Monday, 8 October 2018

Perfume Diaries (Part 4 of 4)

In the previous three episodes, I shared about my stroll into the streets of scents and how my husband Rajat gave me my soul mate of a perfume, “Poeme”. You also know that I was crushed by the news of Poeme being discontinued. Let’s pause about perfumes and let me share with you something magical.

In 2003, My life changed with the arrival of my son, Arnav. I was always terrified of pregnancy. I thought that it would slow me down, wondered whether I would be a good mother, was worried that the vagabond in me would be curtailed. And much to my surprise, my pregnancy was a breeze. I worked till a week before my delivery and stayed home for a month after bringing Arnav home and I did not want to put him down for a second. For the first time in my life, I really understood what my father must have felt when he held me in that operating room when I first arrived and why he loved me despite all my experiments with life. I fell in love truly and madly with my child.

I would lay down next to him each night and read him stories. When he was five or six, he asked me to tell him stories from my life, especially funny ones. Over the years, I told him stories of my parents’ childhood, my summer vacations, each person I was friends with, my school days, college days in India as well in US, work life, projects I worked on, people I met and told him of his paternal grand parents and all their family. As he grew up, I told him of my dreams, my crazy escapades, work details. I don’t think that there is anything that my son does not know about me.  

He is a teenager now and slowly separating. A major event was when he went to Paris this April to play in a football tournament. It was the first time that he was going out of the country without us, with his school and his friends. He wanted money for expenses. I told him that he did not need much because he would be busy playing tournaments and his hotel and food are covered anyway. I spoke to other parents and we decided that we should give them around $300 and that should be enough for a week. I gave him strict instructions that just because he had money, he need not spend it and that he should not buy anything too expensive and so on and so forth. I could just hear his unsaid “Mom! Stop it” and I finally curbed my helicoptering. He had a great time. They won a couple of games, lost many and carried home wonderful memories of everything from Mona Lisa to Eiffel tower to staying up late talking till they lost their voices. A week later, all the parents gathered at the airport in the early hours – this time to receive tired, quiet kids, quite different from the excitedly babbling boys a week earlier. We got home at about 9am and he fell asleep.

When he woke up, he handed me $50 or so and I scolded him for spending so much money and told him that hopefully he did not buy junk. First he showed me the 5 or 6 t-shirts he bought for himself which totalled $50 or $60, then he spoke about some of the food they ate, then he showed me the sweatshirt he got for my husband and then he handed over a small package to me and asked me to open it. When I did, I saw a beautiful white package of Chanel perfume.  This was the gift that cost him the most – over $100. He said “Ma! I remember the story that you told me about Chanel No. 5 and how you never bought it for yourself. I went to the shop and asked and they said that this was the latest Chanel perfume. I got it for you so that you can now complete that wish.” I felt like such a heel for giving him a hard time for spending all that money. Most of his pocket money was spent on me remembering a story I told him years ago. And just like that, “Poeme” my favorite perfume was replaced by Chanel. He remembered such a random detail from a story of my past and brought me a gift so thoughtful. 

I still have a bottle left of “Poeme” that was given by my husband, who after 23 years, still manages to stay with me; a bottle of “Versace Bright Crystal” that my son helped me buy to replenish the dwindling supply of Poeme and also “Chanel” that he chose for me. They are each my lucky charms for different purposes and I am thankful for the treasure of these three bottles. 

They say that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. In my nostalgia for things gone by, I have not seen the new possibilities that were right in front of me. We get so attached to things, think that those things define us and then magically, we move into a place where none of those things matter. And all that you are left with is a huge gratitude of the love that surrounds you, of occupying a place in someone’s heart so deep that it touches your soul. May be, whatever our problems are - if we keep telling our stories, our children may provide solutions in ways unimaginable. The trick is not to have that expectation and be surprised by the rewards…every single time. Next time you see me, you sure might wonder if I smell like Poeme, Versace or Chanel and all I can tell you is that it’s that sweet smell of something beautiful. 

Friday, 5 October 2018

Perfume Diaries (Part 3 of 4)

Part 3 of 4 – Perfume Diaries (Oct 4, 2018)

In the previous two parts of these diaries, you got to know how “Poeme” became the perfume of my choice for over two decades. In 2016 or so, I was told that the perfume was discontinued and that it would not be available for sale. I got into a panic. You take some things so much for granted that you don’t think twice about it. At each point of my life, I experimented with only one thing at a time and everything else remains the same. 

