A Ridiculous Bed-Time Story: Chapter 4: ..And we have lift-off! No wait!

‘That choice of the Beat It ringtone for Sabu’s phone was so clichéd. You could have put in Sheila-ki-Jawani at least.’ Priya took a big scoop of her icecream.

 ‘Not really. It seems to be the favourite music track. Keeps appearing in so many movies. You know – big jeep with goons, out to beat or rape somebody and they are always playing this song.’

‘Don’t generalise. And anyway how many Malayalam movies have you seen in your whole life huh?’

There was no getting around this lady. ‘Point taken’ I conceded, settling in with another glass of the wonderful golden liquid. The polite waiter dropped by to enquire if madam would like a cup of coffee and she agreed. In a moment of attempting customer delight he also helpfully deposited a copy of a popular weekly magazine on our table.

‘This telecom scam has really tarnished our nation’s image’ she said, flipping through the pages. One of big-wigs accused of the crime gave me a toothy smile from the cover of the magazine. I sighed and focussed on the sips.

‘So now we have the cop, and the bad guy. When are the hijackers going to make an appearance?’

 ‘Interesting that you should ask’ I said ‘Speaking of spectrum and telecom scams – it’s precisely at a telecom company that we meet the first of the four men involved.’

‘Which one, which one?’ Priya leaned forward eagerly, always ready for a juicy bit of gossip.

                                                            –Π–

Corporate Headquarters, Spectrum HiTech Internet and Telecommunications Company

‘SMS Bada Dhamaka Pack!’ yelled Patil from one corner of the conference room where he was sitting with his feet up on the table.

‘I think SMS Phataka sounds more reasonable.’ Nishant countered. ‘After all we are only giving a million SMS’s free per month. The Hawatel SMS Dhamaka offer is for unlimited SMS.’

The marketing team at Spectrum was in a tizzy. Hawatel, their biggest competitor had just announced a new text messaging product, called the ‘SMS Dhamaka offer’ giving anybody who pays Rs 49 a month the freedom to do unlimited text messages and now they had to respond.

The team had been in a conference room for the last eight hours trying to figure out their counter attack. A projector showed the image of a large hoarding sitting on the top of a shopping centre somewhere in the chaos of Delhi mocking them. The word ‘Unlimited’ was emblazoned in 5 foot high wordings in bright red.

‘SMS Rocket Pack boltein hai yaar. It will go well with the concept of a new product launch and all that.’ Patil was in his creative zone and he didn’t believe in regning in his runaway imagination.

‘Don’t we need to do the math on this? Looks like we are going to lose a ton of money if we offer the product’ Nishant was not sure if giving the the love bugs in this country  an option to do a million SMS’s for less than fifty rupees was such a smart idea.

‘What Math-Wath! You bloody MBA’s are crazy. Every time, you stare into an Excel sheet and give hazaar reasons on why not to do something. I say we launch it and then worry about the money. Anyway we have no choice, even the Wadaphone team must be on it already.’ Patil was now pacing around the room, pushing chairs out of his way.

Nishant’s phone beeped. It was a text message from his boss. ‘Is it ready?’ it said.

‘Not yet. Was thnkng we need 2 luk at de math’ Nishant texted back. At least his boss, of all the people, would see the need to consider the potential revenue loss. The department’s performance was the responsibility of his boss after all.

Nishant’s phone went berserk. Beep after beep rang out as his phone was flooded with text messages from his boss. He had received twenty copies of the same message.

‘What the hell are you doing? We needed the product YESTERDAY! Send the proposal to the President NOW!’ his boss had written from the movie theatre where he was watching the latest ‘Harry Potter’ movie with his daughter.

Nishant didn’t need to watch a movie to see a Dementor – he saw his boss in office every day and the man was pretty good at sucking out happiness from everyone on his team. Like all efficient bosses, he always needed every proposal to be submitted ‘yesterday’.

‘Told you, didn’t I?’ grinned Patil. ‘Okay now what is going to be? SMS Phataka offer or SMS Rocket pack?’

‘Let’s go with Rocket. Come to think of it, Phataka sounds like an obvious and clichéd counter to “Dhamaka”.’ Nishant was ready to drop dead and there was that thing about the logic of what they were doing in the first place, which was nagging him.

