My Life So Far – Part 3 (Work and Marriage)

This part should be the shortest of all, as it covers only the last 5 years. However, these years have been quite eventful, to say the least. I’ll probably spend most of my time talking about marriage and get the work stuff our of the way quick, because honestly, who wants to talk about work?

Handy links to previous parts are below for ease of browsing:

17th Dec, 2014 : Part 1 (Childhood and School)
18th Dec, 2014 : Part 2 (College Years)
19th Dec, 2014 : Part 3 (Work and Marriage)
20th Dec, 2014 : ???

I came back to Kolkata in January, 2010 after finishing up my studies. While I knew that my family would start preparing for my marriage, at that time I can honestly state that it was the furthest thing from my mind. I was busy establishing myself and starting work, though that had its own hurdles for me to cross.

I had seen the corporate culture in NYC and it was in stark contrast to India, especially Kolkata. There, meetings were structured, had an agenda, and would start and end on time, usually with a clear plan of action at the end. In India, by contrast, everything was much more free form. Someone would come in for a meeting and spend half an hour chatting about inane things till tea had been had, and the last 10 minutes would be about work, often with no clear objective achieved or plan of action made. It was tough to stomach the absolute waste of time and efficiency this constituted, and yet the vast majority of meetings I attended in various companies were similar in their structure. I have tried to bring some semblance of efficiency into my organization, and though progress has been slow, I’m just glad there has been some.

I started working at a Group company of ours called Indo-Thai. I had been involved in the bidding process while I was in NYC, but working on the ground was definitely far different than reading briefs, notes and Tender Documents. Similarly, building financial models was a much different exercise after spending some time at the airports, seeing how they were run, what the true costs were, and recognizing where we had been either overestimating or underestimating some figure. I toured Jaipur, Lucknow and Amritsar quite frequently in those early months as we started operations, and am happy to state that some of the processes I argued for have today been implemented. While I understand that its difficult to listen to the advice of someone who has just entered the work force, I’m just glad that the systems and processes we put in place in those early months are bearing fruit today. Better late than never!

After Indo-Thai became a known quantity, it was time for me to do something different. We had been approached by a company to give them a loan, but since it was drowning in liabilities, we had refused. They in turn offered to sell us their assets instead of requesting for a loan. We did some due diligence on the subsidiary company they offered and found it to have great potential. The name of the company we purchased was Bihar Rubber Company, and their brand was Duckback. I had known Duckback as a school kid for their school bags and raincoats, and taking care of a manufacturing company was a new challenge for me. I thoroughly enjoyed working with an impressive group of people, none more so than the General Manager and CEO of the company, Mr. Basak. He is a fount of knowledge regarding Rubber product manufacturing and has been a pioneer in this field in his 35-40 year odd career. While currently the company is stuck in some litigations, once they are cleared I have high hopes from this company. Its already a good performer and its future only grows brighter.

I was always involved in Real Estate. It had slowly become our main business and my father had taken care to keep me updated in all the year I was in NYC. I would sit on my mails every night and go through the documents he would send me, either to study, or simply for my information, or for me to work on. When I came back, the transition was very smooth for me as I already had a lot of information about deals, lands, projects and people. I also had a great mentor in my father, who was always generous with his time and his advice and guidance. Everything I have learnt about who to work has been due to him, and everything I do wrong is usually due to me not following him. Then again, we both understand that we are different people and will have clashes of opinion, however he has always given me a fair hearing and a chance to justify my arguments, which is all I ask.

When I was in India for 2007, one of the last things I did work wise was decide the terms of a Tender we were submitting for a prime piece of land. We eventually ended up winning the tender, beating out many established brands. Since the plot was so strategically located, we wanted to do something out of the ordinary on it. Thats when my father asked me to visit the World Trade Center offices in NYC. I would go to their offices and tried to create a rapport. Once I was back in India, I started following up with people at the WTC NYC offices and eventually ended up applying officially for the World Trade Center license. After a year of hectic back and forth, sending documents, letters of recommendations, presentation etc, we finally achieved what we wanted and are the proud holders of the World Trade Center Kolkata license. Like everything we do, we’ll take our time, move when its opportune and delivers something that exceeds expectations.

