After eight weeks of induction training, our batch of forty new employees at HCL set off to various cities across India where we would be posted for a few years.I was posted to Lucknow and two other freshmen along with me would make up the front-line sales team, lead by a senior executive and a branch manager.
It was September 1986, just after the induction training, about six of us were asked to stay back at the corporate office in New Delhi for two days to help with “grunt work” for the impending Busybee II (an Intel 80286 based PC) launch. The task at hand was simple - put together several hundred binders of technical and sales material for the launch. It was mostly photocopying, punching and binding. But there was a lot of it. We worked nonstop for twenty four hours, racing against time. The launch was set for the 8th and the binders had to reach all sales offices across the country, so sales teams could be trained prior to the launch.
Half way through the grind, a couple of us decided to get some food from a nearby food truck. It was past 11:00 pm. We took the rickety elevator down five floors, only to find the exit doors locked, but thankfully there were a couple of watchmen sitting on a cot nearby and one of then let us out. We were back in about 15 minutes with Chow Mien and Chicken Manchurian. We could see that the door had been locked again, so we jovially asked the watchmen to let us in. There was silence from the bunch, but only for a few seconds, then a heavy guttural voice said in a Haryanavi accent - What is going on here? Why are you guys working at this time? The owner of the guttural voice was laying on the cot and must have weighed over a hundred and fifty kilograms. He was rustic, huge and menacing. Our explanations about ‘launch’ and ‘computer’ etc. in hinglish, all fell on deaf ears. He was not interested in what we were saying. After several attempts in vain we gave up trying to convince him. Self-doubt set in - we were supposed to be ‘salesmen’ and had failed miserably at convincing the hulk to let us into the building. Everything went quiet again, there was an impasse. A minute later the junior watchman looked at me and signaled me to get closer to his boss and sit on the cot. Weird and scary thoughts crossed my mind but I complied meekly. I sat at the edge of the cot where junior had pointed. It was the foot of the cot. Then junior said in an authoritative voice - "massage the bosses legs"! - I complied meekly. After a few minutes I found myself massaging his other leg too. Then his back, arms and shoulders. What an ordeal. By contrast photocopying, punching and binding was really cushy upstairs. After about fifteen minutes, my buddy mustered up some courage to plead again to let us into the building, miraculously, the hulk relented, turned on his side, expelled a high decibel flatus and waved at his deputy to open the door and let us go. By this time I needed a massage - of body and self esteem.
When morning broke , the general manager of marketing, came in early to work and was pleased with the progress we had made. He picked up one binder and started leafing through it and abruptly stopped. He flipped a few pages back and forward and then very calmly said - ‘guys stop’. A couple of chapters were out of sequence and would have to be redone. The next twenty fours were back-breaking. We were not going chow mien shopping tonight. Thankfully, the GM arranged for catered food for the rest of the day. After forty eight hours of nonstop work and no sleep, we were half dead and ready to hit the sack.
But there was one small wrinkle, we were now one day behind schedule and I was randomly picked from the group to get onto a flight and carry four large boxes of binders with me as personal baggage and get to Bangalore as soon as possible, the training was starting that morning in Bangalore. The GM had left the previous evening. There were a couple of other minor hurdles to cross, I would have to buy a ticket in cash at the airport and pay for the “excess baggage” and of course I had no money. A resourceful office manager arranged for an employee in the accounting department to meet me at the airport at 5 am with enough cash for the flight ticket and the baggage. I landed in Bangalore and hired a taxi but had no money for the fare. The training event was at a fancy hotel, I gently cracked open the door into the large convention room, The GM was already on stage. He noticed the interruption, recognized me and waved me in. I entered the room , the four large boxes on a trolley being pushed by a bell-boy, we unloaded thee boxes at the front of the room, I went up the stage and quietly whispered to him - " I have no money for the taxi or hotel or return flight". He smiled, a few minutes later I was being accompanied by a staffer, the taxi-driver was instructed to take me to a nearby hotel, I was given enough money to pay the fare. Later that morning, someone form the Bangalore office showed up at the hotel with my return ticket, some cash and with a hand-written note - "get some rest and enjoy Bangalore for the next two days".
A few months later - when we were laughing about the whole experience, the GM said - "when you walked into the room at Bangalore, everyone thought you were the "Blue Dart" courier guy and your blue shirt added to the persona"
There were many firsts for me in this episode - "first time flying", "first paid vacation" "first time - courier" and not to forget "first time being a masseuse"
Gatekeepers are an unavoidable irritant in life, to get past them, you have to be skilled at massaging their ego and sometimes their backs!