Saturday, December 3

Lonely Fire

"To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss." - Khmer Rouge

People at work think I'm crazy. Not the "let's avoid this geezer, he makes strange jokes, giggles at inappropriate times, probably has a head in a jar at home" mad. More the "why does this asshole care?" insane.

It's true. I do care. Heck, I'm a completely different person in the office. I openly admit I'm an ogre. A miserable, grumpy bastard. It's not even like I want to be that way. I actually am quite cheerful and foolishly optimistic on Mondays. After my first coffee of course. Let's not get stupid. I look at my job-list and think "What can we do here?" Every week, I do this even though I am a raging monster, lashing out at all and sundry by Friday. Why?

Because I am passionate about the nuances of my work. The creative, psychological, witty aspects, sure. Most people in advertising are. But also the dull stuff like meeting deadlines, wanting to spend time at work working at ideas. At the craft of writing. And it frustrates me no end when my colleagues spend their days gossiping, browsing bloody FB and just generally wiling the time away time. Wasting it, rather. It's like watching water being poured away into sand.  

Yet I can't blame them. We're a remarkably gloomy species. There are too many things that are structurally fucked up and we, the foot soldiers, bear the brunt of it all. Many an upper management butterfly flaps its wings and the tsunamis appear in our lives. Whether it's ridiculously lazy strategies, self-defeating client servicing or half-baked, peculiar creative stuff, it's pretty rusted across the chain.

Who the hell keeps reiterating that advertising is a wonderful, satisfying and fun industry? If we ever ran into the fuckers who say this, we'd tear them limb from limb. We aren't having fun. We're getting beaten up, slowly and methodically. And, there comes a point in every boxing match when the loser knows it. The moment when he stops competing and starts waiting for the sound of the bell, praying that he can make an exit covered by a smidgeon of self-respect. Most of the people I know have reached this point.

One friend is quitting the planning department because she is tired of fighting her boss. Tired of knowing she is right and that her boss is wrong. That the person who is supposed to inspire her, teach her and help her, is essentially a successful fraud whom no one calls out. That the supposed briefs they send out aren't worth the paper they're printed out on.

There are countless folks in client servicing who are tired of fighting the client. Tired of the mindless, MBA-brandishing brand managers, wet behind the ears but arrogant enough to think they know everything. Who incessantly plague the servicing people with feedback that would make an idiot blush and deadlines which have no meaning.

And the creative teams, most of who wouldn't recognise inspiration if it were blowing them. The less said the better.

I'm telling you - ply the lot of us with enough booze and you'll uncover enough rancour to put us on a saline drip of Valium and Prozac. At the least, most of us would be locked up in a good sized psych ward on a temporary basis.

Amidst all the broken-hearted surviving we do on a daily basis, there's senior management and their machinations. Having seen it at every place I've worked, I was reminded of the Khmer Rouge's chilling words. Make no mistake, I am not disrespecting the victims of the KR. I'm saying the same callous philosophy, watered down, is at work in every office and every agency. Most of us know the feel of it. The only thing we don't do is put it into words. That would make it more real than we could bear.

Song for the moment: Body and Soul - John Coltrane 

Friday, November 11

A singer must die

A good friend sent me a message today.
Which said that Leonard Cohen had died.
I stared and stared till my knees trembled.
Then I sat down and cried.

I shed some tears for that fine mind.
And some for that voice so deep.
Some for the simple beauty of his words.
They're all we have left and it made me weep.

Then I gathered up the pieces of me.
And left home, lost and grim.
Something has changed forever.
This world is poorer without him.

We'll carry on without you, Leonard.
We'll shoulder our burdens again.
We'll listen to your songs over and over.
And one day, they'll dissolve the pain.

Rest in peace old man.
Though you've left me a little broken.
I'll never write as well as you, perhaps.
But maybe, you'll look kindly upon this token.

Tuesday, November 1

Liquid Spirit

My blogging schedule is somewhat akin to what regularly used to happen to friends on bike trips. Like their rides, the year started decently enough and I averaged a steady 2 posts a month. Which, considering my 'dull-as-ditchwater' life, is awesome. Then the wheels came off in August (like a Bullet's silencer on one ride) and there just wasn't anything to write about. Nothing cheerful anyway, and my loyal readership of one hinted strongly that I should put a sock in the melancholy blathering. So that was that.

But Diwali happened and it's given me an excuse to pen this.

I like Diwali. The goodwill, warm wishes and hope for the new year affects even a curmudgeon like me, so there's some mighty powerful waves floating around I reckon. The sibling and I gave up on the dreadful Tamil Diwali custom of waking up at dawn for an oil bath many years ago and our parents got the message. Of course, the fact that we'd get to burst firecrackers and eat like starving animals right after was awesome, but the enthusiasm wore out. I used to love having legiyum (and it is yum indeed) before pigging out shamelessly on Thattai, Thengol, Nada, Mixture, Ribbon Pakoda and what have you, right around breakfast time.

Used to is about right because nowadays I feel blessed to even get legiyum. See, the art of making Diwali snacks has evaporated in my family. Most of the women are now elderly or unenthusiastic, preferring to buy it outside. And who could blame them? It was a heck of a lot of work to begin with. And I can't imagine how galling it must have been for the ladies to see their backbreaking efforts scarfed down along with hot coffee by the clueless, lazy men of the house without so much as a smidgeon of gratitude.

Also, with expanding waistlines and lungs that feel like leaky bellows, we've become health-conscious, which is a polite way of calling ourselves boring. So, nowadays most of our efforts are geared towards distributing whatever dreadful sweets we get somewhere else, faster. Like dealing cards at Rummy, we just shuffle all the boxes and start handing out stuff.

