Thursday, May 29, 2008

Media Analysis

Many months ago, I designed a poster inviting volunteers for our inter-law school sports fest, Invicta. It featured a parody of the Lord Kitchener recruitment poster (The SportsCom WANTS YOU), and a few lines of copy, most of which escapes my memory at the moment.

Aneek had complimented me on the artwork and the concept of the poster (yes, we’re jobless enough to subject Sports Committee posters to media analysis). But he expressed reservations about one sentence, which ran thus: While you’re standing here reading this notice, people are running around looking for sponsors, booking fields, and doing all kinds of cool stuff.

“It’s a golden rule that an advertisement should not take a jibe at the product it is trying to sell,” I remember Aneek telling me.

I agree with his principle as a general rule, but I still think that if the target audience is sufficiently mature, an ad can work quite well, even though it pokes gentle fun at the product it is trying to sell. Heck, it might even work better than an ad which eulogises a product in clich├ęd ways.

An ad I saw the other day reminded me of Aneek’s advice. McDonald’s has introduced wi-fi at some of its outlets. The advertisement for the facility features two people typing on laptops. Speech blurbs contain the text of their IM conversation:
John: Hey!!
Mira: ssup??
John: nm. n u??
Mira: :) nm
My first impression on reading this was that McDonald’s copywriters must have about as much imagination as a doorstop. Far be it for me to suggest that my own GTalk transcripts run on Aristotelian lines, but surely John and Mira had more to say to each other?

But halfway through my glass of Iced Tea, another thought struck me. Was the ad, in defiance of Aneek’s golden rule, consciously parodying the pointlessness and vacuity of modern-day modes of conversation? I’ll probably never know.

In other news, Abdul Karim Telgi has vehemently criticised Mudrank, the movie based on his stamp paper scam. In particular, he has criticised the item number by Rakhi Sawant. “The item number in the film is so obscene that I had to close my eyes,” says the politician.

Here is a man who has defrauded the exchequer of thousands of crores of rupees, and his sensibilities are shocked by a flash of midriff and bare thighs. Indiyaah!

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Little Morning Music

One morning about two weeks ago, I woke to the sound of someone whistling Spring from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The first thing that struck me was how wonderfully melodious the whistling was. The second thing that struck me was the incongruity of whistling Spring when it was thirty-three degrees in the shade. The third thing that struck me (for by then I had left my bed and stepped out into the corridor where the whistling was coming from) was a question: How in the world had a sweeper picked up a tune from a western classical concerto?

I’ve heard him on several mornings since then. He empties waste-bins and dabs at spots on the floor, while the music ripples and trills and arpeggioes with the wild, free grace of birdsong. Almost always, he whistles popular Bollywood tunes. The Spring Concerto appears to be the only classical piece in his repertoire. But there still remained the puzzling question of where he had picked it up.

Like Father Brown in The Point of a Pin, I solved this problem in my sleep. I was lying in bed vaguely wondering if it was time to get up yet, when through my layers of drowsiness, I heard that tune from the Spring Concerto floating in, not from the corridor, but through the window. And it was an electronic monophony, a pale shadow of the vivaciously whistled melody I’d become accustomed to hearing.

I rushed to the window. A car which stays parked below our hostel was reversing, and this was its warning music. The sweeper was not, after all, a closet connoisseur of Western classical.

“High” culture permeates our world in the strangest of ways.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How We Are All Losing It

Lahiri, like Dill, is a fellow whose head teems with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies. On the way to office last week, we saw a taxi – a Fiat Uno, unlike the Fiat Premier Padminis which overrun Bombay roads. On the back screen of the car was a sticker saying “Same Fare Taxi”. It was meant to assure the world that nobody would have to shell out extra fare for the privilege of travelling in a more advanced make of car. This much was obvious to all of us, but not to Lahiri. “Maybe it means that the taxi will charge the same fare, regardless of your destination,” Lahiri suggested. The next few minutes were spent in an interesting and pointless discussion on the possible ramifications and commercial viability of such a scheme. I think nine continuous weeks of law firm work are taking their toll: we are all starting to lose it.

