November 7, 2016

What I did not learn at Loyola

Desmond Macedo

Secularism. I didn’t know what that was. Never heard it in school, no teacher mentioned it, and, I’m sure, no other student heard it either. And only years after I passed out did I realise, for instance, there was a Parsi in school. While I was there, nobody in the school thought it important to tell me.

I knew that boys came from Kirkee and NCL and Deccan and Aundh. If they belonged to Sikkim or the 24 Parghanas or Nanded or Jullundhar, I did not know. May be the teachers knew, but they didn’t think it important to tell us. It was never so important to discuss each one's different state and hometown.

No one told me not to speak Hindi in the school premises. Likewise, no other student was ever told not to speak in his mother tongue. I mention this because I hear of English-medium schools today that insist their students speak only in English while in school.

And I read about top bracket institutions in India where caste is present. Loyola never taught me this subject.  But if I remember well, there was one category of student who found favour with everyone in school – the boy who took studies as well as sports seriously. And when the swimming pool came up, all of us joined Fr Schoch in a swim, almost every evening.

Oddly, I don’t remember being taught to compete in the classroom. But on the playground, everyone was encouraged to participate, compete, and win, in that order. In the class, I was encouraged to simply improve on my own performance. Later, I saw the significance. Competition in class breeds one-upmanship, whereas, on the playground, it encouraged boys to take part. Not all boys could run long-distance races - 800/1500 meters - but every boy who took part in one had to complete the race, first and foremost.

If there were different social classes, I was never taught about them. But I do remember that boys were discouraged from coming to school in cars. Some parents in those days encouraged their sons to cycle to school, although they could use the school bus. Looking back, it seems the parents in those days also lived by principles similar to the school.

And to me the idea of tolerance is flawed. You tolerate when you recognise a difference. In Loyola, there was no difference, so there was no need to learn about tolerance. Simple.

Even today, I meet classmates and schoolmates and it matters little to each how the other has grown in his profession. But if you can still kick the football like you used to in school, or you are still energetic, then, according to them, you have lived well.

On one occasion, I recall a teacher suggesting we go see the movie Easy Rider. None of us did, but I did see it years later and wondered, ‘So back then no teacher thought it important to teach us any kind of censorship on sex, drugs and rock n roll.’

Now, it seems, what I did not learn at Loyola has been my finest education.

And I am sure, this been your experience, too.

Post Script: In conversation with Rajiv Joshi, he told me of a case in school - one student used to come to school on bicycle, while his tiffin came in a Merc. He played by the rule.

Note: I wrote this piece a couple of years ago. A few changes to reflect events around us, otherwise the same. That picture above of the school is from the 60s. Loyola, Pune. Here is a more recent one:

November 6, 2016

So Far, the Best Encouragement for My Business

Desmond Macedo

People ask me why I don’t have a brand name for my cottons, coming from an advertising background and all that.

 We did try out Taz & Fombie with several customers. They loved it. But a brand name would take time and money and we had neither. So I thought, use the names Sharon & Desmond Macedo, since many customers know Sharon damn well, and many online folk know me. ‘I don’t say “well” but they know me,’ as I told Fritz Gonsalves, a copywriter himself. ‘And if we’re going to ask people to transfer money into our bank account before we send them the items, it’s going to be hard, so better they know us at least.’ Fritz agreed.

‘Next, I’m suggesting Cotton Furnishings & Accessories since there are hundreds of people in Pune who already know us by that category. They’re likely to spread word online. They did, offline. We started with disbelief. People thought the stuff was too good to be true and walked away. For two years they walked away.

‘So you’re going to make a category a brand, are you?’ Fritz was hiding his impatience, but after some moments he said, ‘May not be such a bad idea to stay close to the category if you can’t afford to build a brand.’

I continued: ‘But I also need Sharon & Desmond Macedo in the name.’ I had laughed at clients when I was a Copywriter. Now Fritz was laughing at me. When you can’t bring time and money to the discussions, you can’t think like agency folk. That’s when Fritz said softly, ‘I see the point,’ but he, like the copywriter, added, ‘It is a mouthful.’

Then I don’t know how it happened, but both of us said, nearly together, ‘Mouthful is in our mouths, not the customers’ mouths.’

 ‘After their initial acquaintance with your products, customers will carry an image of your business name/logo in their minds, and when they see it again, they will exclaim, “Ahh, there it is,” without reading it. How many words and ampersands there are in your name do not matter much when people carry an “image” of it. This is similar to spellings. People see the first and last letters of a word and figure out the word – look at “acaintinance” and you know it is acquaintance. And since it’s an image they carry, try changing the font, they’ll notice it. Colour? Worse. But if you add or subtract a word, they may not bother, because the image in their mind need not be altered much.’