When I was single and finding out who my ideal partner would be, I stayed with the same company, Intel. After I got married, we moved into a home and we own that home even now. As I started experimenting with my career – from Intel to being a VC to Social entrepreneur to an entrepreneur from US to India, the rest of the habits remained same – Vamp lipstick from Chanel, Himalayan kajal stick, Poeme perfume, saree for the stage, standard pant, top and stole for the rest of the days, same dishes in handful of restaurants – be it baingan bhartha at the Amber in Mountain View or egg biryani at Lucky’s in Mumbai or spaghetti aglio olio at Toscano in Bangalore etc. So, when lipstick color Vamp was discontinued, I could get over it but when Poeme was discontinued, I was really upset. I wrote to the company, I even wrote a poem about Poeme. 


MARCH 29, 2019
POEME

Liquid Gold
Slightly sprayed on my skin
Lingering all day long
Seeping through layers of my skin
A love affair of over two decades
Becomes such a part of me
That it makes me smell like “me”.
I have always been a scent woman
As a newly wed
When my husband presented a
multiple choice of perfumes
I chose you.
Since then I bought you
In every possible size 
Without looking at the price
With no thought, no other explanation
I kept you with me always
When I sprayed a little on my wrist
The thought of my grand father
Spraying a drop of attar on his handkerchief
And tucking it into his pocket
Would flash by
The summer evenings in Eluru
When my aunts would sit 
With a mound of Jasmine flowers
Weaving into my hair
A five-hour art work
Layering my long hair
Filling the room with a fragrance
Intoxicating evenings
Inexplicable pride as I was
paraded through the neighbour homes
And the final prize would be
Presenting the work to my grand father
Who would ask me to turn around
Putting his hands on my shoulder
Pull me slightly closer to him
And inhale deeply the fragrance of fresh flower
And then turn me around 
And hand me some small change
For my patience to sit for so long
Making me feel like a rich queen
Who can splurge her earnings on
Treating oneself to an ice cream soda
------ All those memories flood by

Summer nights in our Hyderabad home 
When the terrace would be washed
With buckets of water
With heat rising by the touch of cold liquid
Floor cleaned
Mats laid
Covered by hand sown mattresses
Fresh white sheets spread and tucked 
Soft pillows completing the picture
A long line of mattresses pillows 
Welcoming us all to
Sleep under the stars
My Dad, grand parents
Siblings and visiting cousins
A long time of tired bodies
Falling asleep to the 
Breeze carrying the 
Fragrance of Jasmine and Mallepuvvu
From our back yard
Fun nights of stories and laughter
Slowly melting into a mixture
Snoring and silent breathing

I always imagined
A white handkerchief
Sprayed with Poeme
Adorning my body
As I am carried onto the funeral pyre
I somehow thought
That this was a death do us part deal

I had no idea that
Business decisions 
Would “retire” you
I was heart broken
When I heard that 
you were being 
"discontinued"

Sending an SOS to my Friends
to buy every last bottle they could find
I went to the Duty free Shops
Whenever I travelled around the world
To buy the few that were left behind
My panic rises when
I see that storage is dwindling

When my nephew commented the other day
“Do you still use Poeme?
I realised that you have become a part of me
 A signature for my entry into any room

How I wish I could create you
And keep you with me forever
For now
I am slowly getting used
To the idea to bid adieu
To my lovely Poeme
                                               
I felt so silly to be so sentimental about a scent. May be it happened at a time when everything else seem to be falling apart. Being an entrepreneur is a very tough journey. Especially when you start the journey in your 40s and feel as though time is passing by with progress in profits not as fast paced as you had projected. I made America my home for 25 years and the move to India was the most exhilarating yet exhausting transition I ever made. So, even a silly thing like my favourite perfume discontinued, felt like a personal attack.  

Like all things that seem insurmountable, something totally unexpected happened that gave me a whole new perspective and whole new hope. (I realized that week is too long of a break for my final edition. So, look out for the final part on MondayJ)

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Perfume Diaries (Part 2 of 4)

In Part 1, I shared with you how I went from knowing natural body odour surrounding me as the status quo to making acquaintance with the world of Chanel No.5.  So, this part is about my entry into the world of perfumes and finding my own.  

