By Namrata B Durgan
Not long after eShe published an interview of me, I was contacted by a senior executive at a multinational technology company to deliver a talk on managing money at their office in Noida. Enthusiastically, I prepared my script and mused over the best points to put in my presentation. My husband Sanjay, a financial advisor himself, decided to accompany me for the long drive from our home in Delhi.
On the morning of the talk, the two of us got dressed in our ‘corporate best’, smart bags in hand. I set the location on the GPS and we drove off from home, full of optimism and a sense of attempting something new. As someone who is out to create financial awareness (my company motto is ‘Indulgence is freedom’), I’ve given talks on money management and investment to many groups of women – ranging from villagers to urban entrepreneurs.
But to address the employees of one of the world’s largest companies with 380,000 people on its rolls was an entirely new ballgame.
We arrived two hours later, traffic-weary, but the executive who had contacted me gave me a warm welcome restoring my cheer. She led me through the hi-tech office to the conference room. “This is my moment,” I thought to myself as we walked down the pristine corridors, my pulse racing madly. “These are some of the most brilliant minds in the world. And here I am, about to teach them about money.” Shivers of nervous anticipation ran down my spine. This was my make-or-break moment.
We arrived at the conference room. The executive paused for a fraction of a second, clicked the door handle, and then, with a flourish, opened the door wide. “Welcome to the conference room,” she announced with a big, dazzling smile.
“This is it,” the words boomed in my head, as if they would erupt out of my ears. I stepped into the room with as much confidence as I could muster.
I was not prepared for what I saw there.
It was empty.
Stark, chilled, corporate. Empty.
I looked at the vacant chairs – was one moving there in the corner? – and the lone laptop at the head table. My long drive, my makeup, my power point presentation, my notes, my nervousness that morning – all flashed in front of my eyes. Is this what I had geared up for? An empty room?
In the same instant, a realisation struck me. It was going back to the ‘source’. To nothingness. We all run around being busy, doing things, while the truth is emptiness. Silence. No mind. Just playfulness. Life is too short to take things seriously. Seconds ago everything was systematic, serious, protocol- and strategy-driven. Then the door opened and it was all empty. Zen.
And when I realised the divine paradox in the situation, I was subjected to another internal test, as a volcano of hysterical laughter threatened to erupt from inside me.
It took me an enormous amount of emotional energy and intense centering to suppress it.
I cleared my throat as the lady led me to the laptop. “It’s a webinar,” she explained, as if it was the most ordinary thing in the world. She pulled a chair back and invited me to be seated. “You may begin.”
The sheer absurdity of it. I stared, tongue-tied, at an indecipherable screen with a few boxes and words moving about.
The cursor blinked. The white walls closed in. “Hello, welcome to my talk on this bright morning,” I began without conviction, a question mark lilting my words. I fiddled with my hair and face, until Sanjay – equally dazed, I hasten to add – indicated that I was being watched. Instantly, I froze. You can’t see us but we can see you, rang a chorus of evil voices in the recesses of my brain.
My ‘talk’ went along falteringly, sputtering and stopping in jerks and fits, until the executive – no doubt one of the most brilliant minds in the world – typed out a speedy instruction on her device that went out on the company’s vast intranet to all those who had to suffer my feeble exertions: “Ask something.”
A male voice sounded from the laptop, asking a question – about how safe mutual funds are. A sudden light went on behind my eyes. My heart bloomed. There was life out there. This was audience feedback. I could answer this. Another question came up, and another. And before I knew it, I was chatting happily with the laptop like a long-lost friend.
I left the conference room an hour later feeling like I’d scaled Mount Everest: exultant, and spent.
“That was quite something,” Sanjay and I discussed in the car. “They’ll probably never invite me again.”
Three days later, they did. This time, they gave me a human audience.
Then three of those humans invited me to give talks to their individual teams across four cities: Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi.
I narrated this to a friend.
“So you’ll travel now to Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and their office in Delhi,” she asked with a puzzled look, “to give more talks to empty rooms?”
A fortnight of pressure-cooked laughter erupted like Mount Vesuvius, wracking my bones until I doubled up, clutching my tummy, tears streaming down my face.
You gotta love technology.
Namrata B Durgan is the founder of Mirr Investments
“Zen” is the unexpected phenomenon N. Durgan.