Gowrnamentu adutising-part 3

Phase 5 – The Brief

After two grueling days, I returned from Vidhana Soudha with my own understanding of the statutory warning inscribed on the building “Government’s work is God’s work”. But I always doubted if they had misspelt GOD.

I got back to the agency with a feeling of triumph. The receptionist failed to see the glint in my eyes and asked her regular “Have you signed the register?’, reducing me to just another employee, the variety who need to record their attendance to earn their wages.

She probably didn’t know of the treasure I had in my bag. Six delicious annual reports as ordered by The Boss. After all that, in my head, I knew I belonged to a superior league, where I no longer had to stoop down to such chores to ratify my existence.

I walked in The Boss’ cabin with my head held high and chest out, in spite of the weight on my shoulders. And emptied the contents of my bag on The Boss’ desk with pride, and put my hands on my hip and freezed on that pose, waiting for him to construct his words of praise.

The Boss made a quick count, 5 mundane looking books in assorted colours and one of course, photocopied.

Boss looked at me and then at Mahadeva with a half grin, and said nothing, and pressurised Mahadeva to come up with his comments first, so that his own gathered some respect in the waiting.

“Earlier the books used to be much thicker, no Boss!” Mahadeva commented, roughly weighing one of the reports in his hand.

Boss nodded and smiled reminiscing the burden he had endured in his youth. He erratically picked up a book and flicked it, and stopped at a random page and studied the contents for a split second.

“…..But….what took you so long?” The Boss made his opening remark with a practiced restraint.

Mahadeva duplicated The Boss’ look on his face to make the question seem doubly worrysome.

I was shocked to find any traces of appreciation missing in his remark or Mahadeva’s concerned face.

“I mean, Sir….you have no idea what I had to go through to get these books. Each one had a unique problem….and Mr Desai had given letters to many others……I had to wait endlessly………they treat you like shit…” I tried everything to evoke sympathy out of their sadistic faces.

The Boss remained unmoved. Mahadeva did a quick cross-check and decided to continue with the same look.

Since this had no impact, I added impromptu “Someone even said that this is a futile exercise since he had inside information that they don’t even want an ad….” with a bleak hope that this might make him suspend the exercise altogether.

The Boss cut me short……

“Listen….listen…you should have given me a call. Didn’t I tell you, that this information is urgent. We don’t have all the time in the universe. Just give me a call….how difficult is that?”

….and Mahadeva punctuated his speech with the necessary expressions.

“But…..what….I mean….” I was trying to find the diplomatic version of ‘What the fuck could you have done?’.

Boss looked at Mahadeva and asked him “What’s that new chap’s name….ya Appaji’s assistant, call him.” highlighting the distance in heirarchy between Sudarshan and him.

(Sudarshan was the new flunk who worked under Appaji. And Appaji….was a fat middle aged man who held a mysterious post in the office. Appaji had joined Renaissance at a tender age, and had been handling tender notices since then. He was a separate department by himself. He cared for noone, and noone cared for him. The everyday chaos in the agency never affected his life. And he liked it that way.

He was happy and content with this portfolio, and demanded no more than an assistant to help him with his ever growing clientele. After years of penance he was granted one disciple to serve him. A young timid looking Kannada literature student, Sudarshan.

Appaji had a special corner for himself, where he stayed aloof. And he had equipped himself with bad breath to keep public at bay. He enjoyed his space. And to further ensure his privacy, he wore the same pink shirt everyday, till it had gathered a shimmer on its crease. A strange mix of these odours protected his territory, a tiny corner in the office. Thankfully, Sudarshan perpetually had a blocked nose, which enabled him to interact closely with Appaji and vice versa.

Appaji was fiercely protective about Sudarshan. After many years and a great deal of difficulty he had found a flunk, and didn’t want others to now poke their working noses into their relationship and muck it up. Appaji was so visibly excited with his empowered status, he would make sure that his orders to Sudarshan were heard by all “Sudarshan, didn’t I tell you to file these yesterday? Why is it still here in the table?” and beam with pride as his little lamb trembled with his orders.)

In seconds, Sudarshan appeared in the Boss cabin, parking Appaji just outside the door, to eavesdrop on this mysterious summons.

“How busy are you?” The Boss asked Sudarshan in a tone that dictated the answer along with the question.

Sudarshan folded his hands and bent down modestly displaying his slavery which he had perfected under the aegis of Appaji.

“You need to help this boy out here. We are working on a DIP pitch. And he needs a lot of help with Kannada. You need to read out all these books to him within tomorrow morning.”

The Boss turned towards me like he was generously giving me a second chance to prove my worth to continue holding the dignified title I held.

“And you …….don’t waste time now….you need to take notes of any point that might seem essential for the ad. Let me explain, take for eg. housing,…you need to gather from this book, how many houses they actually built in the past one year!! Is that clear? Numbers are important…..so any figures….make a note of it. I want it all by tomorrow morning.”

The Boss exited in a hurry, jamming Appaji’s nose at the entrance, which he had anxiously kept pressed to the door.

The Boss explained to him “Appaji ….this boy needs your boy’s help. Some kannada help. So spare him for a day.”

Appaji nodded sheepishly, feeling empty to be flunkless for a day.

The Boss retired leaving behind the labour class to figure out the nitty gritties of this transaction.

Sudarshan crossed over and stood beside me symbolically lending the needed support, leaving Appaji alone in his flank.

Appaji glared at his son with vengeance “Sudarshan, by all means you can help him out. But don’t forget the Canara Bank estimates we need to hand over by tomorrow.”

And came close to me and whispered in my ear “Learn to handle things on your own, you young fellow.”

I hurriedly exhaled unable to handle the stink in his breath. But Appaji felt content mistaking it to be an expression of regret.

Soon, the other members of the agency cleared the field one by one, leaving Sudarshan and me staring at half a dozen annual reports that were waiting for such victims of joblessness, ever since they had been printed.

As instructed by The Boss, the office boy switched off all the mains that connected you to objects of distraction like TV, Computers and locked up the shelves that contained intimidating books like The One Show. Even the girl in media had safely tucked away all the voucher copies of exciting publications. Leaving the two of us with limited access only to switches of harmless survival gadgetry like the tubelight and the fan.

So me and Sudarshan finished our dinner and sat under the fan. Sudarshan picked up his first book of recitation and began his verbal diarrohea in a Sanskritish dialect of Kannada. The government had decided that these books could be used as a medium to preserve the purity of the language.

The annual reports were torturous to say the least. We started with ‘The Housing Department’s’ annual report. The text started a millimeter inside the bleed area in page 1 and continued breathlessly till the bottom most edge of page 187. All in 8 point size with no pictures, graphs or any form of visual relief. It looked like the writers of the book had been specifically briefed to breakdown all useful information and scatter it all over the book, so that it becomes a gripping mystery novel.

Sudarshan orated tirelessly through the night like he was reading a thrilling screenplay. He was delighted to display his fluency in the language and explained the nuances of certain words and exampled their usage through some poems he had written for his college assignments. He cribbed about the death of Kannada. And gave me an instant crash course on appreciating the language through his poetry that preached goodness in twisted ways.

He was feeling stifled with this limited exposure his masterpieces were getting. But he had decided to juice this lone member in the audience to the fullest. He waited for words in the report with which he could seamlessly digress into his poems. He seemed to have found something to keep him engaged through the night.

I was waiting to find mine.

I suffered him for about three hours and then interrupted, inviting him to participate in some gossip. “What is that Canara Bank estimate? Can Appaji not handle a simple job like that on his own!”

I was egging Sudarshan to loosen up a bit and bond over our menially similar job profiles. I had ideas in my head that could save us from this drudgery. Afterall, how difficult was it to invent a few numbers? But that needed participation in the crime. He had already given me a clue about his virtuous personality through his poems. But I still hoped that I could crumble that facade by bringing him to terms with harsh reality.

Sudarshan dodged “No no…..Appaji is very hardworking. Also he is very senior to do all this?”

“Forget all that. Are you getting paid enough? For all this donkey work…..I certainly am not. I get paid peanuts.” I confessed my shitty stature in the organisation, to create a certain comfort level between us.

“Ya. I got a good offer. They are paying me what I asked for.” Sudarshan replied not fully trusting me or the walls of the agency.

“Are you getting what you deserve?” I pushed him further hoping that his pay was as pathetic as mine.

“Yes. I am happy.” Sudarshan dismissed it quickly and returned to his recitation even more purposefully to not be seduced into pointless discussions.

I hated the honesty with which we were carrying out this irritating job. I never knew that the houses built by government in Bidar and Belgaum would haunt me through such sleepless nights.

I was trying hard to see Sudarshan’s stupidity as sincerity and be inspired by his goodness. But the boredom of the subject failed to take this motivation any further.

By now Sudarshan had even stopped giving poetic reliefs to the narration. He sensed that his digressions could make the conversation livelier, but mine were dangerous. So he decided to steer clear of this.

8_boredomI collapsed on the table by 5am unable to hear another word in that voice that hadn’t stopped for about 10 hours.

Phase 6- The ad

The ads had a format. It was simple. Arrange graphic icons of houses, electric transformers, schools etc in ascending order of their heights, to represent the growth of these departments over the years.

So year 92-93…a visual of a small house…with text underneath, 1400 houses built. Year 93-94…the same house now bigger… with the text underneath 2,100 houses built and so on and so forth.

Thankfully at Renaissance, you never had the problem of getting your brief approved. You only had to get it art directed.

Mahadeva appeared with newly spray painted illustrations of houses and electricity poles and schools, the recency of which reflected on his long fingernail, which was shining with a similar shade of colour used in one of the illustrations.

And a headline above that “MEETING EXPECTATIONS. BUILDING HOPES.” waiting to be poetically translated into Kannada by Sudarshan who was now back in the custody of Appaji, as promised. Sudarshan hid from Appaji, inside the closet that stored ‘Canara Bank Estimates’ and wrote some lines and passed them over to me. They seemed like desperate adaptations of his priceless poems he had rattled away to me the previous night. I picked one and whispered to him “This one sounds good.” Sudarshan smiled. I felt happy for him.

But I knew that the ad was nothing but a pathetic attempt at glorifying bullshit. Only I knew it. In spite of being in the trap of goodness the previous night, most of the numbers in the ad were all made up. The annual reports rarely revealed numbers. It only had adjectives like ‘almost double’, ‘surpassing the previous year’, ‘ a new milestone’, ‘stupendous’ and other words that were invented to conceal the actual. The numbers were more or less a reflection of the impact each adjective had on me. The stronger the adjective the higher the numbers. What lay before me was a graph that loosely plotted the state’s welfare based on my personal reaction to assorted adjectives.

But nobody interfered, as long as it stuck to the norm of the approved safe tried and tested ascending format.

We covered all these pieces of fiction with colourful textured handmade paper, mounted them on thick GSM boards and proudly pasted stickers of our agency to enable the gowrnamentu to pick the rightful authors to orchestrate their fantasies.

The Boss flipped the cover, and poured into the contents and commented about everything that needed no informed opinion, like the colour, fonts, kerning and friendlier territories that bordered on subjective tastes.

“Why can’t the colours of the houses get brighter and happier over the years?…Mahadeva…..comeon…I am sure you can do better than this?'”

Mahadeva took this valid suggestion and painted the houses progressively in dizzying variations of florescence.

To be contd….

Gowrnamentu adutising-part 2

crapjobPhase 3- The internal briefing

“What is the brief?’ The Boss asked, expecting nothing more than what he already knew. Afterall, he’d been in the business for way too long to expect any surprises. But he knew that he could keep morons like me motivated by feigning ignorance.

“They want an ad. A press ad. An ad about their achievements. The current government’s achievements, To make the people aware of what they have done.” I replied, stretching that single line in my notepad to its maximum length hoping that the connecting words will bring with itself some lightning of an idea.

“Interesting” replied The Boss ignoring the pessimism in my tone of voice. To him it was another opportunity to dispense his accumulated wisdom, that he had wasted on the previous year’s AE on this job.

“So they want a press ad?” he clarified knitting his eyebrows so close together till he was convinced that he has successfully contorted his idiotic appearance to that of a seemingly smart one.

“Yes sir. A press ad. A full page press ad. Some of the publications it will be in colour, the others in black and white.” I hurriedly rattled away again, hoping that this artful rephrasing of my limited notes will suddenly open up a universe of information needed for the job.

Silence.

The Boss took a long drag of his Marlboro Lights, stared at the ceiling, artistically clouding the room with smoke digging deep meanings out of every word that I had uttered.

“Hmmm….you know….” He muttered, and paused taking a minute more to reconstruct the sentence and make it sound more intelligent, so that it justified the silence that preluded it.

“Ok ….you know what….let’s take a look at last year’s ad….Mahadeva….” he summoned the longest serving employee in the agency, who had to undoubtedly be the studio manager. The only thing longer than his tenure at Renaissance, was his little fingernail that he hadn’t cut since the day he’d joined here. 

Mahadeva entered by putting on his happy to help face, that he revealed to only few.

“Can we get a copy of the DIP ad we released last year.” The Boss ordered reclining his seat to the maximum.

Mahadeva overperformed by returning with multiple copies of the last four years’ ads and laid out the spread on the table, and ironed out the creases in the paper with his freshly polished fingernail. “Sir…do you also want the half page adapts?’

“No” replied The Boss suppressing Mahadeva’s enthusiasm for displaying his housekeeping abilities.

The three of us clouded around the horrendous looking layout of the previous ad, but with expressions like we were watching a compile of the Cannes Grand Prix Winners.

“See….these are the key areas we need to focus on. Elecricity. Water. Housing. Education. Women and child welfare and development” The Boss pondered circling these key focus areas with a pen.

We agreed without really knowing what we were agreeing to. 

“Let me also try and call Mr. Desai, and see if I can get any more information.”

Mahadeva proactively clarifed the doubt that he had spotted on my face. “Desai is The Secretary’s secretary. Very helpful man. And a good friend of Boss.”

And Boss offered further proof by greeting Desai with a loud guffaw on the phone “Ha ha ha Mr Desai….It is that time of the year isn’t it? …ha ha ha ha ha..Haan did you find a house finally…..Oh very good….Vasanthanagar……that is convenient….close to office….yes yes, it is important to find a good house near to the place of work…ha ha ha ha ha..Life has changed ever since I have moved closer to the office……Ha ha ha ha ha…….ha ha ha ha ha…………hmmmm……….oh! ha ha ha ha ha! yes yes, you are right…we only get faster to work, not faster home……ha ha ha ha ha……”

The Boss casually strayed away into the neighboring room continuing his conversation as loudly, and instantly dropped the volume the minute he was convinced that his rapport with Desai was clearly established.

I had never seen the boss laughing so much before. Not even for jokes that were a hundred times funnier. But Mahadeva was overwhelmed with emotion. Over the years he had seen this client vendor relationship blossom into an undying friendship. He nudged me with his long little fingernail and said holding back his tears “You know, Boss used to personally service this account. Right from when he was of your age. I have been seeing him…..He knows them all, and it is only and only because of him that we still get the business.”

Boss returned looking visibly content with some vital clues provided by Desai.

“He says nobody has a clue.”

Mahadeva looked embarassed that the little flashback story he had just narrated did not get its deserving end.

“Which means that we do exactly what we did last year. Let’s focus on the same areas, and plot their achievements on these sectors for the current year. That’s it.”

“But where do we get that info from?”

“I have personally requested Mr. Desai to hand over copies of the annual reports of these departments. He is doing us a special favour. He’s going to give us an exclusive letter requesting the authorities to give us copies of these reports. You carry this letter with you and meet the heads of these departments. And soon we’ll have all the information that we need. Juicy information.” He concluded making it sound like these annual reports were some delicious delights.

The Boss scribbled “Social Welfare. Housing. Electricity. Water. Women and child welfare.’ on his personal letterhead that somehow resembled the paper we had used for printing a real estate client’s brochure the previous week.

He ripped off the page and handed me the prescription.

“Sir, by when do you want all this?” I enquired nervously, mentally calculating the enormity that those five innocent words carried with them.

“What’s for lunch?’ The boss screamed at the office boy.

Phase 4 – The search

Armed with a copy of Desai’s concise letter, “For advertising purposes I request you to kindly furnish a copy of the annual report to the bearer of this letter’, I was packed off with a huge bag on my shoulder, with scary expectations that it will be furnished with precious knowledge on my return.

The trip was to Vidhana Soudha, the magnificient building that housed the various departments of the government.

It is impossible to get your timing right when you are visiting government offices. You always screw up by walking in on a holiday on account of ‘Ishwar Chandra Vidya Sagar’s death anniversary’, or during lunch, tea time, coffee break, or when the official you want to meet is on unofficial leave.

As I walked across the never ending corridors of the beautiful Vidhana Soudha, I realised that it did not look as appealing from the inside.

I spotted the first department on my list…..Social Welfare Department.

A big room where all I could hear was the echo of a Remington typewriter in action. I followed the sound to the source and then realised why it was echoing so loudly. The room had noone except for the typist who had been engaged to make the room sound busy. An arrogant looking middle aged woman, who could have looked the same even without the help of her thick soda glasses.

“Excuse me maam” I politely interrupted her by placing a helpful finger on the fluttering page that was she was typing out of.

