June 26, 2001

so, you want to be a copywriter huh?

it was early january, 1996. i had quit impulse advertising, the place i hated so much.

…i was given ‘special treatment’ there just because i was my father’s daughter, and my father was one of their ‘top clients’ and ‘friend’. it was the worst period of my life, and the toughest lesson i learnt.

i have never been the kind to fight back or argue about what is fair or unfair, and when i walked into my boss’s cabin to give in my resignation letter that day, i smiled as i left. and silently vowed to make my career, without any “kind uncle’s” help. although, with no background or advertising course to back me, i had no idea how i was going to do it.

i was still keen to get into advertising, i always wanted to be part of the ad world. so i applied to a company called strings advertising. two exceptionally long days later, i was called for an interview. the office was at dadar.

for someone who was never allowed to go (alone) beyond 12 kms of her comfortable house, it really was a big journey. the destination was unforgettable. old, spooky, dingy lanes with dim zero-watt bulbs lighting some of the houses (even at 3:00 in the afternoon), threatening piles of garbage and plastic covers flying about, pungent odours strangling my throat…all that apart from my nervousness about the interview i was going to face.

faraway i could hear a few kids playing cricket on one of the streets, the sound of their cries seemed to come from all around and when i looked above at one of the buildings, i saw an old woman scrutinising my entire being. was it with relief to see a human soul finally, or was it out of fear… i dont know, but i smiled at her. after a rather obvious mini-dilemma she seemed to face, she smiled back reluctantly. but as my gaze shifted back to the road, i felt a shiver go down my spine.

i was standing in a lane which was home to prostitutes, delinquents and small time bhais. i felt as if all their eyes were on me, and i still had a few lanes to cross before i reached the strings office!

or so i thought. just a five-minute-walk later, i located the building i had to enter. the feeling that someone was watching me hadnt left me yet; i pretended to be brave…looking around for a phone booth or shop to confirm i was in the right place. there was nothing, except three young boys who stared right through me as though i had no clothes on, and who seemed to have realised that i wasnt really brave. i turned around and entered the first building (or rather, chawl) i could see, and rushed up the wooden creaky stairs.

amid the thump-thump-thump of my feet on the stairs and the clackety-clack of the typewriters in the little offices on every floor that i crossed, i caught glimpses of the gaudily-dressed women standing at their doors, either combing their hair or picking lice off their friend’s, some chewing and spitting paan, smoking cheap beedi, or simply screaming their lungs away at someone inside the four walls of their house…they all seemed so resigned to their fate, i was more pained than afraid anymore.

finally a little black slate said “STRINGS ADVERTISING –> THIS WAY” and i entered, thinking…how in the world did they manage to splash a half-page ad in the mid-day??

the director (i forget now his designation) introduced himself to me as krishna mukhopadhyay, and began the interview:

KM: was it difficult finding this place
me: er…no, not really
i wasnt lying. but he dint ask me what i went through before locating the place
KM: so tell me radhika, how long have you been in this field?
me: six months.
KM: so why did you get into advertising? and why did you quit impulse?
i knew that was coming, and told him the truth, as always…
KM: hmmm, and you said you’ve been assistant to the copywriter there?
me: yes (drawing out some of the photocopies i had with me)
KM: you said you also handled two accounts…
me: yes, but that’s not what i want to do…
KM: hmmm, so you want to be a copywriter huh?

i’ll never forget the tone of that last question. i hated the way he prefixed his questions with so…. looking back, i feel it was only fair on his part not to hire a rebel who seemed less experienced and more bitter about her previous ‘job’. was it my fault? i was really very willing to learn, but i had to start somewhere right?

he said he’d call me later that week, but i knew deep inside he wouldn’t. at that time, i needed that job desperately…not for the money, but to prove to myself that i was not a failure. a little hurt (though i put on a brave face) about the interview, and afraid to walk back through the now-really-dark lanes to go home, i left, pushing it deep inside my memory, never to think of it again.

till today.

they say what goes round, comes round…full circle. perhaps i did make it, at least half-way. today i was reminded of that promise i’d made to myself.

just look at the synchronicity…on a tuesday when no one was likely to find me at my thane home, i received a phone call from a person i just *had* to complete the circle with. i was home because i was unwell, watching a re-run of f.r.i.e.n.d.s and switching between commercials when the phone rang…

me: hello?
caller: am i talking to ms radhika nair?
me: yes…
caller: hi, you might not remember me, but i’d interviewed you a few years back. are you working somewhere now?
me: yes (puzzled), i’m with zdnet india.
caller: isn’t that part of the jasubhai group, chip?
me: yes, you’re right. only, chip is digit now.
caller: so…aren’t you in the advertising field anymore?
me: er…your voice is familiar but i’m sorry i don’t recognise you. who’s this?
caller: this is krishna mukhopadhyay from strings advertising. i was just going through some of the old resumes and i thought i’d check on you again…
would you like to work for us as a copywriter?

could this really be happening?? i was instantly reminded of that nasty tone that refused me a job few years ago, the horrible journey to his office that disturbed my sleep for many more nights to come…i know and believe that everything happens for the best, but i can also never forget that it was the people at impulse and strings who tarnished my opinion about advertising agencies, and compelled me to look at another option, journalism. i guess i was grateful about the latter part though…

caller (KM): well?
me: no mr mukhopadhyay, i changed my line.
KM: no? you wanted so much to be a copywriter! ok, so tell me, what have you been doing all these years?
me: I’m into journalism now. i started as a trainee with the express group, then with chip, i was in bangalore for a while and now i’m with zdnetindia. i’m the copy editor here.
KM: hmmm, that’s good, that’s some experience you’ve got…
me: yes i have.

(it was my turn now, and i simply couldnt resist…)
so mr mukhopadhyay, you tell me, havent managed to find a copywriter yet huh?

ps: i did get my complete 15-seconds-of-advertising-experience though, with umesh chavan, our visualiser at chip 🙂

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