Thursday, December 07, 2006

An Elephant In Coorg

The only reason I am still in advertising is the variety. On any particular morning, I may be doing the brand identity for a new mutual fund launch, working on a loyalty program for a petrol client, figuring how to get footfalls into a gold mall, checking out creative thoughts for an internet campaign for the fastest online stock trading offering. You get the picture. Makes my day.

The flip side of my job, being on the client facing side of the business, is the requests (to put it politely) that you have to deal with. Usually on Friday post 4 PM the client calls up asking for full fledged finished DMs, for say a new car launch, in Delhi by Saturday morning 10 AM.

You turn around and you find one of your trusted aides standing there with a request for an Rs 50,000 advance for a shoot slated for 5 AM in the morning at Madh island. Of course, the photographer needs the money before he leaves for the shoot.

Once a client called me up when I was on my fourth at 8 PM on a Saturday night, asking me if I could organize a wedding photographer for the MDs daughter wedding that was currently underway in a Gurgaon farm. Of course, the photographer was to be there in 30 minutes (that was the Mooharat time).

All these situations, an average advertising servicing person tackles without missing a sip. It’s all par for the course. But sometimes even the best are stumped. Especially when there are elephants involved.

As I was driving home last night, leaving my worries behind at Lower Parel, I received a call from my man in Bangalore. Boss, we have a problem. I need an elephant. He said.

There are very rare ocassions when I actually pull up and stop my car for a call. This was one of them. Now what was that again, I barked into the phone. A long monologue happened. Gist: We are shooting a film in the South of the country. It appears (or not) that there was to be an elephant at the break of dawn. There wasn’t.

I took a deep breath. I saw myself calling the Chairman and explaining this one. Sir, we forgot the elephant. Not to worry, we used cows. Hmm. Getting a grip on myself, I asked: Wasn’t a minor object like this covered in the pre-prod? It was and wasn’t as usually is the case. He said I thought it was covered and the client suddenly developed amnesia.

As I drove back, my mind was exploring options. Do I know someone who knows the descendant of the Mysore King? Maybe he can get us the pachyderm. What about that photographer I met at Pico’s in Bangalore. He was into wildlife. Oh, my pal in HCL! His wife is from Coorg. Maybe she knows someone who has a few frolicking in the yard. Maybe there is a circus playing in Bangalore…the phone rang.

It was my Creative Director on the shoot reporting in. She sounded cheerful. All is well. Shoot’s going like a dream. I dared not ask..what about the elephant? I whispered. Oh that, we changed the scene. We will shoot in Coorg. We spoke to someone and someone had a few spare and a couple of them are en-route at this moment. Will be there in the morning. Don’t worry.

Okay, I won’t. Phew.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ice Relief

Global Warming is not, as I believed till now, a Greenpeace invention for getting funding. Third week of November and you can walk around in Delhi at ten in the night with just a shirt on your back without your whatever-it-is-that-freezes freezing. And let’s not even talk about Mumbai. Willis Haviland Carrier’s invention is still keeping Vijay’s sales registers ringing.

The plus for daily Mum-Del passengers is that fog hasn’t yet added to the excuse list for flight delays. The latest, which was pretty innovative I thought, when we finally landed an hour late at the Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport (I really feel sorry for the poor sod who has to announce that) this Wednesday morning was “We are sorry for the late arrival of the flight which was caused by the late departure of the flight from Delhi”. Nice one.

Talking about excuses. Our hero, Rahul, came up with a gem after the South Africa slaughter last night: “We can play better”. Even my para team can. But I digress. We were discussing GW. Contrary to what I am experiencing, former scientific adviser to the Prime Minister and eminent scientist Vasant Gowarikar feels that GW has not affected the Indian climatic system.

Gowarikar pointed towards the India Meteorological Departments data on cyclones and rainfall, which are indicators of GW.

‘‘If we look at the last 115 years of data on cyclones, we will find that the highest number of cyclones (10) hit the country in 1893, 1926 and 1930. If we check last 20 years’ data, the highest number of cyclones in that period, which is six, hit the Indian shores in 1992 and 1998,’’ Gowarikar said.

