So there we were, barely successful business owners. Tea had given us a hefty start up push <read about it here>, Dettol and Cherry Blossom had given us wings, so when the cigarette company called we were reasonably assured we knew what the hell we were doing. Within a couple of years, a successful relationship with Mr B, IT Manager at the cigarette factory down by the docks had developed into one of mutual respect.
Mr B called one day to ask if I could come down and see him. He had potentially more work for us. The smell of more work had me down in his office less than an hour later. He was smoking again, apologetically, and he had a visitor with him.
“This is Mr S, from S…Tobacco, up in Nepal. They’re a fully owned subsidiary of ours and Mr S is here to see a demo of our attendance system. I just walked him through the process and he’s made some notes of the actual incoming / outgoing shift process. Now he has some questions for you.”, Mr B beamed.
“Sure, Mr B. Thank you. Mr S, I’ll be happy to answer all your questions”, I was hungrily polite.
Mr S and I then spent a good couple of hours going over all the nuances of the system and processes currently in place there. A considerable portion of his question related to extra reporting and analytics.
Mr B. took us all over to the factory manager’s cafeteria for lunch where Mr S asked his momentous question.
“Would you”, he asked, “be willing to visit us in Nepal to study our factory and give me a proposal for implementation of a complete system? I don’t want to deal with multiple vendors so will you be able to handle a turnkey project? I need you to source all the hardware, all the civil engineering, cable laying etc as well as the software, of course. Then I want you to build a custom reporting / analytics front end based on all that data you will be collecting in your database.”
“Absolutely”, I could barely contain my excitement, “I’ll need to bill you for the study trip and expenses”.
We agreed that he would bear all expenses and his office in Calcutta would send me all the details on where to go, where to stay and flight details etc.
A few weeks went by. These were the days when passports took forever to show up. My passport was with the authorities for renewal when the local office called to let me know they had a package for me. It turned out to be airline tickets to Kathmandu. I was to spend the night in Kathmandu and then take a connecting flight to Simra, where the plant was, the next day.
In the package, though, there were no details about the connecting flight or the hotel in Kathmandu where I would have to spend the night. Calls to Nepal would not go through. This was the day when Subscriber Trunk Dialing (they call it STD, but I have tastefully chosen not to use that term…) was still a new service and was thus likely to not work at all. The Calcutta office had no further information and did not seem inclined to help any further.
With no passport at hand, I was worried about the trip. How was I to travel without a passport? Friends I spoke with all said the same thing “Ah, don’t worry, you don’t need a passport. It’s just Nepal”.
I checked my driver’s licence. It had expired.
No one mentioned the possibility of using a ration card. (Yes, we did have ration cards…)
As the date of travel approached, I was apprehensive. This was going to be the first time I was leaving the country of my birth, traveling “overseas” as Dubya would have said, actually up into the mountains. All was quiet from S…Tobacco and I had no choice but to head out to the airport, international departures. I had a suitcase, my briefcase and a wallet. No credit card, driver’s licence or passport. I did have a collection of business cards.
This being the mid-90s in the last century, my suitcase was checked in without any need to show a passport. At the security line, I simply had to show my ticket. Finally, I reached the departure gate, where it became obvious that a passport was necessary.
Did I tell you I didn’t have one?
<Part 2 will appear sooner or later>