‘Don’t mention the product until I am done,’ Mustafa reminded Ashwin yet again as they waited to be called into the CEO’s office.
‘I won’t,’ Ashwin promised Mustafa as he had done just a few minutes earlier. ‘And you will rub your palms together when you are done?’
‘Yes and then you can start your pitch.’
Ashwin clenched his jaw, gripped the arms of the black leather sofa he was sitting on and nodded his head. The reception area was just about average for a bulk printing firm anywhere in India. The yellow paint had faded, but wasn’t peeling. The carpet was threadbare but had no holes in it. If sofa they were sitting on hadn’t been within firing range of the pedestal fan that stood in a corner, keeping the air in circulation, they would have been sweaty.
The CEO’s secretary came out of the cabin and told them, ‘please go inside. Sir will see you now.’
They both got up and walked into the small cabin which was plastered with flowery wall paper. Ashwin’s eyes searched the room till he located the a/c unit. It was quite small and more importantly, old, Ashwin noted with relief.
Mustafa started off with profuse thanks for having been given an opportunity to see the head of such a reputed organisation. They had heard so much about the CEO, and of course about the company, that it was a pleasure to travel all the way to Nagpur to meet with the CEO in person. They were not there to sell anything, no, they only wanted to pay homage to such a great organisation and fantastic personality.
‘That Toyota Corolla parked under the neem tree, is that yours sir?’
The CEO was forced to admit that it was.
Mustafa admitted to having an uncle who had a worked in Dubai for twenty years and when he came back, he had brought back the Corolla he had driven in Dubai. Mustafa had been allowed to drive that vehicle once. What perfect gears it had, what fantastic suspensions, what splendid acceleration it possessed!
‘Actually the Toyota doesn’t have great acceleration,’ the CEO objected mildly, though he didn’t look too displeased. 'The Jag has much better acceleration. It’s a sports car. Some of those German cars do as well. Like the BMW.’
‘You’re right. What I meant is that the Toyota is so optimum in everything. I’m sure it gives you the sort of mileage a BMW can’t even dream of. It’s my dream to buy a Toyota one day,’ Mustafa declared.
Ashwin easily managed to avoid looking surprised. He had never heard Mustafa voice such an opinion before, but then Mustafa frequently came up with such dreams. Their last meeting was with the CFO of a bank, and Mustafa had told that man that his dream had been to do an MBA in finance, as the CFO had done, but he was too dumb to do that – and had been forced to do a marketing MBA instead.
Next Mustafa took out three sachets of Paan Paraag from his pocket and offered one to the CEO and another to Ashwin.
‘I am addicted to this stuff,’ the CEO told Mustafa and happily took a sachet from him.
How on earth did Mustafa find out that the CEO liked Paan Paraag? Ashwin wondered as he accepted the sachet from Mustafa, popped it open and dumped the contents into his mouth.
Mustafa then turned his attention to a framed photograph kept near the PC.
‘Your son is very cute,’ Mustafa told the CEO who took in the compliment with a narrowing of his eyes. He started to say something, but Mustafa interrupted him to say, ‘really cute. And smart looking. I’m sure he is as intelligent as his father.’
Ashwin looked at the photograph once more. The CEO’s son definitely took after his father, which was a pity since his mother was quite good looking. But no, the baby boy had inherited his father’s very broad forehead, chubby nose and rather sharpish eyes.
‘He must be three?’
Barely had the CEO nodded when Mustafa said, ‘I have a nephew that age. In my opinion, three is the best age for children. They are past the terrible twos and …’
Once again Ashwin got the feeling that if Mustafa didn’t chatter too much, the CEO would have said something important, something he wanted to say.
‘Very, very cute,’ Mustafa concluded his monologue. There was an uncomfortable silence after that.
Mustafa looked at Ashwin and rubbed his palms together.
Ashwin launched his spiel, but the CEO was not really paying attention. Or rather, it was obvious that the CEO didn’t want to pay much attention to them. If at all, the vibes emanating from him suggested that he wanted them out of the office. The warmth that had oozed from the man when he took the Paan Paraag from Mustafa had totally evaporated. Nevertheless, Ashwin put on a brave face and explained to the CEO how he could do much worse that purchase a central a/c system from their firm for his entire office.
They wrapped up rather quickly and came out. The CEO was to revert to them in a week’s time after giving their proposal some thought. Outside the office, Mustafa dialled a number on his mobile. He held the mobile to his ear for a few seconds and shook his head in frustration. ’He never answers the phone!’ he told the world at large, rather than to Ashwin.
‘Who’s this guy?’ Ashwin asked, without really expecting a reply since Mustafa did not always care to elaborate.
‘That’s a chap who works in that office,’ Mustafa said as if by reflex action. It must be the chap who told Mustafa that the CEO liked Paan Paraag, Ashwin deduced.
‘It went off well, didn’t it?’ Mustafa asked Ashwin, before adding, ‘but not too well.’
Ashwin hesitated to give his verdict and Mustafa said, ‘everything was fine till I told him his kid is cute. Now why would he have a problem with it, even if he knows that miserable boy is anything but cute? Unless he has just found out that he was being cuckolded and it’s not his kid. But that’s not possible. That boy is a spitting image of his father.’
Then Mustafa’s mobile rang. Mustafa looked at his mobile and said, ‘it’s him.’
‘Thank you so much for your help,’ Mustafa told his contact, before adding, ‘yes everything went off too well. Your boss said he would confirm in a week’s time.’
Mustafa had a blank expression on his face as he said, ‘yes of course, if we get this contract we will pay you a thousand rupees.’
And good luck with your thousand rupees mate, Ashwin thought with a small smile playing around his lips. It was very warm, though they were standing under a tree that shaded the main gate.
‘We talked about everything under the sun. We had so much in common.’ Ashwin wished Mustafa would hail an auto and then carry on with his conversation once they were inside the auto.
The man at the other end must have said something longwinded since Mustafa was forced to listen for a while. The frown on his forehead grew wider and he listened.
‘We may be invited home to meet his family. He hinted at that. Yes. After the contract is concluded. Yes. To meet his wife and son!’
‘A daughter is it?’
‘You say he has a daughter and a son?’
‘No? Only a daughter?’
There was silence for a while.
‘So that kid in the picture is his daughter, is it?’
‘Ha! I would never have guessed.’
‘Did I say it was a boy? Of course not, I’m careful about such things. I did have an inkling you see.’
When Mustafa hung up, Ashwin quickly turned around so that he didn’t have to meet Mustafa’s eyes.
‘From behind him, Mustafa asked, ‘do you think he’ll hold it against us?’
‘He might not.’ Ashwin was silent for a few moments. He then carefully added, ‘we’ll know in a week’s time, won’t we?’