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Monday, May 30, 2005

Chp 36. British Petroleum - Part One

Haven’t updated my blog in quite a while. Not only is there no time to spare, the blogger login page has been blocked by the Office Admin. Anyway, here I am updating with the latest from me. Past few weeks, I’ve been busy as Hell. I’ve started my summer internship at British Petroleum. Or bp. They’re the ones who bought Castrol sometime ago and Aral recently. It’s a Global Organization, and a truly amazing one. Its my first work experience and my sole intention is not to screw it up.

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Calcutta

Free accomodation! How cool is that. Am staying in Cal for my bp summer internship at my dad's friend's son's appartment. Free of cost ofcourse. Two huge bedroom, one of them with AC, and both beds are Kingsized double beds. Bathroom's huge too, with shower and washing machine. 24hrs water and electricity. And a huge Salon too. I love my life. Just one sour apple. The location. I mean, locality wise, its perfect. Close to Howrah Railway Station. But my building is one hell of a scary building. Its actually a combination of shops and offices. My appartment once used to be an office which my "landlord" converted into a residential flat. But all my neighbours are offices. When I return from work late in the night, I have to go up 4 floors of empty corridoors and stairways. In the night, I am the only living soul in the entire building. Trust me, its very scary. And the gate of my building is locked at 10:30pm sharp after which the watchman leaves. So if I reach my building after 10:30, I gotta stay in a hotel for the night. Other than this, I am absolutely happy with my flat.

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Life in bp

Life in bp rocks, especially when it comes to traveling. Wherever I go, it would be either by plane or train, and when I say train, I’m talking about 1st or 2nd class 2-tier AC compartments. It felt really good to sit there inside my first class cabin knowing I’m traveling on company’s expenditure. It was then that I realized many other people are also traveling on company’s expenditure. Of the three people sharing my Cabin, one was a sales executive from Britannia; another was the regional HR of TCS. The third person, well, he kept to himself and his laptop so guess he didn’t want to socialize with us.

Long time ago, when I was a young school kid, I used to look at all these people traveling in my flight, and when we reach our destination, there will always be this uniformed chauffeur waiting for them at the airport, while I had to settle for a taxi. I used to think, man, these are rich folks and someday I am going to be like them. Well that someday hasn’t come yet, but what I do know now is that, most of the people who travel this way are not all that rich, but rather because they work for a “rich” organization. Most of the chauffeurs waiting for them at the airport are under contract from the company they work for.

I mean, take for instance my trip to Mumbai for the orientation program. The Company flew me from Aizawl to Mumbai via Kolkata. There at the Mumbai airport was a smartly dressed chauffeur in white waiting for me with a nameplate that reads “Mr.Vanlalruatkima, Castrol India Ltd.” Boy I’ve never received that kinda treatment before. I mean, yeah, when I land in Aizawl, there’s always my driver (and sometimes one of my three irritating sisters along with the driver) waiting for me at the airport. But a professional driver, and that too with a luxury car packed with 5 different newspapers, soft drinks and eatables? No sir! And he dropped me at this amazing hotel, where I was supposed to share a deluxe suite with another intern. I found out later that the cost of that room was a cool 15K per night! After 2 days of orientation, the company flew me back to Kolkata, and once again I had a chauffeur awaiting my arrival.

Apart from all that, as I have mentioned at the beginning of this section, the company is paying for all the tickets for my fieldwork too. And ofcourse all the expenses that I have incurred during my field trips are all reimbursable. I have been with the company for hardly a month and they have already spent more than 80K on me alone. Initially, when I tell others that I’m getting 12.5K as salary, they laugh. Because the average summer internship salary for an IIM student posted in India is around 20K. But I’ve found out that most of them have to pay for their own transportation, accommodation and food while on tour etc. Eventually, me and my 12.5K are much better off than them and their 20K. Ofcourse I am not comparing myself with my friends like Tommy and Shubha who are doing their summers in an Investment firm in London and Singapore right now. Those guys are literally minting money. Talking purely desi here, I am indeed fortunate to land up in such an amazing Organization as this.

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Party scene in Cal

Well, first of all, my most regular hangout joint here is Haldiram’s on AJC Bose Road. Its just around 200m from my office. The place has amazing Chaat items, and they make it really fast too. And then there’s the usual Forum, not as big as the one in Bangalore but consisting of the usual ingredients like Swarovski, Nike, Reebok, Adidas, the Candy Shop, movie multiplex etc… which is right behind my office (3 minutes walk). I go there now and then after office to eat. But Haldiram’s is a more suitable place to go to especially if you’re all by yourself.

