Wednesday, March 3, 2010

God versus Devil

Sachin: How much for a 55-plus average?
Devil: That’ll be one soul.
Sachin: Err… but my batting never had one…
Devil: Yes it did. That pull shot of yours. And the straight six off a seamer.
Sachin: Oh thooose. Sure, here, all yours. Don’t need them much.
Devil: Deal.
Silence.
Sachin: Umm…
Devil: What?
Sachin: Can you throw in another record or two?
Devil: Hmm. Now lemme see…the highest individual score in—
Sachin: Yippeee!! You mean four hundre—
Devil: Oh no. Not that. Lara keeps that one. You can have the one day version.
Sachin: Oh… :-(
Devil: Special package just for you. Home conditions, flat pitch, full crowd, Lifetime highlights package on Neo, the works.
Sachin: Deal?
Devil: It's been a pleasure.

"When I orgasm I don't come?"

Laughter originated amongst primates as a reaction to extreme fear. For first hand evidence, do a random search on Yahoo Answers. As I was going through some of the questions that people ask, found myself asking: is this world scary or what?!
Some of the questions you might stumble upon:
-Why do cat furs always have holes in the right places for their eyes?
- I was bitten by a turtle when I was a lad, should I still drink orange juice?
-I caught my son having sex with a guy. Is there a definitive way I can tell?

"Rajiv Was Here"


A government helicopter taking off in Rajasthan - By Raghu Rai, 1975

Now this is genius! Who would've thought?

Did you know that there exists a DOS-version of Star Wars? And that its creators have hidden it every PC in the world?
Go the 'START' menu on your PC.
Hit 'RUN'.
Type in: telnet towel.blinkenlights.nl
Hit ENTER
(For other easter eggs/urban legends in art, movies and software, take your inner geek here.)

Homework

Returning to school has been a chastening experience. You can’t be a minute late, or you’ll miss assembly.(Especially when your students from farflung places like Nangloi and Khanpur, manage to arrive on time.) You've got to control yourself, because you can't sneak out for a smoky break. You've got to have stamina, because you need to be hands-on and lungs-out all the bloody time. The only luxury is knowing you'll be off at 1:30.

What would've Osama done?

Stickiness = the one thing that transforms your cause or campaign from noise to signal. For instance, “just 1411 tigers left”.

But now that you’ve made your cause stick in people’s heads, what next?
1. Wait till the glue dries up. It’s inevitable.
2. Give people the chance to forget. They will.
3. And then hit them with something so totally outrageous, so provocative that it enters the currency of conversation. The "Oh Did you hear what they did?" kind of a stunt.

It’s called Sabotage.
Designed for that crucial part of any social campaign, when our collective amnesia begins to overwhelm the stickiest of sticky causes.
This is where evangelism must give way to extremism. From Stickiness, to Sabotage.
Think 9/11. (Cause = Destroy western civilization)
Think Dandi Salt March (Cause = Expose imperial exploitation)
Think Greenpeace. (Cause = Piss off the Japanese).
Those nuts have practiced it for years; although being so repetitive in their approach as to make it too predictable, going counterproductive to the stickiness principle.
You're better off doing it once, but doing it big.

Two examples spring to memory.
The first was Rajiv Goswami’s self immolation in 1990, an act that sparked a nationwide debate on the caste-based reservation system in India. I still remember how his ‘heroism’ inspired me and my friends, dysfunctional 13 year olds that we were, to gleefully ransack and stone DTC buses one fine morning in Kalkaji. (Incidentally, in my college years, I once hitched a ride in a car, whose driver claimed to be Rajiv Goswami himself. I had no way to confirm this of course, for his horrific face resembled a hastily prepared omlette, gooey and pulped out of shape presumably by severe burns. But that's what the guy claimed. It seems cruelly ironic that when Goswami finally succumbed to his injuries 5 years ago, the news escaped most people’s attention, both unrecognizable and unrecognized in his death.)

The second is the Thirsty Black Boy campaign in Europe in 2008.
To draw attention to the plight of 1.1 billion Africans without access to safe drinking water, a nameless young black boy dressed in shorts was seen running into prime time TV shows like Oprah's, right in the middle of the proceedings. He would get onstage, chug the glass of water that sat customarily in front of their guests. And ran off, leaving the hosts, guests and the national tv audience entirely gobsmacked. In three days, the boy had been on enough programs that a stir was created. In just six days, people donated the equivalent of $5.24 million dollars. Considering the relatively small size of Belgium, that’s no small feat.
Watch this:

But this is nothing close to the Yes Men hoax in 2004. (I stumbled upon this last week, in middle of all the Bhopal Gas stuff I've been obsessing over lately.)
To me, this is sabotage taken to an extreme, the kind of innovation that activists and Patkars thrive on, the sort of creativity that brands and ad agencies can never even contemplate.

The YesMen Hoax
This incredible stunt was hatched and executed by a group of madmen – called the Yes Men – who were campaigning for the rights of Bhopal Gas victims. The Yes Men call their work “Identity Correction”, which must be an euphemism for 'catching big corporates with their pants down and giving them a real spank'. Exposing their hypocrisy, spin-doctory and greed in the process.
Call them what you will, hoaxers, activists, mischief makers, but they are, to put it bluntly, professional Impostors.
Impostors with a cause. In their own words, thet are into “Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Our targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else.”

And so, in 2004, they decided to take on Dow Chemicals, the parent company of Union Carbide. Attempting with the bigness of their balls what Indra Sinha has achieved with the persuasiveness of his pen. Only laugh-out-loud-er.


