dentsu X’s Divya Karani on media veteran Roda Mehta (ex-O&M), the AAAI’s Lifetime Achievement Award Winner for 2017
I have had the fortune of working with some very tall men. Roda is one of them.
I joined O&M to work with Roda. And then did my best to keep out of her way.
I witnessed grown men being stripped off their egos in the corridors.
I certainly did not want to be one of them.
Roda would often stop by my desk, enquire what was happening and my reflex, defensive response would be ‘Nothing!’
Man plans. God laughs.
Soon, I had no option but to work directly with Roda.
Here are snippets of memories of the Roda I experienced.
The landline rings at 7am sharp
My spouse predicts, “It is for you. It is either Manna (your mother) or Roda.”
Sure enough, Roda would start crisply “Divya, I was thinking…”
I suspect Roda waited till 7am before calling.
Roda justifies my mistakes
Roda is on leave.
Sylvia and I are entrusted with organising a Media Research Users Council (MRUC) meet.
We do exactly that.
Just that instead of inviting the core select group, we invite the whole publishing industry.
To find that the invitees are three times the intended number and most have accepted!
“Never mind, let them come.” is Roda’s response.
Our faux pas has not ended here.
Going through the Invitee list, Roda asks “Sylvia, we invited Mr ABC? Didn’t I send a condolence card to his wife, before I went on leave?”
By then, much beyond being apologetic, I am gibbering.
“Never mind, how were you to know?” is Roda’s response.
Roda holds herself back
I ask Roda for her critique on a Hindustan Lever project report I have worked on (and am rather proud of).
Her response is telling, “Are you sure you want me to? ABC did not like me correcting her work.”
I am sure.
The document comes back to me, with red remarks on every page
Roda protects her brood
Roda decides to attend the Asian Paints Annual Plans.
I am presenting to Bharat Puri, MD, Asian Paints, and team.
Every question that Bharat asks me, Roda answers before I can. It is comical, touching.
Bharat knows me, we work closely on a day-to-day basis, on the business.
But Roda is protecting her own.
Roda views the world through her lens
Roda, Rajiv Berry and I are in the car on our way to Doordarshan.
Roda is pulling Rajiv up on a Chennai office complaint and Rajiv is sincerely explaining his side of the story.
But the conversation is getting drowned by an incessant alms seeker at Rajiv’s window.
“Tumahre gore gore bachhe honge beta, dus rupya de do, beta de do…”
Rajiv tries to shush him to no avail, till Roda turns around, “Are, jab shadi nahi hui hai to gore gore bachhe kaise hoinge?”
Silence reigns. Rajiv’s pink face rivals his shirt.
“What is the matter, why is your knee not getting better Divya?” asks Roda
Roda and I are racing to catch a flight.
More correctly, Roda is carrying both her bag and mine, weighed heavy by acetates.
And I am hobbling to keep up, with my knee in a soft cast, when Roda poses the question.
I explain “Roda I need to go for regular physiotherapy. The problem is the last session is at 7pm”
“So what is the problem? You must prioritise your time and get better” forgetting the fact that the night before she has come to our media room around 9pm with the suggestion, “why don’t we look at it from this way?”
And we had spent the night in office trying to tweak the strategy to that way.
We all know Roda
I am presenting a White Paper to the industry on behalf of Media Research Users Council.
Across the stage, Roda, Brahm Vasudeva, Shekar Swamy are all seated at the MRUC table.
Five minutes into the presentation, Roda starts signaling to me across the stage.
I ignore her, confident, carry on presenting.
Roda’s signals become increasingly frantic.
I pause, smile and address her openly, “Roda it is ok, this is the right version.”
The audience erupts, laughs.
We all know Roda.
This is a deck I have authored, shared with Roda minutes before the presentation.Roda of course has made some changes to it.
I resume presenting, only to realise a few slides further that Roda has been right.
I pause again, look the audience in the eye and say, “My apologies, as always Roda is correct. This is the wrong version”
The audience breaks into an uproar!
We all know Roda.
I daresay, all who have had the fortune of interacting with her, will have their own bag of tales.
The composite image that emerges is of a champion, one who fearlessly ran long, despite her Achilles heel.
Roda collected both: her band of ardent followers and an equal number who could not stand her. Like everything else, she did this effortlessly.
Roda’s early retirement was the industry’s loss and her gain.
The author is Chief Executive Officer, dentsu X India.