If further proof is required, witness the slogan Mrunmayee and I came up with at lunchtime the other day: “Either you’re with us, (slight pause, sheepish look) or you’re not with us.” We both laughed our silly heads off, and repeated it to everyone in sight, but no one else found it funny. In fact, even I don’t find it that funny now. Oh dear.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Beautiful People

On Wednesday, Justine Henin, aged only 25 and ranked number one in the world, announced her retirement from competitive tennis at a press conference in her native Belgium. Her decision came as a shock to the tennis world, and left me wondering why it is that the sportspersons I love most have to leave the stage in such heartbreaking ways. This post is a tribute to my three favourite sportspersons.

Henin, at her best, would play her tennis in a different world from that of her opponents – a world without sweat or haste, where all is elegance and grace. Old-school tennis fans who swear by Borg and Chris Evert are often heard to lament the passing of the ‘golden age’ of tennis. Carbon-fibre rackets and advanced training techniques, we are told, have robbed the game of much of its beauty. Sometimes, you see a slugfest of a tennis match, and you feel inclined to believe them. And then, you watch Justine, and you know that all is well with tennis.

Jonty Rhodes, unlike my other two favourite sportspersons, has never been regarded as one of the real greats of his game. He did not amass centuries with the bat, or demolish batting orders with the ball. But often in a match, he would take a catch, stop a boundary or effect a run-out in such a manner that, in my eyes, all else that can be done on a cricket field would pale in comparison.

For me, Rhodes flying through the air to take a catch at backward point has always been one of the greatest sights in the world of sport. With an eleven-year-old’s enthusiasm, I strove to emulate him in gully cricket. As a surface, asphalt is much more unforgiving than grass, but with every bruised elbow and every torn trouser knee, I imagined that I was somehow closer to my idol.

In the 2003 World Cup against Kenya, Maurice Odumbe hit the ball in the air toward Rhodes. Rhodes dropped the catch and in the process broke his hand. The injury effectively ruled him out of the rest of the tournament. Rhodes never played for South Africa again. The greatest fielder in the world had left the game on a dropped catch.

Jonty Rhodes took 139 catches in Tests and ODIs combined. Many of them were outrageous, unforgettable. But the Rhodes legacy is at the same time simpler and much greater than anything that mere statistics can convey. Jonty Rhodes, quite simply, made fielding cool.

Zinedine Zidane is the third great artist to whom this post pays humble tribute. Simon Barnes described his style most appositely: “Always severe and serious, but with that strange sense of detachment. It was as if he were well aware of the absurdity of football and, for that matter, of life. All the same, he could still see no point in giving these absurdities anything less than his best.”

Zidane was the closest thing to a complete footballer that I have seen. He left us many great memories to savour. He orchestrated beautiful moves, and his double drag-back had the dreamy beauty of ballet. Against Brazil in the 2006 World Cup semi-final, he stamped his class on the game in a manner I have never seen before or since from any footballer at any level. In the final, he chipped Buffon from the penalty spot, and I remember gasping and whooping at the audacity of the man.

Considering all that, it is tragic that he will, above all, be remembered for a head butt. Zidane’s career as a player ended on a red card, when it could so easily have ended with the greatest prize of all. They did not even let him attend the awards ceremony.

Henin’s farewell left me sad and surprised, Jonty’s made me miserable for days, but Zidane’s brought tears to my eyes. L’Equipe asked: “It was your last image as a soccer player. What do we tell our children and all those for whom you were a living example?”

Tell them, I say, that Zidane made mistakes. But tell them also that he played the game with such grace that it took your breath away. Tell them that Zidane was human. The children will understand.

