Some people are just impossible. They like to chat with strangers, discover and make connections and enjoy networking. My Professor Friend belongs to this category. I don’t.
When Professor would take a cab, he would start conversations with the cab driver – (almost) instantly. He would start asking whom did he vote? NaMo or RaGa? Then the cab driver would give Professor not just his views but share some of the “secrets” saying “Kisiko Batana Nahi (Don’t tell others). After sharing the secrets from the streets, the conversation would lead to problems we face in Mumbai. Availability of toilets would generally be flagged as one of the top-most issues that most Mumbaikars face everyday.
When at the traffic light, cab driver would speak about the solutions – and share some of the ideas most imaginative or sometimes radical. While alighting from the cab, Professor would say “Thank you Arifbhai, it was wonderful riding with you” (You must have guessed that in the fifty minutes of ride between Shivaji Park to Saat Rasta, Professor would have found his name, his village near Basti in Uttar Pradesh and his family that included three daughters). I won’t be surprised that if by some chance, Arifbhai is the cabbie once again, then Professor would start the conversation saying “Arifbhai, how was your daughter Shakila’s exam?
I used to get really embarrassed when standing in the queue with Professor for buying tickets at the Regal Cinema in Colaba. (Now that situation does not arise because of the mobile apps that help you to do e-booking). Within minutes after standing in the queue, Professor would start conversation with the person standing in the front of him i.e. ahead in the queue. The conversation would start about the movie, and then the Professor would offer his authoritative views on the stars like Tom Hanks or Penelope Cruz. Then a question would roll rather casually like “where do you stay” and Professor would discover all the connections “Oh, so you live next to Soam restaurant near to Babulnath? Then you must be knowing Pinky Dixit the owner”. And when the bewildered person (Mr Desai) would say no, then the Professor would talk about Pinky and her family and the special dishes that one must order. The worst used to be when the Professor would introduce Mr Desai to the stranger standing behind asking “Sir, have you met Mr Desai from Babulnath who loves to visit Soam? And this would lead to a three-way conversation! The tickets would be brought in the same row and next to each other. There have been occasions when I have accompanied Professor with strangers in Café Mondegar (Mondy’s – Colaba’s famed restaurant) for a glass of beer after the movie. Here Professor would give his expert views on the direction of Steven Spielberg – as if Spielberg had taken Professors advice!
Other day, I attended a seminar organized by Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and Mumbai First on reducing air pollution in Mumbai by transforming mobility. A lot was talked about benefits of car pooling such as reduction in fuel consumption, congestion and GHG emissions. Professor was not impressed as none realized the biggest benefit of carpooling was the opportunity to converse with strangers.
I remember once me and Professor were taking a ride in Uber Carpool service in Mumbai. We were four in the van and travelling to Saki Naka from BKC. There was a Man and a Woman in the van. The Man seemed to be in a hurry. The Woman was busy sending whats app messages on her smart phone. Here was the conversation
Professor – Dr Modak, when will this metro project end? Isn’t it a pain for commuters like us to face every day?
I answered that for the interest of long term benefits we must cooperate with the local government and take this pain.
Professor quizzed the Man in the van.
Do you agree with my colleague Mr?
The Man didn’t want to converse. He wanted to be noncommittal and so he said, “kind of”. He looked outside the window.
This is the problem. Professor continued. “We must take a stand. We don’t express our views in public. Its not just metro. We will be having construction over next 10 years due to the Coastal Road Project. Imagine the noise, dust and air pollution due to congestion – who is going to pay for costs of our medical bills due to this mess?”
“Do you agree Lady” Professor turned to the Woman. The Woman did not want to converse too. She said “somewhat” and continued sending whats app messages.
I realized that Professors efforts to start conversation with these two strangers were not going to work. But believe me, in the next 30 minutes, Professor continued to be persuasive and managed to open the conversations. When we reached Saki Naka, the Man and Woman exchanged the cards. The Woman, Ms Tina, turned out to be a newspaper columnist and invited Professor to write a 1000-word column on the “Costs and Benefits of Mumbai Metro”. The Man, Mr Selvam, was working with an Insurance company and was excited when Professor spoke about the concept of Pollution Policy. “What don’t you give a talk at our monthly meet of Insurance Professionals”, he requested Professor before departing.
I then realized Professor immense skills in striking conversations and networking from nowhere.
One day, Professor asked “Dr Modak, have you come to any of my LinkedIn dinners?”
“May be not, I guess” (He did not wait for my response) “then come by 8 pm at the Geoffrey’s in Marine Plaza”.
(Geoffrey’s, situated in Hotel Marine Plaza in Mumbai facing the sea. It is a perfect restaurant with an elegant and Royal ambiance. Restaurant is huge and spacious and with dim lighting that creates a cosy atmosphere. A perfect place for conversations when there is no cricket match!)
Although I had not accompanied Professor at the so-called LinkedIn dinners, I knew about his concept.
Professor had around 10000 LinkedIn connections. (And that shouldn’t be a surprise to you by now). He would pick two or three of his connections from his LinkedIn list, who will have the least or preferably no connections between them. Professor would then invite two to three such people for a dinner at a nice place. Obviously, these people would not know each other and would meet each other for the first time with the Professor – Professor being the Link! The idea was a surprise dinner and make new connections – I guess.
When we reached Geoffrey’s, I found that there were two people at the table already – waiting for us. One of Professor’s strategies was to join 5 to 10 minutes late than the scheduled time to allow “natural” introductions. This strategy seemed to have worked. Vijay was running a consulting company in environmental management and Naina was working in an IT company and was interested in the field of Green IT. Both had already introduced themselves and were in conversation.
Professor said “Well Vijay and Naina, no meeting agenda please. I just thought of connecting both of you as I see between you a lot of common interests. I know you both well enough over years”. He sounded casual.
As we got some beers with some boiled peanuts, the conversations began and touched on several interesting topics. Naina’s husband Deepak was an architect of second generation and Vijay’s wife Shaila was a Chartered accountant. Vijay was a music freak and so was Naina. Both loved travelling. Deepak and Shaila had not much interest in music and were bit of homebirds – happy to spend time on watching Netflix movies.
We ended dinner by 11 pm. Vijay called for an Ola taxi and the cab was going to take 10 more minutes. He preferred to wait at the Geoffrey’s. Naina had a car and so she called for her driver. Professor and I walked with her to the lobby to escort.
“Thank you, Professor, for connecting me with Vijay”. Said Naina. She sounded a bit emotional.
“You wouldn’t know but years ago, my parents referred to me about Vijay and his family. I was of a marriable age and Vijay was getting considered. For a flimsy reason such as our horoscopes did not match, we did not go ahead. Later, I married Deepak, but I was always curious to find about Vijay and Vijay’s life. I am quite happy and I am sure Vijay must be.
Naina paused. “But I wonder whether it was a correct decision then”. She whispered.
We returned home.
The next day I called Professor and asked him to find out whether Naina had sent a LinkedIn invite to Vijay. I was just curious.
“Well I will find out but you are impossible Dr Modak” said the Professor.
Would you like to “experiment” the LinkedIn dinners? Invite me when you will !