He then pointed out that the highest rainfall recorded in the country was in 1917, with 1457.3 cm of rainfall and the lowest was around 913 cm in 1918. ‘‘In the last 20 years, the highest rainfall was recorded in 1988 with 1288 cms while the lowest was in 2000 with 939 cms. If climate change has taken place in terms of warming, that should reflect on this data. But there is nothing to indicate the claims of warming affecting the Indian climate system,’’ Gowarikar said.

QED. Perhaps that explains the ice.

On that hot November day in Delhi, I ensured that my last meeting was at TGIF. After downing a set of beers (I had only two, another two insisted on making the hour happy) I made my way to the relief centre. As I was about to, I happened to glance down. The pot was full of perfectly formed ice. That caused a pause in normal operations. “What it is” ran through my mind. Is it that I am the only one not feeling the cold. Is Gowarikar right, after all? No answers came to mind. I started operations. Friends, I sizzled.

But the ice has been bothering me no end. If you have any Gowarikarisque explanations, please call me.

Your favourite pale liquid on-the-rocks is the promised reward.

Friday, November 10, 2006


I had a favorite beer buddy in Delhi. This was in the days I was pretending to be an entrepreneur (I gave up the day someone pointed out that a Bengali entrepreneur was an oxymoron). This pal was our mentor and helped us by picking holes (and he had an extremely sharp implement for a brain) in every plan we came up with. However, these brainstorming sessions was a flimsy wrap for very long drinking sessions.

There is this place in Asiad Village on Khelgaon Marg in the capital which was our favourite hangout. Over the years the place has metamorphosed number of times. From a long benchy (beer lao) place to a warm cozy (pitcher please) hangout to now a very steel and glass (vodka and tonic) kitty party place.

Our mentor used to travel from Noida, where he claimed he worked. We never really delved into that side of his life as long as the bubbly was paid for. The sessions had a reassuring repetitiveness about them. The two of us were the core and on different afternoons of the week the number would vary from two to five (depending on whether we were discussing brand names or intricate distribution strategies).

Once the business was dealt with, which took about half a pitcher the real business would start. Usually when we reached the fourth pitcher (this was when there was the two of us) one of us would have had enough of the long walk to the men’s and would suggest asking for the bill.

“Who said OFTR” would be the refrain from the other party. Invariably neither would have. So another pitcher (it was an insult to our belly guts to order mugs) would have to be ordered. The magic words would be said BEFORE placing the order and the bill requested. That would be the final sign to bring the business discussion to an end. And totter to our respective vehicles.

It was a good rule. The ride home did feel much better after that last one for the road.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Premchand & Flying Crabs

The other day I was overcome by the desire to have some juicy crabs. Promptly, set off for Ankur (had my first ever Kiwi Margarita there). Having maneuvered past Kandeel and found the right left and right, I was soon appetizing my stomach with some Karwali Prawns and slices of delightfully cooked Pomfrets. The process being aided by the king of good times.

After about 20 minutes arrived the weaponry. A shell cracker (we have all seen that); an intriguing appliance that looks like pliers (“plus” for bongs); and the narrow bone digger. And, of course, the bibs.

Another ten minutes and a majestic 8-inch crustacean covered in thick gravy made its grand entrance (how do people have shelled crabs?). My co-eater was looking on kinda intimidated. I, of course, the veteran of crabs grabbed the cracker and set upon the creature.

It was a sublime experience. The white gentle meat flaking off the shell countered by a deliciously angry thick masala melting inside the mouth. Friends, it was heavenly!

I was reminded of something I had read in school, part of our Hindi reading. Premchand wrote in his story 'Budi Kaki': 'budapa bahuda bachpan ka punaragman hota hai'. The story goes on to explain how older people start craving for the same stuff they did when they were kids and food was top of the pops.

I have certainly purnagamaned.

Yes, yes the flying part. Am coming to that. We encountered this particularly sturdy crust which was too small for the cracker. Ah, I thought. That’s what the “plus” is for. No sooner, had I applied a gentle wrist motion a crusty slice spliced off and almost nailed my opposite number. There was gravy on the walls and white meat in the neighbour’s muttor paneer (why on earth would you eat paneer in Ankur!).

