Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Sohrab and Rustom?

By the late 60s, Clarion-McCann & (I joined it in 1965 and quit in 1976) had turned into the proverbial snake pit. By 1966, I was Senior Writer and therefore vulnerable to the emerging power struggle. I had a good working relationship with most departments including client servicing, media and research. The problem, however, was an Art Director with Napoleonic delusions and a Machiavellian mind. He fancied himself as the spokesperson of the downtrodden. Mind you, Clarion, Kolkata, happened to be the accidental offspring of the Trade Unionist struggle in DJ Keymer in the late 50s Kolkata. But the crusty old Comrades running it in the days I’m writing about had by then turned into hard-core capitalists, the worst kind you’d ever encounter. These veterans had not forgotten their realpolitik. One of their major fears based (I reckon) on their own past experience seemed to be that, if not checked in time, the Mumbai mutiny might result in the branch breaking away from the main Agency. To woo the Natives, they hired a mediocre and moderately successful ad manager from one of the most aggressive US marketing companies well-known for its cold remedies. He was a Gujarati who fancied himself to be quite a connoisseur of the arts and a man of the people, especially able to resonate with ‘creative’ people as he chose to address us. He used to tell me how his ‘influence’ inspired one of his ‘dear’ colleagues to write a play about an Englishman who went native in the 19th century Punjab. (The ‘dear’ colleague in one of his recent books wrote dismissively about him, though – not even mentioning him by name.) The new ‘strategic’ acquisition of Clarion-McCann, Mumbai, using his profound managerial wisdom and acumen in turn hired an England-returned Group Manager. Guess who he was? No less than the son (from her first marriage) of Mehtab, the wife of the once-renowned Hindi cinema and Parsi theatre legend, Sohrab Modi. The office grapevine had all kinds of rumours about him flying all over. Anyway, through him, I met Sohrab Modi on several occasions at their Cuffe Parade home when we were invited there for dinner. By then, I had come to be acknowledged as a fast writer who could produce plenty of alternative ideas at the drop of a hat. So, Mehtab’s son often used to invite me home for a hurried lunch and emergency work conference. One of the most vivid memories I have of him is about his fear of flying. We were flying to Hyderabad for a Vazir Sultan briefing session one Monsoon afternoon. The plane was pitching all over soon after the take-off. I was narrating to him something I had read about air crashes. Then suddenly something made me turn to look at him. It was a sorry and distressful sight. The man was virtually petrified. Though Sohrab’s surrogate son, he was no Rustom.

No comments: