I'm a title. Click here to edit me.
Juice it up my baby
On a serious note: This piece is purely a work of fiction and is not intended to hurt anyone, especially my most valuable clients because of whom, I am what I am today. This is a small light-hearted critique to humour the reader (if at all I can) and is not a real life situation that I have ever faced or heard. As the number of COVID-19 cases dropped in my Gandhinagar city to a paltry 2-3 numbers a day, I could muster enough courage to visit my favourite ‘Ganne ke juice (raas) wala’. Bunged on the three sides, entry restricted, by permission only, this tapri (galla) was covered with every possible net available in the market, this gannewala is always very hygienic and allows only couple of makhkhis (flies that appear on the bottle of HIT spray) to sit on his ganna machine for a few nanoseconds (anything that does not cause COVID-19 was not in my ‘hazardous to health’ list right now). Sitting under the shade of a magnolia tree on an Asian Paint ka badda dabba at 9 am on a sunny Sunday morning, I felt comforting and satisfying that I could finally have the sweet-as-a-sugar juice for the first time in this entire FY21 and FY22 contd. While the gannewala was industriously going through his motions, I was stuck with the word ‘juice’! I was waiting momentarily for him to make fresh ganne ka juice, all of a sudden, this gannewala started to look like a client of an advertising agency and the ganna machine as his workforce; his sinews of steel. As he was flexing his muscles, poor ganna (that is the advertising agency) was about to get sucked out of every drop of its juice (aka khoon pasina). Initially it was a smooth ride for the ganna, where the ganna juices (campaign in making) flow likes a freeway and then suddenly, there were Indian hallmark potholes on the road. Something terrible was going to happen during the drive. Ganna was being folded in to two layers and then half a piece of lemon (that perennial calamitous so-called consultant. Of what? God only knows) was added in-between the layer. The onslaught had just begun. Then the ganna was quickly folded in to four layers and a piece of ginger (younger son or daughter of the MD, who just post-graduated from some expensive but hopeless college in Umbrica) was added to cultivate his/her videshi and in-sync-with-the-world flavour to the ganna juice; which was already turning in to some heady concoction (final campaign in the making). Just about when the ganna thought that the days of misery were over, the gannewala folds it into eight goddamn layers and shoves it in to its machine; the workforce (a committee of geniuses from diverse backgrounds at all levels in the hierarchy. Who then try to shred the ganna apart every inch of the way with their divine sense of consumer and creative observation and logic). Arey baba, they have to say something na to justify their salaries and their time at work. Finally when the agency thought that the creatives are approved (as in the juice has finally made its way to the glass), poor ganna juice is struck with an Icelandic thunderstorm. Barrage of ice was shoved over the already f****d up concoction. This barrage is basically a mix of client’s PR, event management, celebrity management, digital agencies and a couple of KIA (know-it-all) friends; who are obliged to render their services pro-bono as the only and true brand virtuosi to the client. What started as making of a pure, unadulterated, ingenious juice (original campaign, something that was TG relevant) was now turned in to a whore of an aftermath. Chalo koi nahi, aab toh khatam hua. Sab apne apne ghar jao aur so jao. Yede, picture abhi baaki hai. Ruk na. Arey, you all forgot the mischievous masala na? It was so desperately waiting to be sprinkled on the ganna juice. Now this masala is an entirely new breed of Homo sapiens, completely anonymous to the agency till the point of time they thought that their campaign was finally ratified. This is when the juice, the potion, the concoction is shared with the entire khandan of the client on their family WhatsApp group named ‘Harkishandas Prabhatdas Kantidas Khandan’ with a DP of Parbhatdas standing in front of a Rolls-Royce ‘Phantom’. And the hell literally breaks loose. Everyone from the khandan is now is busy working out the right formula for the already f****d-up juice. An archetype saali, bua, fufa, mausa, bhatija, 2 years’ old tilloo, Kantidas dada (who is on his dying bed), dadi (who has already expired last year, but khandan forgot to remove her from the list), Ramnarayan driver, Banwari maharaj, Samsher Singh chowkidar, (you never know where the ideas can pop up from), Tiger the maltipoo, Gooblu the popat… all will advocate their expert remedy to make this juice more appealing to the TG. Final bugle (the clarion call) for the khandan and the agency standoff… Khandan: Does the colour of the sky have to be blue always? | Senapati of the agency: Sir, but it is an actual shot of greenscape against the backdrop of a clear blue afternoon sky (Remember, we had to wait for so many days to get the clear blue sky?). | Khandan: Thik hai, par phir bhi; dekho kya ho sakta hai. Khandan: Can we not have an Indian face? | Senapati of the agency: Sir, but there are no human beings in the campaign. | Khandan: Thik hai, next time human face rakho to yeh cheez yaad rakhna. Senapati of the agency resigns after this. Khandan: Can we not have few options of the background? | Vazir of the agency: But sir, there is no background; the campaign only has end-to-end photograph in each of the advertisement. | Khandan: Thik hai, par background ke bina mazaa nahi aa raha hai. Khandan: Text has to be bigger; what if an aged person is reading it? | Vazir of the agency: Sir, but our TG is between 25-45 years. | Khandan: Arey, what if Kantidas dada wanted to read it? Khandan: There is too much text; no one reads so much of text. | Vazir of the agency: Sir, but it has less than 30 words of copy. | Khandan: Aapko nahi pata chal raha hai; we just need one dhansu line so that the TG is compelled to buy our product. Vazir of the agency commits suicide from the 1st floor. Khandan: Pardadaji ka photograph nahi hai campaign mei? | Raja of the agency: Sir, it will look awfully out of place. | Khandan: It is his money; it is his empire, right? His photu has to be there, has to be there and has to be there. And yes, make sure it is prominent. Khandan: Logo badddaaa…karna chahiye? Yes, karna chahiye. Logo bada kar Raja of the agency: @$$*&^%&^()*_)()()&*^%#@$@ Ek kaam karo, is campaign (aka juice) ko aapni… Raja of the agency leaves his kingdom for Himalayas.
Awareness, the elixir of thy life
As a youngster, my dream and definition of success was owning a Pajero (because our former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi used to move around in one and I thought he looked quite handsome and manly in his Pajero) and a Mercedes (for the sheer awe, celebrity looks and status factor). God has been kind to me and I have eventually owned both the vehicles. Now that I have fulfilled my dream which epitomised my success, have I been living happily ever after? The answer is a blatant ‘No’. Here is where an honest introspection is much needed. I was commuting with my best buddy from the US of A in my new first-hand Mercedes from Gandhinagar to my office in Ahmedabad. Roughly about 45 minutes’ drive. Once we reached, my friend helped himself with a large serving of latte, sat on a comfy couch in my cabin and asked me if I had 10 minutes to listen to him. Zaroor, I was more than keen to listen to him after almost two years of hiatus. “Amit, are you happy that you have finally bought a Mercedes?” he asked. Slightly surprised with his query (since he drives a BMW X7; you got the point), I replied, “Yes of course; it’s a dream come true for me.” He smiled at me as if he was about to launch a skirmish with my mental perspective and continued, “I was observing you while you were driving your dream. You were upset with the road conditions, complete lack of traffic sense, people talking and texting on their mobiles while driving, no cops at the traffic signals, traffic jams… And you got into a verbal tirade laced with cuss words with a lot of people for flouting the traffic rules. In fact you were almost about to hit a person who was driving on the right hand side of the road at 50 kms. an hour and was not giving you side to overtake. All those 45 minutes you were ventilating your frustration on one or the other. In the process, you did not enjoy the smooth drive of your dream Mercedes, its music system, its plush interiors and fancy automated functions.” That really hit me hard. But then he can so easily do lecturebaaji since in the States people follow traffic rules to a tee (except junkies, who can blemish the applecart). When it comes to driving, Americans are so sidhdha like fafda and our guys are always teda like jalebi. How can he even imagine the ordeal that I go through every day while driving my car. Didn’t someone say, “Indian roads are filled with idiots?” My friend went on to prove that I’m a bigger idiot than all of the above idiots combined. He continued with his gospel 1.1, “Because you and few more like you have at least rudimentary knowledge about how to follow traffic sense with safety as a primary concern, you expect everyone else to follow the suite as well. And when you come across anyone violating the traffic rules, you get pissed off with them and get into an altercation. And that is where you go wrong.” I was thinking, arey bhai, hamare shorts kahe uttar raha he. Baffled, I just nodded my head in agreement to the sermons of NRI baba. Gospel 1.2 continues, “You get exasperated and try to correct their conduct either through peaceful or agitated means. Now you are trying to modify a person whom you don’t know! Do you think that he will unexpectedly start following the traffic rules just because you corrected him, enlightened him, brawled with him and once in a while got violent with him? Maybe yes, but just for that instant. However, even before you say ‘Jack Robinson’ he will overlook what you pointed out and continue to disobey the rules all over again. Arey, one does not listen to their near and dear ones, especially after being eligible for a driving license, how can you expect anybody to heed to a complete stranger?” He was making a good sense of his observation and I could forestall what could come next. Gospel 1.3, “Now you are getting all impatient and livid for a person or a situation that you cannot change (at least permanently). So your knowledge makes you understand the traffic rules and tells you to follow them as a responsible citizen. But the awareness says that, do not expect others to have the same knowledge and follow the rules. And more so, when you try to correct them, barely few will feel ashamed and amend their actions. Remember very few people can admit their mistakes openly and timely; for, every individual thinks that he is always right. So having knowledge is fine, but having the right awareness is your next phase of advancement. Do not expect anyone to change their traffic and safety discipline just because you gave them a nice little tip or a dose of ‘Dos and Don’ts’ or wishfully scared them. Also, you will never ever be able to make them feel guilt-ridden for long and change their behaviour for good. So it is simple as dimple. You follow the traffic rules and safety and let others do what they want to do. Do not expect anything from them nor try to point out their mistakes or change them.” Hmm…Dude is right. Gospel 1.4 (the last one by the way, phew!), “Had you been aware, you would not have got distressed at the people on the highway and the road or signal conditions. Rather you would have admired your prized possession and enjoyed your drive in the car of your dreams. What’s the use of a Mercedes if you cannot love the journey in it?” This has endured with me ever since. I try to follow this viewpoint; not that I am successful all the time. But every time I consciously do it, I feel as if I am living in a different endearing and satisfying world. I am sure every one of you can relate this example with some similar instant in your life. With this new perspective, you can retrospect that situation and how you could have handled it better had you been aware rather than just knowledgeable. To end this, awareness over knowledge is the next step forward in your evolution and it can become the elixir of your peaceful and happy life. Lamberghini chalayi jaane o ( Driving away in Lamborghini ) Lamberghini chalayi jaane o ( Driving away in Lamborghini ) Dil mera kadd ke lai gayi naal sohniye ( Dear you have stolen my heart ) Tere pichhe lagge hoya saal sohniye ( Dear I’ve been after you since many years )
HOPE, SKIP, & JUMP
Optimism is the secret sauce of communication, or is it? Q. Know what’s common between acche din, just do it, all is well, apna time aayega, and dudho-nahao-puto-phalo? A. Hope! Different worlds they may belong to, what binds all of these iconic lines is the fact that they all centre around the idea of letting loose a whiff of ‘hope’ in the air. Remember the maha-successful 'Ache din aane waale hain' campaign of the BJP party that contributed big in the party’s clean sweep in 2014 national elections? The campaign served one purpose - to give to the voters a ray of hope ‘to transform India’. “The entire thinking was based on research that BJP had done on how people were looking forward to better days.” said Piyush Pandey*, Executive Chairman, India & Chief Creative Officer- Worldwide, O&M. Much like Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign “Hope & Change” that helped him win the presidency with nearly 53% of the popular vote. Politics aside, there’s another cult institution that feeds into the power of hope - religion. When our godmen ask us to keep ‘Shraddha & Saburi’, when they give us a consolation in “bhagwaan jo karta hai, acche ke liye karta hai”, when they shower us with fancy phrases be it Tathastu, Amen or Ameen -- they are actually motivating the devotees to look up to the future, no matter how harsh one’s current situation is. Pravachans are nothing but pep talks on hope. Prasadams are nothing but sugar-laden happy pills. The philosophy of karma is noth but a white paper on being hopeful of getting what you deserve. Prayers, across religions, are a rallying cry for a better future. The message is clear. Hold on to hope. Nice & tight. And you’ll make it, alright. Much like politics and religions, the world of advertising is no different. Whatever the product, whatever the brand, ad gurus have always known that ‘hope’ is the single most selling proposition. Products are designed. Strategies are chalked out. Campaigns are run. To spark hope. “Humari cream istamal karoge toj apki twacha hi nahi, but future bhi nikhar jaayega”, “Watch out for our watches, they’ll let the world know that your time has arrived”, “Chaar bottle of our beverages can bring in happiness into your life”. Most happening ideas hover around hope. Generic as hell it maybe, but hope sells like hot cakes. The use of hope vs fear in Health Advertisements is common place as well. Closer home when the pandemic struck the whole of humanity, all of us latched onto hope. “When covid is over … ” not just remained a conversation starter for many, but became a full-blown meme fest. We feared, we stayed home, we turned to nostalgia, we laughed and we chased silver linings in pursuit of a happy ending. The more we distanced ourselves for one another, the tighter we hugged on to hope. Brands helped us to hope as well. As consumers struggled to adopt the ‘new normal’ post lockdown, brand communications sold the power of optimism more than the product itself. Coca Cola’s ‘Open Like Never Before’ campaign encouraged people to pick up pieces, start over again and bounce back post lockdown in a renewed spirit. Castrol’s Keep Moving Ahead video encouraged the audience to welcome the new normal. The Colgate TVC gave us another story of optimism “Celebrate a new freedom and begin again with a smile” with the metaphorical narrative normalising the concept of remarriage. Through their ad campaigns, the focus was on instilling positivity, normalcy and resilience. Positivity is all good, I get it. But, how much hope is too much hope? Is too much hope, a thing really? Can too much hope borderline at delusional thinking? Does clinging to hope takes you away from ground reality? Different strokes from different folks, I believe. So, here’s to partaking hope in perfect proportions. https://www.business-standard.com/article/management/tale-of-two-ad-campaigns-114051901164_1.html
Quagmire of a haircut
The other Sunday, I was all set to go for my haircut at Bhagwati barber shop in Gandhinagar. I have been loyal to this small and very basic barber shop located in an old shopping centre since last 30 years. So I announced this intent of my mine to my wife, who was busy with her screen-shopping on an e-commerce website. Without lifting her head and with absolute nonchalance she cracked at me, “You are so uncool. You still go to that archaic barber shop? I mean do you even know our status in the society? Grow up, be happening and stylish. Last month Ashwariya spotted you at this good-for-nothing barber shop. It was so embarrassing for me in front of others.” I did not get angry at this barrage of insults showered upon me. I mean, after 22 years of marriage you become an absolute pachyderm. So with complete equanimity of mind I replied, “So what is wrong with my barber? He knows the kind of haircut I want. I simply have to go, sit and sleep. After 30 minutes he will wake me up and voila, my hairs are done to my liking. What else one needs?” Now let me tell you why I do not want to give up on my antiquated barber shop. Every time I go there, my barber Deepak, aka Deepko or Deepka, will come to greet me outside his shop. Then he will look around and comment, “You did not bring your Mercedes?” I am sure that he so wanted me to bring that car so that he can boast to other customers, “Joyu (see), my customers come in Mercedes and all.” I replied, “No Deepka, I wanted some fresh air and hence came on my bullet.” You bet he was thoroughly disappointed. Maybe he was thinking if I had slipped in to my ranking to the bottom of the MHI diamond of India’s population. Then he greets me in to the shop and vehemently cleans the chair on which I am supposed to sit. While I take my seat, he elucidates, “When you had called, I was cutting Babulal’s (The State Cabinet Minister) hair at his home. Immediately I told Babulal that I will have to quickly finish his haircut to attend a very important schedule. Boss, at the end of it you are more important than Babulal.” Just when I think that Deepko will trigger my haircut, he whispers in to my ears, “Bhai, relax for some time while I get my Ghutka. You know na how busy we are. Have not eaten Ghutka since morning; no time you know. Should I bring a cigarette and chai for you? Ok, while you wait, why don’t you catch up with some newspapers?” What I actually find loitering around are few Bollywood supplements of the lamestream local vernaculars; which has some poorly printed and out-of-focus photographs of voluptuous as well as skinny heroines wearing what a man wishfully desires. Deepak announces his re-entry after some goddamn 10 minutes and starts mowing my head with a manual trimmer. With my eyes closed, I’m now all poised to listen to Deepak’s barrage of questions and gossips. He will inquire about my family, my health, my friends, my business, my last trip abroad and what did I get for him, and what I should get the next time I go… After this monotonous ritual, his long session of monologue gossip starts. Who died, who got a child, who got drunk and caught, who eloped, who married (by the way Deepko is invited to all marriages in Gandhinagar, whether it is a minister or a big businessman or a farmer), who got busted, who got in to a brawl, who got transferred in the sachivalaya, the latest scam… After almost 30 minutes or so, he will pompously announce that the haircut was over and now I can open my eyes to see the new gleaming and dashing me. He will then access a mirror lying somewhere under the customer waiting-bench and place it at the nape of my neck, and display my men-will-be-men type army style slope cut. Then he takes a comb having very thin bristles and does my hair, and asks, “Kevu (what say)?” And I say, “Jordaar (amazing).” Finally he gives me a manly head massage (without any oil) for two minutes and then relieves me of the gossip ordeal. Pleased with his attainment, he finally calls the job concluded. Even without asking him, I pull out my wallet and give him Rs. 100. No questions asked, no answers given. A quick goodbye and while walking off, I hear him talking over the phone to another customer, “Party, come over anytime you like. This shop is yours only.” Though I wonder every time, what happens to the cigarette and chai? Imagine this happening almost every month for last 30 years. Give me one goddamn solid reason to shift my barber. Back to the scene with my wife. “Ok, so what do you suggest?” I asked. Wife responds, while her head is still sunk in the phone, “Arey, you have Nrich salon just below your office na.” “Ok, I will go there tomorrow whenever it is convenient.” “You are useless”, she replied. “They are not your Deepkas of this world. You need to take an appointment for the haircut.” I retorted, “Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles, why in the f…..g world should I take an appointment from a barber?” “Hairstylists. They are not barbers.” And I thought only celebrities had ‘hairstylists’. After all, my narcissist self could not bear my devaluation and went ahead to take an appointment with the hairstylist for the next day post my office-hours. “Don’t get late or else they will take the next customer”, my wife gave the final piece of advice (advice #26) for the day. Next day, post my office-hours, I reported to the Nrich salon dot on time. A lovely receptionist (whose face I could not see) asked for my name, mobile number and e-mail ID. I was asked to wait in the lounge for few minutes; while the hairstylist prepared the seat and counter for me. A cold bottle of Bisleri was served to me. Maybe, they already knew that my anxiety levels were shooting up. In the meantime, I was impressed at the cleanliness, décor and lighting of the place and the kind of super-impressive equipment they had got; without having an iota of understanding as to what they can do with anyone’s hair. At last, the moment came and I was ushered to my designated seat. My hairstylist wearing a complete PPE kit, mask and a face-shield smiled at me and greeted, “Mr. Desai, how are we doing today?” Last I heard someone greet me like this was by the air hostesses on the Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines. “Mr. Desai, I am Neville and I will be taking care of you for the next one hour. In case you need anything, do let me know and we will most certainly attend to it”, the hairstylist announced. “Thundering typhoons, why the hell do you need one hour? My Deepko always takes 30 minutes or less. Ridiculous.” Neville then adorned me with pleasant smelling paraphernalia over my bust. For some time Neville examined my hair, my facial skin and all. Finally he announced, “Mr. Desai, your hairs are too rough. I will have to shampoo them in order to execute proper hair styling.” I am like, “Does it cost extra?” “Just 500 bucks Mr. Desai. That’s nothing”, replied Neville. I was thinking, “That’s nothing? You cheater. That’s like my 5 haircuts with Deepka!” But then, I had to pretend that 500 bucks didn’t mean a jack shit to me. After all, my wife belongs to the high society. So, without showing any disapproval on my face, I replied with a lot of confidence to Neville, “Oh that’s ok. You go ahead; don’t bother me with the charges and all. Doesn’t matter.” Only I knew from within what kind of stupid and irresponsible statement I had just made. But then like a hurt lion, I chose to face all the consequences of getting a haircut in a high-society salon. Immediately Neville got my head over a basin, which was specially designed for shampooing. Hot and cold water from the jet spray reminded me of the Liril TVC. La, la, la, la…la, la, la. And then Neville carefully applied shampoo on my head and started gently running his fingers back and forth through my scalp. It almost felt like Neville and I were gays. “Why can’t you do it like Deepka? The manly way”, I was pondering. Once done with the shampoo, Neville slowly and rather girlishly maneuvered the Braun trimmer, Victorinox scissors and some expensive comb through my hair; cutting them with finesse. Appreciating his own piece of art and labour of love, he would pose once in a while to check my haircut from various angles; further trimming my hairs in microns. Finally it was done. Before I could say ‘Jack Robinson’ Neville once again pushed me back gently to the seat. “Mr. Desai, while cutting your hair, I noticed that you have split-ends and that will require some immediate attention.” I was like, “Can’t it wait?” “No Mr. Desai, I will not recommend.” Now with the kind of societal status that I had manufactured in front of Neville, I thought it was best to say yes. And then that long agonising Keratin treatment left me mentally exhausted. But even that got over somehow. Once again, when I was just about to get up, Neville once again advised, “Mr. Desai, now that I have taken care of your hair, let me tell you that you have lot of blackheads on your face. I will recommend a facial treatment to get rid of them.” By this time, I had reached my all-out level of patience and durability, and gave a stern look at Neville, “Look Neville, there is a big party at my house and I need to leave now. I hope the facial treatment can wait.” “Of course Mr. Desai. As you wish. However, I will recommend getting it done ASAP. Should I book some time for the facial treatment tomorrow?” Where is my Walther? I swear I wanted to shoot Neville there itself. And not feel an iota of guilt after that. And then the moment of further unrest. What will be the bill amount? Style me amount toh pochcha hi nahi! “Mr. Desai it will be just Rs. 5,500. Hope you had a wonderful experience with us.” 55 rounds of my haircut done and dusted in just one go. Reluctantly I paid up and was about to leave, the concierge opened the door and said, “Mr. Desai, see you very soon.” See you very soon, my foot. You have robbed me. Mummyyy…these guys have cheated me. Aaaaarrrrrgggghhhhh. I had lost the battle, but won the war. Gathering enough courage and the smile back, I rang the doorbell of my house. My wife opens the door. Once again drowned in the screen-shopping on her mobile, she did not even look at me. I was like, “Baby, I just got my haircut done at Nrich. Look at me. I am all happening and stylish. Dhen ta nen. How do I look?” But she was unrelenting. Absorbed completely in her mobile phone, she snapped, “Amit, what is wrong with you? Why are you talking to me directly? Take a selfie and WhatsApp it to me. I will revert when I am free.” All for that pseudo desire of getting qualified for that affluent-class section of India’s population diamond. Inspired by Amit Tandon’s stand-up
“My family has been spending a lot of money on me. I am a burden for them. My studies are a burden. But I cannot live without my studies. I have been contemplating this for days. I think that suicide is my only resort.” These were the final words of 19-year-old Aishwarya Reddy, who died by suicide recently. An undergraduate scholarship student of mathematics at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, Reddy had been living with her daily wage workers’ family in Telangana since March when the national lockdown was put in place. She did not get a room in the hostel and had to search for an accommodation which would range between Rs 12,000-18,000 per month. She also faced a lot of difficulty attending online classes because she didn’t have a laptop and had to use her phone instead. In addition, she didn’t have a good internet connection and had to buy additional data packs to attend lectures. The strict hostel policy, the limitations of online classes, her family’s poor financial health and that she didn’t receive a single penny of scholarship in spite of the fact that she was eligible, led Aishwarya to take this drastic step. Such shocking incidences, born out of pressures of education and its systems, are no longer uncommon in India. Kota city, the education hub, 2nd name to JEE and NEET coaching, a dream destination to be for any IIT or medical aspirants; but all of a sudden has turned into the suicide capital. When you arrive at Kota, you will find thousands of students competing fiercely to make their mark. More so, periodic test results are communicated to parents with warnings or consequences, which an average student can't cope up with the embarrassment due to bad test results. And then, as your test performance decides your batch and as soon as your test rank deteriorates, a student is pushed to lower batches, which hurts the social status of the student and hence push them in deep depression. Last but not the least, the parent’s pressure on their kid to crack JEE or NEET, irrespective of his/her past history of liking, delivers a double whammy. Teenagers can't see themselves losing in front of parents and hence they kiss the hanging rope or sink in to the dark realm of drugs. My very dear friend’s daughter was in 12th standard two years back.Not heeding to his daughters request to put her in to arts stream, he forced her to take science stream. Their house was turned in to an impregnable fortress for the entire year. They did not go out anywhere nor were any guests welcome. They sacrificed their vacations, weekly entertainment and dinner outings, festivals, birthday celebrations, television… Kid would go to school in the morning, come back in the afternoon to immediately rush for the JEE classes. Come back later in the evening to finish off school and coaching class’s homework. Classes were proudly functional on Sundays as well. She lost more than 10 kilos and had dark circles around her eyes,somewhere begging her parents for some sleep. Eventually the D-day came and she managed to get only 62%. Grief enclosed the house; they stopped picking up any one’s call and did not step out of the house till I went to meet them after a week or so. I took with me some Motichoor ke Laddu and congratulated everyone in the house, especially the kid for such a marvellous performance. Maybe I communicated what I had to even without saying a word. Today’s education system makes student’s knowledge and understanding of the world bookish. They will always go by the book and would never think of an alternate way to do things. Their creativity is always constrained in a box. They cannot innovate nor improvise. This kind of a bookish education is good for developing people who can follow. This system would produce copy-cats. Not innovators. Not Leaders. What we need in today’s age and time is a practical and hands-on education;where students are required to understand everything by learning through experiences, look and feel, and not by cramming textbooks. Thinking differently, innovation, improvisation, sportsand extra-curricular activities must be the key to get grades. But the most important of all is to counsel the students to pick up the career path they are genuinely interested in and provide them full support to fulfil their educational and career dreams. Will you wear a black or white shirt for your entire life just because they epitomise ‘classy’? Obviously,not. You will want your clothes to reflect your individuality and will select the ones you like the most. Similarly, not everyone is born to become just an engineer or a doctor or what everyone else is chasing (case in point – every one as of today wants to become a coder). So,let them reflect their individuality by choosing a career they love. What is wrong if your son or daughter becomes a magician, theatre artist, painter, copywriter, you-tuber, footballer, chef, product designer, historian, geologist, anthropologist, ornithologist…? Trust me, if they pursue their career in what they really love, they will never have to work for a single day in their lifetime. Their passion and love for work will never wane out and they will have much greater chances of becoming successful. Wouldn’t you, as parents, be proud of your son or daughter then? Rural education has different plethora of issues. Lack of infrastructure, good sanitisation, library, books and stationery, computers, connectivity, good teachers, access to schools, finance and drop-outs…the issues are endless. This has created a big rural-urban divide in terms of educational capabilities. Someone has to change the education system. The onus should come from the industry, especially large and credible corporates. First of all, adopt schools in rural areas and give an equal opportunity to those underprivileged kids to realise their dreams. Normally, if you are to recruit someone, you look for credentials in terms of education and pedigree of the institution. So secondly, start recruiting someone who is good with logic, is street-smart, confident, extrovert, a team player, has common sense, has no stage fear, has future potential to grow… Then parents will not only focus on bookish education and degrees, but will also focus on the all-round well-being and development of the child. Maybe then, no student will have to take that gory step of ending their lives or succumbing to drugs. And every student will have equal right to education and more so, the education they like. Credits for some information – Indian Express, Quora
Icons VS Symbols
Introduction Daily, we use hundreds and thousands of images, pictures, references, words, sounds, gestures, signs and concepts in our formal or informal communication. Ever thought of why we have to use them and how they are being employed in communication. By mention of images and pictures in communication, we come across the words like icon and symbol. So what are these icons and symbols and how are they related to signs and communication and especially in advertising and brand communication. I will take you through these interesting tools which we humans have developed through course of time. Icons and symbols – Are they synonyms? Firstly, I will present what are generally termed as icons. Here are the popular examples of icon. Fig 1. Icons in a popular word processing program The above image shows a menu list of a popular word processing program with its icons. We all know (at least most of us) what these icons mean. Even if anyone, who does not know, will find out what it means due to influence of computers and mobile phones. Fig 2. A sample set of symbols As shown in the above figure, these are....symbols. Or people today may even call these things as icons. Images, either icons or symbols of both Fig 1 and Fig 2 are fundamentally called signs. The images of Fig 1 and Fig 2 are functionally same, that is, they represent something or some concept. But they are different due to what they represent and hence the images of Fig 1 and Fig 2 are of different types just as nouns, pronouns and verbs are. Such signs are widely and consciously used in communications and representations of various entities like religion, company, enterprise, currency, flag, tools and so on. Following are the famous signs of our today's world: Apple (Mobile phone company), Rupee (Currency sign of Bhaarat), power button sign on computers, State Bank of India. Fig 3: Some popular symbols What I have noticed is 'icon' and 'symbol' that many use the words interchangeably. This does cause misunderstanding when trying to make sense of what one heard. For example, one says, "I want the icon like an 'OM' for our company." Here the question is whether the visual and audio form of OM is an icon or a symbol and in general, whether the logo of any company is icon or symbol. In addition, what is an icon or a symbol? Are they just graphics, drawings or sign? Is icon and symbol different? Many puzzling questions but the answer is simple. All the above shown images are signs. Signs are forms ( forms can be visual, audio, event, static and dynamic) which have meanings or refers to some meaning or thing. As I said earlier, just like nouns, verbs, pronouns which are types of words, there are three basic types of signs viz. a.) Icon b.) Index and c.) Symbol. In fact, the whole system of human communication is built on the sign and signification process/model. CS Pierce (1839-1914), an American linguist and Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913), a Swiss linguist and semiologist, deciphered this whole pattern of sending and receiving messages, which is known as Semiotics and Semiology respectively. So, semiotics (also called