I rinse the toothbrush and put it away. While the coffee is dripping in the kitchen, I apply shaving foam on my face, and examine the blade. No rust yet. Just a few hairs from the last time. I open the tap, put the blade under it, and look up at the mirror to see my face under the small fluorescent lamp.
And I think, if only I was holding a cigarette between my lips, this could be a scene from an award-winning movie.
Travelling in the Metro, I see a formally-dressed executive, talking to someone on the cellphone. Just behind him, I spot a woman and her son sitting near the window, and talking about the day ahead, in Marathi.
And I think, where are the subtitles?
I see people standing outside a lift in our building, and I instinctively go and ask one person – is it a queue for people with the SMS?
Now that MAMI is over once again, I need a fix of more movies. Sigh, withdrawal symptoms.
If you’ve seen Haider, and you’re cringing at the title of this post, please relax.
It just means that this is the second MAMI/MFF I am attending
Day 1: Started with probably the best film I’ve seen this year. Avinash Arun’s Killa is visually stunning, and far more immersive as a story. The scenes are taken to great heights by the performances of the entire cast – especially the kids in the school. A story of adolescence, struggling with moving to a new place, loss, fear of abandonment, not being understood, finding friends, then finding strength, layered with beautiful frames, and music that’s beautiful but never gets in your way. And at many times, I am reminded that segments of this film could very well be a teenage Dil Chahta Hai :). Don’t miss it anywhere you get a chance to see it.
The second movie I walked in to, was Mrityunjay Devvrat’s Children of War. I had seen its trailer a few months back, and was intrigued by the star cast (Farooq Shaikh, Victor Banerjee, Pavan Malhotra, Raima Sen, Tilottama Shome). I walked into the screen around half an hour late (because Killa was rescheduled to an hour after the initial time), but got the gist of the movie in a dialogue Pavan Malhotra (playing a military man from West Pakistan) mouths. I stayed for a half hour after that, but could not sit much longer. Perhaps it was because the contrast in the approaches between Killa and CoW was so stark. That half an hour was full of loud background music, dialogues delivered with strange pauses, extra expositing dialogues, and lots of melodrama. I decided to not let my headache increase and walked out.
Day 2: Güeros apparently is a slur in Mexico. It means a pale man. And many times in the movie, calling someone pale is deemed as a mild insult. Alonso Ruiz Palacios’ Güeros touches upon various conflict of urban Mexican society along with many many other subjects, related to the characters’ lives as well as with art and education in the country. But what’s more delightful than the treatment of these subjects, or the black-and-white and four-by-three frames, or the music that could change Mexican rock that the audience never gets to hear, or the ‘tiger’, or the semi-parasitic relationship our protagonists have with the unsuspecting little girl who’s their neighbour, is the self-effacing approach the film takes – it just dissipates whatever tension is built up because of a character going on a deep self-discovery monologue or a deep political discussion between the characters by taking a totally unexpected and hilarious route. And quite a few times, it appears as if the characters are making a commentary on the film they themselves are acting in, which gave me a feeling of them having crossed the boundary of the silver screen and having walked into the theatre amongst us. It’s in a way a road movie, as well as a coming of age movie, as well as a self-discovery movie. Even though the title refers to a pale man, the most important protagonist is the man who’s referred to as the dark one whenever someone is called pale. Watch it for deep thoughtful conversations, and belly-aching laughs.
In the evening, I walked in to Chandan to catch Atom Egoyan’s The Captive. To be honest, I am a sucker for a good thriller. Most of this film ticks off the boxes for one, but the narrative is mostly loose and flaky. I was trying to write off the discrepancies by positing that the film jumps back and forward in time, not exactly like Memento, but in a loose way. The problem still remained that I could not find any anchors or markers for us to realise ‘which’ time we are in at any point in the film. There even was a time when I wondered if Rosario Dawson is playing twins! The performances are strong, but the motives seem half-baked. The created universe of the pedophile ring seems a bit too goody-goody to be sinister and menacing, and the characters are all in set templates of such a thriller, well, except for Rosario Dawson’s Nicole. I was thankful the movie wasn’t too long, but I wouldn’t watch it again. Well, maybe I would, just to understand (spoiler alert) how Nicole manages to appear in a kidnapper’s van one moment, and then investigating in the next frame, and then back in the van later on.
It’s been almost three years since I quit the folds of a job with a private limited company, with a regular monthly salary, and almost a year since Prasad and I started off our own firm.
It was the beginning of a new continuum of professionalism, applying whatever we know & understand, making mistakes, learning from them, and trying to turn those experiences into repeatable behaviour.
And amongst all this, we observe each other, learn from each other, and try to correct each other from time to time.
One trait I’ve observed in our behaviour at times is what I’ve started calling Vendor’s Guilt (and Prasad does refer to it in a post a couple of months back).
