Monday, 25 January 2010

It isn't just another building

Its difficult to get all senti with concrete. But then office buildings are no ordinary slabs of concrete. They are a piece of history in themselves. They have seen numerous people come and go, they have seen victories and defeats, they have seen joyful moments and sad occasions. They deserve a farewell when its their own time to go.

Today a corporate giant moves away from a legendary building, which has been its home for 46 years, to a new home. For most people its just another office move. Perhaps they are perturbed by the longer (or shorter) commute for them. Perhaps they are more concerned with the parking. Some are, no doubt, measuring whether the size of their room (or cubicle) is as big as what they had in the previous place. This writer is not part of this move. But that hasn’t stopped him from waxing nostalgic – my good friend Ravi accused me of being a die hard romantic in his comment in my previous post. I’m still tickled pink by that sobriquet, and hence continuing in that vein. This post was also motivated by a superb post by him on another famous office building (Ravi is a brilliant writer, but a newbie blogger; Cheer him on please).

This company has had a rich history most of which was made in this building. It isn’t all that pretty a building – neither gothic, nor modern. But it typifies this company which stands for a mostly middle class culture and eschewed ostentation and regalia. The company has faded away a little of late, but for decades ruled supreme in the highest echelons in India. The office has seen the first Indian professional manager walk in many decades ago. It saw the amazing “isation’ – the change of management from a foreign expatriate dominated, to an almost exclusively Indian, some 40 years ago. It witnessed, the first voluntary dilution of foreign ownership into Indian hands, again decades ago. Numerous products, which are household brands today, have been born here.

But above all, this office must have taken the maximum heart from the number of greenhorns who walked nervously in as management trainees and walked out as industry titans. There must be many thousands of people around who must have spent most of their waking lives in its portals. It has seen great careers made and broken. There’s an aura around the fifth floor in this office where you hush your voice as you enter. The Board room features the photos of the Chairmen who have graced this room all through the 46 years – they are a virtual who’s who of Indian industry.

It is showing its age these days. It had a facelift and a tummy tuck some years ago, but it could not hide the ageing. It has aged gracefully, but age it certainly has. When it was built, technology meant the steamship; so its but natural that it hasn’t entirely been comfortable with cables being laid in its innards. The area around it has also changed. When it was born, you could ride a tram leisurely to come there. Now it’s a sardine can experience in that abomination called public transport in this city; no wonder even hardy souls are reluctant to come all the way. Its time has slowly, but surely, passed.

But it has many memories to occupy it in its sunset months. Of having nurtured a great corporation. Of having seen history being made. Of the nice and not so nice people that have called it their home. Of the secrets it has been privileged to hear and are still echoing in the walls. Of being a “quality product” as this company used to say as a by line in all its ads.

Last Friday, when the lights went out for the last time, did they really hear a muffled sob ? Or was it only the imagination running a bit wild ?

23 comments:

  1. awww.. there u go again.. leaves me teary eyed 2 posts in a row..

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  2. very well writtern its another face of urs. Change of place is always a emotional thing for me so I can totally empathise.

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  3. Daastan sirf kirdaro se banti nai,
    Yaade bin majlis ke rahti bhi nai,
    Ye imaarate hai ke kuch kahti nai,
    Bas ehsas ko mehka si jati hai kahi!

    --- This post brought back so many memories that I could not help but write a few lines. Truly dedicated to YOU and the achievement of this immortal building. You are a champion!

    Reminds me of a hindi romantic song by Pankaj Udhas (hope you like it) -

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWBZypQpwSM

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  4. Associations of a life lived by.

    Reminded me of the famed Lucent (the AT&T, Bell Labs of yore) building at Holmdel in New Jersey state of US. I didn't work there, but had gone on a business trip. It was like entering a chateau surrounded by lawns and a waterbody. The main building was not visible from the main road. The surprise was in the main lobby. The atrium went up for 6 floors and the receptionist sat in a small cube right in the middle. You just felt so little there and in the lobby there was a mini exhibition of all the discoveries of Bell Labs (transistor, telephone, IC etc). I felt a lump when I read that the entire facility was sold around 3-4 years back and was to be razed, which according to a lot of people around there was the best option to do, to make way for the new.