It happened on December 3, 2004 when the BBC broadcast an interview with Jude Finisterra, who claimed to be a representative of Dow Chemical. The date was the 20th anniversary of the chemical disaster in Bhopal, and the BBC had sought out a representative from Dow to speak about the tragedy since Dow had inherited responsibility for the disaster via a corporate acquisition.

During the interview, Mr. Finisterra shocked the BBC's audience when he said that not only had Dow decided to accept full responsibility for the incident, but that it was going to pay $12 billion in compensation to the victims. In response to the news, Dow's stock value promptly dropped.

However, soon after the interview, Dow contacted the BBC and informed them they had no idea who Mr. Finisterra was. The BBC had been hoaxed. Subsequently, the BBC discovered that the man they had spoken to was actually Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men group. 'Finisterra' was a made-up name meaning 'the end of the world' in greek.

The BBC had fallen into the Yes Men's trap because, while searching for someone at Dow to interview about the Bhopal disaster, its researchers had confused Dow's official website (Dow.com) with a copycat version created by the Yes Men (dowethics.com). The BBC had sent an email to the contact info listed on DowEthics.com, requesting an interview, and the Yes Men had happily complied.

That’s what I am talking about. Sabotage at its worst. Disruption at its best.
So if you’re campaigning for a cause, if you really want people to sit up and notice, but don’t have the patience or the pesos to waste on an ad agency, ask yourself this: what would’ve the Yes Men done?

Monday, February 22, 2010

How to save tigers (Caution: contains mild bullshitting and jargon)

Around 6:00 PM in the evening on the 2nd of December, 1984, a police jeep went around the city of Bhopal, broadcasting from a loudspeaker: "Everything is normal." And he was right. It is normal for these things to happen in a country like ours. It is normal that they will happen, and that they will be forgotten, for in a country like ours, the supply of disaster-related news far exceeds its demand. It is normal therefore, that journalists grow impatient and readers weary, for newsprint has space for only so many victims. It is normal, too, that someone in the government will agree to turn a blind eye, some money will change hands, some report will get a little doctored and some compromise will be reached. Little by little, any extraordinary tragedy will become 'normal' to our consciousness, our eyes self-trained to glaze over them, selective amnesia setting in.

From a communication perspective, this is the crux of the problem.
For any awareness campaign, social amnesia is public enemy number One. How do you stick in people's minds the long after the last candle has blown out?

Make it sticky

This is precisely why I sat up and noticed the recent Aircel Save the Tigers campaign.
Creatively, it's a waste of time. It doesn't take an Indra Sinha to write a more evocative line than "Just 1411 left". But there's something really cool about it. The number "1411". For the first time, and unlike several more clever pieces of work for this cause, I've been given a mental 'handle' on the problem. Like an equation to remember. Like knowing how many runs to get off so many balls. Or like the final countdown in a sales promotion. The number "1411" gives us a sense of the urgency. It gives the problem a shape and form. It sticks in your head.

Where Aircel is going wrong is that they have stayed at the number.
So while the mind of the audience has something to latch on to, it's emotionally sterile.
Contrast that with the sheer drama and realism with which Indira Sinha has made us live and feel the horror of Bhopal.
He has created that vital thing called empathy.
When I read Nanko's story, I relived his nightmare. I seethe and rage.
Sure, it's easier to do it with a human story. I will never understand the fear and anger of a dying tiger the way I'd feel for a little baby girl whose lungs have caught fire. But it is possible, with a little bit of imagination and, in today's day and age, a few social media / digital tools.

Aircel are you listening?

1. What if Aircel had created a social campaign around these "1411" tigers? And then, one fine day, the number became "1410"?
2. What if I could follow one tiger for a whole year? To see if it survives?
3. What if they had fixed a critter-cam that directly fed live-video to registered users on the AIrcel site?
4. Attach a radio collar or an RFID tag onto a tiger that will monitor its movements, simulatenously broadcast on Google maps or Flashearth?
5. What if Aircel ran a contest inviting volunteers for this project?
6. What if Aircel created a fictitious Facebook profile for a someone called Sita? Over time,adding lots of friends to her page, and then populate Facebook with quirky status updates, like "Finally! Sita has just found a meal" or "Sita just had a close shave with a bear trap", or "Sita is looking for her nephew Sheru", "Sita has been limping all day?" And then one day, you read that "Sita is blacking out" and finally, "Sita is dead - Now another 1410 left."

Perhaps none of these would still work, for Aircel has never clearly outlined just how they're planning to help these damn tigers. Giving free lifetime connections to forest park rangers would seem like a good start. That, and sending Mahendra Singh Dhoni himself to battle poachers with his bare hands.

Did you know

1. That children in Bhopal today are 10-times likelier to be born with genetic birth defects such as cerebral palsy as compared to the rest of India?

2. That in 1989, the government agreed to absolve Union Carbide of all criminal charges, in return for a compensation package that amounts to Rs. 25,000 (one-time) for survivors, and Rs.62,000 (one-time) for the kin of the dead?

3. That this is in complete contrast to the Uphaar tragedy in Delhi, wherein families of the departed got between Rs 15 lakh to Rs 18 lakh each, while injured persons got Rs 1 lakh each?

4. That even today, 5,000 tonnes of toxic waste remains stored at a warehouse somewhere inside the factory premises?

5. That no one has any clue whatsoever as to what to do with this little piece of pesticide-pie?

6. That, in an in an epic battle of buck-passing, the infinitely wisdomous Shri shri shri Narendra Modi saheb has flatly refused to to allow the stuff to be brought into its waste-processing unit at Ankleshwar?

