Monday, July 27, 2020

Neelkant ka Safar_Bengaluru Review_June 2020 publication

Neelkant ka Safar


Swyam Prakash

Translated from Original Hindi by Barnali Saha


Neelkant had been travelling.

Since he considered himself to be one of the masses, he travelled in third class; and because it was third class, it was the last compartment in the last coach of the train. It seemed that the rest of the train either consisted of first class coaches, or sleeper coaches, or reserved coaches, or something else. This compartment too had been attached to the rear of the general third class coach either out of mercy or for formality’s sake. In general circumstances, when a train halts at a station then the first classes fall somewhere in the middle of the platform, such that tea, water, paan-cigarettes, fruits, general queries, station-master all are easily available to the people travelling in the front coaches. The general third classes are often far away from the station premises halting in some jungle or somewhere. From there the people wrecked by thirst run carrying their pots and glasses in the direction of the butter-hut, which is most often dried-up, empty, or closed. As a result, people swarm like bees at a hive at the nearing tap or faucet. Only a few could quench their thirst and another few could fill their containers; and subsequently, the whistle is blown causing people to hurry back to the tail of the train. It all seemed as predefined and as easy as ‘sherbet’ and people rarely thought about it; and even if they thought about it, they considered it a part of the traveler’s journey.

Neelkant was travelling in that compartment.

The compartment was very crowded. People jostled like sheep and goats. Some people might consider this as proper and appropriate; but I am completely sure that you are not one of them, because you too might have to travel under such situations. People loaded their weight on one another. Those standing exceeded those who were seated. The upper bunks were packed with luggage and the floor filled with women. A few men found themselves squashed in both the places. The children could be found on all places. They seemed tired of the heat and asked for water. They were given water and then they urinated. The children were either crying, or sleeping or sneezing. They seemed moreover confused or agitated. Some regular numbers like one-two-three could be seen on the seats in the compartment and the following was written on one of the walls: “For thirty-five people”. Reading this one could easily guess how funny the people working for the railways were, like for example those who wrote the above, must be. Now take the crowd in the lavatory. The people travelling in the compartment, those passengers journeying in the third class, especially the children and the youngsters were weak in their general knowledge such that they haven’t been able to venture outside the field and the jungle. It was only when the poor folks entered the lavatory were they confounded with the question as to which direction to face while sitting. There weren’t any water to wash-up after using the facility. Surely some religious-minded person had stored great lumps of clay in the place of the soap and it didn’t really matter at all that there weren’t any mirror in the bathroom. There’s little use in seeing one’s face in the mirror under such circumstances, it would merely depress him. In this latrine, three gentlemen somehow balanced their bodies and managed to stand on tiptoes facing the egress. It dreaded them to think what might happen if some lady or some gentlemen travelling in the compartment suddenly needed to make an emergency visit to this horrible chamber marked as “lavatory”.

Neelkant was travelling in that compartment. He was standing, in that lavatory.

After a while he did however succeed in jostling into the compartment, but even then the stench of the lavatory still lingered in him. And even though in this struggle the feeble handle of his old attaché case was broken, and as a result of this he had to carry the case glued to his chest like a child, still he managed to enter the compartment, which was way better than the lavatory.

When Neelkant entered the compartment, he saw that it was so crowded that there weren’t sufficient space for people to even position their feet and many were hanging from here and there continually wondering when they might find an opportunity to place their feet or rest their backs comfortably like the others…and in the middle of it all, some men lay in their berths. In their comfortable positions, they occupied entire berths. This gave Neelkant the lead into the quarrel between the people who stood and those who lay that had been going on for a rather long time. Those who stood were saying, we too had paid the reservation fee. The reply was, we come from the locality where the train had been manufactured, and that locality is Bombay. The others said, you have no reservation and it didn’t matter if you came from Bombay or from London. The answer came like this: dear sir, I had to pay five rupees to the coolie for a berth. It’s a matter of the whole night and, in any case, you would alight in an hour or two so it wouldn’t bother you that much. At this the people raising the fuss felt a little dispirited, but after a while the row resumed as before.

It occurred to Neelkant that the people who lay were exceeding heartless. May be you did pay five rupees for your berth and  may be you were travelling a long way, but it didn’t mean that those people who were going a short distance were travelling for free. Did they not have even an iota of right to the berth? Even the women were standing and those shameless brutes lay supine. Was this humanity? And that …voluntary wrestler! One should see how he lay with his eyes shut, as if sleeping soundly. He probably thought that he could befool the people. And those who were raising the uproar were useless as well.  They had been raising that infernal row for hours now when they should be grabbing the arms of those who lay and make them sit up. A group of forty people stood causing the uproar while only four unashamed folks lay resting. What justice! And those who managed to find some little space to stand were so silent as if they had no sympathy for the others who stood along with them and no anger for those who lay!

Neelkant looked at his watch. The train had been running for more than half an hour now. Generally, by that time passengers having settled their differences, engage in the process of getting to know their co-passengers and conversing with them gaily. So what was the matter now? Why do people fight so much? Who, Neelkant wondered, was bound for an eternal stay in the train.

At that moment Neelkant felt that the heat was a tad too much to bear. He looked at the fans, they were working. The windows, however, were shut. He was surprised to find that he had not noticed it before now and it also astonished him that nobody had thought of opening them. A young man stood leaning against the window near him. Neelkant said to him, would you please open the window. ‘It doesn’t open,’ replied the chap displaying his thirty-two teeth. Neelkant didn’t believe him. Handing his attaché case to the chap he said— Please move; I will open it. In the hustle a child’s foot got trampled. Anyway, Neelkant applied ample force, but the window didn’t budge even an inch. Once again Neelkant applied force but with no results as before. Afterwards, he enquired and examined. Following this, he again applied his strength and after that his intelligence. Subsequently, he re-applied both brawn and brains once more; yet, despite all this, the window didn’t open. The second window wouldn’t open either. As for the third one, people didn’t let him reach for it. Around twenty people had already tried opening them with no results; all the windows were jammed. Neelkant felt frustrated. He was covered with sweat. He was piqued. A lot of people in the compartment watched him perform his feat and made a number of sarcastic comments about the windows. A father with distinctly bovine features made the following appeal: “If it doesn’t open then leave it, accept the fact.” An angry businessman said that all the scoundrels working for the railways were thieves (therefore, leave the windows alone as they would never open). A bearded man who had been sitting comfortably in an upper berth barked—Break them, I say, break them if they wouldn’t open. It meant that people gave Neelkant suggestions as per their mental abilities. Those who couldn’t offer any suggestions abused the government; while the rest, who considered all that had been unfolding a formula for time-pass, silently derived pleasure from the situation.

When Neelkant took out his handkerchief and started to dab the sweat of his body, the young man to whom he had handed his attaché case hurriedly said—Sir, please manage your attaché case. It seemed that you would snarl and shout at somebody. Now, take your attaché without another word.

Ultimately, whose fault was it, Neelkant wondered. When a train could only accommodate as many people then why distribute more tickets than what the train could hold. If there were more passengers then why nor run more trains? People had been hanging from here and there, they had no place to even put their luggage, people had been standing all along, they had been shoving themselves inside the lavatory…and despite all this it was said that the railways had been running at a loss! Why? Who was the guilty party? Was the booking clerk responsible for this, the one who issued extra tickets? Or was it the mechanic who didn’t check the doors and windows before the train left for its destination? Or was it the gentlemen who had given the coolies fivers in exchange for whole berths which they now seized control of? Or was it the rich for whom five-six coaches are generally inserted in the middle of the train?

He started wondering and then he was baffled. Even though he never reached any conclusion, he did not spare his thoughts. He was perplexed. He didn’t know why he had been thinking in that line when all he read were ‘Dharamyug,’ ‘The Illustrated Weekly and the like. Those people wanted Neelkant to think about pollution, the comparative inequality in the opinion of the people, the sexual liberalism in Sweden and the freedom of the press in the United States of America. They wanted him to think if Sashtriji’s death was natural or whether he was murdered…but all Neelkant now thought of was who was responsible for his predicament? Awesome!! Anyway, Sethji, you needn’t worry because Neelkant would be thinking in that line until he got a place to sit or possibly until the journey ended. He would forget everything on alighting from the train and then again he would think whatever the seths wanted him to think. But say if some problem came up on some later instance—and it would certainly come up—and he started thinking who was culpable then what...?

Neelkant was thirsty. The next station was still far away. A woman opposite him poured water out of a jug and handed it to her child. Neelkant wanted to have a gulp but the woman, the jug and the glass were all very dirty. Neelkant thought about hygiene and remained parched. Subsequently, he got his handkerchief out and wiped his neck. He looked up at the fans, they were working all right but it seemed that they were exhaust fans, the kind which instead of circulating air, drew out air. He looked here and there to see if there was any place to rest; unfortunately, there weren’t any. Dejected, he started thinking about the windows.

Neelkant wished to go back into that lavatory once again, since in any case he had been standing at both places. At least there was fresh air in the lavatory. There were undoubtedly the foul smell, the excrement on the floor, and more than that the sense of his being in the lavatory—and quite a few other problems of the like, but were there any less trouble here?  Was this place any more convenient? There was nothing except for the dignity that one was in the compartment and not inside the latrine; therefore, why not return to the latrine?

Return, however, was impossible. There were a lot of things both inside and outside which obstructed movement. Finding no other option, he started to reflect on the future. He contemplated the future of a person stuck inside the lavatory. Anybody could be thrown out of that place at any time. And what about here? Here there was at least the possibility of a few people finding seats to rest when the train would stop at a station and some of the passengers would alight.  In the hope of that beautiful prospect when he would be seating in the same level like the others—why not bear some of the troubles inflicting suffering on him at present?

 If the shutters could be opened the body would have felt a bit cooled at least; also a few people could have rested on them as well. Those damn windows, it would do well to try and open the damned things rather than thinking about them. If only there were some tools or some instruments at hand…

Now Neelkant started to wonder which tool would fulfill the purpose of opening the windows. And before it, he thought if there were any method by which the gentlemen who lay supine could be compelled to get up and be seated? The one way which suggested itself was that they could have a fight, and in that he knew most of the people would take his side. And the second way was that when the next station arrived, they could call the guard to deal with those great men…and just as this thought crossed his mind, the train stopped.

Neelkant thought that the guard should now be summoned, but would he be available? And even if he were available, would he agree to come up? And if he were to come, would he be able to make the men get up? What if he were now drinking tea with some member travelling in first class? And what if he didn’t clearly deny the proposition and did actually decide to come; and just as he were coming, the train started to move? And what if Neelkant were left behind in the platform? And the first question was that who to hand the attaché case to before he went anywhere? It didn’t have a lock. It scarcely contained anything that could be of any use to somebody, but even so. And what about that young man? Although he too might get a seat when the people who had been lying got up, still would he listen if Neelkant asked him now to save his place and take care of his attaché while he went and fetched the guard. The question did not arise. And there was just another thing: was there any surety that despite all the trouble Neelkant might take, he would actually get a place to sit?