semiotic studies) is the study of meaning-making, which is the study of sign process (semiosis) and meaningful communication. The most accepted definition for each is as follows: • Icon The term icon is used for the signs, which have the physical or elemental resemblance with what it refers or represents. Olympic signs for every sport fall in the category of icon. Even the signs used in computers are mostly icons because their forms have resemblance to what it represents. But what about the icon of 'floppy disk' for saving function. Yes, at present this icon does not have any logical connection, at least for the ones who came into this world after the demise of floppy disk. Such icons attain the symbolic status once the reference or the logical connection is lost. • Symbol And the symbol is at the opposite end of the icon. They have no resemblance with what they stand for or represent. The relation between the meaning/reference signified and the form (i.e. audio/visual) is arbitrary and by choice. This relation and meaning is culturally learned and acquired by constant reminders and usage. Therefore, words and sentences are symbolic. Their pronunciation as well as their written form does not have any relation and resemblance with the meaning it stands for. Let us say "Dog"; does its pronunciation resemble to the looks of a dog? The same can be said for its written form. Thus, it is a symbol for the actual dog. Therefore, rightfully it is said: "language is a symbolic system". Symbols, due to their arbitrary signification, give communication more flexibility and creativity. Also due to this reason even an uneducated person can speak and acquire language culturally and can communicate effectively too. Advertising also uses this symbolicity model to develop desired perception. Symbolic signification ironically does not have any logical platform. This pattern excels on the intention but one has to put effort in establishing the meaningful relation. And just opposite to the icon, certain symbol after certain time may become iconic. Nike swoosh is now an icon of Nike as it is now one element of Nike's identity. Same can be said for SBI symbol and Mcdonald symbol. And Air India must be missing 'the Maharaja' whereas Amul Girl seems to own otherwise what we call Amul Butter. Such thin differences in synonymous looking words are common in every language. The ones who know how to benefit from language will definitely harp on such nuances of words, meanings and concepts. We may like it or not, language and signification are equally practical and experiential phenomenon for us, literate or not. Just prepare yourself to benefit from as big as the 50 billion USD unified communications industry*. So now when you design a website or a brochure or even a print ad or TVC, think of the representations, references and significations which a particular visual, situation or message it would produce. Also this might help you to decide whether to use icon or symbol for a given situation. *"https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2016/05/17/840632/0/en/Unified-Communications-Market-size-worth-96-Billion-by-2023-Global-Market-Insights-Inc.html"
110 Hours of captivity
To, The 14 passengers who died in a plane crash On their way to Lukla on August 25, 2010 What seemed to be a seemingly harmless, routine and a forward-looking journey turned turtle and it became the most horrifying journey of my life. As you read on you will realize how certain situations in life make you feel helpless to the extent of complete submission. August 13th, 2010 As I embarked the 737-800 jetliner from Ahmedabad to Delhi on a cloudy morning, I was full of optimism. I was on my way to Kathmandu and further up to Lukla to cement a business deal with my Sherpa, Laxman Tamang for Nomadier (my Adventure Tourism Agency). Laxman was my Sherpa on couple of previous rendezvous with the Solo-Khumbhu region, my trekking expedition in 2008 and my summit to the Everest Base Camp in 2009. Even though I was going in an off-season, I was very excited on three counts. First, because Nomadier will be offering adventure packages that almost none of the adventure agencies in India are currently offering. Second, because I will be meeting my friend Laxman, my Sherpa, my mountaineering guide, my well-wisher after 15 months of hiatus. Third, because I will be going to Lukla, a place where I would love my epitaph to read, “Resting here is the most fearless mountaineer of all time.” ( Kuch jyada hi ho gaya , I know) Lukla is the starting point of all the Mt. Everest expeditions. Precariously positioned in the Solo-Khumbhu region, east of Nepal, it’s the only gateway to the outside world in the region. Ranked as one of the most dangerous airports in the World, Lukla has no other means of reaching there with an exception of a grueling 6 days, 80 - 90 hours trek from a petite town of Jiri deep down in the valley. And by the way, this is not anywhere close to trekking on a flat surface with Gatorade on the stand-by. You have to climb some myriad mountains and descend them, everyday. And the route during monsoon makes it even more challenging and life-threatening. Slippery rocks enamoured with weeds and mildew, through which you have to traverse; a trail surrounded by perpendicular mountains on one side and couple of thousand meters of deep crevasse on the other. With the fear of rock coming tumbling down from one side to the fear of you tumbling down to eternity on the other side, every step you take is a matter of life and death. George Mallory, Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, Scott Fisher, Rob Hall, Yasuko Namba, Anatoli Bourkeev, Bachendri Pal, Appa Sherpa, Jon Krakauer, Beck Weathers and our very own, from Ahmedabad, Atul Karwal and thousands of other people who have been passionate trekkers and mountaineers in the Everest region have first registered their footprints on the soil of Lukla before going any further. Few came back victorious; some are dead under the weight of snow, never to see Lukla again. This mysterious town of 4000 odd Sherpas smells of dreams and uncertainty, life and death. Dreams, that a cautious man would brush aside and term those attempting it as “Mavericks”. This place is a host to most eccentric people in the world for sure because beyond this place you are entering “the Death Zone”. Every year, many people die beyond Lukla, which includes the most-seasoned Sherpas as well. But then this place has a charm. Lukla is the Mojo, more potent than any drug on this earth, more potent than any human relationship, more potent than any money on this earth. I didn’t see any good babes in the morning and the flight was very uneventful. I reached Delhi by 8.30 am and thanks to the new runway, which is some hundred years away from the domestic terminal, the jetliner only reached the parking bay by 9.15 am. I still had lot of time because my onward connection was at 12.55 pm from the new T3 terminal. GMR’s free international terminal transfer bus took some 1 hour to reach T3 in the midst of monsoon traffic chaos of Delhi. One can spot some innumerous debris alongside the approach road before you finally reach T3 and it surely got me thinking if it was once again that Indian promise to deliver international experience gone kaput. I was just thinking if it only fulfilled the expectations of our paunchy and ever hungry Indian politicians or will it ever fulfill the expectations of Indian bourgeois and the international travelers. Marred by the recent CWG controversies, I was hell bent on believing the former. But I was wrong. The moment you enter T3 it reminds you of any other swanky International airport. Having traveled the length and breadth of the world, I can safely say it surely meets the best-in-class standards. Way to go India. Since I had an upgrade voucher, I had the privilege of getting a seat in the business class of Jet Airways; I had an access to the Premier Lounge. Felt nice, an ego booster. But soon I realized that except for the rest room, where I helped myself with the nature’s call (Having woken up at 5 in the morning, there is no way my ass was ready to jettison the waste so early), there was nothing great about it. I was instead lured by the food court outside, which housed Domino’s, Café Coffee Day, KFC and many others. I went to Cafeccino and helped my self with couple of Kingfisher Draught Beer (Pushpa I hate Coffee). There are smoking lounges at regular intervals and that helped me just fine. It’s quite a walk from the hub to the gate number 11, where my flight was going to take off. Thanks to the travelators, the journey was devoid of short-breath. With an hour of delay, caused due to the late arrival of the incoming aircraft (Yeah, yeah… well we all know this rhetoric you rascalas. Mind it), flight landed at the Tribhuwan International Airport (Named after the grandfather of much liked King of Nepal, Birendra Bir Bikram Shah, who was killed in the carnage at the Narayanhiti Royal Palace on 01 June 2001), Kathmandu at around 3 pm. Kathmandu’s air has something about it. Why not? It has been ravaged by unstable political situation since eons and no government has been able to survive the full term since G. P. Koirala (Grand Uncle of Manisha Koirala). Eternal fight between Ranas (Prime Ministers) and Shahs (the royal descendants) has left the country high and dry. Add to it the Maoist movement led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda). It’s a lawless country, breeding ground for terrorists waiting to be exported to India from the porous borders between Nepal and the states of Bihar, UP and West Bengal. Poverty pricks your eyes and the landscape of Kathmandu reminds you of India that was 25 years back. But there are positive sides to it. People are warm and friendly. Babes are better dressed than what you can find at Poly Esther’s on any given day. It has more foreign tourists than Benaras. And the best of the filter cigarettes will cost you only 80 Nepali Rupees (INR - oh someone please give me that Rupee symbol on my keyboard - 50). The custom officials were least bothered to see my face or my documents and let me go without a word or even a fleeting look. Being an Indian, you can even fly to Nepal on your election card. I was received by Laxman’s son, Saroj who stays in Kathmandu during the off-season doing humpy whory and goes to Lukla during the season to earn monies as a certified mountaineering guide. Saroj welcomed me as if some supernatural being had arrived in his golden chariot from Kailash Mansarovar. Though he speaks little English, but we share a great rapport of understanding each other. I could see the flicker in his eyes, urging me to make him and his father earn some money. While we embarked on a 1995 rusted model of Maruti 800 on our way to Radisson, he didn’t waste any time and started talking about the possible expedition routes in the Solo-Khumbhu region. On the way I picked up the popular Surya Filter Cigarettes. I was quickly checked in to the club-class (God only knows what that means) room of Radisson without any hassles. With a promise to meet Saroj at 7.30 pm, he left the room after securing my baggage. I have been staying at Radisson during all my previous trips to Nepal and this being the fourth. It’s not just the comfy rooms, excellent service or the roof-top bar that gives you the panoramic view of Kathmandu, but the Casino Rad, the most popular Casino in Nepal, is what attracts me to Radisson. I cannot escape Roulette or Black Jack if it is within 50 kilometers of sniffing distance. If you play a minimum 10000 Nepali Rupees (INR…uff the symbol…6000) at the Casino, the booze, the cigarettes, gutka, pan masala and the food is on the house. It also stages a dance bar where Nepali women wear some skimpy clothes and gyrate on Govinda, Jitendra and Mithun songs. For next two and half hours I was busy watching Al Jazeera (The English version), while sipping Bacardi I had picked up from T3. Guys who are fans of Nick Gowing on BBC, I bet Al Jazeera’s every programme and news can beat him hands down. I was so engrossed in the news that I could hardly hear Saroj banging my room door. It was 7.30 pm already. On his Pulsar, which is considered to be ultra-modern, ultra hi-tech, space-age, ‘Inception’ inspired lean and mean machine, he took me to Thamel. He proudly said that he had got his biked waxed and polished in honour of my arrival. Little did I know that that idiot mechanic of Saroj had also waxed the leather seats of his bike! So every time Saroj would brake, I would go slipping down his 28 inch ass. Out of sheer embarrassment, I advised Saroj to do all this when his girlfriend is driving the bike and he is a pillion-rider. Thamel is the most happening place in Kathmandu, known for housing all the foreigners who ever come to Kathmandu. Just five minutes away from Radisson, Thamel hosts the shops that can get you any gears, equipments and apparels for extreme to mild mountaineering as well as trekking expeditions. It also has some endless shops of curios, CDs, DVDs, books, maps, Gorkha Khukhris, Nepali art and jewelry, local clothes… Thamel, though smeared with litter everywhere, is the place to be. Dance Bars, Live Bands, Ghazal Bars, Pubs, Beer Bars, all types of restaurants and all types of cuisines and what have you. We shopped for few CDs of Buddhist chants and then went on to a Ghazal Bar called Malingo (‘Bamboo’ in Nepali). What did you expect? A Nepali singing Ghazals like Ghulam Ali? Well in few minutes my euphoria died and I was subjected to some relentless Nepali songs and songs of Kumar Sanu… Sochenge tumhe pyar kare ki nahi, Mera dil to itna pagal hai woh pyar tumhi se karta hai … It was a Friday night and babes were thronging this so called bastardized version of Ghazal bar. Red, to shiny blue to purple to black…they were all neatly dressed to kill in their evening gowns or short skirts and tops. Being absolutely upset with the music that was being blurted out live, I ordered for a Black Label, large and on-the-rocks. Then a glimmer of hope appeared. The waiter came to me and proudly informed that I can ask for a song of my request. By that time I was absolutely convinced that these singers don’t know a ‘G’ of Ghazal. So I requested for my favourite song, “Tera na hona jane kyu hona hi hai…” With a hope and wait, I gobbled up two more pegs of Black Label and then when I could not resist, I went to the stage and asked the singer if he is going to play my song or not. In his very desi Nepali accent he replied, “Saab zee, mujhe is gan(e) ke bol nahi aate hai.” My world came crashing down; I wanted to beat that guy to shreds. Like a hurt Lion I announced my exit from Malingo and instructed Saroj to take me to Casino Rad at Radisson. Atleast there will be some half-clad babes accompanying Kumar Sanu’s songs and I will be absolved of seeing this stupid Nepali singer’s face. At Casino Rad, Saroj was denied an entry. No Nepalese were allowed in the Casino due to new Government directive. I was wondering, “Which Government?” I bade farewell to Saroj with a promise to see him at the domestic Airport at 5.30 in the morning to catch the 6.15 am flight to Lukla and went to my room to crash in the comfort of the ever bouncing soft bed. Only if it had dawned on me that I will surely miss this nice soft silky quilt and mattress of Radisson very soon. August 14th, 2010 My alarm rattled me at 5 in the morning from the coziness of the silken quilt. And if you think I was going to take a bath and all and get dressed to impress, you are sadly mistaken. I was getting in to land where people don’t take baths for weeks together, so why not be a part of the community, even though it was just for two days. In the hindsight I should have taken a bath. I quickly brushed my teeth with Colgate Active and gave a Jim Carrey “say cheese”, only to find out my teeth were none better than what they were yesterday. In exactly 600 seconds to follow, I put on my clothes, my boots, packed my bag, finished off the complimentary mineral water and checked all the drawers to be sure that nothing is left behind. I don’t know, but every time I leave a hotel room, even though I might have stayed there for just few hours or one night, I check all the drawers, irrespective I have touched them or not (forget using them). Maybe in my last life I would have been perennially forgetting my chaadis in the hotel room. This is some kind of obsessive compulsive disorder for sure. Done with it, I checked out of the hotel like a superman and then I saw something the moment I approached the porch for the airport drop. Something that disturbed me a little and left me in a sense of doubt. Rains were pouring dark and heavy. My past experiences of Kathmandu–Lukla flights said that I might not get to Lukla today. However, keeping my fingers crossed I stepped in to the hotel car. “ Arey Saab zee, weather bada kharab hai. Lagta nahi flights ja payegi ,” blurted out the chauffer. And then I immediately crossed my legs as well. I realized I had forgotten to pee. Since there was no one threatening me to death with a 0.22 cal Remington, I managed to hold on… to my pee. The minute I got down at the domestic airport, I dodged couple of cultured looking people, found a blooming and healthy bush and relieved myself. Kathmandu’s domestic airport is worse than any of our bus-stations. No security, no announcements, no chairs, no nothing. Check-in counters make you feel like you have reached the counter of Yamraj who is more than willing to admit you on the ride to the hell. Welcome to the hell ride. Only small aircrafts of 14 pax capacity operate to Lukla and they too are archaic and rusted ones. I am sure some time in history Hitler or Mussolini must have traveled in them to hump (Just sit back and relax, humping will automatically happen. Read on to know how). Add to the misery, there are no seat belts; the seats make you remind of those three legged iron chairs in your college canteen, water sips in through the window and every 5 minutes the aircraft plunges by 20 feet or so, stabilizes its drunken state and moves on. And then the deadly runway at Lukla adds all the salt to the misery. At a gradient of 35 degrees, this runway is created on the top of a hill, with a steep fall of 3000 feet at the approach (just to keep in mind in case you miss it while landing or take-off) and is just about 550 meters extra-long for extra pleasure. As we went to the counter (don’t visualize a nice babe sitting at the