My entire education has been a Tug of War match between me and my father. Ting! Ting! Ting!
(Imagine loud-announcer-with-microphone voice). At one end, we have the professional, heavyweight middle-class, Well Meaning Grounded Father (henceforth called WMGF) bringing with him years of dashed hopes and unfulfilled dreams, repackaged and rebranded as SOLID EXPERIENCE, so that you show some RESPECT, dammit!
On the other we have puny newbie (and fee fie fum to all of you who say that I can’t be described as ‘puny’). Feet in Clouds (henceforth called FC), floating aimlessly 9-inches above the ground. Exposed to American sitcoms such as Three’s a Company, Cheers and Family Ties and escapist 80’s Bollywood films at a very impressionable age, she thinks that the world is a heady cocktail of glamour, utter lack of substance and a good dose of group dancing for no reason whatsoever. FC wants to grow up to be glamorous, funny and very rich. And believes that that will just happen, somehow. It cannot be through grades, exams or anything remotely related to numbers. Those clearly pointed that thenonly option for her was an unconventional career. Surely, like Dickens and Einstein, low grades were directly proportional to some heretofore undiscovered hidden genius that shall one day make WMGF feel very very repentant.
‘Hah!’ WMGF scoffs and easily pulls FC to the other side.
Again. And Again. And Again.
At first, FC protested. ‘But what about poetry? Keats? Van Gogh? Jim Morrisson’
‘Self destructive! Immature!’WMGF declared.
‘Sherlock Holmes? WHAM? Amitabh Bachchan? ‘
‘Make- believe!’ WGMF stubbornly asserted. Parents of my generation possibly didn’t know WHAM! Not that that wasn’t a good thing.
FC went on, ‘But the stories? The imagination. The secret world behind my cupboard?’
WMGF suddenly looked anxious. This was before Harry Potter forced nine-year-olds to learn how to read. And Warner Bros. made millions the traditional Hollywood way- taking something good and screwing it up badly. Then rival studios sent off detectives to all the forgotten libraries in four corners of the world (since the world is a circle) and they picked through and cleaned off centuries’ worth of dust settled on C.S. Lewis’s Narnia.
WGMF recovered quickly. He shook his head and said, ‘Repeat after me: Profit= Selling Price- Cost Price.’
To cut a long story short, (since I suffer from ADHD, more on that later…or maybe not), I was pulled right through school, commerce college, MBA entrance and placement in international company as WMGF was keen that I end up as a safe, rich banker, preferably the investment type who normally are so boring that people thrust wads of cash at them just to shut them up. Then I could be glamorous, rich and exciting.
But, like the climax of a Bollywood film, the hero suddenly woke up. The underdog, the dark horse, the tortoise, David or what have you always wins against Goliath, WMGF would have known if he’d read instead of studied. As it was, he was caught unawares as he was suddenly pulled across like a rag doll. I rejected the dollar job for… drum roll…advertising the only somewhat glamourous career option in B-school. Which is as close as a ‘qualified’ person like me can get to Bollywood, fashion and glamour. WMGF shrugged his shoulders. ‘Are you sure? Did you read the salary part of your appointment letter?’ he asked and I nodded, smiling idiotically through starry eyes.
For the first time, I was waiting for office to start. I was waiting for life to happen. I was waiting for the red carpets, flashing bulbs, gay fawning fashion designers and Shah Rukh Khan to sweep me off my feet and into his arms. This was Mumbai, this was advertising, this was so cool. I would never regret this.
I regretted it on the first day. Instead of SRK, I got Brenda Fernandes, the stern, no-nonsense office receptionist who dressed like a Church-going grandmother. ‘Sit on the sofa and wait,’ she instructed shortly not looking up from her writing. No matter how much I squinted she did not look like Susan Sommers. Maybe she was just a temp. ‘Have you just joined?’ I asked her. Brenda Fernandes did not look up.
As I later learnt, no one in advertising EVER looked up from what they were pretending to be doing. The industry was made up of arrogant, lazy and hard-of-hearing people.
Never mind, was looking forward to my female boss. Was sure she would be hatefully- attractive, perfect female specimen like Priyanka Chopra or comic genius like Tina Fey. That was when an aunty-looking person walked into reception. She was wearing oversize old- fashioned, cotton Salwar-kameez. She had clearly never heard of make-up. She seemed either short-sighted or too afraid to see beyond a few steps in front of her.
‘Hi!’ she said, not smiling. No one in adverting smiles or says full sentences.
‘Come on,’ Boss aunty said shortly. Refer to above.
We were out of reception area and in the main office. Like a before-and-after film, the entire scene changed. The reception was the set of the Oscars. The office was the inside of Slumdog Millionaire. The reception was Michele Obama. The office was Newt Gingrich. The reception was TAJ by the bay, the reception was the beggars outside the TAJ by the bay. I could go on, but you get the drift. Papers were floating everywhere. It seemed as if random machines were set at short intervals to launch them into space at unsuspecting passer-bys. The people walking about were dressed as if they wished they were invisible. The furniture looked as if it had been donated by a Government orphanage.
This was unreal. Surely, any moment now people would pop out from under these paper mountains and yell ‘Surprise!’ Party poppers would pop, someone would open beers and laughter would fill the air while SRK (there is always SRK) would sweep me in his arms. Boss-Aunty led me to a corner of the office. Which I learnt later was called the GAS chamber/masturbation cubicle/ suicide cabinet. It was the strategy department.
‘Here!’ Boss-aunty pointed to a paper mountain in a corner. I looked around. Androids were bent over computer screens every two meters. Even if Aishwarya Rai danced naked in front of them, I doubted that their eyes would waver. Boss was staring at me expectedly.
I tried to smile.
NEVER EVER SMILE at someone from advertising. It is a gesture so far removed from normal that it triggers an irrational reaction. Remember the angry bull and red scarf and all that? Smile and Advertising personnel.
Boss erupted. ‘What the F*** do you think you are doing. Get to work.’ I turned to paper mountain, still hoping for SRK to jump out from beneath it. But Paper remained paper and within a week I learnt one of the eternal truisms of life.
Paper kills glamour. But more on that later (or maybe not).
P.S.: If you been reading my blog, you would know about my struggles with my second book. Toward the end, I am attending Gotham Wrting online classes. This is my attempt at the homework in my ‘humor writing’ class.