“What is it?” she scowled lifting her head, ignoring the kind act that I had introduced myself with, jabbing the last few keys that remained in her memory.

“I want an annual report. Who should I meet?”

She returned to the page, retraced her eyes back to the part where she was before this interruption, and got back to doing what she was being paid for.

I quietly slipped that letter of influence into her path of vision, and hoped that this reintroduction of mine would put her in her place.

“Mr Desai has sent me” I said strumming my fingers on Mr. Desai’s flourishing signature at the bottom.

She paused for a second and stared at the letter. And tossed it aside with such callousness that all the imagery I had built of Mr Desai came crumbling down in a second.

“You have to meet Mr. Nanjunda. He will come shortly. Till then you may please take your seat.” She said pointing towards a wooden chair with crisscross plastic wires, which closely resembled the one in the DIP’s office. I was struck with paranoia. I knew that these chairs were specially designed for long waits.

“Where is Mr Nanjunda?”

“He has gone for tea.”

“When did he go?”

“What for you? He’ll be here in some time, so wait till then.”

I folded the letter with lesser care than I had shown towards it before. And quietly retired into the corner that I had been relegated to.

After the six hour wait at the DIP’s office, I was now running short of topics to think about. Thankfully, the chair was located close to a table of an absentee with interesting objects within reach. A big blue bottle of glue. A bottle of correction fluid. A stamp pad with assorted seals strewn over and other interesting stationery to keep visitors engaged during the wait.

For the first one hour, I picked up a boring looking book and gave its cover an interesting design by thumbing my fingerprints all over it. I then analysed my fingerprints on various other surfaces. I carefully selected sheets that seemed unimportant, and randomly selected words in them that I felt needed correction. I stamped ‘URGENT’ on various documents with varying percentages of cyan. And finally took the liberty of stamping it on one document that needed it the most. Mr Desai’s letter.

I had put the stationery to every possible use. By now, I had even tattooed various parts of my body with seals of assorted shapes and sizes. But Mr Nanjunda never showed up.

“Maam, are you sure he’ll come?”

“I am fool or what? I told you no he’ll come.”

I then picked on the typist, and thought about her life. Could she ever fall in love? Did she always dream of being a typist? Does she hate her job as much as I hated mine? Is she as arrogant with her kids as well? Can her husband ever dominate over her? I spent some time constructing a little story arising out of these conflicting questions in my mind, waiting for Mr Nanjunda to arrive and rescue me from this story that had no scope of becoming any interesting.

After a long wait, a man who had all the makings of a Nanjunda arrived, ransacked a cupboard, and made a speedy exit with a stapler.

But the woman on the typewriter never lifted her head to see this fleeting guest.

I panicked that the Nanjunda I had been waiting for, slipped away even before I could legitimately vet his identity.

I called out to her anxisously “Excuse me maam. Was that Mr Nanjunda?”

“I told you no….to wait. He will come. Till then please dont disturb me.” She yelled back.

“Ya maam. But someone just came and went. I was only checking if that was Mr Nanjunda…..” I replied with immediate submissiveness.

“Was it because she hated Nanjunda? Or because she didn’t know or care who Mr Desai was? Or…..or could it be…that I am just a bearer of a letter…” I had found a new debate to keep my mind busy till the next Nanjunda arrived.

Another prospective candidate who even more resembled the Nanjunda I had imagined, arrived in a few minutes.

“Mr Nanjunda?” I enquired with the man himself, not bothering to seek a second opinion.

“Ya even I have come to meet him.” he replied. Slowly I began to recall his face. He was one of the Harijans in the DIP’s room. On one end I felt happy that atleast I was on the right path chasing the same things that others are chasing. On the other, I was doubting the edge my Boss had with the traitor Mr Desai, who had issued a similar letter that the man was proudly flashing around.

Finally a man arrived who was flocked by many other men. He resembled Nanjunda like nobody else could have. The typist smelt his arrival and stood up in stand by mode.

The man beside me promptly jumped up and showed him the letter he was holding “Mr Nanjunda…..what else…..the annual report.”

Mr Nanjunda threw a customary glance at the paper he was holding, and gave it to the typist.

“Give him our annual report”.

She ran to the table beside me and picked up a book with a brown cover and handed it over to the recent visitor.

I then walked up to Mr Nanjunda and showed him my letter praying that he wouldn’t notice the ‘URGENT’ stamped on it, in spite of all its relevance.

Mr Nanjunda looked at the letter unaffected by the sarcastic seal, and sighed “Oh God….how many more people…!!”

He called out to the recipient of the coveted book “Mr. Ananth….even he wants a copy of that. Sorry, but we only have one.” and then thrusted the book in my hands and instructed “go outside and take a xerox and give him the original.”

“But..sir…I was here even before him..” I mumbled not fully sure of the importance of chronology in this system.

Mr Nanjunda looked at the other man and said “Sorry Mr Ananth. Would you like to have some coffee?”

I strained my eyes to read the other man’s letter that Nanjunda was holding…

“For advertising purposes I request you to kindly furnish a copy of the annual report to Mr Ananth, our advertising partner.”

I felt stupid on discovering the reason for this discrimination. What felt even more stupid was that the book I was going to photocopy had my fingerprints smudged all over it. But I still couldn’t call it mine.

To be contd….

Gowrnamentu adutising-part 1

work cartoon1

I have reached a stage now, where I can say ‘back then, in our days, it was so much tougher’. Well read my side of the story, then you’ll agree that I am well within my rights to claim that. 

With the same embarrassing dreams and stars in my eyes, I set foot into advertising with the hope that one day, I’ll be able to convert my stupid mad-ads jokes into award winning commercials that can sell any damn product. Write crazy Hinglish baselines, compose jingles, meet glamorous models, sport a ponytail, and walk around cursing the shit of every son of a gun, who had doubted my calibre for all those years. And prove to the world that ‘So what if you’ve only scraped through every exam all your life, you can still become an enviable icon that the world will bow down to’.

Facts about Edison setting his neighbour’s chicken coop on fire, and running away from school had always remained close to my heart, and boosted my confidence everytime I flunked. I could feel Edison patting my back and saying ‘Dont worry son. You are doing it all right by doing it all wrong’.

I was thrilled when I got to know that Akbar was illiterate. I was delighted when I discovered that Einstein was the worst in his class. Though I admire Edison more than Einstein, because I’ve used the bulb, but never Einstein’s theories. Oh shit! I’m digressing…..

I seeked inspiration from winners who were losers before. Only because, that gave me the liberty to continue being the way I was, for some more time.

I patiently waited for the world to dismiss me as a failure. Reduce their expectations. That was the only way I could make them notice and appreciate every tiny achievement of mine. 

But I guess that I was pinning too much hope on the genius within me to eventually surface.

Destiny took me to a place where the genius inside never needed to make an appearance. Simply because it had no role to play. 

I started off in an agency called Renaissance. An INS accredited advertising agency. Yes INS (Indian Newspaper Society) accredited. I know I have said that twice now.

But they said it over 3 times in their small 30cc ad. “WANTED COPYWRITER’ ad, for an ‘INS accredited agency’. I had little clue what INS meant. But like most abbreviations, I assumed that even this one must be something important enough.

I applied thinking that it would be a cakewalk for me. Atleast, certainly after I show them my bagful of mad-ads certificates that I had accumulated over the years. I made sure that my resume recorded every little accomplishment of mine. Except for the second prize that I had won for ‘Lemon and Spoon’ race in Grade III, which after a lot of pondering I decided to drop it from the resume, and keep it only as a special mention during the interview, in case the need occurred.

But with all that, I did manage to gain an entry into the big bad world of advertising. But not as a copywriter. But into client servicing. 

The guy who ran the place convinced me that there was a very thin line that separated the servicing blokes from copywriters, with the “Ideas can come from anywhere…..everyone is creative’ kind of bullshit speech. The average intelligence with which I had lived all my life made me naive or desperate enough to believe this crap as well. 

And I joined. With the grand title of Junior Account Executive. In short AE. Everyone loved the abbreviation more, because it phonetically resembles a South Indian way of derogatorily summoning someone ‘AyEEE…..baro illi’.

Forget what the title actually meant or what the job involved, I just hated the title. I hated the sound of it. ‘Copywriter’ just sounded so much more cool, maybe because a copywriter must have decided it. But an ‘AE’ didn’t quite have the same ring to it.  

But then I thought, what’s in a title. It’s what I make of it. Atleast, ‘I’m into advertising” sounded cool enough. 

“AE.”  I decided to live with this reassuringly cheap title. I instinctively knew that I was doing something stupid, but I convinced myself to keep it that simple.

And for a speedy induction to this subservient job profile, they decided to put me on an account that can quickly demolish all the attitude that I had so dearly acquired.

‘The government’.

