Thursday, October 03, 2013

Adilshahi in Everest.

Does History repeat itself? I guess it does sometimes in strange (read “outrageous”) ways. When I joined Everest Advertising in October 1976, I was hired by the 20th century reincarnation of either the 4th or the 6th Adilshah of Bijapur, judging solely by the coincidence of their first name being identical with the Everest despot's surname. I did not realize it then and there, of course. The scales fell from my eyes only later when I recalled how the place had been run like a Sultanate with an iron fist in a faux ambience of camaraderie and shared authority. The short-statured Sultan was a triumph of sartorial artistry par excellence, always impeccably attired in pin-striped suits and well groomed to the hilt. His smoke was Dunhill in the maroon and gold twin pack. The everyday facial expression he wore when he strutted about among us minions was a regally supercilious scowl. It did a disappearing act, though, when he was in the presence of a client. In his durbar, there was a pecking order among his courtiers, some being more equal than others. The Sultanate had been subdivided among jagirs. These had been handed over to various courtiers who enjoyed privileges commensurate with the extent of loyalty they showed to the Sultan. Queer sort of a fellow was our Sultan, both figuratively and literally. Those were the days when, for a person in his socio-economic situation, the whole world was his closet. He had a lot of fellow travelers in the advertising business. When he was interviewing me for the job of a creative chief, he had, I remember, stoutly taken umbrage over a press ad series for room air conditioners in my portfolio that I happened to be rather proud of. He found them objectionable, he said, because the headlines addressed to the family head used sexist phrases like “Lord and master”. I tried to explain that it was tongue-in-cheek as could be judged from the tone of the rest of the text. He disdainfully brushed aside my argument. Ironically, as the Sultan himself revealed in a weaker moment during one of his daily walking tours of the Sultanate, he thought the secretaries of his courtiers-in-chief were “office wives” and expected them to display the same degree of fealty as their real-life wives. It was rumoured that, in at least two cases, his word was literally taken as God’s own truth by the minions concerned. At the time of my joining, Everest was in a creative trough. People thought their ads were so-so. Or, to call a spade a spade, mediocre. When I started writing for the agency, my work especially for Swissair suddenly caught the eye of the market. Clients started ringing the doorbell. The Sultan was happy but excessively frugal in his praise and rewards. He had learned his statecraft well from the British. Divide and rule. He decided in his infinite wisdom to divide the creative jagir down the middle making me the copy head and leaving the art honchodom in somebody else’s hands. To put me in my place so to speak, he invited the Court Jester to the Swissair plans board. But, do what he might, the fact remained that his annual all-expenses-paid junket to Zurich needed my best efforts. Fortunately, for an unusually long stretch of 13 years, the success run of Swissair creative continued. A few years after my adieu to Everest, the Sultan met his Waterloo at the hands of a bizarre Nelson: the daughter of Everest’s founder.  His own trusted courtiers-in-chief including the Court Jester too betrayed him. The bells tolled tumultuously no more for the strutting tyrant.