“And you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to ascertain if someone is a drug addict or not! It’s not like how they show in the movies. I mean, you should know how you can’t trust everything they show in the movies, right? The dark circles under the eyes, the perennially lost look and the incessant scratching..”
“I haven’t really seen that many films featuring drug addicts,” interjected Mohanan.
Seeing the lost look on George’s face, he added, “But I get what you are saying about not being able to trust anything that they show in the movies. For instance, the other day, they were showing a film on TV- a Hindi film in which there was a scene in which a little girl jumps on a trampoline and goes all the way up to the roof where she gets hit by the rotating ceiling fan, as a result of which she ends up hanging from the chandelier.” Mohanan laughed before adding, “It was meant to be a comedic scene though there was nothing remotely comedic about it- I mean, how could you laugh seeing something so bad happening to a little kid? She wasn’t even as old as my little girl- who herself is just 8 years!”
Mohanan wiped the tears which the laughter brought from his eyes..
“Anyway,” he said, “You were speaking about Stanley’s drug problems. “Yes, I think what you say about it being hard to recognize a druggie is hard. I mean, I have seen Stanley almost as much as you did but I would never have imagined him to be a user of drugs!”
Mohanan has joined the ad agency just two months before George Hormis.
“How did you realize that he was a druggie, anyway!”
George Hormis was pleased that his colleague- his subordinate, in fact, had asked him the question. He was always itching to speak about the manner in which he has come to some profoundly illuminating conclusion about something or the other- in fact, he relished telling others about such things as much as a storyteller relished sharing a new creation with an audience.
However, he did wish that there was someone other than Mohanan to hear it. Almost everyone who worked at the Tamarind Dreams Advertising Solutions went out for lunch during the lunch hour. The only exception, other than George and Mohanan was the young Graohic Designer, Rajesh. But he was a moody character, who lived and breathed colours and who would have lived inside his computer if such a thing were possible. He didn’t even come out to the small room where those who brought their lunch had food. He remained in front of the computer, watching some graphic design tutorial on Youtube as he ate the chappathis that his mother has made for him.
‘Well, I guess I would tell the story to a bigger audience the next time around.’ Thinking so, George Hormis began to relate to Mohanan how he came to know that Stanley- the company’s ex-events manager was a drug addict.
“Now, you know that it was Stanley’s duty to conceptualize and pitch events to clients?” began George. “And some times it was normal for me to go along with him- after all, some clients are only placated if someone senior like a Branch Manager visited them in person. Anyway, one peculiar thing that I used to notice is that whenever a deal failed to materialize, Stanley would get very agitated, cursing under his breath and shaking his head and murmuring to himself!”
“In front of the client?!” said Mohanan, gently running a hand over his potbelly.
“No, of course, not in front of the client! But when he got back to our office, or maybe on the way back, in the car. Then, I have seen him plenty of times eating street food- mostly immediately after work, just three hours or so after he had meals- that’s classic stress eating!”
Mohanan looked unconvinced though he remained silent. Being a subordinate, he had every reason to indulge his higher-up’s ego.
“And the stress was because at that stage he was trying very hard not to use drugs!”
“Of course,” said Mohanan.
“And there was the time when his parents came to visit our office. Now, which parents do such a thing! Unless..”
He left the rest of the words to be filled by Mohanan, who duly complied, “Unless they were parents of a drug addict!”
“Exactly!” said George, beating the table top loudly. “They knew that the reason why he had to come back from Dubai was his drug problem. And they wanted to make sure that he actually did work here, and was not just spending all his time in some drug den or the other.”
“But you yourself said before that the reason he returned from Dubai was recession?,” Mohanan said cautiously.
“Yes, that’s what he told me at the time of the interview. And the innocent that I am, I believed what he said! One shouldn’t believe everything that others say!” proclaimed George in a noble tone as though he were Moses come down the Sinai with the ten rules to live by. After a rather theatrical sigh which even Rajesh-sitting in the Art Room heard, he continued, “Anyway, you do remember how he always wore full sleeved shirts, even though he was young and at least on days he didn’t have meetings he could have come in casual attires? Well, one afternoon, I was just walking by his room when I saw him raise one of his cuffs and scratch what was unmistakably a mark of an injection. A sore injection, if I may say so.
“Now, this happened not many days after he was absent from the office for about a week-claiming pneumonia. I remember it because I had to go and make an events pitch to a client in his absence. It was only as I saw him scratching his arm did things click for me- he wasn’t sick at all! The reason he was away the previous week was because he wanted to do drugs!”
Mohanan nodded, expecting George Hormis to add something more. But George kept nodding with a self-satisfied grin without uttering another word.
“So, that’s how you found him out!” said Mohanan, just to make sure.
George nodded more animatedly.
Neither George nor Mohanan knew that what Stanley told George on the day of his interview- about him having to return from the gulf because of the recession was true. He was working as an Assistant Planner at one of the biggest event management companies in Dubai. He has completed three years and two months there when one fine morning he was called up by the HR Manager and was told that he would have to be “let go” along with 20 other employees.
Once he realized that what the HR Manager was telling him was no joke, Stanley grew furious. Furious enough to throw the hot cup of coffee which the HR Manager had ordered for him(as a placating gesture) on the man’s face. But that was before he manhandled the man.
The incident left a mark on his employment records, one that prevented him from entering the middle east seeking job for three years.
That was a little detail which Stanley opted not to inform George at the interview, of course.
Stanley had a history of anger issues that stretched back to his college years. During his under-graduation, he was suspended eight times in the three years he spent at the SB College in Changanassery. And in his MBA which he did at Bangalore’s Christ College, he was suspended just once though there were two other occasions in which he got away with a “warning.” All of these suspensions and warnings were because of skirmishes that Stanley got into either in the name of politics or some girl.
Now that he was back in Kochi, his hometown he wanted to prove to his parents ) that he could excel in his career. His parents thought that he was a ‘lost case’ and was quite vocal about the fact(Stanley’s father was one of those who believed in the “Say what comes to your mind” philosophy.
His father was a businessman- he ran two electronic goods shops- one in Dubai and another in Kochi. He wanted his son to manage the one in Kochi. In fact he would have preferred him to take care of the one in Dubai so that he could be at home- he was getting old and there is no place like home. But what with the ban on Stanley to be employed anywhere in the gulf, he found it too much of a risk.
As for Stanley, he wasn’t at all interested in taking care of the shop- either in Dubai or Kochi. He wanted to do something exciting- something in the entertainment industry. He, after all was someone who loved films- so much so that he would feel something missing from his weekend if he hadn’t seen at least three movies over the two days. Never mind if the movies were trashier than an asswipe- as long as they were things that were projected on to a screen as he sat gazing in the semi-darkness of a viewing hall, he was fine.
In fact, his love for films was one of the crucial factors which endeared him to George Hormis-someone who tried to break into the movies once, spending two years of his youth in the industry.
The endearment also meant that Stanley was quite heartbroken when George told him that the company had decided to “let him go” because of “performance issues.”
“I just had to phone Philip sir about the drug issue and he asked me to fire him immediately!” George said in a triumphant tone to Mohanan. Philip sir was the CEO of Tamarind Dreams.
But George failed to tell Mohanan that Philip sir has been putting pressure on him to bring in new clients- none of the deals that he went after materialized. And George had given the impression that Stanley was one of the main reasons why the deals were slipping through their hands.
“The clients all want live events as part of the advertising package now!” he told the CEO one Friday when he came for the branch visit. “But Stanley, I believe is slipping. I don’t know the reason why. I have talked to him already. And I will talk with him again.”
When he ‘discovered’ that he was a drug addict, it became the missing ‘clue’ in the puzzle. “How could anyone with his veins pumped full of chemicals be clear in his thinking and remain professional!” was how he put it to Philip sir over the phone.
Maybe he wouldn’t have come to the conclusion had Stanley told him beforehand that when he went to the hospital due to pneumonia, the doctor ordered him a shot. Only, the young nurse who administered the injection slipped at the first attempt, finding the vein on the other hand in the successful second attempt.
The failed attempt left a mark on his hand. And sometimes it itched.
Perhaps, George Hormis still wouldn’t have believed him, taking that to be a tall tale which the druggie gave to hide the fact about his problem.
“Kerala is not as innocent as it used to be. Drugs are flowing through our streets, our schools and colleges and in our offices!” he told Mohanan.
“Really?!” Mohanan, who rarely followed the news exclaimed.
“Of course, Mohanan! You wouldn’t believe it but last week they even caught someone trying to sell hard drugs to kids at my son’s school. And my son is in KV- one of the more secure schools in that regard!” George’s pitch was higher than the flight of an eagle.
“Such degenerate times that we live in!” he added. He shook his head sadly.
The living room of George Hormis’ house in Alwaye is like the living room of almost any middle class family in Kerala. It has a TV on the wall which everyone looked at when it was on, aside from a showcase containing all the stuff which no one rarely looked at- old toys, a couple of awards that George’s son David picked at fields and sports events at school etc. It also has a sofa set and a tea poe, the mandatory flower vase with plastic flowers on it. It has a Holy Book stand with a thick book on it- in this case the Bible. Then there is the mandatory picture of god on the wall- in this case, Jesus.
The family- George, his wife Jemma, their 22 year old daughter Jezebel and the 14 year old son David sat on the floor in the center of the living room- they made space for this by pushing the tea poe a little back. They all had rosaries in hand and ] their eyes turned skywards- or rather to the picture of Jesus who himself looked skywards. It looked as though the Son of Man was saying, “Don’t look at me for answers when I myself am looking elsewhere!”
But of course, the devout family of the father, mother, son and daughter didn’t think about the Nazarene in that sense. Their belief in Him was absolute- if Jesus didn’t answer their prayers, then it was only because he didn’t wish it to happen. End of story.
After finishing a round of the rosaries, David- who had the sweetest voice in the household sang a psalm which delighted his parents whether it actually reached the ears of the One = or not.
After the evening prayers, the family grouped together in front of the television and watched a science program on the Discovery Channel. George has always tried to inculcate in his children a strong liking for science and even enlisted the help of the television for this purpose. “Man versus wild” was on.
Ezebel lazily scrolled through the various Facebook updates that her friends had made. David looked at the clock every five minutes or so. He couldn’t wait for 8:30 to come around when his favorite teen television show would start on his favourite teen channel.
George, meanwhile relished the adventures of Bear Gryll in the wild, lauding him vocally as he used a dead deer’s bladder in lieu of a water bottle.
Divin Rahul was not someone who ever thought that he would become an advertising copywriter. Not that copywriting is a profession that people grow up aspiring- like wanting to be a pilot or a cricketer. At 24 years of age, Divin already had two years of experience working as a call centre employee- a job that he actually liked, especially enjoying the head rush that the pressure of meeting targets gave him.
And in fact, he would have continued in that profession had not a girl interfered. Or rather, had not she exited.
For Divin fell in love with a girl and the girl too loved him back. Their love got so strong that they decided that they wanted to be with each other and no one else for the rest of their lives. They got engaged. But two weeks before the wedding date, Divin got a message from her saying that she was sorry, she has fallen in love with someone else and wished to marry him now.
To say that Divin was heartbroken would be like saying that the sun is a decent enough source of light. Divin felt like his entire world was being turned upside down, as though he didn’t know what was what and who to trust anymore. He felt his grip on his mind loosening, his inner-self going out of control, like the last contact with a piece of shit which you just pooped into the toilet.
Feeling restless and despairing, he quit his job at the call center.
He realized that in order to come to terms with his new state of mind, he would need to take up some creative profession. He has always been an avid rock n’ roll fan. So, thinking that he should become a bassist for a band, he took up guitar lessons- the oldest in the class, needless to say. But it didn’t take Divin long to realize that his passion for the instrument didn’t extend to the point where he would practice for hours on end every damn day so that he could play “Rock n’roll ain’t noise pollution!”
However, the upshot was that throughout the four months that he did take the lessons, never, not even once did he cut his hair- much to the chagrin of his conservative parents. Clubbed with a goatee and the black tees that he always wore, he looked like a rock star- perhaps not one signed up by a major label, but a rockstar nonetheless.
But having a vague approximation in appearance to Steven Tyler in his youth was not enough to relieve his mind of the pain that the exit of his lady love has caused.
For that, I would need a good creative occupation, he reminded himself.
Thankfully for Divin, during his younger years whenever he was not lying in his bedroom listening to the stereo at the loudest possible sound, he would be in his bedroom reading something- mostly fiction. Sometimes science. Sometimes both.
And even though once he started working, he couldn’t find time enough to read a book on most days, the passion never quite died. So he took a membership at the local library and started reading in earnest again. He read so much that his parents began to get worried about the amount of time that he sent reading books-on some days, even up to 8 hours every day.
“Maybe you should find a job. A job can get you out of this depression!” Divin’s father gently told him one day. Being a journalist his father read a lot. And for that reason, he knew that the only reason why someone would read for as many hours as his son did every day was because of depression.
Sure, what that wretched girl did to his son was bastardly. But he did think that it’s high time Divin moved on.
Taking his old man’s words to be an insinuation that his parents weren’t thrilled about the idea of feeding a full grown, able-bodied adult when he could find a job himself(which was, more or less what his father insinuated) Divin checked out the wanted ads in the newspaper.
The name ‘Tamarind Dreams’ struck him as too kitsch but he decided to apply anyway given how almost all the other jobs posted were either in BPO(which he couldn’t relate to anymore) or in the software industry(which he has always abhorred- an industry hell-bent on turning people into machines!).
