Very many years ago, in 1995, we started TASC; one of India’s first technical writing and training companies.
We started not in the proverbial garage, but in a beauty parlour that belonged to the family of a close friend of my partner. We were given the place on a “pay when you have the money” basis, no questions asked. The only condition was that we had to use the place “as is, where is.” So here we were, in pink sandblasted 300 square feet room with mirrors on the walls and the classic parlour countertops. It took some ingenuity and a few curtains (yes, curtains) to camouflage the surroundings. Visitors, the few that we had, were very mystified by our “office”!
And, oh! there was the cat that we inherited. For the first few weeks, it was a ghostly presence that left behind a dead rodent as a tribute at least once a week! We soon discovered how it got in and put an end to that.
The location of our office was also very unique. We were cheek-by-jowl with a restaurant and bar, the kind where you danced to the tunes of the proverbial Mumbai bar girls and a few doors down on the other side was one a small traditional eatery. Bang opposite us was one of Mumbai’s most famous churches and a few meters down from there was a famous dargah.
Being an all girls team, we were persona non-grata at both the eateries that were within reach. That was a problem because we often worked till 11 PM and stayed over ever so often (the parlour had cubicles at the back with benches on which we could sleep). We tried, once and once only, to get takeout from the traditional eatery, but our very presence at the door was uncomfortable to the owner and patrons. An old “chacha” who worked there realised our plight and took our order. He sent us packing back to the office and personally delivered the food. Since that day chacha-ji would drop in ever so often through the day to see if we needed anything. I will always remember the roti-dal fry and chai-bun-maska we lived on in those days.
The bar would start its day at about 1 PM with a thorough cleaning buoyed by the melodious voice of MS Subbulakshmi. They played the most divine selection of music till about 6 PM, when regular business hours started. That was the time I learnt several stotrams (hymns) and popular dance numbers together in the space of a few months. We could set our watches by them! When the stotrams started have lunch and when the dance music started, go home. Though I did not know it then, I was the unwitting subject of classical conditioning.
But the bouncers and waiters at the bar were ever so considerate of our finer feelings and protective of us girls. They would ensure that the bar’s patrons did not disturb us, call us cabs at night, accompany us to the railway station…. So typical of Mumbai!
But boy, did we work hard those days. Our first contract was a huge documentation project for a RDBMS developed in India. Two of us had to write 8 manuals in about 7 months, with one DTP operator for support. We had to shuttle between Mumbai and Gandhi Nagar, where the development team was based. We were flying by our pants. We did not have any training in technical writing; we had not heard of words like style guides, templates, and audience analysis; had no internet access of note…. We wrote in Microsoft Word and the DTP operator designed and layout the manuals in PageMaker. But our instincts were dead-on. And our manuals were appreciated by one of the largest consulting firms in the world.
In the middle of all this, we were also training individuals on Microsoft Windows 95, Microsoft Office 95, PowerBuilder, C, and C++. You see, we were a technical writing and training company. Do note the “and training.” In those days, very few in India had heard of technical writing as a profession. Our task began with educating the companies we visited on what technical writing was all about, how we could add value to them, and more specifically they had to pay us to “just” write. It was tough going, but fun!
I have lost count of the number of times people asked my parents, “Okay, your daughter writes. But what does she DO (aka what is her JOB?)?”
My abiding memory of those days is that we got tremendous support from people around us; family, friends, and complete strangers. And everyone had tremendous faith in us and our abilities, as the next instalment of this saga will show.