Thursday, December 6, 2007

Writer’s block

Being a writer in the ad world is difficult. Having to accept changes in the copy, or even getting it outright rejected is part of every copywriter’s job. But the kind of changes that are made, and reasons given for rejection, mostly make every writer quiver like an aspen.
There are times when I picture my favourite writers taking their piece of work for a review. And I imagine the kind of things they would hear. Now that I have stopped trembling, I am finally able to write this out.
Listed below are some of my favourite quotes and the reactions, I think, would have ensued.

“She had a penetrating sort of laugh. Rather like a train going into a tunnel.”
No, no, Wodehouse, the analogy is just not correct. It’s difficult to picture. And let me remind you once more that ‘good egg’ is not an appropriate term of appreciation. And I strongly disapprove of the ‘Jeeves’ series. At least try it with different characters.

“Call me Ishmael.”
Look Herman, this is not okay. We need an opening line that is relevant to Moby Dick and his life. Can we have the first line throw in some cues about the sea or ships or something?

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep
but I have promises to keep
and miles to before I sleep
and miles to go before I sleep”
No Robert, you haven’t got it right. And why repeat the lines? It looks like you had nothing better to write, and so just put the last line twice. I’d call that lazy. Change the last line.

“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for the sake of mine.”
Ayn, my girl, first of all, the sentence is just too long. Cut it into two. Better still; just delete the second half of the sentence. Instead, say ‘nor vice versa’. Let me do it for you. There. Better.

“When all at once I saw a crowd,
a host, of golden daffodils.”
William, I’m not sure ‘host’ is the right word here. Change it to something better.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Jane, this reflects a know-it-all attitude. How can you be so sure? It’s not correct to generalise things like this. Changed the beginning of the sentence to “It is generally believed that”.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
No way, Charles. Where is the revolution in this? Where is the tale of two cities? There is a gross disconnect.

“We are crying the oceans in our tears.”
Of course not, Gregory. This is a gross exaggeration in the name of creative liberty. I don’t like this. In fact, I don’t like the story at all. How can a foreigner accept, without any resistance, a name given to him by a common village woman? And want to be known by that name? It sounds too contrived. And Shantaram, of all the names available? For starters, change it to ‘Rahul’.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Satan Santa

Such cool, wintry mornings these are, na. So Christmassy. Takes you back to school days. This was the time we’d all practise carols. Oh how I loved the carol practice. Especially because we got to skip class for it! And then the final programme the day before the Christmas vacation began. Every year was the same. The ‘Birth of Jesus’ play, carol singing, and finally the Santa act. Somebody dressed as Santa throwing candy to the audience, and all of us scampering after them.
While I take this trip down memory lane, I drag the beloved into the conversation. “Honey, you remember Christmas time back in school days? Did you have a Santa too? Throwing candy and all?”
“Yeah sure” he says, continuing to shave. Without batting a fixed-on-the-mirror eyelid, he adds, “Our Santa carried a stick.”
“You’re confusing him with someone else, dearest.” I tell him. “Santa’s the kind-hearted, pot-bellied gent who goes around giving goodies for free.”
“I know,” he says, all attention fixed on a sideburn, “he carried a bag full of candy in one hand and a stick in the other.”
“Whatever for?”
“To beat the children with.”
“To WHAT?”
A big grin on his after-shaved face, he goes on, “Can’t blame him though.”
“See, it’s like this. Our school always had a peon dressed as Santa. And the kids knew that. So every time the Santa act began, the kids would mob him and try to pull at his robe and mask. They wanted to see if it’s Shivajirao or Prakash. Eventually the peons started carrying sticks, which was the only way to ensure the act reached an uneventful end!”

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Every ad professional has two lives. The other one being that of a superhuman who can save the masses from the vice-like grip of a mundane life. Bringing them confidence, energy, panache and what-nots.
I had started from a modest, middle class home in Andheri, and taken the train to ‘Swarg lok’. Come, come, girl – my creative director told me. Let’s sprinkle some happiness in the commonplace lives of these humans. Let’s get them a life, even if it’s just on the idiot box.
So here I was chin up, chest out, red cape billowing behind me. On my mission to spread joy. Meaning I was ready to sell toothpaste.
Here I am in conversation with the account director.

