Monday, January 25, 2010

It isn't just another building

Its difficult to get all senti with concrete. But then office buildings are no ordinary slabs of concrete. They are a piece of history in themselves. They have seen numerous people come and go, they have seen victories and defeats, they have seen joyful moments and sad occasions. They deserve a farewell when its their own time to go.

Today a corporate giant moves away from a legendary building, which has been its home for 46 years, to a new home. For most people its just another office move. Perhaps they are perturbed by the longer (or shorter) commute for them. Perhaps they are more concerned with the parking. Some are, no doubt, measuring whether the size of their room (or cubicle) is as big as what they had in the previous place. This writer is not part of this move. But that hasn’t stopped him from waxing nostalgic – my good friend Ravi accused me of being a die hard romantic in his comment in my previous post. I’m still tickled pink by that sobriquet, and hence continuing in that vein. This post was also motivated by a superb post by him on another famous office building (Ravi is a brilliant writer, but a newbie blogger; Cheer him on please).

This company has had a rich history most of which was made in this building. It isn’t all that pretty a building – neither gothic, nor modern. But it typifies this company which stands for a mostly middle class culture and eschewed ostentation and regalia. The company has faded away a little of late, but for decades ruled supreme in the highest echelons in India. The office has seen the first Indian professional manager walk in many decades ago. It saw the amazing “isation’ – the change of management from a foreign expatriate dominated, to an almost exclusively Indian, some 40 years ago. It witnessed, the first voluntary dilution of foreign ownership into Indian hands, again decades ago. Numerous products, which are household brands today, have been born here.

But above all, this office must have taken the maximum heart from the number of greenhorns who walked nervously in as management trainees and walked out as industry titans. There must be many thousands of people around who must have spent most of their waking lives in its portals. It has seen great careers made and broken. There’s an aura around the fifth floor in this office where you hush your voice as you enter. The Board room features the photos of the Chairmen who have graced this room all through the 46 years – they are a virtual who’s who of Indian industry.

It is showing its age these days. It had a facelift and a tummy tuck some years ago, but it could not hide the ageing. It has aged gracefully, but age it certainly has. When it was built, technology meant the steamship; so its but natural that it hasn’t entirely been comfortable with cables being laid in its innards. The area around it has also changed. When it was born, you could ride a tram leisurely to come there. Now it’s a sardine can experience in that abomination called public transport in this city; no wonder even hardy souls are reluctant to come all the way. Its time has slowly, but surely, passed.

But it has many memories to occupy it in its sunset months. Of having nurtured a great corporation. Of having seen history being made. Of the nice and not so nice people that have called it their home. Of the secrets it has been privileged to hear and are still echoing in the walls. Of being a “quality product” as this company used to say as a by line in all its ads.

Last Friday, when the lights went out for the last time, did they really hear a muffled sob ? Or was it only the imagination running a bit wild ?