Thursday, January 28, 2010

So I Delude Myself

For a very long time in life I did not take to the idea of wearing sunglasses. I am one of those who think they are not exactly cool. In fact a countable few can carry them off even moderately well. They just end up looking like these hideous patches on most faces.

But then came along this lady who told me I should wear sunglasses because squinting too much will give me worry lines on the forehead. And those will turn to wrinkles soon. She had a point. And I went and bought myself a pair of functional sunglasses…to be worn only when I was riding to work in the harsh sun.

And what a relief it was! I had been missing out on all that comfort and squinting my way to glory all those years in the blindingly bright summers of Nagpur. I finally came around though…late, but I did.

The other day two friends of mine pertinently questioned my demeanour. They asked me how I could be so happy in life and why I was the way I was. I told them I had a choice: 50-50 – I could look at the bright side or the dark side of things and form my world view. I chose the bright side and it was quite simple to be happy. They told me I was deluding myself and the sooner I realized it the better. They told me the world was a shitty place and it wasn’t possible to be so happy living in this world. And one of them said he would like to see me the day I was depressed.

And it hit me today morning. I know the world is a shitty place. I know it is probably beyond the point of redemption right now. Just like I know at all points how bright and harsh the sun is shining. But then I put them on – my sunglasses and my optimism. And the world suddenly becomes bearable…to the eyes and to the heart. I can remove my sunglasses at any point and wake up to the real world. But I don’t. You know why? It’s not going to help anybody’s cause. And because it gives me worry-lines. That can turn to wrinkles soon.

And so I delude myself.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

In ADdition: Please, Ab Toh Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye

I was talking to my colleagues from marketing the other day and we were discussing how the quality of advertising for Cadbury’s in India pretty much took the exponential curve, I’ll leave it to you to pick the direction of the curve though. For me, it’s downward for sure.

That day I couldn’t remember which TVC was the final nail in the coffin except I seemed to feel very strongly about it but yesterday for some reason it struck me. It was the ‘Rangeen Panda’.

Here’s what I remember of Cadbury’s from yesteryears:

The entire TVC series for Dairy Milk, one with Omung Kumar picking up a block he’d dropped and dusting it off before stealthily putting it into his mouth and of course the unforgettable petite girl dancing for joy in the cricket stadium…Kuch Khaas Hai Zindagi Mein. It was emotional appeal at its best.

Then there was the TVC for 5-Star with the ‘Choolo sitaron ko, ab door nahin hai manzil’ jingle.

And there was the very cute Cadbury’s Gems TVC with a bunch of 60-somethings telling a lost young man that ‘Yeh road kahin nahi jaati, yahin rehti hai!’

Compare that with O&M’s Rangeen Panda. Apparently the ad-world loves it (at least that’s what I gather from the reviews on all the ad forums). I hate it. Or the Bournville ad – you have to earn it or whatever. They have taken the emotional appeal out and brought functional focus in. For a copy that says Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye, its ironic they took the Mithas (sweetness) out of their ads. After all these years, Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye?

Among the ones that I liked, new or recently old, one I can think of immediately is the Nike Lunarglide billboard. The copy ‘Actually, it is rocket science’ was quite a play on our manner of speaking and got the message across very well, ably supported of course by a cross section of the shoe. I think Stephen Fitzgerald was behind the design but I am not really sure who came up with the copy. Good work nevertheless.

Then there is the series of billboards for the launch of UTV Action, with creatives handled by Taproot India. The copy that stuck the best was ‘No Rona. Only Dhona’. Nice crisp bit of work there.

I was flipping through the pages of BS Motoring the other day and noticed the Royal Enfield Trip prints by W+K Good stuff. Saw it in the Outlook Traveller as well, especially the ‘Leave Home’ theme for the print ad as well as the TVC. Calling all mama’s boys truly. And yes, leave home they should. Nice underline to the spirit of the Royal Enfield I thought.

My favourite ad among the ones I saw recently appeared in the ToI last Sunday…it was a Woodlands print ad that said ‘Life begins where connectivity ends’ and a pair of Woodlands lay by the side of a railway track. I can’t find that ad online anywhere but I think it’s brilliant. Some more Woodlands print ads created for Times Life are located here but none are as good as that one. Real nice work and captures the spirit of those among us who like to leave their cellphone where it belongs on a journey – at home.

And that’s a wrap on this ad rant.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Rolling Stone's Moss: Indian French Fries

It was the third day that I was in Hampi for and the rains weren’t being any kinder than in the previous two days. This was the great flood that swept over the Deccan Plateau in September 2009.

