Special2MxM | Pooja Chaudhri: Monsoon Wedding & Mumbai Masala with the Tofflers

07 Jul,2016

By Pooja Chaudhri


When the ‘man who saw the future’ departed from the world he had predicted, I mourned with everyone else on the passing away of a beautiful mind, but it also brought back beautiful memories when the Tofflers decided to descend on Mumbai almost 15 years ago.


It was January 2002 when as a young public relations professional I was assigned to work on this mega international event called Docuworld by Xerox Corp in Mumbai, with none other than Alvin Toffler as the keynote speaker. The world’s best futurologist was coming to town, and as a 20-something, I was going to interact with him one-on-one… I was the envy of my learned colleagues at work just for this opportunity alone.


I quickly brushed up my knowledge on this illustrious man, the equally important Heidi Toffler, who was accompanying him, Toffler Associates, his management company, his global bestselling books – Future Shock, Powershift, The Third Wave… not once claiming to have read them, but, yes, enough to know about them.


The morning of my introduction with them was a nervous one for me… I dreaded the moments that I would be alone with them… after all, what conversation could I possibly make with a couple that is so high on the global knowledge quotient and on topics that were clearly beyond my realm?! The time prior to the event went by quick, the event itself was a resounding success… the audience clearly in awe of seeing the man in flesh and blood right here in aamchi Mumbai. The rest of the day was a humdrum affair going about with my routine tasks at the event.


During the course of the day, I had many opportunities to interact with them, and my nervousness soon disappeared. By lunch, the equations were set very clearly between us… I didn’t need to attempt any false gyaan and he was only too happy not having to share his! He treated me as an accomplished professional, and I treated him just the same. We were just normal people. He didn’t want to be fussed about… he had a childlike curiosity about things, was visibly enjoying Indian food. “Never mind the spice,” he said. For someone of his stature, he was just so normal, ensured my comfort above all… and immediately put me at ease.


Mrs Toffler, on the other hand, was reserved, very stern, not as chatty as her husband… she would often interrupt him during media interactions to the point that they’d argue with one another right there in front of the journalists… she wanting to assert her point of view more than him! An accomplished author herself, she was always cognisant of the fact that HE was the keynote speaker at the event, and not her or them… and she felt it was only right to not have their combined brand power on display. She was the more argumentative of the two and not hesitant to show it. With me, she eventually softened up, and from there on, it was smooth sailing.


The day of the event ended well… the Tofflers invited me over to their suite for dinner, much to the surprise of my client and my seniors (neither of whom got the invitation!). I politely accepted, not wanting to seem disrespectful. We ordered in room service… chatted about their travels, my work, home city, their family, Indian culture and food among other things. It was a quick dinner, and I left with a recapping the next day’s schedule. I was relieved that Day One had surpassed my expectations.


I met the Tofflers the next morning after an early breakfast… we had a handful of media interactions lined up one after another. All went to plan, we wrapped up work at about noon… the client had done its customary sign-off and the Tofflers were scheduled to fly out later that night.


Just as I said my goodbye, Mrs Toffler asked if I had any prior commitments for the rest of the day. Confused, I said, I was heading back to the office. Mr Toffler, the perfect gentlemen, requested if I could take the day off from work, and show them around Mumbai. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing… Mrs Toffler, her mother-like warmth at display, absolutely insisted that I accompany them for the day. Suddenly, I saw tourist-like exuberance in them. I agreed (who wouldn’t, right?!). Not wanting to waste any time, we quickly set off from Bandra straight to SoBo.


It was a chirpy drive all through (no sealink those days, so, yes, took longer than it does now). We talked about many things, mostly them asking me questions and me filling in with answers… felt odd to be getting interviewed by THE Tofflers! They were fascinated with the drive, the driving styles on display, the crowds, the cops… clearly soaking in Mumbai’s sights and sounds like tourists normally do. We drove past all of SoBo’s iconic Victorian buildings, me the tourist guide with a running commentary as we drove along. We got off at the Gateway of India, they marvelled at the architecture.


As we headed towards Churchgate, they said they’d like to watch a Hindi movie… and insisted that I take them for one even if it didn’t have English subtitles. It was just a little past 3pm… Monsoon Wedding was playing at Eros theatre. I quickly bought three tickets, and in minutes we were seated inside… me perched in between the two of them! Thankfully, the movie had a generous dose of English dialogues and subtitles too… I only had to fill in with the local cultural nuances, and of course, a quick overview on the changing face of modern Indian society.


Having enjoyed the movie, popcorn et al, we set off back towards the hotel in the midst of peak rush-hour traffic. The drive back was quiet, the couple now anxious about reaching back in time and having enough time to pack, dinner, and head off to the airport. I was nervous, praying that we don’t get delayed along the way.


As we reached the hotel, I said my final goodbye to them, wishing them safe travels… but they would have none of it. They insisted yet again that I join them in their suite for dinner and also drive them to the airport and that the car assigned to them would drop me home at night. I wasn’t given a choice actually and just had to do as told. I helped them pack, we ordered dinner in… after their last masala chai in Mumbai, we headed off to the airport.


I had thoroughly enjoyed two full days with them in a way that no one could believe… it was one-on-one unadulterated time with one of the most renowned futurists the world had seen.


As we parted ways at the airport for the last time, Mrs Toffler gave me a gift from her bag… we exchanged the warmest hugs, our eyes moist. There was something about how the two days had gone by… some wonderfully warm moments for me, both personally and professionally.


Sadly, the Tofflers never came back to India after that, but I always looked them up and read about them as they continued to make an impact on the global stage.


During our many conversations, the part I cherish most is when I asked them the secret to being happily married for more than five decades then… and pat came the reply in unison: “Our life has been one long argument, we both just never want to give up!”


May your soul rest in peace, Sir.

May God give you the strength to cope with the future, Mrs Toffler.

And thank you immensely for giving me some of the best memories of my life.


Pooja Chaudhri is Executive Director, Concept PR


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