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.
I 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….