Not that his death affected me at a deep level. The difference between statistics and copious, uncontrollable tears has to do with what you shared with that dead person. The curious thing about death is you’re still considered young even if you die at 60. You’re too young to die but too old to live.
Somewhere between the first and second part of the last sentence, the office boy interrupted my profound excursion and said that everyone in our office had decided to visit his parents and pay homage (the dead man’s parents not the office boy’s).
It was after not knowing what to say to the bereaved parents whom I had never met in my life, and stepping out onto the small lawn that I met destiny, beard and all. This was the gentleman who was running a small shop on the second floor of a fairly old building on the busy main street. He was in advertising.
I had met him before for a job. At that time I hadn’t the faintest clue about advertising, nor did I have any answer when he asked if I knew what copywriting was. In fact my answer was the same to his several other questions on logos and captions and visuals. I remember his office being quite plush by the small town standards.
I still hadn’t the faintest clue to that business as I walked over to him. He had asked me to come over and join him. He was talking to someone, his eyes bleary and red-rimmed, ‘I have lost faith in people saying, “See you”, that’s what he said (he was referring to the deceased boy) to me last week, such a young chap'. After we were through with the appropriate words the situation warranted, he asked if I was still interested in the job he never gave me the last time. I said yes. It was agreed that I would meet him the following Sunday.
It’s not important that he made me wait an hour after excusing himself for just two minutes. Or that he didn’t offer me even a cup of coffee (he was using the front of his flat as an office, and could have easily given me some measly biscuits, but he didn’t). What’s important is that he gave the job after a few days of the meeting. The call came to my friend whose house was across from mine. It was only the rich that had luxuries like telephone and TV those days.
Oh, what a relief it was from the dreary business of going to unheard of towns with precisely two and half streets who still needed fans; dealing with dealers (I know you are not supposed to repeat a word in quick succession in the same sentence but hey) who didn’t even finish high school; the back-breaking bus rides to rural areas of South India. It was good bye to all that. With this background of relief, the new job I had no clue of doing seemed a right challenge. It was exciting.
The day was typical of my small town in June. Nothing beats Coimbatore when it comes to June days, especially mornings. And the summer evenings when the sun tints the whole town a special pantone of orange, which doesn’t exist anywhere else, much like the blue from Capri’s Blue Grotto. A distant second would be the sunset over the Grand Canyon Bob Dylan talks about in his ramble. But since I have never been to that part of the world, I wouldn’t know.
Anyway, back to the glorious morning, I did say it was glorious, didn’t I? You should be there to experience it, like the truth, even the most articulate expression would never come close to actually being there, inhaling the fresh morning fragrance emanating from the flowering trees in the front yard, feeling the soft, gentle pinstripes of rain which was almost like a mist, watching the fresh faced kids going to school with their backpacks and lunch bags, the pretty college girls casting a swifter than a lightning glance (making you wonder how much can their eyes and brain register in a millionth of a second to form crucial decisions on whether the person they are ‘looking’ at is worth their time and should they repeat it?), the radio playing songs that would haunt you for the rest of your life … glorious indeed.
After a short bus ride in the peak hour crowd, I found the building on the main road. I walked up a flight of stairs and entered the surprisingly plush office. It was carpeted, had a glassed-in cabin for the boss and some paintings on the wall, a rarity in general and an aberration by the small town standards of interior decoration.
'I’m glad you could make it', he said.
I was still reeling from the nice smelling, well-kept office. It’s the carpet, I decided. There’s something plush, rich and luxurious about carpeted floors, and the way your cheap shoes sink into them. I guess it even makes the smell nice by somehow trapping all the fragrance of every morning when the staff come in smelling fresh. When my carpet reverie ended, he was saying something about my pay and that I will be given a scooter. Scooter? I could barely ride a cycle.
‘Well, ask your friends with a scooter to teach, it’s not that difficult’, he continued when I voiced my concern. ‘Before I introduce you to your colleagues, I want to tell you about the golden rule of advertising,’ he paused. ‘Do you know what it is?’
‘No’, I admitted. I didn’t even know what advertising was, let alone the golden rule.
‘Well, the golden rule is that there is no rule’, he said, allowing a thin, almost victorious smile to crease his bearded face. The kind of smile that comes at the end of an occult lesson on alchemy where the master lets his promising student in on the secret formula of turning your key chain into pure gold.
I managed a weak smile at such a casual revelation of the golden rule, and got ready to meet my colleagues, of which there were about 5, and all seemed decent.
After the initial round of introductions, I was given a scooter which I didn't know how to ride and a job I didn't know how to do. I was supposed to be an Account Executive and a Copywriter, which essentially meant I had to cold-call clients, and say yes to whatever they wanted. There was no spiel, no sell, so strategy, nothing. You called clients, were happy if you brought in one or two a month, and serviced the existing ones (I know it sounds like a dubious massage parlour phrase, it’s close). Three interesting months later I gave up the scooter after a minor accident with a lamp post and the job after a major argument with the bearded one.
That's how this whole business of advertising started. After many years in Chennai and Mumbai, came to Singapore in 1994 where I've been since.