Saturday, October 30, 2010

News’s doppelgänger. (I’m stupid or what?)

Now that I think about it, teaching myself to write good ads did not come easy. In Clarion-McCann which I joined in 1965 I became obsessed with making the print ads I wrote resemble news as closely as possible. This was because I thought naively that an ad qua news (even spurious news) may command greater credibility with newspaper and magazine readers than an ad with no such pretensions. I remember working on a Forhan’s Toothpaste extension product ad for more than two months on my own time at night and early mornings to develop the “perfect” editorial ad. Call it persistence. Call it stupidity. The ad got plenty of praise from the finicky client as well as within the agency. Unfortunately, the new product launch got canceled. This, however, did not dampen my spirit or my resolve to write credible ads. I looked for affordable inexpensive books, mostly paperbacks, to teach me how to write crisply and to the point. Among them were Rudolf Flesch’s The Art of Plain Talk (1946), The Art of Readable Writing (1949) and The Art of Clear Thinking (1951). For a while, I became an ardent admirer of the Reader’s Digest house style with its technique of neatly compressing stories into bite-size info-bits. In the sixties, the magazine was at the zenith of its popularity and success selling more than 20 million copies a month the world over. I got over the infatuation after a brief flirtation, though. In the process, I developed my own style and also learned a few tricks about how to vary the style for different types of ads and products. I gradually mastered the technique of converting raw facts into persuasive writing fairly quickly. Simultaneously, I searched for a reliable technique to generate ideas speedily. The one described in James Webb Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas (1975) worked for me. (Young, by the way, was J Walter Thompson’s VP for creative work and an Advertising Hall of Fame inductee.)

Friday, October 29, 2010


For those of you who are like Maya, a great singer, a devout Shahnaz Husain fan and my copywriter colleague in Everest Advertising, I will give you something to worry about. Before I tell you what it is, I shall try and explain to you why it would worry Maya. In Kitab Mahal of which Everest occupied the entire top floor, there was a wholesale book distributing agency on the first floor accessible by the back staircase. I used to go there almost daily and pick up books at discounted prices. Once I picked up a Dictionary of Symptoms and took it up to my room where I dropped it seemingly carelessly on my desk to catch the eye of any visitor and after a while called Maya on the pretext of discussing a copywriting assignment. I knew she was like me an avid book reader who couldn’t pass a book within reach without picking it up and browsing. As soon as she arrived, I left my room saying I had to pee in a hurry. By the time I returned, she was already scanning the book looking worried. I pretended not to have noticed and started chatting about this and that. Mayamemsaab was not listening. She had got up from her chair and was pacing behind it with the open book in her hand. Then, she asked me if she could borrow it for a while. She had swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker. The next few days were hell for her. Every now and then, she would come to my room and check with me if she was looking all right. She kept on dropping dark hints of suffering from some new malady every few minutes. I also caught her off guard checking her pulse once. Others too noticed her unease and we all had a big laugh about it. She never returned the “borrowed” Dictionary and I did not bother to remind her. The ghastly deed had been done! In retrospect, though, I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. I had played the dirtiest trick one could on a hypochondriac. Which brings me to the very same dirty trick I’m about to play, with advance warning, on those among my few and far between readers who are in the habit of imagining that they suffer from some rare psychological malady. In this case, the malady on offer is “Dysthymia”. This deadly sounding condition is defined as “a mood disorder characterized by chronic mildly depressed or irritable mood often accompanied by other symptoms (as eating and sleeping disturbances, fatigue, and poor self-esteem) – called also dysthymic disorder”. Any self-respecting hypochondriac can easily delude herself into believing that she is the victim of this scourge – thanks to the vague “one size fit all” wording of the definition, just the kind of stuff a bestselling Dictionary of Symptoms is full of. Want more food for thought? How about “Dysrhythmia”?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What do you expect from an army of occupation?

The recent “Breaking the Silence”/Facebook exposé of the callous abuse of hapless Palestinians by Israeli soldiers reminds me of the acrimonious and blasphemous label Arundhati Roy recently used to describe India after Independence: a “colonising power”. Her choice of the epithet was guided, no doubt, by the Indian State’s attitude toward and behaviour with the tribals at the time of building the dams and granting mining rights to business interests as well as by its armed occupation of Jammu & Kashmir. The well documented human rights’ abuses by the Indian Army behind the protective shield of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 are no doubt a result of their brutal role as an army of occupation just like the Israeli Army amidst the Palestinians. That is how guardians of disputed property tend to behave. If possession, as the well-known adage goes, is nine-tenth of the law, is it any wonder that the Indian Army personnel look upon the Kashmiris as their inferior – by no means their equal? To me, the Kashmiri cry for “azadi” sounds like a desperate plea for justice and fair play as also sheer survival: “Don’t kill our children and innocent bystanders at the slightest excuse. Leave us in peace.”

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lower your expectations. Even, aspirations.