After finishing my management studies in Bajaj, I came to Portland State University to do my second MBA. Starting as a Research Assistant gave me $335 a month and a freedom to explore luxuries like perfume. The first stop was at Anais Anais. Like Chanel, it was French, but much more affordable.  I loved a slight spray of the flowery fragrance on my skin and used it sparingly on that occasional date that I went on. 


In all my departmental store perfume adventures, I learnt of a well known fact that remains a magical feature to me. Which is that each perfume smells differently on different skins. The same perfume may smell great on my friend and lousy on me. There are flowery perfumes that accentuate the feminine in you, there are the musky ones that bring out the sensuality in you and then there are the strong ones that smell a mile away announcing your arrival. You know a great perfume that’s right for you when you meet one.  

A full time job at Intel game me more financial freedom expanding my perfume collection. Anais Anais was followed by “Pleasures”. I loved it’s youthful, flowery fragrance. At the time of my punk haircut cut, mini skirt, black stockings, pierced nose era, the perfume seem perfect. During those adventurous years when I would go off on a week-long trek or river rafting or return from a long run or a hike, the scent soothed my stinky skin and made my re-entry into the real world from the weekend escapades. It gave me company on my many dates, often ending in heart ache but always starting with hope and smelling good. 



Over all these years, my hair got longer, skirt length came below the knee and my perfume experimentation expanded. There was Dune, Obsession and plethora of perfumes that paraded. I tried many with no real affinity to any one brand. It was a habit and not a special focus item.  Be it a visit to Macys or Nordstrom to pick up a bag full of clothes or taste food from different restaurants with friends or drink the best wines – it was a life of convenience and comfort and all those things that were once unattainable became routine.

My long adventurous single life came to a halt when I married Rajat. We moved in together to make our home in Milpitas, CA. I ended my gypsy life style and moved into a very organized home with my 10 cushions, one futon and 1,000 books. The marriage was followed by gifting.  Whenever Rajat went on a trip, he brought me back something beautiful – a pearl necklace, a pair of earrings and once, a perfume. I always felt perfume was a very personal purchase. I usually never gave it as a gift (except the ones I would take to India, often from Avon where I worked as a door to door sales woman) nor did I receive it as a gift. When I opened the deep golden mustard box with blue lettering “Poeme” the golden liquid in a beautifully shaped bottle stole my heart the second I sprayed it on my skin. It was as though it belonged. The next day at work, people commented saying that I really smelt good. There was something about this perfume that paired perfectly with my skin.



I got “Poeme” as a gift in probably in 1996 and I stayed faithful to it. My friends who would meet me years later would say that I still smelt the same and would ask me if I still used Poeme. They say that the strongest memory of people is by their smell and I wondered if my scent was completely intertwined with “Poeme”.  

And then, something happened that forced me to prepare to bid farewell to my favorite perfume. 

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Perfume Diaries (Part 1 of 4)

