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A Snapshot Series

of the Writer in Me....

 

Na bheed ka hissa banna hai,

na bheed ki aguwaayi karna hai,

akele hi kalam ki aanch pe jhusalsna hai,

akele hi syaahi ki dhaara mein fansna hai.

Aur jo subah poochhe ki raat kaisi gayi?

Hanskar, aagey badhna hai,

Akele ki andhiyaaron se ulajhna hai.

Hello. It’s time for me to come out of the shadows and talk to you.

 

For the last 8 years, many of my ideas have been called ‘too evolved’ and I’ve been forced to dumb down my ideas, my writing – a lot of times with the simple dictum that ‘the public won’t understand.’ Yet in my observation, the public is not one public. Their languages, expressions, apprehensions, desires, and perceptions are not one. They don’t comprise a monolithic whole. Rather to the contrary, they seem to display so much variety that advertisers and writers have difficulty dealing with their demands.

 

That’s why advertising campaigns fail. That’s why novels fail. That’s why films that take their audiences for granted are crushed both at the box-office and in terms of memorability. But that is also why the newspaper, and now the internet, succeeds. That is also why Instagram does so well. And why YouTube is getting a ton of ads. If there’s anything remarkable about the Indian people it’s that they are all remarkable in their love, hate, demands, sacrifices, limitations, and struggles. And sometimes it’s a mixture of all of this.

 

So yes, I’ll cut the spiel short. And tell you that I belong to this ‘public’ that is the Indian people. That is why I’m aware of what hurts them, what elevates them. I’m aware of what they will not tolerate and the limitless bounds of tolerance they display otherwise. I say this because I see them. I see them with my eyes, with my anxieties and my ever so curious nerves. I see them above all with my mind – a mind deemed abnormal, laughable a long time ago because I would make sounds and movements in places where I supposedly should never have. It was an older world then. It was a world where parents wanted their children to be normal so desperately that they were blind to who they were. It was a time when normal was a straight line, a tight rope that you had to balance on and learn to walk day in and day out without fail. 

 

But it is that which I chose not to do. I chose to be me, the boy who would draw more than do math. The boy who would bat and ball all by himself and do the commentary and yelp while taking a catch that rebounded from the wall, in an imaginary cricket match even when he was 16. The consensus was that I was not my age. And they were right. I wasn’t my age because my brain didn’t age and record experiences the way other minds would. I say brain for me, and not mind, because that’s where I’m different. 

 

That’s what gives me the curse to come up with shit stories and ideas. And that is what gives me the power to see truly unique ideas and stories. That is what has enabled me to survive a home full of domestic violence without becoming an abuser. Victims of abuse often turn abusers themselves. But my mind is a mine of visuals, not merely a repository of them. And I know that if this mine is excavated more, it will yield gems of love, joy, empathy, poetry and stories that will stand me and those around me in good stead.

 

I’m by no manner fully formed as a lot of people claim to be or are in a hurry to claim. But then, if you see the world visually and then write to bring those visuals alive, can you ever be fully formed? I don’t think so. Some tell me I should act my age because they do. Other say that I deliberately put on an act. Some even say I need to get serious about life. But then I am serious about life. My life. My life that holds my body, brain, sensations, and perceptions together. And the way I see my life is an unravelling through writing of all that I see passing by, but in ways that would soothe, scratch, goad or surprise not just myself, but all those engage with my writing. My writing is bigger than me because it's part of a tradition of viewing the world with wide-angle lenses. But yes, it all starts with me. 

 

Which is why I feel like my next story should stun me. My next line should make me have goosebumps. My next campaign idea should force me to say, oh why did I not think of this earlier? My next film should tell me that only I could’ve thought of it and written it the way only I can. And my next idea for awards should make me have goosebumps. It should pierce me, goad me into feeling how I’m going to match or excel it when I think of another.

 

It's started I feel. That marathon called hunt for excellence, it's started. Thanks a ton, to my therapist Lavanya Kaushal and Dr. Natasha Kate. Two people who believed in me when everything seemed dull, lonely, and meaningless. When I had started to question whether being me was even an option. I’ve spent more than 2 years with them now, and they’ve let me embrace the powers I come with as well as the deficiencies. We all come with our scratches. The question we need to answer is whether we want to let the scratches splinter the light of the world or whether we have the power to flip ourselves and go from tail to heads and glow in the world's mornings or shimmer in its moonlit nights. I chose to flip and since I did that I have been aware of every day as a massive day of possibility for me.