We have also launched a residential project called Pratham on BT Road. I believe we are the only developers on that entire stretch of road that are providing luxurious living at a price comparable to other projects. We are also the only project that does not compromise on the size of the apartment and provide full size, spacious living instead of asking our customers to live in matchboxes. I’ve been intimately involved in its launch and marketing efforts, and the response to the project has been beyond the goals we had targeted! Saying anything more would be marketing our product and I will refrain from doing so on this forum. Suffice to say, work has been sometimes a cakewalk, sometimes irritating and almost always interesting. Working in India has its advantages, but the way work is done is sadly not one of them in my experience. That is the only blot on my experience, and the perfect combination in my mind would be to work like New York, but in India. We put too much emphasis on inter-personal relationships to solve our problems instead of relying on processes and systems in my view, but things are slowly moving in the direction of a structured way of working, which I heartily welcome and encourage.

I am not going to talk about the work environment of Kolkata, because I was taught as a kid that if I cannot say something good, I should say nothing at all.

While I was working to get Indo-Thai off the ground in early 2010, Pallavi was busy making my Bio-Data. I must compliment Pallavi for this stage, as she compiled all relevant information and produced a beautifully designed Document. I remember thinking that whether or not I got married, at least Pallavi will be able to get a job quite easily in any creative field. Unknown to me, my parents had already received a few Bio-Datas through family members and were sifting through them. I was quite happy being away from the whole process as I had no interest in the journey, only in the destination! I had told my parents to find someone who they would be happy with, as I was quite confident I would be able to adjust with whoever they liked. Still, once in a while a Bio-Data came my way and I was asked to give an opinion. I would usually keep it to myself and relegated my role to be the last approval required, after my whole family had been convinced. Then it would be up to me and the girl, and we found each other compatible, we’d take the final step. Formulating this step-by-step system definitely helped us in streamlining the whole process.

There was an incident in April or May of that year that might be instructive, but I will let that particular cat out of the bag at the end. 😉

While my parents were going through the Bio-Datas they had received, I was busy planning a trip attending the football World Cup being held in South Africa. Matt had gotten a job at UEFA and had kindly let me have an additional ticket he had been given. I flew into SA, hung out with Matt for a week, saw the Semi Finals and Finals, and watched in anguish as first Germany (my first choice) and then Holland (my second choice) were defeated by Spain, who displayed the most boring brand of football ever played. It was a deeply disappointing tournament in terms of the result but an exhilarating experience nonetheless. The people of SA were wonderfully helpful and I fell in love with Cape Town in particular, one of the nicest and prettiest cities I have ever been to. Unknown to me at the time, this was the last trip I would go on as a bachelor, and it was an excellent one!

I remember landing back in India on the 12th or 13th of July and staying in Mumbai for a couple of days for some work. My father was also in Mumbai and we were supposed to fly back to Kolkata on the 16th. The last day of our stay in Mumbai, during breakfast, my father told me that on 18th, some people would be coming to see me. I was totally taken unawares. Surely this had been brewing for a while, and yet I had been told just two days before the first step would be taken! Not that I was particularly worried, as I had no intention of pretending to be someone I was not to impress anyone, and this would be a sort of take-it-or-leave-it proposition for the girls side. My parents didn’t seem to be too worried either and made no special preparations. We would all be who we were, and if that was good enough, things would proceed. If not, that was fine too. Marrying under any pretension would be a fruitless venture in the end and I definitely didn’t want to go down that route.

I still remember that 18th of July, 2010 was a Sunday. I had not been able to go and watch Inception (which had released on the 16th) and was probably more worried about missing the afternoon show if the meeting ran late than the actual meeting itself. I had planned to go watch it with my friends, who didn’t have an inkling what was going on at that point of time, and since most of them were comfortable with an afternoon show, me asking to delay it would invite the inevitable question of ‘Why?’, which I would not be able to adequately answer! The Saboo family came on time and met my parents downstairs. I had been asked to stay upstairs, like a Rapunzel in my guilded castle, until I was needed. Since the gossiping downstairs was taking longer than expected, I opened up my laptop and started replying to my mails that had piled up during my South Africa trip. This itself should indicate how calmly I had taken the whole thing!

