Sunday, March 28, 2004

A night at the Abbies

March 1998:
I wasn't even in advertising when I attended my first ABBY AWARDS. An aspiring, starry-eyed copywriter, I watched as hotshot creative teams strode up on stage to claim their awards, even as their agencies lustily cheered them on. At that time, I swore that I would be part of this industry too and maybe, just maybe, do the dream walk up to the stage.

March 2004:

6 years and 3 agencies later, a good bit of stardust had flown out of my eyes. I had realized my dream of being part of the industry. Two international awards made my resume look respectable. But then, for various reasons, I took the side exit. The Abbies weren't the annual high point that they once used to be. In fact, in the last year or two, they'd become only an excuse to catch up with friends and with the going-ons in advertising.

Still, there was a wee bit of anticipation when I headed for ABBY 2004. An ad that Art Partner and I had worked on 1 ½ year ago had been nominated. Thinking about it made me nervous, so I focused on all the familiar faces around. "Hiiii Albert… Hey Padhi…. Sangs, we must catch up… Rads, how've you beeeen!…" My head swiveled furiously as I spotted old colleagues and friends.

At the entrance, the sponsors handed us goodie bags with colourful cushions. "How thoughtful of them to think of my hemorrhoids!", someone quipped and we cracked up. Well, after all these were people who wrote one-liners for a living!

My friends and I bagged seats right in front of one of the giant screens. The comperes, Rakshanda Khan and Kunal Vijaykar, started off with some terribly lame jokes. A cardinal rule for comperes at ad shows - unless it's superlative, never never attempt humour. The cynical, jaded, chip-on-shoulder ad folk are especially unforgiving of forced humour. Two years ago when Shobha De breezily drawled, "Print advertising is seriousssssly sexy," the wags at the back hollered, "Shobha maushi, gappa bas." (loose translation: Shuddup auntie!) No sacred cows in advertising, for sure!

Another hilarious candid camera moment: Before the awards, the camera zoomed in on the current poster-boy (man?) of Indian Advertising, Piyush Pandey. Unaware of being in the crosshairs, he thrust a finger into the side of his mouth and tried to wrest that elusive bit of spinach from his teeth. Here was THE face of Indian advertising, the President of the 2004 Cannes Jury, scooping out his cavities with obvious relish. The audience watched in horror and disgust and then broke into hysterical laughter. Eeeew!

The evening was filled with a few other mirthful moments. Each time the agency, RMG David, went up to collect an award, they handed a foil-wrapped gift to the bemused presenter. By the end of the evening, everyone wanted to know exactly what was inside!

Some of the early winners - Axe, Cadbury's, Colgate, and…. Our Lady of Fatima's Church! An indication that ad folk might run out of brands, but never out of ideas!

And then the compere announced the award category that I'd been trying not to think of all evening. A loud pounding began in the region of my chest as the compere boomed, "And the nominees are…" There were six nominees including our ad. The voice in my head said, NOT A CHANCE. And I squeezed my eyes shut.

"There's a joint silver in this category. And the first joint silver goes to…"

My eyes flashed open and I gawked at the screen. OH-MY-GOD! Up on the screen was my name along with Art Partner's. And with a shock I realized we had to go up and collect OUR ABBY! That was the last thought before my mind went blank.

Like a bunch of bumbling robots, Art Partner and I did the dream walk in slow motion. Slow, because of her 7-month pregnancy and my knocking knees. Gosh, it was bright when we reached the stage. I was only dimly aware that EVERYONE was watching us. I can't remember who handed us the award, but he smiled very warmly and congratulated us. We weren't sure what to do next. Thankfully, there are no acceptance speeches at the Abbies, or else we'd have looked like blithering idiots. We walked off in a daze with goofy grins.

"Lee please hold the trophy,"
Art Partner requested weakly. I belatedly realized that she was finding it difficult to hold the trophy and negotiate the steps. The 'man with outstretched arms' was surprisingly heavy, but very very huggable!

For a while after that, I couldn't concentrate on the ceremony. People all around were shaking my hand or calling up or sending sms. The nicest one from Art Partner herself, "I always knew we were good together." In fact, the award couldn't have come at a better time. With me unsure about getting back into mainstream advertising and she, with Baby No. 1 on the way, it would be a while until Abby No. 2.

