Trying out a Near-Death experience starring your professional life!

I have read that people who have gone through a near-death experience (NDE) report the phenomenon of a life-review where scenes from their life flash by. I guess one can pretty much infer that the chosen scenes are the one’s that have most impacted the individual’s life.

Why professional life? Well, because it has always struck me that we spend our maximum waking hours on the job. Stands to reason then that the professional life we lead will play a BIG role in the person we become?

The exercise is simple. Just sit back, relax and let the memories come. If you wish, you can jot them down as they flash through your mind. Tip: it helps to do this in chronological order. 

When I did the exercise, I flashed back to many memories (and thoughts) spanning a career now of close on to 35 years. I have selected a few and described them in this blog, hoping they will illustrate the value of simulating a NDE of professional life.

Mr. Sekhon and Rashmi Brar pushing my case with the Oberoi Towers (now Trident) management that I was over qualified for a Room Service order taker job.  And that I should be given a transfer to the Front Office. The Oberois practiced the  credo that you had to be good looking to be in the Front Office. I don’t think I am ugly (and I always had a good figure) but I certainly don’t fit society’s idea of ‘good looks’.  Thanks to the efforts of these two managers, I got upgraded to a Front Office Reservations job. It was still back-office but I got my break.

Hospitality operations was never my cup of tea. I was good at my job. No idle claim this because I was awarded “Outstanding Employee of the Year – Front Office” in 1982 or 1983 (I forget which year exactly). But truth to tell, I was bored to tears. A colleague, Ramesh Iyengar, who had left to join Lintas (now Lowe) opened my mind to advertising as a career.


Ramiya, as we fondly called him, used to let me tag along for many a beer session at Vihar (wonder if it is still there) near Churchgate station in Mumbai.  That’s where I encountered the world of advertising through all the intense chatter that took place on brands, clients and of course, the agency people themselves. I don’t remember all the people congregated around that table of beer in Vihar, but I do remember Andy (Anand Halve) and Harry (Harish Thawani).

I was fascinated and decided that if I have to work and earn a living, the advertising industry seemed both interesting and fun. I tried getting a job in an agency (I remember Ramiya’s brother, fixing an interview with…. jeez, I can’t recall the name of the agency! Old age, sigh!)

Anyway, I finally got my break courtesy Tara Sabavala, who not only obtained an interview for me with Lintas but thereafter went and argued my case with Stanley Pinto who had rejected me on the grounds that I was already Reservations-in-Charge, a semi-managerial post in the Oberois, and should not be switching careers to begin again at the rock-bottom rung of another field and that too, for a lower pay. Tara pointed out to Stanley that the choice and risk was mine and not his to make!

Stanley’s secretary, Maria, seeing the anxiety on my face before and after meeting Stanley, had promised that she would call and let me know Stanley’s decision. She did call. I am talking about a call she made before Tara spoke to Stanley.

The call came through to my office number (no cell phones then). I still remember her exact words. “I am sorry my girl but Stanley has rejected you.” I was really shaken at the news because I had pinned my hopes and dreams on getting this break, especially since Stanley’s parting line to me after asking my age had been, “So, you can work here for another 35 years.” I put the phone down and went down to the staff canteen to drown my sorrows in a cup of tea.

When I returned to my desk and had just dejectedly begun working again, Sanober, secretary to Rajiv Kaul, the Front Office Manager, came and told me that there was a phone call for me on Mr. Kaul’s direct line. Puzzled, I went to take the call. Standing, facing a seated Mr. Kaul, I picked up the receiver to hear Maria’s voice saying, “Please hold. Stanley Pinto would like to talk to you.” Stanley came on the line and told me, “I think you are making a mistake. But if you are keen, the job is yours.” 

Stanley had heard Tara out and changed his mind!

In my book, Stanley Pinto gets top marks for that. I know many other managers who would have refused to get off their high horse once they had got up there.

I, too, heard Stanley cautioning me against my decision but my heart was set on advertising. So much so, that on hearing his words over the phone, I began trembling. I imagine you would have done so too because both those calls took place in the span of an hour, spinning me from the depths of despair to euphoric heights.

Rajiv Kaul had to actually came around his desk, pull out a chair and make me sit down. After I had replaced the receiver, he looked at me quizzically. I told him what had transpired and he was unbelievably understanding and nice. He later spoke to the Oberoi management and came back and offered me a promotion to management cadre. But I was hell bent on joining advertising!

The rest, as they say, is history – one that covered a good 14 years of my career!

Those were the days, my friend!

Too many of them with enough memories to fill a book. All of them largely good ones! Memories of powerful personalities who I learnt a great deal from – Alyque Padamsee, Asit Mehra, Christopher Rozario, Mohammed Khan, Prem Mehta, Rajiv Agarwal, Ravi Gupta, Stanley Pinto.   Memories of some great times with colleagues who made work that much easier and fun to boot – Aggie Dias, Aimee Rego, Andy Halve, Madhu Noorani, Uday Wala, Vatsala Mamgain. Apologies for leaving some names out but there are just too many to recount here. And, please note that this pertains only to my years in advertising.

From all those memories, the ones I cherish most are an almost drunk Rahul DaCunha catching me at a pub (it was near Sterling cinema and again, the name escapes me) and loudly proclaiming, “Lata Subramanian who gives the best f*ing briefs in advertising”. Rahul and I recently connected again over Facebook and he almost immediately said the same thing again making the memory doubly precious. I must confess that I had entirely forgotten about this till Rahul mentioned it again. But I am sure that it will now be part of my real-time NDE whenever it happens.

At the other end of the scale is a sombre Aggie telling me post a referendum in my favour in Lintas (it’s too long a story to narrate here):

Boy, did that bring me down to earth with a resounding crash:) By the way, I love Aggie who today is possibly the top rated creative talent in the advertising world in India and yet, hasn’t changed a bit. He is still the down to earth Aggie he always was. A couple of years ago Aggie came with me to the Sterling resorts in Kodai and Munnar. During that trip, when a Sterling guest peeped into his room and remarked, “Oh, they have given you a renovated room”, he promptly offered to switch rooms with the guest. That’s Aggie for you. Zero airs and affectation about his current status!

On the work front, I flash back to the incredible professional high I experienced when a corporate campaign Madhu Noorani, Aimee Rego and I created for a brokerage company was sent to the PM’s office by Alyque and became the talk of the agency. The objective was to position the company as a thought leader and visionary. It was a print campaign with 3 subjects. I don’t remember the 3rd ad but the first two ads had headlines which read, “India needs a new religion” and “India should go to war.” The ads went on to espouse that what India needed was to adopt economics as its new religion and gear up for an economic war…well, on a war footing! This was in 1993. The campaign never saw the light of day but for me it is enough that the campaign got the appreciation it did from Alyque and other stalwarts in the agency.

Perhaps Madhu, Aimee and I can recreate the campaign and send it to Narendra Modi. Perhaps its not too late and the campaign may still see the light of day!

I think I may have digressed from the original intent of this blog. But perhaps not! It is a NDE! And that too, my NDE:)

Question is, what does the life review, albeit selective, reveal of the person I am today and what makes me tick?

And the sweet spot you’d rather be?

I only know one thing. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for all those people who went out of their way to open doors for me, mentored me and who took a kindly interest in my welfare. A big part of me today is what they taught me by example.


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