We stopped bursting firecrackers years ago too. Don't get me wrong. Unlike much of 'Hysterical Twitter', I like 'em. Fountains, rockets and the colourful stuff, mainly. I never could enjoy the noisy ones. But the sibling and I felt strongly about the issue of child labour and simply quit one year, much to our poor father's confusion. However, he eventually cottoned on to the fact that it meant massive savings and no more was said about it. We dutifully tried to enthuse ourselves about getting new clothes. It's a lovely custom, but the charm is that of another age. Back when we were middle-class poor, new clothes were rare, reserved for birthdays, the arrival of generous relatives and Diwali. Now, we're blessed to be better off and pick up clothes whenever we want so don't feel the need for a special occasion. Though I still am very careful to make my clothes last for years. Some things, you just don't forget.

10 years ago, our lives changed forever. So did Diwali. I don't know how or why, but the onus fell on me to do something in the festive season. I made sure the brass lamps were washed with tamarind a couple of days ahead. I learned to trim the wicks, placed them in diyas around the house and lit them along with the sibling. It's the only thing we do for Diwali. 5 days a year, we try to embrace the spirit of togetherness. It's also a way for us to signal the heavens. That the years may go by, furniture may be different, kitchen get remodeled multiple times and rooms get exchanged. But there will always be a light on in the window. For her.

Besides, who can argue with the loveliness that is the light of a simple lamp on a moonless Diwali night? It truly is symbolic. Darkness is always around. But all it takes is a little crack in our veneer of cynicism for the light to get in.

Here's wishing you a wonderful festival of lights.

Song for the moment: Idea Spiral - Cell (Ozora Festival Edit)

Wednesday, August 31

Dockyard

It's the end of the month.
The 31st day of what feels like forever.

The salary is in the bank.
But there's no fuel in the tank.

Fatigue makes the eyes smoulder.
Tiredness coats the mind. Makes it fuzzy.

How the bones are holding up is anyone's guess.
What's keeping an aching heart going is a mystery.

The needs are few.
The wants are spilling over.

People wonder if he's thirsting. For her.
Truth is, a good whisky will do just as well.

Maybe there'll be fewer smiles.
There'll be fewer hurts too though.

He can't taste anything.
Nothing serious. He has the flu.

So, being full is just as good as empty right now.
The edge is off his appetite.

For living.

He has been sleeping the sleep of the dead.
Restfully empty.

Slumbers as beautiful as a blank canvas.
Just as meaningful too.

Then, after many days, he dreamed last night.
She said: Maybe you should...

Song for the moment: Feed your head - Paul Kalkbrenner

Saturday, August 20

Feelings per room

He didn't know the shit had hit and smeared itself lovingly all over the fan till he heard it. Or, more correctly, did not hear it. Anything. Which was terrifying when it was buzzing with the sound of lilting greetings, jokes rehashed year after year, tinkling bells and the clash of silver/copper vessels on plates just a minute before. Taking his own stuff out of the bag, he turned around quickly.

Everyone was silent. Everyone was staring. At him.

From the slowly purpling face and bulging eyes of the vaadiyar (priest) to the disgusted glares lashing waves from 50 uncle-types who mentally crossed him off their list of potential maapilays (sons-in-law) on the bloody spot, he caught an invisible punch of disapproval and outrage that made him flinch.

Surely he hadn't done anything so scandalous. Heck, he'd just got there! No time for an accidental, ill-timed fart or an involuntary cuss to escape. He'd definitely taken a bath this year. The clean lemony smells of Lifebuoy and Cinthol powder were wafting pleasantly off him too. He'd got all the right implements, was wearing the veshti (ceremonial cloth) correctly, washed his feet, removed his shirt and was taking the plate out... oh. Oh fuck.

Removed his shirt.
To change the poonal (thread).
He'd completely forgotten. 

His eyes first met Balu's. His neighbour and best friend since school. And that bastard, belying his 33 years, was giggling silently, his mouth sealed desperately by one hand while the other ran a finger across his own throat in mime. His gaze then fanned slowly through the room till they met his Appa's (Father's). And the old man was shocked. There were some hajaar generations of purity, culture and sheer rage behind his look. It was excoriating. It was scorching. It was in 'all-consuming Shiva's Third Eye opening' territory.

He'd fucked up twice over. He'd got them. And he'd not told Appa. Told, forewarned, whatever. His father was caught unawares and that meant at least 10 years of questions, comments, throwaway remarks and awkward hints. Aandava! The questions. What is that? Is that what I think it is? Why did he get them? Where did he get them? How? What need did he have to get it? Is he okay? Is something wrong? What do they mean? What do you mean? Why did you let him? Why did you not know? What else do you not know? What do you know?

For the first time in his life, he actually felt sorry for Appa. No one deserved what he was about to go through.

He'd got the tattoos.
But it was his father who was about to feel the needles.   

Song for the moment: The Path - Teenage Mutants & Purple Disco Machine

*Fixion of course. 

Saturday, July 23

Lotus Eater

My previous workplace, or as I call it, advertising hell, is squeezed into 2 floors of a raffish building in a venerable part of Bombay - Fort. Day after day, I would walk from Churchgate past the Maidan, eye-catching examples of British architecture and gloomily lonely agiaries to reach that creative sweatshop. Some days, I hated it. Other days, I loathed it absolutely. The only saving grace was Swagath.

Even though I was born in Bombay, have lived in Pune most of my life and speak Marathi pretty fluently, a part of me is still mostly Tamil - my diet. Don't get me wrong; I love Maharashtrian food. But my genes are stubbornly South Indian when push comes to shove. Sadly, imbeciles have boiled Tamil cuisine down to sambar, rasam, curd rice, idlis and dosas. They only need visit Krish Ashok's twitter food feed to realise how misplaced their notions are.  

