design work and make notes from the days presentation sessions. Around 7pm, my phone rang. It was my 7 year old son.
“Mom says you need to come home now”, he said.
“Why?”, I asked. “Tell her I’ll be along in a bit”
I could hear him relay the message, then he was on again.
“Mom says come home right now! She needs you.”
I shut down and walked home as quickly as possible. I had a houseful of house guests, brothers / sisters and families. As the others prepared to leave for dinner, she said “We can’t go for dinner. I need to get to Woodlands Nursing Home. I think the baby is coming.” So while the others went for dinner, she and I drove to Woodlands. For this pregnancy Doctor K had asked if I wanted to be there for the delivery, a change from 7.5 years ago when I hadn’t been given the option. Progress!! I had self-consciously agreed, knowing fully well that refusing would be, well. never mind all that now…. I saw her off in the care of the nurses and went down to fill out the usual forms. I raced up to the delivery room and managed to catch Dr K on his way out.
“Congratulations! You have a fine baby boy. Both are doing well, but my god, this is her second child! She didn’t howl and scream like this the first time! You would think she’d know what to expect! Never seen any one yell like that the second time around. First timers sure, but…” he shook his head, jumped into the lift (elevator, if American) and was off.
I walked into the delivery room and my wife was still on the table, looking exhausted. On the counter at the side of the room lay a large tray and in this tray, mewling piteously, was this little wrinkled, bloodstained, slimy creature. I stared into his big dark eyes which seemed to stare back at me. The nurses efficiently washed him and wiped him and swaddled him. A quick look for mom and dad and he was rushed off to the nursery.
The entire crowd of sisters, brothers, brothers in law and nieces and nephews had arrived downstairs as I came down after tucking her in for the night. It was a long night after an exhausting day of high pressure presentations. The next day, I’d have to present, in my broken Bengali, a politically correct and highly technical presentation to a hostile crowd, without the services of my right hand woman, my Beloved Bangalan. There was no time, however, to think about such things, not tonight, no.
He was named Anuj by his cousin, my sister’s daughter, almost immediately. There was no hunting around for names for months as we had done with Ishan. In babyhood, he came to be called Boo.
Today, twenty years later, he is still Boo.
Update in 2021: He’s now 26.
This Post Has 11 Comments
What an utterly delightful tale! Happy bday Boo! And… I also suspect your broken Bengali still won over the union too… yes???
Thanks! The management rallied around when they heard, the unions from the previous day had all chattered with everyone. I ended up doing one BIG, CROWDED presentation with loads of help from the managers. EVERYONE came, including some who had been there the previous day! Never packed a room like that since! 🙂
Yup, Britannia led us to PepsiCo – but that’s another story!
Congrats! And am sure there are many more tales to come. 🙂
Loved this. My son’s nickname is BooBoo. 😀
Thanks! Yeah, I knew about the little drummer BooBoo..
What a nice look back. Thanks for including us. Am wondering how he likes still being Boo!?
he still responds! He laughed at the last line, when I made him read it last night.. 🙂
One more cute story. 🙂 Thanks for sharing these memoirs with us!
Thank you. I have to share the memories with someone, otherwise would know. I mean, yes, most people wouldn’t care about an obscure life story about an obscure guy, but hey, it’s there now!!
What a lovely, heartwarming memory!Boo(can’t think of him as Anuj) had an eventful birth. Hope you got the Brittania account.
Thank you! Yes, we did.