‘Everything out there is a rip-off my friend. We are going to offer people a million SMS’s for 48 Rs a month. Do you know what the per-SMS revenue is going to be?’ Patil couldn’t stop grinning.

‘So let’s do the math! I am telling you we can still convince them not to do this. It’s an unending spiral.’

‘Acquisitions, my friend! If we don’t counter, Hawatel will walk away with all our customers. And then Wadaphone will wipe the plate clean of what’s left. All we will have is some sambhar and chutney left.’ Patil had a unique way of describing marketing challenges in the Indian telecom market.

Nishant headed back to his workstation to make a write-up. Patil ran to his desk and mailed him an image file of the GSLV lifting off.

‘You do realise that the GSLV launch was a failure, don’t you?’ Nishant yelled across the room to Patil while still typing out the proposal.

‘GSLV, PSLV, Apollo – who cares. It will make the proposal colourful. Images are better than words,’ he said standing behind Nishant as he finished typing out the proposal in the company mandatory template.

Before he could hit the print button, Nishan’t phone beeped. ‘Have you sent it YET? I can’t see any mail!!’ Their boss was back to his remote monitoring through texting. He was an ideal candidate for the new product – A million SMS per month would be still be too less for him. He actually needed more to micro-manage his team from the restaurants and theatres he always seemed to have to go to.

‘On its way’ Nishant texted back and rushed to the common printer placed at the end of the huge lobby to grab the printout. He didn’t want any peeping Tom reading up on the super secret product details but he need not have bothered, the entire floor was empty. The company buses had left several hours ago and only workaholics like the President of Mobile Operations of the Western Zone and unwilling minions like Patil, the cleaning crew and he were around on the floor.

Taking a deep breath, and clutching a printout of his proposal, Nishant knocked on the heavy teak panelled door of the President’s office.

‘Come in,’ a stern voice called out.

Both Patil and Nishant entered, shivering from head to toe. Everybody in the office dreaded entering the President’s room. It was lavish to say the least. Teak panels covered the entire room. A huge glass window overlooked the garden in front of the office. From where they stood on the twentieth floor, they could see headlights of the cars making their way on the main road. The man himself, a giant with a barrel moustache sat in a huge leather chair behind a teak desk that seemed as large as a football field. Nishant was sure his apartment was smaller than the desk.

Nishant put his printout on one edge of the desk and pulled back one of the visitors chairs. He needed to sit down to prevent his knees from knocking. But the President’s raised eyebrow made it very clear that he was not welcome to sit. Hastily he pushed the chair back to its original position and held on to it for support.

‘Well, what is it?’ the man bellowed, staring them down. Nishant’s first instincts were to throw the proposal on his desk and make a dash for it. But Patil quickly moved behind him and pushed him forward.

‘Proposal, sir.’ Nishant stammered.

‘For your marriage?’

‘N..No Sir. For Rocket Launch.’ Nishant was ready to run any minute now

‘Are you working at ISRO or NASA? I thought we were in the telecom business. What Rocket? What Launch? Huh?’ he was checking mails on his Blackberry while the two stood shivering in front of him.

‘New SMS product Sir. Counter for hawaTel Dhamaka’ Nishant mustered the courage to say something. Tales of highly accomplished and senior executives being given a dressing down by the man sitting across the table were part of office legend. Nishant prayed fervently that he would not join the distinguished list today.

Finally with an exasperated sigh, the phone was lowered and the man turned to face Patil and Nishant. The expression on his face removed any doubt that he considered their arrival an intrusion. He was a busy man.

‘How many?’ he asked with his arms crossed across his chest. He made no attempt to pick up the printout; Nishant was inching across the table in his direction.

‘One Offer Sir.’ Nishant found his voice, once again at a safe distance from the table.

‘Not how many products. How many SMS’s?’ he was holding his head in his arms. Clearly Nishant wasn’t doing a good job of impressing him.

‘A million sir’

The President sat upright in his chair as if someone had poked him with a live high voltage wire. He reached out and grabbed the printout.

‘A MILLION! Are you out of your mind? What’s the monthly charges?’ He sounded like he was gasping for breath.

