Excerpts from Business as Usual

13 December 2016

Deepak ChawlaChapter: Choices and Convictions)

It was business as usual.

As the summer evening of May was gradually descending upon The Oberoi, Bangalore, the intensity of activity was rapidly picking pace. While there were some day-long conferences that were coming to an end, there were those evening events for which preparations had begun.

Located on MG Road, the heart of business, financial and shopping districts of Bangalore, The Oberoi had a distinct advantage that made it a preferred destination for conferences and meetings, small group meetings and regular business and pleasure visitors. As the evening approached after a long and sultry day, the pool area was gradually being swarmed by the vacationers either taking a dip in the pool or sipping chilled beverages by the poolside.

The corridor down the Orchid Room was a picture of typical end-of-the-conference scenes. The just concluded conference was witnessing the familiar sights of some delegates exchanging business cards, some in discussion with the conference speakers, others rushing towards the valet to call for their cars. The conclave, organized by the Global HR Association, intended to bring together HR practitioners from some of the leading companies of India to discuss their challenges, had just concluded. On any other day, Rani would have been out of the conference venue within minutes of its conclusion.

But today was different. It had been over twenty minutes since the conference was over and Rani was still around. And she knew she would be around for quite some time. She was desperately uncomfortable attending such conferences and seminars. However, at times like these, she found it extremely difficult to refuse when the Head of Department nominated her.

Rani knew the basic reason for professionals to attend these conferences was ''networking''. Networking for a job change, for a consultancy contract or just to know people in the fraternity whom they could reach out at any time for a presentation, or sharing a practice or for finding something about someone in another organization.

Rani somehow detested the word ''networking'' though it was perfectly accepted practice and terminology. She found the undertones of this word full of manipulation and pretence. She couldn't understand why people had to ''Network''. Why couldn't people just be with each other and share with each other? Why did there have to be a covert reason to meet people? Nevertheless, as she saw people ''networking'' with Raj, she had no option but to wait till he was done. She could however sense Raj's restlessness too as he tried to politely come out of all this.

While she was struggling to reach out to Raj, who too seemed to be going through the same motions of shaking hands and giving away plastic smiles along with his business card, Rani knew Raj would take longer than she would to get out of the crowd.

Being a speaker and being a delegate at a conference are two different things. As a delegate, one can quickly leave the crowd, but as a speaker, one needs to oblige the swarm of delegates and hosts with some of their time.

Rani was always comfortable being a delegate and Raj loved being a speaker.

Rani wondered how she would have handled the matter had she known in advance that Raj would be on the panel of speakers today. Surely, she could not have avoided being at the conference, but knowing in advance and bumping into him most unexpectedly were two different experiences.

It was a strange feeling that both Rani and Raj were undergoing through the day. There was excitement as well as anxiety on seeing each other. It is not unusual for professionals to run into peers and ex-colleagues at such seminars or conclaves, but Rani and Raj had not spoken to or met each other for almost four years!

Neither of them had made any attempt to stay in touch over these years.

Neither of them had expected to bump into each other today.

Raj saw Rani waiting in the corner of the corridor and beckoned her to wait. Rani nodded her head, as she exchanged a few pleasantries with some of the delegates too, trying to hurriedly see them off.

In the morning, when Rani had walked into the Orchid Room and seen the tall, fair, well bult man with a full head of hair and a dense moustache, in a formal black suit, interacting with the delegates, she couldn't believe her eyes. Rani couldn't believe that the person standing right in front of her was actually Rajkumar Bakshi, the same man with whom she had worked together at Silverspot Corporation a few years ago.

Throughout the day, during the conference, while they did try to catch up with each other during the session breaks, Rani knew it would not be before the end of the conference that Raj and her would actually get some quality time with each other.

However Rani was surprised at her sudden and unexpected keenness to talk to and be with Raj. Rani had never thought she would, ever in her life, catch up with him again. She had completely lost touch with Raj and she had never found a compelling enough reason to stay in touch with him.

And so had Raj.

(See interview: Being at 'The Write Place' at the right time)

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