counter, saying, “Good Morning Sir. Can I have your Tickets please? Which seat will you prefer? There you go Mr. Desai, have a nice flight.”), a senile executive without an iota of smile on his face (seemed like his stray dog just passed away) checked us in. The bags were left astray without any tags or stickers and I was wondering if they will ever reach Lukla. We security checked soon after. The only question the security officer asked me without frisking me was, “ Czhaku, zhoory hai kya ?” I promptly refused and he more than promptly let me go. There was some kind of a commotion at one of the departure gates and upon inquiry; we realized that the flight for Lukla is just about to leave (remember no announcements). “Wow, this is magic,” I said to myself and riding on my luck we got into bus which will transfer us to that 14 sitter propeller driven Dornier flying machine. As anticipated, the flight was full of bumps and at times it seemed that flight was being pulled by some paranormal might from both the sides, a tug of war of lords. However, having experienced this ride more than couple of times before, I was at ease. We reached Lukla at 7.30 am. Ours was the first flight to land. Normally in an off-season there are only three to four flights in the morning, while in a peak-season (March to May and Mid-September to Mid-December) there can be as many as 20 flights or more. The flights only operate in the window of morning hours between 7 am to 11 am and then the Lukla airport is unceremoniously closed by Desai 7 Levers lock. The air at heights above 7500 feet gets thinner as the sun peaks in to the noon, making it impossible for an aircraft of this small size or helicopter to hold its self stable (Remember 'Into Thin Air'?). I was honoured with the traditional Sherpa style welcome by my friend Laxman. They say some chants, say “Namaste” and make you wear a white or cream silk scarf around your neck. I was thrilled to see Laxman after a long time. Being fully aware that Laxman would not have indulged in the luxury of having a bath since ages, I still hugged him very tightly. Most of the lodges in Lukla and above provide you very basic accommodation. One six feet bed carved out of cheap plywood, one wrinkled pillow, one smelly quilt and one solitary table is what you have in a room. No hangers, no cupboards, no attached bathroom, no soap, no glasses, no complimentary water, no towels, no nothing. They are the only available options at higher altitudes (up to a place called Gorakhshep, from where your final assault to the Everest base camp begins, beyond which even such Spartan lodges are not available). So when on a trek to the base camp, you do not have a choice but to use their heavenly five-star services. They are not expensive and 15-20 USD can get you a room for a day. But in Lukla you have an option. There is a hotel called Yeti Mountain Homes, which is the by far most expensive hotel in the entire Solo-Khumbhu region. It has everything that the above lodges don’t offer (except that the hot water comes only for two hours in the afternoon, that’s when the solar powered heaters are in full swing). With all the facilities at a height of more than 9000 feet, it comes at a bomb of a price - only 100 USD per day! I immediately dreaded the thought of staying at a Spartan lodge, especially since I was not on a trek. I proudly announced to Laxman to escort me to Yeti Mountain Homes. His face became pale, “Amit Sir, it’s very expensive.” Laxman is a trained English guide and also knows little bit of Spanish and French. I said, “Hey Laxman, its okay. I am here only for two days and I’m on a business trip and not on a trek.” That point of time I had exactly 600 USD, wad of Rs. 500 notes which are not accepted in Nepal, debit card and few credit cards from disgruntled credit card companies. Laxman was full of pride and every person he met on the way, he shouted at the top of his voice, “We are staying at the Yeti Mountain Homes.” People looked in awe and exhorted some strange hmm... of disbelief. I felt nice and I suddenly started walking like James Bond, full of confidence and ready to kiss any babe that comes my way. It was a 750 meters walk from the airport to the hotel, through the deserted streets of Lukla. In the off-season, people go down the valley to find work and not much of the population stays back. The moment we reached the hotel Laxman started communicating with the cook of the hotel (who had assumed the responsibility of the Manager. Even the Manager had gone back to Kathmandu since there were no tourists). It took some goddamn one hour for me to figure out what they were up to. Cook had mentioned that due to off-season all the rooms were closed and it will take some time for him to get a room ready for me. So we waited outside, basking in the morning Lukla sun. Suddenly, a beautiful looking Sherpa girl came with black tea (Yak milk can be awful, so I thanked her silently for brining black tea). As we sipped the tea, I overcame with exhaustion. Maybe slight lack of sleep since last two days and complete change in weather accompanied by less oxygen in the air made me feel tired all of a sudden. After some wait, the cook had an approving glee on his face and announced that the room is ready. I asked Laxman to drop my bags off and allow me to rest till lunch time. At 1 pm in the afternoon a knock on my door irritated me. I had to really gather myself to walk some 10 feet to open the door, obviously not pleased with the intruder. Laxman was ever smiling and said, “Good Afternoon Amit Sir.” All my irritation eloped in a fraction and I welcomed him in. He informed me that his family is waiting for a feast in my honour. I quickly got ready, applied my Polo perfume (the best remedy when you have not taken a bath) and set out to meet Laxman’s family. Laxman has three daughters and one son. Eldest daughter has married a Nepali Police Officer and is staying in some western part of Nepal. She studied up to 5th standard. Saroj the second kid, ofcourse you all know him by now, studied up to 10th standard and is a certified guide now. Third kid is studying in 5th standard and Laxman is planning to marry her off soon. The youngest kid, Doma is 6 years old and has not been sent to school as yet. She knows fewer words than my two year old daughter! His wife is a typical house-wife and handles daily chores. The feast, at one of the local lodges, was grand by their standards. Chicken curry (well there was hardly any curry, it’s was just plain dry broiler chicken) and rice – the big, fat and stained ones. Though I could not gulp the dry food, I managed to hold on a smile and eat it. I didn’t want to offend them in any which ways. At the end of the feast, cook from the lodge brought the bill and gave it to Laxman. I promptly took it away from Laxman and paid a whopping 3000 Nepali Rupees for four adults and one kid. Its only later I realized why the chicken was so expensive. After the meal, we immediately got to the business. Confined in my room, we must have spent some 6 hours together chalking various routes, packages, inventories, human resources and monies involved. We had a deal, except that few issues were to be resolved, but then we had one more day with us. By the time we were finished it was way beyond dinner time. People in Lukla eat at 7 pm and sleep at 8 pm. It was already 9 pm by then, but the cook at our hotel was kind enough to cook some Daal (plain and awful) and Rice. We finished the Bacardi I had got from T3 and once drunk, we were happy and content with the very basic Nepali food. While having a smoke after dinner, Laxman invited me to yet another feast the next day afternoon; but this time at his home, which is 1800 feet below Lukla. I readily accepted the invitation and retired to my room. I went in to the Inception mode within a fraction of a minute. August 15th, 2010 Saroj came to pick me up at 10 am to escort me to his home. I had barely woken up by then and once again I just changed my clothes, sprayed extra milliliters of Polo, brushed my teeth in ice-cold water (This time I didn’t check my teeth in the mirror) and was all set to go. Just then that beautiful Sherpa damsel approached me and asked if I wanted to have some breakfast. I smilingly refused, dreading the fact that if meals are so awful, how would the breakfast be? We briskly walked down the valley in to narrow lanes full of pebbles and stones and waste water from houses flowing through them in perfect symphony. Smeared with litter and plastic, the narrow lane was not a pleasant walking experience. And when we just came to the edge of the hill where the lane and Lukla ends, Saroj showed me the beginning of the runway (slightly above us). He also showed a huge rock jutting out below the runway, where a Yeti Airlines crashed in October 2008, killing all the 14 people on board. After a brief encapsulation of what must have happened, we started climbing down the valley. Through narrow openings and in the midst of thorny trees on both the sides, we walked with care. Infact climbing down is far more risky than climbing up. While climbing down you are really not sure of your foot-hold and you have some multitude chances of slipping and if unlucky, you can go down skiing on your ass for meters together. We reached Laxman’s home in some one hour. I was again honoured with a traditional welcome. Laxman’s house is not any better than a house in the slums of Dharavi. Poor chaps live in one large room, which serves as a bedroom, drawing room, kitchen, everything. Laxman cannot afford to pay some 70000 Nepali Rupees (INR 40000) a year to rent a house in proper Lukla (it sounds as if I am talking Downtown New York). He still ends up paying 30000 Nepali Rupees for this shit-hole. The only saving grace is, the moment you look out of the window, the nature’s unbounded beauty binds you. Oh my god, the desi chicken his wife cooked! I can still smell the curry; I still want to lick my fingers expecting some morsel of that desi chicken to come out my veins and give me that same blissful culinary sensation. It was exactly like the desi chicken that the lower cast communities of India cook - deadly spicy, full of oil and thin gravy. I just hogged, I had really not eaten since I had left on 13th of August. With the paunches full, we took some rest. I started texting the entire world, “Happy Independence Day” and got busy with the very few responses I got. It is sad. There are some millions of texts which go out on Friendship Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, 1st of January… jamming the entire mobile network of India. But, there is hardly anyone who has time to wish each other on our own Independence Day. Maybe they want to keep the mobile network ‘free’ on the day of our freedom. Americans might be imperialistic bastards, but they have amazing sense of national pride. We should learn a lesson or two from them. After the rest and the messages, we started with our unfinished business. Thanks to their mathematical prowess, my task multiplied and so did their awe for my quick calculations. I am sure they must have seen an Einstein in me. It was 6 in the evening by the time we finished our final deal. Phew! While Saroj quickly trekked up to Lukla to confirm our tickets back to Kathmandu, Laxman and I took it easy. We set out for our trek back to the hotel almost half an hour after Saroj had left. By the time we reached the Hotel, the weather had started to change. Dark clouds, thunder storm and heavy rains. We met Saroj at the hotel and he was happy to inform that we (Saroj and I) are confirmed for the first flight back to Kathmandu next day morning. Laxman wanted to leave since it was getting dark, but I requested Laxman to stay back for dinner since it was the last one we were having together. He agreed without an argument. We ordered for some Red Label and some Ra-Ra noodles. Laxman walked back to his home in the night in the midst of very bad weather (I don’t how he managed that without a torch), with a promise to come in the morning to see us off. Saroj was offered a night in the dormitory at the Hotel, so he stayed back. August 16th, 2010 The day it all started… Saroj woke me up at 6 am. He had this worried look on his face. He just said, “Look out of the window.” Almost like a Mani Ratnam’s milieu from his idiotic and nonsensical movie “Ravana”, we were surrounded by thick clouds and the rains had started to pour. “My worst fear should not come true,” I quickly prayed. But the weather in Lukla often changes in matter of minutes and we were hopeful that this was just a spurt of bad weather and the clouds will soon wither away. So once again… Arey my Colgate and Polo. We quickly packed, had some hot tea, and settled the bill for 260 USD (for which the cook took some 30 minutes to find the bill book, write, then count the USDs and give me the change). It was an extremely challenging task for a Sherpa to count 300 USD, then convert 40 USD in to Nepali Rupees and give me the change. He brought about every armoury in his hotel including paper, pen, pencil eraser, sharpener, and calculator to finally arrive at how many Nepali Rupees he has to give me. And the best part was; he refused all my intervention. But then we finally managed to part ever cheerfully. The moment we reached airport, there were just 4 passengers including two of us (Saroj and myself). Laxman was waiting to see us off at the airport and blessed me with yet another traditional send-off. I got philanthropic and quickly flashed two crisp notes of 100 USD each and gave it to him. “Laxman you are nice man and a very good friend. I want you to spend this money in putting your six year old kid to school. Promise me you will do that.” He gave me an assurance that he will do just the same and I felt very happy (maybe it pampered my ego a bit as well) There is only one school in Lukla. There are children as small as 6-7 years who trek all alone for more than an hour to attend the school. The school is very basic and offers education only up to 10th standard. English is taught after 8th standard. With very few permanent teachers, lot of NGOs (run by Americans and New Zealanders) send temporary teaching staff from various corners of Nepal to teach these kids, but at a huge cost, finally to be recovered from the students. At times, due to lack of teaching staff, the school remains closed for months together. A monthly fee for the school varies from 1000 to 3000 Nepali Rupees (depending upon the grade, the staff that is sourced…) By this time I only had some 200 USD left with me and some Nepali Rupees. I was okay with the situation since even if I had to spend one more day in Lukla, I wouldn’t have any problems. The waiting had begun. We kept staring at the farther end of the runway with a hope that cloud will somehow disappear. To be honest, I don’t think Lukla ATC has any clue on the weather forecast. At best they can peep out of their windows and say, well there is rain and clouds on the runway. There was no news, nothing. Two hours went past doing nothing and that’s when Laxman asked if I wanted some coffee. It was a welcome offer and I quickly accepted it. We went to a tea-lodge called Himalayan Kitchen, just opposite the departure gate of Lukla Airport (actually 5 meters opposite the departure gate). As I sipped black coffee and while Laxman set off to meet his gang of friends, I thought of reading a book. The only book I had got for my trip. “Jangalnama” – is a travelogue of a journalist in the Maoist Guerilla Zone of Bastar. Time slipped by and I got engrossed in the read. All of a sudden I could see few people barging in the tea-lodge and started blurting out something in Nepalese to the lodge owner. In matter of minutes, hot potatoes, rice, omelets and daal were served to them. I just failed to understand how come this guy made food for seven odd people so fast. Then I started making some sense of what they were talking by eavesdropping. To my horror, I realized they were the ATC guys and they had closed the airport. They must have ordered food long-time back, which means that decision to close the airport was taken a long-time back. Despair struck me, “Uff, one more day in Lukla. What will I do?” But then it was not so bad waiting for a day. I will figure out something and then I have this book to finish. I ordered for one more black coffee, regained my composure and started reading once again. While the ATC guys got playing this stupid game of “Monopoly” and started selling and buying Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad…as if these cities are whores on the auction. Well, giving it a deeper thought, they are. Saroj having disappeared somewhere (maybe he took this opportunity to spend some more time with his girlfriend, who is a nurse at the local Red Cross hospital); Laxman arrived to give me the rotten bad news. “So Laxman, what’s the plan?” He replied with a wink, “Even the whores have gone off to Kathmandu in the off-season.” I gave a casual smile. “By the way, where are our bags?” Laxman suddenly got perturbed and said with a very apologetic look, “Sir I forgot them at the Airport.” Fortunately the guys who had the keys to the Desai 7 Lever locks were sitting right in front of us playing “Monopoly”. They were more than willing to open the airport for us and we got our bags back. And then a new challenge surrounded us. “Where do we go from here, Laxman?” “Sir we can go back to Yeti Mountain Homes,” he said without understanding my predicament. “Laxman, to be honest I am running short of money and I think we should park ourselves in a normal lodge which is near the airport. It will also help us monitor the exact situation.” He looked at me with suspicion. I am sure he must be thinking what kind of Ch…ya I am. From riches to rags in one day. I am sure he must be thinking, “ Do din style mar liya, abhi aukaat pata chali .” So we decided to check out a lodge called “La Villa”, which is exactly adjacent to the runway. I was pleased to hear that the charges for the same will be just 1000 Nepali Rupees (15 USD) per day. Again, as in Yeti Mountain Homes, the cook here was the make-shift manager. Kazi Sherpa, the cook, the incumbent manager of La Villa promptly ushered me to verify the room. I was thinking to myself, “As if I have any choice?” Kazi is just four feet and locals address him as, “Height Kum, Fight Jyada.” I gave a nod of approval and quickly got my baggage in the room. It was 1 pm by then and I was really hungry. So after a very brief stay in