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.

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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….

Extra bleed

After 11 long years in advertising, I have finally identified a list of senseless activities that we so vehemently indulge in, like as if we are on a mission to save the world.

cart-before-horse-2

Long term strategy

It’s funny how we still cling on to this one, very well knowing that it is probably the most foolish thing to do.

The client who’s engaged you on this one is definitely not going to stay for long. Your boss is searching for opportunities abroad. Your flunk is making plans to the Himalayas with a latest SLR to build a portfolio that promises him a job outside advertising. The client’s flunk disagrees with his boss. And is only waiting for a chance to speak, or his boss to leave. The consumer cares a rat’s ass as to what you said in the last ad or what you are going to say next. The product you are about to advertise is going to undergo a plastic surgery in a few months from now. The servicing dude is negotiating his prospects to join the client’s rival company. The planner on the brand has 12 unused archetypes that he is dying to explore. The art director is going to stumble upon 17 new looks that’ll give him a hard on between this campaign and the next. The studio comps will crash. The supplier who stores the hi-resolution images is about to upgrade. The only person who knows where it’s stored is getting a job in Dubai. The model in the ad is becoming fatter or older. The celeb is either going to get more famous to a point where you can’t afford him or hit rock bottom where you wouldn’t want to use him anymore. The baseline will be rattled away away as many times that it will be nauseating to even utter it again. The producer will hold on to the rushes for a handsome ransom.

What long term!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Why is it that we all meet every six months to discuss a long term idea. What happened to the idea that was declared long term six months ago.

360 degrees

It is 359 degrees of effort to sell one damn wobbler. It is invented to keep the overenthusiastic trainee busy during a pitch. It is invented to redirect internally rejected press ads to obscure mediums like ambient, direct mailer, internet, posters in gyms, beauty parlours, cinema theatres and the all time favorite push-pull sticker. The push-pull sticker somehow completes the package.

Films that make no sense to the strategy are bundled into viral. 

And then bizarre ideas that include park benches, buses, trains and other properties governed by government. Ha ha…..ok assume that the idea is approved, now can someone please tell me where does this government exactly sit, so that we can seek its permission?

The other purpose is for the sadistic pleasures of clearing your coffee cup from the table just when you are about to sip it, and empty out the dozen brown packets on the client’s table. And of course it’s evidence for that special guest who’s flown down to give the “We are a complete agency” speech. All this wobbling for that one wobbler.

Animatics

After months of power point slides, we then move on to a slide of a different kind. Puppets that slide from the side. It’s one versatile face that can take on many get-ups. Give it a bob-cut and salwaar and it becomes a young modern housewife. Lengthen hair and add bindi…wow it’s now a traditional obedient housewife sipping tea. Make the hair fall on the eyes and voila!!!! You’ve made her naughty. Cut the hair really short, strip it to mini skirts and add an ink blotch on its arm, it’s a tattoo sporting chicklet.

Now pick the relevant music…If you are confused follow these golden rules…..

Crows cawing as ambient sound…if it is dialogues.
Trance music ………if it is a look and feel film for the youth.
Elevator music followed by an aalaap…… if it is emotional.

And send the newcomer who just joined for the dubbing. And the junior planning for the research group. Load it with dialogues and narration as you have 2 odd minutes in hand. Fool proof it from all angles. And once you have it approved, squeeze all those dialogues in the final 20 second commercial.

Brand Seed/ Root/ Tree/ Plant/ Sapling whatever

Simply put, it is a comprehensive list of things you cannot do. In the sense, if anything manages to evade through this massive list of parameters, it is automatically given the status of an idea. The list is a collective effort of many people who know what they don’t want. Some idiot in advertising said that you can only say one thing in an ad. How boring!! Meetings would then last for just a minute. After so many years of education, you cannot now expect people to only say what they want to say. How about giving them an opportunity to say what they don’t want to say? That way, they can speak more and also get a sense of contribution. Let us take a stand that our briefs will not end up being mere creative catalysts. Let’s make it into an exciting scientific puzzle.

bewildered

It would be foolish to reinvent the wheel. A change in the system would mean rewriting the course material of MBA. After all, common sense and gut feel are too unacademic and fragile to place mighty brands on them.

