Through the lobby way, mixing with the shadows, past the linen tray, there comes the smell of onion & potato. Caramelized Potato – opium of the masses. The smell, fueled by cunning carbohydrates, glides swiftly across the plastered column of my living room, jumps across the medicine cabinet, dodges a Wi-Fi antenna here and there before landing at a door. This is no ordinary door mind you. A sign dangles from its scrappy doorknob. One of those room service signs that has obviously been stolen.
But the smell, gosh, it powers through. Whoosh! Through the tiny slit under the door, rising high, high up towards the ceiling before crashing down fast. Boom! Breaking just before a plate of half-eaten Marie biscuits. It creeps left, straight into a buzzing cellphone, launches right onto some scattered Post-Its before resting on a strip of scotch-tape dangling from a tiny white board. A staple flies in the air. The smell, still starchy, waits a while, narrowly missing the closing cap of a black marker pen (tic), before diving head first into the welcoming hollows of an old ink-jet printer. Two bodies slouched behind silver macbooks look up, sniffle and sneeze respectively. This isn’t ideal. But when you’re a startup, nothing really is.
Meet the small office, home office. A new age incubator for a new generation of enterprising Agrawals. SOHO, Silicon Valley, Sequoia Capital, rolled into one. Right here in Safdarjang Enclave. Down the road from Rajendar Da Dhaba. U-turn from VLCC.
Entrepreneurship – you might like to know, has been a key strand of my family’s genetic make-up [Manufacturing Overhead Cranes since 1956™], so when my sisters decided to plunge into their own business, it came as no real surprise. When they decided to set up shop making wedding films instead of welding frames, the family was more than supportive. And when this “shop” was inaugurated in the confines of my sister’s bedroom, with the dining table as the conference table, the home internet as the office internet, the kitchen as the official open pantry, no one really complained, although it was agreed that a line must be drawn soon.
But, we are, in essence, still a binnis family. Such ambition is generally expected, and encouraged. All kids must make some moolah and every floor should have at least one jhoola. Simple.
11am. A phone begins to ring. My youngest sister, [Partner and Chief Operating Officer] picks it up in a flurry. The tone of her voice hardly matches the tone of her pajamas.
Hi! This is Filmy Weddings. Naam to suna hi hoga?
She smirks the smirk of a dialogue well delivered.
Ya ya. We do wedding films for all regions, religions & orientations. Oh Iscon Temple? How cool. Classic and simple. Have you by any chance considered drones? Haan. Those flying fighter plane things. But we’ll use them for aerial shots ok. It looks very surreal. And, if you want, we can shower some flowers from the sky? Aise hi. Effect ke liye. Waise who’s your pandit? Ramnath Ji? Arre, he’s the man. The camera loves him. Opening montage bilkul solid banega..
My cousin sister [Co-Partner and Co-Chief Operating Officer](they’re trying to avoid another Ambani episode), slouched next to her, interjects in whispers. Just-say-yes-na. Stop-asking-so-many-questions. And-sound-more-professional. Bhagwan-ke-liye.
February seems ok. But let’s meet ASAP and finalize things. Our office? Actually, uh the thing is, we’re getting some renovation done. Vaastu shaastu you know. How about Hauz Khas? Social?
The “renovation” she was mentioning was just Vishnu – my Dad’s right hand man, our family handyman, preserver of all things, fixer of broken things, accountant, plumber, mechanic, magician. Also default Operations Head at Filmy Weddings™. Vishnu had just walked into the room [head office] to fix a broken geyser in my sister’s bathroom [executive washroom].
Vishnu can fix anything mind you – pumps, bulbs, lamps, cars, calculators but geysers – geysers really trouble him. He struggles with a broken fuse for a few painful seconds. Brr. Crk. Tgg.
Vishnu. Aap bahar fix kar do. Main baad main naha loongi.
Bas ek minute. Almost ho gaya crk yeh.
Tgg atak gaya crk hain. Uff!
Arre. Yeh toh bas..
Useless geysers. He exits, low on confidence; fuse in hand, leaving the main door ajar. Not a problem though, considering one of the key features of the Filmy Weddings Vision Document is the company’s strict Open Door Policy™.
[Sec B, Para 2.3: Treat visitors like wedding guests. Welcome them even if uninvited.]
This time however, the open door was a more than welcome opportunity for my Mother [not yet a board member] to stroll in on the operation. And she was looking rather mad.
(In a non-negotiable tone that only mothers can perfect)
I need to wash those pajamas. Give them to me now.