As much as I was enjoying walking around town in the rains and my newfound comfort with wet-soggy footwear, it got tiring and, more importantly, cold after a while of walking about in khakis drenched to the knee. So I headed to The Mango Tree to sit for awhile and watch the swelling river go by and try and get the soggy out. Apprehensive of sitting on the chairs, I assumed my position on the stone platform at the base of a tree that stood in the middle of the restaurant.

My contemplation on the flowing river as I waited for my Falafel and tea to arrive was dismissed by a group of Italian tourists arriving at The Mango Tree for lunch. It was a bunch of nice people, most of them over 40 years of age, who had crossed the ocean to come to this exotic country and the rustic town of Hampi of all places. I started to think what kind of a tour flyer it would have been that would have attracted them from the window of a travel agent’s to take a flight and explore India. But that stream was broken too by the noises of them settling down. And since I had nothing else to do, I got busy people-watching.

A lady sat right next to me, since I was sitting just beside a large 6-seater table, and said customary hellos. So did the gentleman in front of me. I tried to go back to my thoughts but a lady from across the table asked the one beside me something about me…she kept saying Senorina over and over. I looked up, curious. They were all looking at me. I tried to hide my sudden self-consciousness when they asked me where I was from and if I was a tourist. I told them I was from Bangalore and was a tourist there as well. Then for some strange reason the other lady asked me if I was married and I said no I wasn’t. They had apparently landed in Mumbai a few days ago and proceeded to Goa from there before coming to Hampi. Bangalore and Mysore were next. Odd trail I thought, one that includes Hampi in it. The mind flitted to the travel agent’s pamphlet. Meanwhile, the falafel had appeared and got me busy.

When their guide arrived to translate their food order, I found all of them staring at me again. The guide asked me in Kannada what I was having. Majority of the group, after having been explained what it was, ordered what I was having. And while it arrived, they all decided to entertain themselves with some French Fries, a portion for each of them.

The Fries were served and their faces lit up like the faces of those who are returning home after long and see the first glimpse of their house from a distance. I was pretty much keeping to myself when I noticed the sugar dispenser on the table move. I just HAD to look up since no one had ordered tea yet. And I saw them starting to sprinkle the sugar on their French Fries.

Now, in Hampi since any hot beverage is always served without sugar in it, they keep sugar dispensers on each table, ALONGSIDE the salt and pepper shakers. Only I this case the latter seasonings were missing. And for some reason, instead of asking for the salt, they had presumed that only the sugar was to be used in this case.

I urgently flashed a curious and amused smile at one of the gentlemen. And he laughed even as he put some more sugar onto his plate…in his limited English he said, “French Fries with sugar!” He laughed some more and I felt embarrassed instantly. I asked if they needed salt and suddenly I heard voices saying Yes in unison. I asked the waiter to get the salt and pepper while the tourists proceeded to thank me profusely, as if I had found a piece of lost luggage or passport or something for them. Soon, they all settled down munching their fries as they would at home…with salt.

It is important for us to realize that when tourists arrive in this conundrum called India, after having taken lesson in cultural sensitivity and jargon like that, before they try and make sense of India, India ends up making an impression on them. They don’t need help with the fare negotiation or the guide charges at heritage sites…they get fleeced there anyway, poor souls. But if we could just be nice and extra careful when they are around, for instance not missing fundamental things on the table like salt and pepper shakers or finding out a store where can find that camera accessory they are looking for or suggesting good places to eat some of their home food once in a while between being bombarded with our spices, I think they would go back with a better experience and a clearer picture of this chaos.

Imagine having a bunch of people in Italy think Indians eat French Fries with sugar on them!

Friday, January 15, 2010


The setting sun marked the end of the day even as we spoke of life and new beginnings. The irony. That my life is. In more ways than one.

Just to mark the irony I order a Solar Eclipse coffee at Coffee Day today after finishing a hurried meal of Dosas at home. That oil smells old. Like life. Anyway, the guy at the Coffee Day counter gives me a complimentary pack of Double Chocolate Chip Cookies. Sadly, life doesn’t. Not as yet.

In fact in real life, the baker sits me down and teaches me how to make Double Chocolate Chip Cookies just as well as he does. He seems to like competition. Tells me go open my own bakery and make my own Double Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I’m sorry, but I asked for internship not entrepreneurship. Thank you very much. So I leave with a recipe and cookie crumbs of dreams, as the sun goes down. And with hope, that the sun will rise again tomorrow and bring a new day along.

I find the sun eclipsed today. For the longest time in the millennium. The irony. That my life is. In more ways than one.

Monday, January 04, 2010

God Doesn't Live There Anymore

It was September 2007 when I moved into my current place of residence. I usually call it home but today I won’t because of the state of mind I’m in. I’m not supposed to live here forever.

