Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, October 24, 2010
This is the complete version of a piece I wrote for MW's October issue.
Almost a decade ago, in a youthful display of exuberance and nauseating mushiness, I burnt a CD full of romantic songs for a girl. This was a time when CD burners weren’t ubiquitous and blue-ray discs were still stuff of science fiction. The intent was right. The songs were good. Sadly, she wasn’t impressed. Suffice to say, the CD didn’t get me very far.
Bruised ego was eventually healed. Drinks were chugged endlessly and references were made to the availability of other fish in some imaginary pond (or was it ocean?). I never burnt another music CD for a girl or created a colourful sleeve for the cover with an index (did I say nauseating, I meant insulin imbalance causing saccharine trash). But what makes this incident significant in the bigger scheme of things is something that happened a few years later.
Back to the present.
By the time you’d be reading this, gentle reader, I would have added another feather to my birthday cap and turned a year older. Birthdays always make me a little melancholic. They remind me of childhood, of years gone past and of the supposed dawning of wisdom (for someone who has guarded his ignorance with a vengeance, this can be a bit off-putting). The other reason for my sourpuss behaviour around this time has to do with legacy.
For as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with creating a worthwhile and long-lasting legacy – something that will survive me, perhaps for generations to come. Legacy can be in the form of material wealth and riches. It can be in the form of ideas. An artist’s legacy is his work; a gangster’s his street-cred and the urban legends that surround his name. As an author I hope my books are read for years to come (they better immortalise me – I’m looking at you, first draft of new novel). But my concerns here are of a very different kind – a legacy of a more personal nature.
How do people remember us when we are no longer around (we need not have departed to our heavenly abodes, but perhaps moved to a different city)? Do they miss us? Do they remember us fondly? What is it about us that they miss? In short, did we have any impact on their lives? These questions trouble me often.
As we grow old we surround ourselves with people. Some of them fall by the wayside as time goes by – either because we outgrow them or perhaps due to circumstances.
Anyone who has ever lived in a megacity knows that a social group of friends and acquaintances (however close they may be) has a limited shelf life as a collective. The constant churning and flux of the city ensures that old faces disappear and new ones keep appearing.
But there are a few who remain connected to us at a much deeper level, irrespective of the time that has passed or the distance that separates us. These friends and companions are our extended family.
All of us have a few close friends we don’t communicate with on a regular basis – no phone calls, no Twitter replies, no Facebook comments, no emails, not even a new year’s greeting card. But these people are always in our thoughts – at every heartbreak and failure, at every moment of triumph and joy – these are the people we think of. Trivialities like distance and a lack of communication don’t affect such friendships. These friendships are our legacy.
But with friends there is also a legacy of shared experiences that transcends space and time. Take, for example, the unassuming long island iced tea; so unassuming that it doesn’t even have any tea in it. The LIT, however, packs a walloping punch and in terms of its alcoholic content probably provides the best value for money in an upmarket watering hole. But for certain stellar upstanding denizens of Singapore, Bengaluru and Mumbai (friends of yours truly) an LIT would always mean an LIT at the Hard Rock Cafe in the beautiful garden city (aptly housed in what used to be the Bible Society building). Because this was the setting of an evening of raucous and unbridled revelry, a day after a dear friend got married to her sweetheart.
Mention the word LIT to this group and their eyes will glaze over and a soft smile will spread across their lips. This will then give way to an adrenaline rush that is more contagious to the people around them than a medieval bubonic plague.
Every group of friends has such stories, stories that they never get tired of reminiscing about. Stories that are recounted again and again over the years to the chagrin of their loved ones. They usually involve imbibing large amounts of alcohol or puffing on that most magical of purple dragons. Over the years they become bigger and better, taking on a life of their own. This is how legends are born, legacies created.
Now back to the significance of that CD story. A few years after that incident I had become one of the wise old men on my college campus. A fresher was being made fun of by a group of his seniors and peers for having made a birthday greeting card for a girl he fancied. The tenor of comments was mostly mocking and cruel and I could see something break inside the young (relatively speaking) man.
Past images flashed before my eyes. I came to his rescue and whisked him away on the pretext that he had to buy me a lime mint cooler (which he did very gladly and not because he was petrified of me – a senior). And then I did something strange. I told him the CD story. He listened attentively and nodded every now and then. I didn’t really know why I was telling him the story, but felt that it was somehow significant.