my room, I straight away went to the dining room. In every lodge they have very typical Tibetan dining room. Walls and the ceiling are hand-painted meticulously and intricately with countless organic colours, portraying various moods and poses of Bhudda fighting the “Battle Royal” with the demons (various forms of Dragons). Well, this visual delight is only restricted to lodges up to Namche Bazaar (3000 feet higher than Lukla), beyond which it’s just plain wood. Take it or leave it. Another highlight of this dining room is the shelves where well-polished brass and copper utensils of various sizes and shapes are neatly displayed. Seating is just one sided, benches kissing the periphery of the walls, so that you can use the walls as your back-rest. So accordingly the dinning tables, just enough to accommodate two, are bunged from three sides and the open side faces the benches. To add to the splendour, even the tables have very majestic carvings jutting out from the closed sides. The open central area embraces a closed iron cylindrical heater (It exactly looks like that archaic “Garam Pani no Bambo”, which any Gujarati will relate with). Powered by coal and wood, this heater is as good as any central heating system of a hotel in Iceland. The exhaust from the heater chucks out the smoke through a long vertical iron pipe that pierces in to the roof and out. “Kazi, I am really hungry. What is it that you can cook?” Kazi, with his ever enthusiastic pose replied, “ Saab zee, sabzee toh nahi hai. Daal aur chawal chalega? ” I cursed myself, “What else did you expect Desai… a 20 page menu of Continental, Oriental, Thai and Indian cuisine?” As if I was thrilled with his offer, “Well, ahem…That’s great. Ya… that’s great. And can you get us some whisky?” Red Label was 300 Nepali Rupees for a peg, while Signature was 200 Nepali Rupees (INR 125). I pompously announced, “Two large pegs of Signature for Laxman and myself.” Saroj has stopped drinking temporarily because he was just recuperating from Jaundice. Before I could say Jack Robinson, Kazi served us hot and unsalted popcorns. I wanted to kiss him, just the way the guy does to the chef in Mainland China’s advertisement. Only to later realize that I was charged 350 Nepal Rupees for every serving of popcorns I had ordered. I got back to my reading and Laxman and Saroj switched on the 14 inch, 10 years old, Sansui TV, which only showed some super grainy transmission of few Nepali channels and not to forget, Zee Smile and Sony Max. Those two channels will become my saviours very soon. In normal and earthly conditions I would not have watched these channels for a million dollar bait. Kazi made his re-entry and served a plate crowned with mountain of rice. I have never seen so much of rice in my life in one serving (except during my trip to Guwahati, Assam in 2004 or so). Then very soon he neatly placed a huge bowl of Daal - lifeless, half-boiled, dry, devoid of any spices and colourless. Even the food in few of the hospitals can be termed as a delicacy in front of this serving. I just couldn’t eat. I just couldn’t toss down this food through my throat. Harrowed, I quickly took few bites and announced, “I am done.” I wanted to eat something, anything. Human flesh? Well maybe after a few days. By this time exhaustion and sleep had taken control over my senses and I retired to my room. Very confident that I will sleep atleast till 7 pm or so, I was surprised to find myself wide awake by 4.30 pm, just after an hour and half of sleep. I can sleep anywhere, anytime, any situation and for any number of hours. Sound sleep is one of the God’s small mercies upon me and curse to my family members, especially on Sundays. I knew I was getting edgy; otherwise there is no power on this universe that could have woken me up so soon. I washed my face with Garnier Face Wash for Men in the cold water and for the first time felt the need of putting on my down jacket (made of insulated material, something that I was wise enough to carry along as contingency. Though it’s huge, it can be folded to the size of your palm). I picked up my book, locked the room and peeped outside the main door of the lodge to check on the weather. My heart skipped a bit. I couldn’t see beyond 10 meters. Dense clouds, spreading their presence horizontally. I just said a silent prayer, “Clouds, clouds go away, Amit Desai wants to go.” With the innumerous choices I had of spending my evening, I went once again to the dining room and started reading. By almost 7.30 pm, I had gobbled up some 150 pages of this book. Laxman, Saroj and Kazi all congregated in front of me and all had one question in their mind. I knew the question and replied, “Anything that you can make.” As I had mentioned before, 7.30 pm is too late for a dinner in Solo-Khumbhu, so I could very well understand their predicament. This time Laxman intervened and said, “While you were sleeping I went to the bazaar and got some potatoes. Should Kazi cook Potato curry and rice for you?” About the same time Saroj had gone to the Airline’s office to reconfirm our seats on the first flight out of Lukla tomorrow. The very sound of “Potatoes” got me a hard-on. They seemed like Caviars to me, only meant for the super-elite 7 or 9 course dinners. I felt blessed, till the time the food was served. We helped ourselves with Signature Whisky. Potato Curry was announced and was proudly displayed on my table. I was aghast. I wanted to puke (The same way I would do if someone placed curd in front of me). Dry, half-cooked, lifeless, colourless, spiceless Potatoes. Aaarrrrrgggggghhhhh…. I whined, “How can you eat anything that is so dry? Where is the curry in the Potatoes? How am I supposed to eat rice with dry Potatoes?” Frustration had started lurking in. Depression was just around the corner. I could feel it. They had a blank look on their faces as I jabbered some abusive language in Hindi thereafter. Once again I could not eat. Maybe, hunger was going to take a back-seat. After finishing my dinner in some 300 seconds, I watched others relishing their dinner for another 1000 seconds. Suddenly the transmission signals in that idiot box improved and Sony MAX was telecasting “Joru ka Ghulam”, a Govinda and Twinkle Khanna film. I instructed Laxman not to change the channel. It’s a story about a father, who wants to marry off his four daughters at one go. The only problem is; none of the daughters want to get married and in a way hate Man-kind. So he announces a dowry of Rs. 5 crore to anyone who marries his daughter(s). And there enters Govinda, right from Babylon. Obviously he has all the solutions in his hand (because he slept with a problem the previous night). Sometimes these movies are fun to watch akin to watching Aastha or Sanskar Channels, where that Jain Munni, “Tarun Sagar Ji” is an absolute delight. I bet you will roll on the floor eternally after seeing his discourse. Or Bhojpuri films on Mahuva TV – “ Jawaniya Jor Marela”, “Sali Howali Gharwali”, “Holi Mein Jump Mare” .“Comedy Circus” or “Laughter Challenge” stands a little chance in front of these mighty programmes or films. If you are surrounded by any wretchedness in your life, I seriously recommend the above channels for instant cure. I forgot that I was hungry. I forgot I was sinking in to some kind of a depression. I forgot that frustration is looking straight in to my eyes and I forgot, outside the weather has only worsened. Just about when the movie was on the verge of completion the lights went off, setting an ideal locale for Ramsey Brothers’ horror movie. Remembering the famous dialogue, “ Yaha raat ko aadmi nahi, atma bhatakti hai, ” I quickly secured my belongings and said goodbye to all and sundry. I quickly cross-checked with Saroj and we decided that he will wake me up at 6 in the morning to catch the first flight out of Lukla at 7.15 am. In this part of the world, absence of electricity doesn’t bother you much (except when you have to carry a candle to navigate your way to the common Loo, some 50 meters away and out in the cold). Temperatures, even during this time of year, swing between 18 degrees in the afternoon to 8 degrees in the night. You don’t change into night dresses nor do you have your evening showers and all. So I quickly flung my shoes in diagonally opposite directions and helped myself into the quilt. The quilt was quite cozy, but then soon I realized that there was this strange smell emanating out of the quilt and maybe even from the room. God knows when the quilt was last washed and in-between some myriad Americans, British, Japanese, Australians, New Zealanders and maybe even Indians would have used it for god-forgiving acts. Eeeeeewwwwwww… While I tossed around in the bed thinking of remedies to ward off the smell, the sleep came to me thick and fast. August 17, 2010 It was 6.45 am when I woke up with a jolt. I panicked. Either Saroj was sleeping and did not wake me up or the weather is bad. In either case it was not good news. I quickly crawled to the edge of the window and opened the curtain. I was aghast. The weather had not improved an iota from last evening. I quickly got in to the submission mode and called my wife, “Too bad, I am stuck for one more day.” I wanted to speak to Anoushka, my daughter, but she was asleep. I consoled my self, “All ij well, all ij well” and tried to go back in to the slumber once again. But the sleep wouldn’t come. My mind was caught in the grips of impending fear. I had heard from Laxman a day before that in the month of July, Lukla airport was shut for 18 days due to bad weather and I shivered from the very thought of its reoccurrence. After some internal pep talk, I gathered myself and out of the bed I was in a jiffy. I started calculating my chances of getting out. One more day, two days, three days, a week or even worse, a fortnight. How will I survive? I didn’t have enough money. What will I do in this goddamn standstill and lifeless town? I have so much pending work back in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. I have a major presentation on Thursday, the biggest for Metieta till date (We were pitching for a Rs. 10 crore account of ATRECO, the real estate arm of Adani group). Countless thoughts and doubts started shaking my self-confidence. Once again I snapped back from the train of thoughts and reminded myself, “All ij well.” But what the heck…No monies, no television, no place to go (I was not going on a trek for sure, something that Laxman recommended), no bars, no pubs, no books (I had almost finished Jangalnama and the sole bookstore owner in Lukla had closed his shop in the off-season and gone off to Kathmandu), no music (I refuse to download pirated music on my mobile), no nothing. Panic - take it easy my friend – panic- take it easy my friend…. Analog waves in my brains went on till I was thankfully interrupted by a knock on the door. Father and son greeted me with, “Good Morning.” Not to be rude to them I returned the greeting. My first outburst was, “What is the other way of getting out of here Laxman?” “Sir, six days treacherous walk to a town of Jiri and then an overnight bus to Kathmandu,” informed Laxman For a brief moment I kissed the nadir of my hope. I quickly recovered and said with a forced smile on my face, “Is there any hope today? What are the ATC guys saying?” “Sir, they think that flights will not be able to come today,” said Laxman “But do they have any weather forecast based on which we can take some decision?” Laxman was clueless and I got my answer. I sunk in the bed with my hands on my head and gripping my hairs strongly and occasionally ruffling them. Putting a brave front I quickly announced that today we have to do something crazy to pass our time. Saroj was more than happy to offer his service as a base guitarist and a Nepali vocalist. Laxman came up with an idea of sourcing playing cards from somewhere. And I came up with this preposterous idea of cooking food provided Lord Kazi allows me to do so in his heavenly kitchen. Saroj without giving an explanation quickly went off on his nimble feet and gave us this happy news on his return, “Kazi is okay.” I am sure Lord Kazi would have been happy to let off his duties for a day. No brushing teeth, no face wash, no Polo, no combing, I just snuggled in to my shoes very quickly and informed, “We will quickly have a cup of black Coffee and then will set off to the market to buy stuff for our two meals for the day.” Life changed all of a sudden. There was something to live for; there was something to look forward. There was suddenly an air of excitement. After having a 125 Nepali Rupees black Coffee, we moved upwards towards Lukla market, walking past the periphery of the airport. Lukla was deserted at 8 in the morning. Visibility 10-15 meters and rain had started to fall. There were very few shops open, but fortunately Nepal Investment Bank with its lone executive was open and I exchanged my last 200 USD for 14200 Nepali Rupees. Laxman took me to a shop run by his niece and it was a happy sight to see her. She was all decked up so early in the morning, with blood red lipstick, mascara, blush, talcum powder and whatever. I wondered if she had a date with someone. Maybe morning dates are popular in Lukla. Saroj took our leave and went to source his friend’s guitar and playing cards as well. He would later meet us at the lodge directly in the afternoon. We purchased potatoes, onions, meat masala, garam masala, few ugly looking yellow and sodden tomatoes, khada masala, vanaspati ghee, bottle of coke, one full bottle of Signature and Surya cigarettes. Basic masalas were there at the lodge and Kazi was happy to give them on lease. And then I also took some incense sticks to counter the stench in my room. All within 2550 Nepali Rupees. Then Laxman reminded me that we also have to buy a local Khukura (Chicken) for our evening dinner. I almost lost my grip on the ground when I heard that it will cost some 2500 Nepali Rupees to buy one healthy Khukura. Laxman explained to me that the Khukuras were not bred in Lukla, but were made available after some serious climbing of six days from Jiri and that’s why they were expensive. It’s now I realized why Chicken is so expensive and is considered to be feast for the locals. While Laxman went about purchasing the Khukura, I managed to step in to the sole cyber café of Lukla to check my mails. I was anxious to visit hotmail and g-mail and all, since it was almost five days I had any access to my mails. Data services are yet not offered in Nepal, so Blackberry was in the league of Rs. 2500 Nokia phone. After having surfed for 40 minutes, I managed to open hotmail with great difficulty and managed to check exactly two and half mails and reply to one of them. The cyber café owner robbed me of 400 Nepali Rupees for his sonic speed services and I felt cheated and miserable. Laxman was waiting outside with the live poultry that was screaming away to highest decibels. It could foresee its death. I thought of giving up non-vegetarian, albeit that feeling lasted for a brief period. But then I promised myself that I will not witness it being sent to nothingness and cut in to pieces. Kazi and his dog Jumbo were expectantly waiting for us at the door of the lodge and they were more than happy to receive us. By the time we reached it was just 10.30 am, but then we decided to prepare for our grand lunch straight away. Aloo Pyaaz ki Sabji, Paratha, Gujarati Khichadi and Kachumber was on the menu. I think for next two hours I was so engrossed in cooking that I had forgotten all the miseries and frustration. I showed them how to cut the Aloo and Pyaaz in a specific fashion and then tomatoes for the Kachumber. Kazi was my second-in-command. He obeyed all the orders very religiously. The entire deck was ready for me to perform. I dare not fail and disappoint them. They were holding me in high regards, “Here comes a chef who will prepare some exotic food.” It was for the first time in my life that I cooked on a hearth. They say the food tastes better if it is cooked on hearth. I was tensed not to accuse this belief. All waj well. Finally some food to my liking - spicy, well cooked, nice brown-red colour, oily and lot of thin gravy. I was scared if these Sherpas will ever be able take a morsel of such spicy food. But they ate and how… Maybe they eat everything as long as it is edible. Completely satisfied with my performance and the fact that I had really eaten to my heart’s content in so many days, I sensed my spirits rising as high as Everest. I once again reposed faith in Sony Max. This time – “Welcome”. By the time the movie was over it was almost 4 pm and the eyelids were getting heavier and weighty and it was time for a quick siesta. When I woke up at 6 and came back to the dining room, I was encircled by a strange stiffness. My limbs were aching and I had a slight fever. For next two hours or more I gulped down some 2 liters of tap water (spring water right from the heart of the mountains). I just succumbed to this weakness and asked for my down jacket and a pillow. For next few hours I just lay in a delirious state without being able to grasp what’s happening around me. It was about 10 pm when Laxman woke me up and asked if I was ready for the feast, the desi local Khukura. I promptly refused and went back in to the state of delirium. I just slept in the dining room for rest of the night and no one disturbed me. August 18, 2010 Engulfed with fever, I woke up the next day morning without anyone’s help at 5.30 am. I remembered that I hadn’t leaked since last 12 hours and painfully made my way to the common Loo outside. My pee froze. I froze. The weather was as bad. I felt some strange weakness in my legs and just slumped. All of a sudden there was no desire to walk further, no desire to survive, no desire to fight. There was strange numbness in the air. An eerie silence. There was void in the milieu. Panic – panic - take it easy my friend – panic- panic - take it easy my friend…. Have I come to the international space station, where I will have to live in isolation for months together? Have I reached moon, where you don’t expect to find any life form? Am I in a dark cell of a jail, chained and sentenced for life imprisonment? Have I reached hell? Am I hallucinating? I couldn’t help but panic. Its not the number of days you are stuck panics you. It’s the surroundings. They haunt you. Before I could slip in to deep depression, I heard a voice from a distance. It was Laxman. “Good Morning Sir, are you feeling better?” “Worse