Anyway, It was easy to give anyone directions to my place. Before they dug up the main road and created our very own crystal maze of course…if you do reach here somehow, you will never get out. I just had to tell people to ask for Inchara in JP Nagar 6th Phase and then look for a Ganesh Temple a little up ahead. It was that same lane, next to the Ganesh temple.

It was a humble temple then. A room really. Quite basic. And there was a platform outside for people to sit. Most evenings there would be old people talking their hearts out after having offered their evening prayers. And very often, even as late as 9 in the night, there used to be a wayfarer sitting on that platform, brooding at times, waiting at others…sometimes lost, as if waiting for God to open the door and offer help. One could really knock on God’s door at any time of the day, so to speak, when one needed to.

And then they decided God needed a palace. They got all the money from somewhere; it is never difficult to collect money in the name of religion. They cleaned up a tract of land around the temple and started the construction of a Gopuram. They built small idols of deities all over it and painted them in silver and gold. They planted a flower garden around. It took longer than a year to build this palace but they did it. They installed the deity a while ago for people to worship. The room stayed but everyone started visiting the bigger temple to offer prayers.

They were poor, all of them; they had no kindness or love to offer. So they made up by offering their material opulence at God’s door and hoped He would understand. They decked Him up and started visiting Him wearing Kanjeevarams and silken panchas.

All this while the room stayed as it is, that humble abode. But then they all started to feel insecure, the world was becoming such a dangerous place. God must feel fear too. So one day they razed the little room down and built a wall around the temple. A thick wall. And they started closing the doors every evening. No wayfarer could now sit at God’s door and wait for him. Or brood his troubles away against the wall knowing God was behind him, behind that closed door.

It reminded me of that story. There was once a poor woman in a village and she was a devotee of Krishna. Everyday she would gather wood and sell it off to make a living, barely making the ends meet. Any food she would get she would feed her children with it and what remained she lovingly offered to Krishna. Then one day someone said it was blasphemy. How could she offer leftovers to God? It was sin and she must make amends immediately. God-frearing as she was, she did make amends and started offering food first to Krishna and then to her children. But Krishna refused to eat.

She asked him, puzzled, why he wouldn’t eat food now that she had amended her ways. And Krishna said it was because earlier she would give him the same food as her children, and consequesntly treat Him as her own, her child. Now she was treating Him like God and he did not want that food anymore. He preferred being treated as her child.

The day they built that wall and closed the gates off the message was loud and clear: He is God, he is not your friend, not someone you can sit by and talk about your troubles with. You must climb a flight of stairs to reach the elevated place he is at, you lowly mortal.

The day they built that wall, they distanced God from me. Further.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

To Be Or Not To Be

The chilling air strikes the streaks on your face and makes them sting. It only adds to the stinging in the eye and the hazy vision. You hope to make it home undiscovered, wiping the streaks off your face at the next available opportunity while the car beahind you honks for you to move on. Yeah maybe move on you should.

It’s that turning in your stomach that is diffucult to get over. After a week of sickness you have trouble telling the two apart. But this is different. This hurts more. It makes you feel sicker without making you throw up. And unlike sickness, this may not pass over. Not this one.

It is not jealousy for sure. There is nothing to be jealous of. And jealousy feels more vile than this. This sad resignation is far from jealousy.

Whatever it is turns quickly to anger. At the car up front that is in the way. At the truck that won’t get a move on. At the Foolishness that Hope sometimes turns into. Or are the two the same? You wonder.

It follows no logic. Laws of Parity and Parallel Universes fail as you try to make disparate worlds intersect somewhere. It is that lack of a logical and rational basis that makes it hard to explain or justify.

Sometimes it just seems to be the work of an empty mind, a devil in his workshop…this whole business. Despite all that you do to distract yourself from the emptiness of the rooms and life waiting for you, your mind still needs an occupation. Maybe that’s what it is, an occupation of the mind, a rubix cube, a mindless TV show, love.

You feel lost. It’s a personal to-be-or-not-to-be. You choose ‘not to be’ for the moment anyway since ‘being’ also means risking you ending up as a joke a decade later, remembered on a cocktail evening while sitting in warm cosy armchairs and reminiscing about the silliness of youth. The also-ran. You are yet to meet someone who can accept it with grace, with humility, with respect. It is an emotion most lacking in the world today, most frivolously used and mistaken, most often killed by emotions more base. Even as you try to convince yourself that you are choosing the right path, you wonder what it would have been like To Be.

A split second later a flood of Ifs and Buts draws fresh stinging streaks on your face again. What if. The One.

And you wait for the next red signal to wipe the streaks off your face.