    We cling on, not to buildings, but memories of it. :-)

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  5. Ramesh,

    Your posts time and again bring up that desire to be associated to an institution for life and grow up with their culture and be associated with their tradition. As much as I desire, I feel its close to impossible in today's times.

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  6. very curious to know which is tht company!! :) semma well written..neenga ipdilaam kooda post poduveengala!!! wow :)

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  7. @AJCL - Awww; sorry - that sort of a mood these days.

    @Sri - Old bandicoots get all senti about every change. Not you ....

    @VA - Wah Wah ; you are a poet . Superb VA. Thanks. Hey; I can't see any You Tube here. The Net Nanny has blocked it and can't even reach through a proxy. Which song of Pankaj Udhas you had in mind ....

    @Rammmm - Bell Labs , the sainted place ! How could they raze that building ?? Its like burning the library of Alexandria. Yes, memories live on, but unfortunately they fade away. Some brick and mortar helps the memories stay alive - why museums thrive. I still can't comprehend how they can tear down Bell Labs' HQ. Europeans would never do that. These Yanks have no sense of history !!

    @Deepa - Yes; impossible these days. In my days, it was more usual. There was both a professional and an emotional relationship with the employer.

    @gils - soap company sir. Neeenga Lux soap use pannirukkengala ?? Have to write something in a blog no ? So I write all sorts of irrelevant stuff !

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  8. athivas26/1/10

    Difficult to get senti with buildings?? Not at all!! I am senti about every school campus I attended, so much that when as a kid, my mother used to comment, "If you die, I'll bury you there!"...There is life associated with each building- a part of our life, maybe that makes it so very attached!! Loved the post!! Boss, you are definitely die-hard romantic!! :)

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  9. Vishal (VA)26/1/10

    Thank you, Ramesh! The song goes like this -

    Aur aahista kijiye baate, dhadkane koi sun raha hoga,
    Lafz girne naa paaye hotho se, waqt ke haath inko chun lenge,
    Kaan rakhte hai ye dar-o-diwaar, raaz ki saari baat sun lenge!!!
    :-)

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  10. Oh! that's sad. We used to look across the street in awe during my MBA days and I have such great memories of the place. Too bad there is nothing left there now. Did they sell the building?

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  11. Certain offices have the charisma and the bonding. the earlier office i used to work for (you know the one) was such a magnificent combination of brick and bonding. it was like a reflection of the changing landscape of bangalore itself, green, yet loaded, modern, yet traditional, fulfilling yet with its share of lacunas - oh what a place. very similar to the one you mentioned. and when it closed down, maybe for reasons a little different, all of us shared a similar emotion. In fact, i was so overwhelmed by the feeling that many a times, i just walk down to the closed office, still magnificent but now lonely to relive those wonderful moments spent there and when i meet one of those old collegues, we fondly recollect many of those nostalgic moments.

    But its not brick and mortal. I dont carry the same affinity for any other office (except maybe the factory). its something beyond the time spent in office, beyond the look and feel of the office, i think it is a sub-conscious aura which a place spreads which creates this feeling.

    while i dont connect to the place you mentioned, i completely connect to the emotion.

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  12. oooh...building maathiteengala?? teriathunga...but naanga veedu change panapo..padayappa sivaji mathiri wall walla poi thadavi kuduthu..pheel aagi..flashback oati paathu..emotion commotion aagi kelamba pudikama kelambi vanthathu thaan nyabagam varuthu. Decided that day..entha edathu melayum alavuku meeri aasai vaika koodathu nu

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  13. Ramesh,

    I am not sure, how to pass this on to Ravi.

    there is some problem. I have tried posting a comment there multiple times, but i always get an error. I have even tried with my blogspot ID, but it did not help. maybe there is some setting issue. it would be nice if you can pass this on to him to check if the settings on his blog are similar to yours.

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  14. Dear Ramesh, thank you for the boost and the endorsement. It means a lot and is typical of your generosity of spirit. I enjoyed your post and can guess whom you are writing about. That institution should be proud of itself for what it has done to Indian business.