I spent the first fifteen days in the agency flipping through the ‘never ever opened before’ volumes of ‘The One Show’ and ‘D & AD’. And the owner patiently let me enjoy this brief stint with fantasy, after which he flung me straight into the DIP office….which grandly expands as “The Department of Information and Publicity’.

Ya, that’s the client. The same chaps who are responsible for all those ‘poor people looking happy’ kind of ads. And we were one of the privileged agencies artworking those masterpieces for them.

The way it works with the government or rather gowrnamentu (the correct pronunciation of that here) is something else. This post can only be a feeble attempt to capture all of that.

It is a system that is so brilliantly watertight, that it makes sure that nothing you have ever learnt in life can be put to use (That was the only relief, since I didn’t have much to regret). To them advertising or rather adutising, was nothing but an added perk to boost their egos. A facility which they can use as they please, to publish their latest passport photographs along with some attractive adjectives (honorable…respected….Dr….) attached to their names. And also use it for recreation purposes, where they can get to explore their creative side. And the advertising agency was more or less an assembly of jobless screwballs, who are always eagerly waiting to convert their bizarre imaginations to artworks.

Gowrnamentu adutising. 

To begin with, the client sits in a building that is sandwiched between the Indian Express and The Hindu. The governmentish part in this side of town. Buildings that boasted of timeless architecture and even more timeless inhabitants.

Where even the parking attendants would use you as an opportunity for timepass. They’d open the gate for you, and patiently wait till you fully parked your vehicle, and then tell you “saar, visitors vehicles not allowed”.

Where the attendants at the canteen would pour half the sambar outside the plate with a scowl on their faces that effortlessly translated the thought behind the action “So what else do you expect for your shitty six bucks, you subsidized scum”.

Where even the peon believed that you were specially selected and sent to him, so that he can practice and perfect his role of authority, before he is found deserving enough to be handed one. 

Let me divide the entire process of ‘Gowrnamentu adutising’, into the many phases so that the agony is well balanced in all its parts. Think of this as my little bit to make you feel much nicer about what you are doing right now.

Phase 1 – The pitch

To begin with, we get a call from DIP. ‘We’ is the agency. And then an ‘I’ is picked in that ‘WE’ to entertain them. The youngest goat in their livestock that they don’t mind sacrificing is sent to the gallows.

The ‘One Shows’ and the ‘D&ADs’ are snatched and flung into a far off corner.

And replaced with a humble ‘Amar notepad’ and Nataraj pencil. And you are packed off with this sufficient ammunition to the cattle-field. 

Once you get there, you are lead into a strange room by a sniggering peon. Dressed in a ‘once upon a time white shirt’, a tilted Gandhi cap, and rubber chappals held together with a safety pin. A typical peonish uniform, thoughtfully designed and enforced by the senior officials, so that the visitors don’t end up unnecessarily wasting their respect on him and keep it preserved for the right officials who are seated inside.  He ushers you into a huge room with wooden chairs arranged alongside the walls, with an expanse of empty area in the middle, where even the fans choose to air the vacuum in the centre, rather than waste it on you.

This incidentally, is the waiting room outside the cabin of The Man who has summoned you. The Man who will bestow upon you his precious brief, the one that will enable your agency to pay you your salary, the following month.

The Secretary.

An important looking man jots down your agency’s name in a shorter convenient spelling on his scribble pad and subtly gestures you to take a seat.

You then pick your seat amidst the various fellow harijans, and patiently wait for your turn. They all belong to other similar INS agencies, who’s owners have some distant relation in the government. And if you count, they’ll roughly add up to about 40 of them. A small meeting ground of sorts, for people who performed badly, through their school and college.

An invigilator is designated to check on the behaviour of these inmates, and reprimand them accordingly.

“Spit your gum outside.” (Slip down by 4 positions in the queue.)

“Stop shaking your leg.” (Slip down by another 2.)

The same peon who admitted you to this dispensary, now reappears in a more dominating role, announcing the names of the agencies, turn by turn. And disappears quickly leaving you undisturbed to pensively regret your past doings under the noisy sound of the airless fan. 

The amount of time that each candidate spends in the room varies in extremes and the randomness in which the names are called out have nothing got to do with the order in which it has been jotted down. 

So, you patiently wait for your turn that is slotted with such suspenseful uncertainly, that it could threaten to occur exactly at that time when you choose to go grab a smoke or a bite.

So you have nothing better to do than control every other urge of yours, and instead indulge in a meandering conversation with your neighbour, where you analyse how different journeys can lead to such a similar fate. You then compare notes of your life with his and evaluate for yourself if it is justified.

Only after you have covered every conceivable form of killing time in that minimalistic room, will you hear the announcement you’ve been waiting for.

‘Renisan adutising’ the peon will call out, giving you time only till he figures out the pronunciation of the next name in the list.

The prompt respondents will then be given an entry into the heavenly gates (a squeaky half door with spring action) of ‘The Secretary’. If you were observant, by now you would have learnt that the right pose to make an entry is with the pencil tip inches away from the open note pad. A vivid display of your enthusiasm for the business. And also to jot down any precious gems that might accidently slip through the paan dripping mouth of The Secretary.

Studying the faces of the previous entrants, I had figured out the pattern. The ones who looked smarter spent lesser time inside than the dumber looking ones. The reason was simple. The dumber ones made ‘The Secretary’ look smarter. So he spent more time with them. The more confident you look, the lesser of a confidante you seem. A lesson I only learnt after the first few interactions.

Phase 2 – The Briefing

“May I come in sir?’

“Yes”

“You called us?”

“Yes. Because we want ad”

“What ad?’

That is a meaningless question to The Secretary. According to him the briefing is over. This is unnecessary interrogation. But he chooses to be forgiving in the beginning. 

“Press ad”.

The information is always disseminated in installments. The Secretary is clear that he’s not there to clear your unclarity.

But since you are still unclear about his clarity, you idiotically probe further.

“Color or b/w”

“Some color. Some b/w”

“What is the ad about?’

“About our achievements”

“What are your achievements?”

That is the final question. You have just revealed your ignorance. You are just another cliche example of a brash youngster who has turned a blind eye to all the stupendous accomplishments of the men in power, and conveniently bracketed them as bureaucratic scoundrels.

None of this is said.

It is a conversation that has transpired purely by “the way he looked at you, looking at him. And the way you looked at him, looking at you.”

“Next.” he jams the bell on his table in a manner that communicates to the experienced peon, that he want you OUT, more than he wants the next person in. 

And you walk out with that one easily memorizable line in your nice smelling notepad, weighed down with the strange pressure that the unused blank pages are adding on you.

“Ad. Color/ b/w. About achievements.”

“But that’s the deal. It works like this.” explained a slightly more experienced fellow Harijan to me, bonding over that mutually beneficial Gold Flake King, that we planned to share after we finished our respective sessions. 

“It’s like a competition, my friend. A guessing game of sorts. About 40 agencies are called. And everyone is briefed. The same ‘we want ad’ brief. And everyone is given the same deadline of 3 days.

The game is simple.

1. You need to guess what the ad is about?

2. You then need to find information that can back your guess.

3. And then you need to make an ad and present it to them.

4. All the submissions are taken to Vidhana Soudha, where a secret jury selects the ad that is believably closest to their manifesto,  even if it is farthest from the truth.

5. The winning agency gets to release the ad in Engish dailes since they are the most expensive.

6. The artwork of the winning ad is distributed to the other participating agencies.

7.The rest of them have to bargain and negotiate for the remaining dailies and release the ad.

It’s a weird system. But that is the system that they are most comfortable with. 

So the trick is to find the right people and get the maximum information possible that is required for making the ad.”

But nobody knows what is the information needed. Nobody knows who has this information. And nobody knows how to get it out from them.

DHAN-TE-DAN……the search now begins…….part 2

Halli daariyalli….evening hothinalli

It happens often. And it can drive you crazy. Atleast it happens to me. You suddenly remember a song, and then you want it badly. So badly that it can drive you insane.

It happened to me again.

From somewhere out of the blue, an old kannada song called ‘halli daariyalli’, started to haunt me. A song that I vaguely remember seeing Kokila Mohan dancing in some jazzy dinchak outfit. A song that had made my new ‘Dyanora’ color tv proud, some years back.

I kept tossing and turning last night in my sleep, trying to remember the song fully. I woke up singing the same tune. I could not take it any longer. I needed it. And needed it really bad.

I tried googling it with no luck.

Then I youtubed it. And i found this interesting clip. Though it isn’t the original, I must admit that the dude out here has done quite a brilliant job of it. So watch it to get an idea of what this post is all about.

I had no clue which movie it belonged to. But I could bet that SPB was the singer. 

