There was a time in the late 90's when cocktail party conversation revolved around "real estate, coffee estates and going to the States." Then came the IT boom and the world and his wife were running around like headless chickens joining or starting a dotcom. Those who failed to make the cut (like yours truly) sat glumly on the sidelines muttering ominously and one must admit the grumbling had the unmistakable bouquet of sour grapes. Old Willy summed it up best in Othello: 'Oh beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green eye'd monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.' Many were called but few were chosen and who among the rejects didn't envy the ones who made it in the arcane world of dotcomania? Of course it wasn't just the fabulous salaries, I mean, who cares about money, right? Wrong, it's the (sic) principal that counts…
Besides the moolah, it was ESOP's, club class travel, Coke fountains, unlimited pizza and the jeans and chappals dress code? At the first call of the spelling-challenged, grizzled veterans raced headlong into the stampede without so much as a backward glance. Indya, Go4i, Y4U, B4me, blackisblue, all4me: no prizes for imagination and quite bewildering for the uninitiated. Anuvab Pal described it as the era when "call-centres which started out reading financial statements to blind Iowa pensioners diversified into sex chat lines".
You get the picture? Pal wrote a screamingly funny book called, "1-888 Dial India" based on a Mumbai sleazeball who takes over a suicide hotline where professional psychiatrists are replaced by enthusiastic trainees who were "Indian in body and appearance, but American in spirit, aspiration and dying." As he says, who else has more domain knowledge of despair than a Mumbaikar living in the Disneyland of trauma?
Of course thing have changed radically since then and no "stardup" wannabe will allow anything with a dot within spitting distance of his website: it has become the cybernetic equivalent of Ebola. If I had a dollar for every infotech firm who deep-sixed the .com from their corporate profile I'd be in a position to lend Ruia money. Scratch that, Ruia needs money, make it Ambani; Mukesh, not Anil. Hindsight is 20:20 and it is unseemly to crow, but allow me the luxury of recollection.
My call from the dotcom world came one sunny April morning many moons ago. My caller identified herself as Richa from XYZ.com and then hit me with a heartwarming speech about how "awesome" she found my deathless prose and invited me to drop in and have a java with them. So there I was at the appointed hour, with my wardrobe approved by my neighbour's geeky daughter for the requisite level of scruffiness. She also kindly explained what Java meant. (Call me Uncle, but I swear I thought they meant the motorcycle. What can I say, I had a sheltered upbringing; integral calculus was hard enough without the additional burden of some gibberish dreamt up by geeks at Sun Microsystems.)
I sat for eons in a rumpus room with my portfolio clutched in my hot little hand, overlooking an open space with a massive TV, pinball machines and Ramu dispensing pizza, bhujias and instant coffee with a surly expression. Sprawled in a beanbag, a ponytailed, bearded adolescent with three earrings watched MTV with the unblinking stare of a lizard. I waited for a good two hours watching Spice Girls with the hairy one but there's a limit to the intellectual load I can handle, so in the interests of staying fresh for my interview, I left.
A week later I was summoned back by HR, where a doughty female who bore more than a passing resemblance to Angela Merkel said, 'Show me your stuff'. You know how it is: when you're suddenly put on the spot, you find your wit decayed and your muse a jade. Finally inspiration struck and I handed her a piece I was secretly rather proud of: a racy little sketch of Bangalore's 10 sexy women. She riffled through it perfunctorily and then instead of a brisk, 'When can you start, you Pulitzer potential, you…?' she showed me the door. 'Wait, I've got other stuff that'll knock you socks off,' I bleated, but she was adamant. 'Yaar, that Shakespeare shit is so yesterday. Millenials want info, happening stuff, like Kardashian butt lipo, kale and aloe vera smoothies, speed-dating tips, geddit. All your sexy women are over 30. That's twilight zone, dude.' Ah well, you live and you learn.