When it comes to partying or chilling out over beer, I usually park my ass at “Some Place Else”, which has an amazing LIVE band performance almost everyday, and once went on a Saturday with my friend Matea who’s working at Hyatt Regency in Salt-Lake and his friends. But the only night I can truly call a good party was when we all went to Dublin and boogied away till the wee hours of early morning. Our group of friends definitely owned the dance floor that night. Other than that, I hardly find the time to party anymore. Am slowly developing a tummy and I haven’t done anything physical in ages now. Am dying to get back to IIMB and start my morning joggings again.

Then there is the new Lounge Bar called “Fusion” at The Golden Park, which was once upon a time called “London Pub”. I had my IIMB GD and interview at that hotel and I still remember going to this London Pub with the other candidates after our interview and getting drunk. Alas, now the place has changed completely. Anyway, it had a nice ambience and service was great too. Reminds me of Hyderabad, especially when the Lounge Bar fever hit that city.

When it comes to entertainment, I’ve seen just one movie so far, and that was “Hitch” with Tenny on my birthday. I got the day off on that special day and I indulged myself on a lot of things, like excessive shopping, expensive booze, and trying out atleast 20 different Giordano wrist watches and then walking away I spent that night at Matea’s flat, partying, drinking and passing out to welcome my 25th year of existence in this boring World.

Just before leaving for my UP trip, we had the IIMB Fresher's party. We conducted it at "One Step Up" on Park Street. Since there are only three interns from our batch working in Calcutta, 4 of our seniors came along to help us out. Around 15 freshers turned up. All in all, it was a great evening, and guess the best part was the free food Although I was a bit disappointed because nobody inquired about sports or partying or even music. One guy did asked if there was a gym, and another talked about carnatic music. No rockers, no hiphoppers. I'm sincerely hoping that atleast some of the rest of the freshers are not like them.

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“Hi, my name is Kima”.

Lately I’ve been thinking of changing my name. Not that I hate it or anything like that. I just don’t think my name fits well in the Corporate World.

I mean, my name had its modest share of fun. All those countless numbers of basketball tournaments I’ve played during my school and engineering days had wonderful memories of the crowd chanting in great unison “KI-MA, KI-MA, KI-MA”. In a way, it encouraged me to play even harder and better. And it was also an excellent crowd puller. Neutral spectators usually end up supporting for our team as they joined the rest of the people screaming out my “strange” name. To them it kinda made sense for me to have a “strange” name since I had a “strange” face. Even when I’m not there playing basketball, my name does make me popular. Everybody in College knows who I am. After all who can forget such a unique and easy to remember name like “Kima”. Even when I compare my name with my friends’ names, mine sounds relatively much better. Take for example, a bedroom scene. A girl will find it much easier to scream out in ecstasy “Oh… Kima… Kima… Kimaaaaa” rather than “Oh… Shankaranarayannnn…” or “Oh… Srikantannn Selvamaniiiii…” Comon, ladies, admit it. Wouldn’t you all rather say my name?

But now I live in a different World. The Corporate World. A World filled with fast decision making and complex strategy implementation. Also, a World governed by names like Ben, Michael, Dave, Bill and Tom. Or in the Indian context, Amit, Anup, Anil, Pradeep and Rajesh. In the midst of all this, it does indeed seem a bit strange to be a “Kima”.

Consider my situation. I walk into a room filled with Sales Managers, Marketing Specialists, Retail Managers and Distributor Special Representatives. The ASM stands up to introduce me and inform them that I’ll be visiting the various markets under their control for my project. He says, “Meet Mr. Kima”. I can immediately see the reaction of the people, trying to suppress a laughter.

Its not their fault. After all, I too would definitely laugh if somebody comes up to me and say “Hi, I am Mr. Biryani” or “Whats up dude. My name is Masala Dosa”. The name “Kima” isn’t exactly a serious sounding name here in India. And many people too had a lot of fun teasing me with names like “mutton kheema” or the corny “I’ll make a kima out of you” line.