So, with this limited knowledge I first went to the neighboring music stores, Planet M, Music World, Calypso and a few others. Unfortunately, noone knew what I was talking about.

And then I remembered this unique tiny shop called Totalkannada.com located in the basement opposite Pai Vihar, Jayanagara, a shop completely dedicated to kannada movies, music, books and other “Jai Karnataka Maate’ paraphernalia. 

This was my last resort. I was going half mad. And I hoped and prayed that I find it there.

As I entered, a salesgirl was sitting at the counter. A simple young kannadiga girl, who was almost dozing off to some old kannada melody on the speakers that was apt for a sleepy afternoon like this. There was another lone customer loitering around and messing up the alphabetically arranged Vcds. 

One look at her and I was convinced that she would have no clue either. 

With full anxiety, I leaned over the counter and whispered adding the customary ‘maydam’ before every sentence to sound as authentically kannada as possible….

“Maydam, ondhu haadu hudukutha iddini…..(I’m searching for a song) …….halli daariyalli”

She turned down the volume of the speakers that was playing ‘Namoora mandaara hoove’.

I repeated my request ‘Maydam…halli daariyalli’, with an irritating eagerness that I didn’t care to hold back.

She turned the volume further down and closed her eyes to concentrate on getting the tune of my request.

I impatiently waited for that one customer to clear the field, and then cleared my throat.

“Maydam …haadla..(can i sing it?)”

She nodded impatiently.

I looked around and broke into the song accompanied by a half-hearted jig, to add some excitement to her memory jogging process…..”Halli daariyalli……tan ta daan ta da taan ta da taan…” and abruptly stopped, wishing that her imagination would take over with this cryptic clue.

She gave me a look as if to say “Go on…don’t stop, it’s coming …it’s coming in my head…keep it going”.

So I took a good look around and continued….

“Halli Daariyalli……tan ta daan ta da taan ta da taan…

Thampu breezinalli…tan ta daan ta da taan ta da taan…

hmmmm hmmmmm hmmmmmm…something something and 

ooru inda bandanu Mr Maraaanu”

She showed me symptoms of having heard it before. Her eyes lit up and she started mouthing the words to herself. She closed her eyes and transported herself back to her ‘Dyanora or Solidaire TV’ days. 

I encouraged her further by again repeating all that I knew.

She jumped “Correct. howdu….ivaga nyaapka barthaayide…..Englishu Kannada mix maadi ondu haadu” (Ya…now I remember, it’s a song that mixes up English and Kannada words)

I was thrilled to bits and continued…’ya ya, haaruthide love birdsugalu…..’ and was promptly interrupted by some fool who walked in wanting some Darshan hits.

The imagination that we had built up till now was drowned the minute she slipped in the ‘Darshan Hits’ CD to test it. The sepia toned imagery floating in the air was ruthlessly spoilt by the garish garbage that belted out of the speakers.  

I casually asked that customer “Saar Halli daariyalli haadu yaav picturu antha goththa?” (Sir, do you know which movie is ‘Halli Daariyalli’ from?)

He meditated for a while and said with supreme confidence “Halli Daari alla adu…halli meshtru…..Ravichandran picture” (No …it’s called halli meshtru..a Ravichandran film).

I controlled all my urges to slap him. And let him groove to the irritating tune of his latest purchase that was blaring from the speakers.

Thankfully, the guy was happy with what he was hearing, and he soon exited leaving us alone to resume our exciting search.

And the salesgirl promptly returned. 

I took off from where we left.

“Correctu madam….English Kannada mix…haaruthide love birdsu galu…oduthide cowsugalu..”(love birds are flying and cows are running)

“Hero yaaru gotha?’ She asked frowning hard.

“Seriyaagi nyaapka illa madam…Kokila Mohan anusoththe” (Cannot remember clearly….I think it is Kokila Mohan)

“Haan…” she jumped in excitement and promptly returned with a Vcd of the movie ‘Kokila’.

We quickly poured over its contents.The Vcd also contained a listing of all the songs. But no, this number did not feature.

She was visibly dissappointed with her ineffeciency. And I was visibly happy that she was taking such a keen interest in this.

We both agreed that it could only be SPB who could have sung this song.

She kept humming the tune to herself, as she rummaged through dozens of SPB hits looking for this number.

I picked up a bunch of illayaraja hits hoping that I’d find it in them. I always felt it had a very ‘Illayaraja’ flavour to it.

But we both failed in our searches.

She then picked up a big fat book, a kannada cinema encyclopedia and began searching for it. 

After about 20 minutes of pouring into it, she lifted her head and looked at me strangely.

She studied me carefully.

Obviously there was something running in her head.

And then she said in a nervous whisper “Actually nam bossige gothirathe. Andre ivaaga nidde maadtha irthaare!” (Actually my boss would know. But he’ll be sleeping right now).

She was mentally weighing the worth of this deal. Even if she did identify the cd, it couldn’t be costing more than 30 Rs. Was it worthy enough to spend a phone call? Or risk disturbing the owner at such an untimely hour?

I could sense the dilemma going on in her head. 

I put on the most desperate face I could. 

She pondered for a while and thankfully decided that it was more important to please me than worry about the deal and her boss.

She hesitantly picked up the phone and punched the buttons.

I could see the tension on her face.  

“Sorry sir…..ondhu customer bandidhaare…halli daariyalli bekanthe…yaavu piccharru antha goththa nimmage?” (There is a customer searching for halli daariyalli song here. Do you know which movie it belongs to?)

There was a pregnant pause. She made unpleasant faces at me, imitating her boss’ mood at that time. 

She tried to sound her polite best as she responded to him “..’Muniyana maadri’…..andre adralli Shankar Nag alva…haaan….correctu…….Kokila Mohanu idaane…thumba thanks sir” (Oh Muniyana Maadri…but isn’t that Shankar Nag!….oh ya right….even Kokila Mohan is in that one. Thank you sir)

She hung up and bit her tongue feeling happy that she was done with the difficult part. She rushed and reached out for that Vcd. And ran through the listings.

Yes. The song did feature.

She handed over the vcd to me and said “Boss kopuskondru…parvaagilla….nimmage haadu sikkthalla!” (Boss was wild. But it’s ok. Atleast you found your song).

I grabbed it and was all set to rush back and listen to it. 

But she held me back for a few minutes, frantically rummaging through a few other Cds. I was getting impatient. I had dug out the exact number of notes needed for the transaction, to make it as speedy as possible.

She finally returned with a compile of SPB and held it out to me.   

“Saar. MP3 nu sikkthu…beka? Beri 25 Rupayee!!” (I also got an MP3 of it. Do you want it? It’s only 25 Rs!!’)

I knew that she was doing this only to justify the deal in her own head.

And I could have paid anything for such sincerity.

halli

 

 

 

 

So here it is……I later found it in on youtube….Now that i know which movie it belongs to.

 

Thanks to someone, who’s so passionate about their job.

To hell and back-The final post

We took the turn that the hunters prescribed. A narrow opening just before the first bridge. The hunters had put it across very mildly. 

It was not a turn. It was an incline that was almost 90 degrees. Like 89 or 88 maybe. Ok not less than 87 for sure.

Even Jackie Chan would have used a stunt double for this. It seemed like a joke. We threw another glance at the other way out. The monotonous rail track which we were familiar with. The very idea of walking back 13 kilometers like a herd of sheep seemed worse than death. 

Jeeva decided to give this escape route a fair chance. And ventured first, followed by Aslam. The rest of us waited for a few minutes. And as expected the two of them came tumbling down. 

“Ok guys. We gotta choose. Either we go on and on, on that same wretched rail track. Or we somehow cross this nonsense, and get the fuck outta here as quickly as possible. What do you all want to do?” Jeeva took charge, reminding himself and the others that he was the leader of the pack.

Thoughts crossed our minds. Maybe the incline was only in the initial stage. Maybe after that initial bit, it might suddenly clear into a plateau of greenery. Maybe the highway is just around the corner. Maybe we could end this nightmare in a few hours. We knew we were fooling ourselves into believing all that, but we couldn’t help being tempted that it might just turn out to be true. It was difficult to get rid of our foolishness so fast. So we motivated ourselves by remembering poems from our English class like ‘The road not taken’ and shit like that, took a deep breath, and embarked on this height of stupidity.crossroads

“OK. lets go for this.” we echoed, trying to gather enough conviction to match the volume of the chorus.

We jumped and clung on to the first rock in that opening, pulled ourselves up and crawled on our bellies, scratching our faces and rubbing our noses to the moss and mud. We heaved and puffed and pulled our bodies with all might. We exerted so much that we could taste everything that we had eaten in our lives with our nostrils. 

A few metres above and it was too late to give up. We were all hanging, clinging on to some tree, shrub, creeper and anything else that our hands could reach out to grab. 