7. That in all these 25 years, not a single person, entity or organization has ever been prosecuted?

Bhopal continued: Digging up dirt

You know an ad works only if it provokes its audience to react, or better still, act. After reading Indra Sinha's pieces on the Bhopal Gas tragedy, I found myself digging up a lot of material about the issue. More to follow shortly.

(This is the famous Raghu Rai photograph that shook up the world. On the morning after the disaster, Mr. Rai had found a man burying his daughter with his bare hands. The father had covered the tiny body with soil then, unable to bear the thought that he would never see her again, carefully brushed the soil from her face for one last look.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

From the attic 1: Indra Sinha versus Union Carbide

One meets a lot of cocky bastards in advertising. You have to wonder where they get the arrogance from. How do they go to sleep at night feeling all clever about themselves, knowing fully well, for instance, that they share the same profession and planet as Indra Sinha? Here are but a couple of the ads he wrote, as part of his long running campaign for justice for the victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pause. And play.

Sitting on a wide open terrace, toasted by the buttery late-afternoon sun. In a corner thatched by the 4 o'clock shade. Hunched over a plastic Nilkamal round table, with a Mac and a book for company. Peered at by massive peepal trees, their heads bobbing over the terrace walls, curious to see a stranger in their midst. In the distance, the muted drone of traffic, lulled into surrender by cawing crows. And on my hands, after an eternity, the luxury of time. Yes, it's a pretty nice day and time to start blogging again. So little to do, and yet so much.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

India's worst city, Asia's worst village.

And I can do nothing to change it.
Because in the 3 months I've spent here, I've turned as apathetic as the rest of them.
Last month, we screeched to a halt when a half-drunk, half-dead man staggered across peak traffic, bleeding.
Apart from us, there was just the riff raff bunch of rickshaw wallas, paanwalasand sundry pedestrians who stopped to help him.
For an hour, if not more, we wrestled, slapped and nagged this drunkard to come with us to the hospital for first aid.
During which, not a single Honda City, SX4, BMW or Skoda stopped to help.
We took him to the nearest Police thana despite everyone's warning not to get involved.
When we reached the thana, we understood why.
The police put their hands up, ordering us to take him to the hospital on our own accord.
My oife gave them a dressing down they'll never forget, her West Asian fighting genes kicking in.
The police relented. And carried the man to the hospital in their own gypsy.
Round one to the citizen.

Today, my oife relived the experience, as a biker was rudely nudged off the road by a speeding autowalla.
His pillion, a woman holding a child, fell off the bike.
Once more the missus was the only one stupid enough to stop.
Thankfully, the woman and child were unhurt.
And the passerbyes just looked on, grinning like brainless primates usually seen only north of the Vindhyas.

If I weren't a Bengali, I'd have loved to knock their molars in.
Instead I turned the volume up and sped away, contemplating this blog.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Doctors here are so damn expensive...

... you can rack up Asia Miles simply by falling ill.

Static


My most ancient of television was adjusting the antenna.
Perched on our roof's ledge. Moving the steel rods this way and that. Hollering to my mom one floor down.

"Kichhu aash chhe?" (See anything?)


"Ebaar?" (Now?)

Point it towards the hill, urged my friend Tipu. Hills transmit further, because of the Echo Effect. Tipu was elder to me by a year, and therefore, a scientist.

Obediently I would try. But to no avail.
All we got on the screen, was snow.
Just snow.
After 20 fidgety attempts, we used to go back down and watch whatever appeared on screen (basically, snow.)
Because hey, at least there was a box to stare into.

The weekend is a bit like that.
I already know that nothing will ever happen, save for random and rarely rewarding binges.
Snow.
And yet I'm looking forward to it.
A box to gaze at.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Middling life

I used to be a rebel without a cause. Now I'm just 31.
Too late to be a rebel, too early to find a cause, but just in time to catch something on the telly.

Julie Garfunkel nee Andrews

It’s been years since I last saw a movie. Well, a month.
Curiously enough, it was titled“Once".
The movie stars Glen Hansard, who, as I later discovered, fronts an Irish band called The Frames, and the irresistibly insecure Marketa Irglova, a Czech popstar who, contrary to name, is lesser known in the trade.

Once is an interesting narrative of 2 people in Dublin who discover each other and a common love for song, then inspire each other to rediscover life, then record an album and then, ultimately, walk away from each other towards their own respective nirvanas. The interesting bit is that Glen and marketa, who are also the producers of the movie, actually started dating each other during the course of the shoot. The autobiographical element came through.
But it was only the arresting and instantly uplifting music that kept alive an otherwise meandering plot. The film in the end amounted to very little.
Music does that to you, though. Gives meaning. Fills gaps and blah.
Lacking it, my days drift. Yet stand still.
Without it, life is a perfectly designed violin, lying lifeless for want of a song.

Looking back, there’s so much that I don’t know or haven’t tasted in life. Music has been the gravest of these omissions. Will buying an iPod change things? But then I wouldn’t know what to download. I miss my more musically-inclined friends who once supplied me my dosage.

Of all the people I envy, and there are absolutely billions of them, it’s the minstrel I envy the most. I can draw, I sometimes write, I can whistle and hum, doodle and drum, but there isn’t anything I can strum. Which makes things very inconvenient. You’re sitting around lacking inspiration, searching ways to stretch time and tether, or just trying to perk up a depressing Sunday sundown. And that’s when I find myself wishing for the gift. Like Manoj Jacob does here . Or Raghu Dixit, one-time radio jinglemeister and fulltime lunatic, now selling his CD online.

You see, music makes things ‘simple’. You don’t need to coerce your mind to gush, or your pen to rush. Music simply flows. Manoj used to hold his guitar and start playing a chord. Then he would put words to it. And then we would stand around and listen, sometimes mocking him, sometimes suppressing sarcasm, but always grateful for such sudden lilts of levity.