Here’s what it is.
One of the reasons we wanted us to start on our own was to become a rare type of IT vendor: the kind who gives full value of the client’s money, does not act hostile towards the client or their work, and always has the client’s best interests in mind.
While all this is fine and a noble, the fact of the big bad world out there is that any business would try to hold back in negotiations and payments, and try to extract the most bang for their buck. I’m not sitting in judgment on anyone here — it is because businesses are closest to what we learnt as the rational person during our microeconomics classes — they aim to maximize gain while minimizing expenditure. Of course as people many of us might think it’s a crummy thing to do, but as people managing a business we get rid of the guilt associated with such behaviour, and thus we get the every day client.
Often times a well-meaning vendor (the one who goes by the principles I listed two paragraphs ago) gets carried away with the well-meaningness, and goes into altruistic territory. The classic symptoms of this behaviour are:
- Relenting during negotiation (they can’t pay more than this, how will they get it done at the prices we quoted?)
- Starting work without receiving any payments (of course they intend to pay, they can’t NOT pay, right? They are good guys!)
- Volunteering to give advice not asked for at times which would reduce the size of our engagements (as a partner, shouldn’t I be concerned about saving my clients’ costs?)
- Getting anxious whenever the client would raise even a small concern (how could we let this happen? how would this affect our relationship, and reputation?)
- Not chasing clients for pending payments often enough (how would it look? he’s the brand manager, the payments are processed by the accounts guy, they have run out of their monthly budgets already)
- Continuing work and taking on more pressure despite payments being delayed inordinately (they can’t pay, they don’t have money, and unless we deliver this, how will they earn and pay us?)
Please don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have good intentions for clients and prospects as a service provider. And it’s a bit scary for us to imagine turning into the other vendors we all have burnt our fingers with.
But when these concerns overshadow our own survival, and especially when we are dealing with clients who are bigger in size and turnover than we are, yet somehow they don’t have enough to pay us for our services, out comes this term: Vendor’s Guilt.
How was this affecting us? At times we were feeling the pressure from both ends: work was piling up, but money wasn’t trickling in, often due to the same clients. We would keep debating hours about why we are letting this happen to us. And in those hours of debate, it became clear that we were letting this all happen, and maybe were driving ourselves towards this, because we were striving to set ourselves apart from the run-of-the-mill vendor we hear stories of who shut down servers, or put up a nasty message on the homepage, or overcharges for superfluous services.
How did we manage our way out of it? It was a three-point realisation:
- That we really aren’t ‘that’ vendor. When we stepped back and assessed our work and engagements, we realised we were a high-performing considerate vendor, and most of our engagements are really healthy. Most of our clients respect us and our work, pay up on time, and barely haggle. And we have always strived to deliver the full value of what we’re paid. Plus, we have not abandoned on bad terms a single project because of payment or personality issues (touchwood), a problem that I increasingly see is quite common at least in the Indian market.
- ‘That’ kind of vendors still exist, and we still keep hearing about them. But there’s another realisation we’ve had: that the vendors aren’t always at fault. There are clients who give vendors a hard time, hold back payments, and misbehave with vendors. And there’s just so much that a business owner can take from a client before protecting their own business interests. I’m not condoning that behaviour, but if we haven’t stepped into their shoes, how can we judge them so harshly?
- We are a business, being managed and powered by people, who have bills to pay and dreams to fulfill. And at the end of the day, if we can’t pay the wages all these people are here for, and are struggling with working capital and profitability after working so hard, is it really worth it?
From the point that we’ve had this discussion, we’ve decided to keep a tight check on all engagements, raise flags whenever we realise it’s veering towards exploitation, and take appropriate measures. These measures are nothing more than getting clarity amongst ourselves, meeting with the appropriate people at the client’s end and apprising them of our situation. In all the cases, the other party does appreciate our concerns and our sharing with them.
Meanwhile, we continue to deliver value for all our clients, strive hard to get the best done for the best costs, because that’s what we set out to do and not out of any guilt, but we don’t make ourselves bleed to fill anyone else’s cups.
It’s not that difficult, really.
- You start thinking in lists.
- You are obsessed with SEO-friendly titles.
- You insist that you have collected all possible wisdom related to any topic in 15-20 points.
- You insist that this wisdom is not peculiar to your personal experience, but universal for everyone who has been bombarded with the link to your list on Facebook.
- You get bored with photographs that aren’t looped animations.
- Every thing from the 90s becomes a subject of a potential article.
- You spend days on YouTube looking for videos you can pass on in an article to be shared. Who cares about original content?
- When you come across animal pictures, you start counting if you’ve collected 10 of them already.
- One web page doesn’t seem large enough to contain 10 points at once.