Things settled down. I got the shell shocked paneer eater some mulligatawny soup and we finished off the crab. They got us buckets with scrubbers to clean our arms and some delicious dried paan to make it the complete meal.

It’s when I was leaving that I realized that I hadn’t finished the bottle of beer. Yes, the first bottle. Am sure, all of you who know me well (or even not that well) are reaching for the phone to book an appointment with a crab.

And if you don’t live in Mumbai, well…

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Gup-shup at Goks

What is about this wonderfully cheap, dirty place called Gokul that draws men like a magnet? The quarter at almost wholesale rate? The spirited air? The tear gas filled interiors? The half chicken tandoori? The dry chicken liver fry? The boiled eggs?

Or is it the comforting fact that when you ask for rum you are served the familiar old fellow and not a bat (white or reserved).

I believe it’s more than that. There’s something about the combination of all of the above that creates a unique mood for conversation. People chatter at Goks. I have seen men sitting alone and talking to a fried Surmai.

The Parsi, the Goan and the Bong were nursing their usual. The conversation was about the yearly turnover of beggars in Mumbai city. The bong had read in the morning rags (he was the only one who read the papers in the group) that it was to the tune of Rs 180 crores (post-tax, of course).

Parsi was quick to jump in as he was wont to. (They hadn’t ever discussed a topic that P did not have a first hand experience or knowledge of). “That’s absolutely realistic” said P. He informed that in 1995 he had done a research among Colaba beggars. He was stopped by G and questioned at the need driving this primary research. It was a result, the group was informed, of a bet with a journo where P was trying to prove his hypothesis that beggars were, well, umm.. poor people.

P lost an evening’s drink at the Press club. His findings showed that (11 years back) the average take in Colaba was Rs 80. What got to P more than losing the bet was that this amount translated into a monthly sum that was half his salary in his coveted advertising job.

The conversation also threw up the fact that the most famous beggar family own a flat in Virar and travel to their respective job locations as most Mumbaites do by the 7:10 Churchgate fast. P was, however, not sure if their dabbas came from home.

Last year, the group was lead to believe, when this famous (yes, famous) beggar retired and went back to his village he sold his spot on the Colaba Causeway for Rs 40,000 to a hawker. Of course, P informed, he would have retained about half of that post deductions by the authorities.

It was just an early elevenish when this round wrapped up. P was rushing to catch the bus for his office trip to Mahabaleshwar. Next week I will educate you on how to open the sealed window of a perfectly engineered AC Volvo.

That too with a bottle opener.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Close encounters of the head-butting kind

In my many years of street-corner hanging out in Calcutta I have been a close witness to lots of phites. The locale, the number of people, the hardware (during the season it would be cricket stumps) involved may have varied but these phites had a very strong common thread.

They usually involved two groups of singularly scrawny bong men, with over-the-ear-Amitabh hairdo, in bell bottom jeans pant and blue Bata hawai choti. The script would normally involve cheating-baji in an inter para cricket match or one para’s beauty queen Shampa’s dalliance with another para’s Amit, Potla, or Chandan (in some cases, with all three). These two scenarios covered almost 90% of all incidents.

However, there were minor variations to the themes. In the cricket scenario, it usually involved the umpire (the batting team in para cricket supplied the umpires; the concept of a neutral umpire was yet to be born). And the genesis of most arguments would stem from the turning down of what were seen as “plumb” lbw decisions. The other favourite was run-outs. I was once told I had dislodged the bails before catching the ball, this was when we were using bricks as wickets.

In the Shampa scenario there were two broad themes. The first, where S is a willing recipient of Potla’s amorous advances. Here the para “elders” and the other guardians of para honour had to tread carefully. Their anger would stem from the fact that a “onno” parar chele has entered their citadel and “lifted” their rose. In the other scenario, S would be receiving unwanted attention from A, P or C. She would have mentioned this to her younger brother, Bapi. B would have conveyed this to the before mentioned para honour maintenance group.

In the case of the cricket match the phite would be quite spontaneous and would probably start there and then. In the other scenario, the plotting and planning for the great revenge would go on for quite some glasses of cha. How Potla’s various bones would be dealt with and with what the next time he entered the para would be the central theme.