Music is the simplest joy in life. No wonder this has been such a depressing blog. A prescription, anyone?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

head lines

Couldn't help but notice 2 news headlines, scrolling past on the TV screen, one right after the other:

Arthur C. Clarke passes away.

The first ever all-girls hostel opens in Saudi Arabia.



Monday, March 17, 2008

Spectrums

Q.1 Is it judgmental to think of women as being judgmental?
Most women have a harder time reconciling the grey areas in life than do men. They tend to have points of view that are clearly flagged in either end of any debatable spectrum. Especially on 'issues'. Child labour is either good or evil. Dams are either good or evil. Guys are either good or jerks. 'And' is never an option.
Men prefer to sit on the fence. Getting off takes too much effort. Choosing a side takes too much commitment.

Which begs the question...
Q.2 Is that why Greys are more popular with men than women?

Pondering this very question, a Swiss graphic design student has spent a rather lot of time analyzing the color palettes of 1500 photos from the Sartorialist. What he's basically creating is a database of clothing colors. A Dresstionary, if you will.

And while on Culture-Bashing...

The Danish press has accused Ikea of “symbolically portraying Denmark as the doormat of Sweden”.
All because of a humble doormat.
A Copenhagen University academic has just produced some research that has shaken every Dane to his irreducible Viking core. He analysed all the products in an Ikea catalogue according to name. What he found was startling. It seems that Sweden's all-conquering furniture firm quite shamelessly names its fanciest futons, tables and chairs after Swedish, Finnish or Norwegian places, while reserving Danish place names for doormats, draught-excluders and cheap carpets.
That chimes with a conversation I once had with a Danish friend, whom I accused of being jealous to the point of paranoia about the Swedes. “Jealous?” he yelled, his eyes bulging. “What, just because their cars are faster, their lifestyle better, their scenery prettier, their economy stronger, their pop stars glitzier and their blondes sexier? Why should that make me jealous?”


Alas. Just when you thought that the Danes had absolutely nothing to be unhappy about.

Us versus Them

Ever since I cut down on the drinking, my mind seems to have dried up a wee bit. Or perhaps it's the other way around: it's ordinarily a wasteland intermittently irrigated by sporadic sprinklings.
Either way, I'm feeling a little juiced up.
Yesterday, I found myself debating with a person over whether Hong Kong-ers were indeed less gifted in academic brilliance. In fact, the word she used was 'intelligence'. I found it hard to believe that a thriving business city with a per capita income of nearly US$25,000 could be built on a bedrock of stupidity, but I let it pass.
In the very same breath, however, she expressed a personal wish to acquire a local HK passport so she could travel everywhere without the need for tiresome visas that her Indian passport thrust upon her. Now this seemed a bit rich.
You can't slag off a people or a city while hoping to ride on the advantages it gives you at the time.
It's the same problem I have with all the America-bashing that many NRIs resort to. They live there reveling in its wealth and material comforts, without trying to assimilate themselves in that culture.
But my wife had an interesting angle to the argument: she said that it's simply 'reverse imperialism' at work. When the Brits lorded over India, or anywhere else for that matter, it was all take and little give. They came in as a foreigner and left as one too.
Now the boot's in the other foot. Indians are thriving all around the world, and just like the 19th century colonialists, they have learnt to exploit the system without feeling any obligation to contribute back to it. Arrive, exploit, hoard, leave: same scheme, different skin.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Has the Junta gone too far? The pressure is building.
On the streets of manila... In Jakarta... Even Tokyo's baring its voice...

This weekend I myself atended an hour long candle-lit vigil in Hong Kong. (Although clearly the organizers hadn't thought this through: The SASA Last Day Sale was happening just a block away from the park. Plus some of the 'protestors' had brought along their fidgety 1-year-olds.)

The loudest protests ring from Bangkok...

In India, people have taken to the streets in their thousands...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"The seemingly impossible is possible."


A friend of mine once described his job as "the exciting time between getting two squiggly worms to meet". This is for him. Hans Rosling, the Orson Welles of Statisticians, presenting for TED. Brilliant. How it should be done.

In the professor's own words "I have a neighbour who knows 200 types of wine. The temperature, the grapes, everything. I know only two types of wine - the red and the white. But i know 200 types of economies."

What a finish. See it once, then again. Hans the mans.

Citizen oxygen

Just struck me.
The MTR sucks us from our homes, and deposits us in our rightful cubicles. Then, 9 hours later, it picks us up from our offices, deoxygenated and all, and back right into our homes. Out, in, repeat.

Hollowood

Sometimes, hollywood gives me the shivers. Despite unreasonably large quantities of warm, pungent Nu Er Hong consumed, my first viewing of Anger Management left me cold with apathy at how low movies have sunk in scooping dregs from wrecks.
The humour is so contrived, so abysmally warmbeerflat, you want to asphyxiate Adam Sandler to death by gagging him with sheet after sheet of lame scriptwriting.
This, after a respectful afternoon of watching Blame it on Rio for the nth time, applauding Larry Gelbart’s Tootsiesque genius, unfolding as always in the nervous wiggly brows of Joseph Bologna and the stiff upper cranium of Michael Caine.
The only saving grace was Marisa Tomeri, who remains to this day, god bless her half Lebanese soul, the foremost whiteskinned actress I’d like to share a meaningless conversation with.
Her birthday falls on December 4th, and do remember to send her a wish.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Marumushi versus Minu


Eons ago, there used to be a newsreader on Doordarshan called Minu. And she really hated the news. It showed. Presenting with a scowl, she would narrate every news with a bitterness that furrowed brows into my impressionable mind. I really liked her.


