Friday, 28 November 2008

In Mourning

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre,
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

-W.B. Yeats

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Turned On by Sardars

A recent post by Santosh about a Sardarji’s valiant quest for Nestle yoghurt in Trivandrum transported me back to the Trivandrum of the ’70s where I grew up as a teenager and where my nephew D caused considerable embarrassment to his parents with his infatuation with Sardars.

Before you start doubting the sexual orientation of D, let me hasten to tell you he was hardly three years old at that time.

We lived close to the military camp and Sardars were a common sight. In the evenings, little D would watch with admiration when young Sikh military officers with the wives riding pillion, with one kid standing up in front and the other wedged between the parents, zoomed past in their scooters towards the city. “Sardarji!” he will yell gleefully and the look on his face at that time would be one of sheer beatitude.

Very soon young D learned role play. He will take a thin handloom towel (thorthu in Malayalam) and ask his mother to wrap it around his head. Since it was a small child’s face, the thorthu had to go round several times before the trailing edge could be tucked in, to D’s satisfaction. The imaginary beard in place, D would then seek out his father’s helmet (my brother rode a two wheeler those days) and place it on head. The helmet would come down to his forehead and almost cover his eyes and it was also quite heavy. D would then walk slowly and rather precariously towards his tricycle.

The tricycle, meanwhile, has been miraculously transformed into a scooter and our young hero could be seen for the next five minutes laboriously working the kick-starter. This again was an elaborate ritual where he muttered dark words of frustration, tilted the tri-cycle to the side a few times to flood the carburettor, and looked at his imaginary watch in dismay. Finally with a great roar, the scooter started and D climbed on it with much satisfaction and rode off at high speed, his small hands furiously mimicking the clutch and accelerator controls, while the entire family looked on in amused indulgence.

Then happens the incident at the supermarket.

My brother and sister-in-law are shopping for groceries with D in tow. He is his usual placid self until a Sardar walks into the supermarket and D loses it completely.

“Sardarji!” yells D and frees himself from his mother’s grasp. He runs to the Sardar and embraces him from behind and bites his bum for good measure, before the startled Sardar can even start to realise what is happening.

Frankly this final part I find hard to believe considering the difference in height between the Sardar and the three-year-old. It is quite possible my sister-in-law embellished the incident somewhat to enhance its recountability.

What the hell! It is still quite a good story and the family in its usual kind and considerate manner never fails to remind D of this incident at least once a year.

D’s response:-

The shopping story is true, though I don't recall biting the man. Another highlight was coming to Delhi for a wedding when I was around three and a half. Compared to Kerala, it was turban heaven, every conceivable colour you could think of.

Even last month, when I was up in Mohali covering a game, we were talking in the ABC commentary box about the colourful turbans and the effort it must take to tie one every morning. Not a task for those who wake up, jump in the shower and wolf down some breakfast before rushing to the stadium!

I don't think I've tried a turban since those long-ago days, but I do now live with a Sikh. After that kind of childhood and all those Sikh-and-ice cube jokes to rile a friend when I was in college, I guess it was almost inevitable that I'd end up with a Sardarni.

Nice description of me trying to start my bike. It was a pretty lengthy procedure and I'm often reminded of it when I watch my nephew repairing his bike
Image Courtesy:

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Adventures in Copywriting: 2

One day Prasad comes with an urgent but vague brief from his advertising agency: The customer is a small-scale manufacturer of lighting fixtures. The visual has already been chosen and is a picture of a sunrise with a few palm fronds in the foreground and in silhouette. Prepare a suitable headline and present it tomorrow. There will not be any body copy. Pictures of sample fixtures in small square boxes with brief descriptions will be placed in a row underneath the main picture.

We hit our heads against the wall. How does one connect sunrise, palm fronds, and lighting fixtures? What is the logic?

“Maybe the picture was taken by the owner’s daughter,” says Prasad matter-of-factly. “Let’s get on with it.”

A brainstorming session follows with several bottles of beer consumed in the process, at the end of which, we are nowhere near a solution. Ideas are discussed and discarded; improbable headlines are proposed, scribbled on paper, only to be clumped into balls and thrown across the room. After hours of this futile exercise I say in resignation: “Let there be light!”

Next day Prasad presents his list of 10 alternatives, all more pathetic than the other, to the agency.

“Let there be light!” exclaims the agency head. “This is brilliant! I’m sure our customer would love this headline!” And so he did, because the ad finally saw the light of the day with that headline!

But the campaign which gave our perverted minds the most creative satisfaction was for a line of women’s innerwear called “Love”.

“Cover your intimate secrets in love,” I propose grandly.

“That is disgusting,” says Prasad. “Most women will get turned off by a line like that.”