Even successful brands that have stayed clear of these methodical approaches and innocently followed their gut, have now been postmortemized and made into structured case-studies, to prove that how unknowingly they have followed a chapter out of the voluminous theories of brand building. Only to make sure that a stray exception doesn’t end up defeating the efforts of a hard-earned degree. To make sure that freely available emotions don’t overpower expensive reasoning. To make sure that experiences of life do not demean exercises of the classroom. To make sure that common sense doesn’t end up retracing complex theories to fundamental human truths, that these theories were originally based on.

I read recently, that some fan took a Kotler’s best seller and went up to him, to ask him for an autograph. Kotler took the book and ripped it to pieces and chucked it in a bin and told him ‘Don’t bother, it doesn’t make sense anymore’.

Even Kotler realised that the prescription has become the epidemic.

It would be far worthwhile if we stopped reinventing brands, and put our efforts on the discoveries we stumble upon. But unfortunately, problems and opportunities bloody well queue up in a disciplined manner to follow this strict assembly line. Because the solution is fixed. We only now need to search for problems that match it. 

The list of these moronic practices is endless.

And it is so because, it’s a stupid formula that preserves this insanity.

Add all the members of the circus to one colander and then sift out the ones who have the ideas. And give the decision making powers to the ones above.

And enjoy the prolonged agony that keeps an entire industry alive. Advertising.

Disclaimer: This is a summary of my observations gathered from my total experience in the industry. The only reason I still manage to survive is that not all of them are true at the same time. 

What’s in IT for me?

I have a lot of friends in IT.
They have a single friend they lost out to advertising.

Over the years, we’ve lost touch. And when we meet, we don’t know what to speak. While, that may the difference of ‘Information’ and ‘Communication’.

They would like me to just inform them about what I’m doing.
I would like to communicate to them what I’m doing.

Click on an IT guy’s profile on Facebook. You’ll only find people he has lost touch with.
Click on an Advertising guy’s profile on Facebook. You’ll find people he’d like to be in touch with.

They are on Facebook, coz they have no time to waste.
We are on Facebook, coz we want to waste time.

Our Facebook friends list totals up the number of guys we know in the universe.
Their Facebook friends list totals up the number of people they’ve not been in touch with.

That’s only my starting point of differences. The rest is a mindless rambling of my thoughts of our universe v/s theirs. There is no constructive conclusion to this post. It’s just me typing away any garbage thats on my mind right now. No argument. No flow. No nothing. Just meandering with my thoughts without Ctrl z.

OK. It was about the IT dudes. They atleast make taller and greater claims only in their annual reports to cover up.
We are employed to do that on a daily basis in every ad.
They do it financially. We do it creatively.
Guys from overseas pay them. Guys who oversee pay us.

They get paid to debug. We get paid to bug.

In bad times they get laid off, we get laid. They are expected to only simplify complicated matters. Here we are expected to do both, first complicate it before simplifying it.

It’s easy, ask a software dude what he does and he’ll try and simplify the explanation.

Layman: ‘What do you do?’
Software dude: ‘Well, have you ever booked a ticket online?’
Layman: ‘yes’
Software dude: ‘Ok, we make programs that enable it.’
Layman: ‘wow!!’

On the other hand

Layman: “What do you do?’
Ad man: ‘I create touchpoints where a consumer can interact and have a dialogue with a brand’
Layman: ‘What do you do?’
Ad man: ‘We decide if Lux should be a man or a woman.’
Layman: “So, what do you do?’
Ad man: ‘We ladder up brand offerings to emotional spaces’
Layman: ‘Do you make ads?’
Ad man: “We dont make ads. We create brand personalities. We convert inanimate objects and intangible services to human beings.”
Layman: “Uhh!! Looks my drink is over. I’ll be right back.”

The problem is everyone knows advertising, so we try and make it larger than what it is.

The problem is nobody knows programming, so they try and make it seem smaller than what it is.

They die to bring it to a familiar space. We try and take it to an unfamiliar zone.

They have the money. We have the plans.

Check out pics of software dudes who go on foreign trips.
“My seattle office.”
“The park in the Microsoft campus’
“Tandoor. Yummy Indian food. Reminds me of my days in India. Swear by its tandoor chicken.’
“Bob. The funniest programmer I’ve met.”
“Ayesha, Tania and Mark. You guys rock.”
“Ayesha. Mark and Me. Pic by Tania.”
“Chang. Loved the Dimsums. Make me more.”
“Ripleys museum. Yipeeeee”

And pics of advtg flunks on a trip to Goa, Pondi, Hampi or Rajasthan.
A fakir blowing a chillum.
A stray dog in a garbage dump.
A crow.
A balloonwala.
Four kids struck by poverty.
And other macro shots if the scene around is boring.