Mom, we’re trying to work here.
Let me remind you. This is a house. Not a hotel.
I’m not here to do your laundry.
Mummy! Kya hain?
And why don’t you girls ever keep your plates in the kitchen?
Chachi! Stop touching things.
Blue, green, yellow, pink, she says, while arranging the Post Its in an aesthetically pleasing order. She used to be a designer you see.
Stop it Mummy.
I need these pajamas. And open these windows! You want to suffocate or what?
Guys? I ask, slipping my head through the sliding door that connects my room to my sister’s room/office. This wall is really thin. Just keep your voice down. Please.
Bhaiya, we’re working.
No. We’re working. You’re not.
I’m on a sabbatical. Chill.
Why don’t you go to a coffee shop or something?
Why? This is my house.
This is also my office.
Is it, really?
Please get a job.
Do you need freelancers?
I don’t work with family.
You both are fam..
As I feel the sliding door close on my face, I can hear the distinct approach of my Tauji [My Dad’s elder brother, father of my cousin sister/Co-COO] walking in from the other end. The door was open of course. I say distinct approach, because his walk has a certain cheerful quality to it, the kind of swagger and clank reminiscent of a classic P.G. Wodehouse Bertie Wooster walk – slightly fumbled, partly noisy, golf cap in tow to protect from the blistering cold. He wanted to know the status of the new Agrawal venture. Although, much like his corduroy trousers, his understanding of their business was a little outdated. Not Tauji’s fault though, considering he belongs to the original start-up generation. The kind that built businesses around beautifully round ball bearings. He’s bought factories, shut down factories, dealt with banks, rejected funding, regretted funding. And what could be more exciting than a new venture in the family. He’s certain that Agrawal 2.0 can use his binnis pedigree.
So girls, how are the numbers looking?
You know, the numbers. Margins beta. Margins.
We haven’t done the numbers yet.
You must. Double entry bookkeeping. Aata hain?
Papa, we don’t have any money. What should we account?
Business needs liquidity. Take a risk. Take a loan. Try karo. Have fun guys.
Arre. We don’t need a loan. We need work.
Network. Network. Phone milao. Meeting karo. Business is all about people. Go for it guys.
We are meeting people. Through Facebook na. We just need more buzz.
Buzz Papa. Buzz.
Accha. Chalo show me the 5-year plan..
Koi exit plan?
Tauji stumbles out grumbling. Maybe the Agrawal legacy was just a distant dream. Behind him, my Mother walks back in with some fresh laundry and socks. The smell of liquid detergent mixed with diced potato is mesmerizing.
See. This is washed. That is unwashed. I need those pajamas. Abhi.
Mummy! Bas karo.
Guys, about that freelance thing? I can work from home if you want. Flexi timings..
On cue, Lakshmi, our maid, (we do have a mythical household) slips through the open door to pick up the day old biscuits and glasses from the room. Vishnu troupes in behind her, beaming the smile of a man who had maybe won the battle of the geezer this time. He plugs in the fuse confidently. Brr. Crk. Goddammit.
Vishnu! Kya kar rahe ho? Baad main, please.
By the way, shouts Tauji from the lobby, have you printed business cards yet? I think white is a good idea. Off white bhi try kar sakte hon.. Call Roopak Ji for dimensions. 9821..
My mother, still witness to this family board meeting, tries to bring things back to order. I need those pajamas. Or wash them on your own. Two scoops of Surf. Rinse cycle 3.
Didi, jhadu lagana hain kamre main?
Problem fuse main nahi, yeh geyser main hain.
The Agrawal sisters share a look with each other. The kind perhaps that the Ambani brothers shared when Dhirubhai decided to take their business out of the family kitchen for good. Kar lo duniya mutthi main. Filmy Weddings could no longer function out of home. It was a startup dammit, not a cooperative khadi business. Imagine if Zuckerberg’s Mom kept asking him to wash that grey jumper all the time? Or if Steve Jobs was consistently nagged about the lint on his black polo necks? Maybe a coffee shop was a good idea. Or even that office space in Shapurjat. Maybe they can even convince Vishnu to freelance with them. Perhaps even Lakshmi if the price was right, and her timings were flexible. And does one really need a conference room? And does that conference room really need to have adrak chai and biscuits every hour? The partners seemed to finally agree. Business had to be separated from family. Relocation was the only choice. They got up to leave, but remembered to flip the sign on the bedroom door.