Me: So, we gotta sell toothpaste, right?
AD: No, no, of course not.
Me: I’ve been transferred to another brand?
AD: No chance. You’re still working on the toothpaste. But that’s not what we’re selling.
ME: No?
AD: Rolls eyes heavenwards. Stupid, you think we’d need you if we just wanted to sell toothpaste?
Me: So what do you need me for?
AD: To sell dreams.
ME: Dreams?
AD: Dreams. Aspirations.
ME: Not toothpaste?
AD: Moron. You just don’t get it. Why would anyone buy our toothpaste?
Me: To brush teeth with?
AD: (Icy glare) No.
Me: No?
AD: Arre baba, why would they buy OUR toothpaste?
That got me. Silence.
AD: We gotta promise them something, dig?
Me: Dig.
AD: Now, what can we promise them?
Me: (Eyes light up like a hoarding at night) Confidence?
AD: Sheesh! Every toothpaste gives you that. Every PRODUCT gives you that. Can’t we give them anything better?
Me: More fluoride?
AD: NO. Now stop goofing and listen up. We gotta give this consumer something more than he already has okay. You BLOODY well think of something to give him, or I shall kill you with my bare hands.
Me: But doesn’t the consumer want just toothpaste?
AD: (The who-gave-you-this-job look) Look, you gonna do this or not?
Me: (Beads of perspiration) Er, sure, sure. So we give them something. Sure. How about the ability to attract the opposite sex?
AD: No. That’s done before.
Me: Freshness all day?
AD: That too.
Me: Strong gums?
AD: Too late. Done already.
Me: (Sly smile) Wings?
AD: No. Red Bull gives you those.
Me: Sigh! Okay. How bout this? It gives you brains? Intelligence?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Meal combos

No no. I ain’t talking about McDdonald’s. Over the years I have come across the strangest meal combinations people have invented. Some have intrigued me, some delighted me beyond imagination and some have simply blown me out of my mind.
Some of these inventions have stories, while some are deliberate, premeditated experiments.
There’s a friend of mine who eats roti with pakodas and says it’s the healthier version of ‘bhajiya pav’. Another one has invented this absolutely lip-smacking sandwich. It’s essentially plain bread, butter and chutney, but it’s got Lays (potato chips) in it. She recommends the Mexican masala flavoured chips. I second that whole-heartedly.
My dear friend, Karan Amin, invented this finger-licking sandwich, which is popular till date. Walk into the JWT office and ask for the Karan sandwich. It’s sure to sock you in the palate. I dunno exactly what it's got, but it seems like finely chopped onions and tomatoes, grated cheese, green chillies and a liberal coat of green chutney. Try it some day, and you’ll love Karan for it.
Then again, I’ve heard of some combinations I haven’t tried as yet. See if they work for you. This guy I know dips buttered bread in nimbu-pani (lemon juice). He says he did it accidentally while reading a book, and got hooked to it. I’m a little wary of trying it, though. I like to down my nimbu-pani at one go, like a tequila shot. Not sure I could glug the concoction with breadcrumbs floating in it.
Yet another friend swears by the combo of rice and grapes. Yup, you heard that right. Rice, the cooked, white food grain. Grapes, meaning green grapes. The ones the fox couldn’t reach. Apparently she rummaged through the refrigerator one hungry night, found the two bowls juxtaposed, and the rest is history. Yummy – that’s the word she used for it. I guess I’ll just take her word.
Then there’s this guy who sprinkles sugar liberally over puris, and rolls them up. I tried that one myself. Sinful and delicious!
But I’ll hand it to my Gujarati friend who really tops it all. She mixed the Gujju Chewda in salted dahi-chawal (curds n rice). It’s a strange sweet-salty combination, which works best when the dahi is real chilled. Kinda crunchy!
Then again there are much-used combos like aloo ka paratha with ketchup, cheese with magi noodles etc.
But before I wind up, I simply have to tell you about this cousin of mine. I offered him pepsi and he asked for nimbu (lemon). He squeezed it over the glass of pepsi and added salt to it. Believe it or not, all his family followed suit. They swear by the taste!
Do you know of such combinations? Whether you’ve seen it somewhere or invented it yourself, tell me your combo.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