It seemed like she was as worried about the world as I was.


It also made news sexy for me.


Because her expressions would determine how grave the day had been. If there was bad news she would lower her voice and tighten her mouth. If it was happy news,like Prime Minster Rajiv Gandhi visiting a northeastern state in weird ethnic headgear, she would allow a grimace on her face. Stern as a spinster, she took the fluff out of the news.




Far cry from the today's excessively hyperbolic newsreaders.




That's why I REALLY REALLY recommendyou try Marumushi. It's a site that aggregates news feeds in a manner such that the most read news occupies the biggest space, and so on. Marumushi is a designer, and his site is powered by the classic Treeshaped Algorithm called Newsmap , an application that visually reflects the constantly changing landscape of the Google News news aggregator.




"A treemap visualization algorithm provides a tool to divide information into quickly recognizable bands"


In other words, at first glance, you can tell the biggest headlines from the smallest ones.
In other words, more power to the lazy.

Google versus Hello




I'd wanted to track this, but got completely swept aside amidst work.


Google has audaciously bid for the US 700MHZ spectrum but with open standards requirements. This should scare the heck out of any telco. Skype and Google would get a serious foothold on the communications market and change it dramatically.


As you'd know, 700 mhz is the old analog TV spectrum which will be available as TV goes digital. And since it penetrates walls without any problem my guess is that the usage will be for pure mobile broadband in the US (so hastalavista Wimax in the US).


As far as I remember only Alcatel-Lucent have mobile equipment in the 700Mhz-spectrum and since most of the networks will are 800 Mhz in the US this might be the start of a fullblown war between internet calls vs. Mobile telephony.So what will happen next? Expect a major device/hardware/chip manufacturer to come out saying that they will support 700 Mhz devices. Another box ticked for Google's world domination.


Covering arse

How often do you find a doctor who prescribes just one single medicine?
You kind of get cured by his confidence alone.

I'm feel so much better now. Tomorrow's a big day, we' ll be presenting 4 alternative campaigns to the client to pick from.

Rum Boy

I had vowed not to touch a drop this week. Unfortunately the weekend arrived on a Monday. Battered by a hailstorm of ice and dark insidious rum I found a visitor at my door, a stranger I know, a reaper of misery, a writer of scorn and diviner of detritus floating around in smelly bogs of sarcasm.
He calls himself Byker, a writer I used to work with and a pensman I still learn from. Years ago, he had joined my office and would constantly hack his way to frustration, coming up with some occasional gems - I still remember a line he wrote for a Kerala Tourism ad "Standing seven feet away from an elephant, you won't forget the moment either" (expressed more succintly, ofcourse) - and then losing them in the muck of a Trainee Writer's creek.
Today he runs an agency of his own. I'm pretty sure he still doesn't get to write the way he wants. But at least he has a blog. And if it's you, Chetan Bhagat, then this is the blog you ought to read.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Siege of Japan

There has been a lot of Japan in my life lately. I returned last week from a short trip to Tokyo, but I have nothing of note to recollect from the city. I had gone expecting a world of strangeness but met with a city no dissimiliar to Hong Kong or Singapore with its sale-obsessed populace and explosion of consumerism. On the surface it was quite a boring place, really. The only things that caught my attention were the sight of 60yearolds packing slot machine parlours and game parlours, and the abundance of bluehaired teens dressed like schoolgirls. And of course, the Jinglish.

Truth be told I was slightly underwhelmed. Yes, I saw brilliant examples of graphic/product design wherever I looked, and there was a remarkable collection of creativity at the 2121designsight in Roppongi, including tablelamps made of dripping chocolate. But I had expected a culture more sinister, less fathomable. Everyone we met was almost too nice, too open, and too welcoming to be the freak I had hoped to encounter.
Maybe Japan, as a country , is like one of those more evolved organisms. For instance, as a firsttimer to India, you'll find the country daunting, but decipherable, much like a Buffalo. Big, slightly scary, but predictably clumsy and easier to touch, see and understand - almost primal in its bluntness. Japan is more like a Jellyfish. It reveals very little of itself on the surface, but I got the feeling there was lot more to experience underneath the calm. Less obvious and totally unremarkable until you begin to study its physionomy.
But the trip was helpful in another way.
I have recently begun to read a novel by Haruki Murakami, called "The Windup Bird Chronicle". It is a popular book to be seen with these days, but don't hold that against it.
The book is the story of a man who quits his job, whose wife runs away with another man, but also a story of a missing cat, a dysfunctional 16yearold, a prostitute, the Manchurian war, and the dark arts of occult. In short, it's very Japanese in its whole conception, wildly imaginative and inscrutable at the same time. It's peppered with references to popular districts of Tokyo, making it doubly easier to visualize - a joy not afforded to me by American novelists.
It's also 606 pages long.
Books as thick as this usually put me off, not because I'm impatient or have low attention spans, but because I know they will lay complete siege over me and my life for a very long time. I have not read the Russian Classics, so my standards for thickness are set low. But since the days of the MM Kaye's "Far Pavilions", which I had the privilege of recounting page for page to my girlfriend who was convalescing for a week, have I encountered a book so intent on imposing its will on me.
This was confirmed over the weekend as Murakami forced me to postpone a long list of To-do jobs that I had planned for - I still have around 100 pages to go and am wrestling against its hold over me. And once I finish, another whim will take over - the itch to reproduce the extracts I particulary fancied. Thankfully though, this novel seems to have run out of steam midway through, and the quality of his writing hasn't kept pace with the numerous twists and turns in the plot. Perhaps this is what keeps me reading without a pause -to see how the grand puppeteer will find his way out of the labyrinths he himself has created.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

empty dempty


A thought landed gently
unannounced
quick! capture it!
lens it! word it! blog it!
ready?
it's gone.
like the big feathery black leathery
crow
that was perched on this stump
but flew away
now caged in my head
yet eluding capture