Anyway, when I fall ill, I crave comfort food. Which is home food. Admittedly rasam is one of the most tried, tested and trusted options. Much as I love my grandma's molagu (pepper) rasam - it's an immersion in a warm, nourishing bath after a long day; or limbu-poondu (lemon-garlic) rasam which, frankly, could revive a dead body, neither satiates my craving perfectly.

Besides, too many busybodies have heard of rasam. It has become trendy to flaunt their knowledge of it. As is to be expected, the adding of their own twist to this simple dish has begun. I can't wait to read about how their lentils and tamarind are organic, or how the garlic is farm-to-table authentic. Or even how the lemons have been plucked and squeezed by suitably pious and virtuous ladies. Ugh.

Whenever I'm under the weather (current case), I crave Pongal with a vengeance. It's the humblest of dishes elevated to heavenly heights by a few, balanced ingredients. Rice, moong dal, crushed pepper, jeera, salt, haldi, kadipatta, mustard, roasted cashews, ginger and ghee. That is all. Individually, they're nondescript. When they come together, served hot... let's say I sort of get why people believe in god.

It's not easy for me to get good home-made pongal. Spotting it listed with avial (another rock-solid dish) on the Swagath menu, I was sceptical. It arrived at the table in one of those compartmentalised steel plates. The biggest section was reserved for the pongal while the other two held the avial. One bite and my soul did a little jig of delight. As Swagath was a short walk from my office, I'd eat there pretty often. And, while their other dishes are excellent, pongal-avial became my go-to lunch option. Call it a kind of genetic homesickness; a need to eat healthy and tasty food. Whatever it was, I couldn't get enough of it.

Then I shifted jobs (it was either that or death) and haven't visited Fort in over a year. This past week, I came down with a particularly heavy cold. Sitting at my desk, miserable, snivelling, fighting to breathe and with a head that felt distinctly full of wool, something snapped inside. I randomly searched Big Brother for "Pongal in Lower Parel" and stared incredulously at the page.

Swagath's sister concern Poornima (also in Fort) had opened a branch at LP. A short walk from my office. Listed on the menu was Pongal-Avial. I dashed out like a tornado (given my health, it was a tortoisean crawl) and headed over to the restaurant. And, would you believe it? One of the guys from Swagath was running the place. He saw me, beamed in recognition (yea, I was that regular a visitor to Swagath) and invited me to sit.

I'm not saying the pongal-avial cured me instantly. Though it certainly renewed my interest in living. The way life is going right now, that's something.

Song for the moment: Straight from the heart - Bryan Adams  

Tuesday, July 12

Get lucky

The funny thing is it wasn't supposed to turn out such a great party. Well, 'supposed' is harsh. 'Wasn't expected' shall we say. Yet, it did because all the ingredients came together, not in their perfect measures but haphazardly, dashed into the pot with a careless grab and fling.

Old friends, good friends, absent friends, whisky and rum, good conversation, better pauses, the best laughs, the melancholic sighs of wistful disbelief, the unholy glee of impishness allowed for a change that led to the incident of the contact between the alleged permanent marker and the dome, much hilarity, the kind of which had been forgotten for years by all and then sleep.

It is when everyone will realise just how great a party it was. That is when a bolt of something wonderfully good and thankful will strike everyone together. Of course, we'll all shrug it off.

Pity really.

Song for the moment: He had a good time - Cliff Martinez (Drive OST)  

Sunday, July 3

Waves

It's the monsoon and watery green dominates the view from my window. It's a colour I love because I'm mad on plants. My dream house would have a large garden where neem, mango, jackfruit and jamun trees would flourish. Maybe pomegranate, peru and chickoo (sapodilla is such a strange word) too. Of course there would be a kitchen garden for the chillies and lemons, kadipatta and dhania.

Right now, my passion for gardening is quenched by the earth-coloured pots and plants fighting for space in the drawing room window. Some of the leafy warriors are at least 20 years old while others were planted last year. Tulsi of course grows wherever it likes, making its home in multiple pots at once. Yet, every time I look at them, it is with more than a twinge of sadness. Because this is the first time in years they are growing without the gardener.

A slight old man. That's how I remember him. An old man with slouching shoulders, in a shirt no longer white and brown trousers. A tatty Nehru hat perched unsteadily. No one at home can recall ever seeing him bareheaded. Bloodshot, rheumy eyes and a nut-brown face scoured with lines. Flecks of white bristle on his cheeks. Most of his teeth were gone, lost to the ravages of time and chewing tobacco. The rest formed a chaotic Stonehenge, visible when he smiled, which was often. His voice felt like it was coming from underwater. He spoke a peculiar dialect of Marathi and very dodgy Hindi so our conversations were interesting, to say the least. He would show up on Sundays, potter around with the sickle for 15 minutes and leave. In those 15 minutes, he and I would talk about the health of our current crop and whether we ought to plant something else. Every once in a while we'd actually do the latter, which meant me hauling the pot outside the house, arranging for newspaper, ensuring the soil didn't spread all over and listening to his instructions about when to water the latest arrival.

He wasn't the most reliable person. He'd go off on leave for weeks without letting us know. He'd miss at least one Sunday a month. He'd ponderously and indignantly protest any hint of a cut in salary because of his absence and I never had the heart to do it. He also had a mysterious dislike for flowers so we hardly have any at home right now. But, god almighty, the man's thumbs were green. All his other fingers too, come to that.

In an odd way, over the last (as far as I can guess) 14 years, we became friends. I'd tease him, mock-threaten to sack him, plead with him to get more interesting plants and ask his advice on how to protect them from pests. Almost every Sunday, the bell would ring around 11 am and my dad would say "your friend is here". I'd open the door and he'd be there, beaming.    