I still remember one really funny incident back in Hyderabad. An old friend of mine, Anita, has come down from Mumbai. She’s supposed to meet two of her friends for lunch and told me to join them. After catching up with old times, Anita and I went to the restaurant a bit late and her friends have already placed their order. As we sat down, Anita introduced me to her friends Celina and Aseem. Upon hearing my name, Celina screamed out. Her face suddenly turned rosey red and Aseem burst out laughing. It seems she has ordered “Kheema balls” for lunch! I’ve never laughed out that much in a long time, and neither have I seen anybody blushing that red! Obviously, she did not eat the “Kheema balls” she ordered, so Anita and I happily shared them between ourselves. It was delicious, I swear.

Maybe I will change my name someday. Now and then, many of my close friends lovingly call me by different names: Kimsy, Kim, Kimkim. Of the three, the most common one would be Kim. Yeah, I kinda like the name Kim. Much better than Kima. But in a way, it kinda seem so… Chinese wannabe types, you know. Kim-Pok-Wong or Chang-Kim-Xiang or my favorite, Kim-Big-Dong. Kim is such a common name in Asian countries like China, Korea, Vietnam etc. The funniest name I’ve ever come across was this Chinese athlete. Dunno if it was just an urban legend, but it seems this dude was running a race and was leading until the crowd started chanting his name to give him moral support. Instead he got demotivated and lost the race. His name was Kim-Yoo-Suk. LOL!

I definitely do not want one those English names. Nowadays many mizos have “first names”, something that we mizos usually don’t have, like Paul Lalthangzela, or Stephen Lalhriatpuia. Even tamil Christians have mixed names, like Paul Dhinakaran or Michael Muthuswammy. Atleast most mallu Christians have complete English names (Joseph Thomas, Matthew Xavier, or the funny tradition of naming their son the reverse of their name, like Anthony Paul, son of Paul Anthony, grandson of Anthony Paul, great grandson of Paul Anthony and so on). But even then, we do find some mixed names among the mallus, like Paul Chako etc. I don’t want a cocktail name. I love my name, but it unfortunately does not fit in well here in India.

I love Arab names too. Ahmed with that “khh” sound at the back of your throat. Only thing is, they are all too religion specific. I love African names too. As that stand up Indian Comedian said, “Real African names are wicked”. I would love to have a click in my name too. “Hi, my name is *click*ma”

Other than “Kima”, I sometimes browse or chat under my nicks “silverchild”, “illusionaire” and “sandman”. These are the three names I’d love to have, but they don’t sound too business like. Can you imagine the CEO of a Multi National Corporation called Mr. Silverchild? Until then, let me continue facing the oh-so-common question people ask me every time I tell them my name “Do you know that Kima is the name of a dish here in India” and I’ll be like “Really??? I didn’t know that.” Oh boy…

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My trip to Uttar Pradesh

10 days in Uttar Pradesh. It was an awesome trip when I look at it from a tourist’s perspective. But from the Organization side, man, it was one of the most tiring 10 days I’ve ever gone through.

All my life I’ve been in the South. Never been to any North Indian cities. And when I found out I had to go to Lucknow, Allahabad, Varanasi and two other places I’ve never heard of before, Lakhimpur and Gorakhpur, I was over ecstatic. Finally I was going to see what North India looks like.

Due to my commitment with the Company, I cannot disclose the exact nature of my project or the details on what I’m supposed to do at these places. To keep it short and simple, my project is to analyze the stagnated British Petroleum products in the Eastern Region and come up with a strategy to increase its market share. That is why I had to go to all these markets and interact with the dealers, distributors, mechanics and consumers, and ask them appropriate questions that are relevant to my project.

I nearly missed my train on the day I left Kolkata. I can’t believe how much these bloody taxi drivers are capable of ripping you off. I told him I have to go to Howrah and he said 50 bucks. Son of a b*tch. From my apartment, the meter won’t even reach 20. After asking atleast 10 other taxis I finally took one for 45 bucks. Reached my train with just 3 minutes to spare!

Lucknow:

The first feeling I got when I arrived at this much talked about city was of utter disappointment. Standing there at the station, I was shocked to see not a single auto around. Just plain rickshaws. I wouldn’t even compare it to Salem, Coimbatore or Madurai. More like Theni or Dharmapuri. Is this really Lucknow? Took a rickshaw and went to the hotel my friend Amol has recommended. Hotel Deep Palace. It was a freaking 3 or 5 star hotel. But since I got no other place to go, I stayed there for a night in their cheapest room, which was 2200/night. The next day I shifted to Presidency Inn. It was also quite an expensive hotel, 1500/night, but for Castrol employees, the rate has been reduced to 800/night. Nice.