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Was walking through the mall
casually strolling absent minded
past other people equally aimless
and i thought -
seems just like a park
except instead of trees, you have stores.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Bhot for Taj

16 years ago, they tore from limb to limb a mosque built by Babar.
Today they lend shoulder to a tomb built by his great-grandson.
Sadhus.
Loincloths-rolled up, trident-armed, hashish-induced bravado.
And it isn't just the sadhus.
Everyone wants the Taj to get the vote.
My kith and kin included.
Your vote could make the difference, clean up Yamuna, erase 'ILU ILU, Manju love sanju, call 45241677' from marble.
Your vote could restore Taj to its former glory.
If it doesn't, we will try getting it classified as a Scheduled Wonder.
And if that doesn't work out, then we'll go out there, Gujjus, Tams, Bongs, Jats, Punjus, et al, armed with chalk and national pride, and scribble Mera Bharat Mahan on every brick and stone in the world.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

So funny, it's sad

It's quarter past 15 and I'm still in office. I'd like to believe it isn't a complaint; it's passion.
Sid has this beautiful theory about how people in offices should start hurrying up their work around 5, show some urgency and get set to leave office by 6. He's doing this culture-mapping project to study how different industries or companies have distinct work cultures. Sid should meet some people in my office.
The other day, the head of our branch, addressed us all and complimented a person who had stayed up at work for like 50 straight hours. Then we all clapped in honor of his commitment to work. Humbled and proud at the same time, like jehadis at a suicide bomber's farewell.What kind of an industry celebrates a loss-making, unrewarding waste of precious manhours?
Youtube has the answer.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Friends

Caught up with a friend from school, now a rescuer of drugpeddlers at the lawfirm ThreeLongNames&Partners in LA or some place like that. We had kind of fallen out 10 years ago, but years of intoxicants seem to have dulled all recollections of bitterness from our neurons. so it was a lot of fun to become schoolboys again - including the part we showed off how clever yet angsty we've grown.

Anyway, the talk drifted through happy alleys of remembrances, the usual anecdotes of lawbreaking, and of course, women. I remember hardly anything from those 3 drunken hours, except this one brilliant oneliner he recounted from one of his dates while he was studying in the states. I thought i'll share it with you, in the hope that you too can employ his witticism should the situation arise - for example, to impress your hot Colombian girlfriend when on date in some fancy Cambodian restaurant.

INT. FANCY CAMBODIAN RESTAURANT. EVENING.
Maitre'D: Sir, why don't you try our house-wine, the Khmer Rouge?

Friend: Not really. But I do want to try your house-weed...the PolPot is it?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The BS in Brainstorming

I stumbled upon a funny little store called Pardon My Hindi, which is basically a bunch of strange New Yorkers(including a Jew called Nikhil) selling tees and blogging about it.It's surely the only store in the galaxy where you can buy a tshirt with Kalyanji Anandji's* mugshot on it. How creative is that.

Shortly after, I was over at Guy's blog today and read Jeffrey Kalmikoff's interview. Now Kalmikoff is the geniu$ who started the whole Threadless 'design-your-own-tee' phenomenon on the net. As Jeffrey explains, "Threadless is based upon the idea of 'customer co-creation' or 'crowdsourcing'....designers upload a design, it's voted on from 0-5 by our community of users...each week two reprints go on sale...The designer of each winning tee receives $2000 in cash."

So the reason it has got popular is because every prospective 'customer' who clicks onto the site becomes a sort of 'producer' in the process - true crowdsourcing.

But the difference is, I didn't find any real concepts. No Kalyanji Anandjis. Just the usual mix of graffiti so ubiquitously popular. What the herd chooses, reflects on its own predictive homogeneity. The thing is, crowdsourcing also marks down creativity. Since the design is done by some Joe Blow - one of us - we're less inclined to pay that premium for a designer's originality. PMH, for instance, sells its wackiness for $22 and above, while Threadless tees start as low as $10.

And I was thinking, hmmm. Crowdsourcing sounds familiar....feels familiar. Ah, yes.
In advertising, we know it by another name.
It's called "Brainstorming".


Put 10 people together, stick a few post-its, share a few gags, until, ok it's a wrap, we're out of cookies, well done team.
It's what Jacob Botter calls the ghastliness of the brainstorming experience.

"It's the trojan horse of mediocrity...everyone goes home with a balloon after a brainstorm - that they all feel that their pointless lives have been made somehow better by this semi cathartic experience and by the lovely little warm up games that they all played."

Send him to a Team Compatibility Reengineering workshop, I say. What BS.

(Via Giles Rhys Jones.)

Hffgm pmmb? Pwuf hg swehgbb!

The spirit of Syd Barrett lives on.
But not in the rehab centers, not in the blogs of depressed teen poets, nowhere that you'd expect. No, i found it residing here instead.

Notice the drunk debauchery of words, the rambling lunacy of illumination, the absolute absence of meaning, not seen since the days of Fleas in Pamela

Smoke this, mister Barrett:

"The perceived quality of the extension appears to be another element with relevant influence. When evaluating extensions, the perceived quality of the brand tends to be examined; whereas by analysing the retroactive effects, the variable that is worked with is the perceived quality of the extension, given that in this case the quality of the brand has a more prominent role as a variable to be explained rather than as an explanatory variable."