I saw him for the last time sometime in March. He'd been missing more than his fair share of weekend visits so we thought nothing of it till the end of April. Even in mid-May I supposed that he'd gone to his village and would be back anytime. Except that he never did. On some Sundays, the bell would ring around 11 am and I'd open the door, half-ready to admonish the geezer but it was always someone else.

I think you've gone to the big green garden in the sky. Where, no doubt, you'll be happy growing everything except flowers. An old man in a shirt no longer white and brown trousers. A tatty Nehru hat on your head and a smile on your face. I will always remember you that way. And, you will live on through the plants in my window. Maybe one day, we'll meet under a great, spreading tree in a green field, sun shining golden with that special 4 pm Pune light in a blue sky, amidst a gentle wave of susurration. Until then, thank you.

Song for the moment: Sanpo Suru - Jasmon

Tuesday, June 28

What I'd say

A million dreams laid to bed

The infinite loop of imagined dread

Countless things left unsaid

The enemy, the man in my head

Song for the moment: Never - Heart

Tuesday, June 21

I'll never be the same

10 years ago this August I said goodbye to my family and friends and left for the United States. I was going to study, or so I thought. In truth I did not know why I was leaving home and a still unwritten future. It seemed like the thing to do; the rite that was expected of me and whose crushing inevitability then still mystifies me now.

The University of Birmingham, Birmingham - AL. Where licence plates did not make bold statements as in the North but suggested a quiet, deep faith that reflected the local religious fervour. 'Stars Fall On Alabama'. Yes they do. A strange, alien state vastly distanced and different from the images covered by popular television shows like Remington Steele, Baywatch and CSI. I was someone else back then. Unable to say if I now am a better or worse man. Nursing my grief, unsure of an extended existence away from home and family, lonely in my journey, lonelier when I reached another shore and plagued by the infinite demons of self-doubt and fear. And somewhere deep inside there was a precious flicker of thrill. A bit like Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit, I suppose.

To commemorate the occasion, I plan on writing a series of short posts that are reminiscent of that time. I will try not to rehash old tales because lord knows it's all we seem to do nowadays. Instead, it will be an attempt to share other stories and moments and dissect my experiences with a more nuanced eye.

Birmingham, Alabama. Where this blog was born.

Song for the moment: Manha de Carnaval (Morning of the Carnival) - Luiz Bonfa

Monday, May 30

Paint it black

After almost a decade of studiously ignoring the hairline cracks, chips, peelings and in one mysterious spot, battery acid stains, we finally capitulated and agreed that the house needed a fresh lick of paint. And then collectively shuddered because each of us remembers the last home redecoration.

It involved the usual characters; smiling carpenters, stonemasons, architects, painters, a budget and a timetable. As Burns put it succinctly - the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. In our case, they zoomed off into another dimension altogether.

In a moment of weakness, we'd decided to stay in the house while said renovations were being undertaken. I don't know whose clever idea it was but suspect all of us lost about 5 years by inhaling cement dust over that one fateful month.  

The first hint that things would not go swimmingly was when workers began to dismantle old bathroom tiles. They started off by chipping these away under our watchful eyes. We turned away for a minute allowing some bright boy to decide that things were moving too slowly for his liking. Said genius took a sledgehammer to the walls. Which cracked, taking the waterproofing with them as well as the surfaces of two other adjoining walls; in my parents' room and the kitchen. This cost us an additional week. 

Then came the carpentry work. The mistry was literally and figuratively, an oily man. He promised the moon but left us without the cheese even. Heaven only knows why he hated us but every piece of furniture he made had razor sharp edges and corners. I could theoretically use the dressing table edge to shave. Clearly a man blissfully unaware of the adage "Form follows Function". And the sawdust, lord help us, like sand from the beach, was everywhere. We'd find sprinkles of it in the oddest places months later. The pater, trusting of his fellow man as usual, had paid him the whole amount a week before the work was completed. So, it should come as no surprise that it never was technically finished. The smarmy bugger left one section for later. 8 years on we're still waiting.

After all this it's a minor miracle we're voluntarily undertaking this exercise again. Already, I've had stern words with a few of the workers. Their laziness and incompetence astounds me. It's not like we're paying them in Sodexo coupons, mind. Genuine shekels exchange hands. Yet they won't show up on time, will try to weasel their way out of work and, in general, seem reluctant from the get go. Constant supervision is the only solution which is why I've had to take time off from work (never a hardship, I'll admit) for this.

Redecoration is something I'll probably never understand. It always starts out as as a list of 5 things to do. A week later this has risen to 15. Rather like shopping at D-Mart, the family seems tempted to add minor items to the list and before I know it, 3 weeks and 2 shouting matches later, the house is a mess. No one is happy; the workers because they're not being allowed to cut corners; family, since a specific design element was murdered, a particular shade was unavailable and/or nothing looks like they envisioned it. Finally, steeped in an atmosphere of extreme grumpiness and exhaustion, it ends.

At least we weren't stupid enough to live in the house while the work is going on this time. Live and learn, that's us.

Song for the moment: Red and Black Light - Ibrahim Maalouf

Thursday, April 21

Know me now

There's someone you like.
Maybe a little, maybe a lot.
You want to ask this person out.
So you plan.
Think up witty opening remarks.
Predict some comeback statements.
Your possible responses to those.
Where you can go on a date.
What kind of questions to ask so the conversation doesn't hit dead air.
How you can stay funny without being crude, sexist, racist or whatever else 'ist'.
How you can react if it all tanks like the Titanic.
How to control the urge to let out a wild war-whoop and perform a vigorous rumba if, heaven help us, it all seems to be going well.
Perhaps how not to faint away in complete shock if the person indicates that it was fun.
That there could be another one.
Think about if you should drop them to a cab or bid goodbye and walk away.
If you should offer a handshake or a hug.   

