“When I was a junior copy writer in Lintas, I lived in mortal fear that you were going to sack me.”
My jaw dropped even as I turned to look at Aggie. Eyes agape, I said, “What? You have to be kidding. The thought never even crossed my mind. Not once.”
The above conversation took place on a long drive from Madurai to the Sterling resort in Kodaikanal. I had accompanied Aggie and his account executive from Taproot to familiarize the agency with the operations of Sterling Holidays.
I had met Aggie after a gap of over 20 years, when Sterling chose to retain Taproot as its advertising agency. Aggie had come a long way from a junior copy writer. He was ruling the roost amongst India’s creative talent echelon. I, on the other hand, had long moved away from the advertising industry to become that dreaded creature….a ‘client.’
We had met a couple of times prior to that trip to Kodaikanal. But it was on that long drive that we really had a chance to catch up and close the gap created by all those intervening years.
Aggie’s confession startled me. Why did he think I didn’t think well of him? To the point of fearing that I would ask him to leave?
A flood of memories rose to the surface.
A young Aggie swallowed up by the shadows thrown by K. S. Chakravarthy (Chax) and K. V. Sridhar (Pops). I liked him well enough but those days I saw him as being under the wings of Chax and Pops.
My first direct encounter with Aggie was on the Baygon Spray account. Aggie had come up with this real fun jingle for the brand. I remember recording the Hindi version with Baba Sehgal and the Tamil one with Shankar Mahadevan.
The client was highly pleased with the jingle and the television commercial. There was much excitement and plans were laid to unveil the brand plans at a sales conference in Kathmandu.
I wasn’t aware of the fact then. Aggie told me only recently that he had been diagnosed with jaundice just before we were scheduled to fly to Kathmandu. He kept his condition hidden from all of us. Why? Well, it was because Aggie had never flown before. There was no way, just no way, he was going to let a jaundiced liver come in the way of his first flight.
You will ask, what’s the big deal? But it was. Flying was a big deal those days. It was a realm belonging to only the privileged. Tell someone you were taking a flight and your status automatically went up several notches on the status ladder. I, for one, am therefore not surprised at all that a jaundiced Aggie boarded that flight to Kathmandu.
The Baygon Spray sales conference holds other memories of Aggie.
We had carried this absolutely gigantic boxing glove with us. Aggie had this idea of a massive glove punching through the screen at the end of the audio-visual. It was supposed to be symbolic of the power of Baygon Spray…to kill cockroaches and other competitive pests in the market.
The gigantic glove of some 15 feet had been stored in the luggage hold of the Indian Airlines’ aircraft. When we landed in Kathmandu, the baggage handlers carelessly threw the glove down on the tarmac. Aggie and I were aghast when we went to pick it up. The boxing glove looked like it had been bathed in oil and grease.
I can’t but help smile as I remember how Aggie and I spent that whole night in the Oberoi Soaltee conference hall. Armed with soap suds and brushes, provided by the hotel staff, we worked diligently at cleaning that boxing glove. We didn’t succeed in restoring the prop to its pristine stage but did manage to make it presentable enough for the conference the next day.
Our Kathmandu adventure didn’t end there. The launch was a huge hit and we were flushed with its success. But life had other plans in store for us. As we were preparing to fly back to Mumbai (then Bombay), we heard that riots had broken out in the city. The Baygon conference I am reminiscing about here was in January 1993. What does that tell you? Yes, I am referring to the 1993 Bombay riots.
I recently wrote about the scenes that greeted us when our flight landed in Bombay. You can read all about it in The steep price Mumbai paid in 1993. The colleague mentioned in the post was Aggie. As I recall, my mother dropped him off at Andheri station after he insisted he could make his way home from there.
Those then are my sharpest memories of Aggie. We worked in the same unit, Lintas Bombay III, for several years. But by and large, our interactions were limited to a couple of campaigns here and there. As I said earlier, Aggie those years was mostly an appendage to Chax and Pops.
But wait, I have one other precious, really precious, memory of Aggie.
It happened like this. In 1994, Lintas considered splitting the Bombay III unit into two. The idea was to have Bombay III A & B, one headed by me and the other by someone else. Now, the good guys n gals in Bombay III were having a real blast working together. Correction, they were as much playing together as working together. So, they were not about to agree to being split up. The ensuing uproar had the Director overseeing the unit calling for a vote. A first for Lintas!
The vote was unanimous, leaving the agency with no choice but to abandon its plans. Bombay III would be intact, headed by me. I was sitting in my cabin, pleased as punch with the result, when Aggie walked in.
Here’s what he told me. “You do realise that we weren’t really voting for you but against the alternative?”
That one incident earned Aggie a place in my envisaged Near-Death experience. You can read all about that in Trying out a Near-Death experience starring your professional life!
The flood of memories, exhausting itself, ebbed to a standstill.
I looked at Aggie and said, “I always thought you were very talented. What on earth made you think that I was about to sack you?”
He replied, “Lata, you have to remember what Lintas was like. I was a boy from a humble background with little clue about coping with such a high pressured, sophisticated world.”
I nodded my head. I could relate. The Lintas culture was like that in those days, perhaps even now. It somehow managed to convey that it had high expectations from its people, demanding adherence to work, style and behavioural standards.
But still. Thinking he would be asked to go?
I looked at Aggie. He had come a long way from that scared-in-his-head, young boy.
Thoughtful, I gazed out at the beauty of the Kodaikanal hills.
Was it so surprising that Aggie had become such a success?
Not if you looked at the raw talent he always displayed on his sleeve, rolling out a dozen ideas off the top of his head.
Not if you considered his determination to overcome the odds. Come on, flying to Kathmandu in a jaundiced state? Not to mention, overcoming his fear enough to voice his ideas and thoughts?
Add to that, his always being game to roll up his sleeves, even if it was to clean a dirty, greased boxing glove.
Finally, the cherry on the pudding that is Aggie.
I have always believed that many a talent has been killed by the possessor’s ego.
Well, from what I saw, Aggie had his ego firmly under control. Read Trying out a Near-Death experience starring your professional life to find out what Aggie did at the Sterling resort in Kodaikanal.
Featured Cover Image – courtesy Agnello Dias