On my very first day itself, I witnessed with my own eyes what north Indians just love doing. Chewing tobacco. Even before reaching the hotel, my rickshaw driver turned to me and said “Saab, kuch paan paraag ko khilai karenge?” It was from that day and throughout my entire trip in Uttar Pradesh that not a minute goes by without me spotting someone eating a gutkha. 90% of the people who are with me (the drivers, DSRs, dealers, distributors, mechanics, shop keepers, bell boys, waiters etc etc) all eat it. I mean, I got nothing against it, as I too sometimes chew tobacco. Ofcourse I am not a regular, and I just take it (for formality sake) when I’m offered. But these guys, man, they rip open a packet and eat the whole thing at one go. That same pack would last me atleast 8 “trips”. What I can’t stand is the fact that most of these guys spit it out. You can see red stains everywhere, on the walls, stairs, pavements, drainage, theatres, even hotel corridors. I mean, comon, even I eat them and I swallow after chewing. Whats the need to spit it out. If you’re gonna spit it out anyway, why eat it in the first place?

Met the RS (Retail Specialist) and he went with me on my first market visit since its my first time. Man, I never expected so many people to speak just hindi. Every passing minute was like one of those hindi movies my dear ex-girlfren used to drag me to :) I just sit there not understanding the exact meaning of the sentences they’re saying but at the same time knowing what they’re talking about as a whole. As I stand there talking to the mechanics, images of my mother advising me flash through my mind. She always used to tell me “I know you’re in tamilnadu and all your friends don’t speak hindi, but atleast put an effort to learn hindi on your own, you’ll find it very useful someday”. And I’ll be like “mum, I can shop in hindi and also argue with the taxi driver in hindi. What more do I need to know. As of now, I am contented with English, Tamil, Malayalam and French.” Damn, how right she was.

I guess the only thing I liked about Lucknow is the multiplex that came up very recently. It’s kinda like Forum, with around 4 theatres. There’s even a MacDonald’s there. And the crowd was not bad at all. Only problem was transportation as it takes like forever to travel by rickshaws.

Lakhimpur:

I still find it really awkward when the DSR calls me sir. No matter how many times I tell them not to address me as sir since I am just a summer trainee, they just don’t get it. But I kinda got used to it later. And everywhere I go, I was always offered something to drink. The dealers always ask me whether I’d like a “thanda” or a “garam”. “Garam” means a tea or coffee and a “thanda” means some cold drinks. How I wish it meant a nice chilled draught beer.

Lakhimpur was a pretty small place. But the lubricant market is huge due to the city mainly thriving on transportation. Met a lot of Lorry Fleet owners that day. Had a great feedback. Some of the fleet owners were really nice to me. They spoke to me in English and asked a lot about my origin. I ended up talking more about Mizoram rather than Diesel engine oil

Before going to Lakhimpur from Lucknow, I had to change cars because the car I hired initially did not have a seat belt at the back seat. Its against our Company Policy to travel anywhere without putting on the seat-belt. Its also against our Company Policy to travel more than 200 kms in a day by car or bus. When it comes to safety of employees, bp wins hands down.

Allahabad:

I found out that the correct pronunciation is “illa-ha-bad”. The city runs purely on rickshaws. The streets are really small and narrow, and the traffic is all crammed up. Noticed something really funny. Suppose a rickshaw is traveling at a certain speed and the rickshaw infront of him stops suddenly, then instead of braking to avoid hitting it, the driver bangs directly into it! And no reaction whatsoever from the driver infront! It seems this is a common thing here. Even I got bumped from behind a couple of times. Kinda awkward at first, especially when you’re so used to driving cars and abusing the person who gave you the slightest bump on your car. This is a completely different experience. And when you observe it clearly, it’s really funny too. As soon as the traffic lady shows the “stop” sign, every rickshaws on the street goes bump bump bump, like a chain reaction.

Stayed in a hotel which I must say is far worse than any of the other hotels I came across during my trip in the entire UP. The freaking AC sounded like the turbo engine of a plane and I have to switch it off in the night if I don’t wanna have nightmares about machines rebelling against humans and ruling the World. But food was great, especially the aloo paratha.

Did the upcountry market on my first day in Allahabad. Went to a Xerox shop to get some more copies of my questionnaire and guess what. Met two north-eastern girls there! Ofcourse I didn’t speak to them as we passed each other on the doorway of the shop, but I could see from the look in their eyes that they were equally surprised too to see another north-easterner at that area. I mean, we’re not even in Allahabad, I was like 90kms outside the city.

