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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Drunken Networking

Went to a place called Hotel Jins International here in Trivandrum, on Saturday. I thought it was one of those "Bar and Restaurant" kinds of places, and I suppose it was, but nothing there suggested a family dinner kind of place. Not even if the food was astoundingly delicious. This is my second visit there, and I went with Christopher to drown my sorrows, just a little bit. As it turned out, though, we got there close to 8:30 pm, and that meant that the bar was already nearing its maximum capacity. Also, we were trying to be good little school boys, which is my way of saying that we were trying to get back home by 10 pm. So, long story short, we were just gonna dash in, grab a drink or two (obviously), eat a bit if we felt like it (which we did), and then dash off. You could almost hear the Mission Impossible theme playing in the background. But life has a way of ensuring that things will never turn out to be as simple as you imagined them. Ever.

When we walked in, we found that the only available place to sit down was the right side half of a 4-seater table. The other half was already occupied, although the patrons had departed momentarily, and we were asked to seat ourselves in the remaining seats by one of the two, obviously overworked waiters. Well, we took our seats and even after our neighbors returned, things seemed to be going on well. We didn't have anything to do with them, and they had nothing to do with us. The phrase "Because good fences make good neighbors," came to mind. And I assumed that this is how the evening would end.

Sometime around the time we asked for the bill, our neighbors, who we now realized were a little irked at our encroaching on their side of the table, turned to our waiter -- the poor man entrusted with serving both sides of this table, as well as half the patrons in place the all eagerly and sometimes annoyedly waving to him -- and complained about how he was unable to stomach his drink and snacks by the sight of one of our empty curry bowls. He went so far as to say that he didn't appreciate our "shit" and that it made him want to "puke"; strong words used with precise effect for the average Malayalee. Putting on our most apologetic faces, and voices, we made the effort to explain that we had maintained all stray plates and bowls on our side of the imaginary border that so unceremoniously divided the table, and that we were deeply sorry at having caused both of them such offence. Of course, I was thinking to myself that he was drunk and only wanted to create a scene because he felt the need to...otherwise he would have pointed this out as soon as it happened, right? Annnyway, and feeling a strong case of I-finally-found-my-cojones, I engaged this gentleman sitting diagonally across from me and tried to downplay the entire situation; apologizing for the incident, and asking him why it was such a big deal in the first place. I know that asking someone why they're creating a scene sounds very Indian of me, especially when I'm the one in the wrong, but hey, when you live in Rome do as the Romans do, right?

Suddenly, and without warning, his friend who was sitting right next to me asked me what I did for a living. It seemed like a fair question considering the fact that maybe he was trying to size me up, and in my current state of mind I didn't really mind answering him. So, I told him that I worked as an English Language and Soft Skills trainer. For whatever reason, that seemed to mark some kind of turning point in the conversation, and this gentleman started to tell me that he had received training at a particular institute, and how he really liked it. Immediately, I drew him into my world of talking about the importance of these skills for the average individual and how a better ability to utilize soft skills translates itself into more career opportunities. This obviously meant that I wasn't paying attention to what was happening on the other side of the table, but Christopher and the one who instigated this entire scene seemed to be now locking horns and now conversing. Eventually, however, using my newly discovered oratorical skills, and my apparently you've-always-had-it bonhomie, I managed to include everyone at our table into a little mini advertising campaign. We briefly discussed the need for better spoken English skills, along with the fact that it was a lack of confidence that made people reluctant to attempt to practice speaking the language in public. Oh, not to mention all the little tidbits of information surrounding words like time management, business communication skills and assertiveness.

By the end of this extended round of trying-to-pay-for-our-drinks-and-getting-the-hell-out, I had extracted a business card and some potential business from the situation. Things ended on a good note, and I'm pretty sure we were all amused by what had just transpired. For me, I think I was most tickled by the fact that a conversation could sway so radically from a near-argument to a business opportunity, especially under the influence of alcohol. But, that's the power of drink, right? The kinds of things that happen when you're under the influence, or at least the kinds of things that I've seen myself do, I'm just glad this turned out well. And, I'm glad I could talk myself out of it even though I know how difficult it was for me to try and control my tongue, to try and say what I wanted to express. Hahahaha!!!
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