   

So yes... I joined advertising to survive in this city. But then I had been advertising for a lot of my classmates in college when I wrote their applications for the Rajiv Gandhi Fellowship. Or wrote the intro to their papers and dissertations. Or when I was writing a pamphlet for a student election. Or when I was talking to people from many parts of southern India about the EFLU Film Club. I was doing word-of-mouth publicity even though I didn’t take up the module that taught advertising in 4 months. It was all pro-bono, but it was still trying to get people to something for a result. Maybe that’s why I feel that pure, powerful advertising is about results. People should do something that you expect when you talk to them in a language they get, in a way and with emphases and pressure points that they live on. 

 

When I joined my first advertising agency in Mumbai, I got to know that this process is captured by the short-form RTB or the concept of behaviour change. It all depends upon whether you’re using jargon from the world of planning or psychology. And I got to know many more things. Primarily that there’s the craft of writing which is different from the art of writing. If I said how, I was given the example of the difference between Gulzar and a certain man who’d written “Ummeedon wali Dhoop” for Coke. I first asked, but why are the two different. But when I found my question misunderstood as my inability to understand, I shook my head, and said, okay. Because it was important to survive.

 

But now... I can freely ask whether there's really a difference between the craft and the art of writing? Especially for me who has a neuro-divergent trait of seeing things visually before writing them? Because what is craft but the ability to increase it with every attempt. Isn’t craft the capacity to not be fully formed in your writing ever? The capacity to keep seeing and to turn off the searchlight of your senses? And to then make sure that with every next attempt at it you enhance it, economize it, surprise it by seeing and saying things in ways that haven’t been done before? And isn’t art… all art exactly that? Creating a different perspective on what people see in whatever is the supposed normal way? And wasn't all art that's today regarded as masterpieces and classics, a paid job for an artist to survive while seeing and rendering the world differently for others to see? 

 

I’ve learnt a lot from those I’ve worked with. It can’t be quantified. But it’s visible in the ideas I’m currently thinking and also in those ways I'm not thinking and will never think. It’s visible in my new-found hunger for winning at Cannes, something which was discouraged in certain places I worked. It’s visible in the two short films I managed to preside over as an Executive Producer and get shot and done. And in the lone international Samskara Award, the more meaningful of the two, “Help!”, won. And it's visible in my belief that while lots of colleagues have told me I'm old and advertising careers get over by 40, I've just started taking steps towards something fruitful. I'm still standing here while many others are thinking retirement plans. Over-saturation, they call it. But I'm the sponge that's just started soaking and have plenty of space left for growing longer, wider, in more than one dimension, creatively.  

 

I am me. I’m ADHD. I’m Tourette’s. I’m Autism-spectrum. I'm 40. And not of any age. I’m my words. I’m my expressions. My hashtags, my articulations. I’m my ideas. I’m the visuals I think in. I’m my Cannes efforts. I’m the continuing journey of craft. I’m the possibility of art. I’m the films in my head. I’m the ink-pen nib between my fingers. I’m the blotches, the sensitivity, the prospect of never being fully formed, never being my age. I’m the coming out that was long due. I’m a lover of the crusade of writing to the real world. I will write like it's a duel till my very end. And I will give the world what it deserves. Masterpieces in communication and story-telling. The way Mr. Piyush Pandey has done over the last 40 years or more. The way Mohan Rakesh has done. 

I'm just beginning. And I would love to share my journey with you and give you truly what only I can: my writing style, my wide-angle eye, my ability to extract large thoughts from small incidents and the power to criticise myself and discard what I have written, the moment it starts seeming it's self-indulgent, and the imagination to start all over again in search for the final thought that every meaningful piece of writing walks into like rivers flowing into a delta to be one with the ocean.   

 

And that's the honest me. That's the inner me, made exterior. You can befriend it, neglect it, use it, employ it, give it a chance or look askance. But the one thing you can't do is reengineer it into grooves of mediocrity and apathy. 