Sept 20th is a very special day for me, as it is the birthday of my father, my best friend. Twenty years after his passing, I sometimes panic that I am forgetting him. At times, it feels like it was just yesterday that he was with me and at other times I wonder if all my memories are just a faction of my imagination. His presence seems so distant and almost foreign and I forget the exact contours of his face, the warmth of his embrace and the sound of his voice. So, to hold on to the memories, I thought that I would do what he loved to do the most and what he always wanted me to do – which is, writing. As a homage to him, I want to give it a try to write something every week and post on “Lakshmi’s Lounge”. These are random thoughts, insights, experiences that I want to express. So, here is the beginning.
Sept 20, 2018 (Thursday)
Part 1 of 4 – Perfume Diaries
My introduction to the concept of “perfume” was through Telugu novels, especially by queen of romance novels, Yaddanapudi Sulochana Rani. In all her books, when you enter a luxurious five star hotel, smells of “foreign” perfume floated in the air. Or when a very modern woman with short hair, chiffon saree and a sleeveless blouse appeared on the pages, she would be accompanied by the scent of “foreign” perfume. I grew up in a middle class family and none of the women in my home or the homes of my families in Hyderabad, Eluru, Guntur, Kakinada or even Mumbai, had any perfume bottles in their homes. Some of them smelt like naphthalene balls because they were kept along with the sarees to keep them from insects and some of them of camphor because of the amount of time they spent in their puja room offering camphor lit fire to the Gods. On summer evening, I learnt how to wrap a thread around my toe and hold in and make long garlands of jasmine. Those evening, my feet, my hand and my hair smelt like jasmine. When I walked past the rose garden my grandfather planted in our home, the scent of dark red, yellow and pink roses floated just the like the foreign perfume did in those fancy fictional hotels. My grand father in Eluru would massage his long moustache with a special perfumed oil and once in a while an Afghani attarwalla would come to someone’s home and open up the large box with small vials of attar. The bottle cap would unscrew to reveal a long, thin tube attached with the end tapering out into a flat area. You would dip the flat tip into the attar and dab a drop of it on the wrist and the smell stayed that way for days on end. Into my world, the ide of “foreign” perfume was exotic, exciting and it did not even occur to me that these perfumes could have names.
Long after summer holidays in my aunts’ home gave way to going to IIT Mumbai and then to Jamnalal Bajaj, I came in touch with another “foreign” perfume and this time, it had a name and a story. We did a case study about Chanel No.5. I do not remember the details of the case but the name and the luxury it has come to stayed with me. Later on, when I moved to US, I would walk the department stores spraying myself with sample perfumes. I would always walk past the Chanel No. 5 counter but something would stop me from spraying it on my wrist. Even when I could afford it, Chanel no.5 stayed somehow unattainable and elusive. I did not want to buy it for myself nor did I ever buy it as a gift to anyone else. And then a new perfume entered my life that made me forget Chanel No.5 altogether. Wait until next week to know the story of this new love.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A rare Andy Grove interview

In 2006, Richard Tedlow released an autobiography of Andy Grove. I was in the process of launching my own company and was doing interviews under the banner "Lakshmi's Lounge".  I met Andy for coffee and updated him on my plans. Andy said that he was going to do only one interview with Richard for the book and if I wanted, then I could do it. Words can not describe what I felt that day. In my wildest dreams, I did not imagine that I would be interviewing Andy.  I was excited as well as completely petrified. Working on a project for Andy is not easy. He does not mince words if he is unhappy. The bomb fell on the week after we agreed on this.

Since Intel had a great auditorium, I thought that I would host it there.  As soon as Andy found out, he called me and said that I was trying very hard to get him to cancel the event.  I did not understand why he was so cross. He said that he would not want anyone from Intel to feel obligated to attend the interview nor did he want Intel to give the auditorium free for his event.  I assured him that we would not do it at the Intel auditorium and booked the theater at a high school in Los Altos just to maintain an arms' length distance from Intel. We had over 300 of Andy's admirers with us that day and we had a wonderful interview.

Here are a few insights into Andy from that day.

1. Andy can dance!



2.  Richard Tedlow on Andy Grove's contribution to Intel as CEO



3. Andy Grove on the real contribution of a CEO



4. Andy Grove on Intel not taking his advice



5. Andy Grove on the growing threat to America being America


Thursday, 28 January 2016

Sipping at the Sea Lounge

Sea Lounge at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai

I have had a love affair with Sea Lounge (at Taj Mumbai) ever since I was at Jamnalal Bajaj. As a part of the curriculum at Bajaj, we had group discussions that would last for hours, and those occasional times when I missed my last bus to Grant Road and decided to hang out with friends till the first bus left at 5:30 am or so the next day. Those were the times we would spend hours drinking kona coffee at Shamiana with all the money we could gather among us and animatedly arguing over some subject that I no longer recollect. Each time we expected to be thrown out in an hour or two but the waiters never got mad at us, never stopped us from going there, even though 4 or 5 of us would share only one coffee and completely abuse the idea of refills.

When one of my professors invited me to meet him at Sea Lounge for a 30 minute meeting as he was catching me between meetings, I felt as though I entered heaven. Even though we mastered the midnight coffee at the Shamiana, going to Sea Lounge was a whole different deal. That short meeting sitting by the windows of Sea Lounge is forever etched in my memory. I left for US soon after graduating from Bajaj and when I came back for the first time after 5 years, one of my first visits was to Sea Lounge and this time, with enough money to buy myself a gin and tonic.