It was an O&M show all through, just like it's been for the last few years. Somebody SHOULD bottle their incredible success formula!

Post-awards, there were more congratulations in store. There was no need to visit the overcrowded bar, we were on a high all through. My friends laughed when they saw me with an armful of the Abby brochures. One, for each member of the family, I joked. Actually that brochure contained our only proof of winning, since the trophy would go to the agency, and the Ad Club didn't give out certificates.

I went home reliving every moment of the evening. For just a few hours, I was once again that starry eyed copywriter of 6 years ago.

Monday, March 22, 2004

A busy week for Murphy (or why I haven't left a comment on your blog)

I've had a glimpse of the Stone Ages this week. No email, no chat, no blogs (gasp!). And considering that I've strenuously held out against the insidious invasion of technology all along, I now realise I'm a regular net junkie. A net junkie with a bad case of withdrawal symptoms.

With all the 'free time' this week then, I've been ruminating about this unthinkable turn of events. Until nine months ago, I didn't even have my own computer at work. I used to share a terminal with a colleague. In my previous workplace, there were only two terminals which had the Net. This was an improvement over another agency where I worked, which had one connection. When there was information to be gathered, we went to the library. Google? Yeah, heard of it. I had a pc at home with a dial-up. Which one? Um... I didn't know. I never bothered logging on from home.

There I was, blissfully insulated from the inexorable tide of technology. Two things changed that: the hunt for a digital camera and blogging. From a bewildered, self-avowed techno-phobe, I slowly turned into a zealot. In theory, i knew all about the vastness of the medium. But for the first time, I got the feeling that I was standing at the edge of the ocean. Google and I became fast friends. My eyes almost fell off when I first discovered THREE links to my name! Mailboxes were checked throughout the day and then I'd get home and log on to check what I'd missed in the last hour. All was well; I was proceeding smoothly towards net addiction. Until Murphy struck...

First, my home pc threw a tantrum. It stopped showing the comment boxes on blogs and refused to let me access the blog home page. Also, it moodily refused to show me recent posts on some blogs. Then there was the matter of getting disconnected every few minutes. Thankfully, I had my office pc to fall back on...

Unfortunately, early last week, the management did a taliban on all mail sites. Vehement protests, wailing and sulking were as futile as our attempts to connect to hotmail, rediff and yahoo. I was especially indignant. Here I was, with bags packed, finally heading out of the Stone Ages. And now I was being forced off the bus! I ranted at every software engineer in sight, as though they were personally responsible for this development.

A minor respite. The elusive cable finally showed up at home and granted us the Internet cable. 24-HOUR ONLINE - the icon on the computer boasted when I logged on. And then this message followed:

Sorry for the inconvenience, the line is down as the underground fiber has been cut by BMC while digging the road. The line should be restored late afternoon.

And this was four days ago!

Seriously, now I know what drives people to sabotage!

Rants notwithstanding, I'm in a way grateful too. Perhaps, I've been singled out for yet another cosmic lesson in detachment. If the medium is the message, then this week's message has been loud and clear: GET A LIFE! Hmm... this has already been too much time spent on this post...

P.S. No, this isn't a goodbye-to-blogging. I'm still going to be around. Just bear with delayed comments and mails :-) Thanks!

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Live commentary...

I love cricket. Totally, completely, absolutely love cricket.

But to assume that I’m a rabid fan who watches every match, knows every obscure statistic and worships the boys in blue, would be quite erroneous.

The truth is I haven’t watched a match in years, no, not even the World Cup. Whether India wins or loses, I enjoy a good night’s sleep. And I never ever care to ask, ‘Score kya hua?’

So why do I say I love cricket? Simply because I enjoy watching the incredible effect it has on people.

Take yesterday, for instance. My cricket loving brother was up at an abnormally early hour (read 8 a.m) just to watch the pre-match commentary. Knowing that I wouldn’t get any writing done through the day, I decided to step out to complete some chores.

I walked out into a deserted street. I could actually hear birds twittering. A sound normally obscured by impatient honking and the roar of exhaust. Forlorn shopkeepers beamed when they saw me approach. At the grocery store, a few other stragglers entered and started an animated conversation about the day’s match and prospects of winning. Perfect strangers until a minute ago.