As Neelkant stood deliberating silently, the train blew its whistle. It lugged and moved forward. And just as it did so, around eight to ten shabby and blackened laborers calling out to one another started climbing aboard the train. At first, one of them climbed up…and he grabbed hold of another mate and made him come aboard, and afterwards he helped the third to climb up—and this way all of them managed to board the train. After the men, two daring women climbed up as well, and following them, the last man in the queue hauled his pickaxe, his spade and his pan into the compartment and subsequently himself dived inside.

In the newly formulated crowd, the young men and babus who had been standing in the passageway found themselves badly shoved inside the compartment, just like garbage. The mutual act of shoving one another was felt by people even at the end of the line, and a resultant chaos ensued inside the compartment. The lightning like negro-smile that appeared in the middle of the colored faces of the laborers weren’t affected in any way by all this. They talked loudly among themselves in their colloquial tongue and continued celebrating the communal joy of successfully climbing on board the train. Their clothes were blackened with coal dust and were thickly laden with dirt and sweat. People who preferred whiteness tried their best to avoid any contact with them. One gentleman— who was unfortunately caught up amidst them—applied his handkerchief over his nose. Had he been able then he would have covered his eyes, ears, head and his whole body with his handkerchief. Still, how would that have helped? The laborers would have stayed in that same place; they wouldn’t have vanished, but of course the sahib would have passed away in suffocation.

And then what happened was that slowly by bending his body and making his way amid the crowd, the gentleman went past Neelkant and managed to reach almost the middle of the compartment, that is, he left Neelkant behind him. He was neither fighting nor talking, and he didnt seem perplexed or lost. Watching him it seemed that he was beyond the crowd and their troubles and that he understood nothing whatever. May be he did up and down all the time. Then the women also arrived. They had worn over their tight bodies tight-fitting blouses and their hair braids were also tightly woven. Their almost indiscernible backs were drenched with sweat. One of the backs crossed Neelkant, almost touching him as it passed. Neelkant silently appreciated the sight of such healthy, able and beautiful backs. Their skirts were terribly heavy and their shoes were so masculine and heavy that if one of them were used to hit somebody then his face would be disfigured and covered with blood. The women laughed and seemed to be in a jovial mood, but no one could even think of teasing them. As soon as the men of the group entered, they removed the people standing against the closed windows.  Next they scrutinized the windows, examined them and tried to open them and subsequently one among them—one who had a little education, but who on the contrary looked like their helper—called out to the man standing next to the door and said something to him in their colloquial tongue. He had asked for the pickaxe, because the object then made its way through the crowd and reached him. The man positioned the top of the pickaxe at a particular corner in the lower slot of one of the windows and instructed his companion to press. The second man following the instruction applied his newly-acquired force at a particular section of the handle of the pickaxe and jerked the window open. The people seated in the upper berths watched the laborers with great curiosity as they performed their feat and were naturally surprised and happy to see that one of the windows had finally opened. Even those people who had tried but had failed in accomplishing the task and had been thinking that when educated people like themselves couldn’t open the windows, then the illiterate rustics could never successfully perform the same task were also happy. Even the people who had doubted the skillfulness of the laborers, and those who were afraid that the application of force or the use of the pickaxe might break the window they too seemed touched.  Only the people who had been lying on their berths didn’t seem happy about the opening of the window. They were anxious that they might be observed lying in their berths by people outside and all those scoundrels might easily rush into the compartment like mosquitoes.

Out of those who lay, two had been compelled by the women to bend their knees so that now the women sat comfortably in their seats drying up their sweat. They said something to them in their tongue in a rebuking tone—which they surely didn’t understand; they did, however, grasp the idea and were shrunk to think that if they didn’t move now then they might have to shift their whole persons later on. 

Gradually the rustics opened all the windows one by one and moved all the stretched out limbs and scattered shoulders; after that they sat with grandeur and began to laugh. Those who had been standing were still surprised while some among them were eager to sit next to the laborers. It seemed that the whole design of the compartment had started to change from that last station.

Upon opening the windows, the compartment was filled with light and drafts of cool air blew in from outside. One could see outside the windows lush green undulating fields, trees ,streams and hills—and scattering over them the colors of a beautiful evening.

In a few moments the people might sing some song. All unhappiness would then run far away.

Neelkant was happy, even though he was still standing. Neelkant was travelling.

Glossary of Non-English Words:

1.      Paan- Beetle leaves

2.      Dharamyug:A popular Hindi weekly published by The Times of India Group from year 1947 till 1989

3.      Sashtriji: Lal Bahadur Shastri was the second Prime Minister of the Republic of India and a leader of the Indian National Congress party

4.      Sethji: A trader, a rich person of the mercantile class.

5.      Babu: Gentleman; a form of address common in India.







Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Advertisement as Text: A Case Study

Advertisement as Text: A Case Study

Barnali Saha

Research Scholar
University School Humanities and Social Sciences
GGSIPU, New Delhi

The word ‘advertisement’, derived from the Latin word ‘advertere’ meaning ‘to turn’ the attention is a persuasive form of marketing communication with the public with the intention of promoting or selling a product or a service. Though transient in quality, advertisements wield visual, verbal and non-verbal artifacts to craft texts the traces of which are often left behind in the society long after their demise. Therefore, far from being hackneyed discourses intended to sway the general masses, advertisements involve complex encryptions that both imitate as well as construct societal realities.

