This book is not just a novel. As the memoir of Arun Gupta, Indian entrepreneur, it’s a complete postgraduate course in Business Management. Arun has launched his latest and most brilliant entrepreneurial idea – a suicide helpline call centre for victims of America’s economic crisis. And in the course of the book, along with his mad and thrilling story, we pick up invaluable snippets of business wisdom:
People ask me, “Do you have no morals?” In business, never directly answer yes.And:
The main thing in business is the main thing everywhere – keeping costs down. There are some ladies in Florida that run this thing – Suicide Watch. It is America’s main suicide hotline but these ladies are fools – no MBAs, just three chicks called Anne, Jane, and Margaret. All above 60. Not even in suits. They have some psychology degree or some shit and are running this for charity like an NGO. Unbelievable. This must be the same as when the Europeans discovered that the new world had no system of land ownership. How can someone not own land? How can you not monetize suicide? Same thing.Arun, a typical Indian businessman, was once arrested at JFK:
These Florida ladies near this golf ball place are costing this suicide hotline thirty thousand dollars a year to operate. Plus phone bills. Plus absentees. Plus old. Plus benefits, coffee machine, chit chat about grandchildren crap. I am doing this at five thousand. The word is arbitrage. That’s real business. It’s like making the iPhone for three dollars and selling it for four hundred. Another word – China. And in the context of Chinese manufacturing, a third word – respect. They are so dedicated at keeping manufacturing costs down that they refuse to learn English. English would mean wasting time talking to each other. They understand that in international business, silence = productivity. That’s why respect.
In my interrogation, they asked me if I knew a lot of people. They asked me if I knew Osama. I told them, I have no contact with Al Qaeda but that I only deal in C-level executives (CEO, CFO), so, yes, if Al Qaeeda got in touch with 1-888 about potential business collaborations, then I would meet Osama to sign the deal. I should clarify, we would be open to only phone and technology related Al Qaeda work, not terror attacks; we are not into bricks and mortar or blowing up bricks and mortar. Material costs are too high – the chemicals, explosives – besides being illegal. Even though they keep the same hours and work at night like us.And, a typical Indian businessman, he makes enormous efforts to develop and train his employees. Through this praiseworthy mission we get a glimpse of the lifestyle of the great Indian middle class:
“What do you do Saturday nights? Sit at home and eat chips?”Several times while reading this book, I wondered whether it would have readers who did not understand its sarcastic overtones, and might take it all literally. How likely will digs at Chetan Bhagat be successful in a world where Chetan Bhagat’s readers and fans sadly outnumber Anuvab Pal’s by a large margin? What would people who don’t know the truth about Arindam Chaundhary make of a sentence like this:
“We sit as a family and watch the Baba Ramdev programme on Janmat channel and do the yoga exercises.”
“Lame. So un-American.”
“We may not go out Saturday nights sir but we are not traditional. I want to clear up that misunderstanding. We have gone to Dirty Splash Water Park in Bhandup, Inorbit Mall, we shop in Hyper-Fresh Goregaon and order from Pizza Hut every night. Plus PVR movies on Sunday .Good fun. I’m a member of Raghav’s Gym and I’ve taken my father and sister bowling in Pleasure Lanes at Andheri. I like gelato, it is Italian. Also TGI Friday mocktails we’ve had. As a family, we watch BBC, not K-serials. We are new to discos only.”
In my thirty years as a business leader and India Inc. ambassador, I have never seen such a tense fundraising effort. Except once, while watching the great guru Arindam Chaudhary asking people in Indore to fund a business school he wants to start exclusively for Indians in Las Vegas...And how many would find the following para perplexing rather than responding by rolling on the floor laughing:
My work with Mhatre, however was neither with Mhatre nor Karnik. It was with Ms Devine, a Christian lady from South Goa. In this case, Mhatre changed his name and his sex. Some businesses you can do as a man, some as a woman. Ms Devine bought smuggled goods from customs officers and sold them to other smugglers. Commission-based business. He already had two police records as Girish Mhatre and Anthony Karnik, so he thought it best to diversify into this third business as a woman. That’s an important business lesson – don’t let your sex get in the way of your business idea. Women say that when it comes to rising to the level of CEO of a company, they face a glass ceiling. I look at this as a similar scenario but with a critical difference. For reference, see Coke and Pepsi. I call this a genital ceiling.What I admired most about this book is, even more than it’s crazy humour (or even its radical business truths) is the very strong voice of Anuvab Pal’s character Arun Gupta. It is full of confidence and authoritative opinions.
I knew chettinad is from Chennai (in fact, it’s Chennai’s Tamil name)Even the language is consistent, with just minor misuse of preposition or article for that extra-natural touch of Indian English.
A few days after I finished reading this book, I bought a roll of adhesive tape. India is a great global software and manufacturing superpower but our adhesive tape is horrible. Not only that, but the back of the box read:
- Appears invisible after sticking.
- Lasts long without yellowing.
- Ideal for permanent applications like mending, splicing, sealing etc.
- Prevents tampering of amount on cheque/DD
- Easily tearable; can be written on.