No violence for kids

My son is soon gonna be two years old. He’s started mimicking sentences now. The hubby and I sat down and started making rules. Never mind what the rules are, but on the top of the list is – no violence.
Strictly adhering to the rule, we dutifully change the channel every time something violent appears on TV. The hubby aint allowed to lose his temper while driving. You get the picture.
I sat back and sank into the couch thinking how successfully we’ve got violence out of our child’s life. Just as I was mentally patting myself on the back, my glance rested on the television (playing cartoons, of course).
And suddenly, I did a double take. There was Tom and Jerry beating the shit outta each other. Hitting with iron rods and fly swatters. Throwing live firecrackers. Banging, punching, kicking, beating to pulp and jumping on the remains. No form of violence was spared.
Switch to animal planet, the safest bet. Or is it? Lion pouncing on deer. Jackals devouring dead animal. Animal mating rituals. There. We now have violence and sex!
Okay wifey, hubby declares. No TV for him till he’s 18. Get him comics. Yeah right! Know what words you see at a glance in a comic? Pow, aargh, splat, splutter, bang-bang, boom. You know what I mean?
Never mind, hubby; I suggest. Forget comics. Let him stick to school and studies. Phew. Tough decision but we took it.
Okay then, let’s play him the nursery rhymes CD. Here, dear reader, are some of the nursery rhymes.
Jack n Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.

Piggy on the railway, picking up stones.
Down came an engine and broke piggy’s bones.
Ah, said the piggy, that’s not fair.
Oh, said the engine driver, I don’t care.

Humpty dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put humpty together again.

And the list goes on. The soul mate and I sat gloomily, hands to cheeks. Fine. If you can’t beat 'em, join 'em. Here’s what we finally decided. We sign him up for karate lessons as soon as he reaches the minimum age required!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What is your good name?

I simply love it when somebody says this. The English language has grabbed so many words from India, we might as well Indianise it completely. Good name comes from Shubh naam. Aapka shubh naam kya hai?
There’s so much of angrezi we hear every day that comes from Indian phrases and sentences. Don’t eat my head comes from mera sar mat khao. My all-time favourite is ‘remove my photo’. This one has roots in Maharashtra, where they say ‘photo kadha’. Kadha literally means to remove. You’ll find Marathi tourists all over India requesting you to remove their photo.
Then there’s the irate North Indian who accuses you of sitting on his head. He generally means you’re getting on his nerves. Alternatively he could also say you’ve fallen on his neck. Galey padna being hindi for forcing your company on someone.
This famous line even found its way to a tv channel – we are like that only. The frequently heard cousin of this line is – I also am telling that only. Then of course there is the all-time ‘morning morning’ – subah subah. What are you doing here morning morning? I am bored sitting sitting. You have to eat standing standing.
Besides all this, what I love the most is the way my cousins write letters. Down South where I come from, most letters begin like this - I hope all is well at your end. By the grace of the good God and your blessings, all is well here at my end too. I pray to God that you and your family always remain well.
The current bout of conjunctivitis reigning at office takes me back to the days of Chimanrao, the protagonist of a Marathi comedy series. He wrote to his boss – I can’t come to office as my eyes have come. I will report as soon as they go away!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Cricket equals patriotism?