But at the time of applying he didn’t know that the position was for Kochi.
“I think our copywriter must have forgotten to add that particular point in the ad. You see why we need new copywriters!” the CEO, Mr.Philip Tharakan said with a smile. The fact that the CEO himself interviewed him at the office headquarters in Vellayambalam in Trivandrum, along with the smallish size of the HQ told him that Tamarind Dreams may not have grown in the 25 years of its existence as much as the founder and CEO might have hoped it would.
It also told him that the pay may not be all that hot.
And it wasn’t. In fact, the pay package they offered was only half as good as what he used to earn at the call center- and that’s without counting the overtime.
But what the hell, it’s a writing job!, thus thinking he said yes when he got the confirmation call two days after the interview.
And the move to Kochi, he hoped, would do him good. Trivandrum was his hometown, his place of birth which he loved. But there were too many bad memories there now, memories of betrayal, like those of him and his girl going to ZamZam where they would enjoy hot shawarmas in the evenings…
Yes, Kochi would be better, he hoped.
George Hormis didn’t like the new copywriter dude, not at first.
For one thing, the guy had too much attitude-which he expressed whenever they discussed creating a new ad. Who was he to have so many opinions about making ads, when he has never worked in advertisement before? Another thing was that hair. Being a devout Catholic who went to the barber every month as regularly as he went to the church every Sunday, George was suspect of any man with long hair- it symbolized carelessness and non-conformity to societal standards which dictated that men kept their hair short while women kept theirs long and flowing.
But even from the beginning, one thing was clear to George: the young man could certainly write.
In his experience working with copywriters(and he has worked with quite a few of them), George has found that there were many who came into the ad writing business who didn’t know how to write.
“Literally, they couldn’t write!” he told Mohanan one day during lunch. “And I don’t mean they couldn’t write in a literary manner. Forget about all that- these are men and women who couldn’t construct a single sentence without making a grammatical error! Can you believe it!”
“Indeed, I can,” Mohanan said, nodding his head. He too has worked with such people- something that made him glad that he worked in the accounts department and not the creative department.
But the new guy, Divin was different. Not only could be construct sentences without making errors, he could come up with some fascinating ad ideas. And he was dexterous enough to conceive ideas for multiple media- a skill which George very much valued for it meant that Divin could do the work of at least two people(maybe three) and so the branch could cut some cost on hiring- a good news to relate to the CEO, Philip Sir.
But it wasn’t Divin’s skills of writing or conceiving ideas which eventually won George over, at least not completely. It was the fact that Divin supported George’s many ideas- almost all of which people considered as wacky.
“I have always had to face stiff opposition in implementing many of my ideas. And that’s not just in the ad business lone!”
“You mean, you have worked in other industries too?” said Divin, taking a sip of coffee.
They were at the KR Bakery in Kadavanthra. It was George’s favourite place to have tea after work.(George only ever had tea, considering coffee to be one of the devil’s drinks- the others being whiskey, brandy, rum and other alcoholic drinks, wine being an exception since Jemma made it for Christmas.)
Over the last few days, it has become usual for him and Divin to come to the bakery after work where they would talk about related things like advertisement theory and theology- it would be George who did most of the talking while Divin listened. Being a reader also made the young chap a good listener.
And he listened with quiet fascination as George gave him a quick run through of his experiences working in industries other than advertising.
“I wanted to get into the film industry!” the elderly man was saying, his eyes agleam. “Ever since a little boy, I have been fascinated with the moving pictures. My earliest memories are of my papa carrying me to the movie hall to watch a Prem Nazeer flick.”
Divin, who didn’t think of PremNazeer as a good actor, abstained from commenting.
“And so, once I completed my studies, I got into the film industry, I worked as an assistant to the cinematographer, Thara Prakash- you know Thara Prakash, right?”
Divin nodded. Thara Prakash was yet another media personality he didn’t think all that highly about. That bit of information too, he kept to himself.
“I worked as his assistant for almost two years,” said George. “It took me that long to realise that he wasn’t going to let me do anything more than buy him tea and snacks at regular intervals- even though there were designated people to do that. So, I quit.”
“But you could have assisted someone else, right? Someone better?,” Divin said hesitantly. He wasn’t at all familiar with how the movie industry worked. Maybe all assistants to the cinematographers were treated like shit. Who was he to say otherwise?
Shaking his head forlornly, George said, “ It wasn’t just the maltreatment. It was also the blatant immorality in the film industry that finally made me want to quit for good. Women are just flesh and men are just..men,” he added, unable to find a more devious word. “It was like Sodom and Gomorrah combined! And it will always be like that!”
After taking a couple of sips of tea to wet his throat that was fast becoming parched, he continued, “ One thing that I realized during my time in the film industry was the significance of moral education- something that must begin at a young age, something that religion tries to give but fails miserably. But that doesn’t mean that we should just sit back and do nothing, right? The way I saw it, any opportunity to educate anyone in anything brings with it the power to inculcate morality. You know how? Just by making people interested in learning something, you can keep them distracted from indulging in immoral activities!
“So, right after coming out of the film industry, I joined an education institute, as a manager. It was a banking coaching centre, actually. Even though I would have liked to teach myself, I didn’t have the necessary credentials. So, I started learning psychology- I even have a BSc in it. And I began giving the centre ‘s administration advices on bettering their teaching methods, based on solid psychological theories, of course.”
These advices included ‘having a outer-space like décor to the room in which the pupils are taught, so that they would feel like they are in an exclusive zone cut off from all terrestrial noise including the distracting thoughts in their mind’ and ‘having someone release a macaw or a rabbit or some vibrantly coloured bird or animal into a classroom while a lesson is in progress. The surprise element would refresh the students’ minds and make theme even more focused when the lessons resume.’ But for some reason, George didn’t specify the exact nature of these advices to Divin.
“The sad state of the entire state of Kerala comes across, my dear Divin, in the fact that those who run educational institutions lack vision. And when they lack vision, the entire fabric of society comes apart, because education is the foundation upon which everything stands!”
“So, they didn’t accept your advices?” said Divin.
“No, they were not willing to change. And what is a species, a creature, a man but a continual chain of biological and spiritual changes? No, those fools didn’t understand that!,” George said in a sad tone. “So, I quit that place and joined another educational institution. The same experience followed. And the same in the next one after that….”
By this time in the story he was saying, George was married and their first baby was on the way. Despite George’s earnest wishes and honest attempts, he failed miserably in his attempt to revolutionize the educational landscape of Kerala. Perhaps more importantly, in the process he didn’t make all that lot of money either. This was alarming as a new baby on the way meant a significant rise on the level of expenditure in the near future.
Thankfully for George, it was around this time that he got a call from an old acquaintance whom he used to know from his film days. The call was regarding a new television studio that someone was setting up. Nothing big- just a green room where they could shoot the news and a couple of other low key shows, along with the basic sound and visual editing suite. Would George be interested in coming on board to manage the whole thing?