Saw Arsenal’s match against Blackburn, FA Semifinal, where Henry didn’t play and yet we won 3-0, thanx to Van Persie’s 2 goals in the last 8 minutes. Believe me, that guy is going to become the next Henry. Rejoiced when Arsenal won, even though I was all by myself. Guess indulging on TV is the only thing preventing me from going insane right now.

Gorakhpur:

On Day1, I did the upcountry market. That means I traveled 190 freaking kilometers on the back of a bike! My ass was completely numb that evening. Day 2 was the local market. Much much better.

One thing I have noticed so far. All the rickshaws have a unique different design everywhere. No city had the same kinda rickshaws. Some of them have seats higher than the others; some had a small extension at the back to keep bags etc, and some even had mirrors for the passengers to adjust their make up or whatever.

But rickshaws are really dangerous too. If a car from the opposite direction hit a rickshaw, the passenger is bound to fly out. I have come up with a way of safely riding on those rickshaws. I call it “A hitchhiker’s guide to rickshaw safety”. Just follow these simple steps given below:
1. Hold whatever handbag you’re carrying tightly with your right hand
2. With your left hand grip the side bar firmly
3. Place your left leg completely flat on the foothold of the rickshaw
4. Now press your right leg hard on the bar that is connecting the cycle and the cabin. This is directly below the driver’s seat
5. Sit up straight and be alert. Ofcourse it is important to relax otherwise if you sit in that position nervously, people will think you’re constipated.

In Gorakpur, the local RS booked a room for me at Hotel Shivoy. The tag-line of the hotel was “the affordable luxury”. And man, they really lived up to it. Coz the hotel was freaking amazing. The room I took was 1000/night but it was on the level of those 3stars which had 1800/night rooms. But then it doesn’t make much of a difference to me since I pay around 700/night at each hotel due to an agreement between the hotel and the Company.

Met this dude called Aubrey Ireland. He works at Room Service and his shift was after 6pm. One of the most charismatic and respectable guy I’ve ever come across. We chatted about soccer, rugby, pool etc and he was indeed a very nice and polite person. I promised him that I’ll speak to all my friends working in various hotels all over India and see if they can help him get a job in their hotel. Because although Hotel Shivoy is a great hotel, Gorakhpur is a sad place, and he too admitted that he wanted to work in one of the metro cities. Lets see what I can do for him.

Varanasi:

Not to repeat the mistake I made in Gorakhpur, I hired a nice AC car for my upcountry market visit this time. Varanasi was by far the most developed city (commercially speaking) among all the 5 places I’ve just visited. They had autos everywhere, place was really cool, and I was put up at Hotel Hindustan International. Amazing hotel, 3 or 5 star definitely. The room I took was around 1900/night, but for Castrol employees it has been slashed to 800/night. That’s like more than 40% reduction (I’m bad with math, always been, always will be ). How cool is that.

No wonder it’s a holy city. The place is so peaceful. And clean. I really wanted to take a bath in the Ganges, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough time. And my guide for the day (the local DSR) told me that due to the crowd, I would have to spend atleast 3 hours standing on queue. Damn!

Sometimes I think being an “oriental” saves you from embarrassment. Coz I was on my way to Varanasi from Gorakhpur and I asked the people in my compartment which stations they’re getting off, as I’ll be reaching Varanasi at 7 in the morning and I wanted somebody to wake me up incase I oversleep. One gentleman said he’s getting off at Benaras. And I was stupid enough to ask him if that is before or after Varanasi. The entire compartment burst out laughing. Seriously I never knew they were the same place. I always used to think they were two different Holy cities. But then, they all kinda understood since I had a “different” face. Yay.

My train back to Cal was delayed for over 3 hours! Thank God it wasn’t that hot. Spent my 3 hours eating aloo-puri and drinking fountain apple juice. Overall, when I look back, I think my trip to Uttar Pradesh has been more than successful, and I have learnt a lot of new things apart from my work.

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Reached Calcutta after 10 days of Uttar Pradesh. The first thing that happened to me once I was in Cal, was the fleecing by taxi drivers. Nobody was willing to go to my apartment which is not even 20 bucks for less than 100 bucks. Finally found a shared taxi for 50 bucks. Sigh* I really am going to miss the cheap rickshaw rates of Uttar Pradesh. Better be cheap rickshaw rather than a ridiculously expensive taxi.

Next trip: Jharkhand and Orissa. Reports on it will come up soon.