The founders are selling their stake. Just another business headline. Routine. Why does it open a dam of nostalgia?
Nearly 40 years ago, there was a small advertisement in a newspaper. “A reputed pharmaceutical company in Bombay wishes to launch a house journal and is looking for a qualified Journalist/Writer to assume independent responsibility.”
This writer had wandered into journalism and after some two years was beginning to learn that there was more to it than writing. So, he applied.
It was his first visit to a big company, as a nervous job seeker and not a privileged reporter. As the clock ticked past the scheduled hour of interview, the merry receptionist, her fingers flying over the switchboard, smiled at me, and said, “Sweetheart, I have told the manager. He will call you soon.” It was doubly reassuring, mainly because for the first time someone, a stranger in a strange setting was using such an endearment to address me.
A few days after I joined, we were all friends and I asked her how she managed to make every strange visitor a “dear”, a “darling” or a “sweetheart”. It just came naturally to her, she told me. “And what is the harm in making someone comfortable, right? It’s all the family, dear!”
Over the next several years, I would enjoy being part of the family which paid me a salary.
Of and for the family
I had suggested a name for the house journal in an ambitious note: “It is only inevitable that our number grows as we develop. All 1200 of us are per force flung far and wide. In such a big family, separated by long distances, there has to be a medium through which all of us can share our thoughts, pleasures, and plans. Tablet is meant to fulfil that need. This is going to be one tablet which will not be made in a sterile atmosphere. Here we will let our germs of ideas flourish and give free rein to our thoughts.”
I might have been sold on “Tablet” but what the employees chose after a poll was a different name. What was gratifying was that very few bothered to remember my name (then and now) but the easiest way to introduce me was by the name of the magazine.
The bosses insisted that the magazine must be printed and mailed home. Not simply handed over in the office or factory. It was meant for the family and had to reach the family first—both the English and the Marathi versions.
Like the magazine, even its editor had the opportunity to visit several homes. To meet the lab technician who was a passionate collector of stamps. No one knew that the silent guy in stores was also an accomplished dancer until I went to his house and clicked him in action. And did you know that senior delivery guy always on the move on his bicycle, told a little lie that he could ride a cycle just to get that job? But you would pardon him when you also learnt how he had to struggle to save the animals in the laboratory when the whole locality was cut off by floods.
Up and down
If the editor had started feeling a little too important, the family provided enough moments to keep him grounded.
Like the wrong spelling the name of the person, who had played a key role in the golden jubilee celebrations. That too on the front page of the very first issue in four colours.
Like being taken to task by a worker on the packing line, who stormed across the corporate floors, probably for the first time after she was employed, to give me an earful. After all I had dared to change a couple of words in her poem published in the latest edition. What would I tell my family, was her primary concern.
Like being unceremoniously thrown out of the factory because I had omitted to wear the production floor attire as I went in search of someone I was supposed to interview.
The company was kind enough to give me enough mentors—like a seasoned editor from the corporate world and a veteran from the advertising arena. The latter magnanimously let me tweak a couple of words in the script for a prestigious corporate film.
As the years passed, the company gained enough confidence to let me loose in other areas—the Chairman’s communications, the annual report, the medical journal and even marketing (“for the largest organ, the strongest antibiotic”).
The greatest privilege was to spend time with the Chief, a name to reckon with in the world of global health. To watch his pen move deftly across the notebook as he explained the structure of a new drug in the making to a team of awed scientists in white aprons. It was as captivating as the delicate drop he loved to execute on the company parking lot that doubled up as a badminton court after working hours. Then, at other times, one could not but share his agitation as he wondered why it was difficult to put patients before patents.
The association with the family would continue even after I moved on from the company.
I was then a consultant for a hotel under construction in another city. One day a tall man, an old associate (and cricketer) from my employee days, walked in, ducking the bamboos sticking out from the scaffolding. He was now in charge of a new palliative care centre. He explained what palliative care was all about. He wanted a line to describe the centre. “So, what you are doing is beyond curing, right? Care beyond cure?” I suggested.
Then would come my initiation into respiratory research in addition to occasional corporate requirements.
My status on paper did not matter. After all, you do not stop being a member of the family, just because you have moved away.
As many who were my colleagues during those days say, “You may not remain in Cipla, but Cipla will always remain in you.”