Without informing me, suddenly the door of the room opened and I saw my future wife’s family for the first time. We all got seated and had a nice, casual conversation for the next hour and a half. I still do not recollect much of the conversation, except that they all were exceedingly nice to me and made me feel quite comfortable. I remember thinking that if the girl was as wonderful as her family, I would be quite lucky. Unfortunately, she was not. Fortunately, she was better.

When they left, my family decided to sit down and discuss how the meeting went. My Blood Pressure was off the charts by this time as I was worried I would miss watching Inception if I got further delayed. Thankfully, the whole conversation was cut short by a phone call from the Saboo family saying that they thought the meeting went well, and inviting my family to come meet the girl. The thought running through my head was not “Oh snap I’m a step closer to marriage!”, but “Oh good now they wont bother me with questions about the meeting and I can leave for Inception!” This is not to belittle the fact that important things were happening to my life, but to give an indication of how strong my “what will be, will be” attitude was. I’ve always believed that it is futile to worry about the things that are out of my control. I would worry about something if it was in my hands to effect change, and that bridge was still too far at that point of time for me to worry about crossing it.

After this meeting, things moved like a boulder rolling down a hill. My parents went to see the girl and were highly impressed. I must note that they never put any pressure on me regarding whether I say Yes or No. They did their part and were content to let me do mine. They were also, however, quite serious about me taking it seriously, and I would have to back my judgment properly before they accepted it. A meeting was set up neither in Kolkata nor in Jaipur, but in Delhi, so that both families could go through the process without our whole social circle finding out.

We were all sitting in the Drawing room of our Farmhouse when their cars rumbled to a stop on the Porch. I decided to go out to greet them when I saw the back door opening and a girl come out wearing a green salwar suit. I walked out of the house, and Shradha walked into my life. We spent a hour or so sitting with both the families, and then spent a good 40 odd minutes separately. I was impressed even then by her honesty and clear minded focus on what she wanted from life. We met again the next day over lunch and talked privately for 15 minutes. We both left for our respective homes the next day. I wouldn’t meet her again till I was engaged to her.

My parents were eager to know what I had thought of the meetings, and whether we should pursue further. I quietly gave them the go ahead. Being expressive has not been my strong suit (much to Shradha’s chagrin), and they knew enough with the little I said that I was happy with the match. My grandparents were in Khachariyawas (our native village in Rajasthan) at that time and were returning soon. It was decided that they would finally go and meet Shradha (and Shradha’s family members, the ones who hadn’t met me, would see me as well) on the 24th of August, 2010, which was an auspicious day. My grandma had asked me simply before going “theek hai kya ladki?” (is the girl all right?) and I had replied with a smile “Theek hi hai.” (she’s decent enough). The families met at Rambagh palace and after a couple of hours together, the issue was settled. The Dhoot and Saboo families had decided to become relatives!

There were some rituals that were done that night for Shradha and then we all sat down for dinner. That was my first inkling that something had gone horribly wrong. Apparently, no one had told the Saboo family that I wasn’t a big eater, and they coaxed me to eat like goats are fattened before Eid. Dear lord, I have never had someone feed me so much food with so much love. They would be so polite and saying no to them was so tricky that eventually I turned to Shradha in my desperation and asked her to please stop her family! She said “But these are just my cousins, my father’s generation hasn’t even started yet.”

There were butterflies in my stomach that night, though whether from getting engaged or from the food, I still do not know.

The next morning, I visited their home and my rituals were completed. This was also when I decided to update my relationship status on Facebook. This was when all my friends found out that I had gotten engaged, as I had told them I was going to Amritsar for some Indo-Thai work. Since this happened frequently enough, no one had batted an eyelid. When news reached that I was in Jaipur getting engaged, they exploded and the choicest words were flung in my direction. I had enjoyed surprising them a lot and their good natured ribbing as their way of getting me back didn’t bother me. I wont talk about lunch at their house, nor of any food related topics at all after this. Suffice to say, they firmly believe that the path to a mans heart is through his stomach, and they have done their level best to turn the path into a highway.