Whatever the build up, the phite would always resemble what we can generously call a damp squib. Two groups would face up to each other and the air would be filled with great thunderous words. Stumps would be waved and the leaders of the packs would be nose to nose held back by their groups. They would be straining forward yelling “chere de, chere de, shala ke aami..” (It’s a time honoured tradition in Calcutta that you never let go off your leader in a brawl). Soon, a peacemaker would emerge and after lot of huffing and puffing, the great phite would peter out and the gangs would return to their “rocks”.

The only really educational part of these phites was the colourful and extremely imaginative gaalis that were used. As a rule, fathers, mothers, daughters, grandfathers and grandmothers formed the root of all expletives. And though some overly sensitive participants took umbrage to some of the words, it was generally considered par for the course and never really taken to heart.

Made me wonder this Sunday night, while we all watched the tragic events unfold before us in Berlin, what might have happened if Zizou’s parents where from Bengal and not Algeria.

C’est La Vie.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bihari Bong

An old Agarwal friend of mine left a comment on my blog pointing out how even he of the A clan knows that bhaapa is steamed, not baked as I had so heretically mentioned. I look back and think of the Khemkas, Guptas, Jhunjhunwallas, et al with whom I have had the pleasure of sharing my schoolhood with and realize that some of them are far more bong than I ever will be.

I grew up reading Hardy Boys, MacLean, Sudden and brown paper wrapped James H Chases. I have never ever read a page of Sukumar Ray. I have read Pheluda in English (does that count?). I listened to the Beatles, Doors, Dire Straits and made fun of my sister’s Robindrasangeet and harmonium.

I have no interest in sweets and only recently discovering the pleasures of STEAMED Ilish . Was never a fervent worshipper of the great Cal Puchka. Or for that matter Nizam’s beef roll. I liked the Park Circus Biryani and that too as it had lots of aloo and meat. What I really looked forward to was my mom’s Sunday mutton. That was the peak of my gastric cravings.

My friends call me a Bihari, alluding to my five years in Bokaro Steel City. Where the game I came to love was hockey. Hockey! Imagine a Bengali hockey player. I tried my hand at chess and carrom. Was a disaster. Tried table tennis and stopped when a nine year old thrashed me. And I suspect he was being respectful. I was no good at quizzing and all I did was sip beer at DI and eye the pyts.

All through college I wore blue jeans and fake Lacostes. Admittedly, I sometimes brought out my heritage by matching them with blue bathroom slippers. But that was about it. And as recently as last Saturday at a party at the castle, a Gourisaria walked in wearing kurta, jeans and chappals. A bong if you have ever met one.

I hear Bong rock groups are reviving Rabindranath’s lyrics. I have heard a few strains. Could recognize the lead and the bass. Sounded like the Rolling Stones.

Maybe there’s hope for me yet!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

On an Island

“Remember that night, white steps in the moonlight..sharing a dream, on an island, it felt right..”

Listening to David Gilmour’s latest, I was reminded that I live on an island too. Not that it strikes one during the course of an ordinary day. One is very aware of the sea in Mumbai but one really misses the palm trees. People argue that Mumbai is not really an island anymore. I tend to disagree.

One has to step off a train at VT and realize that we live in a sea of humanity. And despite these millions around us we are marooned in our tiny insignificant lives. We are all as lonely as we would have been if we had only sand and coconuts to keep us company.

The efficiency that we are so proud off is just an outcome of Mumbaites trying to reduce their feeling of desolation. Everyone gets to work on time such that they find comfort in the known and the living. And post, we continue holding on to each other at the local bar. As long as we all catch the 12:45. It’s only when you live in Mumbai that you realize that when people talk about the “spirit of Mumbai” they are being literal.

We live literally, metaphorically, and philosophically on the greatest island of them all. And guess what. We absolutely love it!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mondy’s Ka Silsila

CafĂ© Mondegar, at Colaba, is by far my favourite beer joint. The combination of chilled draught, beef in a sinful sauce and chilli cheese toast with mustard (at the right thickness-you must tell them to go slow on the water) never appears to lose its sting. I spend hours looking at Mario M’s cartoons, chatting up the waiters, and smoking endless GFK’s. Everything seems okay with the world when I am in Mondy’s.

