2008-12-29

A Tale of Two Friends - by Fareed Kaloo

Fareed – a dear friend of mine – posts this in his Facebook notes. I’m touched by the story and I decided to post it here, in honour of true friendship.


Today at 7:29pm

I knew as soon as I laid eyes on him that he wasn’t going to be spending the 8-count flat on his back, panting and in pain, while the school-bully hovered over him.
I've always been a supporter of the underdog. That's why I could never gamble on sport.
I guess it comes from having been an underdog for most of my life. We tend to seek each other out, finding solace in the company of those society has written off as outsiders.

There he stood, with his hand-me-down school uniform, his tattered yet polished black shoes, his oversized white shirt threadbare from years of being handwashed, and the poor mans signature haircut: A crewcut front to back like they give to prisoners.
The glint in his eye told me this boy had fire burning inside of him. A fire born of passion and determination. A fire that no mortal could douse. A fire I recognised as having been burning inside of me for more years than I cared to remember.

He'd been beaten down twice by the time I got to the school parking lot.
I had'nt intended to stop and watch, but being a hot Friday afternoon and the long trudge home looming large before me, I figured some weekend entertainment starting this soon would be a welcome change.
Kelvin always chose the parking lot as the venue for his bouts of bravado. The prettiest girls seemed to arrive and depart by car, and what better place to have his ego inflated and his showmanship displayed than the parking lot.
Nobody ever knew what criteria he used to choose his Friday victim, but there were always two certainties.
No Friday would pass without a fight.
No fight would end until Kelvin was summoned to Principal Mashers office.

Shaff was the new kid on the block. Maybe that's why he was picked out on the day.
Maybe it was that he looked hopeless and alone.
Maybe it was that Kelvin sensed an outsider.
Whatever the reason, nobody in the parking lot on that hot Friday afternoon expected Shaff to get up after hitting the tarmac for the second time.
I did.
I knew this kid had fight in him.
I knew that quitting and being beaten wasnt an option for him.
I knew that it was more than pride at stake here; he was fighting the good fight for every underdog that ever set foot in Model Primary School.
Grade 7 can be such a tough place for an unpopular kid.

Years later he would ask me what inspired me to drop my bag and help him beat the snot out of Kelvin.
My answer was a simple smile. A knowing smile. One he knew never needed words to define it.

We'd been friends ever since.
The kind that would drift apart for months, and then suddenly collide into each others lives like rainfall on a golfing Sunday. Very much welcome, and causing no change or deviation to the days plan.
We'd chat once a month, sometimes less, sometimes more often, but never lose touch with the other.
Neither of us were afforded the opportunity of a tertiary education; a luxury always relegated to insignificance when the urgent need to earn a living is ever present.
We chose instead to go into business at the first opportunity.
Shaff joined his uncle in the family butchery; I joined my grandad in the family supermarket.

Ten years later, with the fires of passion and determination raging like a violent volcano within us both, and having graduated to heading our own rather successful business's, we decided to travel to London to further our interests
Shaff had never been on a plane before.
His sister however, worked for British Airways.
The day we left can best be compared to a kids first day at school, when his folks see him off as he nervously embarks on a new chapter in his life.
Shaff had his entire family at the airport.
He came prepared, down to the lunchbox with his sandwiches and snacks neatly packed inside.
He flew First Class, a gift from his sister.
I flew economy.
But he spent the entire flight constantly visiting me in my tiny hovel to share with utter glee the joys of First Class Travel.
He was like a kid in a candy store, literally.
It was only when his prawn cocktail starter was served that he finally accepted this to be the way the rich travelled.

We spent many afternoons in his pizza shop, one of many business's he owned by then, chatting about everything and nothing. Most of it involved plans to take over the world.
Two years ago, we discussed starting our own charity organisation.
He left for India not long afterward,and I had just moved back from Dubai.

I called him 3 weeks ago to invite him over to my new home, and tell him about my latest money-making idea.
He never answered my call, and I left a message on his answering machine telling him I never believed the day would come when we would be too busy to take each others calls.
He never did return my call.
I guess I was too busy to try calling him again. Besides, thats the kind of friends we were. I figured we'd make contact again sooner or later.

Little did I realise it would neither be sooner, nor later.
Shaff passed away in a motorcycle accident 2 days before I had called him.
He couldnt answer my call.
He never will, ever again.