‘Ohhhh…..’ a gasp went out in unison from several windows in a building. Some batsman probably had a near miss. It was incredible to think of families, friends and neighbours all sitting together, their voices and fervid prayers commingling with each other.

It reminded me of my office which has a rather hierarchical order. A cricket match and all the structures temporarily fold up since the director’s cabin has the only TV set on the floor. It’s fun to see people troop in under some flimsy pretext or the other. After a while all pretences are dropped and people unabashedly plonk themselves on the sofa. The transformation of serious, no-nonsense executives into raving, whooping fans is a sight to behold!

The latest tour of Pakistan has meant a brief and welcome respite from the bizarre political and filmi shenanigans. From the ‘India Shining/India Whining’ debates. From the mind-numbing soaps and go-to-any-lengths music videos. For just a little while, there’s just one religion in this crazy, troubled country. My favourite moment is when the players all stand in a row, hand over heart and with passion in the eyes sing the national anthem.

Finally, there’s one more reason why I welcome cricket this year. Since my exit from mainstream advertising, I haven’t had to ads that somehow ties in cricket with cosmetics or department stores or banks. No cricket metaphors, no clich├ęs, no stale puns. Whew!

Cricket? I’m game for it…

Monday, March 08, 2004

Ro, you rock!

One of my closest friends, Ro, arrived from Sydney last week with 8-month old twins in tow. I was excited about meeting the new mum who I hadn’t seen in three years. And of course, the handsome TWINS!

I called the day after she arrived. Her sister said, “Ro is feeding little K. She’ll call you in two hours.” It seemed like an inordinately long feeding time. I didn’t hear from her so I tried again the next day. “Ro’s suctioning little K. She’ll call back,” I was told.

I could understand Ro’s inaccessibility. Twins can be a handful. And when one of them has a rare dysfunction of the vocal chords, a preoccupied mom is but natural.

The twins were a few weeks premature. J had no problem adapting. K however hit a rough patch. Like most kids, he bawled as he made his entry. But unlike most kids, no sound issued from his throat. What followed was a battery of tests and a tracheotomy to insert a tube into his lungs. The tracheotomy also meant he had to be fed through a tube in his nose.

“Lee!”, she yelled delightedly when I visited her yesterday. Her ‘telephone-wire’ curls were the same. The warm smile hadn’t changed. Only the dark crescents under her eyes were new. Little J was waiting to be introduced. I gazed at the cuddly ball with cheeks that spilled out over his shoulders. He flashed me a toothless smile and then gave an almighty yawn. I was in love.

K, an equally gorgeous but less plump version of J, was vigorously kicking his tiny feet in the air. It seemed like he was doing an airborne marathon. The tube in his nose was held firmly on his cheek with adhesive tape. The tracheal tube stuck to his neck like an amulet. And from it, his breath issued with a rasping sound.

I then understood why Ro never came to the phone. She sat with a box of tissues wiping the secretion from K’s throat. When he couldn’t cough it out, she had to suction the tube with an apparatus. She had to watch that his restless fingers didn’t dislodge the tube from his nose. And she had to hold and cuddle him when he cried tearfully but soundlessly.

I watched the feeding ritual. The formula was poured into a syringe attached to the nasal tube. The feed was drained in half an hour. But K had to be held for an hour and a half after that, to ensure that he didn’t throw up, since there was a danger of the reflux entering his already-weakened lungs. This procedure had to be repeated at each of the four daily feeds. Sometimes by the time they finished one feed, it was almost time for the next.

Ro’s dad laughingly told me of how they’d sometimes find her asleep, her head resting on little K. Once, her aunt found a way around that by tying her head to a cushioned bedpost.

“How’re you holding up Ro?” I asked her.

Without a trace of sorrow or self pity, she replied, “I’m taking one day at a time. I just want K to be well.” Doctors had given her mixed opinions. One said it was almost certain that K’s cords would recover by themselves. Another callously and decisively told her to give up hope. But she tenaciously believed that a miracle could and WOULD happen.