Just two days ago, I was caught in a mad traffic jam. The men in blue had arrived after a glorious victory, with the 20-20 world cup. They were driven from the airport to the Wankhede stadium in an open van. Fans thronged the streets. Cricket fever gripped the city and jammed the roads.
Stuck there with nothing to do, I indulged in daydreaming. What if the equation changed? Imagine cricket no more being the symbol of patriotism. The symbol of patriotism would be, well, patriotism. All that passion and hero-worship would actually help transform the country.
Rather than comparing how many players have made centuries, imagine if there were world records on how many cases have been solved, or how many lives saved, or how many people employed.
Imagine, instead of Shahrukh Khan and Yuvraj, girls would go crazy about the doctor who did the first liver transplant in India or the cop who caught the beer-killer. A social activist would be made brand ambassador, and feature in ads. Awards would be given to the country with the lowest female infanticide rate.
This patriotism fever would spread. People would urge neighbours and friends to prevent aids because we gotta set a record. And every drunken driver would be attacked with the same fury reserved for any Indian who cheers Pakistan.
Magazines and news channels would feature the best teachers in the country. Or the best station masters. Etiquette would become a mandate. People would fear to litter or spit because – log kya kahenge!
The whole country would come together on the streets to plant trees, as a result of this passion. And everyone would ask – score kya huva – and mean the number of trees planted in a day!
There would be gully-cleaning. International festivals to showcase the number of new developments by each country. Money from international awards would again be put into building more roads, getting electricity and safe drinking water.
Scientists, engineers and economists would walk the red carpet, surrounded by the paparazzi. And everyone all over would want to improve his or her social and community skills. Being cultured would be the fad. Being honest would mean riches. And doing the right thing would hurl you into the arms of glamour.
Glamour. Cheering. Applause. Honk. I’m snapped back into reality. The traffic had started flowing again. The cricket team had moved on.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A letter to Bill Watterson

Dear Mr. Watterson,

I’m sure you’re working at a more thoughtful pace now, with fewer artistic compromises. Meanwhile, I’d like to tell you how things are at my end.
I’ve grown up with Calvin and Hobbes, and they are part of my daily life. I freely quote them and their philosophy. I own books and I’m part of C&H communities online.
Calvin & Hobbes are all over my cubicle and home.
In fact, I’ve struck lifetime friendships beginning with one question – Are you a Calvin and Hobbes fan? The credo I live by is – From now on, I’ll connect the dots my own way.
I’ve been with them building snowmen, riding toboggans, and even in the transmogrifier. I’ve played Calvinball, shuddered at the thought of Rosalyn and travelled with them in the time machine. They help me think, put things in perspective and inspire me to deal with everyday situations.
But I’m not here to tell you how they’ve influenced me. That, I’m sure, you know very well. I just want to tell you that there are times when I’m completely foxed. Because I’m facing a situation Calvin never did. Which, I’m sure he’d have faced had he lived for longer. They tell me Calvin just vanished. And they say the author doesn’t allow merchandising. Fair enough, Mr. Watterson, I too wouldn’t want to see them on towels and doormats. But on scary nights when I’m seeing my personal bogeymen, I fervently wish I had Hobbes to hold on to.
It may not be right to be greedy, but why shouldn’t I get more of what I love? My entire collection will be a legacy for my children. And grandchildren. And I’m writing to you because one day my grandchildren will sit on my knee and ask me about you. And they might just say, “But you were there in his time. Didn’t you even try to get him write some more?”

Yours truly,

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I love bangles

I love bangles. And this is one of my favourite poems.

The Bangle-sellers

Bangle sellers are we who bear
Our shining loads to the temple fair...
Who will buy these delicate, bright
Rainbow-tinted circles of light?
Lustrous tokens of radiant lives,
For happy daughters and happy wives.

Some are meet for a maiden's wrist,
Silver and blue as the mountain mist,
Some are flushed like the buds that dream
On the tranquil brow of a woodland stream,
Some are aglow with the bloom that cleaves
To the limpid glory of new born leaves

Some are like fields of sunlit corn,
Meet for a bride on her bridal morn,
Some, like the flame of her marriage fire,
Or, rich with the hue of her heart's desire,
Tinkling, luminous, tender, and clear,
Like her bridal laughter and bridal tear.

