Friday, 19 February 2010
My Ayer was special
Everyone is well aware of Mr Ayer’s great qualities as a top leader. Let me therefore relate two incidents to bring out the humour and compassion the tough exterior packed in.
On my first day at OBM, where I joined as a nervy, shaky, trainee account exec, I was assigned to work under Chris Bhang (who was an account supervisor at the time). Being a tea addict, when I asked Chris what number to dial on the intercom for pantry service, he matter-of-factly said. “333”. (Chris, you dog!) So I promptly dialled and demanded, “Bhidu, Anil Thakraney bol rahaa hoon, ek chai milega?” I heard some heavy breathing on the other end, and then a fearful nasal twang, “This is Mani Ayer speaking.” I dropped the phone as one would a deadly cobra, fled out of the office building, downed three cigarettes in a row, and contemplated my next career option. (Chris, you dog!!) Anyway, the same noon Mr Ayer walked past in the corridor, and even as I tried to slink away, he caught hold of me, laughed loudly, and ordered the pantry fellows to serve me tea. Don’t think I had chai at OBM for one month thereafter. (Chris, you dog, stop giggling!)
On another occasion, I had to present some Titan Watches ads to Mr Ayer. His secretary, Phil, sweetly informed that boss was out on a meeting the entire day. Assuming he was held up in some corporate shindig, I shrugged and moved on. It was only on the next day we found Mr Ayer had spent the entire day at the funeral service of a peon who had passed away of old age. Not just that, he spent hours with the family comforting them long after the funeral was done. I simply can’t think of another Chairman giving such personal attention for a peon. Most top men would delegate ‘chores’ such as these. But Mr Ayer was a special man. A special boss. A special soul.
In the recent past, Mr Ayer would now and then react to my blogposts, and leave insightful comments. Here’s what he wrote on my post, last year, concerning the general apathy of the state government each time the Thackerays hold the city to ransom. Should give you an idea of how sharp and agile his mind was till his final days.
“Dear Anil, I read your 'Conspiracy of Silence'. Yes, we have a destructive monster staring at us, and the party in power seems to be the only one that seems oblivious to it. Else people like Shivraj Patil, Vilasrao Deshmukh, Ahmad Patel, etc, would by now have been turfed out. Even Bombay's Girni Kamgar Union wouldn’t tolerate such incompetence! Regrettably, all the problems we face are due to the Congress and one particular individual - Indira Gandhi. The Shiv Sena was nurtured during her regime to keep the Communists out (don’t forget she was solely instrumental in kicking out, by 'sleight of hand', the first Left government in Kerala… she hated Krishna Menon, a man with left leanings and thought he was instrumental in ending her father's charisma and stood for elections against a Congress candidate in North Bombay). So in comes Bal Thackeray to do 'seva' for madam, and the list is endless.
Sometime in the early 80s, there was a cartoon that showed two scrolls of honour: One said, 'Mahatma Gandhi's men: Pandit Nehru, Vallabhai Patel, C. Rajagopalachari.’ The other said: ‘Indira Gandhi's men: Antulay, Gundu Rao, Bhajan Lal.’
And if this was to be extended to the 2000's, it would perhaps say: ‘Sonia Gandhi's men: Shivraj Patil, Arjun Singh, Vilasrao Deshmukh.’ That’s progress for our Bharat Mahan!
Unfortunately, Indira Gandhi has so firmly established a political culture that suits every political party including the Left. Symptoms: money politics, rented crowds, dynasties and manipulation. Why won’t the MNS suit this environment?
The answer lies in the Congress being kicked out and staying out of power for a long time which forces them to rebuild without any traces of the current culture-dynasty, cronies, etc. The last time they were out of power was too short (eight years only). Or we should have something like the set-up in Kerala - two fronts with differing philosophies and some similarities. And they get kicked out if they fail to perform. In this format the regional types like the MNS are marginalised (see the plight of the so called Keral Congress or The Muslim League).
Anyway, good luck with your mission. Mani Ayer.”
Rest in peace, dear Sir. You were a truly special man.
(This article was originally written for IMPACT mag.)