“I’m so grateful that my parents were with me all this time”, she said over and over. “And I’m so lucky that J and K are such adorable, peaceful, un-fussy babies”, she said looking at them fondly. Grateful? Lucky? Earlier, she’d mentioned the tubes irritating K’s trachea, causing him to cough up blood. What lay ahead – endless visits to paediatricians, multiple opinions, see-sawing hopes. But here she was using words like grateful and lucky.

I looked around at the room filled with baby things and half-unpacked suitcases. I wondered where the half-finished manuscript would be. Ro, a gifted writer, had been one of 6 people (and the only Indian) in Sydney who’d been selected for a Writing Mentorship Programme. She’d completed the first draft of a book – her FIRST book - before the twins changed her world. Now, she and her family are back in Mumbai, to start afresh. One day at a time.

International Women's Day? It's really a year long celebration.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Wine, Woman and Song

Dragging oneself to town on a lazy Sunday morning for a workshop, might seem like a terrible curse to some. But when you’re sitting in a conference hall with pen, paper and four wine glasses in front of you, the injustice is a little tolerable. Actually, make that, very welcome.

It was the Sula Wine Appreciation Workshop and India’s best known female bartender was holding court, seated on a bar stool. “What do you want to know about wine?”, she rasped. And 19 would-be connoisseurs spewed forth their questions:

“I know that there are red wines and white wines. Tell me more.”

“I was once asked, ‘What’s your grape?’. What does that mean and how do I ask such expert questions?”

“All I know is that it bears an expensive price tag. How do I discern?”

For my part, I wanted to graduate beyond Goa Port Wine. I wanted to be able to order French wine with a certain sangfroid and after delicately sipping it, pronounce loftily, ‘Mmm… the finish is dry.’

So there I sat, ears cocked and pen poised as Shatbi differentiated between table wines (red, white and rose), sparkling wines (like champagne) and fortified wines (where alcohol was added during fermentation to give it a sweet taste. Example, port wine.)

What gives each wine its distinctive taste? The grape variety, of course. The ‘cheat sheet’ listed all the major varieties from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer for white wines and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir for red. This exercise of rolling our tongue around slippery French pronunciations primed us for the tasting that followed.

We started with a white wine, Madera. Everyone stared respectfully at the pale liquid being poured.

“Sniff it”,
said Shatbi, plunging her nose deep into the glass. “What do you smell?”

Um… wine, I thought.

But the others seemed to have more perceptive nostrils.



‘Rotten jackfruit’
(Had they been sipping already?!)

“Now, inhale and sip, and swirl it in your mouth”.

I did and the liquid imploded in my mouth. Sluggish tastebuds did the high-five as the heady vapours invaded my mouth and nose. The second sip singed a glowing trail all the way down my throat.

A Chenin Blanc followed. My sensitised nostrils now discerned the aroma of litchis. It also seemed to go down easier than the previous wine. A-ha, I thought, two wines down and I can already tell the difference. Next came a Riesling and a Sauvignon Blanc. And by this time, everyone was in high spirits. People began to detect the aroma of ‘turpentine’, ‘bookstores’ and even ‘new shoes’!

Lunch was accompanied by a sparkling Sula Brut. And post lunch, we went back to work (ha ha!) this time on red wines. Reds, we learned, are more complex and require mature taste buds. Also, one had to learn to bandy words like body, structure and depth.

We started with a Rose (pronounced Ro-say), Sula Blush Zinfandel, a delectable pink wine that was slightly sweet and slightly tart. Sniff, swirl and two swallows later I knew I’d found MY grape!

The Merlot which followed had a pungent aroma, like varnish. And also left an acerbic aftertaste. Cabernet Shiraz was warm and spicy. Full-bodied with a dry finish. I couldn’t remember the last wine we tried, smitten as I was by the Zinfandel.

Armed with information and fortified with wine, J & I tottered out and made our way to Tata Theatre. The Bombay Chamber Orchestra along with musicians from Amsterdam and a Russian pianist were playing Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony and Rachmaninov’s spirited Piano Concerto No. 2. A treat for the already heightened senses! We listened spellbound as wave after wave of exquisite music washed over us, rendering us even more light-headed, if that were possible.

Some Sundays don’t get more di-vine!