“It wasn’t teaching,” said George, his arms spread wide in a hopeless gesture. “But it was a decent enough job and television being a very close cousin to the cinemas, I couldn’t say that I was completely disinterested.”
And the pay they offered was decent enough, with the prospect of expanding the studio as the channel grew. But George didn’t touch on this particular matter- he has already given Divin the impression that he always practiced what he termed as ‘affordable poverty.’ For some reason, he thought that mentioning that the pay was a major reason he took the position would go against that particular principle.
“I ended up working there for almost twelve years after which I joined another television studio where I worked for 8 years.”
George failed to mention that he was actually fired from the latter place at the end of the eight years- the company blaming George for it- his psychology based television programs were not the “sure-shot hits” that he promised they would be.
“As I said I spent more than two decades of my life working in television. And even though I got opportunities with other TV studios after that”(he didn’t get any offers of the sort, really) “I wasn’t in the mood to go back into that world again. I am not saying it didn’t have its high points, it did. Even though I worked in relatively small channels, or perhaps because of it, I learned a whole lot about the television business since with small outfits you have to be involved with anything and everything. So, I am grateful for that.”
And there was also the matter of the decent amount of money that he made in the meantime- money which funded building his home and a plot of land which he brought, not to mention the education of his two kids(ongoing for one of them). But that was yet another matter which George didn’t mention.
“But still,” continued George in a pained voice.
“Sir, would you like something else?” the waiter interjected. It was his way of saying that ‘You guys have been chattering over a tea and a coffee for about an hour now and either you scat or you buy something more expensive and continue your chatter!’
George was quite adept when it came to understanding such cues. So, he ordered another cup of tea for himself and after asking Divin, ordered a cup of pineapple juice for him.
“I have often noticed how you slip into a gloominess,” said George. “I am sure we all have reasons to be gloomy but we must counter it, fight it with all your might. And a freshly made pineapple juice is a great weapon in that fight, for it’s filled with anti-oxidants that would refresh your cells!”
Divin, who by now knew that George- a self proclaimed fan of the prophets in the old testament loved polemics and earnest exhortations took his endorsement of the pineapple juice in its stride.
“So, where were we, ah yes, I was talking about how I didn’t want to go back to television. Because I was feeling this vacuum in my heart, you see. Only, I didn’t know how to fill that vacuum. Or rather I knew that the only way it could be filled was by indulging in some teaching, only I wasn’t interested in joining any teaching institutions anymore- I have already seen how terrible it all was! And now that I was getting seriously old, I didn’t wish to waste any more time that way.
“So, I was in this terrible dilemma” (dilemma because he wanted to find another job and start making money again) “trying to figure out desperately what I should do. I would have loved to start some institution- at least a tutorial college for young students on my own- that way, I could implement my own ideas freely, but I just didn’t have enough money to invest.
“So I prayed to Jesus and prayed hard. And one night, the Lord himself appeared in a dream and answered my prayers- He told me that I shouldn’t look down on advertising-which was how I looked at it until that point, advertising not being on the same platform as education, if you know what I mean. But the Lord said how advertising was the education for the masses in the modern world. And how much bad advertising is being made in the world! So, if I join advertising and help create something better, it would be a cause for the better educating of the masses!
“In fact, what the Lord said was so much in tune with the current world- because just a few days before that I read in a magazine about how advertising was coming of age in the modern world, from something that companies used to advertise products to something that they use to change the world. I don’t think that it’s wise to say God and things Godly are old fashioned, not when the Lord could be so in tune with the times.”
Divin, who has turned an atheist around the time his fiancé ditched him didn’t comment. He simply nodded and took a slurp of the refreshing pineapple juice.
“And the Lord came down in a white cloud, clothed in white- and here I am, working in an advertising agency, obeying His command!” George said in his best old testament voice.
“Was Jesus white?”
“I am sorry, what did you say?” George said, blinking his eyes a couple of times.
“In your dream, was Jesus white?”
George Hormis gave the question some consideration, after which he said, “Yes, I believe so. But his face was more luminous than white, I would say,” he added.
Divin, who himself was a Hindu(non-practicing) said, “Christianity is my favorite religion. I love many things about it- especially the graveyards, the tombs and gargoyles..they are all so beautifully created..so romantic, one might say..” His voice was wistful and his eyes dreamy. “But I could never get my head around the idea of Jesus being white-when he was from the Middle East.”
Laughing merrily, George said, “This is what I like about creative people. They have the power to question things. And only if you question things would you begin to explore things, and only when you explore do you begin to feel fulfilled. But unfortunately, creativity is being killed in our modern society- by arrogance and greed and, and…”
“Avarice?” suggested Divin.
“Yes, avarice among other things,” George said, snapping his fingers. “But I think that it’s high time that someone did something about it. And even though we are all little men in this big bad world, we must do whatever is in our power- which brings us to an idea that I had the other day! It’s a book. Would you like to hear it?”
Divin, who sprang up at the mere mention of the word “book” (ever since slipping down the tunnel of depression, reading has been just about the only thing that kept him from committing suicide) said, “Of course!”
Pushing his half-finished cup of tea aside George leaned forward. “Many of the best ideas that I get, I get from observing my limbs.”
“Yes, my legs. You know how the first thing that every man does, once he reaches home after a hard day’s work is to sit down on the sofa and stretch his legs?…Well, one of the greatest inhibitors to creativity is that we don’t have any energy for creative thinking after the exhaustion of work. Which is why it would be a great idea if we could make use of our ‘tired moments’ to get inspired!” George grinned defiantly, as though he was about to deliver a sneaky punchline for a joke. “That’s where my ‘stare at the feet’ idea comes in. You see, when we stretch our limbs, we move them around in different ways- feet pointing to the left or right, twirling the feet or curling the toes and so on. And these different…figures that we make with the limbs can be inspiring.”
Divin, who hoped to write books one day was quite an imaginative young person. However, judging from the alarming depth of the space between his two eyebrows as he frowned, George surmised that he hasn’t been successful in conceiving what exactly George meant.
“I will give you an example,” George said. “Imagine that you have curled your toes. The curling motion of the toes could be akin to how you clamp your fingers on the handle of a bike. So far, so good?”
Divin nodded in the affirmative.
“Well,” continued George, “Now, imagine that while you were doing this, there was a cat that walked by- your pet cat, maybe. Immediately your brain makes the connection- you have clamped the fingers of your arms on the brakes of your bike and a cat walks by, a wild cat, meaning you are riding a bike through a jungle- on a unique adventure and you come across a tiger or a panther. This could be the opening scene for a film or a novel. So, you see, how you could get inspired?”
George ordered yet another cup of tea and another pineapple juice. Before they could finish them, he gave Divin a few more examples of how one might get inspired for a story etc. by watching the limbs move.