We try and find something interesting in the boring life we lead.
They find something boring in the interesting life they lead.

Maybe because they know that they’ll be back there.
We doubt if we’ll be back there again.

Their work begins with logic.

Our work ends when we’ve found common sense….like make the logo bigger, it wont be visible on a hoarding.

Everybody screams over a cup of by two coffee ‘Don’t you have common sense?’.
But Logic is something that’s shared over a sophisticated drink.

Any day, Logic sounds so much cooler.

They find a creative way of making tickets accessibe on the net and call it logical solutions.
We find a logical reason for somebody to buy paint and call it creative solutions.

If we want to travel abroad, we need to write a film that opens there. If they want to travel abroad, all they need to do is fuck up somewhere.

They chose to study harder in school. We just postponed the agony to now.

Their companies have vague names. We have vaguer ones.

They like x,z and soft, tech, info, digi and next.
We like a,b,c and happy and orange and juice.

They have fancy numbers to back them.
All we have is that damn key number.

They are dying for everyone to know what they do.
And we hope and pray that nobody knows what we do.

While we were busy answering the question ‘What’s in it for me?’ on behalf of the lakhs of people who consume brands, some guys asked that question for themselves. “What’s in IT for me?’.

Smart chaps.

This post will be removed the minute I get sober.

Dog is a DJ – Part 2

It was about 4 months. The shine on the DJ badge had begun to dull, and this cool pastime started seeming like a job. I could spot the cracks in the mahogany around. I knew which waiter was putting on an accent. I knew half the cocktail recipes. I could see a face and guess the tracks that he or she would trip on. I knew who spends, who doesn’t. I knew which person would be footing the bill at any table. I knew the cats at snooker. I knew the bartenders. I knew the chefs. I knew the marksmen. I knew the cleaners in the loo. I also which CD belonged to which cover. I knew which CD had a scratch. I knew at which second the track in that CD would jump.

I started hating the songs that I used to love, and starting loving the ones I always hated. By the end of that, I could appreciate just about any genre of music under the sun. I had mastered the art of changing moods. I knew which song I could use to shift from hip-hop to rock or from a romantic song to a dance track.

I also knew that I played a big part in determining the waiter’s tip. I had often seen waiters fighting for the requests that came from their table. Great service would earn them a handsome tip. But a request that was played could just triple that amount.

I also realised that it’s important to keep the women happy. If the women returned, the men will simply follow.

I pulled along learning something new everyday.

But the hunger pangs was something that I just couldn’t bear. After many experiments, I narrowed down on one long track that could give me the needed escape to go grab half a plate of egg noodles at ‘Bob’s Chinees Cart’ right outside the pub.

An extended remix of George Michael’s ‘Fast Love’, that went on for 16 minutes and 42 seconds.

So everyday, at about 8 PM, I’d quietly slip in this CD and dash out. Bob had programmed himself to break an egg into the wok, the minute he saw my shadow elongate from a distance. By the end of the meal, I’d rush back just in time, with about 30 seconds of the track left and pass by dozens of dizzy drunks, who’d be in a motionless state of trance with George Michael running out of breath and words…..

..’looking for some fast love….looking for some fast love….looking for some fast love…….looking for some fast love….looking for some fast love……………..’

and dive to reach the cross faders…’all aboard…..the night train’…

..and settle down sucking the last string of noodle dangling from my mouth.
djmonkey

I had managed to keep the manager in the dark about my vanishing act. I also knew exactly when he was around. I had developed a code language with the waiters to find out the auspicious occasions of when he was missing. I knew which request evoked what kind of a response. So I’d hold on to the risky ones and play them only when I was sure that the tiger was not on prowl.

By now, I had started identifying customers by their favorite songs and their eccentricities.

There was the ‘Cocojumbo’ man, an old weary loner who’d walk in at the same time everyday, wearing the same hat, and sit on the same bar stool and order the same drink and lift his glass in my direction gesturing me to play the same song again. Cocojumbo. The minute the track began, he’d shut his eyes and listen to it till his Bloody Mary bled with pathos. And balance his head on the counter, by holding the bridge of his nose. I’d never seen so much melancholy in reggae before in my life.

