Thursday, June 16, 2005

Eyes Wide Open…or trying to

We had pitched for a mammoth ministry project last year and although we had been on the verge of getting it for the last 4 months or so the contract’s arrival getting postponed at the last minute, circulating one ministry department to another. Even before we signed the contract, we were called for an all day session with the various state departments, us being the ‘chosen’ agency!

A small team of us went to a review meet of this ambitious project (considering its scope and pan India coverage). This was our first meeting of this kind, in presence of the state representatives, 1 from each state. This exposure would be good for us since our work would take off from here. We had a small presentation scheduled at the end of the day. And our team was looking forward to the various questions regarding the project, media and our role.

The meeting was held in a large plush auditorium of a prominent chamber of commerce. After the inaugural address by the Joint secretary, a rather efficient, businesslike lady, the day was spent in a review of the progress of each of the state on a number of issues concerning the project. But as it turned out, it was a forum for airing their concerns and less of progress.

I sat back enjoying it all. Unity in diversity – the much touted line about India was in full display. How wonderful it was. Everyone working together for this ambitious project – the target audience of which would be the entire Indian populace! But very soon it degenerated into an unintentional comedy.

The distinguished panel of IAS officers, the joint secretary, World Bank representative and other senior officials had to fend of ridiculous queries. Often we found them, cynosure of all eyes up on the dais, trying to suppress a giggle!

Esteemed Panel (EP): “Have you received the instruments?”
State Representative (SR) 1: “We have received cartons. We do not know what is in them. How can we sign the receipt?”
EP: “Well open them. Or simply write that you have received cartons”.

SR2: I have received 8 fax machines and I need only 6.
SR 3: Sir our instruments are being sent to the godown and not to us. We want them delivered to our doorstep.
SR 4: Ours is a new state.

EP: How many people have you recruited?
SR 4: None. Ours is a new state

And then there was this lonely lady from Rajasthan who sat in an empty row all by herself. Her progress report was the worst. After a long session of saying no to every question asked, she nearly broke down saying she was the only person in her department and couldn’t cope with the work load and do everything by herself!

And so on...

Lulled The air-conditioned comfort of the auditorium, the participants lolled into various states of relaxation – the blinkers, the nodders, the glazed eyed ones, and the lean back into the chair and fast asleep ones! They roused themselves quite fast enough during the 2 tea breaks – and the sumptuous lunch.

Post lunch, most people were in the state of advance coma when an announcement regarding the reimbursement of travel vouchers brought a sudden flurry of activity. State representatives rushed out with indecent haste to have their claims settled. Finally it was our turn to present. We waited for the questions. But none came. There was pin drop silence. Not a single question was forthcoming, despite the panelists prompting the participants.

The director then brought the proceedings to an end, but before that he had to halt the mass exodus. He spoke to the gathering in slow, clear manner, enunciating each syllable, repeating each point several times, much like a teacher does to a naughty, fidgety, kindergarten class. Maybe, the director shouldn’t speak to them as if they were slow learners, I thought, as he gave slow clear instructions for a report, repeating each point several times.

“Any questions”? He asked.
“When will you send us the format”?
“What format”?
“For the report you want”.
“But, I just told you the format”.

And again he repeated it while we sat fuming. Can’t believe we spent an entire day listening to the woes of fax machines and post creations and who would pay for toner cartridges etc.

I found myself extremely drowsy, somnolent, terribly fatigued and above all, overpowered by a sense of apathy. I just wanted to sleep. Didn’t feel like work at all. And couldn’t care less. Much like workers at a government office!

I tried avoiding the glances of my colleagues from the direct marketing and media sections. They had wasted an entire working day to listen to the fax and PC woes. I was busy counting my blessings that I hadn’t insisted upon the presence of the creative teams as well. Had they come along, I am sure they would have mutinied at the idea of them working for this project when the contract finally arrived, 8 months after we pitched for the project and 4 months after we had been told we had got it!

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