At the end of those examples, Divin still wasn’t convinced how feasible an idea it was. Not even when George told him the name of the psychological theory on which he had based the idea.
But when George asked him if he would be interested in writing the book- George’s writing “isn’t exactly the best in the world” he said, Divin agreed. Partly because having a book project would help him not to brood over the broken heart which still somehow managed to beat within his chest. Also because, all said and done, George was his reporting officer at work. And when your reporting officer asked a personal favour (which is how Divin saw it) you are not supposed to turn it down.
“If we get the book published, we would spilt the profits by half,” said George.
Divin nodded, draining the last of the anti-oxidants from the tall glass.
It was on a Friday night that George made the proposal about the book to Divin.
On Monday, the copywriter didn’t turn up at work. What George found curious about this was that Divin failed to inform about his leave beforehand. That was most unusual for him- he was one of the most well- organized employees in the branch.
Neither did he turn up the next day, or on the day after that. And when there was no news on him till Friday George began to get seriously worried.
He knew how much of a loner the young man was- even when the other youngsters at the office called him out for a movie, he would decline, saying he wanted to take rest at home, or making some equally lame excuse like that. And then, there were those moments when he would be sitting in his chair, looking so forlorn and lonely that it was all George could do to keep from running to him and patting on the shoulder, saying, “Whatever it is, it will pass. Believe me!”
These were classic signs of depression as any psychology textbook on the subject would tell you. And George had read many of those.
Deciding that it’s imprudent to wait any longer, he began digging into Divin’s file to unearth his personal contact details. Only, it turned out that Tamarind Dreams didn’t keep any records of the sort for any of their employees. George recalled that he himself didn’t remember filling in any form with a blank line to enter “Emergency contact number.”
When no mode of communication has been established until the subsequent Tuesday, George was on the verge of a panic attack- there were a few ads that he had to deliver to the clients and the copywriter at the Trivandrum branch wasn’t available since he had gone on a long holiday- to do Ayahusta in Gokarna, if the grapevine is to be trusted.
Divin has been remotely handling the work at Trivandrum in addition to doing the tasks that were expected of him(and more) at the Kochi branch. On all the occasions that George had tried calling him on his number, he didn’t pick the call.
And on the last couple of days, he just kept getting the same message of the phone being “out of coverage area.”
So it was that he breathed a sigh of relief when towards Tuesday evening- when he was contemplating the drastic step of writing the copy lines himself, he got a call from Divin, saying he was alright.
“I will be back at the office tomorrow. I am sorry I skipped like this. But I will explain everything tomorrow. Please don’t hate me for this!” Divin added.
“Of course not!” said George. “But I was wondering if you would be able to write some copy. We have a few pieces that needed to be shipped immediately.”
“Of course, I would work on all of them tomorrow itself!”
“That’s good. But I was thinking if maybe you could do them now itself?”
After the briefest of hesitations, Divin said, “Sure, why not. Send me the artworks over e-mail. I will send the lines to you.”
Hitting the end button on the call, George breathed a sigh of relief.
George let out another sigh- this one not of relief, the next day evening when Divin told him about the reason for his impromptu absence from the office. They were in George’s favorite bakery. As usual, he had ordered a tea and Divin a coffee.
It wasn’t that he found the fact that Divin tried to commit suicide incongruous. People-if pushed beyond a point may do that. He knew that people do it all the time- for didn’t he read in the newspapers just a couple of months ago that Kerala has a really high suicide rate- one of the highest in the country? And if he remembered correctly, it’s the middle-aged men who killed themselves the most in the state. Stands to reason, one-upmanship being the national pastime and men- supposedly the heads of the families having to strain so much in that particular race.
Divin had at least twenty years before he got there. So, hopefully, this failed suicide attempt would convince him about the value of life- at least, he now said that he was glad that the attempt fell through.
“It felt so good to be back and reading. ‘The Old man and the sea’ was the first thing I read after coming back from the dead- so to speak,” he said with a sad yet beautiful grin on his face.
He didn’t tell George that the decision to die, by slashing his wrist came to him on a Friday night after consuming a bottle of rum and two tokes of bad marijuana which he scored from a man in Palarivatton whose legitimate business was a meat shop.
“It was only because daddy’s cousin is in the police force that a criminal case wasn’t registered- did you know that attempted suicide is considered criminal? How ridiculous!” said Divin.
Nodding his head, all George said was, “Love could be a fleeting thing. But life goes on, and there would be other people for you in the future. People who would bring more
love your way!”
Divin nodded reflectively, but he said, “I was worried that you might deem my lack of professionalism as too much, not turning up at the office like that..”
George couldn’t help but smile. Divin was one of the few persons he has met who possessed a depth of intellect which was genuine. But at the same time he was also innocent to the core. The childlike innocence came out in things like what he just said.
George shook his head. “Not at all,” he said. “You are back. That’s the most important thing!” But George could still not believe that Divin attempted suicide just because some girl dumped him.
So what if they were engaged! There were a lot of other fishes in the ocean. Of course, it may not be easy enough to find someone who shared Divin’s passion for Samuel Beckett and Virginia Woolfe(the times when George saw him truly come out of his introverted shell was when he spoke about literature). But he was pretty sure that someone smart like Divin would be able to find a good girl-maybe someone who liked Stephen King and John Grisham(Grisham being George’s own favorite writer) if not the doyens of literature. After all, life is all about making studied compromises..
While these thoughts passed through George’s mind, as though understanding that his reporting officer was thinking about literature, Divin said, “I did put the days recuperating from the..the..attempt to good use. I completed the first draft of the Limbs book.”
Now it was George’s turn to look child-like. His eyes lit up as though a horde of people were celebrating Diwali in there and his lips stretched into a grin.
Divin sent the draft to George over e-mail right away.
George was so thrilled that it was all he could do not to scream at the driver to go faster in the bus ride home, so that he could reach home and start reading Divin’s draft.
The idea for the book has been in his head for a seriously long time. In fact, the first time he had the idea was many decades ago, when he was an undergraduate in college, when he was admitted in the hospital after a bike accident. Lying in the hospital bed with nothing much to do, he would stare at his legs with a meditative gaze. Indeed, he was practicing a form of Buddhist meditation- one in which you stared at a particular part of your body and thought about the destructibility of the material body. Once you got tired of one part, you moved your gaze to the next part(when it came to your face and regions surrounding it, you will probably need a mirror- only you should also be mindful that the mirror itself is part of the material world and hence destructible).
George had read about the technique a while back but never got around to actually doing it. Not until he found himself in the hospital bed with nothing better to do. And the legs looked like as good a place to start as anywhere- the well organized man that he was, George had thought that he would work his way up from the legs to the thighs to the penis to the navel and upwards. Only, he kept getting stuck at his legs- or rather the ideas that his creative brain came up with upon seeing the different movements the legs made.