I bumped into him yesterday after six years. He thanked me - told me that my coming to his rescue and sharing my personal experience all those years ago meant a lot to him. It helped him keep his naiveté and innocence intact for a bit longer. I was speechless. He now creates greeting cards for a living. This perhaps is also my legacy.
I think the American journalist and critic HL Mencken had the right idea about legacy when he said, “If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl.”
Anshumani Ruddra is an author who suffers from chronic introspection
Friday, September 17, 2010
It’s been a while since a new TV commercial led to so much speculation, debate and all-round hilarity. A red-bikini-clad diva emerges from the waters, reminding a few classicists amongst us of goddess Venus rising from the sea and the rest of us up-country bumpkins of those memorable days of sun, sand and surf – Baywatch! As she romances the camera with her eyes, a voice-over monkey prattles about trust, faith and uniqueness. And then comes the clincher – it’s an ad for a cement brand.
In eight seconds of sheer brilliance the ad makers have dealt a lethal blow to all advertising purists who harp on about knowing your brand, your product, your demographic, your audience and your paradigm and its eventual shift (purists always talk about paradigms, it’s a powerful word that renders the opponent incapable of a coherent retort).
As I was standing in a large electronic goods store, staring at a vast array of mega-giant television screens which were displaying this work of genius, and chuckling at the audacity of the ad-makers, I noticed something heart-warming and endearing. A family of three – middle-aged father and mother, one gawky teenage son – were also seeing the ad.
The mother’s right hand instinctively shot out, perhaps hoping to distract her son and saving him from the oodles of ample cleavage being displayed all around him. The son didn’t look like he needed any saving. A worn-out war veteran, the expression on his face said - been there, haven’t done that, haven’t done anything really, but seen much better ... most definitely! The father on the other hand looked at the screen and then at his son and sighed deeply – a smile crossing his face. The proverbial baton had been passed. A rite of passage had just taken place. Membership had been extended to the next generation. Welcome to the club, my son.
Similar scenes take place all over the world all the time. Such is the bond of fathers and sons. A man-to-man talk about the facts of life – birds, bees, sex and the dreaded opposite sex – hardly ever take place. A subtle nod, a gentle smile, a pat on the back, sharing a cold beer on a warm afternoon, passing on the prized family barbecue recipe – these are the ways in which fathers acknowledge their sons becoming men.
Indian fathers, especially, are masters of the art of knowingly ignoring. They knew when you stole that cigarette and smoked it with your best friend behind the water tank. They knew why the video cassette of Basic Instinct was returned three days late to the rental guy. They knew when you failed to take the family car for a spin around the block and left it engaged in first gear. And they knew when you tried to sneak in your girlfriend into your bedroom. They always knew. And they always ignored. Just like their fathers, and their fathers before them.
The scene that enfolded at the electronic goods store led me to ask a few friends whether they had ever had a father-son ‘talk’ and if they regretted not having been closer to their fathers and being able to talk about anything and everything on the planet with them.
Most were rather relieved that their fathers had never sat them down and given them a lecture on love, sex aur dhoka. Others remembered advice being doled out on career, handling finances, improving ones forward defence stroke and handling pesky bosses. Many admitted to learning important life lessons by observing their fathers – how they dealt with strangers and loved ones. But almost all the cherished father-son moments were of a subtler, unobtrusive nature – intentionally losing at arm-wrestling for once, giving a driving lesson on an empty highway, overriding mom and allowing one to go on a long school trek, serving a shot of their prized scotch and not interrupting while one was busy chatting up the hottest girl in school after the annual day function.
I probed further. What kind of fathers did we want to become? Unanimous answer – cool ones. A recently married friend wants to be accessible as a father one day. Others want to be more like friends. One extreme - a friend with a four-year-old son wants to present him with an all expense paid week of debauchery and revelry in Amsterdam for his sixteenth birthday. But as years pass we all know that for better or for worse we become more and more like our fathers. Such is the cyclic nature of time.
I can imagine that smile crossing my face as I see my future teenage son gaping at the screen while the red-bikini-clad diva emerges from the waters.
Heaven forbid if he ever asks me to explain the meaning of the ad, though.