Some are purple and gold flecked grey
For she who has journeyed through life midway,
Whose hands have cherished, whose love has blest,
And cradled fair sons on her faithful breast,
And serves her household in fruitful pride,
And worships the gods at her husband's side.
-- Sarojini Naidu

I think, this is the best poem Sarojini Naidu wrote. But we ain’t discussing poems here. We’re talking bangles. Best described as rainbow-tinted circles of light.
I’m not much of a jewellery person, but bangles are something else. I’ve got boxes full of them. To go with each saree or salwar kameez. And I don’t mean those metal thingies you get these days. I’m talking glass bangles. Metal somehow can never be a circle of light, na. Metal bangles just don’t feel right. Their tinkling feels artificial.
The real tinkle is that of glass bangles, which sounds like a nymph who’s laughing out loud (dil khol ke) at a really funny joke.
And bangles have to be worn by the dozen. Two dozens for each hand. At least. They work best in multiples. Their function being? To cheer you up, and make you feel at the top of the world. Bangles make you feel proud to be a woman. And privileged, of course!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cab woes

Lower Parel station
9.30 am

My first day at work. I get out of the station and come on the street. Waiting to get a lift from a cabbie. Anyone who lives in Bombay knows that here auto and cab drivers only give you lifts. Paid lifts, but lifts nevertheless. They start out for a particular destination, and they’ll take you along only if it’s convenient and in the way.

After five ‘nahi jayegas’ I get one cabbie to agree. I open the door and four people appear out of thin air, get in and drive away. Moral: There should be no time lapse between opening a cab door and getting in.

Having learnt my lesson, I’m ready for the next cab. After a manoeuvre that would’ve done Rajnikant proud, I manage to get into a cab at last. But before I can get the door shut, three girls jump into it. I look at them bewildered. The cabbie drives on as if nothing has happened.

‘Is this a hijack?’ I think. Meekly I ask one of the girls, ‘Where are you headed?’
‘Exactly where you are,’ she says.
How the hell does she know where I’m going? As if reading my mind she answers, ‘We heard you ask the cabbie.’
Phew, at least it isn’t a hijack. They probably just want a lift and forgot to ask me. The relief that followed had set my benevolence levels rising. They were all welcome to the ride.

I make it to office safely and pay the cabbie. Suddenly, before I know it I hear jingling. My co-passengers vanish leaving me with a handful of coins. That’s when realisation dawned. They’d all paid their share.

Life has been smooth ever since I understood the principle. Every cab here is shared. The separate queue for the share-a-cab thingy is just a formality. Now I’m living happily ever after. In fact, if you see me any morning at Lower Parel station, you’ll realize I’m a pro. As soon as I hear the name of my destination being mentioned anywhere near a cab, I dive straight into it. Sometimes, the person who’s already inside looks at me bewildered.
‘It’s okay’, I say with a reassuring smile.

Friday, September 7, 2007

my first

Mr. Kalra, aapki bahu kya karti hai?
My heart skips a beat.
The clever man changes the topic effortlessly, and points the limelight towards Atalji.
This is the side effect of working in advertising. Nobody knows what it is that I do.
“I write,” I told my dad when I got my first job.
“And they give you money for that?” He can’t believe I actually have a job that involves writing.

My in-laws have stopped trying to understand what I do. When I first said I work in an ad agency, his grandma said, “matlab?”
I told her I make ads. She suddenly stiffened, “You’re a model?”
“No, no. I make them. I make the ads. The models work in my ads.”
“You’re a director?” and elderly aunt quizzed.
Er, not really.
“You’re the cameraman?”
No, but…
“You work in the TV channel?”
Thankfully dinner was announced.

My parents wished for a normal child who would become a doctor or a lawyer. And here I am, a copywriter in full bloom. Aaj kal ke bachhe, they say sorrowfully.
And when anyone asks them what I do, they say ‘service karti hai.’
Whatever that means.