Then there was the ‘Scatman troop’, a bunch of teeny Cottonians disguised in cool sweat shirts and jackets that unconvincingly concealed their uniforms beneath. They’d chuck their school bags to an obscure corner, split that everlasting pitcher and then their fingers to make a ‘Pepsi Can’ pose and try keeping pace with Scatman. They’d scat all the possible gibberish, scattering all the beer they’re holding and end in a dramatic fashion by knocking their fists and finishing together “Ski Ba Bop Ba Dop Bop”. And do a quick scan from the corner of their eyes, to spot any prospective female fan of their do.

Then was the Nirvana chick. A short-haired, seven earring sporting wild feline. She’d wear tees that had huge hand painted logos of ‘Metallica’, ‘Megadeth’ and ‘Maiden’. She’d only request for numbers which had a minimum decibel level of a rocket launch, with lyrics penned by sadistic undertakers.

Can you play ‘Countdown to extinction?’
“No”
“Symphony of destruction”
“No”
“Skin of my teeth”
“No”
“Corporeal Jigsore Quandary”
“No”

After her initial requests of morbid head rupturing cacophonies, she’d unsettlingly tune down her ear drums to Nirvana’s ‘Smells like teen spirit’. And break into a headbang that had an unpredictable radius. She’d continue this war dance clearing the field around inaudibly questioning the machismo of the men around. They’d surrender by replacing their sissy pint beers with an extra-large of the hardest liquor in the house.

Then was the ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ dude. A young chap who wore shiny shirts with hypnotising patterns and tight denims. He’d simply lean over a pillar with a drink in his hand, watching a snooker game in progress. No song mattered to him. The only song that deserved a response from his limbs was “Kung Fu…”. Everytime the track changed, he’d get into position, hoping that the initial beats would mysteriously blend into his favorite request. And when it finally did, he’d make partners with the pillar, and slip into his role of Bruce Lee making drunken monkey, crazy horse, flying cobra and other Shaolin poses.

And of course, the strangest was this curly haired guy from Mauritius. He’d walk-in with this break-dance step that universally suited any tune that I was playing. And wink at me from his corner. A gesture that’s suppose to mean ‘bring my favorite track on’.

“Every breath you take”.

(He’d corrected the request after I goofed up the first time by playing Sting’s version of it. He scribbled specifically ‘By Puff Daddy’, the next time.)

The minute the track was played, he’d enact a Mauritian national dance to this tune. A step where he’d first vibrate his feet which then electrifyingly travelled to his head reaching every body part during the journey. This was followed by a random spin. He’d then freeze for a few moments and smile at whoever he was facing. He’d continue with this step, in a loop. By the time the song ended, he’d have staggered all over the place, displacing the maximum audience possible. And at the end of it, he’d crumple a paper napkin into a ball and chuck it at me. The first time, I was annoyed with his style of thanksgiving. But when this practice continued religiously, I dismissed it as an Mauritian way of showing appreciation.

To be contd……

Apart-mental meetings part 3

After looking at her timer for a few seconds, Princi Face decided that it was now time for her to speak up. She unfolded her hands and cleared her throat.

Riverdale closed her Archie, put it beside and folded her hands, and took on her mom’s pose, relieving Princi Face to freely express her views.

“The Secretary recently replaced the fused bulb on the 2nd floor landing. I appreciate that….” She paused.

I had no clue why she referred to me in third person, even when I was sitting right there. Was it respect for the title, or was it because she hated even mentioning my name? This doubt was cleared in the next few seconds.

“….But I think The Secretary has been very unfair. While the first and third floor landing have ordinary 60 watt bulbs, why did The Secretary have to replace it with a fancy CFL bulb on the second landing?”

I gulped and meditated for a little while, to pick the right emotion before I answered that question.

One of The Four Ladies hated the delay, and decided to confront it herself.

“Why, atleast let one floor have good lighting. Let the bulb in your landing fuse, and then we’ll put a CFL bulb even in your floor…if that will make you happy.” She flared. It was obvious that she belonged to the second floor.
“…I think The Secretary has done something good. We must thank him for that” she ended, and looked at me like a victorious mother hen.

I felt like a coward to have engaged a spokeswoman.

Suddenly, in a fit of rage, Riverdale sprung up violently, flung her comic to one corner. “Oh okay!! If that’s the case, I’ll just go and break that damn bulb on our floor right away” and was all set to storm out and enact the scene.