    Re Bell Labs: I can comment because I spent many years at Lucent and worked closely with the Labs. What has happened it to it is a tragedy for American academia and the research community as a whole. Right now Bell Labs has about 200 people doing commercial stuff. The math and physics people have all gone - most of the math crowd have (unfortunately IMHO) joined Google to perfect search algorithms. I first stepped into the labs when the last Nobels were announced. It was a deeply humbling experience. Today, underfunded and underutilised, its best days are gone. Had Pat Russo had some foresight, she could have easily done a deal with Princeton and Yale (two New Jersey varsities with huge endowments) to take on the pure research faculties and keep the institution alive. It never happened though I did my bit to urge that this be done.

    C'est la vie...

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  15. Ramesh, you wrote this on behalf of so many of us who walked this building, the 6 floors. For some, we were branded the second floor variety, but we seemed to like the branding ! The 'board' room on the 5th floor was not just for meeting of 'great minds', or slaying of 'the underlying' but also for 'prayers' ! I particularly enjoyed the 'top down' view from the 6th floor ! I still remember my first day in that building, came out overawed after meeting a few 'giants', moist with sweat. I do remember my last day in that building, when I packed my bags for a long journey, never to return thereafter. I must have had a premonition, otherwise why the moist with tears ? People came, people went, but the building remained. On the leafy lane, in our memories, in our hearts and in our spirits. So what if the lights went out last Friday, can anyone switch off the thousands of lights that got turned on through the decades ?

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  16. @athivas - I am doubly tickled pink. Second person to award the sobriquet !! You a senti one as well; well I can sort of picture that considering how warmhearted you are.

    @VA - Oh thanks - Lovely song that one

    @J - yes a bit sad. They've just vacated it. It'll take a year and more I guess to sell it. Meanwhile it'll stand forlornly.

    @Sandhya - I know what you mean regarding the lovely building in Bangalore. That saw 20 years of history and its sad to see it standing all empty today. How much have we sweated and slogged inside it. Such is life ... I've told Ravi and he'll see what's affecting the comment option. I'm able to even through a proxy, so not sure what the problem is.

    @gils - Hey no no. alavukkyu meeri asai vekkinum. What is there in life if we don't experience the joys and sorrows ; Must have high affection and suffer the pain when that's affected. Would rather be that way ...

    @ Dada - Thanks for the Bell Labs story. It leave me absolutely flabbergasted how anybody could let Bell Labs go to seed. Society spends trillions on trivia. Bell Labs is the greatest single scientific place of all time. And they let that go ??

    @Srikanth - Thanks for visiting and your comment. Yes many hold fond memories of the place and your very eloquent comment sums it all up.

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  17. Hi Ramesh,

    I also loved the building you mentioned - the first corporate office that I ever stepped into years ago.

    Another building that I can never forget as a place to work was my South Africa office - especially the people - just too stunning for words - made working there a pleasure...

    Though I cant go to the Bombay office any more I am sure it will be some what similar to the SA office

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  18. @Mahesh - Yes, you would have fond memories too. And oh yes, the office in Durban is something special - I don''t think anything can match that view from the canteen - wow !

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  19. enaku oru unma terinjaaganum..DIE HARD ROMANTIC na enna artham?? romantics die hard waya?? ila hard way death leads to romancea?? ila hard romance leads to deatha??? velanga matenguthu thalaivaray

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  20. @gils Ha Ha - look into a mirror and you'll understand what a true die hard romantic looks like !!

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  21. Exkalibur66630/1/10

    A very heart warming post Ramesh. You definitely have a way with words..enjoyed reading it.

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  22. Ramesh - Superbly written - I do share similar feelings, more so for the building in B'lore - even now, whenever I cross that building, there is a definite lump in my throat. Interestingly, when I was there in Mumbai in Dec 2008, I was feeling very bad that I will be visitting that office for the last time, as I was moving out of the soap company account. Your post has evoked lots of memories of the 2 great buildings which are very special to me.
    Thanks for giving a good oppurtunity- pazhasai ellam konja neram asai potten; romba sugama irunthathu.

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  23. @Exkalibur - Thanks so much

    @Viji - I think you never worked in either of the two buildings and yet you have such fond memories. Ogf course, you've been there many many times. Pazhaiye ninaivukal are always bitter sweet.

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