Once he got out of the hospital and was up and running again, he ceased the practice, though the idea for the Limb book kept intruding his mind at the oddest moments- sometimes his wife would catch him stopping mid-movement while making love, a thoughtful look on his face, but when she asked what’s the matter, he would simply shake his head and kiss her and resume fucking.
To liberate the idea into the wider world, George tried to write the book himself. A few pages into the attempt was all it took for him to know that if he were to write a book, people would laugh at him, his good name would be spoiled- he had integrity enough to acknowledge that his writing skills were rather poor.
So it was that he has been waiting for a born writer to come across so that he could assign him the task. (In fact, he wasn’t aware that he has been waiting for such a person until he met Divin and they became good friends. After his failed attempt at writing the book, he had decided that it was not going to happen).
And now that the writer had appeared and written the book, he could hardly wait to read it.
Only, when he read it, he was disappointed.
Not that the book was badly written. On the contrary, it was one of the finest pieces of writings he has come across in recent times. As someone who liked writers like Tolstoy and C S Lewis, George knew a good piece of writing when he saw one.
And what Divin had written in the week following his attempt at meeting death was not just good, it was great. Aside from putting across George’s idea of using limbs for inspiration, he has touched upon a whole lot of things related to the limbs- from evolution of the human body to the joys of an early morning run and how kickboxing is as much an art as it’s a sport. And all these varied aspects were neatly tied to the central premise- which was to consider your legs as extraordinary on many levels, including in inspiring creative thoughts. All of this, done in the most exquisite language which never tripped over and fell on the side of rhetoric.
But all the intellectual bravado(in the truest sense of the word) was precisely what was wrong with the book, the way George saw it.
“But, if you liked the book, then why do you say that we cannot publish it!” Divin asked when George gave him his opinion.
They were taking a stroll down one of the many small but beautifully landscaped allweyways of the posh Panampilly Nagar. George had invited him out for a stroll after lunch, seeing how the day was overcast and a cool wind blowing.
“The book has to be marketable,” said George in a sage-like tone. “And the things you have written- though wonderful, no doubt wouldn’t be enjoyed by the masses, I am afraid.”
“But I thought that the book was meant for people in the creative business!” said Divin. “And aren’t creative people supposed to be a curious lot, those who would be interested in such things as discussed in the book?” Divin couldn’t help but keep the sarcastic tone out of his words.
After all, the core idea of limbs forming the basis of creative ideas itself was not something for the masses!
If George noticed the tone of sarcasm in his copywriter’s voice, he didn’t show it. Instead, he continued in his sage-like voice: “Yes, but the creative people that we aim at are not at all intellectual! They are in the creative business not because of their love for things cerebral but because they want to make money! Believe me, I have seen enough creative people in my time to know what I am saying!”
The arguments went back and forth, with Divin coming up with one thing after the other in support of getting the book published(“Never under-estimate your reader!”, “But isn’t the basic purpose of any book to entertain and engage the reader with interesting material?” “ And how long can we engage them with the idea of moving their limbs?”). George never once let go of his sage-like tone though he always came up with counter-arguments(almost as though he was up all last night preparing for the debate).
In the end, Divin gave up, recalling the words of Rumi- one of his favourite poets: “In it is what is in it”
What was in the book writing for him was the pleasure of writing itself and nothing more. Though he was now certain that George wasn’t going to push for publishing the book(“I have some contacts in the publishing industry,” he had said before) he was still thankful for the opportunity to write the book. For one thing, it was the first time that he actually wrote an entire book. For another, the book kept him from thinking what a double-failure he was- first, his girl dumped him for another man and then he wasn’t even successful in killing himself, in the days soon following the failed attempt.
On their way back to the office from their lengthy argument based on the “Book of Limbs”(working title), they each had a glass of lemonade from a local shop.
And that was that.
“Congratulations, George!” ,Philip sir, the CEO of Tamarind Dreams told George Hormis.
They were in George’s office-though the seat which he usually occupied was given over temporarily to the CEO who has come down for the special occasion.
The occasion was that George, after months of hard work(and spending good Tamarind money) has signed a new client.
“KFC may be a small NBFC, sir. You know that they have just 6 branches now. But small though they are, they are also our future. They are going to start 100 branches by the end of the next year, and by that point we would have to increase our capacity- both in terms of infrastructure and people. In other words, the Kochi branch is going to expand and we are going to do that while earning more revenue than we ever thought possible in the near-future!”
Divin, who along with his colleagues were having biryani(the company treated all employees to biryani and Coca Cola for the special occasion) couldn’t help but smile, hearing his reporting officer’s bold voice which sounded loud and clear from two doors away.
It wasn’t the first time that any of them- including Philip sir was hearing what George said about the Kallikkatu Finance Company or KFC- a Non banking finance company which was actually older than Tamarind Dreams by some 30 years but which got left behind by many newly started NBFCs. But even though oft-repeated, George’s exhortations about the company still made Divin smile- because of the absolute faith about the future that was in George’s words.
Divin considered George to be an earnest person who-with his love of theology and psychology, was also more intellectual than the average person. But the depth of his mind notwithstanding, he could be absolutely child-like in his beliefs. For instance, that thing about Jesus floating down on a white cloud, and also the absolute belief that he sometimes showed in the future- as in the case of how KFC was going to change the future of Tamarind Dreams for good.
(“I could chart out the course of the future with an almost 100% accuracy!” George told him, one of their evenings at KR Bakery. George was holding in his hand a book from the library, with the title “See the future, the scientific way: The art of forecasting” at the time.)
While whether having KFC on their client roster would make the ad agency’s future as glorious as George thought was still to be seen, Divin had a good time working on the account.
Indeed, Divin played a crucial role in bringing the client in. The creatives which the agency presented as part of their pitch-idea conceived and words written by Divin, were a significant reason why KFC’s young CEO- who himself was a fan of good films and photography, made the decision to sign up the agency.
And the agency had a good time serving the client. Until, they didn’t.
For, like a destructive lightning strike that came out of the blue, the Reserve Bank of India issued an order which limited the functions of the NBFC. The order, apparently was to bring more customers to the mainstream banking sector, many of the nationalized banks being ailing under the proliferation of non-performing assets.
“Like a destructive lightning strike that came out of the blue” was in fact the phrase which George used to describe the RBI move which put a dampener on KFC’s target of opening a hundred branches in the state by the end of the coming year.
Such a move by the RBI was hinted upon on many instances in trade and business journals, and at the time of signing on the client, Tamarind Dream’s CEO, Philip sir did allude to the possibility to George- who at the time was jubilant like a kid at a carnival, licking on his popsicle.
“We should be wary of the possible RBI move. Sure, NBFCs form a high growing industry in Kerala at the moment. But, just to be on the safer side, to balance, we should try and get a major client from a different sector- say, garments, in the near future” were the exact words that Philip sir used with George.