You work at it because being charming doesn't come naturally to you.
If flirting is a game of chess you're no Bobby Fischer.
In fact, you are pretty much the anti-Bobby Fischer.
So, you work at it. Hard.
Plan it all out in your head.
Down to the last detail.

Because when you like someone.
When you want to ask them out.
When you take the effort.
You're putting a little bit of yourself out there.
Who you are.
Which skills you have.
What you want.
How you see the world.
You're bracing a battered, bruised, bandaged heart.
Begging it to bear with a stupid brain just a bit longer.
Which, to be honest, is scared shitless.
And will bail out at the last minute.
Leave you trembling and blank.
Even as you say "This is who I am".
"This is everything I stand for".
"So..."
It is that one moment of awesome vulnerability.
Steeling yourself for the "No".
Praying for the "Yes".
Dreading the "Maybe".
Or worse, the disappointment that's purely an expression.

That's what being on the creative side of advertising is like.
I think.
And, we do this every day.

Song for the moment: Our day will come - Amy Winehouse

Monday, April 18

I'll be waiting

Occasionally, people will peer into the horizon, sigh heavily and say something along the lines of life being easier in their past.

It wasn't though it used to make more sense, I'll grant them that. Take for instance, the act of falling ill. When younger and unwell, I wouldn't go to school. If it was a mild ailment, home remedies would save the day and I'd be off to the alleged temple of learning the next day. Occasionally, the situation was more serious and called for a doctor's visit, medicines and a period of convalescence. Rarely was surgery involved. And, always, recovery was the key. As long as I ate properly, stayed in bed (and with books, who'd want to get out of it, pray) and behaved, all was well.

Things have changed and how! I doubt what I'm about to describe is particular to advertising but it does seem that my industry takes this cake and masticates rather horridly.

Today, I felt under the weather. Enough to actually call in sick.

Why are those words in italics?

Because I have worked in enough agencies to realise that we come into work and are expected to do so unless actually at the point of death. And, if there's cellphone coverage, then one can actually be on call till we bite the bullet. Maybe a couple of artworks can be sent to the client even after the last rites. After all, the work must never halt, no?

It certainly feels that way. I hadn't been snoozing half an hour before the calls began. Why wasn't I at work? Was I coming to work? Was I unwell? A pause. Who was to do my work? Would the work that had to be delivered today get done? How? Could I take a look at one tiny piece of modification? Oh, and try writing a couple of radio scripts? Flesh out those 4 TV scripts that we'd discussed? Give another round of names for some client property? Tch, almost forgot, there were some minor changes in 1 newspaper insert; I would give a few more headline options, surely? And lo, an unexpected and unsurprising disaster - client wants a fresh insert option.

Before I knew it, 10:30 am had become 8:30 pm. I felt/feel more weary than this morning. Thought about how ridiculous the expectations are in this stupid industry. And it is a stupid industry. Particularly because everyone outside thinks it's the world's coolest, continuous party and senior fuckers inside wonder why juniors are so glum and disheartened.

I'll bet you're thinking this is all a load of whiny crap. Some of you may have read a recently published book by the supposed 'godfather' of Indian advertising. That book is horseshit. Sure, there are a few genuinely good parts in it. Most of it though is the kind of hogwash the author is using to grease his future. After all, there's tons of money to be made as a consultant and it never hurts to perform literary fellatio on senior client-side individuals in advance.

Anyway, this is the kind of industry I work in. It doesn't respect us as individuals or our personal lives. It is engineered to keep us on a short stress lease, constantly wondering where the next shitstorm is going to appear. Anyway, I took one day off and it led to this. I don't have the mental bandwidth to imagine what would happen if I didn't show up tomorrow either.

Especially since my boss has already passive-aggressively hinted that it'd be better if I did make it into work.

Next post - Why being on the creative side is a lot like trying to date.  

Song for the moment: The Red Mist - The Man from U.N.C.L.E OST

Saturday, April 9

As time goes by

I've had many years to think this over, so here goes.

Nothing sets a guy behind in his social game like studying in an all-boys school. See, it is all very well scoring good marks, avoiding negative reports from teachers, beatings from parents and all that bullshit, but this kind of schooling robs you of one huge piece of education. How to speak to girls. Rather, how to just be normal around them.

Nowhere does Darwin's theory hold more true than in the jungle that is an all-boys school. You need special skills to survive. If you're good at sports then you're sorted. Firstly, playing any sport and being any good at it automatically imbibes that real, ferocious competitive spirit and confidence you need later in life to fight off the horde of randy bastards, smile and make eye-contact with a girl you're interested in. Secondly, being a sports-jock gives you a 'reputation', a magical cape of macho, if you will, even as the barest wisp of a mustache is struggling through the epidermis. If you're good at academics, it helps in a different way. Just when the hormones are kicking in and you actually wake up and realise there's a whole different, easy-on-the-eyes gender out there, you land up in tuition classes, which, heaven help us, are co-ed, and you also have a 'reputation' albeit one that requires more work to exploit its potential. Being in an all-boys school scars everyone without prejudice but being in either of the above brackets lets you bounce back and rediscover your mojo faster.

If you are in neither category, you're fucked. Plainly and simply, you exemplify mediocrity. Life is an endless series of frustrations, self-flagellation, disappointments both real and imagined and relegation, not to the back of the shelf, but into the storeroom, in a moth-eaten box stacked in the darkest corner. You'll develop a caustic sense of what you think is top-class humour until one day, some bastard comes along who is funnier than you. Or so everyone else thinks, which comes to the same thing.