The next day, me and Shradha met separately for the first time as an engaged couple. She kept wondering how I could remain so calm and casual in the face of all the excitement. I guess that was her first experience of me not getting worked up about most things in life. I’m a pretty relaxed guy usually, and tend to keep calm in crisis. Not that getting married was a crisis, but you know what I mean.

The marriage date was fixed for the 2nd of December. (To those following my recollections from the beginning, remember the prediction I had made to my friends in NYC back in January of 2008? Heh.) Functions were held in Kolkata and Jaipur by the respective families, with the actual wedding taking place in Aamby Valley. I was kept completely out of the wedding planning by my parents and my only responsibility was to show up to the functions properly attired and on time. That was fine by me as I was anyways spending most of my time on the phone. The marriage went off without a hitch and soon we were Mrs. and Mr. Dhoot. There isnt enough space to mention everyone who worked so hard during the marriage, but I would like to mention my cousins, who gave their all and practiced really hard for the Sangeet. I was genuinely touched and I could see they were doing it out of their love for me. My sister, of course, was the show stopper, as was Krishna (Shradha’s brother).

In my life so far, marrying Shradha was perhaps the best decision I have taken yet, and definitely the happiest moment of it. I was surprised then (and sometimes wonder even now) what she saw in me to lead her to believe she’d be happy to marry me. She is astonishingly beautiful, wise beyond her years, gracious to a fault and unfailingly devoted to my family. She has been a wonderful wife, a trusted confidant and a rock for me to steady my ship with. She not only knows how to read my mood but also how to change it. She knows when to take control and when to cede it, maintaining a fine balance in our relationship that I never could. In fact, I would argue that most of the work done to keep our relationship strong has been done by her, while I have stood by like a silent spectator, marveling at all the things she does to keep me happy and content. She’s always remembered to celebrate our anniversaries and birthdays whereas I have maintained a good track record of sitting on my ass doing nothing until the last moment, when I suddenly realize that there isn’t enough time and start rushing around like a panicked headless chicken. She coordinates with my friends, makes plans, arranges gifts, plans surprises… I could go on and on. My only solace is that I had told her exactly the kind of person I was, non-expressive and a bit of a dolt about these things, before we were engaged, but I know that doesn’t absolve me from all my sins!

I’ve also had a chance to get close to her family, and the love and affection they shower on me sometimes feels undeserved. They have been a great support system. Shradha and I have had a wonderful married life so far, parrying our ups and downs like every other couple, and yet I am thankful every day that I married her. It isn’t often that you find the person who perfectly complements your personality and I consider myself a lucky man that I found Shradha. There are so many ways in which she surpasses my expectations, and she does it with such regularity that its stopped being surprising by now.

I’ll stop talking about her, or I’ll never stop talking about her.

As for the future, as the song goes…

I never know what the future brings,
But I know you’re here with me now,
We’ll make it through,
and I hope you are the one I share my life with,
and I wish that you could be the one I die with,
and I’m praying you’re the one I build my home with…
I hope I love you all my life.

If you’re not the one – Daniel Bedingfield.

P.S. I’d promised I would let the cat out of the bag at the end, and I will keep my word.

In April or May of 2010, before any concrete steps regarding my marriage had happened, my father received an email from a relative regarding a girl and the possibility of a match. I found out about it the next day when my mother entered my room in the morning and asked me to log into Facebook so she could see photographs of the girl. I saw her profile and read the email our relative had sent, and that was that. A couple of days later, I met my friends who were all of marriageable age and the conversation, naturally, turned to marriage prospects. I told Avishek with mock seriousness that “Boss I think I know who I will end up getting married to.” When he asked why I felt that, I had no idea what to say. I just said that we had just received her Biodata a couple of days ago, and I actually knew nothing about her at all. He was incredulous and asked me which girls Bio-Data it was. I replied…

“Its some girl named Shradha Saboo in Jaipur.”

What can I say… God works in mysterious ways.

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