Everyone called her a magician. They said, ‘She has a way with words. Spoken, unspoken, and the ones that went into devising strategic content.’
And when they heard she agreed, they said, ‘What an arrogant bitch Singha is!’ This is how the corporate world functions. But Singha was hardly bothered about such agreements or such disagreeable conclusions. The important thing is that every word always reached her. She was once heard telling her boss, ‘I know more about what you plan to do next than even you do.’ She then laughed and the boss too joined in this unwholesome mirth.
An hour back, Singha’s boss called her up and said, ‘I’m assigning Raza to your team. He’s as good as you are with marketing insights. You must’ve heard about him?’
‘Yes, I know who Raza Sufi is. But tell me, have you heard about the new product that we are planning to launch?’
‘Yes, I have. But let’s not discuss about it on the phone.’ As soon as she disconnected the phone, there was a discreet knock on her cabin door.
He entered. ‘Good afternoon. I’m Raza.’
‘I’m expecting you. Sit down please.’ She turned her attention to the new email that had just arrived. It was her boss’s assessment of Raza.
‘You have had an interesting career graph,’ she turned to Raza after a minute of rapidly reading the email, ‘why did you want to opt out of the core research team and join marketing?’
‘It’s simple. I had promised that I will help market what I had helped develop,’ said Raza, ‘and anyway, such rotations, I’m sure, will give my research instincts a sharper edge.’ He then mumbled something.
‘What? I didn’t get you?’ She asked.
‘I just called you a magician.’
‘And a bitch too?’
Raza smiled and said, ‘No. But if being bewitching makes you a witch, I wouldn’t be surprised.’
Singha smiled and said, ‘Isn’t it too early to flirt with your team leader? Marketing isn’t about research molecules that you can pour from a pipette into a burette and wait for a reaction. It is all about understanding reactions before you pour in anything anywhere.’
‘I’m just a seeker of answers.’
‘You’re an interesting person, Raza Sufi. Do you also like sufi music?’
‘I love anything that brings me closer to answers. That is why I’m here,’ Raza wasn’t sure if this last bit would go too well with Singha, but he did say it. There was no answer from her, so he went on, ‘Everyone calls you Singha. But I’d love to call you Sigiriya. The lion’s throat!’
Singha looked at him with narrowed eyes and asked, ‘You do research well, Raza. Tell me something about the research assignment that you just left to join my marketing team.’
‘That is classified information yet. And all that anyone may want to know in the pre-launch stage is already with you, Sigiriya.’
By now Singha was sure in her heart that Raza was either totally smitten by her or was making all the right moves to be sent back to his research team. ‘One more attempt at flirting,’ thought Singha, ‘and you’re not going to remain in marketing anymore.’ And this was when she read this message on her mobile:
‘Your selection as VP-Mktg is nearly confirmed. CMD wants to discuss the final step today at a dinner interview. Come prepared. –Ambika.HR’
The SMS was from a rival multi-national who were offering her the position she wanted but in return for classified information on the new product her present company was about to launch. She smiled but also knew that the dinner interview would navigate to the juicy bits about the new molecule and she simply had to know more.
‘We have less time, Raza,’ she said, ‘and marketing is all about readiness. The way I see it, we are always in the WAR zone.’ She wrote down the alphabets WAR on pad lying in front of her and pushed it to towards Raza, saying, ‘Define it.’
Raza looked at the three alphabets and wrote:
Rapid reaction to feedback
‘That’s war to me,’ said Raza, as he turned the pad for her to read what he had written.
She just wrote: ‘We Are Ready’ on the pad and said, ‘Loved your perception of marketing. But remember, it is readiness that surrounds every iota of strategic thought and every inch of tactical manoeuvre. This is why I am happy to have someone from the research team here. I know you will give us information before the slowly moving files get them to us. We need the information. You get that? We need the information.’ She paused for a couple of moments before repeating, ‘We need the information.’
‘Ah! The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt,’ said Raza and smiled.
‘What?’ asked Singha sharply. The thought that blitzed through her was: ‘How much does this man know of my intentions? Has he been sent here to find out her true motives?’
Raza, on the other hand, was taken aback by the sharpness in her tone and simply said, ‘Martin Luther said this. Not my words. And I was just trying to talk about the fragile equation between the consumer and the marketer.’
‘Fragile equations!’ thought Singha, and then said aloud, ‘It is well past the usual lunch hour, and the office pantry will be closed now. Let’s go out and eat something.’
Raza said nothing but again murmured, ‘Khalil Gibran said – Your friend is your needs answered.’
‘There is a war of needs going on here,’ thought Singha, ‘I know what I need but I don’t know yet what you need. But I’ll find that out soon enough.’ She then got up and they went out, with Raza echoing a similar thought in his own mind. What happens when two people with almost the same thought are walking together? They stop and look at each other.
Raza stopped. Singha stopped. They looked at each other. Anyone else observing them would’ve seen two armies of thoughts desperate to enter the other’s mind.
Singha said, ‘Life is so full of questions, isn’t it?’
‘You just have to press the right button for the right answers,’ said Raza with a smile as he stretched his hand to call the lift, and then once they were out of the lift and walking towards Udupi, the eatery they had decided to go to, he asked, ‘You always have the right answers. I know you do. I have been hearing your quarterly addresses that the research team also attends. Is it that you know the answers only if you are plagued with questions?’