 

But you can also chisel this supposedly not-you-typical-normal me, is to open your doors and guide it to see bigger, brighter visions than the kind it does on its own. Because there's no replacement in the world for exchange of ideas and being taught in the process. And I'm all in for that. My heart, my mind, my amygdala and pre-frontal cortex are all open to that. And not slightly, but with open arms. 

So you good people, what will you do?

 

***p.s. I am a secular individual and thinker,

who sees Hindi, Hindostani & Urdu as sister languages,

and not as separate. Did you notice that the word 'dost'

is neatly ensconced between the other letters of

the word Hindostani? I did. That's because 

I understand language sciences and phonetics

to a good extent. Due to the extra courses I took.

Due to my excellent professors and their guidance at

the place that has Asia's best language school,

the EFLU (now known as Vidya Dharma University).

I don't need to keep a dictionary by me to write

in Hindi or Hindustani, the way I see a lot of writers doing.

Hindi & Hindostani, reflect my soul, my voice, my goals. 

Because everything from my anguish to my exultation,

my painful times to my reasonably stable times,

my poverty to my decision to work and go beyond it,

has been filtered through these 2 languages. 

And they are the reason, I transformed into a true-to-himself,

true-to-the-world, writer rather than being the pretentious,

trying to sound sophisticated and cool, but scared 

migrant boy who joined Kirori Man College, Delhi University.

Hindi & Hindustani have been my saviours and my mirror,

and I have much to do and write to be their protector and nurturer.

 

I'll leave you with a couplet of mine from a poem

that's a favourite of the man who gave me my first ever chance

in advertising:

Jhilmil kartey jugnuon ko,

jahaan koi aur mil gaya hai...

Machineon ke konon se,

waqt ka badan chhil gaya hai...

 

 

     

jugular nib 2.jpg

Branded by life...


I am a migrant. 

Not a son of the soil...

nor a bashinda of the paada...

neither a hasti of a Mumbai vasti...

 

And the brands I work on...

they are migrants too, aren’t they?

 

Coming from an unknow place,

searching for a place to own,

wondering about means of survival,

hungry for opportunities to rise, 

trying to carve a place in someone’s heart,

sometimes trying to create a niche.

Sometimes they just scratch the surface,

letting out a meow or a bark, or a yelp,

vying to be heard in the melee,

like me searching for ideas, insights and expressions 

that says, "I have something! Something new."

Phew!

 

And as the brands and I wave the sword

of an independent voice,

are we vying merely for acceptance?

Or are we trying to carve a kingdom of sensation

in the midst of armies of information?

Are we blowing our own horn

or are we tapping into that unknown part of the human mind

that runs simply by means of attraction, distraction, desire and love?

That part... the scientists call the limbic system,

primal, unnerving, surprising,

defying control, urging us to take control

of that which we love and want...

pushing us to tower as the master of our destinies,

by carrying on many, many mutinies.

 

The brands and I...
we're used to the heckling...

habits, other entities, nay sayers,

we stand up to them all,

we choose to push forth 

by creating something original,

something that's never been said or felt before.

It needs to be done. 

Because all around are spiels, 

on how to live,

on how to like,

on how to mesmerise,

on how to dramatise,

or keep silent and surmise...

all around are scriptures

on how to chew old, vestigial perspectives,

and colour the streets red 

with their corrosive spit.

So we march, the brands and I,

in the face of mass-culture's changing demands,

hovering around probables and improbables,

sculpting from the stream of our sweat,

carving streams of insights from the river of nights not slept,

scaling mountains of anxiety lined with forests of pages inked blue,

Aware that we can never be too comfortable because someone's waiting their turn to displace you.

 

So we're found

always making a start, and never finishing,

because when it comes to

the mines of thought, ideas, insights, perception,

there isn't really a finish line. 

Will we find that which will make us belong?

Will we become mere nuggets in a larger dialogue?

Or will we creates the DNA that will become

the thing to engage with, talk about?

Will someone take us home,

Making us a part of their daily joys,

their occasional cries? 

Will someone make us the reason for their comfort? 

Will someone embrace us as the spring

which creates the summer of their laughs?

Well... we'll keep trying... we migrants...

the brands and I...

to create with our shadows even in the dark.

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