Like any other form of communication, advertising too initiates with an addresser intending to convey a message via a medium—print or audio-visual—to an addressee who decodes the message and completes the process. However, unlike informal verbal communication operating on a single level, advertisements are intended for a complex range of addressees and often include a whole array of messages targeting myriad groups of audience who must strive to decode the meanings embedded in the text of the advert.

The paper is a case study of five commercials, four audio-visual and one print advertisements, all featuring the Indian social scenario to examine how advertisements include a complex range of signifiers depicting and altering the pattern of cultural praxis. It also intends to examine how advertisements use popular social codes to convey a range of meanings, how they propel and sometimes break stereotypes, how they use images and sounds and wield the tool of language to deliver their message. It will further scrutinize how cultural change is reflected in an advertisement by studying the former versions of the first four commercials chosen for the case study.

The first commercial is a promotion of the Indian brand Emami’s men’s fairness cream called Fair and Handsome. This commercial is among the early advertisements of Fair and Handsome cream launched by Emami and casts its brand ambassador, Bollywood’s leading actor, Sharukh Khan. The ad begins with a young woman remonstrating with her wannabe-fair brother for exhausting her tube of fairness cream. Subsequently, Sharukh Khan arrives at the scene and reproaches the young man for using a ladies only fairness product despite being a man. A cast of extras too carry on with the upbraiding as the protagonist tries to flee from their midst, apparently in embarrassment. The sequence set to a jingle the lyrics of which proclaim that a man may not secretly apply fairness cream meant for soft and delicate womanly skin and instead use Fair and Handsome, a product especially designed to be imbibed into skin into the “rough and tough” skin of men and produce desired fairness in only four weeks.

Fair and Handsome ad 2007
Commentary: The text of the aforementioned commercial is imbued with a thick layer of inner meanings. The subject of beauty rituals, like application of creams and ointments, is often associated with women. Fairness creams, particularly, connotes an image of a female applying the unguent for the effect of whitening her complexion and thereby becoming an object of desire in the eyes of men. The idea of men applying a female-only cream is, therefore, in the prevalent patriarchal point of view, something to be detested and the person performing this sacrilege, upbraided and embarrassed. The terms of remonstration in the speech bubble and in the jingle suggest that a man who deigns to use a fairness cream meant for women is unmanly and effeminate. Nevertheless, Mr. Khan, the manly-man, the person whose fair skin perhaps the abashed protagonist covets, comes to the rescue of the disconcerted and erring male by proposing to solve his problem— his desire to gain fair skin and his shame at using a female-only product—by offering him a cream meant solely for the “rough and tough” skin of men, a cream that he may not be ashamed of using, a cream that is “non-girly”.

The ad most importantly suggests fairness to be desirable not only among women, who need to groom themselves to obtain a husband, but among men too who could go to any extent, even condescend to apply a female-only product, to become attractive like film stars. Nevertheless, the “rough and tough” male society must never approve of a man using female products to heighten his looks. It must, therefore, find a solution by which a male can retain his essential maleness and accentuate his looks. The solution it banks upon is a cream meant for the rough skin of men, a product that combines the goodness of women fairness creams with added ingredients that would heighten its effect on male skin and bring on the desired fairness, the ultimate resolution, in a manner of four short weeks.

The paralanguage of the text is conspicuous as well. The protagonist is depicted as deliberately dark complexioned in contrast to the fashionable Bollywood actor, his embarrassment at using a female product suggest his dire situation.
The advertisement makes strong association between maleness and grooming. It suggest fairness to be the ultimate dream of a modern Indian man.

                               Fair and Handsome Ad 2013

The subsequent ad of Fair and Handsome, featured a few years later, demonstrates a distinct shift in its fairness agitprop. The ad recasts Shahrukh Khan, its brand ambassador, but instead of depicting an act of remonstration at a man using a ladies cream, the commercial features the “badshah” (emperor) of Bollywood’s journey from rags to riches with Fair and Handsome acting as his longstanding confidant in his perilous journey toward the zenith of the cinematic glitter-land. The ad begins with the star narrating his story of how he received nothing but best wishes from his predecessors, and yet, he wanted more from his life. In order to quench his insatiable thirst to succeed, to earn more respect, more fans, he relentlessly persevered and prepared himself for his daunting task of adopting acting as a career. It was Fair and Handsome that became his unswerving companion in his expedition to succeed.

Commentary: The subsequent Fair and Handsome commercial comes as a distinctly different rendition of Emami’s essential fairness agitprop of an abashed man using a female fairness product. Instances of an embarrassingly effeminate male performing a sacrilege of applying an unsuitable female product is conspicuous by its absence in the text of the second ad. Even the wish for a fair skin as the ultimate goal of a person wishing to be attractive is toned down as well. One wonders if the change in its original sexist and xenophobic vison is because of a heightened gender consciousness in Indian society or because of the flak the company received for promoting a racist culture in India. All the same, the ad does suggest fairness to be equivalent to success in featuring it as the “soulmate” (humsafar literally translated) of the emperor of Bollywood in his daunting journey from rags to riches. It was Fair and Handsome, the cream that gave something extra to the male toughened by life’s vicissitudes, which was a fit companion to the star. It is interesting to note that the cream is personified (it becomes humsafar) and equated with strength, passion of acting and kept on a similar footing with these two qualities that make-up the essential being of the czar of Bollywood. Fairness is here no longer the ultimate objective, it is success that one aspires for; nevertheless, in order to be successful one must be fair, one must have Fair and Handsome by one’s side, not as a throw-way option, but as a lifelong companion. As long as fairness is there, the actor will be the coveted star.