But the proceedings were spoilt by the Oriya Stud, who was quick and responsive with his out-of-the-box solutions. He volunteered to donate the two spare CFL bulbs that were lying unused in his attic ever since he had moved in here.

The Smiley played his role of a cheer mascot by rotating his head in slow motion.

The Princi Face called a truce by folding her hands and returning back to her initial pose.

Riverdale was visibly upset that her dramatics was nipped by this Gandhian settlement. She sat back on her chair and furiously punched the shortcut keys to Snake Level 5 on her Nokia.

It was 9 pm now. I was hungry, and I made some feeble attempts to disperse the crowd.

“Looks like your kid is feeling sleepy”
“Isn’t sa re ga ma finals today?”
“The neighbour must be wanting her dining chair back”

The hints were conveniently ignored. The audience wore a determined look, that they would not budge till they got their full share of entertainment. Also, they had just been deprived of some explosive action by the Oriya, and this had to compensated.

The meeting gained an inevitable extension, when a new entrant walked in with fresh enthusiasm. All hopes of fulfilling any unfulfilled entertainment now rested on this new messiah – A short middle aged man with an irritating looking moustache. A spiky one that automatically gave his pesky looking face an authoritarian edge.

He leaned across to the elderly man and got himself a quick update on all the points discussed. He shrunk his lips till the spiky hair of his moustache fanned out, and nodded his head in introspection with a ‘hmmmm…’.

A ‘hmmmmm’ that bundled all the matters discussed, to futility. And arrived at a subject of paramount importance, that could possibly make up for the lack of substance, during his absence.

“What about the calling bell? I heard that a new one was installed, and now even that one is spoilt?” he said in an accusing tone, looking at a wall hanging situated right next to where I was sitting.

(OK, a little background on the calling bell….. At Kumbha, the watchman’s room was a furlong away from the gate. And Kumbha residents had made it a point that the gate be locked sharp at 10pm. So anyone who arrived after that, had to wake up the watchman by ringing the calling bell, the switch of which was next to the gate. No, It was not expected that the watchman remains awake at that time. The calling bell had not been working ever since I moved in. And nobody found the need for it, as everyone got home before 9pm. So, after many unsuccessful attempts of trying to wake up Bahadur without waking up the others, I finally decided to change the calling bell. A decision I bravely took without consulting the others. To my dismay, the new one stopped working, within a month.)

The others hung their heads as if they had been put to shame by my careless act. They obviously knew something that I didn’t.

“I put a new one….and ya, it conked….so i’ll replace it now.” I said trying to dismiss it frivolously.

Mr Moustache gave a half grin, stared at a particular tile on the floor and said in a menacing tone “How much did you pay for the calling bell?”

“250 bucks” I said.

Mr Moustache shifted his grin to the other half of his face, and stared at another tile on the floor.

“250 bucks. Hmmmm….What a waste!”

He placed his chin on the hand, curled his upper lip inward, bit a few strands of his moustache hair, and continued looking at the tile on the floor. And waited for adequate silence to prepare ground for the point he was about to make.

I was fed up. I had made up my mind that I will trash any remark of his to pieces.

Without moving his head, he lifted his eyebrows and looked at his wife who was One among The Four Ladies, gesturing her to state the point that I was so idiotically missing. She clasped her hands and broke the suspense.

“Mr Rajesh, don’t you know that he deals in calling bells?”

The Elderly Man moved back into his chair, to clear the path of vision between Me and Mr. Moustache.

“For 11 years, I’ve been working in the sales department of a calling bell factory. We manufacture all kinds of calling bells. And also thermos flasks.” continued Mr. Moustache adding finer details to emphasise his point.

His voice quivered. He was absolutely shattered and betrayed that noone bothered to consult his expertise in this area. One of his rare chances of offering advice had been impetuously neglected.

“If only you had asked me, I could have given you the latest in the market at cost price.” he regretted.

Riverdale observed silence by dogearing her comic. The Princi Face passed her judgement by letting out a loud sigh. The earrings of The Four Ladies shook in tandem. The Elderly Man jutted out his lower lip and folded his notes. The Elderly Aunty munched her potato chips noiselessly. The Oriya wore a look of condemn, hoping that I would pick it up. The Smiley’s smile relaxed, giving me a glimpse of how he looked otherwise.

