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Voicing Silence 7

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Brief Spell Of Spring 2

 Continued from here

The phone never rang unless it was to announce someone's death. Its loud piercing shriek broke through the thick afternoon listlessness. Vatsala raised herself from the chair resting both her hands on the handle, her knees protesting under the strain. She must remember to call Dr. Rajaram for a check-up – perhaps tomorrow, if she can remember it. Now, who could be calling them at this godforsaken hour? She mentally lined up all the possible relatives who could have died and creased her forehead in preparation for the impending bad news. “Hello?”, she said tentatively. Answering the phone always reminded her of opening a handwritten letter – the envelope held such promise. “Hello?”, she repeated, her eagerness mounting.
“Vatsala akka, is that you?”
“Yes, it's me. And you are...”
“Akka, naan thaan. Srividya. Lalli oda thangai. Saroja oda ponnu...America-lendhu phone pannaren.”
“Yaaru? Srividya-va? How are you? I am fine, I am fine, thank you”, blurted Vatsala all in one go.
“I am fine too, Akka. How are you?”
“I am fine, I am fine, nee sollu...”
The conversation stalled briefly now that the pleasantries had been exhausted a little too quickly.
“I'm fine, Akka. Hope Raji Akka is keeping well...I'm actually calling you about a little favour. My son Aditya is coming to India for a research project and I wanted to know if he can stay in your house for a little while...it's only till he finds a more permanent accommodation.”

Vatsala took a second to update her mental images. She still thought of Srividya as the stick thin 10 year old who was too meek to speak up and always hid behind her elder sister. She could never recall a single distinguishing thing the girl had done or said in the decade or so the sisters had come to learn Bharathanatyam from them. And now, she was talking from America and she had a son who was old enough to do some kind of a research and all this was moving too quickly for Vatsala to keep pace. She heard herself saying yes, yes, a few times and then making a note of the date that Aditya (or was it Abhishek? All these names sounded the same to her. 'That boy' was how she would refer to him from now onwards) would arrive.

Just as she hung up the phone, she heard Raji call out from her room. Raji would be full of questions. Who was calling and what they had wanted. Vatsala decided that she would be careful in revealing the details from the conversation. She would only tell her that an old student of theirs had called from America. But Vatsala wasn't sure what to say if Raji were to ask what the call was about. She would think of something on the spot. Or perhaps it was just easier telling her the whole story. But then, there's no saying how Raji would react. She was fully capable of asking Vatsala to call Srividya in America and retreat the offer. She would have to play this one carefully, Vatsala decided making her way to the kitchen.

“Who was on the phone?”, repeated Raji. A slight edginess had crept into her voice. These days she was quick to anger and often accused Vatsala of keeping secrets from her. Lately, Vatsala had noticed Raji mumbling to herself and once, Raji had become so agitated in the middle of the night, she had started banging on the front door because she had thought that Vatsala had locked her up and gone away.

“You remember Srividya?”, began Vatsala handing her older sister a tumbler of coffee. There's nothing a spot of afternoon coffee would not smoothen, she knew.

(to be continued)

please note: thanks for your patience with this story. I will be more regular with the installments.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Tasteless Promotions - A Contest

Recently, I came across a promotion by an Indian radio station. They were giving away pepper sprays for free in the wake of Delhi gang-rape incident and subsequent gang-rape of a journalist in Mumbai. The pepper sprays had been very catchily rebranded Mirchi Spray. The radio station is called Mirchi, pepper is Mirchi and therefore - Mirchi spray!

Women across the country were shocked by what had happened, turning hysterical and were keen to protect themselves from potential assaults. And who comes to their aid? Mirchi Spray! A woman's friend and ever-reliable in a world full of callous, brutal rapists. Mirchi spray - always at hand to protect the most vulnerable. What perfect brand synergy! Mirchi would be seen as caring, empowering and this was an ideal opportunity to promote its values.

It was as if the gods of marketing had themselves designed these gang-rapes so brands such as Radio Mirchi could piggy back on it to add more sheen to their halo. As if they hadn't been exploited enough, the women now provided the raw material for Mirchi's salvation.

In the spirit of 'Let No Tragedy Go Unexploited', I am running a contest. Here's one I thought of earlier. Imagine Nike promoting its shoes using Syrian refugees.

 Can you think of other, more tasteless brand promotions? The Holocaust? The Rwandan genocide? What about the thousands of dowry deaths that regularly get reported in our Indian newspapers but rarely grab the attention of Indian advertisers? Perhaps there's a gold mine of opportunity waiting to be tapped into.

Please get working, the more crass and exploitative, the better. Send your entries to ammania@gmail.com marking 'Ugly Brands' in your subject line. Alternatively, if you have a blog, post it there and leave a link on the comment section. You have till the end of September to send in your entries - I'm sure there will be whole lot more devastation by then for you to take advantage of. All entries will be published here and the best one will get a wholly inappropriate prize.

 Here's to more tacky brand promotions!

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Brief Spell Of Spring

It would have to be கத்திரிக்காய் again, sighed Vatsala. The புடலங்காய் and the பாவக்காய் were in season and would have made an excellent curry for their lunch that afternoon. But no, Rajeshwari had ruled thaத புடலங்காய் caused her to suffer from wind and பாவக்காய் was just not bitter enough these days. So it would have to be கத்திரிக்காய் yet again. There was no point suggesting anything to her. Once Raji had made up her mind, that was it. She would not be budged. And that's how it has always been between them.

Rajeshwari would decide which channel played on tv, what colour the living room wall should be painted (copper sulphate blue) and how much to pay for the கத்திரிக்காய் that they were going to eat later that morning. The sisters had been coming to the vegetable market every day for the last 50 years but Raji would never tire of talking the price down by another 50 paisa. 

இருக்கட்டுமே, pleaded Vatsala feebly, it is only small amount. How much profit do you think she is going to make from selling a few old கத்திரிக்காய்s to us?

நீ சும்மா இரு, said her older sister with the same decisive sterness with which she had been conducting their patchwork family. You have no idea about money matters, let me decide how much these old கத்திரிக்காய்s are worth.

Vatsala watched as Raji counted out the coins, letting them drop into the shrivelled hands of the vegetable vendor. Vatsala noticed that the hands remained outstretched long after Raji had stopped dropping the coins and had zipped up her purse. She let her older sister walk ahead and remained near the stall which was piled high with the season's best vegetables. 

“I'm just picking up some கறிவேப்பிலை you carry on.”, Vatsala called out to her sister who was already crossing the street to get back home. She then carefully untied the little knot in her pudavai thalappu that held a some coins and a few well-creased currency notes. From this pitiful treasure chest, she pulled out a small stack of coins and eased them into the vendor's hands and quickened her strides to catch up with her sister. Raji would already be wondering what was taking her so long.

(to be continued)