As for George, even though he nodded at the words, he in fact went ahead and dedicated almost his entire time, devising strategies and ideas(based on market conditions and audience psychology, of course) for KFC.
Given the changed circumstances, it didn’t take long for KFC’s young film-loving CEO to lose focus whenever he went to the movies with his wife and kids- thoughts about how to shape a future for his company distracting him from whatever was going on in the screen at the moment. Neither did it take long for him to cut off Tamarind Dreams as part of his cost-cutting measures.
“Now that our business has come down and will inevitably remain so for a while yet, we are afraid we cannot afford Tamarind Dreams anymore. Neither would we require all that much of advertising for the foreseeable future, since our product portfolio itself has been shortened. But when and if we do require a service of the kind that you provide, you can be sure that Tamarind Dreams would be the first agency that we consider.”
These words that KFC’s young CEO delivered in the conference room of their office felt colder to George that the awfully cold air that was coming out of the AC.
But the words only made him heated up, and the subsequent anger he expressed at Philip sir, when he came down for the weekly visit the next day.
“After having had so deep an association with us, he just cut us off just like that!” George said, his face a burning coal of rage. “He didn’t even had the courtesy to serve me a tea at our final meeting! Can you believe that!”
Philip sir, who sat listening to George’s impassioned speech calmly, his arms clasped in front of his pot belly, nodded. He could certainly believe that tea was not served to George at the last meeting at KFC: In his more than 30 years of experience in the ad business, he had seen a whole range of clients- from the ones who served him the choicest of wine to the ones to threw a pot of tea at his face.
It was a mistake taking on this man with very minimal experience in advertising, he thought. I shouldn’t have come under his rhetoric about the things he has learned in the decades working in the television industry, not to mention the things he learned in the course of his psychology research- which was still on-going, he says.
“I think, I now know one of the major reasons why KFC’s CEO behaved so coldly even though we have had such a deep relationship.” George was now saying.
“And what might that be?” said Philip, without much interest.
But George’s answer surprised him. Leaning forward in his chair George said in a conspiratorial voice, “It’s Divin!”
“How might that be?” said Philip, barely able to keep the surprise from his voice.
“Shall I close the door for a while, sir?” said George in a hoarse whisper. The Kochi branch was even smaller in size than the Trivandrum HQ-which itself functioned out of the second floor of a 1000 sq.ft apartment. Though the creative team occupied another room, it was still next door. He didn’t want anyone else to hear what he was about to say.
After closing the door and regaining his position on the leather seat, he continued, “Divin, as you know is one of the better copywriters. Unfortunately, he has a malady”
“Malady?” Philip’s eyebrows arched like the McDonald’s logo.
“Well, what else do you call something that destroys someone?”
“George, I implore you to keep to the point. You know very well I have to leave in not more than an hour?”
“Of course, sir. My apologies.” George even bowed his head a little, offering Philip a fine view of bald pate. “What I meant was that Divin could sometimes get away with his passion for creative pursuit, creating ideas that are way beyond the grasp of the ordinary audience- the kind of people who would buy a packet of atta based on an ad which they saw in between two scenes of some soap or the other,” he waved his hand in the air as though the audience he were talking about were flies to be swatted away.
“And that’s what he did with the works for KFC as well!” he said. “Initially, it all went smooth. But once he really got into the groove, so to speak, he began to get out of hand. I warned him that incessantly presenting such high concept artworks to the client would only undermine his belief in our creative strength. But he wouldn’t listen. As the agency’s creative director, he made his team produce such works over and over again. And every time I presented them to the client, the client was displeased!”
Leaning forward, Philip said, “But why didn’t you tell me any of this before?”
George sighed sadly, lowering his head he nodded, as though he nodded at his crotch. “I know, it was a mistake on my part. I should have told you about it!”
When he raised his face again, his eyes were red- something that surprised Philip almost as much as the fact that George failed to relate to him before about any of Divin’s shortcomings. In fact, he has always had only good things to speak about the young copywriter. Until now.
“I should have, sir,” repeated George. “But I kept hoping that he would see the light soon enough- after all, he is inexperienced in advertising. But, I now realize that such an assumption was uncalled for. For his creative stubbornness has made the CEO of KFC take the decision to cut us off like a withered limb!”
The literary touches to the little speech that George gave notwithstanding, Philip sir was least impressed. In fact, he was downright revolted.
In more than the two years for which George has been his employee, he has had multiple occasions to think that the man is unsuited for the job- first, there were all those ridiculous ideas that he pitched to the clients, like urging a snacks manufacturer to sponsor tombstones in all the major churches, the idea being whenever people came to pay homage to the dead, the living would be reminded by the company’s logo which would be inscribed in a small space on the tomb, that life is fleeting and it’s a good idea to enjoy as much time as you had on earth, by snacking well on all the days. There was also the matter of George’s own stubbornness- regarding the ‘future’ which he ‘envisions’. Even if Philip were to point out to him that things may not work out the way he intended(just as he did with KFC), he would stick adamantly to his own vision and make things worse.
But those were professional inefficiencies that could be remedied. But now, after listening to this oldish man- George was 54 years old, if Philip was not mistaken, trying to shift the blame of a client leaving on one of his subordinates, Philip realized how bad a human being George was. If there was one thing which Philip- someone who began his career as a lowly printing press operator and eventually went on to build an award winning ad agency detested, it was people who didn’t take responsibility for their own actions.
“You are fired.”
George didn’t utter a word for a while. In fact, he wasn’t even sure if the words that he heard were actually spoken by the boss or did they exist just in his imagination?- after all, the KFC situation had put him under a lot of stress.
But the stern look in Philip’s eyes remained. In fact, even with the seconds ticking by, he barely even blinked- making George think that he was caught in a timeless bubble- one from which he wished so desperately to escape.
He opened his mouth to say something but then thought better of it, then came another thought and he opened his mouth again, this time went so far as to utter the first syllable of the first word he was going to say, which came out as a strangled “ayyy” but then thought better of it again. Realizing that there was nothing else he could say to save his job, George sighed and lowered his head.
His bald pate looked extremely revolting to Philip.
Now that KFC was no more on the roster, Philip had to trim the size of his own company. Among the victims of downsizing was Divin-who was replaced with a fresher who worked for half the money they used to pay Divin.
Divin, even though a little upset wasn’t particularly sad. After all, he hasn’t really got the opportunity to work on anything of interest for a long time in Tamarind Dreams. Almost all the interesting works that he did were rejected by the clients. Only the most mundane and the boring made it out of the agency’s doors, the kind of material which almost anyone with a computer and an elementary knowledge of the English and Malayalam languages could create.
No, he wasn’t really sad for leaving such a job. But it did sadden him to learn that George sir was also let go- in fact, he was the first to be laid off related to the NBFC leaving the agency. George was a man of many ideas and as he himself has said on many occasions when they hung out at KR Bakery, he was “getting old and have a limited time to implement my ideas!” George had thought that he was going to see at least a good number of his advertising ideas getting implemented in the course of his association with Tamarind Dreams.