If you're both a jock and academically gifted, you're basically Manna from heaven, with a golden halo around your noggin and the refrain from 'Hallelujah' echoing faintly in your vicinity, all the time. Kindly go fuck yourself.

Anyway, I've always struggled with the legacy of the 'mediocre' category in an all-boys school. In all the years since I first faked the courage to date, I still have no clue how to ask a girl out. So far, I have never actually uttered the words or anything even closely resembling the idea "would you like to go out with me?". Things have just 'happened'. And I'm in my 30s. This lack of ability to initiate conversation with the fairer sex is becoming increasingly relevant because now is the time every-fucking-person feels like they can ask me about my marriage plans. I don't know about other countries, but marriage is a BIG deal in India. You may be barely out of college and struggling to keep body and soul together in your 20s when your folks will begin prodding you on the subject. Dodge as many bullets as you want but the mumblings, grumblings and other assorted sounds get louder and more urgent as you approach 30. After that, it's basically open season. Relatives, friends, people you've met for the first time in your life - each of them thinks it's okay to give you advice on the subject of matrimony and how you should go about it. All you can do is stand there, gritting your teeth because you can't even throw the phrase "I have a girlfriend" in their faces.

Because misery loves company, it is gratifying to meet people who are in the same boat. Not the 'unmarried' cruise-liner of agony but the "how the fuck do I meet women and/or ask one out" raft of irritation. The funny thing is I can give completely logical, supportive and inspirational advice to these other guys with a straight face and just the barest shred of shame. "Yea man, just ask her out. You're a 32-year old guy. You've been in life-and-death situations. You've done crazy, outrageous things. Think about all that and it becomes easy."

Except it doesn't. I've come to the very late realisation that asking a girl out is, in truth, no big deal. You're not suggesting anything extraordinarily terrible. Heck, you're only inquiring if there's a chance that she may consider the possibility that you could be someone she might think about sharing a drink with. Nothing more, right? Well, your brain says otherwise. The longer you wait to ask, the worse the imaginary scenarios get. The more devastating the "No" becomes. The more relationship collateral damage there is - if she happens to be a friend of some people you like/hang out with, things can get pretty, damn awkward. And by now, awkwardness and public embarrassment are the nightmares you loathe the most. Or so your mind tells you. It gets worse as you get older and watch the proverbial sand run out of your hourglass of romance. Because, at some point the women start ignoring you, giving you the chance to get intimately acquainted with your inner doormat.

This leads to some panicky, desperate and downright stupid decisions and situations. You no longer wait for your heart to do a back-flip and a vigorous rumba when that 'someone' comes along because your heart is tired, beaten down and has thrown in the towel. Worse, you no longer believe it will happen. In the great social game, you're not even good enough to be the kacchha limbu. You've become the guy no one wants to play with.

Song for the moment: Careless hands - Sammy Kaye

Saturday, March 19

Hold me down

He looked up at the display board again.

Its sickly yellow glow indicated there was still a minute to go, though he could swear it'd been promising that for nearly three. Headphones cut off the sound of his surroundings. His head and feet bobbed and tapped lightly to the music. That was about all the 'dancing' he'd allow himself. He couldn't remember a time when he'd danced with complete abandon, limbs flailing in absolute frenzy. Something deep within, some broken spring in his soul had cut off the music inside. Without it, his body could go no further.

At first, late work days were an exception. Now, they'd become the rule, so he stopped keeping count, instead, thanking the universe if he got done before 9. Tonight, there was no such luck. However, the train wasn't empty. The lifeline of the city never was, just like a living artery was never empty of blood. He managed to get an aisle seat, a small but precious pleasure.

He began to read, though tiredness made him look up and around every now and then. At the next stop, a couple entered the bogie and sat opposite him. They looked as exhausted as he felt. Though he didn't look more than 30, the man's hair was already receding and thinning out. The woman had that 'heart-shaped' face, so popular with novelists. A mole above the lip made her profile interesting; a sudden interruption on an otherwise unremarkable landscape.

There were no rings in sight, though their body language suggested intimacy. How long will we have to do this? Not long. I've already spoken to them. And? And, they'll listen to me. Eventually. So, they don't really like me. It's not that. They had someone else in mind. Have you met? No, but I already told them I wouldn't. That's probably why. Maybe. What about your folks. They're tired of waiting. Well, they don't know how hard it is here. They're asking me to move back. I won't. Neither will I. I'm so tired.

She rested her head on his shoulder and dozed off. He adjusted his body to make her comfortable and stared out the window with a look that was comically stoic, unsure as to how to break the news to her. She couldn't sleep. Again and again, she wondered how to tell him the truth. Opening her eyes, she caught sight of the blank-faced man opposite them. Did their gazes meet?

He was unsure, but it was fun making up stories about people. Though he couldn't help be envious. That they had each other. That he knew no one who would fall asleep on his shoulder. That he'd never dozed off in anyone's arms. And, then felt ashamed about being jealous of strangers. Angry that he craved it so badly. He turned back to the book, his head and feet bobbing and tapping lightly to the music.

The train howled on into the Bombay night.

Song for the moment: Music sounds better with you - Stardust (Giraffage Remix)

Monday, March 7

I can't hold out

It's funny how things can change in the blink of an eye. Or 5 years, give or take a few blinks.

If you'd given me a Rs. 1000 coupon for Crossword back then, I'd have been thrilled. Sure, I've never been the biggest fan of the place because they never have the book I want. In a bizarre twist, Popular in Deccan always does. It even became an oddly confirming ritual. Too lazy to bike to Deccan, I'd try the small Aundh branch of Crossword, then the gargantuan SB Road one, and the assistants at both would shake their heads in infuriating apology. Then I'd walk into Popular and get the book in 5 minutes flat. Sometimes, even less. The SB Road branch of Crossword has shut, the Aundh one has become huge but Popular is err, still sort of popular.

