Thursday, April 2, 2009

Sand or Silica: Bob Massa, an interview to remember

This section is where I normally write about discovering the ‘extraordinary’ in ‘ordinary’ people. But isn’t finding ‘ordinary’ in someone ‘extra-ordinary’ just as special? This is for Bob, who made me change my rule.

Just another day.
Just another elite hotel.
Just another of those ‘big’ interviews, I have arrived for.
About to meet a stellar business name, a rebel who dared to challenge a Goliath of the Internet bastions, a gladiator who ignited a war a few years back and a lot more.

As I swagger with my paraphernalia into the Coffee shop, my eyes scan across the room in a swift reconnoiter to pick out that Business Samurai. I had seen a few photos and thought it would be a quick hunt.
But as strange and inexplicable as it sounds, you never have to hunt for a friend, be it a train station, a high-decibel party or a forest wilderness….even when the friend has a visiting card that reads – ‘so far a stranger’.

In the same strange moment, my eyes dropped the 007 cornea, when they suddenly stopped at a table in the corner. Sitting in a casual black shirt, happily engrossed in his tiny notebook, taking an occasional break for a sip at the cappuccino lying beside, was this elderly face that I just had to walk towards.
As I approached nearer, I saw two bright shining eyes, framed in simple-smart black glasses flanked by a grey-but-shinier (am sorry if that’s a wrong word) duet of hair and a happy beard. The eyes looked up and shone brighter with friendliness when I stammered, “Bob?”
He smiled generously and answered back in affirmative as he stood up to greet me. An avuncular handshake and a warm ‘How are you’ later I found myself settled right across him without the routine clock ticking away in my head this time.
And that felt so comfortable, even though quite off-the-routine.

We had more than two hours to chat at leisure, unlike the normal clockwork appointments. And while I did wonder at the onset if this was ‘too-much-time’ and ‘what-if-I-ran-out-of-my-questions’, I had no idea how surprisingly and pleasantly the time was going to pass away.

Yes, as much as we journalists say about our profession, “Oh, I love it, I get to meet so many people”, we all know how soon and irretrievably the ‘people’ part evaporates.
You only meet names, pre-conditioned faces, PR puppets or masks.
And your interviews soon morph from an energetic conversation to an artificial Q&A, where all you are engrossed with is ‘your questions’ and all the person across the table is worried about (and PR punctuated with) is ‘the right answers’.
In the same rut-of-routine, I had arrived to meet Bob Massa, the guy who sued Google. I was like always armed with my questions, ready to steer ahead in the territory of my ‘scope-and-subject’ and the rough outline like always.
But this friends, was everything but ‘like always’.

By the time I was scribbling away for the second question, the interview changed to a conversation and I got more worried about listening to the person across the table instead of taking down ‘hot’ quotes and ‘Cold’ notes.
We were jumping chaotically from one topic to another, in a freewheeling skating trip of ideas, and soon I found a lovely order in all the randomness.
For a relieving change, I was not asking questions for ‘the’ interview, but for my curiosity. And here was Bob, a feast for my appetite, who got me more thrilled and attentive about ‘why’ he did what he did, instead of ‘what’ he did. His passion, his logic, his heartfelt reasoning, his ‘no-regrets’ tone can snare even the best of prejudiced minds.
Yes, it’s a treat to find all that candor when you are interviewing a businessman.
Candor that is fair and double-edged. Bob answers with the same incredible ‘no-words-minced’ frankness when you ask him about his flaws, mistakes and shortcomings.

When it was time to wind up, I really was surprised at how soon the time flew by.
As I started packing up my stuff, I was glad I had hit two-birds-with-one-stone or whatever they call it.
I was taking back a great interview and also this special piece for my blog.
I had come to meet another big-shot, another extraordinaire.
But what made him more extraordinary was the amazing endearing way, he had kept the ‘ordinary’ inside him alive.

An astute tech-and-business mind who still housed a soft heart inside;
A wise genius who can speak so easily on ‘how-stupid-he-has-been’;
An expat from Oklahoma, who is happy as a child to read a newspaper in his small garden in India, who is in love with a small city here and who beats me at greeting the ‘Kem Cho?;
A daredevil who challenged the big G, but a fun Grandpa who is happy to lose to a three-year old any time;
A 24/7 sleep-deprived workaholic who shuffles his sleep clock daily to answer client calls, but who still wistfully longs to be together with his wife for a simple holiday.
A body who struggles everyday with health challenges and still manages to be cheerful and bright-eyed round the clock.
A veteran boss who is all praise for a young COO hire and feels awkward when he has to fire someone;

And of course, someone, who after all the good-and-bad experiences of life still finds it tough to say ‘No’ to a friend; someone who makes me feel for a change that no matter how stupid or quixotic or gullible it sounds, there are still ‘ordinary’ hearts out there who would do some things just because THEY FEEL RIGHT, in the heart (even if wrong on a Balance-Sheet or in the world’s opinion).

Bob didn’t feel at all like a stranger.
It was really lovely meeting you Bob.
Stay the same.

Pratima H

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