and now I am losing my patience as well.” “Sir, I am sorry,” said Laxman in his innocent tone “Hey Laxman, it’s surely not your fault.” “No Sir, I should not have called you to Lukla. I should have instead come to Kathmandu. It’s all my fault,” replied Laxman “Well that would have been a good option, which I never thought of. But it’s not your fault for sure.” “Laxman I am running fever, can I get some medicine?” Laxman ran like an antelope and called Saroj and Kazi and helped me back to the dinning room. After some hot tea (For which Kazi didn’t charge me. So sweet of him), they quickly got some quilt and draped me with it. Saroj quickly called his girl friend and asked her to come fast. But she instead suggested that if I can walk, I should come to the Red Cross hospital and let the Doctor examine me. Well I was not down and out for sure, so I agreed to go to the hospital. Red Cross hospital is a life-giver and saviour to many of the people in Lukla and thousands of climbers who come to this region. They not only take care of the local people, deliver babies, but are the leading source of rescue operations in Solo-Khumbhu region. During the off-season they only have one Doctor on call. They do not have permanent Doctors; they all come from Kathmandu for a week or a fortnight to offer their services. A young looking Doctor, with lot of hair on his chin (Nepalis don’t normally have lot of hair, anywhere. I have not inquired about down below), examined me. Later the same Doctor will join me on our ride back to Kathmandu. He said it was a normal fever emanating out of exhaustion and sudden exposure to high altitude and there is nothing to worry about. He quickly gave me some pills and dismissed me. Walking sheepishly we made our way back to the lodge. I was drained out of every bit of my physical and mental strength by then. Instead of going back to the room, I attended the nature’s call first. I equipped myself first with all the necessary ammunition before stepping in to that dreaded territory called ‘Loo’. Though it proudly houses a WC, it stinks worse than any of the gutters in India. I had lit an Agarbatti and I had a fresh toilet roll in my hand. First, I positioned the Agarbatti hazardously by shoving it in a small crack that appeared at the joint of two ply-woods marrying each other. Then I cleaned the toilet seat with some wad of toilet tissue. Then I meticulously placed fresh toilet tissue on the seat of the WC and I sat with utmost care not to displace the tissues from the toilet seat. Now I am sure you don’t want to hear what I did next. So I will leave it at that. Relieved, I went to the dining room instead of my room. I took a brief look at the pills the Doctor had given me. Who knows? This is an off-season and the hospital might not be getting the fresh inventories. These pills might be outdated. I decided to do away with them. Some more movies on Sony Max. Some Sanjay Dutt, Vivek Mushran and Manisha Koirala movie. For lunch I had the gravy of the chicken which was cooked the previous night by Laxman alongwith Parathas (Observing me yesterday, Kazi had quickly learnt how to cook Parathas the Indian way). In such weather, cooked food normally doesn’t go stale for two days. Rest of the afternoon was uneventful. I just crouched myself in one corner of the dining area and then sleep came to me at some point of time. When I woke up, I was feeling better and the fever has disappeared. I immediately inquired with Saroj, “Did you bring the guitar yesterday?” “Yes Sir, not only I have the guitar, but I have got the playing cards as well.” Then an idea struck me to keep myself busy. I started messaging every possible person on this planet whom I know and kept busy by replying to their replies and so on for next two hours. Once done, I asked Saroj if we can play cards and he happily agreed. For next one hour Saroj subjected me to some unintelligent and senseless card games of Nepal (quite analogous to Dhagla Baaji – Gujjus will know that). Ufff… spare me and I asked if the Signature bottle from yesterday still had some booze left in it. Sherpas are very honest and clean. They had preserved the bottle and half of the booze was still lying unattended. Laxman and I quickly started our party. After a peg or two, we got in to the mood of singing and requested Saroj to start his opening act. He sang few very sweet and soft Nepali songs; ofcourse none of which I could make any sense of. There were no lights and the candle light added that zing to the overall tempo. And then it was my time to get even. Arey, I had to live up to the expectation of being a supernatural human being na. I started singing Hindi songs and then later we jammed on – “Come as you are”, “Coming back to life”, “Hotel California”, “Summer of 69”, “With or without you”, “Afterglow” and “Streets of Philadelphia”. Surprisingly no one asked me for dinner and it just came at 8.30 pm. Same garbage. Garbage In and Garbage Out the next day. I was slightly scared on monies, so I asked Kazi to give me the bill of the expenses incurred by me till now. He was very quick, unlike the guy at Yeti Mountain Homes. My jaws dropped when the bill came to some 8000 Nepali Rupees (Including tonight’s stay and all the expenses of Laxman and Saroj). I wanted to protest on their expenses added to my account, but then I refrained. They have done so much for me and this is a little burden I can take on me. After having paid, I was virtually left with no local currency or US Dollars. All I had was few 100 Rupee notes; otherwise everything else I had will not work in Lukla – no Rs. 500, no Rs. 1000, no debit card, and no credit card. I was reduced to being a pauper. I retired to my room soon after and all of a sudden I realized that I had not brushed my teeth since last two days. Ting ting tinning…” Colgate ka suraksha kavach bachaye aapko masudo ki sadan se aur de aap ko din bhar ki taro taaza saans.” I went through the motion. We had reached a stage where it was not necessary to check on the morning alarm or who will wake up whom. I quietly slipped in to my bed. I could not sleep till 3 in the morning. I just tossed around in the bed remembering my entire childhood, my youth and my cynical state of thirties. I kept on getting up from my bed every now-and-then and smoking a Surya every 30 minutes or so. I must have smoked not less than 10 Suryas that dreadful night. Exhausted mentally, I don’t know when I slipped in to R.E.M. August 19, 2010 It was around 8 am in the morning when I woke up. I didn’t even bother to look outside, because I had already surrendered. There was no energy left in me, no laughter, no imagination, no hope and I suddenly felt like crying. Though the tears cheated on me, I silently cried. All of a sudden I missed my daughter. It was too early in the morning to get in touch with her. I smoked couple of more Suryas, went to the kitchen to help myself with black coffee. The waiting had begun. My daughter will only wake up by 9.30 and not before that. She is a complete terror and stays awake till 1 in the night. The hell had broken loose on me. I did not have anyone to talk to. Desperation engulfed me. I was weak. I was depressed. I had surrendered. For the first time in my life, I witnessed the term “Void”. I just sat on my bed and stared at the wall. Blank. If someone would have taken a picture of mine that point of time, I would surely have made myself eligible to a mad-house. And then a glimmer of strength... I could manage to get through my daughter at around 11 am or so. I had tears in my eyes when she said (as in her Mom repeated what she said), “Daydee, I have prayed to Sai Baba, he will send you an aponinan (aero plane) tomorrow without fail.” I just sank in to depression this point of time. No hope, there was no way I can see my daughter soon. I was missing her and she was missing me. I gathered my broken pieces, brushed my teeth (ya once again), washed my face with Garnier and for the first time shampooed my hair since I landed in Lukla and applied Polo. Nothing of which lifted my mood or got me feeling any better. Like a dejected warrior, I had given up my arms and sluggishly walked up to the dinning room. I was tired and shit frustrated with the rhetoric. Nothing eventful happened for rest of the day. Every minute seemed like eons and every hour, a lifetime. I was not interested in Sony Max or Guitar or Cards or nothing. I had become a dead vegetable. To be honest, I cannot recount how I spent my Thursday spending the entire day in the dining room of the lodge. In the night before retiring to my room I informed Laxman, “We start our trek to Jiri tomorrow.” “And yes… one more thing. I am feeling very awkward, but I have to ask you for a huge favour. Can I have those 200 USD back that I gave you? I am ashamed to ask this, but I do not have a choice. Laxman, hope you take it positively. ” He promptly agreed to get those monies in the morning. August 20, 2010 7.45 am I woke up to no revelation. The weather was behaving like a bitch. It was the same. As I stepped out of the lodge and was smoking a Surya, I could see Laxman quickly approaching me. “Good Morning Amit Sir,” greeted Laxman. “Good Morning Laxman.” “So are we all set for the trek down to Jiri?” Laxman expressed his concern, “Amit Sir, do you really want to try this out? It’s a very difficult trek and you will have to climb and descend many mountains every day for next six days. Are you ready for it?” “I am absolutely clear. I want to move on or else I will just go nuts over here. Atleast my mind will be occupied in trekking for next six days and not getting fucked as it is getting now.” Laxman gave a threatening smile and said, “Well…if you say so.” “So what do we have to buy for the trek down under?” We quickly made a list of the things to be bought - Torch, Tissue Rolls, Biscuits, Glucon – D, Lime (if available), Umbrellas, Plastic covers for our bags, Booze, Cigarettes, … That’s when Saroj joined us. He came with news, news that will rescue me by this evening. “Sir, I just came to know that there was a successful chartered helicopter rescue yesterday from Surkhe, 3000 feet down,” informed Saroj. I just latched on to this news. I asked Saroj, “Can you find out how did this happen?” Saroj swiftly, without any holdup, started calling Agni Air (They operate chartered rescue helicopter services. By the way, remember the name of this Airline) and to my sheer disappointment and bad luck, they mentioned that they had organized yesterday’s stint to rescue their estranged staff from Lukla and in the off-season they do not operate these charter services. I felt very weak and all of a sudden my body went cold, dead cold. Laxman, as always, full of hope and positivism said, “I know one more such company which offers chartered rescue helicopter services.” I got excited and warm as fast as I had gone cold some brief moments back and asked, “Who are they? Where? How? Why didn’t you tell me this before?” Laxman suggested, “Amit Sir, we will go to the main market and let me try my luck.” I think I must have created a world record of wearing the shoes in just 10 seconds and we were quickly off to the market of Lukla. Just before that Laxman handed over to me equivalent Nepali Rupees worth 200 USD and I cleared the remaining bill of La Villa Lodge. Outside a filthy lodge on the main street, a board was hung. It read, “Air Dynasty – Your answer to rescue.” We quickly entered the lodge and Laxman found his man. They quickly started communicating in Nepali. After lot of anxious moments Laxman came to me and said, “He is saying it’s possible, but it will cost us 3000 USD. Amit Sir, it’s too expensive. Let’s drop the idea.” “Laxman, can we not negotiate with him?” “Sir, little chance, but I will still try,” said Laxman doubtingly. No sooner I realized that the negotiations were not happening and the guy was adamant, obviously taking advantage of the situation. “Laxman, can I speak to this guy? You can act as an interpreter for me.” Laxman quickly agreed. Guy was quite arrogant, but somehow I managed to get in to his brains if I could speak to his boss. Boss was the Captain of the rescue helicopter, based in Kathmandu. It was a sheer stroke of luck that he agreed and put me on to his Captain. I was impressed with the English of the Captain. I explained to him my situation, but he seemed to be least impressed. All he had to say was, “Lot of people have similar situation, so why I should I negotiate?” I humoured him a little and he finally agreed to operate the chartered rescue helicopter from Kathmandu for a ransom of 2500 USD. I finally gave in and agreed. But the Captain was smart and in no mean words informed to me, “Mr. Desai please hand over 2500 USD or its equivalent Nepali Rupees to my guy over there and only then the rescue helicopter will take-off from Kathmandu.” Since the credit cards and the debit cards don’t work in Lukla, I desperately tried to convince the Captain that I will pay him all the monies the moment I land in Kathmandu. But I am sure he must have become a pachyderm by dealing with similar clients like me over several years. He was very clear, “Money first, rescue thereafter.” I was distraught. Here is a way out of this madness, but I don’t have Nepali cash. And that too a huge amount of 1, 80, 000 Nepali Rupees (Equivalent of 2500 USD)! This is where a miracle happened. This is where I will never forget Saroj, Laxman and people of Lukla for rest of my life. I asked Laxman and Saroj, if we can sell the three vacant seats on the chartered rescue helicopter for a price and reduce our burden. I also asked if such a huge amount can be arranged by them very quickly just in case we are not able to sell the vacant seats. Saroj took the responsibility of selling the three seats and Laxman took even more difficult responsibility of arranging the entire amount just in case the three seats are not sold. Before setting out on their mission, they said only one thing, “Sir, you will go today, come what may. You please have a coffee till we return.” No family, no friend, no acquaintance would have done what they did for me in matter of next two hours. The first person to come back was Saroj. He had not only sold three seats, but got back with a cash amount of 60000 Nepali Rupees. He proudly informed, “There are three desperados willing to come with you.” A local Sherpa, an engineer settled in Shanghai who was sick of his cancellations every day and wanted to go back to Shanghai on time or else he will lose his job. The other two were – the same Doctor who had examined me at the Red Cross hospital two days back and his girl friend, a nurse. They were stuck in Lukla beyond their call of duty and were desperate to get back to Kathmandu. Saroj mentioned, “Engineer is on his way and will join us soon and the other two will join us at La Villa Lodge in next 30 minutes.” “Where is Laxman? How are we going to manage the remaining the 1, 20, 000 Nepali Rupees?” Saroj said with conviction, “My Dad is on his job. He will surely do something for you.” After 15 minutes of eternal wait, Laxman appeared over the horizon. “Amit Sir, I am sorry but I have just been able to manage 80, 000 Nepali Rupees from few of my friends. I don’t know how will we get the remaining 1, 00, 000 Nepali Rupees. I am really sorry. Sir, I am really sorry.” You cannot describe this emotion. It is alien to us because neither we have done this to anyone nor anyone has done this to us. I just hugged Laxman and said, “I will never find such a simpleton like you in the entire world. And Amit is your slave for rest of his life.” Remember they are poor people. They don’t have much to eat and their houses are frugal. They are not educated neither they can ever afford to come to India to trace me back if I cheated on them. But they still went ahead and did this, for a stranger. We shared with him the proceeds that we had by selling three seats. But we were still short by 40, 000 Nepali Rupees. And then another marvel happened. The engineer who had got his bags and had already joined us, got to know of the predicament. Within a flash he took out wad of 1000 Nepali Rupee notes and gave us 40, 000 bucks. All he said to Saroj was, “I will give my bank account details to you. Will you transfer this money next week?” Wowsie…unbelievable... This is destiny, nothing else. It cannot be anything else. And then I remembered my daughter saying yesterday, “Daydee, I have prayed to Sai Baba, he will send you an aponinan tomorrow without fail.” I was overwhelmed with favours and kindness of these Sherpas. I was speechless. I have never been more emotional in my life than this moment. While I could gather myself, Laxman already approached the local guy of Air Dynasty and banged 1, 80, 000 Nepali Rupees in front of him. He quickly counted the monies and called the Captain. Captain wanted to speak to me. “Mr. Desai, we will shortly be on our way to Surkhe. Though the weather currently is bad, but I am confident of coming your way. You guys can start descend from Lukla in another one hour. I will see you at Surkhe.” We descended to Surkhe as per the allotted time frame, 3000 feet below Lukla. Amidst very bad weather and poor visibility of 50 meters, the Helicopter ride back to Kathmandu along with the Engineer, the Doctor, the Nurse and Saroj was thrilling. We flew at an average height of 5000 feet, navigating the valleys surrounded by steep mountains on either side. After 1 hour and 20 minutes, we touched the tarmac of Tribhuwan International Airport. Had I been a Moslem, I would have kissed the ground and swallowed the Kathmandu dust. But then I silently prayed to Sai Baba with a promise that I will visit Shirdi alongwith Anoushka (my daughter) very soon. Epilogue On August 25, 2010 , in its attempt to operate its first flight after a long break due to bad weather, Agni Air, a Dornier aircraft, Flight Number AHE 101crashed in the Solo-Khumbhu region, killing all the fourteen passengers on board (Four Americans, one Japanese, one British and three members of crew included) Had I stayed back and had this flight landed, I would have taken the same flight back to Kathmandu. What this Indian cultured and well-educated society has never done for me, the people of Lukla have done for me. Forever I am indebted to them. Forever I will be indebted towards the good deeds of Laxman and Saroj. And now, I am even more convinced that my epitaph will be on a tombstone in Lukla and it should read, “Resting here is the biggest debtor of Solo-Khumbhu.”