 Nestle Maggi Ad 2010

The second commercial is an advertisement to promote the whole wheat variety of Nestle’s already popular brand of two-minute noodles, Maggi. The ad begins with the old gentleman watching the signs of impending rainfall and craving a plate of fried delicacies. Listening to him, his wife instructs her son to ask bahu (son’s wife) to make something healthy and delicious. He, in turn asks his kids to convey the message. The elder daughter who is busy painting her nails further instructs her little brother to forward the instruction to their mother. The child is seen visiting his mother in the kitchen, his eyes glued to the portable video game he is holding, and relates the order to make something healthy, tasty and full of veggies. The woman then instantly decides to prepare Maggi Atta noodles full of health benefits and sends a bowl for the father-in-law. Every member of the family help themselves to a delicious spoonful of noodles and by the time the bowl reaches the old gentleman, he finds only a spoonful of noodles left for him.

Commentary: The text of the ad plays with the idea of a traditional happy Indian household and its ideal denizens: husband and wife, their two kids (one boy and one girl), and the husband’s older parents all living happily under one roof. It puts forward the stereotypical idea of a woman as a kitchen queen, the goddess of her household who could whip up delicious and healthy meals in a jiffy and never needs any help from her family members who are only happy to order their special gastronomical cravings and taste the delicacies. There are further suggestions of patriarchal ideology in the way the woman is positioned in the kitchen happily spending her time within the confines of her culinary space. The fact that none of the family members help the woman and while away time by playing video games, painting nails, exercising or, more exactly, partaking of activities that don’t involve real work, only furthers the patriarchal belief system the ad reflects. The happy jingle as well as the cheery faces eager to taste the noodle all try to hide the retrograde image of an Indian woman toiling in the kitchen, bearing the responsibility of her family while the people in question engage in frivolities of which she can never be a part. Maggi Atta noodles is put forward as the first choice of a responsible Indian housewife who has to take care of her family and must ensure their optimum nutritional and health needs. Therefore, Maggi, suggested as the counterpart of oily batter-fried crisps, is healthier option that everyone can enjoy.

Maggi Mother's Day 2015

Compared with its older advertisement, Maggi’s 2015 commercial is intended not just as a promotion of its brand, but as a celebration of the eternal relation between mother and daughter. The commercial is an “ode to the most beautiful relationship in the world”. The ad is fashioned as a puppet show and features a mother-daughter duo. The mother leads her daughter into a room, her hands lovingly covering her child’s eyes, a beautiful yellow dress laid on a bed, a surprise gift to her daughter as she embarks on a new journey of life. Next, we see the daughter reminiscing and reliving a series of emotionally vivacious moments of togetherness where the mother is depicted as a guardian, a caregiver and a friend. She is seen lovingly feeding her daughter a nourishing bowl of Maggi. As the daughter unpacks her belongings at her new abode, her hostel, and shares a meal of quickly-made Maggi, she remembers her mother. The concluding section shows the daughter visiting her mother, who affectionately welcomes her child and serves her a bowl of Maggi as the jingle celebrating the interminable bond plays in the background. In the epilogue, we see the refracted doppelgangers of the puppets, the beloved human mother and daughter wielding the puppet-strings behind the scene. The commercial finishes with the dedication “for the person who knows everything about you”— a mother.

Commentary: Launched in the wake of severe criticism and ban for using large quantities of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and lead, this Maggi commercial is clearly intended to enhance the image of Maggi. In its aim to ameliorate the controversy and welcome truculent buyers who were aghast by the revelation that their coveted two-minute snack was marinated with chemicals destructive to their system back, Maggi turned to the notion of motherhood.

The text of the ad, the jingle, sung by Shankar Mahadevan, the singer whose track Maa from the popular movie Tarrein Zamein Par is an unequivocal popular favorite, strive to cast  away the stigma hurled at Maggi. It is interesting to note here that Maggi before 2015 never celebrated Mother’s day with a special ad. Although the notion of motherhood is intrinsic in its previous ads and Maggi has been generally portrayed as the primary snack-time choice for mothers, here the text narrates a different story. The notion of motherhood, the idea of a mother as a primary caregiver, as the sole protagonist upon whom the child’s mental and physical growth depends is the fundamental point in this ad. The lack of any male presence furthers the notion of powerful matriarchy, not intended to equalize gender bias, but as a buoy saving Maggi when the vox populi decreed its jettison from their daily menu. The ad unmistakably displays Maggi as the traditional snack that is integral in a mother-daughter relationship. In fact, Maggi acts here as the binding force between the mother and the daughter, something equivalent to a lifelong friend, the humsafar in the Fair and Handsome ad. The use of puppets to deliver the message represents the idea of fun and fantasy; and yet, the realistic features of the puppets as well the human mother-daughter duo featured in the final part, suggest the commercial’s message to be deeply ingrained in realism despite its features of fantasy and amusement.