‘I do not know whether I make sense or not,’ I said, switching to slow, authoritative diction, ‘but I am not working for an hierarchy any more. I am the hierarchy.’

‘Good,’ said Fritz. ‘At least you sound like Walter White: I am the one who knocks.'

Gosh, we laughed.

October 13, 2016

When English borrowed from rock and roll.

Desmond Macedo

In conversation with a friend some years ago, I said, ‘Bob Dylan’s name frequently comes up for nomination for the Nobel Prize for Literature, but the Swedish folk have always turned it down because, according to them, lyrics of rock and roll music do not constitute literature.’

His eyes squinted, and his face wrinkled. It was the facial equivalent of ‘Rubbish.’

Then he said, ‘I can think of quite a few lines from rock and roll that have become so well known, they have entered popular, everyday usage. English has borrowed from rock and roll.’

And he began with Dylan’s ‘The answer is blowing in the wind,’ followed by:

Another brick in the wall
With a little help from my friends
The sound of silence
Give peace a chance
Itsy bitsy teeny weeny
Bridge over troubled water
Never on a Sunday
The best things in life are free
Money can’t buy me love
There’s no business like show business
I’ll do my crying in the rain
A whiter shade of pale
The long and winding road
I’ve become comfortably numb

‘People quote lines from great songs just as they quote lines or verses from great writers,’ he said.

'What about those beautiful words that came from a nagging woman?' he continued, trying to explain:

Words are flowing out like
Endless rain into a paper cup
They slither while they pass
They slip away across the universe

‘You know what?’ he turned to me after a while, now a little annoyed, ‘There are passages from rock music that will remain longer than the tune that helps people remember them:

And then one day you find
Ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run
You missed the starting gun

Then you run and you run
To catch up with the sun
But it’s sinking, racing around
To come up behind you again

He paused after those lyrics, and then said, ‘Tune has a way, you know, of bringing back lost words.’

‘Meaning, tune is a mnemonic for lyrics?’

‘Yes. When you forget the words of a song, you hum the tune, or play the tune on your guitar or whatever instrument you play and the words come back.’


‘But some lyrics will outlive the tune that people remember them with.’

I was quiet.

We said bye that day, and when we met some days later at his place, he had just settled on his music stool with music sheets propped up in front of him on a metal stand, and had begun playing his guitar, and singing:

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone, and some remain

With his fingers still pressed on chord E, he said, ‘These lines always turn me wonky.’  He looked down at the fret board, and, as if to say, ‘Never mind,’ thus ending the conversation of yesterday, continued with the song, his fingers now on A.

Time moved on. Bob Dylan won the Pulitzer Prize. Years moved on. The New York Times began to say Dylan is a literary giant.

And now I find it hard to listen to that Beatles' song my friend once sang, sitting on his music stool. This verse is particularly bad. It makes me feel wonky:

All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I loved them all

‘Some lyrics outlive the tune that people remember them with.’

Post Script: Bob Dylan just won the Nobel Prize for Literature. And I had made notes for this story long ago.

September 8, 2016


Uddalak Gupta

I have a friend, who is a mathematician. We were at high school together. We were scrawny boys, painfully shedding the skin of adolescence with some help from rock music, dubious books and the occasional clandestine reefer at a park near school - the usual stuff.

We circled habitually in a group of four or five, bound by the sine curve of changing fortunes at a Jesuit school in Calcutta. We spent afternoons at our houses talking it up - man, how we talked - in our noisy little rebellions. We walked the Lake at Dhakuria, making fun of the world and our professors. We smoked cigarettes, and coughed. We wrote bad poetry. We listened to cult rock albums on wheezy tape recorders. We were free as the strays that would sometimes follow us along the banks edging the waters, wagging their tails without sophistication.

Once, we thought we'd take a swim just like that. While three of us waded into the cool, green slime till it reached up to the knees of our jeans, my friend carefully took off his clothes - all of them, till nothing clung to him. He adjusted his reedy, six-foot frame and flopped in. Some athletic rowers, swishing by in a slick Calcutta Rowing Club canoe, looked on aghast. As a seventeen-year-old, I’d thought, that was cool. It was us against the world. That evening, we won.

My friend had the academic temperament. He had inherited it without choice. His parents were professors at a science institute, and his sister was readying for a PhD. So while the rest of us sweated it out for our Twelfth Boards, alternating among anxiety, foolhardiness and resignation, he quietly trumped the exams. He went on to land a seat at the holy grail of learning for the middle-class - the IITs - without really having to try.