15 Reasons why stopping advertising spends on selective channels by corporate brands doesn’t sound c
In the last few days, a couple of big and iconic corporate brands of India took a bold step and announced that they will not be advertising their brands on news channels that show toxic content. There is no clarity as yet on which these news channels are, and the term “toxic content” still remains ambiguous – at least for me and a lot of people like me. At the outset, there appeared to be three main angles to this issue: the Corporates; the Channels; and the Toxic Content. However, when I dived a little deeper into this, a few more angles emerged – the brands owned by these corporates, the consumers, other mediums of news and content including social media, and the ecosystem that surrounds us. While the owners of these two corporate groups have all the right to decide where to spend their marketing money and who are we to say otherwise. As a consumer and an observer, this decision however does raise a few points in my mind. This blog by no means attempts to judge anybody or have a false notion of expertise on the subject. There is no intention whatsoever to support any particular channel or a specific ideology and hence my request to the reader is to look at these as mere observations - 1. While these iconic brands have been around for as long as I can remember and have been a part of India’s story since many decades, it is a little difficult to believe that there have never been actual times of distress and unrest in the country. There have been wars, riots, famines, floods, elections, political witch-hunts, scams, assassinations, public outrages and there was an actual state of emergency once and India has had significant number of terrorist attacks over the years. Based on the technology available, strength, medium, platform and access to public – the news media has reported each of these with equal fervour. The reportage in some of these cases has been excessive, arguably biased, and intrusive for the people involved besides being harmful for the country. Why did these corporates not think of taking such a stand earlier in similar instances where so-called targeted vilification of individuals or a group of people by select media houses occurred? 2. As I write this I come across a tweet by a politician from the leading opposition party openly encouraging some big corporates to follow the examples set by these brands by shunning advertising on a particular news channel – does this mean that the stand taken by these two so-called trendsetting corporates was politically motivated? 3. Most of the news channels have been extensively pursuing a single story aggressively and extensively based on the line of narrative that suits them, for example: the SSR Case, Hathras, Palghar, etc. And almost every channel has to answer for the limits that were crossed, then why only select channels and their audiences being penalised? 4. The programming and content of any channel, whether it is a news channel or any other is dictated by the preferences of the audience. So if select news channels pursue a story and manage to sustain it for a long period of time, arguably it could be a result of two things – one; that they have substantial information and proof regarding the story, and two; that they have managed to hold the interest of a large chunk of audience. By discriminating against the channel, aren’t these corporates discriminating against its audience? 5. As responsible Corporate Heads, don’t these decision makers have to account for the opinion of the stakeholders before taking such a decision? 6. Have the consequences of polarising decisions like these in terms of their impact on the brand image and their sales been analysed before taking such a decision? 7. If a corporate brand decides to pursue this line of thought while doing business, will it extend to other functions of their business like Human Resources, Procurement, etc. 8. If they have decided to ban their advertising on these channels, does that mean they have decided to ban their audiences from those channels as well? 9. Can a brand discriminate between audiences based on their preferences for consuming content? Will we next see disclaimers to this effect before or after the commercial is aired? Will this disclaimer be placed on the product packaging or the user manual as well? 10. Does this mean that their brands are only meant for a certain kind of audiences? 11. Does this mean that I cannot have my Tea with biscuits manufactured by your company if I want to enjoy them while watching that channel, which according to you shows toxic content? Or if a viewer of one of these news channels walks into the showroom to buy a motorcycle manufactured by one of these corporates; will this prospective consumer be turned away because he/she watches the said channel? 12. There has always been a section of people voicing out for freedom of expression being curtailed when the government initiated censorship rules, especially regarding the content that is created and consumed by the public at large. Are these corporates indirectly trying to have a say in what content we should consume from now onwards? 13. Who decides which content is toxic and which isn’t? Isn’t the choice of content that someone prefers to consume, subjective to that person – what is toxic for some might be preferable content for others and vice versa. 14. Dozens of soap operas on TV have stories woven around child marriages, dowry, illicit children, extra marital affairs, shape shifting creatures, ichhadhari nagins, etc; not to mention reality shows that encourage voyeurism, tell you how your life can change by answering just 13 general knowledge questions so there’s absolutely no need to study hard and work hard on your career, reality shows where children sing and dance on songs that are way above their understanding just for a career and prize money – isn’t that toxic? Isn’t this sort of content harming us as a society on a much deeper level? As responsible corporate, shouldn’t you be doing something and stop spending on those channels as well! 15. And finally, what if the tables were to be turned? What if the audience decides to respond to this stand taken by these corporates and stops using their brands? It did happen recently with a big Jewellery brand. Will these brands accept it sportingly and learn to live with a marginalised market share and loss of revenue, not to mention the undeniable loss of brand image. Or will they cry wolf, run to the government / blame the government for not creating an amicable business environment and in an ironical rant that reeks of hypocrisy shout through every medium available about the hate and toxicity that prevails in the country! These are some of the many reasons why this stand taken by the so called iconic corporate brands of our country doesn’t convince me that it is a well-thought-out move by them. In the times that we live in, there are many different narratives floating out there and since everybody seems to be talking at the same time, none of these narratives are long-lasting. Everyone has their own version of truth and we are all shouting at the same time – thus rendering any narrative fickle and flawed. In such times, maybe there is a case to be made here where the people at the top of the food chain in these corporate organisations, need to function in a slightly detached manner as far as their brands are concerned and keep their personal views and inclinations away from what their brands stand for.
The mascot saga
If you are a 90s kid, you would definitely remember the ‘BOOM BOOM BOOMER’ tune and the super stretchy Boomer Man. The Brand Mascot that grabbed the attention of children who thought that he was no less than a saviour of the planet. Some brands became popular because of their tagline, some become memorable because of a catchy jingle, some are simply loved for their product, and then there are those brands that gained traction because of their mascot. Since ages brand mascots have made brands more endearing, be the AMUL girl, the Lijjat Papad rabbit, Asian Paints’ Gattu, Air India’ Maharaja, or internationally famous, McDonald’s Ronald Mc Donald, Frito lay’s Chester Cheetah, Michelin Man, Mr. Clean, Pillsbury Doughboy, 7up’s Fido Dido or KFC’s Colonel Harland Sanders. They are timeless: There is no better example of a timeless mascot than the AMUL girl. With her witty take on the topical happenings, she tops the charts of the most loved brand mascots in India. Since 1966, the Amul girl has stood the test of time, but she remains just as fresh as she was on the day of her birth. Once you invest in creating a brand mascot, you need to ensure they are kept fresh, relevant and engaging; and this requires a lot of time, commitment and investment. But once it has been placed well, it leads to instant loyalty and memorability. A big investment: Although brand marketers agree that brand mascots are an incredibly valuable asset, but usage of brand mascots has gone down. They say there are two reasons to this; one is that no one is willing to take the risk as brands want to follow the on-going pattern. Second, one has to invest not just in terms of money and time, but it is a long-term investment in terms of creative capabilities too. They aren’t for every business: Brand Mascots are memorable and highly recognisable, but they aren’t the right choice for all brands. If you look at usage of brand mascots over the years, you will notice that mascots have been popular with food brands. Since they are mainly associated with personalities such as non-serious, fun, cute and lovable, brand mascots have not been chosen by premium or luxury products nor by various high-involvement categories. Other major industries that have benefitted with a mascot are tech companies (Android’s Bugdroid), financial services companies (ICICI Prudential Bank’s Chintamani), cement companies (Ambuja Cement’s Giant Mascot), housekeeping brands (Mr. Muscle), amongst others. Versus Brand Ambassadors: Celebrities create quick awareness about brands, however they charge a hefty amount and are subjected to risk; with time the image of the celebrity may change, which in return may or may not fit with the brand image. Also there is a great chance of a brand being lost in the clutter while using a celebrity who endorses multiple brands. Mascots on the other hand have to be built, invested into and take time to become a powerful and exclusive property. But at the end, both are not necessarily interchangeable. They have a unique role that they can play in the life of a brand. While certain categories, including food and kid’s categories, work wonders with mascots, others, like beauty or high-end products, work extremely well with celebrities. How Marshmallow got its Mascot? Mascots add personality to a brand and personify it. Also, they convey the brand messages in a compelling way. We loved the fact that a mascot could be omnipresent and immortal. And hence the journey to bring to life a mascot that embodies within himself our DNA began. It all began with a brainstorming session, where each employee defined the Marshmallow personality and the characteristics that they felt were highly important to be present in the mascot. We zeroed in on these personality traits: curious, thinker, ingenious, insightful, fun-loving, naughty, observant, jovial, adventurous, helpful, honest, trust-worthy, resourceful, multi-tasker, confident and active. Once we knew the basic characteristics, we went on to define its gender and age. Majority of them agreed to the character being young man who was aged between 15-20 years. In fact, we even found a movie character that could closely define what we were looking for in a mascot. We connected really well with Macaulay Culkin of Home Alone. He is an exceptionally brilliant kid, who is smart, curious, confident, and ingenious along with being funny and naughty. Once we had defined the personality of the mascot, all we now needed was to personify it. We were sure we didn’t want a very ‘office wear’ kinda mascot. He had to have a smart dressing sense that was casual and comfortable. Our mascot was thence created and now features on all our communications, be it internal or external branding. He is witty. He is intelligent. He is a team-player. He is resourceful. He is fun. He is Marshmallow.
જિંગલ નામે જાદુ નગરી.