Ariel India 2013

The Ariel India commercial also features the theme common in several washing powder advertisements: the Midas touch of a mother’s magical hand rubbing away the stains from clothes. In fact, it is interesting to note how the image of a mother is omnipresent and omnipotent in the advertising world. The use of motherly emotion to sell a product is a commercial manipulation that seems never to misses its point. Here again, like the Maggi ad, we see a mother-daughter pair; and yet, unlike the Maggi ad, that borders on the maudlin, the message here is straightforward. A daughter playing her musical instrument is consternated to find a mud stain on her T-shirt that the mother uses Ariel to tackle successfully. The mud stain gone, the mother and the daughter is relieved and the commercial ends with the duo give each other flying kisses.

Commentary: The Ariel washing powder advert is another example of a persuasive commercial that used the image of a mother to enhance the appeal of the product. The ad suggests the washing of clothes as a mother’s primary duty. Although it doesn’t adopt the blatant expression like the famous “As good as mom’s hand wash” tagline of Surf Excel, another washing detergent, the underlying meaning of the text does represent laundry to be a woman’s department.

                                                Surf Excel Ad

It is from her mother that the girl child inherits the tricks of laundry— the use of Ariel washing powder to clean stains—and implements them when the need arrives. One may wonder how a surfactant’s potency is accentuated when used by an ideal mother— one who knows her homemaking job well. But here the Ariel ad, like several other detergent powder ads, is quiet. The ad is satisfied to present a gendered view of society, one where a woman is a mother more than anything else, where her other qualities are conspicuous by their absence, and if present, are devalued in comparison to her homemaking skills.

Ariel Share the Load Campaign 2015

Ariel, however, decided to deconstruct the dated and gendered view of a patriarchal Indian household, a stereotype in the advertising world, when it launched its share the load campaign, a drive to sensitize the Indian men to the need to partake of the chores of the house. The narrator is the father of a young woman who watches his daughter as she tackles her official work and her domestic roles singlehanded while her spouse, unperturbed, demands food, drink and asks his wife to wash his shirt. The father feels helpless for instilling the gendered roles in his daughter and takes active steps to rectify the erroneous social gesture of household chores being gender specific by deciding to share laundry duties with his wife.

Commentary: The ad comes as a powerful voice and questions the gender roles that have passed on from one generation to the next without evolving. It questions the idea of a complete woman as a multitasking role-player, a domestic goddess as well as a career women and lays bare her desperation when she has to tackle both sides of her life without help from her spouse and her family members because she was brought up in an environment which taught her it’s a man job to tackle the outside world and he must always be a disinterested spectator when it comes to housework: a stereotype deserving abrogation in our social-media centered modern world where women are no longer domestic identities. The powerful tagline hook “why is laundry only a mother’s job” is intended as an embarrassing truth that needs to be tackled.

The commercial is addressed to the newer generation of Indian men and women, and Ariel, because of its progressive outlook, comes as a product designed for the modern Indian home where men and women share an equal footing. The commercial undoubtedly enhances the product’s image, it surprises us and persuades us to take a positive action. By propagating a unique point of view, the commercial makes sure it is in the news, and by extension, this leads to the product it is promoting to become popular as well.

Video 8 Catch Subzi Masala 2015

Not all commercials, however, likes to tread the unbeaten path to seize the reader’s attention. Many, like the Catch spice ad, abides by the stereotypical norms of society to sell its product. In this ad, we see Vidya Balan, Bollywood’s leading female actor, addressing the narratee. She tells us that when food at home becomes boring then people start making excuses to avoid the gastronomic fare. We view a range of cases where the cast— a young man, an office going adult, a middle aged man returned from work—indulge in the act of making excuses to avoid tasting bland home food. The problem, nevertheless, is deftly solved by Miss Balan, who asks the narratee to use Catch spice at home to introduce flavor to her boring cooking and that way win her family back. The trick works wonders as we see the disquiet dinner-haters returning to the table and tasting the delicacies cooked with Catch spice.

Commentary: The Catch spice commercial is another example acquainting us with the idea that advertising affects the way we construct our identity. The ad plays around the stereotype that it’s the woman’s duty to cook for her family, while the family, regardless of her feelings, may denounce the dishes she cooks when her food, and she, by extension, becomes boring. The expression “boring” is significant in the ad. Narrated by the vivacious actor effortlessly managing her way in the kitchen, Vidya Balan is anything but dreary in the ad, while the other female case, the cooks, in this ad are either invisible or are lacking personality, like the woman whose middle-aged husband makes an excuses of having had dinner with an office client to avoid her home cooked meal. The woman’s unprotesting dismayed face betrays her inner sentiments, but, it’s interesting, that she doesn’t talk back and simply accepts her failure and tries to spruce up her cooking by adding Catch spice. The effect is immediate as we see her displaying herself in a more confident way dressed not in nondescript monotone but in white, resembling the white of her husband’s shirt, suggesting equal footing at home. The paralanguage in the ad also suggest its men who get to deny food they find boring and it is women who must learn the tricks of the trade from effervescent movie persona and implement them to add attraction to their selves and to their cooking. The ad plays around the idea that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and if a man finds a woman’s cooking unattractive, he, by extension, considers the woman cooking it, unequivocally dreary. And a man wants nothing to do with a dreary woman. The ad plays with the insecurities of an Indian homemaker who is often forced to feel inferior and is hardly appreciated for her hours of unpaid labor. The ad furthers this stereotype to sell its branded product. Here again, like many other commercials, we see a product solving a baffling problem: how to avoid being a boring woman? The answer is easy: use Catch spice and accentuate your cooking, and, by extension, become a confident and attractive woman.