“Underneath, she is full of love,” suggests Moni, who has dropped in during our brainstorming session.

Prasad looks at both of us with something bordering on pity and says nothing.

“Love yourself in the right places,” I say. Moni looks at me and both of us start howling with laughter. One crazy line after the other follows, each more preposterous than the previous one. Very soon other room-mates join in and we have total pandemonium.

Prasad, who takes his work seriously, is not amused at all and beseeches us to get serious.

Finally, when the advertisement appeared in the newspapers, the headline was pure kitsch.

“She is in love every day of the week.”

To this day, I do not remember which one of us contributed that line.

Photo Courtesy:

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Adventures in Copywriting: 1

When I look at a print advertisement, the first thing I look at is the copy. Is it short, succinct, and well-written? Does it communicate to the reader? Does it bring out the salient functions, features, and benefits of the product it is trying to sell? Does the copy integrate well with the visual or graphic that is holding the ad in place? Does the copy make you smile or even better, does it make you chuckle?

During my bachelor days in Bombay I used to help my friend Prasad with some copywriting. Prasad held a temporary job as a lecturer in a management institute and tried to supplement his income by working as a freelance copywriter in a small advertising agency which could not afford a full-time copywriter on their rolls. It was handsome pocket money which we invariably blew up on beer.

We were novices but worked hard to deliver the perfect headline and the perfect body copy. Prasad borrowed books on Advertising and Copywriting from the institute’s library which we devoured with fiendish intensity. We pored over famous international print advertisements, analysed them in minute detail, and poured scorn over what was masquerading as copywriting in India. We felt very superior.

But we realised rather quickly that the agency and its customers, mostly small manufacturing companies, had a totally different aesthetic viewpoint when it came to what was and what was not, good copywriting. When we strived for simplicity and clarity, often what was needed by the customer was exaggeration and hyperbole. When we said humour should be elegant and understated, our agency and its customers were seriously upset. Sometimes, we will go with ten alternatives for a headline, arranging them in our own order of preference and would be chastened and embarrassed when the customer complimented us on our wonderful effort and chose No. 9.

In hindsight, I have to admit the agency and its customers were right. They knew their end customers, we did not. By trying to impose our own sensibilities, received wisdom, and pre-conceived notions on what constituted good copy, we were forgetting that one cardinal rule of good copywriting which is to first understand who you are trying to communicate to.

But some of the copy that we wrote during that time and some of the headlines that found their way to print, were truly hilarious. And just to tease you (Cynic, are you listening?) I will defer narrating them until my next post!
Photo Courtesy:

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Aisle Seat Pitfalls

One of my colleagues met with an accident recently. He had stopped his car on a residential street and had come around to open the boot of the car and take out his laptop when a van reversed into him, flinging him onto his own car. He hit his head against the sharp corner of the boot lid, resulting in a deep gash. A lot of bleeding ensued and he had to be taken to the hospital and have the wound stitched up. He is all right now and should be back in action after couple of days.

Something similar happened to me a few years ago.

On flights, I normally prefer aisle seats. You feel less crammed, getting in and out is easier, and you can be assured of at least one armrest all for yourself, without the guy next to you elbowing you out. Once ensconced thus, I ask for a pillow and a blanket and happily go to sleep most of the time.

Once, I am on a late evening flight from Chennai to Mumbai. It is a fairly uneventful journey, most of which I spent dozing. The problem happens when the flight has touched down and is taxiing to its final parking position. Before the aircraft comes to a complete stop, some impatient worthy behind me leans over and opens the overhead bin right above me. A heavy suitcase tumbles out and the corner hits me on the forehead, just above the hairline.

For a moment I am dazed and too shocked to react. By the time I gather my senses and turn around to face the perpetrator of the outrage, I am bleeding profusely and my shirtfront is soaked in blood. While the other passengers cluck sympathetically and move up the aisle to disembark, the stewardesses gather around me trying to stem the bleeding. An ice pack is pressed firmly against the wound and the crew call for the airport doctor.

The airport doctor turns out to be an elderly sari-clad matron. She examines the wound and declares the position of the wound as inappropriate for suturing. Fortunately, by this time the bleeding has stopped. She dresses the wound and ties a gauze bandage around my head. The girls giggle in relief. They say I look like an invader from outer space. The doctor advises me to take some paracetamol tablets in case I feel any pain at night; the airlines drop me in their car to the hotel.

Just before going to bed, the realisation struck me: in the confusion, I never found out who was the guy whose rash act had landed me in this mess. He had quietly slunk out in the mêlée with his suitcase, having not even the courtesy to offer an apology.

Such is life, I suppose.
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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.