So, you'll understand the lack of joy when gifted a Crossword coupon sometime last year. Since it expires in April, I went by the store today with a blank list. I'd buy whatever was even remotely interesting and fit in my budget. The place was having a sale too, so that was another incentive. After an hour of roaming the bookshelves in increasing despair, I gave up. Honestly, it's all mostly dreadful tat. Which, for a blind book-lover like me, is stupefying. I have never understood the book arrangement system in Crossword either. With acute focus, I'll scan the non-fiction section only to be jarred by a whole section of Agatha Christie mysteries. Amongst the serious tomes in 'Business/MBA', I'll run into Hegarty (and Ogilvy) on Advertising, neither of which fits in there. Perhaps I'm prejudiced thanks to the beauty of libraries and their filing system. I've worked in my school library and spent many an hour at BCL and Stern Library at UAB (what a lovely, lovely place), where the books were perfectly arranged. To go from that to the fish-marketish rot that's Crossword is, well...

They didn't have whatever I asked for as usual.   

Another, more serious issue is pricing. I found the complete 'Feluda' series by Ray for Rs. 1000 and was tempted to get it and end my misery. On surreptitiously looking it up on Amazon, I found them for Rs. 600. That's quite a serious difference. Now, I understand the costs that a brick-and-mortar store must bear but I can't see how they'll survive. Against the might of online giants, bookstores both great and small can't win in the long run. Like the beloved Manney's, the rest may be preparing for the long goodnight. While I'd weep a bitter tear over Popular, Crossword's eventual demise won't even dampen my eye, frankly.

The most drastic change for me has been the Kindle. It's just too damn convenient. Yes, I understand that the books on it don't really 'exist'; were the product to die, I'd own nothing versus say, all the books that I have bought, which are mine. But it doesn't seem to matter for now.

I'll always love books. I'll always think libraries are important and there should be more excellent, accessible ones (when I think of FC's library or Jaykar Library, my heart bleeds at the wasted potential). But, I'll need a damn strong reason to walk into any bookstore barring Popular (which is still awesome).

Of course, this still doesn't solve the problem of what I am to do with the Crossword coupon.

Song for the moment: Told you for the last time - Eric Clapton

Sunday, February 7

Raspberry Beret

It is not easy to be empathetic. Instinctively, we tend to think of ourselves first and others afterwards. Especially when we are going through bad times or are under stress.

What is stress? Psychology Today defines it as a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium. Stress is not always a bad thing. The reaction to it has saved many a pair of buttocks from messy ends. Chronic stress is a different kettle of fish. Our reactions to it manifest themselves in many ways, none pleasant.

The point to note is that stress is a stimulus. It needs you. I guess this situation has spawned an industry of philosophies and activities, all of which seem to boil down to similar themes.

1. Reacting (or how one does so) to a stressful situation is a choice.
2. That one can deal with it (because we cannot always avoid getting stressed).

For the sake of argument, I will assume that no one wants to be or enjoys being constantly stressed. While some people work better under pressure, I hope there isn't anyone who is at their best only when stressed. If you are, okay, good luck.

My job is stressful. Not just because of the present work culture but also thanks to the view that things were much nicer in the past. Of course, the opinion that work-life was better 20 years ago could be (and probably is) biased. Nostalgia taints memories. But we can't get away from it because we deal in ideas. And, when we organically develop a good creative idea, only to find that the ad has been done, not in the previous year or decade but even 30 years ago, it is deflating. This happens often enough for the gleam of interest to transform into the glaze of acceptance.  

Anyway, when we're stressed, we resent pragmatism. Our problem is not only that we have it bad, but also that some geezer always has it worse. We want a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on, not smart and reasonable views that things are not as bad as we imagine. When complaining about my lot in life, it certainly was hard (still is) for me to realize that the other person's life could be no better. That, in the end, every-fucking-one of us is juggling different chainsaws.

I channel some of the stress into writing, though when the ink is bitter, the piece won't be all joy, jollity and song (to borrow from P.G.W) either. Yes, I could (and have) turn it into a humorous bit, letting sarcasm, irony and comic pathos do a whitewash over my feelings. But false humour is a strain in itself. I can't keep it up forever. While I don't always agree with them, I do admire the people who constantly project a serene surface while a maelstrom is churning underneath.

I have trained myself to go out of my way and enquire about other people's lives. In a typically shitty human way, I feel better knowing that life is equally if not more stressful for others. For now, sympathy is easier than empathy. 

This post is a reaction to a thought provoking article by Charles Assisi in Mint on Sunday.

Song for the moment: Shooting star - Bad Company

Saturday, February 6

Mista Bone

I am a bogeyman for organizations. A hex for hire. Any workplace I join soon loses its joie de vivre and descends into a circle of hell Dante probably didn't envision. When I signed up at my current agency, my team was admired and envied by the rest. It was a rock-solid art-copy boss team (which is becoming increasingly rare) and a balanced number of juniors, self included. I was astonishingly optimistic about life and set myself a target of 3 years at this place at least. I wanted to do good work, maybe win a few metals and, after the stresses and strains of the previous agency, just catch my breath.

And here we are, a full year and something later, staring at a sickeningly familiar scenario. The art head left in May and the team crumbled like a Parle-G left to soak too long in the teacup. The other senior, not the cheeriest man at the best of times rapidly sank into an endless miasma of depression from which he won't extricate himself any time soon. Two of my colleagues left for greener pastures and one is being diabolically victimized by the Management for reasons unknown.

From the form team, we've become the pity case. My boss and I are working ourselves to the bone, struggling to juggle 11 active accounts. Our ideas are stale, our creativity is evaporating fast. The advertising industry pool is quite intimate and word has gotten out that the agency is 'servicing-driven', a phrase that's anathema to creative teams. No one wants to join the agency, never mind my team and, over the last 3 months, I feel as thinly spread as a hopelessly tiny sliver of butter on toast. Worse, I must find a better agency to work at. Which, to me is as distasteful as it is wearying. 

That's why I really, really appreciate days like today. I am home. The atmosphere is peaceful. The weather is just perfect. The sun is a heavenly golden light playing a smooth combo with the green of the trees. The birds are singing. And, if I stretch my imagination a bit, it feels like I can actually touch the lovely hush.

Of course, it'd be just as wonderful without the angst described above. However, beggars cannot be choosers. I will count my blessings. 

Song for the moment: Wasted Time - The Eagles

Thursday, January 14

Everything that rises

I am not a doctor.
I don't cure people or save lives.

I am not an engineer.
I don't build anything useful.

I am not a scientist.
I don't discover anything that would benefit mankind.

I am not an artist.
I don't make paint, sculpt, or envision anything that could be  art.

I am not a carpenter.
I don't craft wood into furniture.

I am not a teacher.
I don't inspire others to seek knowledge or help them understand.

I am not a soldier.
I don't defend my country.

I am not a journalist.
I don't seek the truth or expose the evil in this world. But then, who does?

I am not a banker.
I don't take care of anyone's life savings.

I am not a policeman.
I don't keep my fellow citizen safe.

I am not a gardener.
I don't nurture a single seed into a tree.

I am not a chef.
I don't make anything that would satiate hunger.

I am not a driver.
I do not ferry people to their destinations.

I am not a writer.
I don't fashion letters into words and ideas that would move the world.

I am not an entertainer.
I don't distract people from the daily ennui of their lives.

I am not a sweeper.
I don't clean roads and sewers, making the city bearable.
 
I am not a prostitute.
I don't give temporary comfort to anybody.

What am I?

Some would say, a shyster.
Weaving false dreams, evoking unreal desires. Tricking people into buying things they don't want.

Others would name me a storyteller.
Making up fables of need and greed but with no morals. 

I am nothing of consequence.

So, why do I care enough to work hard at it?
Actually, why does anyone in my line of work actually give a shit?

Is it possible?
While we have been toiling away to delude others, have we in fact, deluded ourselves?

Song for the moment: Wearing the inside out - Pink Floyd 

Sunday, January 3

Expect no mercy

Inspired by a true story

February 2010. At 10pm, it was business as usual at a popular pub in Bandra. The Brownian motion of the crowd kept the place heaving tolerably. The early birds had cadged all the worn tables and the rest arranged themselves in higgledy-piggledy fashion around the horseshoe bar. The music was good, the beer flowed and the bouncer/manager's dark glasses reflected the mellow yellow lights.

They'd also see two guys in their late 20s standing in a nook, holding mugs of beer and politely swaying out of the way of everyone else. U and A were making desultory small talk, as meaningful conversation was almost impossible over the blaring music. It didn't matter; the cold satisfaction of every bitter sip hitting the throat was enough. Suddenly, a cheery voice hailed U. Turning around, he saw S, an old school friend, jammed amidst a bunch of others at a corner table. After the greetings and hugs, space was made for both guys, but at opposite sides of the table.

U was conversing with S and his girlfriend but his attention kept wandering to a curly haired girl in black seated opposite. As is usual at a crowded table, everyone was basically talking and listening to everyone else. It moved along briskly; what work they all did, who they were reading, music, films and old school memories. Sometime past midnight, the party broke up and the bill was settled. Everyone trooped outside for a final smoke before heading off in various directions and it was at this point that U found himself chatting with the girl in black. Her eyes twinkled mischievously, even though the red tinge around them suggested she'd been crying earlier in the evening. U said something (an inopportune horn blast from a passing car drowned out the words) but she smiled and asked U for his phone. Nonplussed, he handed it over and watched her type her name and number in and hand it back even as she said "Call me".

U was stunned. Things like this did not happen to him. He was awkward and extremely shy at most times, so he'd never ever even got a girl's number, never mind having it handed over without him even asking. He held the phone, unsure as to what he was supposed to do, even though instructions had been received. So, he smiled stupidly, waved goodbye and left.

Over the next few days, U would look at his phone, wondering if the whole thing had actually happened. He'd scroll down to her name, thumb hovering over the dial button and then put it off. He played a million scenarios in his head, starting from one where she wouldn't recognise him to one where he'd say something moronic. There didn't seem to be any upside and this was just his imagination. U wasn't sure if he could handle the highly probable mortification in real life. But something about her smile kept boomeranging and the tiniest possibility of seeing her again was ultimately too tempting. His heart hammered hard even as he counted the number of rings (he would hang up after 5). The ringing stopped. It took an enormous effort to get the words past his arid mouth. "Hi G. This is U, S's friend. We met at the pub, remember?".

"Wrong number" said the man's voice.

Song for the moment: Love in an elevator - Aerosmith 

Saturday, January 2

Give the kid a break

Copyright: Zach Weinersmith
And that's why it's ridiculously tricky to talk to someone you're crushing on. 

Jokes apart, a change of calendar has occurred. Which gives us an excuse to be irrationally hopeful/optimistic about our lives. The opportunity to delude ourselves into believing the slates of our actions and choices can be wiped clean. That we can drastically alter our personalities into more charming and winning ones. And, the not-giving-a-flying-fuck universe will make things happen so that we may find happiness. Quite.

Thought for the year: When there are fish aplenty in the sea, it's best not to fall for the mermaid.  

Okay, I'm done being myself. Time to don the mask of cheer for a bit. Make the best of 2016, everyone.

Song for the moment: No more Mr. Nice Guy - Alice Cooper