Archive for March 2011

Holi Mess

If you're a Holi lover, you're going to think I'm crazy. But the truth of the matter is that I do not really enjoy Holi.

Way back when I was child living in Kolkata I suppose I must have liked it. I remember preparing the night before - filling tubs with water balloons to chuck at hapless strangers from the safety of the terrace-and always missing! I remember trying to pitch a bucket of water at a 'dada' (generic name of any young-older guy) in the colony, him side stepping adroitly and somehow me getting drenched in the process.

Cut to a few years later, Hyderabad - me studying for my 8th std final exams. I had read somewhere that during exams you should do things to make you happy. So I wanted to wear the new cheese cotton (it was a type of fabric) top my mother had bought for me. It was so pretty, all white with colourful polka dots. I was sure my mood would be very good if I wore it. My mother warned me that it is Holi and wearing white clothes, especially new ones, is not advisable. I told her I wouldn't be stepping out of the house since I would be too busy studying. So there was nothing to worry about. I would regret those words.

About an hour later, the doorbell rang. I peered through the peep hole and saw a bunch of multi coloured colony kids standing outside.

"I've seen you! I'm not coming out". I yelled through the door.

"Please come out didi. We only want to rub some gulal (coloured powder)on your face. We promise - nothing more than that"

Naturally, they didn't mean a word of it. But I, poor sucker, believed them and stepped out. Only for a bucket full of black water to be upended over my head. The cheese cotton top never looked the same again.

A few years on, in college, it was even worse. A total free for all. The boys took full advantage of the opportunity, grabbing the girls and even going so far as to throw them into a mud pit that was created specially for Holi. I was horrified when I heard this. So when a guy friend came around to my hostel asking me to come out and play Holi, I told him off roundly.

As time went on, I became more and more convinced that Holi was really not my festival of choice. Quite the opposite actually. I read stories of how young women in Delhi were harassed in the name of festivities. I even saw a news feature where the female presenter covering Holi became the target of some water balloons.

So Happy Holi everyone. Its not such a big festival where I live these days. Even so, I think I'll just stay put at home and be smart about not answering the doorbell this time.

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The Mother Of All Languages

Some weeks ago, I saw a wall message on Facebook that had been 'liked' by a friend. The message urged readers to cite Sanskrit as 'mother tongue' during Census enumeration, adding that Sanskrit needed more patronage from Doordarshan, that it was the root of all Indian history and culture and there were many benefits of promoting Sanskrit.

I found several things wrong in this.

First, Sanskrit, even in its hey day, was the language and intellectual property of the elite aka the upper castes and out of reach to the lower castes. That is why the works of poets like Surdas and Kabir became so popular - since they were in local dialect that was spoken by and popular with the masses. Besides, going by the theory that Sanskrit was the language of the Aryans, it would greatly offend people in the south, who proudly proclaim their Dravidian heritage as being different from the Aryan.

Second was the assumption that 'Indian history and culture' was a monolith defined by Sanskrit. If there is one defining feature of Indian culture, it is its diversity - across region, religion, ethnicity and language. Every Indian knows that there is no ONE THING that you can pinpoint as Indian Culture. It is like the story of four blind men who touch different parts of an elephant - the tail, legs, ears and trunk - and describe the those parts as defining the whole elephant.

Practically speaking, what use is a language that nobody speaks in modern times? It is only confined to books and government sign boards - 'धूम्रपान निषेद ' or 'पए जल ' !! Nobody understands it nor pays attention to it. It is like a ceremonial uniform. To be taken out only on special occasions - like festivals and functions - looks great but hangs heavy on the person. And returned to the cupboard when the event is over.

I do not mean to demean Sanskrit. It is no doubt a great language. But to urge educated people to cite it as 'mother tongue' in census is outside of enough. 'Mother of all languages' is different from 'mother tongue'. As a nation, as a culture, we have far more pressing issues to attend to in the Census - issues of population growth, literacy, female sex ratio, working population - which are intrinsically linked to development and which we should be more concerned about.

Doordarshan is welcome to patronise Sanskrit all it wants. I can guarantee it would drive away the few eyeballs it manages to catch!! Who watches Doordarshan these days anyway?

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Filing For Bankruptcy. Casualty: Creativity

There is intellectual bankruptcy, moral bankruptcy, spiritual bankruptcy. I thought I would use my 70th post to rant about creative bankruptcy.

Way back when we had only Doordarshan by way of television entertainment, we eagerly waited for the commercials as much as the 'sponsored network programmes'. Some of the ads were so well crafted that I still remember their tag lines. Remember 'Neighbours' Envy, Owners' Pride' and the devil in Onida? Or 'If you have the inclination, we have the time' from HMT? My favourite was the Tata Steel ad with the tag line ' Ispat bhi hum banate hain' (we also make steel). The English versions had these sub tags like 'We make champions....we also make steel' and 'We make the nation's dreams come true....we also make steel'. Made me swell with pride for sure! I found the hindi version on youtube. Take a look:

Some of the commercials were not that great. But the jingles were very catchy. Here's the well known tune from Lifebouy:

What I'm getting at is that the product and the commercial were distinct. There was either a tag line or a jingle which you could immediately associate with the product. And it was total recall after that. Look at me, its been nearly 2 decades, and I still remember the ads with fondness.

These days, we have only sad excuses for commercials. It seems that creative juices among ad agencies have totally dried up. To the extent that the best they can come up with are stylised remixes of old Bollywood numbers. The worst offender is of course Coca Cola. The last 3 commercials they ran, all had rehashed, remixed Hindi songs. Here they are in no particular order:

The Diwali ad - song ripped off: Jaata Kahan Hai Diwane (Movie: CID)

The Invisible Bottle - song ripped off: Tum Jo Mil Gaye Ho (Movie: Hanste Zakham)

The Shadow ad - song ripped off: Aaj Ki Raat (Movie: Anamika)

The Brrr Commercial - song ripped off: Yeh Ladka Zara Sa (Movie: Love Story)

Not to put Coca Cola too much in the dock, here's another, from Moods Condoms. This one is really dreadful. The original from the movie Amar Prem is a Kishore Kumar classic. Rajesh Khanna brings out rueful disillusionment and acceptance of heartbreak so beautifully. And to use it in a condom ad?! Is there a correlation there?

Seriously! Is creativity dead? Back in my day - the pre mobile, pre internet and pre satellite tv days - we could put together better commercials in an event called 'Ad Zap' at college festivals! And we weren't even studying advertising.

Viewer / customer tastes have changed no doubt. And people's attention spans have shrunk. Maybe it is just that ad agencies think viewers' tastes have sunk so low that only some Bollywood connection can revive it. What a tragedy. Think of the joy of the Hamara Bajaj commercial and compare it to the hermaphrodite type model of the Aaj Ki Raat Coke commercial. Sigh! What a fall there has been my countrymen.

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