I stayed on at home, a day scholar at an Architecture college. He chose Math; Engineering wasn't his scene. We would meet less often, when he'd come home for his semester breaks or the Puja vacations. He brought with him the smells and sights and sounds of a world I didn't know - a more grown-up affair, out of the bounds of our shared experiences. It was harder-edged, randomly fascinating and infinitely promising.

When we were 20, one of our mates in the school gang died of cancer. We didn't know what to say. So we didn't, just dragged on ahead, shielding our confusion and cauterising the hurt. We were too young to deal with tragedy, though rock music was full of it.

In those five years, before our colleges finally got rid of us, we used to write to each other often - in blue inland letters, with casual dot pens. I’d be bursting with myself, and my sentences would flow till the first side was filled, and then the second. And then, the rear side too. Almost always, I would cram in a last flourish, aligning the text vertically along the borders, those blue borders with the gummy strips that held the promise of more that was to be said.

I inland-ed my way through 18 to 23, as I slowly came to grips with what it was like to be a man, told in cheap rectangles of blue. It was an uncertain time. It was the best of times. It was the way it was.

The world has changed, and so have we. We haven't met for 20 years or so, but I know that my friend is well. He teaches Math to graduate students who must be as out of their depths as we'd once been. Out of the blue, I still get a chance e-mail from him with a link worth investigating...some music here, a read there, a sprig of a moment well spent. I haven’t kept up quite as much, and there remains a twinge of guilt.

And so, I thought, I'd drop a line tonight, bursting with things to say. Even if I no longer have to fit in last words between the spaces that have crept in; even if it is now addressed to you, and even if, it's no more in blue.

About The Author: Uddalak Gupta likes to think he’s a rambler. Born in a small town, he grew up in Kolkata, trained as an architect but became an advertising writer. Based in a suburb of Delhi, he is currently taking a break. He hopes to write someday, and leave the big city. 

June 21, 2016

How The Internet Took The Passion Out Of Porn

Fritz Gonsalves

Let’s get straight to the point - Internet has made watching porn so boring that even hardcore fans have switched to watching Japanese prank videos on Youtube. Someone summed it right – that the thrill is gone. You see, what made watching porn so thrilling was the limited accessibility and the secrecy. This along with the content itself made porn the ultimate thing to kill time.

But everything changed with the Internet. Now you could be lying inside an ICU, wearing an oxygen mask, waiting for the flatline and still get access to good quality porn. Seriously, it has become so convenient that one can actually have a virtual quickie during the IPL commercial break, cook instant noodle and still be on time to watch the next over. The drama of watching porn has been sucked dry.

Imagine a scenario - you are eighteen or bordering nineteen-year old guy. There’s a family reunion happening at your place – uncle, aunties, toddlers, cousins, dada, dadi – the whole shabang is there. You bored out of your skull. You are tired of greeting and smiling, but have strict instructions against leaving the house. So you slouch on a couch and wonder – how to kill time? You want to listen to music – but it’s way too rude to wear the headphones. So you try texting and get bored. So what else to do? How to kill time - suddenly a wassapp message you received hours ago lights up your brain. It had a 2-minutes clip in it that might help you kill some time. So you get up, go to the balcony or a quiet corner and browse through your messages and bingo you find it. You click on the link and a Caucasian woman carrying abnormal amount of silicon on her body shows up on your screen - the clip last for two minutes; the memory at least for an hour. You enjoy your little break and join back the party all happy and cheerful. No one has a clue on what you saw or why you were smiling looking at your cell phone screen.

This my friends was an impossibility just a few decades back – specifically in the mid or late nineties when the Internet was still a lab experiment and the only reason computers existed was so that we could play Tetris. It was a slow society then - Pizza was still a decade away from being delivered in 30 minutes and the only thing that got delivered on a click was a telegram. Also everything was in short supply - honest cops, rainfall, six-pack abs and the dearest of all – good quality porn (or BP). It was near impossible to get hold of decent Porn. And even if you got one, there would be serious doubts about picture quality, sound or in some cases – all the film would have was one lip lock. That’s it. Take it and go. Still testosterone-heavy teenagers traveled long and far, bribed and begged elder cousins or feigned night-studies so that they had something nice to remember while taking a long shower.

And for this reason, watching porn was a responsible, community experience - which involved serious planning, code language, and detailed contingency plan.