I'd love to tell you what an amazing soul he was; how enriched I feel for having met him and known him.
I'd love to look him in the eyes one last time, just to thank him for being my truest friend.
I'd love to sit him down, and answer the question he always asked.
Why did I drop my bag that day and save him from Kelvin?
Shaff, that day, it was you saving me, friend.
It was the day you made me believe we could overcome, and we did.

I know youre looking down on me right now and laughing that hearty laugh of yours.
I know youre shaking your head at the tears streaming down my face as I write this.
But do you know how much I miss you?

We'll meet again some day.
I'll keep fighting the good fight, knowing you’re right beside me, spurring me on.

Take care old friend.
Your spirit lives on.


Fareed (L) & Shaff @ the Equinox, London.


2008-12-27

‘Mrs. Claus is a right fine Woman’ aka ‘Booze or Fags’ Part ii

She knows I feel weary from lugging my sack,
So, bless her – she fetches that famous blue pack,
An’ says to me: “Santa – just fill up your briar,
An’ set yourself down in this chair by the fire!”

...reads an old Edgeworth tobacco advertisement from the bygone era.

Believe it or not, tobacco was promoted as the ideal Christmas Gift, their spokesperson being none other than the man in the red suit, himself. Some of the cigarettes, like Old Golds claimed that they were “less irritating, or easier on the throat, or contains less nicotine...” and that “conclusion was established on evidence by the United States Government.”

“Quickest way to a Man’s heart” reads the headline in a 1940’s White Owl Cigar ad that shows a pretty bimbo on Santa’s lap. “He’ll purr like a kitten when he tastes their rich Havana flavour... watch him beam with joy at their mellow mildness...” reads the body copy.

In addition to advertising, smoking was promoted by the medical community in the beginning – often recommended to pregnant women as well as patients with hypertension, to calm their nerves. From health, to fashion, to bonding, to taste – tobacco ads promoted smoking as THE thing to do in the good old days, and these claims were sometimes backed by ‘scientific evidence.’

A few decades later, most of those who ran such ads lost millions in law suits – and the tables turned.

Smoking is harmful to your health. And we know it. And yes, there is scientific evidence – more credible than the US Govt data above.

Going back to the question where this rambling began, is smoking socially acceptable?

My answer, Nope. Smoking is not socially acceptable, heavy or not. But, that’s doesn’t mean I’m against smoking.

A cigarette is your best friend. Specially when you are blue. I have watched cigarettes burn away – one millimeter by millimeter in the longest, darkest nights of my life. Trust me when I say this: A cigarette IS your best friend, no one could’ve taken its place.

A cigarette is all you need. In the crazy, demanding world of advertising, sometimes all you need is a smoke to stimulate your gray cells and find that illusive ‘idea’ that’s been hovering around you. Viola! A Breakthrough.

A cigarette is an ice breaker. How many times have I, and of course many thousands of others all over the world, piggy-backed on a cigarette to approach a pretty lass and break in to a conversation? Tough life for non-smokers – a chewing gum doesn’t work the same.

A cigarette is the ultimate. There’s this story about a Russian chick who drank for the first time, ended up in some bloke’s bed and lost her virginity. She wakes up in the morning and comes to her senses, quite shocked at herself, reaches for the bloke’s cigarettes in disbelief, and lights one up. Realising what she has done, she suddenly screams: “Oh my God, oh my God, if my mother only knows that I’m smoking a cigarette..!”

A cigarette demands respect. Yours truly – a father of two – still doesn’t light up a cigarette in front of his mother.

A cigarette keeps you warm inside. Have you ever been stuck in the middle of nowhere, freezing? A coffee is a good substitute, but you cannot have a coffee in your pocket; plus you can’t have them one after the other.

A cigarette is fashionable. Just ask anyone who smokes. Or look at the brands that sell “slims” or “100’s” – or the “tips” and accessories that go in to any woman’s or man’s wardrobe. Or look at the success of “Zippo” – it says it all.

A cigarette is a great leveller. I have turned many a volatile situation in my favour by simply offering a cigarette.

A cigarette is worth a lot more than its value in rupees. Ask the guys who get parking spots in my building.

A cigarette is for everyone. It knows no gender, race, age, disability or anything of that sort that divides and discriminates the human race.