I will always remember Zidane for all the good things: his wonderfully Gallic sense of style, that volley in Glasgow, those headers in Madrid, as well as the modesty and humility that he brought to the game. Because Zidane was a hero to me, and a hero deserves no less.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Cafeteria Ketchup Conspiracy

The movie Kate and Leopold introduced me to this delightful little rhyme:
You shake and shake the ketchup bottle;
None will come, and then a lot’ll.
Such a thing is impossible at the cafeteria of the Law Firm. Every time, and I mean every single time you want ketchup, the bottle is almost, but never entirely, empty. You upend it and wait patiently as the last dregs of ketchup wend their weary way down. You shake, slap and curse the bottle. If you are patient and vigorous enough, you are eventually rewarded with a blob of bottom-dwelling ketchup, in consistency not unlike alluvium.

How can the bottle have the exact same amount of ketchup every time we visit the cafeteria? I have given much thought to the question, and there seems to be only one solution. The stingy rascals who run the pantry wish to prevent people from overusing ketchup. To ensure this, they have, at all times, two bottles of ketchup: one full and one empty. Before mealtimes, they pour a minute amount from the full bottle into the empty one, and set the latter on the table. The other bottle is returned to a secret place, whose location is known only to the evil Pantry Master.

I admit that it takes a devious mind to uncover such a conspiracy, but to dream it up calls for a mind which is positively diabolical. Anyhow, the Cafeteria Ketchup Conspiracy has been uncovered and laid bare. You read it here first.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Miracles

At the law firm where I’m interning, one of the computers in the upstairs library has a Perpetual Calendar. If you enter a date from any year, it’ll give you the day of the month. Some members of the library staff are fascinated by the program, and yesterday, one of them wanted to show it off to me. I for my part wanted to explain to him the elegant mathematical principles on which it works, but I caught myself just in time.

I refrained because I remembered an incident from my school days. A friend of mine was complaining that her birthday never fell on a Sunday. I told her that this was impossible, but she persisted with her claim, so I tried to prove to her that God or the Gregorian Calendar were not biased against her.

The proposition which I was trying to prove follows directly from elementary principles of modular arithmetic. The proof should be evident to any reader with a basic background in number theory.

But within three minutes of launching into my explanation, I could tell that I had lost her interest. In fact, she was giving me that disconcerting “What a freak you are” look that I sometimes get from people. An exercise book that I was using at the time had a sort of perpetual calendar, so I picked it up and tried to use it as a teaching aid. It was then that she commented that I was spoiling the magic of the perpetual calendar by explaining its working.

Yesterday’s incident made me think about her comment, and I am convinced now that she was wrong. A perpetual calendar is wonderful, but more wonderful still are the principles of modular arithmetic on which it is based. And most wonderful of all is the undying curiosity of the human mind that drives us to take apart cars, radios and atoms to find out what just what it is that makes them tick. As Brutha said about finding an aquifer in the desert, “just because you can explain it doesn't mean it’s not still a miracle.”

Thursday, May 1, 2008

One Month Down the Line

Today, The World According to Sroyon turns one month old.

April 1 is a strange day on which to be born. April 1 marks the commencement of the fiscal year. More pertinently, April 1 is All Fools’ Day: a day for frivolity and horseplay. April 1 is also a day whose history is riddled with mistakes. In 1873, the RMS Atlantic strayed 20 kilometres off course, ran onto rocks, and sank off the coast of Nova Scotia, killing 562 people. In 1944, US bombers strayed from German airspace into neutral Switzerland, and mistakenly bombed the sleepy town of Schaffhausen. This is a most disturbing trend. I will refrain from drawing inferences.

Nine posts in a month is not bad. There appears also to be a pleasant randomness in subject matter – among other things, I have written about beggars, free dinners, angler fish, shade cards and buses. What is more, there is actually a small group of people who claim to read the blog. Out of the goodness of their heart, some even go to the extent of leaving comments, and when this happens, I startle my co-interns with my ecstatic shouts when I check my mail in the morning and see the notifications (O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! He chortled in his joy.) My co-interns are all non-bloggers, and do not Understand.

I too was once counted among their ranks, but as of today, I have been a blogger for one whole month. And I still can’t think of neat conclusions.