This beautiful drudgery would begin with a call. It would be a close friend – someone who actually owned a Video Cassette Player and whose mom and dad were out for wedding or work. This piece of news would quickly spread to a limited group of friends. And from there on the task would be rent as many Video Cassettes as possible and reach that friend’s place in the shortest possible time. So two guys would rush to the video parlor, praying all the way that it’s not shut. Thankfully it’s not, but then in situations like this, it’s mandatory to bump into a neighborhood uncle at the video parlor. So there he would be, leisurely browsing over old Guru Dutt movies or busy ogling at Sri Devi posters. The moment you see him, you act surprised and say namaste. Then he starts enquiring about your studies, about how much marks you scored in Maths, whether your dad has come home for lunch and many more such banal questions, each one of them shamelessly eating into your precious porn watching time. You look towards the clock, swiftly turn to code language and ask the video parlor owner:

“Boss, Raju Gentleman Ban Gaya Kya?”

For the sake of Bollywood deprived, "Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman” is the name of successful Bollywood movie. But when you make a question out of it, it automatically becomes a code language for Porn movies.

Now back then video parlors only used to stock a limited number of porn videocassettes. And everyone rented a minimum of three. So when schools were closed and offices were open, it resulted in severe shortage of Porn films. Therefore depending on the availability, shopkeeper would say -

“Raju Toh Gentleman Nahi Bana. Par Raja Ki Baraat Agai Hai. Yeh bhi Acchi hai. Dey Du?”

This basically meant that the old collection is rented out so why don’t you try the new one.

“Ok Boss, Teen Dey Do”

Smilingly you would collect the cassettes and run to the friend’s house.

So finally, you have got hold of good quality, blood-pumping porn. One friend closes the curtains. Another one hooks the television to the VCR and the last one gets cold water. The mega marathon Porn watching session begins. The first cassette is pushed in the video player. Blurred lines appear on the screen, then some useless commercials and by the time title sequence appear – someone yells.

“Arey Forward Kar Yaar. Naam Dekhney Key Liye Laaya hai Kya”

Fast forward to the part where naked bodies ravage each other in cinematic glory. All the three pairs of eye are now hypnotized by the visual; blood starts gushing downwards and excitement get mixed with fear, happiness and anxiety. A two-hour long movie is finished off in less than 20 minutes. A sense of achievement prevails. But there are two more cassettes to be devoured. So the second one goes in. Again the fast-forward button is pressed and while the whole action is repeated with fresh faces and new sets of private organs – fate once again decides to play buzz kill - the doorbell rings. Everyone goes mute. The guy who hosted the porn party turns white. The slightly sly friend starts thinking of an escape route from the house (Just in case there are cops at the door. It used to happen, as it was illegal). They switch off the TV, VCR and the host friend calmly goes to check on the door. He cautiously opens the door and as expected, meets the most intruding creature God has ever created – the next-door neighbor aunty. She is a housewife and her favorite pastime is to keep a tab on who comes in and goes out. She very well knew that uncle and aunty were not at home and saw two young guys enter the house. So this was just a sly house call to tell you that she is watching; that you can’t hide those raging hormones from her. She makes the purpose of the visit obvious by enquiring about the electricity and whether the TV and VCR are working fine. The friend answers in affirmative. Then she once again gives a hard long look to everyone and leaves.

This brief interlude drastically reduces the excitement quotient. It cools off the hormones, but the third cassette is still waiting to be watched. The friend with the VCR looks at the clock. The hour needle is now entering the red zone, which basically means the next time the doorbell rings – it will be mom and dad. A logical versus instinct fight begins. Should we risk getting caught and watch the third cassette or call it a day. In the end, we are all animals – therefore animal instinct wins. The third cassette too is devoured, this time, even faster. And as the porn-watching binge comes to end, you hear the quintessential sound of a Bajaj Scooter approaching the main gate. It’s the sound that announces the arrival of parents. They enter the house and are greeted by their son and his two friends. Strangely, all of them look drained and are walking slouched  - that’s because each ond of them was hiding a hiding a video cassette in his crotch. Imagine the pain.

This piece first appeared on And is republished with permission.

May 24, 2016

Non-fiction Music

Desmond Macedo

Eric Clapton did Layla for Patti Boyd, his ex wife. The song got so famous that even the guitar on which he first played it sold for a quarter of a million pounds. Before him, George Harrison did Something for her when she was his wife. The song is high up in rock hierarchy. Patti herself became the muse for the most number of rock songs.  

Sixteen Tonnes, written in the 40's and amongst the earliest protest songs, is about the life of miners in the US, and includes lines that were in the daily mumblings of them:

You load sixteen tons and what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.

The line 'I owe my soul to the company store' also came from a miner and is a crack at the truck system and bondage of miners in those days.

Like literature, art and film, much of rock and pop music, too, has originated in real life. And with lasting effects.