I had no idea how Bonda was managing, but he somehow seemed to be doing it.

After sometime, the incline did reduce, but it was still steep to be fully relieved.

We progressed with an amazing speed of 100 metres an hour. 

Guru stopped and leaned against a tree. He opened his bag, took a good look, and made a decision that he should have made earlier in life. He realised the key to survival was to get rid of physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology and other bullshit that weighed him down from leading an assured life. He understood the difference between wisdom and knowledge.

One after another, these worthless pieces of information went rolling down the cliff, making him lighter and wiser, and giving his life a second chance.

Further down, somebody else took a leaf out his books. And soon we heard the kerosene stove rolling down, without even an explosion to give us a momentary thrill.

The wisdom was infectious. The utensils followed.

Everyone started reducing their load, merrily polluting the environment that had been unkind to us. 

Clothes, undergarments, tiny sleeping mats, leftover food…we renounced anything and everything to feel lighter. 

We gulped the last few drops from the final bottle and flung it far away to degrade a thousand years hence.

After this small display of magnificence, we continued our journey with rejuvenated sprits.

But by then, we had lost track of each other. Separated by our varied degrees of agility. 

Each person followed objects that were renounced by the previous guy, hoping that whoever is leading this trail, has attained nirvana somewhere up above. 

We were all alone. Breathless, panting and crying in pain, under some tree. Fallen on some rock. Bruised and bleeding all over. Even the joy of seeing your fellow mates groan in misery had been taken away.

Now and then the skies would echo some familiar voice screaming in pain, and we kept ourselves engaged in a little game by guessing who it might be. 

It was gloomy and it began to pour. Thankfully, we had set out early in the morning, and it was only noon. So, we still had the entire day to figure out the way to freedom.

After about 4 hours of solitary meandering, we miraculously congregated at one point. Each entry, swaying and staggering and finally collapsing on a rock, facing some random direction, exposing their backs to the rain like stray donkeys.

Noone spoke to each other. We hadn’t communicated to each other for more than six hours, but allowed the silence to exchange the mutual misery without seeking any solace in return.

We were drenched. We were sick. We were hungry. We had nothing left. No food. No water. No cigarettes. No bags. No nothing. Just ourselves in some wrecked clothing. The only thing that still remained was Bobby’s equipment, which he chose to retain, over common sense. 

All our parent’s and teacher’s advices started to find meaning here. We secretly decided to become ‘good boys’ when we returned. 

The reason why everyone stopped here was because it had a reason. It was at this junction that life decided to offer us an unwanted choice. The path diverged into three narrower paths, each promising to be more unpromising than the other. 

Arrows“Fucked trekkers you all are. I am a chuth to come with you all.” Bonda uttered his first sentence with utmost clarity.

Aslam lifted himself up, took a small run up and kicked him hard.

Bonda rolled down and screamed in pain.

“Maathar chodh…..” Aslam gave him another kick.

Nobody knew why Aslam reacted like that. But Bonda’s pain came much later in our long list, after our aching body parts, for anyone to be bothered.  

Bobby put down his tripod at the junction, pulled out a gigantic binocular and peeked into them.

He rotated his head and peeked into it again.

And then rotated it further pointing it to the route of the first path and peeked into it once more.

Since nobody seemed inquisitive about his queer behaviour, Mr Sherlock Holmes decided to divulge the findings of his little experiment, himself.

“I have just seen all the three paths. I think we must go down this path.” Bobby declared, pointing to route 2.

“Why?” 

“I can see coconut trees at the end of this direction.”

“So”

Bobby: “You ignorant asses. Coconut trees only grow in civilisation.”

Aslam: “Balls to your theory man. The first route seems most clear. It seems most used.” 

The rest of them found it appropriate to spend some time in depression than debate. As expected, Jeeva decided to take Bobby’s path, as it at least made sense in the long term. We chose to keep our opinions insignificant, and blindly went with Bobby’s recco.

A kilometer down, the path ended at an elephant trap.

Aslam snatched Bobby’s tripod and flung it into a bush, inviting him to participate in a wrestle match behind it. They both disappeared and for sometime nobody cared to intervene.

Soon, Jeeva realised the importance of his role, and reluctantly went behind and brought them back alive.

We retraced our path back, and this time, we went with Aslam’s choice.

The path ended at a violent stream.

Aslam and Bobby continued their unfinished match behind a new bush. This time Jeeva intervened earlier as he had discovered that Bobby needed faster help. 

We retraced our path back, and finally chose the least chosen path.

We walked and walked. And walked. And walked.

And came back to the same spot where we started from.

It was 3 pm. We had reached a stage where we were willingly preparing ourselves to end our lives. Balls to our conviction. Balls to the brave and mighty. Balls to Wordsworth, Frost and their kind who decieved us into this. Balls to Mother Nature and her tricks for wooing us into this mess. 

We formed a huddle and cried together. 

“Ok guys. I have given up on my life. I don’t care if I live or die anymore. I cannot think of anything else but crossing that stream.”

“Ya, atleast let’s die trying.”

“Think about it. Its 4 pm. Soon it will be dark. We have no torches. No food. No nothing. It’s do or die.”

Neil came staggering back with a huge branch fallen nearby. 

“Lets hold on to this and walk. If we make it, we make it. Or we die.”

Jeeva removed his jeans and wore it on his neck. A gesture which was once a symbol of guts and glory, had now become a uniform for suckers. 

We all followed. In tandem we removed our jeans, and adorned it on our necks, and proceeded towards the stream, moronically marching in our undies.

The roar of the stream didn’t frighten us anymore. We stepped into it with an attitude of suicide bombers. 

Jeeva stood first. Followed by Guru. Then Bonda. Then Bobby. Then Neil. Then Aslam and me. This was decided according to our swimming capabilities. 

Jeeva, Guru and me knew how to swim. Aslam and Neil thought they knew how to swim. Bonda and Bobby were sure that they didn’t.

The stream was about 200 metres wide and gushing wild with rage.

Jeeva had a stick that he checked the depth with. The rocks were slippery. We took measured steps and waded into the danger.

I think we walked further with the power of our eyelashes, hair and stubble as they were the only parts in our body that were not yet aching.

We took that huge branch and chucked it in the middle of the stream till it got interlocked between the rocks.

We muttered a hurried prayer and clung on to that branch hoping that it would not give way and waded through the ice cold stream lashing on to our bodies.

The branch gave way every now and then making us lose our balance, and choke out water from our nostrils.

Once we covered the length of the branch, we’d lift it and push it further ahead, and continue on this death mission.

In about an hour, we managed to get over to the other side. Surprisingly, the head count remained the same.

We hugged and celebrated like as if we’d swam the Suez canal.

A few yards down we spotted a little hut. A 60 watt bulb flickered, dimly lighting up the courtyard that had been flattened and plastered with cow dung, with an elaborate rangoli inviting us. A few plantain trees, and a guava tree laden with fruits stood at the entrance, waiting to be devastated. 

Our eyes were filled with tears of emotion, accompanied by a vague sense of deja vu on seeing these evidences that belonged to a civilisation, that we were once familiar with.  

In less than a minute we were on top of the tree. We spared no fruit, not even the ones that were on the way of becoming one. 

A young lady opened the door. And she was shocked to see her flimsy tree infested with seven malnourished monkeys in underwear, raiding her fruits of labour.

She retreated with a piercing scream that summoned the rest of the inmates which included her mother-in-law and two kids.

They surrounded the tree looking at us like we were aliens. We were unmoved. We continued eating. We couldn’t have cared even if they had guns.

After some heated exchange within themselves, they finally settled at being amused.

The lady took pity and asked “Coffee kuditheera?’

By then, Neil had had his fill to answer that. And with an untimely display of politeness he replied…”Illa aunty…it’s ok. No problem.”

The ladies shrugged their shoulders, went back inside and slammed the door.

Soon, we dived down and six of us threw Neil on the ground and were all set to slay him alive.

Just then the lady opened the door again and was shocked to see this sudden repositioning of the primates. 

monkeys

Jeeva sheepishly looked up and begged “Seven cups coffee. We haven’t had anything since last night. Sorry……….aunty.’

The lady returned with seven steel tumblers of steaming coffee.

Foaming_filter_coffee

We plonked ourselves on the courtyard and sent out a strong signal by sucking the last drops as loudly as we could, forcing the lady to bestow more kindness.

She returned with a plate of bananas.

As we were busy gobbling up the bananas, we heard a honk.

It didn’t strike us at first. Then suddenly Bobby jumped up and shouted in a banana voice…

“Did you hear that?’

“What?”

“You asses. That was a truck man, a bloody truck. Which means we are next to the highway.”

It then slowly dawned upon us. 

Jeeva collapsed on the floor.