The pressure in the room forced me to not be amused by it. I had answers firmed up in my head for everything. Not this one. I was at a loss of words. I had never met anyone, even remotely, who had anything to do with calling bells.

I was forced to shamefulness, for taking the wrong call.

Rather the wrong calling bell.

My thoughts were interrupted with a ‘Ting tong’.

The neighbour wanted her dining chairs back.

Apart-mental meetings part 2

I looked around to see if I’ve missed out on anyone. I still had one glass of Fanta and a paper plate of the critically reviewed potato chips and sweet.

I scanned the faces in the room, one by one.

Two Elderly Aunties, who had sacrificed their evening brisk walk for this social cause.

An Elderly Man who was holding sheets of the previous two ‘minutes of the meeting’. While the ladies were busy chit-chatting on their tailors and trinkets, he was constructively highlighting the pending jobs with his ‘Reynolds Bold’.

A young Smiley man who provided evidence of his presence, by breaking into a smile everytime he felt someone was looking at him.

An even younger Oriya software dude, who was a first timer in these meetings, all set to outshine the others with ‘out of the box’ suggestions.

A ‘School Principal Faced’ lady who had her hands folded and looked at her watch periodically to indicate her displeasure, on any loose talk.

Her teenage daughter who had momentarily stepped out of ‘Riverdale’, to join this meeting. She had equipped herself against any likely boredom, by carrying an archie comic, and also a backup – her mobile, on which she furiously kept typing away smses to her tribe.

And of course the Four Ravishing Young Ladies in the centre who had no doubt that this evening belonged to them.

Everybody had had their refreshments, except the Princi-Face, because she still had not cracked how to eat with her hands folded. ‘Riverdale’ had avoided the sweet by tossing the imaginary hair that she had lost in her previous haircut. “I hate sweets” she declared with pride, certified by a customary nod from her mama.

The excitement in the Four Ladies’ corner was dying down. The novelty of their fineries was beginning to fade away.

The Smiley gauged the situation, gathered courage and announced in a nervous tone “Shall we start?”.

The Elderly Man jumped at this opportune moment, adjusted his spectacles, referred to his notes and began with the point that affected his life the most.

“The overtank continues to overflow. Bahadur does not switch off the motor on time….. The water comes straight to our balcony where we dry our clothes…..all our washed clothes are getting dirty everyday” he concluded, looking around for empathy.

Riverdale just got an sms. The Oriya had no idea that the apartment had an overhead tank. The Smiley transferred the problem to the rest of the audience by rotating his head. The Princi-Face looked at her watch. The Two Elderly Aunties broke the silence by crunching their ‘potato chips’. The Four Ladies expressed disgust that their fine conversation had to be interrupted by such a trivial problem.

Afterall, this was a meeting to discuss ‘common problems’ and not someone’s common problem.

“Why don’t you ask Bahadur to stop the motor on time?” retorted one of The Four Ladies.

The Elderly Man refused to accept that a problem of such magnitude had such a simple solution. He protested by keeping a straight face and only moved his eyeballs across the silent audience, hoping to find takers who could escalate it to greater heights.

The Smiley decided to add some weight to the discussion by compounding the nature of the problem. “No no…the problem is with the watchman. He is negligent towards his duties. He is not doing his job right. There is no proper security. He allows anyone and everyone inside the premises. He should be given a list of people he can allow without questioning…like the newspaperman, milkman, flower lady ….”

One of the Elderly Aunties found the hint she’d been waiting for and butted in “I must tell you one thing. Why does the flower lady not give fresh flowers to everybody. Some people get fresh flowers and some people get old flowers. Why? Why?”

(A little background on the flower lady: Since most of the members in Kumbha were religious, they had engaged a flower lady to deliver jasmine flowers early in the morning to every house. She had limited stock of fresh jasmine garlands, and when she ran out of them, she would hang one from the previous evening’s leftover, on the door. She followed a regular route beginning from the top most flat and making her way down. So invariably the ones on the top got the fresh ones and the others got the stale ones)……phew!!

Unlike the previous one, this problem seemed mutual enough for a discussion.

“We must install CCTV” suggested The Oriya confidently, expecting the audience to lap it up.

“Oh yeah!! They’ve got one in my college now.” said Riverdale excited with the idea of Kumbha making it’s foray into cutting-edge arenas.