Curb your enthusiasm, enthuses Larry David. He ought to know. He curbed his, quit Seinfeld at its zenith, went on to HBO and greater heights with Curb Your Enthusiasm and later on to the lead role in Woody Allen’s Whatever Works. Recently, when I was in the US, I was witness for the spell of a few hours to the family life of a guy whom I had met before on a previous trip there and also in India. He is a trained architect from India. He is married to a white Caucasian who works as a nurse part time and owns a dressage horse she rides herself. They have two pre-teen school-going children, live in the Topanga Canyon in the Greater Los Angeles area. Theirs is a rather cluttered house built on a hillside and seems to reflect their belief in sustainable living. The lunch they served was far from fancy, no liquor – not even beer or store wine. What I saw there was a contented family. I mean, really, really contented – no stress at all. This guy is far from successful, seems to be making his living with little chores nobody else wants to do. But his Third Worldliness seems to stand him and his family in good stead. They have lowered their expectations as much as they can in the pressure-cooker, cut-throat LA environs. Alas! If only more of Middle India were to do it instead of aspiring to First World life style in India and resign to the fact that India is a Third World country that’s likely to remain in the Third World for a long, long time. Take my own case when I joined Everest Advertising 5bcqyf in October 1976. The Chairman of the ad agency, which was run along feudal lines, was a pseudo: a total fraud with pretensions of being a socialite. He dropped names, including brand names. He was surrounded by his inner circle of ardent sycophants who treated him as the ultimate oracle on trends and life style. Since I used to work on Swissair, I had to constantly interact with him. This meant I had to appear to be as suave and well-informed as the next guy in his coterie. Fortunately, there was a Swissair annual publication that used to come to me as a part of the brief. This amazing compendium used to carry advertising of the latest life style products as well as nuggets of curious information on Swissair service, year after year. Given this arsenal and my propensity to read, I could gather enough ammunition to outtalk the best of the pretenders among the courtiers. In the process, though, I began to crave a faux life style and, for a while, even lived it – thin imported cigarellos, Bacardi with soda, the works − until the scales fell from my eyes somewhere along the way. I realised that lowering my expectations as well as aspirations was a sure way of saving me from disappointment, especially since I was a Third Worlder living in a Third World country.

Monday, October 18, 2010

In these biblioclastic times.

I love reading. I adore it to distraction in all its exclusionary, anti-social, selfish, I-me-myself glory. You could call it bibliolatry. Well, almost. Some of the books I read transport me to where nobody can follow me. What’s more, I love every “forest-killer”, turn-a-page book as noumenon, “thing-in-itself”. 5bcqef. Let me loose in a well-stocked Borders or Barnes and Noble and watch me go giddy with delight like a kid in a Toys”R”Us. So, the latest ruckus about Such A Long Journey ought to make me fume, don’t you think? Strangely, I’m unperturbed. My personal preoccupation with books has nothing to do with what happens in the world. Come to think of it, the world – especially, the Third World – may well get along better with a little fewer books on the shop shelves, for all I know. Right now, what this country needs is, maybe, a really delicious 5-rupee wada pau. Now don’t give me all that talk about being facetious and not supporting freedom of expression and the rest of the rot. The moment you allow these humourless and witless twits to get your goat, all is lost. Let us instead drool over all the extra sales that apro Rohinton’s Indo-Nostalgic novel must have drummed up thanks to the much ado about nothing. By the way, good ol’ Rohinton is no stranger to a bit of brouhaha. Back in 2002, in the course of his US tour to promote Family Matters, he and his wife were racially targeted at every airport (he had the looks of a Muslim in the eyes of the US Immigration officials) and had to even cut short his long tour. I’m happy for him now that the local goons in his erstwhile home town have targeted his book and pushed up his sales. The only worry is, in the process, the Indo-Nostalgic nice guy that he is may well metamorphose into an Indophobic boor – although, with him, it seems highly unlikely.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

New meaning for old.

The wonderful thing about the English language is that not only does she willingly admit new words into the Oxford English Dictionary but also readily accept old words acquiring new meaning. The latest example of the cheerful adaptability of the English language is “dogging”. Remember the time when a determined sleuth used to dog a desperado? Well, you can forget it already. To learn the new not-so-innocent meaning of “dogging”, please go here: 5bcpcy. (Want a clue to what you’re about to learn? Think where cats differ most from dogs and pigeons, particularly in shamelessness.) For even more enlightenment, go here:

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Lame duck? Devil incarnate? Choose one.

Not a day passes without someone pointing out the linkage between crime, terrorism and the “minority community”. Whenever this connection is made, I’m reminded of MS Sathyu’s Garam Hawa (1973) and Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Salim Langade Pe Mat Ro (1989). The former film deals with the turmoil in the mind of the Agra resident Salim Mirza (Balraj Sahani) in the midst of the post-partition tumult around him until the time he makes up his mind to stay back in what Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had for a while been calling “Hindu India” and joins the mainstream in the final shot. The other Salim living in latter-day India is a victim of poverty and prejudice. With little education under his belt, he has turned to petty thievery for survival. His tragedy is that, after seeing the error of his ways, despite his best efforts, getting on the right side of law and out of the clutches of his former criminal colleagues in order to earn an honest living seems simply out of his reach, mainly because of his religion. Whereas Salim #1’s saga is deathly serious, being as it is set in the aftermath of a monumental blood bath, Salim #2’s saga is laced with a lot of humour, somewhat like Mirza’s tele-serial, Nukkad. Both of them are very relevant to the Indian reality as of now.