Video 9 Catch Hing Ad 2016

The commercial of Catch Hing spice launched afresh resembles its predecessor in content. It features Vidya Balan, its brand ambassador, as the same vivacious woman who is ready to solve all cooking dilemmas an Indian woman encounters. The ad casts a group of woman all tempering the truth in a frivolous and gossipy way. Vidya Balan tells that everybody tempers truth, but real tempering is done by Catch Hing which heightens the flavor of a dish and accentuates its temperate appeal.

Commentary: The text of the commercial preserves the idea that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. It further adds, that it’s women who gossip in the most frivolous manner tempering with truth in a masterful way, adding such color to an original incident—a young woman accidentally dropping a glass of water on her mother-in-law—that it takes on a bizarre and outlandish shape. The discourse is intented to be funny and meant for an Indian woman who watches television soaps that stretch truth to an unbelievable extent. It doesn’t use any vague symbols but reaches its point straightforwardly: all women love tempering with truth, but a spice is better at tempering than most of them.

Figure 10  Print Ad Razor Slim

Commentary: The Razor Slim capsule ad is an example that shows that despite their differences both audio visual and print media commercials have equal impact. This ad targets the insecurities of an overweight individual with the carefully placed headline “The Amazing New Breakthrough in Natural Weight Loss” the narrowing of the letters suggest the loss of adipose, the inevitable result of consuming the slimming capsules. The word “New” suggest the modern roots of the product, the innovative scientific technique that went on to formulate this natural breakthrough slimming formula. And yet, the product is completely organic, being Ayurvedic in nature. The ad deftly plays with an Indian citizen’s obsession with Ayurvedic products and her general disinclination to consume Allopathy drugs given their unnatural lineage in a scientific laboratory. The ad therefore suggests a smart admixture of the old and the new: a new formula with traditional and modern characteristics acting together.  

The before and after images are cleverly placed and reminiscent of the way we read an English text from left to right. The picture of the left suggest former flatulence while the later image depicts the amazing slimming results produced after taking Razor capsules. Further, the image of a woman’s toned body, a tape measure calculating the slight number of her waistline boost the idea of positive weight loss. Finally, the words of endorsement from doctors with exceptional medical records is used to appease the buyer of the safety of the capsules as well as its inevitable effects. It suggests that the formula is clinically proven and is both safe and effective.

The case study of the series of commercials suggest that advertising is a popular form of public communication that uses various devices like stereotyping, clever use of layout, symbols, text, sound, etc., to convey its message to its target audience, and in this process of communication, it alters, constructs and deconstructs several societal realities. Advertising is thus an extremely potent form of complex communication that affects the way we build our identities, we visualize our world and become conscious of cultural environment.  

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Thoughts on Attending a Literary Symposium

Last week, I attended a conference organized by the university and partook of the intellectual pleasure involved in basking in scholarly ideas propounded by a line of talented academicians. Although several papers presented at the conference unequivocally deserved an elevated seat, there were others which were not only inferior, but also downright pitiable in their academic capability. Ambiguous, self-contradictory and lacking in intellectual depth, these papers presented at the conference failed to struck a right chord and abraded the mind generally mollified by unembellished intellectualism.

While the conference offered the way to composing a well-edited and well-documented research paper bolstered by arguments; on the other, the contrapuntal exposition of dismal writing was only too evident to ignore.  As I sit at my desk on this early spring morning of the first day of the week imbibing the cacophony of mechanized quadrupeds and millipedes, my mind wanders and settles itself on thoughts of the conference and the papers that struck me by their merits and demerits.

A talk on the importance of literature and how literature is never neutral despite an artist’s apolitical, asocial stance was an important, albeit hackneyed, premise that began the academic proceedings for me. The speaker of the early session, a noted academician, spoke at length about literature being imbricated with elements of social realism. According to him even the most esoteric tokens of a creative mind are an effort to consciously manipulate language and artistry so as to communicate a certain ideology directly or indirectly to a reader. The modernist texts, the transcripts laden with abstractions, the works of Joyce, Chomsky and Eco, all share a similar purpose: they all strive to communicate with a reader. And in this process of communication, an author’s latent ideology, her frame of mind, her intellectual propensities all evident or hidden under layers of conscious or unconscious literary mysticism find expression in the text she composes. A denizen and an integral element of her society, the society’s fictional refraction or non-fictional reflection inevitably occupies a fundamental space in the writer’s work. The scholar noted that neutrality in a creative work is unequivocally the most undesirable element, since it’s a departure from the embryonic purpose of literature: to heighten human consciousness and to sensitize it by unleashing the tidal wave of catharsis.

Another paper that touched base with one of the leading talking points in Indian English literature: the importance of incorporating the Bhasa texts in the study of Indian English was exceptionally well-presented and was intellectually invigorating. The paper incorporated the critical imperative to canonize the tokens of Indian literature into a significant and compacted category. It proposed that the nuances of Indian writing, the myriad contrapuntal tonalities of Indian English, the social scenario that daubs the writer’s psyche, the elemental influence of the spatial-temporal element in a writer’s work all need to be considered from an indigenous point of view when critiquing a work of Indian English literature. Here, the hybridized tropes of western literary criticism falls short of adequately deracinating the qualities of a literary work psychologically and socially ingrained in the ethnic soil; hence, a distinct categorization of Indian English writing is indispensable.

On the second day, I savored the flavorful mulligatawny of children’s lit, young adult literature, the absurd nous of nonsense poetry, eco-criticism, and post-colonialism, etcetera. Having surmounted the acclivity of enthrallment, aversion, torpor, insouciance and finally, illumination, I came back home my head full of ideas and my mind filled with newfound admiration for the art of literary communication. An initial discourse on the popular fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood talked about the overt sensual cues impleached within the thread work of the story. The implications of the color red, its intrinsic association with sexuality, and the primeval suggestiveness of the leitmotif of the big bad wolf in fairy tales were some of the interesting points discussed.