The killer-ap in Mondy’s is the jukebox. The simple promise of being able to listen to your own poison, from Floyd to Straits to REM, is absolutely compelling. True, on a four pitcher evening, one has to suffer Summer of 69 about that many times. But you forgive that after the second visit to the newly done up relieving room. I have even let Dancing Queen slip by on occasions.

You can then possibly begin to imagine my horror when after the second glass and third smoke, just when I was beginning to relax; the silent jbox suddenly emitted the very familiar tune from the movie Silsila! Believe me, my loyal readers; I am not making this up because it makes a good piece header. It’s totally true. My jaw hit the mug. This was sacrilege. My Mecca had been defiled.

I sat through the seemingly endless song. And then took matters in my own hand. I projected I would be there for at least another one and a half hours. That’s about 17-18 songs. Tokens were procured and in two installments I loaded 17 songs. From Ugly Joe Kid to CCR. And everything in between. After the fifth song a semblance of order had returned.

I had a severe word with the management and have been promised that it was a never to be repeated overzealousness on part of one of the new staff who hadn’t yet grasped the brand essence of Mondy’s.

Hopefully, this is now a closed chapter.

Note to all Hindi music fanatics: I have nothing against Silsila or Hindi music in general. But there is a place for everything. And Mondy’s definitely isn’t the place!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Twiggy, Fatty and Big Brother

One was caught by surprise by the chill in the hills. Dressed in shorts and Tees, one had to actually use a heater in mid-April. The weather demanded a fire and we got one on the second evening. It was a fire which kept us occupied for over four hours. Not just because it was a roaring one but some of the wood took on distinct personalities.

Right at the beginning among the merrily burning members, we spotted Fatty. Sitting across the fire, sticking out on both ends, it showed early signs of non-cooperation. While its brethren were turning to ashes, Fatty hadn’t even started sweating. We concentrated a minor arsenal under its belly and were sure that sooner than later it would give in.

Then there was Twiggy. Thin and dainty and its ends shaped liked a wishbone, she was our ally. We kept her out of the fire, using her instead to maneuver her friends and relatives to the most strategic spots. She had the tendency to join in the fun and her tips constantly burst into flames which we kept dousing by beating her on the turf.

Soon the first lot was reaching its end and reinforcements arrived in numbers. Big Brother was here. As robust as Fatty but with a temperament in direct contrast. In seconds, Big Bro was alive and kicking and there was cheer all around. Fatty observing our glee with Big B tried to join in the merriment but his heart really wasn’t in it.

With the wonderful night well past pumpkin hour, we ended Twiggy’s misery. She burnt merrily, crackling with delight. Fatty singed and crackled a bit but was left the solitary weeper. We left them at peace and retired. Roasted to our bones.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

P.S: Its’s Jet Lag!

The signs are portent. If you are a faithful of a certain Mr Peter Senge’s systemic thinking, travelling in India today is a mine of data. The unfortunate few whose privilege cards change metal colour with rapidity are seeing a crumbling of all things good around them.

Last week, having finished work earlier than expected, I was dashing back to Mumbai from the Capital. Was trying to get on to a 5:25 flight or a 6:00 flight (both were, of course, leaving at 6:30). It was mayhem. There were platinum people jostling with first time fliers at a counter manned by an extremely sweaty and harassed lady who was trying to make seats meet. The platinum people were getting extremely vocal at the plain blue treatment been meted out to them. Brand affinity was walking out of the emergency exit.

Giving up on the tickets and reconciled at another wait in the lounge and a late night taxi fare, I demanded my free glass of beer and a place to smoke. I was pointed to a corner under the only sign that encouraged people to desist from the terrible habit. The corner was a mess. The ashtray was full. The table was filthy and there were hapless waiters running around. The signs were for all to see.

The gentleman from the bank (that has just bought out the man with the golden sacks) looked around him, smiled wryly and said “if we can’t handle two years of 8% growth, what will we do”

PS would have had a lot to say. Look out India Inc. Something’s giving.