Aslam did a war dance.

Neil combed back his hair.

Bobby finally dismantled his camera.

Guru secretly pocketed a plantain or two.

Bonda gurgled his saliva

And I was drenching in jubilance.

We couldn’t believe that this journey actually had an end. 

Hitch_Hike_Alright_by_tizzy_busy_idiotSoon, the seven of us stood again in a single file, holding our thumbs out to hitch a ride back to earth.

Ofcourse, in our underwears.

(It’s a different matter that we hitched a ride to the nearest bus stand, and waited for 13 hours at the bus stop to get a bus back home. Ya, but i don’t want to spend anymore time reminiscing this trip. I just want to get back to celebrating that I’m alive.)

To hell and back-Part 4

Finally, we were in Yedakumeri. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to express that feeling. So in the interest of finishing this story, I’ll just skip that part.

The damn rail tracks finally ended. So we were finally relieved of our shameful position. After a long time we held our heads high and looked around.

It was a cute little station. It was about 3 am I guess. Jeeva flashed the torch around to show us a glimpse of our home for the following two days.

A tiny platform on one side with a few benches. A ticket booth with ‘Tickets’ painted above. Two loos with “Gents’ and “Ladies’ boards painted above them. An enclosed area with 3/4th wall, which I guess was the waiting area. And other railway signs all over. And a wash basin that still worked. TrekkingProhibited

We untied the rope on our waists, flung our bags as far as we could, and tumbled into the platform. And rolled on the floor from one side to the other, making orgasmic noises, like we were enacting the role of slaves, in a music video on God Channel.

Bonda hugged a pole like it was his mother’s bosom and cried like a baby, making some embarrassing sounds for his size.

Jeeva opened a quarter of rum, and downed a quarter of it in a gulp.

Aslam sarcastically remarked “Uski maa Jeeva, woh chinaal ka photographer ko bol , uska bhayankar machine ko assemble kar leku, photu kheenchne ko….ek chodku sab kheenchne ko bol, manje uska ek photu kheenchne ka bas, uski maa, usko maarke haar daalne ke vaaste ek photu hona manje bas.’

Bobby: “What’d he just say?’

Bonda cackled like a hyena. Bobby picked himself up and kicked Bonda inaccurately on his groin.

Aslam then turned towards Guru and continued: “Oye student, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, le ba torch, jaake padh…wahan peepal ke ped ke neeche jaake padh beta. Tere pappa ko first rank leke dikha……suvar ki chuth…..’

After a long time, we remembered how to laugh. And we celebrated this discovery. We laughed and laughed and passed out abruptly somewhere in the middle.

We slept through the cold. The hunger. The wetness. Hoping that somehow we would remember to not die and wake up the next day.

I think we slept for about 12 hours. When we opened our eyes, we found ourselves in weird positions, shamelessly revealing the designs and holes on our underwear.

We now got a complete glimpse of the station, that we had only seen in portions so far. We ran around like kids, displaying all emotions that we failed to display on arrival.

We stood on a parapet that was hanging at the edge of the cliff. And screamed any bullshit that came to our minds.

Soon we  got down to making the rest of the stay pleasurable and set up our kitchen. We found a dry corner in the enclosure and arranged all the goods there. A good one hour was spent in re-assembling the stove that had dismantled itself like a Lego toy. And each of us were assigned one spare part which we scrubbed till it was dry. After about an hour  we finally managed to light up that stupid kerosene stove. (Yes, we carried a conventional kerosene stove on a trek, but I think I already explained how senseless we all were).

And soon we had our first cup of steaming coffee and some toast, that brought us back to our senses.

It seemed like Yedakumeri had a lot more variety than bridges and tunnels. There were narrow openings between the bushes that led to infinite such openings.

A lot more living beings apart from bats and snakes began to show up. Strange birds that seemed ordinary in the distance that they kept, frogs, earthworms, butterflies, snails, grasshoppers and other such insignificant creatures. We expected to see elephants, boars, panthers, dolphins, white peacocks, polar bears and a nine coloured rainbow after all this fuss.

But no.

ugly_frogJust an ugly dotted frog stopped by to be photographed by Bobby.  I guess even he was not patient enough, and Bobby spent half the time chasing him with his tripod.

We forced ourselves to appreciate what we saw. The beauty of nature and its creations, to justify the torture we’d been through to get there.

We posed before every little trickle of water between the rocks. 2335093350059349299lRSmYZ_phWe examined every wild flower. Every leaf. Every tree. Every little thing that had poetic connections. We kept searching for valid reasons and larger meanings to be there. And continued to try being one with nature. Forcing ourselves to react to them like William Blake and Wordsworth, and elevate them out of their ordinariness. The sound of birds chirping, the rustle of the leaves, the morning dew and all these wonders of nature had little effect. We had lost all judgement and appreciation for such worldly desires, that even Sri Sri Ravishankarji couldn’t have revived it back. But we explored further hoping to find a new shade of crimson in the sunset, a melody in those noisy birds and a breath of fresh air in the fresh air.

Just for effect, Bobby oohed and aahed about every frog and spider he saw. Bonda would scare them away by making silly noises. And Neil would stand in place of them, and get himself clicked not losing focus of the purpose of his visit.

We couldn’t help wondering how and why did we get ourselves there. This nonsense continued till the sunset relieved us of this drudgery.

We returned to our base camp, took a good look at each other, and faded into darkness. But we were so sick of seeing each other, that we were quite pleased with this impairment.

2323697-Kerosene-Stove-1

Cooking dinner was an event in itself. We decided to make egg noodles, without the eggs of course.

The place was more windy than being amidst a hundred windmills. And we only had one mighty torch to deal with the situation. Everyone held on whatever remained of their sleeping mats, and stood in a circle, forming a wall around the stove. By this time, only Jeeva’s torch was functioning. And we had to use it judiciously. So, Jeeva would switch it on, and we would all grab the required ingredients for the dish and place it around.

Jeeva would then switch it off, giving everyone time to regain themselves in the darkness. He would switch it on again, till one of them took position with the knife and the vegetable that had to be cut.

The one of them was me.

Jeeva would wait till my cutting got into a rhythm. And promptly switch it off when he believed that I had got a hang of what I was doing.

Every time I cut my finger, Jeeva would flash the torch for a few seconds as a gesture of courtesy that he had to get over with.

The rest of the recipe progressed in this fade in, fade out technique.

Once the dish was ready, we would all seat ourselves around it, empty the contents on to the sleeping mat (we had forgotten plates), turn off the torch and grapple like blind men hoping to get a good handful of the meal. We ate mud, twigs, leaves, insects and if we got lucky, a little food.

Neil began another of his boring stories. We gulped down a few shots of the alcohol we carried, and left him like an abandoned radio that had picked up news of some inane station.

On day 2, we continued exploring the place for more exciting locations. We returned for lunch after wandering aimlessly.

On our return we found the shock element we were looking for, or rather not looking for. We were sick of each other, and we didn’t want anything now that demanded interaction. But this trek was a powerful curse.

The entire place was wrecked. Our little stock of booze had been ransacked. Our cigarette stock was reduced by half. Wrappers of the short eats we carried, were strewn all over. We cautiously followed this debris to its terminus, and froze.

Two veerappan look alikes were seated on the corner of the platform, drinking from one of our bottles, smoking our ciggies, munching our snacks and conversing in a strange dialect of Kannada.

They were wearing tiny shorts, hawaii chappals, torn t-shirts and carried a gun each.

They spotted us spotting them.

We did not know how to react. I guess even they didn’t. The only difference was that we were scared, and they weren’t bothered.

One of them took a gulp of rum with no remorse, and asked ‘Ee samaan nimmade?’ in a strange kannada dialect that meant ‘Does all this belong to you?’.

We nodded and let them take another shot, to appear hospitable.

They had no qualms in accepting the invitation. They downed another quarter of rum in a few minutes.

They were curious to know what we city breds were doing in their province. Bonda said something that we didn’t understand, but they seemed to.

We stood at a distance gaping at them like dumb spectators. Neil returned with another bottle of rum and graciously bribed them with it.

The alcohol bridged the friendship.

They were local bushmen, who were out to hunt some wild boars or deer. What was amazing was that they seemed so unprepared for it. All they had was a little cloth bag with some rice in it, and a small steel vessel. A tiny bottle of ground spices in one of their pockets. A belt around their waist that contained bullets. And a torch each.

“Leeches?” We questioned.

They explained that they already had smeared salt on their feet and they were quite use to it. If it still bothered them, they would simply burn it down.

We were enchanted with the way they had reduced this macho hunting game into such a casual chore that they had to perform once in two months.

“Won’t wild animals attack you in the night?”

“Oh no!! We can sense them from far, and we know how to avoid the paths that they usually prowl in.”