A cigarette is for every where. You could take a cigarette for a walk, to the park, or to the beach, have it in the car, out of the car – just about anywhere. You can’t take your tea, or the booze along the same way, could you?

A cigarette takes away the tension. No wonder it was recommended to pregnant women.

A cigar or a pipe makes you look intelligent. There is an aura of intelligence that emanates from the smoke – especially if it is a black and white family portrait.

A cigar makes you look very sexy. I’m thinking female, blonde, blue eyes, Martini, black stilettos. Get the picture?

Cigarette is the best invention of the mankind. Totally useless, completely hazardous to one’s health but sells in millions everyday all over the world, even without a word of advertising – amidst various bans and counter-promotive measures. Now, top that, Einstein.

Smoking, is an art. Just like the Wines, Whiskeys, Coffees, Cheese and the lot, the art of smoking is to be mastered. The islanders only know the taste of local virginia flavour, but there’s a fine tobacco for every mood, taste, and the occasion. From cigarettes to cigars to pipe-blends and rolio’s; the art of smoking can only be mastered by trying out the various blends and origins – not by reading in the books. There’s hardly any tobacconists in our town, what a pity.

Tobacco is part of our heritage. Rothman’s, one of the oldest British brands ventured in to the international arena starting from Ceylon at the beginning of the century. They opened a factory in Ceylon in 1935; which was unfortunately shut in two years due to shortage of staff. Today, we export “Thanshers” cigars to few select countries – that’s the only remaining legacy of the tobacco industry.

From the distant tribes of Africa, to the Arabs who smoke “shiisha” or the hubbley-bubbley, smoking is a communal affair. We love company, and the company is brought to life by the booze and the smokes, largely. As long as the company enjoys a smoke, I do not see anything wrong with someone smoking – heavily or otherwise. Only rule, remember the smoke travels and affects people around you, unlike alcohol.

Having said that, here’s my epilogue: Smoke, if you must, at your own will and at your own risk. Try not to be an addict, because smoking kills – 27,000 in my island and a staggering 5.4 million throughout the world, every year.

Images from“Not a Cough in a Carload” online exhibit curated by Dr. Robert Jackler, Stanford University. Permission Pending.

2008-12-26

In Response to ‘Booze or Fags?’

“What’s more acceptable and tolerable? Being a heavy drinker, a heavy smoker, a bit of both or a teetotaler?”

Mathawaada asks in a recent post.

As the quote suggests, the islanders are a bit “heavy” on their drinking and smoking, and they do not seem to know their limits. We gather around a table by the beach-side and order a bottle. Heck, there’s only two of us, but we still start with a bottle. Then we call our friends to join in. And we order another bottle, and another... until they close shop or the till the sunrise warms our cold butts.

There is no way one could spend an entertaining evening with his buddies drinking plain tea and eating kimbula banis in this paradise. One plain-tea (and a cigarette perhaps); and there will be the waiter slapping the bill on the table and hovering around, worse than the flies that usually occupy the said “hotel” table.

We have an almost zero coffee culture, no hang-out joints and there are no nice Virgins in Colombo for hours and hours of tête-à-tête. Nice Virgin Stores, with lounges, I mean. The rare chill-out joints would be ‘giving the look’ once they see that the time we spent justifies the coffee(s) we bought. Even the Galle Face Promenade has lost its glory, it isn’t a nice hangout anymore.

Where could people like us spend some quality time in peace with the gang?

The only place that welcomes anyone with open arms is a joint that sells alcohol. So we get there and start with a bottle – by default. The moment one has had his first sip, he is in a dilemma. If one is going to get caught drunk, it might as well be worth it, right? So why stop at a quick drink, why not go all the way? Same result: expect trouble from the cops (if one is driving) and trouble from the home-front, both alike, in equal doses.

Besides, hendello’s, fish fingers and the seafood rice are a class apart from kimbula banis, anyway.

It’s nothing else but our social “standards and norms,” our habits and attitudes that contribute to a culture that drinks by the bottle. We don’t allow small shots at home, so we tend to go for large bottles out of home. People don’t order a “round of drinks” in Paradise, and we seem to think that only sissies drink by the glass.

So one drinks by the bottle and he gets drunk. He gets drunk, and he is a menace. Period.