‘49!’ Nishant croaked, he sounded like someone was choking him.

‘49 Rupees?’ A sudden chill descended in the room. Nishant glanced at Patil for support but seeing the terrible way he was shivering it was clear that none was forthcoming. The president repeated his words very slowly, a steely edge creeping in his tone now. ‘Did -you – say – 49 – Rupees – a – month – for – a – million – SMS’s?’

‘N..No, No 48 sir. 49 is what hawaTel is charging.’ quipped Patil in his sincere schoolboy tone.

‘How many SMS’s is hawaTel giving?’, the President now grabbed his spectacles and started scanning the proposal document.

‘Un-Unlimited Sir’ Patil stammered.

The president wrenched away his reading glasses and flung them on the table. ‘Bunch of screwed up…’ He crumpled the printout and stood up. He slowly walked up where the two were standing. At 6 feet 2 inches he towered over both of his minions.

Ignoring Patil, he moved in closer towards Nishant.

‘Do you have a girlfriend?’ he demanded.

‘Yes Sir, sort of.’ Nishant stammered

‘How many SMS do you send her?’ he moved a step closer towards Nishant, who tried to take a step back and tripped over the edge of the thick carpet. The President grabbed his arm to steady him. It felt like the grip of death.

‘About 10-20 in a day sir.’ It was more like fifty but this didn’t seem like the right time to reveal that fact.

‘So how many in a month?’ the man grunted.

‘About 500 Sir.’ If Nishant was missing doing the math, he wasn’t anymore.

‘So how much do you spend on SMS in a month?’ He took another step closer to Nishant.

‘About 250 Rs Sir on my current plan.’ Nishant suddenly realized that he was spending way too much on someone who really wasn’t his girlfriend anyway.

‘And now you will spend 48 rupees instead of 250 sending your girl messages saying how much you love her. You will fight with her on SMS. You will make up with her on SMS. You will ask what she ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner on SMS. You will ask silly questions, get silly answers and grin like an idiot all day long – because you can send a Million SMS’s. Are you OUT OF YOUR MIND?’ The man was having a fit. ‘Get out of my office NOW! And take your bloody proposal with you! Don’t come in that door with any proposal that loses money or I will kick you out of this company. I don’t care what Hawatel does. GET OUT!’

Nishant and Patil turned to leave.

‘Wait!’ roared the President. ‘Didn’t you idiots know that the GSLV rocket exploded on takeoff?’ He tossed the crumpled paper ball at Nishant.

Nishant ran out of the room as fast as his legs could carry him. Patil was right behind him, panting and shivering at the same time. ‘What the hell was that? Why didn’t you pitch it properly? You should have given him the big picture first. Now I need to go and get drunk to recover. So much for limiting my drinking to four days a week.’ he yelled at Nishant.

‘I should have shown him the big picture? I am going to kill you when I stop shivering. Just wait.’ Nishant yelled back.

The cleaning staff stopped what they were doing and stared at the two of them.

Patil left in a huff and Nishant went back to his workstation and tried to call his boss. The boss however, still caught up in the Harry Potter movie, cut his call and texted back. ‘Still at the theatre, what happened?’

‘Big boss killed the proposal. He threw me out of the room’ Nishant replied back hoping to get some sympathy for what he had just gone through.

‘I am sure you goofed up. It’s all about explaining the context properly. Anyway I will handle it tomorrow.’ came the reply

This was turning out to be a really bad day for Nishant and he decided that he needed to take a break. In spite of having been reminded just minutes ago that he was spending way too much on his friend he still messaged her to ask if she could meet him for a drink.

His phone beeped. ‘Sry Dufus. Cnt make it. Stck in ofce at team party.  Btw did ya hear about SMS Dhamaka offr frm hawaTel? Its awsme! We’re all taking it.’

Nishant flung his cheap company phone across the room – where it hit the President on the head just as he came out of his cabin reading mails on his phone!

[This post is the second part of a longer work of fiction. All people and events described are figments of the authors imagination. Resemblance to anyone or anything is coincidental. In short Nothing is True. For more questions on what, why and copyright stuff refer this post which introduces the book]

Related Fragments: PrologueChapter 1Chapter 2 , Chapter 3

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