“And what do you hunt?”

“Boars. Deer. Bisons. Rabbits. But we try and get something big that could sustain us for atleast a month.”

“And how do you carry them back?”

“Once we are done, we get back to the village and collect a few others, and carry it back it on a wooden pole.”

This seemed straight out of an asterix comic, without the glamour of the gauls.

“Would you like to join us?’

“Oh yeah! but we have to be back by tomorrow morning. We’re leaving.”

“That we cannot promise. We never return empty handed. So, if we don’t manage to get anything by then, we go deeper into the jungle.”

By now we had a better idea of our fitness levels. We realised that being adventurous without the stamina was nothing but plain stupidity. Any ideas that remained were dropped, the minute we saw Guru, Bonda and Bobby sweating in their brow.

“We are bored with this trek. Can you  tell us a more exciting route to get back. We don’t want to do this rail track anymore.”

“Ya there are ways to get out. But it is a little steep. Will you be able to manage? Ya, it is shorter. Only about 5 kms.”

That sounded easy. We jumped at this escape route.

“After the first tunnel, you’ll find a narrow path on your right, between the bushes. Get into it. And just follow the path. You’ll reach a highway after about 5 kms.”

Bobby assembled his evidence machine. And took a group snap for posterity, just in case we were venturing into a path of no return.

To be contd….

To hell and back – Part 3

The day ended exactly like the way it had started. Seven of us huddling in darkness.

blackness-1

Atleast, we all remembered to carry torches. Except Guru, since he was already on a path of enlightenment to his professor’s house. Bonda carried a pen torch that was enough to light up a button hole. Neil had a torch with some stock of Eveready batteries that were purchased by his grandfather during independence. I carried one that never failed to switch off at the right moment. Jeeva was the only one who had a massive torch that brought some dignity to this trek. Bobby had a decent one as well. And Aslam’s torch had conked in the rain.

So, we switched on our torches and entered into an argument that was long due. Jeeva flashed the torch at Bonda and yelled. Bonda yelled back flashing his pen torch on Bobby’s eye, rather pupil. Bobby punched Bonda on his chest. Aslam intervened, and calmed Bobby down. And turned to Bonda and gave him a punch from his side, that was twice Bobby’s might. Guru quickly slipped into a dark corner to remain inconspicuous. I kept fiddling with my torch to get it working before I picked my victim. This torch pointing game went on for quite some time, till everyone had finished flashing blames on each other. Soon, we realised that we were wasting precious energy on this pointless argument. So, we switched off our torches and continued with this fight in darkness picking an approximate blind spot, and hurling abuses at it. 

Bobby blamed Bonda for forgetting his bag.

Bonda blamed Bobby for his selfish long drawn photography breaks.

Guru concluded that this was a stupid idea to begin with.

Neil turned philosophical and blamed destiny.

I blamed my shitty luck. 

Aslam blamed everyone.

And Jeeva blamed his brainlessness for being a part of this shameful gang.

The only bright spot that remained was the deadlinelessness of the situation. We had already screwed up. We could think of nothing better to do, than remain in our positions and scream at each other. Which we did till the sounds of the jungle started getting louder. Strange sounds from every corner merged into an eerie cacophony humbling this petty scrap. We started feeling the wetness in our underwears. Now and then a cold wind would tingle some forgotten body part. And we started coming to terms that we have to move our asses, if we still want to keep them. 

There was a brief silence that made everyone believe that someone around was developing a plan. 

I heard the rumbling of a plastic cover. I was trying to decipher this familiar sound. It was Jeeva who was rummaging his bag to pull out some boiled eggs. This idea seemed great to our blank heads.

Soon, everyone attacked the packet like Darwin’s salivating dogs. The eggs that were planned out for next 2 days disappeared in 2 minutes. My hunger humped my ego aside, and I dived right in. Ok, I admit that boiled eggs never tasted so tasty before. 

Neil used this replenished energy for giving a small motivational speech, in a feeble defeated voice “We can do it guys come on. We’ve covered half the distance. Let’s finish it off guys. This is the test of life. We will not give up. Let’s go…..” or some such nonsense.

Nobody budged. And Neil quickly returned to the eggs that were fast disappearing.

We had just flung ourselves on a cluster of bushes on the left of the railtrack. There wasn’t even space for squatting. We just leaned on them with our bags on the back, sinking into it gradually, deforming ourselves to stand in peculiar poses, stuffing our faces with egg. It was thorny and we were bruised all over, but we were learning to vulnerably succumb to it. 

A whooshing sound that could have nothing but a snake, instantly kicked us all back into track.

Jeeva fished out a rope from somewhere and said “Ok. I’ll lead. The rest tie this rope around your waist and follow.” We got into our positions behind this self-appointed torch bearer. The balance trustable torches were assigned to every alternate member in the queue. And we were back on this eternal journey to nowhere. 

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What was worse was that, earlier we could atleast stop to see things around, but now the vision was strictly restricted to that ring of torchlight on those monotonous railings. We held our torches, tightened the rope on our waists, and relied on a mysterious force to pull us along. And walked like immune donkeys on semi-effective anaesthesia.

To keep himself going, Bonda strung together names of all his favorite gods and composed a meaningless prayer with a lifeless tune. And we all marched to this irritating chant.

Nobody had a perfect idea of how much we had covered, and how far we still had to go. After a few steps Bonda felt that we had walked over 5 kilometers, and Jeeva vouched that it was not more than 500 meters. We had to find methods to keep our bodies disengaged from the mind. And fool it to keep it going. 

“I’m fainting”

“I think I’ll die”

“Aojboaffvapsda”

“Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh”

“Mummy Daddy ki pasand. Bhaiyaa Bhabi ki pasand.”

“Vicco turmeric nahin cosmetic….”

“Tip tip barsa paani…I am your papa johnny”

“Humse kya bhool hui jo ye sazaa humko mili…..”

“HARE aknanaihipaiop RAMA askdnakne KRISHNA bmxncvnhsef ALLAH aihdaisc JESUS aksdkahad NAAM bhjmkbfasld HAI uabsdouasfas SHAHENSHAH”

“Twinkle twinkle little star…”

“FUCK YOU ALL”

We garbled anything that came to our mind to continue this journey in a state of mindlessness. I guess we were slowly turning mad. We walked mentally spell-checking our epitaphs, weighing our chances in heaven and picturising the various reactions of people when they get to know the news.

a-night-of-batsSuddenly Jeeva stopped and took off his jeans and strung it on his shoulders. The wet jeans had ruptured his skin. Jeeva resembled a ragpicker in this get up. Jeans on his neck, an oversized bag on his back, a dripping underwear on his bottom, and a piece of sleeping mat on one of his shoes. But at that moment even Russel Peters couldn’t have made us laugh. Seeing him, we realised that we all suffered from the same condition. Our thighs were severely wounded, and the idea of exposing it to the cold wind, seemed blissful. In a moment we all stripped down to our undies, and ungeared ourselves to complete the rest of this torment. Neil however took a little more time to aptly undress for this occasion, still managing to find his own style statement in the hour of desperation. He tied back his hair. And buckled his belt over his long shirt. Flung his jean on the neck, and casually tossed back one half over his shoulder, to make it seem like an impromptu stole. And ramp walked like he was in a show that had ‘Spartacus’ as the theme. 

Bobby carefully scrutinized his thighs to find any traces of blood, so that he could repeat his fainting act more convincingly this time. Fortunately, the leeches and his denims were kinder to the rest of us.

And after this brief makeover, we resumed that painful parade in our liberated uniform. 

Now and then, we would wait for Jeeva to replace his shredded sole with a fresh cutting of the sleeping mat. Eventually he had no more mat to cut, and slowly moved on to sizing down every other mat that he could lay his hands on. We walked with alternating interruptions of Jeeva’s sole changing pit-stops and Guru’s squeals, everytime he spotted a twig that resembled a snake.

For sometime, Neil kept us engaged with some story of a fashion show that he had participated in. The story was disjointed and meaningless, but noone bothered to clarify. To everyone around, it was only a reassurance that we were still a part of this world. We were still alive. We could still hear. We were still walking. It was just comforting to hear a human voice around, to assure us of our existence. 

We subjected ourselves to this unique test where on one end, Neil’s humdrum was putting us to sleep, and on the other the rope that was tugging us on our waists refused to let us slip into his lullaby.

We endured this torture for about six hours, and in the dying minute of our lives, we suddenly spotted salvation. Jeeva flashed the beam on a railway board that read “Yedakumeri”.

(Oh yes!! This has a part 4. I tried my level best to edit out as much as I could, but I couldn’t. I have too many stories to tell. Not because they are worthy of narration, but just for the sheer pleasure that I’m still bloody alive to tell it.)

To be contd…..

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