She was not the sort to let an honest complement fade without a return gift and said, ‘Even I have been following your exploits in the research team and how you have this uncanny ability to dip into the cauldron of human expectations and magically bring out exactly what they want.’ Raza always took more time to assimilate what he had heard and while he did that, Singha had already moved on to her next volley, ‘What I mean is that your product innovations match what the market research team brings in.’ The research team was involved in almost everything, starting from package innovations to suggesting the manufacturing scientists with suggested molecules or combos that will finally lead to a new product being born. Raza was an expert in reading the market pulse and putting the scientists on the right track.
‘The new product,’ began Raza, ‘that we will be launching soon, is soon going to sanitize the entire world.’ Singha was all ears now.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘this is what we all know. But we don’t yet know anything beyond these cursory details. And devising a marketing strategy around a mysterious product is impossible. Tell me more, will you?’
‘Dosas are delicious,’ said Raza.
‘What? Are we coming out with packaged dosas now?’ Singha exclaimed.
Raza laughed and said, ‘No, of course not. I just said I am going to order a dosa for me. What will you have?’
‘Ah! Yes, I love dosas.’
Raza gave her the soft-focus look that only a lover can reserve for someone he loves. He went to the payment counter and returned with two servings of dosas with steaming rasam and sambhar.
As they sat down to eat, Raza asked, ‘Have you ever wondered why a dosa tastes good only with sambhar? I mean, not with butter-chicken, for instance.’
‘The right stuff goes…’ began Singha and then laughed, ‘well, birds of a feather flock together, don’t they?’
‘Like you and more information,’ smiled Raza, and then hastily added, ‘I mean like our having similar tastes.’ Singha chewed on the first part of Raza’s sentence thoughtfully and said nothing. She would normally never have kept quiet on hearing careless remark like this, but she not only kept quiet she also seemed to like the way Raza was throwing caution to the winds! She was still circumspect though.
After they returned to the office, Raza went attend to some urgent request from his research section, and Singha settled down to think of how she could get hold of more information on this new product… and slipped into what we all call a power-nap in corporate jargon.
The ring of the intercom brought her back to this world.
‘Hello,’ she said.
‘Can you come down for a minute, please? It’s urgent.’ This was her boss and he seemed hassled.
She went and returned after a while with a smile on her face. As she entered her cabin, she stopped. Raza was there and swivelled his chair to get up and greet her. ‘I’m back.’
‘So I see,’ she said. As she walked round the table to where she sat, she could see Raza looking closely at the file in her hands.
‘Will you still want to know something more about the new product that we are planning to launch?’ he asked, and then added, ‘The band on the file tells me that you have finally got hold of what we call classified information.’
Singha did not say anything.
Raza went on, ‘You are a marketing wizard. An artist. Can I ask you something?’ She looked at Raza and nodded her head indicating him to go on and ask.
‘Do artists need a muse or loneliness?’
‘Life is so full of questions, isn’t it?’ she said and smiled.
Raza laughed but persisted, ‘You haven’t answered my question.’
She said, ‘The keyword is neither muse nor loneliness. The keyword is that small innocuous word hidden in the question you asked.’
Raza went over his question in his mind and guessed, ‘Need?’
‘You’re so perceptive,’ she said, and then went on, ‘the day we stop needing, we transcend everything. We cease to yearn to be artists… and become one. We stop seeking a muse or loneliness as they are anyway all around us all the time.’ As she said this, she found her voice trailing off into a whisper. She whispered, ‘Need is what makes us do what we might not like to do.’
Then suddenly Singha put the file on the table and said in her usual brisk and business-like tone, ‘Wonder why I was finally handed over these details? Look Raza, why don’t you go and meet the rest of the team while I go through this file?’
Raza got up and went out.
Singha read the file fast as she knew that all the relevant information deep inside her would make her so cruelly attractive to the CMD of the rival company who she’d be meeting tonight. Just then the intercom rang. It was her boss.
‘Forgot to mention this, Singha but it was Raza who had this file sent to be handed over to you,’ said her boss, ‘In fact, it came with a note that said… and I’ll read it out for you… Information delayed is information denied, especially when it is to be used to device a powerful marketing thrust. This file may please be handed over to Ms Singha as strategic decision-making needs the insights mentioned on these pages. Raza Sufi has insisted that this information be handed over immediately.’
‘So thoughtful of him,’ was all she could say.
The boss did remark, ‘You were so desperate to get this information, Singha. Now you have it. Let’s see some marketing adrenalin course through your strategy now.’
Singha closed the file and mumbled, ‘Raza is certainly sharp and a go-getter. Needed in marketing. Need! Ah! Need is the keyword here and everywhere. What do I really need? The tag of VP?’
She got up and pensively strode up and down the small cabin in small, slow, and deliberate steps. Then she opened the door, went out and took Raza aside.
‘Yes, Ms Singha?’
‘Sigiriya. Call me Sigiriya.’
Raza looked at her, smiled, and slowly asked, ‘The Udupi dosas were good… but would you want to taste the best dosas in Delhi?’
Singha flung aside her dinner date with a promotion telling herself that that magic was an illusion, and said, ‘Sure. Let’s have a magical dinner. We need to be back tomorrow and…’
‘…and I’ll help you weave your magical marketing net tomorrow,’ Raza completed what she was anyway planning to say.
12 August 2013
The story can also be read on the Indifiction page. The plot, as the image below also indicates, is suggested by Medha Kapoor.
My story on the indifiction blog…
I am thankful for the analytical comments of TF and Suresh on this story: