Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Khudiram Boses of the streets of Kolkata …

It’s queer. If it’s the same everywhere else, I do not know or whether it is, as I think, just another idiosyncrasy of Kolkatans, I don’t know either. But leaving aside the fact that it’s dangerous, it’s also extremely annoying and more often than never I get an overpowering urge to ask my driver to pull over, get out of the car and give the bloke a smack on his head. It’s a different thing that I do not actually do it.

It’s an established fact, more like an aphorism that the people’s traffic sense in Kolkata is less than nil, but I am talking about the way roads are crossed here. It’s appalling.

Contrary to the general idea, displays of near suicidal attempts to cross roads can be witnessed when the streets have rather sparse traffic. Our subject waits for the nearest speeding car to get dangerously close and then dashes across suddenly, leaping, bounding and lolloping across the road, barely missing the mudguard of the passing car by mere inches he managing to keep his balance precariously, his toes just about touch the banks of the pavement on the other side and he salvages himself as the car whizzes past him missing him by centimeters. Clothes fluttering in the strong draft of the vehicle just passed, he leaves the driver shocked and often disoriented. He prefers to risk his life and that of the car driver’s rather than wait for it to pass and then comfortably walk across. No, where’s the fun, where’s the rush in that, where’s the challenge?

Would it be fanciful to assume for a moment that such impulsive actions have something to do with ambitions of martyrdom engendering from deep rooted frustrations, that these spurt from, a burning realization of failure seething in some hidden corner of the blood pumping appendage of this city’s inhabitant’s? Do such brash and irresponsible heroic acts help allaying, by some unknown palliative, the agony inside? A badly mistaken and decontextualized idea of martyrdom we have then. If you have a yen for Adrenalin-pumping action, the streets are not your playground.

On the other hand, there are drunks, the handicapped and unfortunate imbeciles who are incapacitated inherently from employing good judgement. Sadly, not much can be done about them.

The Scorpioid curse…

About three months back something happened. Something terrible. Although we were expecting it, people spoke of it in hushed tones, but the day it came, it wreaked an overwhelming assault on everybody and left in me a deep, throbbing gash in its wake. All of us who knew him struggled to come to terms with what had happened. I for one, did not want to accept it although I stood outside his room in the hospital looking at his face, still and cold while the paper work was being finished. Fate leaves no survivors.

A boy of eighteen, the son of an acquaintance, someone we had seen growing up over the years into a rather nice, amiable young boy, Guddu had started falling ill very frequently. He was shown to a doctor who naively dismissed his ailment as mere bouts of influenza and one day when things went out of hand, prescribed him a day or two in the nursing home and a barriage of tests for the poor boy to be put through.

It was a rainy evening when Gautam Kaku called. Interestingly enough, I was again the one to answer the call. Its strange that, in the past, everytime my family has received bad news over the phone, I was the one who received it first and had to suffer the ordeal of breaking it to everybody else. Once again I had to walk up to dad and mom and tell them that someone else was either gravely ill or dead.
Guddu had been detected with throat cancer. My head reeled.

The following years saw a desperate battle during which the boy had to be flown between Bombay, Delhi, Ahmedabad and back to Kolkata sometimes for as little as a single injection. It left his gradually weakening body ravaged and endless sessions of Chaemotherapy turned him into another person altogether, someone whom we didnt know, someone who looked totally different from the healthy, plump boy we had known. He started losing hair rapidly and became a bag of bones in some six short months. In between he showed signs of improvement which gave birth to a renewed zeal in his father who had a bone marrow transplantation or some such thing done on him. Then followed pujas and visits to numerous places for divine propitiation. But about three months before it all ended, Guddu started sliding back to the same darkness that his family fought so hard to keep at bay.

The day he passed away he expressed a desire to taste some ice cream. As his mother, frail from the years of mental agony, put the last spoon full of ice cream in his mouth, he held both his parents hands close to him and shut his eyes. Our Guddu was on his way to the other side. I still see the boy's face sometimes when I shut my eyes. As a kid he once told me how much he loved Bruce Lee and wanted to take up Karate classes but his mother wouldnt let him, she was scared he'd get hurt.

The curse took both my grandparents, a few friends and quite a few relatives and surprisingly most of them never smoked or drank in their lives.
What inspired me to write this was, last evening I came to know that an old neighbour of ours was dying of the disease and was in her final stages, the only available cure to which is prayer.

About a century back people used to die of diseases like Tuberculosis and Cholera. Over the years the former became a treatable malady while the latter, eradicated in many countries.
The thought that peeves me is that, about fifty years from now if and when the cure to this scorpioid curse is finally found, a lot of people will wish it had surfaced a few years earlier.

I still remember my grandma lamenting the loss of her best friend who had died of TB many years back. How she wished they had come up with the cure a little earlier.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Of stagging it to the movies

Yesterday marked an important day in my life. I made a resolution of sorts. More like a self-assertive decision which goes somewhat to the effect of; “I shall not whine about not having anybody to take to the movies and I shall go watch a movie if and when I feel like doing so, alone and unencumbered, if that’s what circumstances require”.

After weeks of deferring my plans of watching certain movies that I have waited eagerly for awhile, hoping I’d finally find someone to take along, I decided to stop being a loser and head off to watch Iron-Man 2 all by myself. I felt proud. I was completely overcome with joy at this little personal triumph and wallowed in a self-congratulatory feeling of victory at such an ill-fortune-vanquishing stand. Kudos!

I stood gaunt and proud as the escalator escalated me to the second floor of South City mall which houses the pompous and ridiculously expensive Fame theatre. As I walked past the bench-fulls of canoodling couples I shot them an arrogant side glance. I didn’t need an arm candy to enjoy a good movie. Besides, it was economical too, had I been taking someone along I’d inevitably end up paying for her ticket, miserably losing the fierce internal battle between my perceptions of a gentlemanly gesture and just being practical and going Dutch by asking her for her share of the ticket money. This one battle, I have ALWAYS lost.

Nevertheless, I marched right up to the ticket counter and as I looked up at the screen above that flashed the show timings and rates my heart sank. There was only a single show for Iron Man 2, that too as late as half past ten at night.


Even if I went for it, it would invoke my parent’s right to subject me to excruciatingly prolonged badgering the whole of the following morning about my complete disregard for ‘rules’ and insensitiveness. At this juncture, in my life I am prepared to endure pretty much anything, anything but lecturing. I have had enough of that and more.

Clenching my fists I turned around and headed back to the parking area. If being single isn’t that big a pain in the ass, unreasonable movie timings definitely is!

My initiation to the agency life...

So here I am, at Rediffusion Young & Rubicam, Kolkata as a trainee Copywriter cum ad ideator. I sincerely wonder why the name ‘copywriter’ still exists when the integral process that defines our work has come to involve ideating, mainly. Coming up with as many creative solutions to a brief as possible, wording those ideas as briefly and comprehensively as possible then zeroing in on the most feasible ones till you reach that winner of an idea that is presented first before your Creative Director and pending his approval, the client, is what we do.

We should all be re-christened ‘ad ideators’ with copywriting or art direction being our chosen modes of work, since the main job of every creative essentially is to come up with ‘ideas’, right?

Going through the work of the likes of Indra Sinha, Paul Arden, Neil French, all three of whom now share space with the pantheon of Gods that occupy the religious segment of my mind, one wonders if they should at all be called ‘copywriters’. In my opinion they transcended to great writers the day they began writing ads like the public service campaign for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy or the Volkswagon campaign much before their literary accomplishments came about.

Among other things, the energy here is unbelievable. It’s a different sort of energy. You have to join in the flow soon enough else you might be left standing on the banks looking despondently at the river rush by and I of all people can’t afford that.

ATM Pirates & Meditators

No, they may not always be stupid. I smell maleficence most of the time.
He hangs around the corner sneakily, waiting till you disembark from your vehicle and head towards the ATM. Just before you reach for the door handle he swoops in for the kill. About a millisecond before your hand touches the cold metal of the door handle he inserts his card inside the slot from underneath your armpit unlocking the door quickly, smiles a teethy one and slips in with vulpine ease through the ajared door and you’re left standing outside, wondering how someone could have pulled that off considering you were less than six inches away from the ATM door!

I call them ATM pirates. Loserly lowlifes. Although they may not eye your wallet or make a go at your bag (although I am not entirely ruling out such a possibility by their kind) their conduct is no less repulsive.

There is another category of ATM users that I abhor. The ‘meditator’, the ‘ATM procrastinator’ is what I like to call such individuals. These people stand before the machine and get lost in deep contemplation. Even though the screen flashes as simple a question as, ‘Would you like a receipt for your transaction?’ with an option of YES or NO, the object of my utter frustration will stand right there, index finger on chin, ruminating, contemplating the deeper implications of answering that question, like the existence of him, his family and possibly the whole of humanity depended on his answer.

It’s completely justified to take a minute or two to decide how much money needs to be withdrawn or to recall the PIN code, but it’s utterly unacceptable to indulge in self-reflection and profound thought, especially when there are others waiting in a long queue outside.

ATM meditator, if you’re reading this, make up your mind beforehand on how much money you would want to withdraw for starters, then recollect the PIN and decide whether you need the receipt before entering the ATM. Also, take all the cash out in bulk, then divide it and tuck it in any corner, fold or inbuilt pocket of your under pant that your heart desires (after giving due consideration to the fact that people are watching). DO NOT withdraw in installments and then take forever to decide where to hide them each time.

You are an annoying pestilence, thats what you are!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On being 25 and living with parents

It causes me little shame in proclaiming that I am 25 and like many others who fall in the same age group and nationality as mine, I live with my parents.
In the UK almost a third of men and a fifth of women aged between 20 and 34 live at home with their parents, according to a survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics in 2009. In the US more and more young adults are known to prefer staying home citing recession as the main reason. Although, mine is a different saga, I just gave up a high paying job for something that pays me a twelve year old's weekly allowance every month:

Being 25 and living with parents has its perks and shortfalls, both so inextricably intertwined and mutually inclusive that when it finally comes to moving out, things tend to become difficult because you try to figure out whether moving out, after all is that good an idea. You're torn between all the great 'home' things you'll miss and the uncollared freedom of living alone.

So, perks first:

1) No rent. Yes, no rent and no electricity or mortgage payment either. Its all taken care of on time and so are the telephone bills. Also during summers, the central air conditioning and in the winters, mom covering you up at night when your blanket slips away.

2) Transportation. Again, no shame here either. I am not allowed to have a bike and my driving skills are err...better left undiscussed. Therefore, sole solution at hand is dad's car.

3) Food. As much of it as you like and often, how you like it too. This aspect alone justifies it all. Our cook transcends all superlatives and when mom joins forces, it raises the waters in my eyes and tongue alike!

4) Dad's wardrobe. This may not hold true for a lot of you but for those like me who have a rather old school-ish sense of dressing, dad's vast wardrobe can come in handy more often than never.

5) Club visits. Now the luxuries. Every visit to the club/clubs for 'a drink' gets debited to your dad's membership account while your's lay untouched for ever. So even if its for a relaxing massage or a scented steam bath or even a trip to the sauna, its covered.

6) The social-angle. Such attendances often prove to be more lucrative than one can imagine. In such parties, every so often someone shows up and introduces his/her pretty, nubile daughter/s to your parents and you stand there pretending not to have been noticed till you too are summoned and introduced. Whether you can take things further from there shall subsequently establish whether you really are a gameless loser or just a loser, you know, the garden variety.

And now, for a more realistic appreciaition, the shortcomings;

1) The ubiquitous in-time. Even if the gig kicks off at 10.00 pm, you have to report to base by 10.30. No two ways about it. Any act of defiance shall meet with phsychotically repetitive calls on your phone and possible deprivation of dinner.

2) No alcohol policy. Many a chilly winter evening have I approached my Scotch sipping old man seeking a drop or two of that spangling golden decadence and instead received a discource on alcoholism and palpable signs of 'alcoholic inclinations' in me. He would base all of his apprehensions on that half a peg of Scotch he had administered to me some six months ago.

3) Constant criticism and comparisons with people. Leave this to the professionals. Irrespective of subject matter, time and place my mother reserves the ability to turn on and off the tap with great deftness each time.

4) "You have terrible dressing sense"
"Why are your trousers hanging so low?"
"Tuck that shirt, TUCK that shirt!!"
"NO, no fast bikes"
"Its impolite to fart so loudly, you'll scare grandma..go find a corner"
"Dont sneeze so loudly, you're giving me an aneurysm"
"Always look left then right then left then right before crossing the road"
"You have no common sense"
"Why is there a folder full of girly videos in my E-Drive, why are they ALL topless?"
"Peanuts are fattening"
"Coconuts are fattening"
"Cold water is fattening"
"Eat your veggies else no muttonm for you"
"Wear your grandpa's sweater, you look so handsome in it, for MY sake"
"Why dont you wear those chaddis(underpants) that I got you last month, so what if they are red and pink in colour and have cartoon characters on them?"
"Did you really have to say that to Mr Sengupta, is this what we have taught you, is this how you treat your parents?"
"You call that a haircut, you look like a POW?"
"Go to sleep, what are you doing up so late? Its 10.30 pm for God's sake!"
"What is this trash you're listening to? Why is he screaming so loudly?"
"When I was a young man........."
"When your grandpa was a young man...."
"You'll never get a girlfriend"
"CHEW your food"
"Eat with your mouth shut, dont be uncouth"
"Why do you sleep with your mouth open?"
"Why was you mouth shut tonight?"
"Wear these rings, they'll bring you good fortune"
"My son, you have screwed up your life"
"You ate all the grapes? Use the other bathroom tomorrow"
"Why is your face bloated? I hope you are not doing drugs"
"You are putting on way too much weight"

Till about five years back such admonitions would have been justified on the basis that their subject was not matured enough to make his own decisions and lacked judgment. Now, it causes exhasperation.

Nevertheless, this is not meant to be a rant, just my take on living with one's folks. Yes, I am writing this after a lost fight with my parents over a late night movie plan with my colleagues at work.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

By the way...

A-ha! look who is back after a prolonged hiatus from his once favourite passtime, what a delightful surprise!
A lot has been going on in my life lately. Its interesting, the mathematics of it, how and when things take place in the human life. One minute you are in limbo, nothing seems to be happening, good or bad and then all of a sudden things start happening, tumbling out of fate's wallet, again, good or bad, they rush in like a vertiginous tornado reshuffling and rearranging your life at the bat of an eyelid and leave you completely bewildered in their wake. You never realise it. Like a guerilla attack in a dense jungle. Swift and effective.
So after months of boredom and frustration I finally got 'taken in' at Rediffusion Young & Rubicam as a trainee copywriter & ad ideator at their Kolkata office. I start work later this week. A pretty exciting developement this, considering I was not required to 'roam the streets under the sun all day long with my resumae held underneath my armpit' for this one. To put it in a way so as not to sound too prudish, a few lucky 'associations' struck over the last few months at a couple of parties did it for me. A few calls, a swift interview, a copy test and it was done. I am thankful to all who have had a role in this.
Athough what I'll be making per month as a rookie at Rediffusion would run out if I bought a chewing gum every morning on my way to work, the training I expect to get is really what I am looking forward to.
All of this has also brought me to somewhat of a dilemma, a knot in the line. Now I am at a loss as to whether I should go ahead with applying to WestHearts college or Bucks in the UK for a Post Grad course in Creative Advertising. Many say, once the door to an agency has opened up to you theres no need for further education. Agreed. But I have always wanted to study in Vilayat, big dreams, long story...what do I do of that? Besides my aunt has agreed to accomodate me at her place in London in case I were to go, the offer may not subsist if I went later and in such an event I would have to cough up three times my course fee on accomodation, travel, food and alcohol. Time is running out, the courses start in September, this year.
I hope my next post talks about a decision on this.
Finally, I intend to get myself a pair of those thick framed 'geek' glasses in a day or two, must look the part.