Strategic Marketeers, here's to you.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Blogiarism

Sometimes, you walk aimlessly with the specific aim of reaching nowhere. So it is with this particular blog. Having hit a writer's block and rapidly losing the habit to post, let me try poaching and parroting what other bloggers are thinking today. Hopefully you (and I) will end up in some interesting places in a couple of links. First up I drifted into Hugh McLeod's, whose "cartoons drawn on the back of business cards" have become one of those iconic things that you always like to boast about being the first to discover - but as soon as the world catches on, you sort of jump off the bandwagon.
Quite the opposite seems to have happened with gaping void, though. Some other cartoonists have been passing off mcleod's work as their own.
Three things amaze me about this blogiarism issue, that (a) why we get a moral kick out of pointing out someone's misdemeanour, (b) how it takes skill to even plagiarize with panache- or, nakal mein bhi akal chahiye, and (c)why the f*** am i trying to blog when the inspiration just isn't there.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Gone fishing

Thanks for dropping by, Tim.
This blog usually has a life of its own, or so I thought - well apparently not. The cacophony of work marches on leaving silent blogs in its wake. And memories of more wasteful days spent in sloth, joblessness and PacMan.


Picture courtesy the most awesome site in the geekiverse.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

a single malted organism

around 74,000 years ago, a supervolcano in Mount Toba nearly wiped out all human life with a force equal to 3000 times the Mount Helens eruption, which is roughly equivalent to 3 working Saturdays in a row.
I've had 6 in the past 6 weeks.
allhuman life has been squeezed dry out of me.
now finally, the earth is cooling back to normalcy, with a slow drizzle of single malts. will keep you posted, if you're still surviving out there.

Monday, February 5, 2007

10 Superbowls, 1 question

I've been meaning to read Mohammad Younus's book for a while now. My wife informs me as to how smart his Grameen Bank was in choosing debtors: the loans were given to groups or collectives of peasants, rather than the individual villager himself. This simple strategy ensured there was a Group Pressure on each co-debtor not to default.

By sheer coincidence, Amit Verma points us to a similar scenario, raised in a letter to the editor of the Financial Times.
Here's the puzzle:
You have a piece of bread and you are full. In front of you, 10 guys are waiting for you to give it away. You can ask them all one common question, to find out who is the most hungry guy. What question should it be?.

Tyler Cowen throws up some answers on his blog, Marginal Revolution.

Sometimes it's hard to take a face seriously no matter how many times over he can sue you.

Vanuatu or Hong Kong?

Apparently I'm living in the Most Economically Free country in the world. Hong Kong (with 89% Freedom Score) comes out on top in this latest survey. India is ranked 104th. That's 15 places above the Irrationally Exuberant Republic of China, while Russia's lower than both. Only Brazil escapes the BRICbats by crawling into a mighty impressive 70th spot.

Somehow it doesn't make a cent's difference to me.
Because what I've always wanted, is to settle down on an island. Or in South America. Preferably both.
Now I know why.
Seems like the 10 most happiest places on earth are either islands, or countries in south america.
Colombia. Panama. El Salvador. Cuba. Costa Rica.
Places otherwise known only for tornadoes, poverty, military coups, bloody upheavals. Also places famous for fermented beverages, football and the finest inhalants.

Singapore, which was No. 2 in the Economic Freedom index, is at #131. USA? Ranked #150. Japan? #95. Life looks different when you alter the parameters slightly. The worrying thing is, I don't even know where Dominican Republic is on the map. Maybe I need to change my viewfinder.

Page zero

...and speaking of book covers, do you have any favorites that come to mind? I'm trying to put together a gallery of all the best book covers I'v seen, and any suggestions would be welcome. New York Times comes up with a yearly list, but frankly i'm not too kicked with their 2006 picks. i could think of 5 album covers this month that were better than that list. or are book cover designers dorkier than their bretheren in the music album business? Check this one out, regarded by my good friend The Dragon King to be the Best Album Cover of All Time.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

What is art?

I was reading a book in the tube today, and somehow it attracted the attention of a woman sitting next to me. She said it was very creative, the way I had covered the book. Then I realized she was referring to the way I had wrapped my book in an old newspaper. Hmm, so what's the big deal, I wondered. We were all taught to cover books that way since childhood.
Then I reached office and some coworkers said the same, nice cover and all that. I realized what was normal - even instructed - behaviour for me, seemed very creative to most people in Hong Kong. One man's necessity is another's art.

Creativity in ites barest form is nothing but optimizing constraints.
Here in Hong Kong, I guess one never needed old newspapers when you could buy so mnay different types of shiny wrapping paper.
In that sense, the more constraints you face, the more creative you are forced to get. Drawing a star is no problem, drawing one without lifting your pencil is.
And perhaps it applies to everything in life.
Every small businessman in India learns how to beat the system and work through its loopholes.
Football urchins in Brazil learn to dribble because they dont grow up passing long balls in their crowded bylanes.
In my industry, it's often the smallest client who demands the biggest ideas. More the constraints, greater the imperative to be creative.