કોણ કહે છે કે સમયની કિંમત નથી.. સેકન્ડે સેકન્ડની કિંમત છે અહીં. આ છે, રેડિયોની દુનિયા. આ દુનિયાની જાહેરાતો પણ ગજબ હોય છે. અંદર બેઠા ક્રિએટિવીટી લાવનારા સાથે એક એવી પણ જ્ઞાતિ છે જે બહાર બેઠા રેડિયો ઉપર વગાડી શકાતી ક્રિએટિવીટી ઉપર કામ કરતા રહે છે. એ જ્ઞાતિ એટલે કૉપી રાઈટર્સની જ્ઞાતિ. ત્રણ પાનાની વાતને ત્રણ લીટીમાં દર્શાવતા લોકો, જે ક્લાયંટને એ સમજાવવામાં અસમર્થ છે કે "ત્રણ લીટી લખવામાં શું?" ખેર, એડ્વર્ટાઈઝિંગ એજન્સીમાં કે ફ્રીલાન્સર તરીકે કાર્ય બજાવતા, આ લોકો માટે જિંગલ કે રેડિયો સ્પોટ લખવું ઈન્ટરેસ્ટિંગ તો હોય જ છે, સાથે ચેલેન્જીસથી ભરેલું છે. એક પ્રોડક્ટનાં ગુણ, કામ, તેને ખરીદવાનું આકર્ષણ આ તમામને લિસનર ગીતોની વચ્ચે આકર્ષાઈને સાંભળી શકે, તે રીતે એક થીમમાં પરોવી માત્ર ગણતરીની સેકન્ડમાં સમાવવાનું કામ સહેલું તો ના જ હોઈ શકે. આજે એક સામાન્ય વ્યક્તિ સમજી શકે એવું અને એટલું જ રેડિયો-જિંગલ માટે લખું છું. જેમ પહેલા કહ્યું એમ, ટૂંકુ લખવામાં જ કમાલ છે, બાકી લાંબુ લખવું સહેલું છે. આજે એ સહેલું જ કરું છું. રેડિયો સ્પોટ તો જેમકે બોલચાલની ભાષા, કોઈનાં અવાજની મિમિક્રી અથવા કોઈ રસપ્રદ થીમ લઈ સ્ટૂડિયોમાં તૈયાર થઈ શકે, પણ એક જિંગલ બનાવવામાં બીજી એક પ્રવિણતા જાેઈએ. એટલી જ સેકન્ડમાં રાઈમ સાચવી, સંગીતનું ગણિત સાચવી, શબ્દે શબ્દો સમાવવાની કળા. દરેક વખતે સૂચવવામાં આવેલા બધા જ મેસેજ જિંગલમાં આપવા શક્ય ના થઈ શકે. ત્યારે પ્રાયોરીટી પ્રમાણે મેસેજ પસંદ કરી ટાર્ગેટ ઓડિયન્સને હાલનાં સમયમાં કેવી રીતે વાત કહેવાથી તે ખુશ, આશ્ચર્યચકિત કે કૂતુહલવશ થઈ શકે એ ગોઠવવાનું કામ એટલે રેડિયો જિંગલ. ગીતની સરખામણીએ જિંગલમાં સચોટ સિવાયનાં વધારાનાં શબ્દોને સ્કોપ નથી. (ને), (કે) જેવા નાનામાં નાના પણ નહીં. કારણ કે અહીં આખી લડાઈ સેકન્ડની છે. વળી આપણી આખી વાર્તામાં ક્લાયન્ટ અથવા તો પ્રોડક્ટ કઈ છે, તે પણ સાંભળનારનાં મગજમાં રોપાઈ જાય એ રીતે આવે અથવા એટલી વાર આવે તે અત્યંત જરુરી છે. કેટલીક એવી જિંગલ તમને યાદ હશે, જેનાં શબ્દો અને રાગ તમને ગમી ગયા હોય પણ મગજ પર જોર આપવા છતાં એ યાદ ના આવતું હોય કે એ બની, કઈ બ્રાન્ડ માટે છે. તો જિંગલ જાહેરાતની કસોટી ઉપર ખરી ઉતરી ગણાય નહીં. એક જિંગલ લખવામાં પ્રોડક્ટની જરુરીયાત, કોમ્પિટીટર બ્રાન્ડની જિંગલ, રુટિન કરતા કંઈક અલગ બનાવી શકવાની મહેનત અને છેલ્લે આ બધું ગણતરીની સેકન્ડમાં સમાવી લેવાનું હુનર, આટલું જોઈએ. પણ આ તો થઈ અડધી વાત. આ લખ્યા બાદ વાત આવે છે તેના કંપોઝિશનની, તેમાં વપરાતા મ્યુઝિક ઈન્સ્ટ્રૂમેન્ટ્સની અને તેનાં સિંગરની. બ્રાન્ડની પોઝિશન પ્રમાણે તેના માટે બનાવેલ જિંગલમાં ફાસ્ટ, સ્લો, સૂધિંગ કેવા પ્રકારનું કંપોઝિશન જશે તે નક્કી થાય. પાછી આ તો અવાજની દુનિયા એટલે વિવિધ પ્રકારનાં અવાજ દ્વારા પણ ઘણી વાર મેસેજ કન્વે કરી શકાય. જેમકે એક લેક્સેટિવ બ્રાન્ડ માટે (સ્કૂટરની કિક વારંવાર મારવાનો અવાજ.. પછી બ્રાન્ડનું નામ.. ફલાણા લેક્સેટિવ, રાત્રે ૧ ચમચી અને સવારે.. સ્કૂટરનો જવાનો અવાજ.. ) બસ આટલામાં જ બધુ આવી ગયું. અને ક્યારેક ક્યારેક જિંગલનાં શબ્દો પ્રમાણે રચના થાય. જેમકે વધુ વાત હોય, તો રૅપ સોંગથી સમય બચાવી શકાય, પરંપરાની વાત હોય તો ફોક કંપોઝિશન બનાવી શકાય, બ્રાન્ડ જિંગલ હોય તો સૂધિંગ ફિલ્મનાં ગીતની જેમ ટ્રીટમેન્ટ આપી તેને સદા માટે યાદગાર બનાવી શકાય. ત્યારબાદ આવે ઈન્સ્ટ્રૂમેન્ટનો વારો. જિંગલમાં યોગ્ય પ્રકારનાં મ્યૂઝિકલ ઈન્સ્ટ્રૂમેન્ટથી તે વધુ અસરદાર અને યાદગાર બની શકે છે. જેમકે અગરબત્તીની બ્રાન્ડનાં જિંગલમાં ઘંટનાદ કે શંખનાદ ઉમેરી શકાય, ચા બ્રાન્ડમાં ફોકનો ટચ આપતા ઢોલ કે મંંજિરા વાપરી શકાય અથવા ખાદ્યતેલ જેવી બ્રાન્ડમાં ગિટારનો ઉપયોગ કરી પારિવારીક હૂંફ લાવવાનું કામ કરી શકાય. વળી ગાયકોની પસંદગી પણ કંપોઝિશનનાં આધારે નક્કી કરવાની હોય છે. આ પ્રકારનાં કેટલાય મહત્વનાં તબક્કાઓ માંથી પસાર થાય છે, માત્ર ૩૦ સેકન્ડનું જિંગલ. ક્યારેય રેડિયો ઉપર કોઈ જિંગલ સાંભળતા વિચાર્યું છે, કે આ તૈયાર કરવામાં કેટલ કેટલા પાસા જોડાયેલા છે. આ આખી પ્રોસેસ છે તો મજાની.. પણ સજા જેવી ત્યારે લાગે જ્યારે કોઈ ક્લાયંટ આ મુદ્દાને સમજી જ ના શકે. આજ કાલ એફએમ વાળા જિંગલ ફ્રી બનાવી આપતા હોય છે. જેમાનાં કેટલાક ક્વૉલિટી આપતા હોય છે, પરંતુ મોટા ભાગનાં કોઈ રિસર્ચ કે પ્લાનિંગ વગર જિંગલ લખી, કોમ્પ્યુટર માંથી ફ્રી કંમ્પોઝિશન લઈ, તેની ઉપર કોઈ આરજે દ્વારા ગવડાવી ઓટો-ટ્યૂનિંગ કરી દેતા હોય છે. ક્લાયંટને તે ગમી જાય છે. જેનું મોટામાં મોટું કારણ, તેનું 'ફ્રી' હોવું જ હોય છે. બસ.. પછી શું ! આ જિંગલનું એકાદ મહિનાનું જીવન હોય છે, પછી નવી ઘોડી નવો દાવ. ત્યાં બીજી તરફ ગોકુલ- વિવાન એડિબલ ઓઈલ જેવા ક્લાયંટ પણ હોય છે જે ક્રિએટિવીટીને પૂરો દરજજો આપે છે. એક સરસ મજાના ગીતને બોલિવૂડનાં ગાયકો પાસે ગવડાવે છે અને લાખેક રુપિયા જેટલો ખર્ચ કરી એક એવું મજબૂત જિંગલ બનાવડાવે છે, જે શાશ્વત બની જાય છે. એટલે કે એવર ગ્રીન... વર્ષો પછી પણ વાગે તો પણ એટલું જ ફ્રેશ લાગે. પણ આ પ્રકારનાં ક્લાયંટ કેટલા ? આંગળીનાં વેઢે ગણાય તેટલા. ચાલો, આશા રાખીએ કે ગાડીમાં ફરતા, સવારે ઘરનું કામ કરતા કે રાત્રે લવરને યાદ કરતા જ્યારે રેડિયો સાંભળીએ ત્યારે ગીતોની સાથે આવનારી જાહેરાતનાં જોરને થોડું હળવું કરનાર જિંગલની મહત્તા પાછી આવે. તેને બનાવવાની પાછળ જે મજા અને મહેનત જાય છે, તે મહેનતને ધ્યાનમાં લેવાય અને તે મજા સાંભળનારને હંમેશા આવે. બાકી આ કોરોનાંનાં સમયમાં વધુ શું કહી શકાય ! "હેલ્ધી હેપ્પીલી જીના હૈ, રુકના મના હૈ..."
The Arun Kolatkar I knew…
Some people change us in many ways. Having known them, or having met them, has a life-long impact on us. Arun Kolatkar has been one such - a creative genius, a poet, quirky, CAG Hall of Fame. The more I discovered about him, the more I was awe-struck. To the young readers, long ago Kersy Katrak created a phenomenon in the field of advertising called MCM. Arun was one of the pillars of that agency. Reminiscing about him, I go back to different points of time in those ten years I met him. In conversation with Dilip Chitre Recalling his association with Arun, Dilip Chitre once told me, “Not in his death, but my biggest loss would have been had I not known him at all.” Adding further that, “When he (Arun) learnt he had very little time at his end, he devoted it all to complete and compile all his pending/ unfinished work.” A friend of Prakash Bandekar Prakash, a maverick creative person himself, was my first Creative Director; and often talked about Arun Kolatkar, the Mumbai of 50s, 60s, 70s, the advertising industry then. An irreverent person himself, I always sensed some reverence, affection, kind of nostalgia in Prakash’s tone whenever he spoke about Arun. Was it name-dropping? No. But it had an effect… I had newly joined an agency in Mumbai. A very seasoned, highly accomplished, 'CAG award-winner for years', Chief Art Director also used to work there. Once he asked me a bit disdainfully, if I knew anyone in the industry. When he learnt that, as a practice, I showed my portfolio to Arun Kolatkar once every year; he melted like anything and touched his ears and adjusting the flow of a window AC in his direction said, “What a name to hear just at the beginning of the day! At JJ School, we used nudge one another - there goes Arun Kolatkar!” A ride to remember … “We will take a taxi to Lower Parel”, Arun said to me. As we emerged on Prabha Devi main road from his home, a car stopped by. “Going to town?” asked the man inside. “I will drop you at Mahalaxmi!” this gentleman said to Arun after learning we were on our way to LP. Inside the car, I realised, the man was none other than one of the top guys of the ad industry then. Even after decades of retirement, Arun enjoyed such love and respect! My work and its worst critic… Every year, for years, I used to meet him, and show my work. Religiously. “Your satires are fresh, write more and often. The ad/ copy is average. These (pointing to few) have some spark.” He would tell me. This went on for years. He would point out what all were promising. First meeting… “There are seven to eight buildings in Prabha Devi that have a similar sounding name as this one.” Certainly I was not encouraged to hear that as I took back the envelope I was carrying. “But all the buildings are in the vicinity, so you can try.” Luckily I didn’t have to struggle much; the second building in my search ops was where this man lived. House on the ground floor, a bright old man opened the door. As I handed him the envelope, he read it sitting on the stairs. A beautiful, frail lady joined in and sat next to him. Handing over the letter to her, he said to her, pointing to me, “He is Prakash’s friend.” Prakash Bandekar was my creative director in Ahmedabad. And, that was my first encounter with Arun Kolatkar. The regret… Nai Dunia When I came to know of the demise of Arun, I met Abhay ji at Nai Dunia, Indore with an idea to pen a tribute. That was the era when Nai Dunia was a reference point in Hindi journalism. He readily agreed to give space. I regret that owing to some pressing work, I had to rush out of town, and couldn’t do it. Lessons learnt… Looking at the work that passed the muster with Arun, I can only say that he preferred ideas that were simple not clever. He preferred a message that was 'direct' over the one which was 'creative'. He believed in ads that addressed a need or highlighted a feature clearly. His critical evaluation aside, what I cherish the most is he insisting me to pursue writing satires. Blog image source link
Billboards go viral
Somewhere around 1835 when the first billboard was rented, little did they know that outdoor advertising would become a popular advertising tool that it is today. In an age when non-traditional media and social media influencers are reigning supreme, OOH is still the crowning glory. How, you may ask? OOH – Out-Of-Home – advertising is everywhere. You step out of your home and by the time you reach your destination you are bound to come across at least a few hoardings. OOH is an attention-grabbing, non-invasive medium to reach the customers. The main advantage being that you connect with the customers where they are. And brands are leveraging this media as never before. Have you heard the term, ‘Instagrammable billboards’? It is a term coined to refer to hoardings that appeal to people so much so that they are compelled to share these images on social media. “If you do any outdoor campaign in a unique and creative way, all the people connected on their mobile phones will want to share it on social media,” he said. “Outdoor advertising can become social media,” said Alex Bodman, Spotify’s global executive creative director in an interview. Spotify leveraged the outdoor media for their launch in India with a campaign that struck the right chord with the audience as it was highly localised and extremely relatable. Their ‘There’s A Playlist For That’ campaign was highly shared on Instagram and became a trending topic too. As a media, Instagram Out Of Home is still at a nascent stage in our India, but in many countries, brands find it to be the most powerful tool to engage with their audiences. The customers today are stuck to one device or another and are constantly moving between various media. Hence brands are using this opportunity to create work that complements across platforms. Imagine this: One billboard, in one city, with a message can travel the globe in an instant. Outdoor advertising is now becoming a social channel and it’s the people that are doing the amplification for the brand. Today, creating a great outdoor campaign is not about devising a strong, as short as possible key message, but is more about creating some sort of an art installation, something unique and quirky. Apart from the Spotify campaign, a good example of a brand that localised the content and gave a good value proposition while customising the campaigns according to the local TG is Google Maps. Google’s ‘LookBeforeYouLeave’ campaign was an instant hit. A key feature of Google Maps was ‘offering real-time traffic updates and alternative route suggestions to save commuters’ precious hours’ and to promote this feature the campaign was launched. It reminded commuters to check Google Maps’ real-time traffic updates on their phones before hitting the road. The locally relevant creative not only resonated with users quickly but by tying the creative to uniquely Indian cases and habits was effective in driving awareness and ‘shares’. Breaking the stereotype that creative folks saved their wittiest lines for digital, Zomato launched their outdoor campaign for their food delivery app. In tune with the brand's theme, a series of bright red billboards with bold white text begun to grab the attention of daily commuters in various cities across India. One copy read - 'tu cheese badi hai mast mast - love things extraaa cheesy? get food exactly the way you like it'. A play on words coupled with the quirky twist of old-school Bollywood songs hit the nostalgic spot as well as the funny bone while driving home the message. The ads became so popular that they were a part of many Instagram stories and online conversations. Instagrammable OOH can be a game changer if brands use this medium with content that connects with the consumer and not as a commodity to ‘get the message across’.