A critical study of the story of Snow White through the psychoanalytic lens of Carl Jung was the central thesis of an excellent paper presented by a research scholar from IIT Roorkie. The intrinsic merit of her work, coupled with her excellent presentational skills abridged time for me. I sat in awe of her subject wondering how the seemingly innocuous genre of children’s literature is thickly laden with inner meaning. Another presentation by a graduate student from Viswa Bharati, the intellectual ryokan of the East of India, was illuminating as well. Her work featuring popular fairy tales in Bangla talked about gender, readership, the idea of male impotence as a recurrent theme in several of the stories and the motif of the “antur ghar” (in-home labor room) as a gendered space that held in abeyance the laws of patriarchy governing a feudalistic Bengali household were interesting points of conversation.

The intellectual bouillabaisse was further flavored by a talk on Thoreou’s Walden, a favorite text I often go back to when the need to connect with the inner self suggests itself. The Transcendentalist’s deliberations on solitude, thrift, the honing of the skill of self-sufficiency, the need to conserve nature were all part of the paper. Though mediocre in content and lacking in originality, the speaker’s attempt to play a beautiful video of Nature speaking to her children smoothed the irregularities of her presentation for me. Here, I couldn’t help but wonder why nurturing is still regarded in popular culture as the domain of the materfamilias. Although it’s time we deconstruct the trite impression of the nurturing mother and consider her as a human being imbued with several other characteristics apart from her tendency to nurture, we must agree that attempts by Feminist scholars alone cannot invoke a tectonic shift in the outlook of the all and sundry. Change is never a linear process.

Having convinced myself as to the overall intellectual impact of the papers presented at the conference, I found myself wholly unprepared for the consternation I was destined to receive in the guise of a paper that dealt with the Harry Potter series and the Twilight saga. Full to the brim with enthusiasm as to the intellectual treat I thought I was to receive, I found myself shell-shocked when the self-contradictory arguments of the research scholar hounded me like time’s running chariot. An uncompromising aficionado of Rowling’s Harry Potter series, a self-confessed magic loving muggle, I have spent many a happy hour gloating in Rowling’s world of fantasy, conjuring charms, wondering what my Patronus would look like. The glamour of the presentation topic weighed heavily on me as I listened to the content proposed by the scholar. Arrhythmia set in with unusual severity the more I sat and listened to the presentation. The scholar made it a point to malign my favorite series by blatantly declaring that many adults in her country (she came from a neighboring nation) look down upon the Harry Potter series. She further defaced it by saying that it is read specifically by teenagers and young adults since it lacks any link with reality. Here, I wonder, if it isn’t an erroneous gesture to cast aspersions at fantasy literature because of its apparent disconnection with reality. Can we be so audacious as to disdain such mighty tokens of literary merits like the Narnia series, the Discworld saga, the Alice Stories, Harry Potter and many more as artless works of fiction unfit to occupy the bookshelves of our kakotopia? Aren’t they the measures to provide respite from the pains hurled by political bludgers (READ: Sedition, dissent, nationalism-anti-nationalism debate: I hate you all) in our dystopic reality? I think they are. Also, I believe, any student of literature who adopts the monotheistic attitude of accepting a book by its face value without interrogating its intrinsic assets and disadvantages, once who could easily relegate a text based on its genre is a simpleton clearly unfit to study and appreciate the depth that humanities offers. I never got a chance to question the presenter as to why, being an agnostic, she chose to work on popular tales of fantasy. Can you really progress with your research work if you are convinced by your topic’s latent solemnity?  A line of vociferous arguments disarmed our young scholar and she found herself utterly baffled when confronting the questions of several teachers and students. I did not add to her woe.

A subsequent presentation on the nonsense literature composed by Sukumar Ray began with a list of interesting arguments. The author of the paper, in spite of his serious lack of presentation skills and a paper that traversed a belabored path, pointed out with great incisiveness how Sukumar Ray’s poetic renderings were in reality acerbic criticisms directed at the imperial masters and their loyal servants, the Bengali Bharolok, indigenous gentlemanly characters imperial in spirit. The author’s critical investigation of several of Ray’s poems was insightful in rekindling a renewed respect for an author every Bengali girl indisputably adores.

The fascinating final note of the day was provided by the presentation on the orientalist cartoons published in the Punch magazine. The penultimate paper, the award winning submission of the year, was an excellent intellectual document that studied a series of cartoons featuring in the Punch magazine and pointed how they propelled the imperialist cause, propagated the orientalist myth of a regressive and uncivilized orient that needs the masterful occidental potentate to survive, thrive and lead attain the basics of a civilized life.

The proceedings of the day concluded with a lecture on the postcolonial novels pf our day, their nuances and their unique creative focus. The academician presenting the paper talked about the postcolonial tomes as conscious raising artistic attempts focusing on the composite postcolonial environment for its creative prompts and often deconstructing the orientalist myths propagated by the imperial gaze during the protracted period of colonial incubation.

As I came home that day with mind filled with thoughts and ideas, I couldn’t but congratulate myself for being a perennial scholar of the humanities and for having the leisure and the opportunity to allow myself to marinate in the intellectual juice of academia and imbibing some its creative and critical insights in the process.