Perhaps it's the reason why the greatest European art blazed amidst the suffocation of the dark ages. Why all the finest writers I've read grew up in repressed regimes of eastern europe or south america. Art needs a problem, a resistance, to counterpoint. Art, after all, is freedom from the regimen: its fire stoked the more you try to smother it.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Fridead

07:45 pm
Friday night. like crazed automons we walk out the offices, me and the rest of the whole world, pulled like the sun gravity's, thirsty for our own poisons. it feels like the whole universe is graduating tonight and the week has thrown a party for all of us.

i have this bar i go to all the time. i dont know its name, but i recognize its breath strong enough to feel my way through absolute darkness. they have a smoking licence now, so this place is packed again. smokers in hong kong share this invisible handshake. ever since they banned smoking, smokers seem to cling on to their dreadful habit more dearly, like exiles from the CCCP emigrated to paris. You love most what the world snatches away. They sit around chatting and laughing and bitching, swapping dreams and drudgery over satay and limeheaded Sol.

the lady who runs this place never forgets to look happy upon seeing me. CRM starts with just a smile - i remember flying Valuair from singapore once. Their inflight meals come in a box. once I finished my meal, i discovered a little sticker at the bottom. it had a smiley and a message that said: Done? Go ahead,order another one! A bit cheesy, but equally warm. Instantly and genuinely connected with the brand. wonder why other airlines don't think this way.

9:15 PMAnyway, back to the bar. The usual music.Crowded House, Tears for Fears, Lisa Loeb. custom designed for nostalgic drunks.
The place is packed to the rafters now.
The collective murmurs of fifty people becomes a voice of its own.
Perfect to get lost in, write, doodle, daydream.

It's amazing how difficult it is to work when there's one person chatting away next to you; but not when there are a hundred. as if, by their sheer numbers, they cease to exist.

Is that why Authorities fear an Artist more than a hundred anarchists? One artists's voice screams more powerfully than the din of a thousand petitioners. Imagine the impact Orwell would have had when 1984 was first published.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Vista Rap: Will da real Underdawg please stand up?

As a rule, i always root for the overdog; underdogs enjoy way too much support anyway. But it's getting getting harder and harder to know who the underdog really is. never can seem to tell the bad guy from the good, the right from wrong.
Should i pledge my support the loonies at DefectivebyDesign? Or has MS-bashing simply become fashionable? Is there something really wrong with Vista? And what exactly is DRM anyway? (enlighten me.)
-----------------------------------
Update 1: This is weird. From the aforementioned DbyD site:
Ask Bono to stand with us for Digital Freedoms! Now, with your help, we are going to ask Bono to take a stand with us on DRM. Sign the petition NOW.

Huh?? I mean, now we have to sign up for a pre-petition just to get Bono to sign up on another petition on our behalf? How about asking Bob Geldof to sign on a pre-pre-petition asking you to sign on the pre-petition requesting Bono for signing on the petition?
------------------------------------
Update 2: Apparently, Apple's ripping us off too. Et tu, sir steve?

My three-&-a-halfth place

I take the tube to work everyday. A journey spanning 30 minutes, 2 outlying islands and about 40 pages. To borrow a Starbucks catchphrase, the tube is my 'third place'.
but within that third place, there is another.
My book.
Thanks to living so far away from office, the long commute has added an extra hour to my day. I wonder where that extra hour lay hidden when i lived much closer to work? I mean, did this extra hour just get created miraculously out of nowhere?
And is there really a word like 'halfth'? Sometime, english doesn't have enough words for the modern world.

Someone (i forget who) pointed me to a similar concept that immigration experts are grappling with: the 1.5 generation. Young immigrants who aren't strictly first generation because they didn’t choose to emigrate. But not second generation either – as they were born and spent part of their childhood in their country of origin.

The remarkable thing is, everything in the contemporary world seems to be in halves, greys and blurs.
It has perhaps to do with the way we live today; always mobile, never at Point A nor B. Never totally sure if we've reached where we wanted to be.
The same restlessness that drives us to switch industries, search opportunities, ditch the daytime job to launch a startup. The same restlessness that drives companies to have brand re-evals every 6 months. The same restlessness that makes my clients worship and worry - obsessively in equal measure- about consumer research.
To be sure. To have some definition in a half-half world.

I tell them you can't fight Heisenberg. No matter how hard you try, you can't measure any one thing's location and direction at the same time, be it atoms, consumers, brand loyalty, personal relationships, whatever.

We carry Blackberries not because we want to keep moving, but to have the illusion we aren't moving at all.

They joke i need a fourth place. i take their advice and come back here to blog. have a good half-morning ahead, stranger. Time for brunch?

Powerdoodles - 3

Monday, January 29, 2007

Super-marketing

Two lazy observations while pushing a cart in the supermarket the other day:
Thought # 1.
Ladies, be warned. While you think it's your husband/boyfriend accompanying you with the trolley, the truth is far more sinister. Apparently, there's a gang of zombies hiding in every supermarket, who jump into your husband/boyfriend's body the moment he walks in through the door. You can identify them by their strange droopy gait and a vacant glossy look in their eyes. The giveaway? Tiny fangs emerge when in proximity to attractive unaccompanied female shopper.

Thought # 2.
Given that the average supermarket covers an area larger than Alaska, wouldn't it be nice if supermarket brands like Kellogs etc used GPRS or SatNav (or something web tooey like that) to guide you towards their shelf? i'm sure it can be done. You feed in your shopping list of brands into your GPRS enabled mobile phone, and bam! The moment you're in their vicinity inside the supermarket, you hear a beep on your phone. so no more mindless aimless clueless patienceless aisle hopping. no more zombies.

It sounds a bit farfetched, but have you heard about Mini's crazy new billboards? They greet you by your name whenever you drive past them. (via Frederick Samuels)

Frog Food for the Toady Tongued

5 things i learned today:

1. It's not a good time to be a Japanese cabinet minister.

2. It's not a good time to be Bono in concert.

3.It's not a good time to be an agency head on Madison Avenue. (via MTLB)

4. It's not a good time to be a believer.

5. It's always a good time to waste some, in which case drop in at Anand Ramachandran's, India's own answer to the Onion.