Come February and every year, just as surely as my glinting greys start showing within 10 days of an expensive hair colour, my inbox is chockfull of emails from corporate houses, big and small, who want to celebrate ‘International Women’s Day’.
“Dear Ms. Menon……. We would be privileged to have you come to our campus and deliver a keynote address at our annual women’s day event. You are a source of great inspiration and it would be our proud privilege to have you over. Do let us know your availability…”
There are sure to be at least a couple of emails in my inbox every morning, full of breathless admiration of my work and the boundless inspiration that I provide. I am delighted, of course, to be a source of inspiration. It has been my effort from the time I turned full-time author, to write about the men and women who are inspiring so that we have enough shining examples of what human beings are capable of achieving.
The trouble begins the moment I write the following to my admirers in all those companies-the folks who cannot wait to have me talking to their female talent pool. “Dear Ms/Mr … I am delighted to deliver the keynote address at the women’s day event. It has been my constant effort to bring to women stories that will inspire and motivate them to be the best possible versions of themselves. My new book, Devi,Diva or She Devil, is in fact, a veritable survival guide for career women…..
Please connect me with the person in your team who is steering this event so that I can discuss my professional fee for the speaking assignment. Looking forward to hearing from you. Best regards, ” I sign off.
Only, I don’t hear from them after that. If there is one thing that I have realised over the last few years that I have been an author and chronicler of women’s stories, it is this: While there are a few exceptions to it, most corporate houses who “celebrate” have one thing in common : they are as stingy as Uncle Scrooge, if not worse. Either that, or unknown to us, businesses in India, be they Indian or multinationals, are all broke. How else do you explain the fact that they invite people who have decent sort of achievements to their name and expect them to spend almost half a day commuting to and fro, all so that they can inspire people for free?
“Dear Ms. Menon, Thank you for your kind email. Unfortunately, we have budget constraints for this event and we are wondering if you will be able to do this event for us free of cost. After all, this is an event in line with your area of work,” one corporate house wrote to me recently. Needless to say, I did not spend my time writing back.
A senior executive from the Indian arm of a multinational consumer goods company which hawks everything from talcum powder to tea and everything in between, called up recently to invite me to conduct a session for their female talent pool . “We need to inspire them to be able to do their best and have the best of career and personal life. Since your latest book is about that, we would love for you to come over and talk about your experiences,” the lady gushed over the phone. “Of course, we should do that if you happen to be in Mumbai around that time, “ she added, knowing fully well that I live in Pune.
“ No, I am not in Mumbai around that time but I can be, if you are interested in having me come over for a session. Why don’t you send me a formal email inviting me, so that we can get the formalities about my fee etc over with,” I said.
“Oh!” I did not know there would be a fee. Why don’t you give me an idea of your fee and also put it on an email? I will come back to you with confirmed dates, latest by noon tomorrow,” the voice over the phone said.
The lady in question works for a company whose revenues in India exceed US$ 4 billion plus. Of course, she did not call the next day, nor did she email.
Then there are the ones who will invite you to distant places for the privilege of addressing their employees ; they show their magnanimity by offering to book your flight tickets and providing flight tickets. So here is the drill they expect from you. Wake up at 3 am to be at the airport for 5.30 am flight, arrive at destination, head straight to campus, have a working lunch with some cheeky HR newbie who hasn’t the faintest idea how to be respectful, head to the auditorium, talk to the audience , have a quick cup of bad tea in the office cafeteria and back to the airport to catch a late night flight to arrive home past midnight, tattered and tired. And with nothing to show for your trouble. One such company suggested to me some time ago that the goodwill garnered would be priceless for me!
I am all for inspiring people but the guy at the grocery shop where I buy my daal chaawal insists on being paid.
And no, he won’t settle for an inspiring talk instead of rokda.
Over the years that I have been writing about the journeys of women , I have noticed how timid women are when it comes to negotiating better terms for themselves and how unsavvy they are when it comes to saying No, and asking for their dues. And while I have used my books to urge women to stand up what is right and just and to take nothing less than what they deserve, what I did not notice was that I was making the same mistakes myself. I had become an easy target for all sorts of people who used me to get free work done. And, I have worked myself to the bones to be able to deliver on somebody else’ expectation. I think I had “loser” written on my face and everyone was more than happy to take advantage.
Not anymore. This March, I shall be celebrating women’s day with much gusto because I shall also be celebrating the shedding of my goody two shoes, gullible nature and learning to say a big No to Fat Cat freebie hunters. No free lunches from Ms Menon anymore.
This year, I shall be sitting in the audience and listening to someone else delivering an inspiring speech. Hopefully, that woman will have quoted her price and gotten it. If not, I am more than happy to share some tips with her on how to get the free loaders to @#%$&%* off, if you know what I mean.
You can reach her on email@example.com or her twitter handle@sudhamenon2006
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