The Four Ladies blinked. The Elderly Man continued to hold on to his expression, hoping that the discussion would retrace itself to the question that started it off. The Princi-Face chose to reserve her opening dialogue only for a matter that concerned her or her daughter. The Other Elderly Aunty made a hurried exit the minute she heard her favourite serial’s title tune blare out from the neighbouring flat.

The silence pressurised The Smiley to come up with a response.

After some pondering The Smiley replied ‘It’s very costly’.

For some reason, he chose to reject it on the grounds of economy than irrelevance. Also, The Smiley knew his audience better, since he was the previous Secretary. He had faced a lot of flak for spending a small portion of the fund money on refilling the sand pit with fresh sand, without consent.

Riverdale fingered a random page on her comic and poured into it, now that the topic had steered away from exciting gadgetary discussions.

After a little debate, they chose a non-glamorous way out. The flower lady will change her path everyday, so that everybody takes turns in getting their share of stale flowers, till such time The Secretary finds another flower lady who has a greater stock of fresh flowers.

The Elderly Aunty went back to her ‘chips’ feeling content on her perfect understanding of democracy.

Since one problem had been sorted out, The Four Ladies felt that they now had earned the right to indulge in some stray talk. One of them had spotted the flower lady’s husband cleaning cars in the neighbouring street shamelessly, while he had clearly refused all offers made by her, stating that he was sick. The Other Three Ladies lent their support and threatened to seek revenge by terminating her flower contract. The Oriya was touched by this camaraderie and pledged that he would spare the future driver of his future car for this purpose. The Four Ladies looked at him with compassion and mentally decided to reciprocate this kindness, by excluding him from their idle gossip.

The Princi-Face looked at her watch twice, sending out a strong signal to move on the next problem on the list.

To be contd…….

Thanks to Vyshnavi and Ramesh for helping me modify the title to a more suitable form.

Dial M for madness

I love you Nanjunda, even if you’ve gone for your 16th coffee.

I love you Manjunatha, even if you eat your lunch till 3:40.

I love you Nirmala, even if you turn the board ‘Closed’, sharp at 1 P.M. 

I love you Hanumantha, even if you are on leave for one month.

I love you Kencha, even if you keep chatting with Nanjunda endlessly.

I love you all.

Wherever you all are, please come back. 
And rescue me from this solitary telephone number.

Called
The Customer Care Number. 


Dial

Welcome to our new ad jingle that will be played to you 3 times in a loop.

“If you are a man dial 1, if you are a woman dial 2, if you still deciding who you are dial 3………dial 93 for the Azherbhaijan weather report”

Dial 3

“The new flexible plan with an all time low interest 2% for stalactites, 3% for stalagmites….eeny weeny china mo…….’

Kenny G

“If your finger is paining dial 1, if you had channa bhatura the previous night dial 2, if your neighbour watches Eenaadu TV dial 3.”

Kenny G

“Please enter your ration card number. Please enter your 16 digit esophagus scan report. …..If you don’t have one, then please enter your dog flea’s numerical code.”

“Your call is important to us. Please wait…..”

Kenny G

“Our fake accented customer care ‘Mangolina’ will attend to you shortly”

Kenny G jarring. Kenny G with breaks.

Pause.

“Hello hello…..maam my name is Raaa…”

Pause release, Kenny G’s back. (that was just to break the monotony)

“Hello…this is Mangolina here …..whish pish…tish pish…..la di do daaaa…….’

“hello….hello…my name is …..’

 “Sir…..can i have your….zva di la di dum zum….zo zaaa….’

“Pardon’

Mangolina, letting a little bit of her Indian accent, creep in

“Can i have your birth identity index number, Your neighbour’s aunt’s Electricity Bill No. and The biological name for hibiscus?…….Thank you for the verification, your call has come to the wrong department…..lemme transfer this call to ‘The Amazonian Adivasi’s Amalgamation’ Department.

Kenny G Side B

“Hello this is Svetlina Gycochea ……zva zve zvooooooo zvaaaa…’

“Where is mangolina…..?’

“Sorry sir, our systems are down…..could you please get on to our website and enter this unique andromeda case sensitive pseudopodia…’



Nanjundaaaaaaaaaaaaah
Nirmalaaaaaaaaaaaaaah
Manjaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah
Kenchaaaaaaaaaaaaaah
Bhagyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah

I’m sorry. Please come back and dust those old fat registers. 


On my dirty face.