Hit The Road Jack and don't you come back no more, no more
was nearly how Ray Charles' mother persuaded him to go out and do something when he was a young boy, as she struggled to keep her home together. He did just that.

Tie A Yellow Ribbon has an adorable story. A guy was in jail, doing time, and when he was nearing release, he sent his wife this note: Tie a yellow ribbon round the oak tree in front of our house, if you want me back. When I pass buy, if I see it, I'll get off the bus. Else, I'll stay on and go away. When he passed by he saw what the song says, A hundred yellow ribbons.

Curiously, a large portion of Beatles' music has come from real people, places and incidents. Those songs, too, happen to be favourites. Here are a few:

Lucy In The Sky with Diamonds
Hey Jude
A Day In The Life
Let It Be
The Ballad Of John and Yoko
Dear Prudence
You Never Give Me Your Money
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
She's Leaving Home
She's So Heavy, considered early heavy metal
And Penny Lane - the nurse in the song is believed to have been identified, some eight years ago.

Of the twelve songs on Sgt Pepper's, at least six have origins in real life. Across the Universe came from Cynthia Lennon nagging at John all day: Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup / They slither while they pass / They slip away across the universe. And Glass Onion is a Beatles' song taking a crack at Beatles' songs. Even the background score for I Am The Walrus came from the sirens of police vans passing by John's house.  

There have been many explanations for the timeless nature of Beatles' music. 'Based on a true incident' may be yet another. After all, if you look at books, art and film, those based on true incidents are enduring. 

April 30, 2016

An interview with Irfan Syed

Irfan Syed is a copywriter in Chennai. He also writes about books and films.

Here he interviews me: 'The old disdain the young, and the young disdain the old.' 

April 29, 2016

To be a great artist, you need to be a little bitter.

Priyanka Chopra, leading Indian film star crossing over from regional films to international screen, in a recent interview with TIME:

When I was young, I was 19 and doing the first movies, I remember that my dates weren’t working out. My scheduling wasn’t working for a movie with a very big actor.  And the producer said, ‘Well, she can’t work it out, it’s fine, we’ll just cast someone else. Or, you know what? I’ll launch a new girl because girls are replaceable.’ Now, 15 years later, I think that in the movies that I do, I am irreplaceable  and the boys are replaceable.’

Reminds me of what I said to myself, long ago: To be a great artist, you need to be a little bitter.

April 28, 2016

Book Review: A Guy Growing Old in a Country Growing Young

By Sheela Jaywant

Reading this book was like a breath of fresh air. No plot, no thrill, no path-breaking psychological insights into complicated characters. Yet, I enjoyed the read because on every page I read something that a) reminded me of my childhood, b) made me smile because I recognized a similar funny incident/situation in my own life and c) for those who have now crossed fifty years of age, brought home the fact that the India’s young no longer want/need you.

I believe this is a collection of thinly disguised biographical blogs of a middle-aged copywriter in an advertising agency. He’s written it under another name: Dan Mullagathanny. Same initials as the author.

The first chapter got me interested. It was about how garbage, many decades ago, was less. Because people consumed less and also because so much of it was recycled.

“Nehru, the architect of the Public Sector Undertaking in India, didn’t encourage private manufacture that would have generated more jobs, better salaries and consumption that would have produced garbage because he didn’t think private enterprise was suitable for India.

Until the ‘90s, India had beautiful environs for the oddest of reasons.”
Middle-class miserliness some might call those oddest of reasons, but plastic wasn’t a menace.

Then Gen-X took over, cable television invaded our homes, the computers changed office life, the mobile phone improved connectivity and the internet changed every single thing.As did tetrapacked juices.

Macedo tackles the problems facing a middle-aged, middle-income man in an India that’s rapidly become young-focused. It’s about writing your biography to convince young managers that your experience is good though you don’t know what ASAP might stand for.

Macedo has covered important social events that got a lot of media coverage, but made nary a dent in the lives of ordinary citizens. The chapter headings give you hints of the content: ‘Cop Slaps Girl, Girl Slaps Her Back’, ‘Youth Prefer Jargon to Language’, ‘Too Many Alternatives’, ‘Don’t Argue, Take Your Money and Run’ and ‘Bottom-up Country’.

From slackness towards grammar and language in general to matters of earning a living to minor political commentary, Macedo has light-heartedly packed in what every Indian knows but can’t express: life’s hard but fun as long as there’s a roof over your head and food on the table.

A book I would gladly gift someone a) waiting for a bus, b) travelling by train, c) wanting to spend an afternoon smiling to him/herself.

Sheela Jaywant is a Goa-based humour-columnist, fiction-writer, translator, editor-at-large.

Here is a book extract on the publisher's site.