Even now, whenever I want to be by myself and think, I go to Sea Lounge. It somehow reminds me of the distance I traveled and yet keeps me grounded. This evening I found myself wanting to sit at a place where I could put a structure to thoughts floating around in my head and my feet automatically took me to Sea Lounge. I knew that it was a good sign that a window seat was open.  I sat there as though it was my living room and sipped on my Fresh Lime Soda as I wrote. Once they realized that this is all I was going to have, there were no waiters hovering over me asking if I needed anything else. I was left alone so that I could travel into my own head and write uninterrupted for over an hour. And even though I contributed very little to the bottom line by my Fresh Lime Soda, the treatment was the same as they gave everyone else. As I left, a young man opened the door and thanked me profusely for being there. It’s amazing how memories from way back when still stay with us even after all these years. It’s even more amazing that the staff at Taj remains the same making everyone feel at home, no matter what their purse size. That’s why it’s a place where I never feel alone.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Here.. Now

The evening of December 19th. Around 9 pm. We were all on our terrace in Indiranagar, Bangalore having an INK holiday party. The railings around the balcony were decorated with lights, a large star hung from the Christmas tree naturally peeking into our balcony. The fake Christmas tree that I brought from home also claimed its spot in the corner with colorful lights, fake snow flakes and very real ornaments. At the center of the balcony, the DJ was playing music. Everyone had a beer or coke or water in their hands and we all feasted on very non Christmassy snacks from Adayar Anand Bhavan - muruku, spicy peanuts and the omnipresent potato chips.


Sush & Gowtham
Sushmita’s fiancĂ© Gowtham was there being queried and put to test by the entire team. I think that he passed the test with his unbounded admiration for Sush. When Sush was up at the mike, a few notes with tasks were passed on to her by her Secret Santa and she was obliged to do what the notes said. She was asked to sing and she surprised everyone with a couple of numbers from “3 Idiots”. When she was asked to propose to someone other than Gowtham, she turned to Abhi and said “Abhi! Can you please do something for me all night?”, and before Abhi could jump with joy, she added, “please keep singing all night”. We all loved our Sush’s sense of humor. 

Then, we had our secret santa presents exchange and had to guess who gave it to us. I was truly touched by how much thought and time went into each present that was given. After the exchange, we all gathered around to listen to Abhi singing while Harsh accompanied on guitar, in yet another display of surprise talent. With our alumni Anson, Nirupa and Sim, we are ready to launch the INK Band 
J. As our stomachs growled in anticipation of the pizza (yep! Another Christmas staple), the singing continued. 

Abhi & Sush
Abhi & Harsh
Vaibhav, Meghna & Sush
Swetha, Sush, Arnav & Harsh
Nandini, Arnav & Sush
There was a moment, when the world stopped for me as I looked at all the young faces that surrounded me. Sush and Gowtham, starting a new life and would be off to USA; Vijji and her husband yet to have their first wedding anniversary, Swetha with her pregnancy bump entering a new phase of life; Vaibhav chatting with his friends who joined him at the party; Harsh and Abhi singing; Rajat sipping wine chatting with Divya; Dipti and Nikhil reconnecting with everyone; Nandini walking around making sure that everyone is taken care of; my son Arnav, Meghna, Praddy, Pranav, Godwin, Nischay, Yamuna, her friend, and all the others – spread across the balcony; Ranjit displaying his dance moves, and the rest of them talking to each other animatedly. We raised a toast to Anu, Elizabeth and Srimathi who weren't there. 
I looked at each of them carrying their own dreams, desires and destiny. Each of them may move past INK for a different opportunity, better pay, relocation, marriage, a personal situation or whatever the reason may be. And I missed Sheena, Ram, Shalini, Anson, Deepti, Nemo, Erum, Sim, Nirupa, Priyanka, Nina and the entire NBO team – all those who were once a part of INK, now pursuing their own dreams and paths. I thought of our tough times, mistakes, upsets that we might have caused and all the things that I wish we could have done better. For a moment, I had a lump in my throat when I thought of all those who were part of INK and not with us today and also of all these youngsters who might be somewhere else and join us in the future. And then I realised that we all take a piece of INK with us as we write our futures apart or together. In that frozen moment, all I could see was a bunch of dreamers, idealists and nurturers taking a pause from their busy lives to just enjoy the moment.  And in that moment, my upsets, regrets, fears disappeared and I let that still scene be stuck firm in my heart. I am truly blessed to be here… now. 

& me

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