But that wasn’t meant to be.
The last words which George said to Divin before he left the agency for good were: “I think the Lord will show me the way to another, better agency where my ideas will be welcome! But I am sure that you will have a good future here. ”
Two days after he said that, Divin was told that he was also being let go.
Neither did Jesus show George the way to a better agency. Of course, George did approach the better agencies in Kochi- the ones that had all the biggest clients and the most fashionably dressed and gekish employees, but none of them were particularly impressed by George’s proposal of “taking your agency to the next level” by “implementing some innovative ideas that would expand your client base beyond belief!”
He kept at it for months and both his patience and his savings began to wear thin.
His patience was not helped by the fact that Ezabel- his daughter who after clearing her CA exams recently landed her first job, as a junior consultant with KPMG, was already attracting marriage proposals. He would need to make good money to meet the marriage expenses.
He would need Jesus to show the way pretty soon.
But Jesus didn’t appear to be interested in doing anything like that at the moment.
For the time being, George took on some ad hoc works from a few small tutorial houses he knew in the education industry- the works that he got from them barely helped him pay the household bills, but it was something that he hoped would help him tide over until he landed a proper job.
Divin was surprised when he got the call from George- they haven’t talked for about two months. After he was “let go” from Tamarind Dreams, Divin’s mood turned gloomy.
But this time he was in no mood to try suicide, so he travelled across South India using whatever money that he had saved from his months in Tamarnind Dreams. He was hoping that a trip that went across Puducherry, Salem, Kodaikkanal, Shimoga, Goakarna and Goa would help bring clarity to his mind as to what to do next.
The trip didn’t bring anything of the sort- he was still as confused as ever about whether he should stick with advertising or move into the journalistic profession that would help him hone in writing skills more. But all the same, the trip was a whole lot of fun.
He was back in Kochi-in the one room rented apartment where he stayed, read and drank just one day when he got the call from George. He was happy for it not least because the trip had consumed almost all his money and the work that George proposed would bring him some money- not much, but maybe enough to help him go another month without having to go to work?-Divin had the same issue of an acute aversion to work which all creative souls share.
“How are you , sir? So good to hear from you!” Divin said over the phone.
George said he was fine though he didn’t sound that way. In fact, he sounded rather tense.
Before Divin could ask if there was anything the matter though, George went straight to the matter: a brochure and website for an entrance coaching centre. “The design for both would be the same ,” George explained. “The key visual motif is a key- to indicate that the organization would help unlock the future for the students. So, we require a headline and body copy along those lines, detailing the different courses that the organization offers. The body should just be a couple of paras for the brochure. For the website, aside from the intro, we would need content for the different sections- Vision, Mission, Contact Us..the usual.”
Divin had shared many laughs with George talking about the number of times he has written the Vision and Mission statements for many small clients at Tamarind Dreams. “I can’t believe that I am such a visionary!” Divin used to joke.
This time around, there were no jokes at the proposed job. For the money that George said the job would bring Divin, the copywriter felt it a decent enough deal. A quick calculation and he figured that he wouldn’t have to spend more than three to four hours on the content for the brochure and the website- corrections included, and for that much effort he would get enough money to help him pay the month’s rent and have enough food every day of the week-maybe even a biryani or two over the weekends.
“Okay, when do you need it?”
Divin easily met the two-day deadline that George gave him. And the day after that George got back to him saying that the client was pleased with the content. There were hardly any corrections to be made. George made no mention about when the money would be transferred to Divin’s account.
A week went by without any news from George, and Divin began to feel the pressure of a need for money, mostly inside the vacuous space in his belly, but also in his head where pressure took root.
He gave George a call.
George was sitting in the verandah of his home, scanning the newspaper for prospective job openings. Though there were plenty of Thanksgivings to Jesus messages which people had posted on the Christian-run newspaper for various favors bestowed, George couldn’t find any sign of Jesus pointing to anyplace where he should go next.
“Hello, Divin!” he said in a merry voice. With George, as with many people, the tone was almost an impulse in times when finance was scarce- to mask the fact that he was under severe strain, strain being a sign of weakness.
When Divin enquired about the money for the task he performed, the merriness subsided, but only a little bit. But inside his mind, anger flared up. It was all he could do to keep the anger from showing in his voice.
After assuring Divin that he would transfer the money as soon as he got the payment from the client-“there seems to be a delay from their end,” he said- he got off the call, claiming that he was in a meeting.
“Well, you look angry on a bright Saturday morning!”
George Hormis hasn’t seen his son, David walk into the house from the bright light of day, his hair disheveled and a backpack loosely slung on his back by a single strap. The boy was back from a combine study session at a friend’s place: The 10th final exam was just a few weeks away.
“Yes, I am angry!” said George, openly showing the anger on his face.
“Who was that on the phone? One of your clients?” David has heard enough stories from his father about clients in advertising to know that they were put on earth with the sole purpose of showing ad agency employees that hell was real and not just a literary concept.
So it was that he was surprised when his father told him that he just got off the phone with Divin.
Divin was also someone whom George talked a lot about at home. But unlike about the clients (“dung-brains”, “pain-similes”) he had only good things to tell about his protégé (“great comprehensive skills!”, “highly creative!”)
Seeing the bafflement on his son’s face, George Hormis put aside the newspaper and leaning forward in his chair, said, “Sometimes, people are not what they seem to be. You may think of them as the sheep but they are actually the wolf. I am telling you this because I think 16 is a good enough age to understand such things. I think that Divin is finally waking up from his “creative hallucinations” and is realizing that money is the only thing that matters. Things like creative satisfaction and ‘simple life’ are beside the point! And now that he has realized it, he is becoming greedy! Greedy enough to call me up and badger me about money for a small project that I gave him the other week. It’s been just one week and he is already calling me, as though I would run away with his money, as if I were a stranger whom he couldn’t even trust! This after the depth of the relationship that we had- he was like a son to me, I have told you, right?” In a disgusted tone, George concluded, “There, that’s people for you!”
With a slightly lost look on his face, David nodded. “I feel hungry,” he said. “Let me go and have breakfast now. Have you had, papa?”
George Hormis nodded. He watched his son make his way into the house.
He kept his eyes at the door even after David had disappeared, even as he reached for the newspaper once again, wondering if David were perhaps lying about the combine study sessions. Maybe he didn’t go to his friend’s place as he said but somewhere else- some drug den or the beach where they might be using narcotics.
He was sure that he would find some news or the other of the growing drug menace in Kerala in the newspaper he held in his hand. Hardly a day went by without some news of the sort.
The Lord’s parable about the sheep and the wolf came into his mind once again.
‘It’s getting harder by the day to tell one from the other,’ he thought.
George Hormis spread open the news pages and began to scan them once again for prospective job openings for an experienced man like him.