Drinking isn’t bad. Its just the “style” of drinking in paradise that elevates it to a problem. Put that in advertising lingo, consumption of alcohol isn’t a bad concept; it’s the execution that sucks.

People all over the world have a glass of alcohol before, during, or after many a meal. It could be the beer that accompanies the chips, or the wine that compliments the bread and the cheese. Or the mug of “Kvaas” that sits in the middle of the communist soup kitchen. The French consume cheese by the truckloads and still have no cholesterol problems like us, and they owe it to the wines. Yes, there is scientific evidence.

The Black Label Centenary Edition even had the nutritional information printed on the bottle – making it one of the healthiest drinks in the world – in comparison with most beverages that are deemed harmless. See the irony?

Anything beyond moderation (heavy) is a menace, not only alcohol.

One could drive a car after having a glass of wine or a beer in countries that have understood the meaning of the word “moderation.” We, the islanders of paradise who practice and preach Buddhism that’s build on moderation, has no clue what it means; and get pissed-drunk and end up in trouble. Day after day. To the point where our good women wouldn’t marry a man who “drinks and smokes” – even occasionally.

Blame yourself, not the alcohol. Alcohol isn’t a cure for boredom, a solver of problems or a diet. Alcohol isn’t a career – and don’t make one out of it either. My appreciation of alcohol can be found in an earlier post here, if one is looking for some entertaining read.

So, going back – my simple answer the original question: no one tolerates a “heavy” drinker. Not even his own mother. And “heavy” drinking is NOT socially acceptable – not even in a colony of drunks.

On the other hand, drinking in moderation is quite acceptable, and it is quite ok for a “lady” to have a drink or two too. There is a whole culture – an art, almost – based on consumption of alcohol, extending from choosing the wine to fit the menu, to how to hold the glass. A drinking etiquette for the ladies and gents – to drink in a civilised manner.

Knowing your whiskeys and wines are an art; so is the cocktail culture. If you know how to serenade your lover in an elegant style with a fine bottle of French wine, you are a Winner. If you know your way around fixing shots and have mastered the artistry of having them (including the one where the shot is placed in a woman’s cleavage and lifting her up to gulp it), you are a friggin’ champion..!

So, here I raise my glass to the fine art of drinking.

Cheers!!!

PS: My two cents on smoking to follow. Soon.

2008-12-25

Ho, ho, ho..!

It’s Christmas eve and I’m all alone in my apartment, in a country where Christmas doesn’t exist. I look out of the window, and see the streets – just like any other day.

No Christmas lights, no decor and it looks like April – or any other regular month of the year. Nothing special, except for the many Christmas movies playing on almost every satellite channel. It’s Christmas, everywhere else... but not here.

This year, there is no tree in my living room but there’s a Santa’s hat on my Facebook portrait.

At the office, we were talking about Christmas in various parts of the world where we come from and how we spent it last year.

I was home. And there was a tree. And there were presents. And there were my happy bunnies.

Things have changed ever since. Tonight, I’m gonna “watch” Christmas. Alone.

Tomorrow, we will roast a halal-slaughtered lamb and celebrate “Christmas” in Arabic style, in the desert, with all my multi-cultural friends. Yes, Christmas, Arabic Style. And I’m a Buddhist.

As for the booze, I’m gonna catch-up when I arrive in my paradise isle in 10 days...

Well, merry Christmas everyone!

2008-12-20

I want to go to Heaven one day, Unroasted.

There was a fire in the Lucky Plaza building.

I was once at a Fire Drill at the Colombo Hilton, a good 15 years ago. The alarm went off, and the Fire Department arrived at the scene in around five minutes. Quite impressive timing, for us, the silly lankans. Everything went according to the plan and the only thing remaining to complete the drill was to rescue a trapped “victim” from one of the Executive Floors.

The Fire Brigade ladder starts reaching up, and up, and up... till it stretches to the max. The ladder couldn’t reach beyond the 6th floor, and the “victim” was another good 5 floors away.

Houston, We Have a Problem!

We had a hearty laugh and walked away, thanking our stars that it was only a drill.

The Colombo skyline has changed much ever since. The World Trade Centre dominates the Echelon Square, majestically rising above both the Hilton and the Bank of Ceylon. There is another cluster of high-rises around the former Oberoi. The horizon behind the Beira Lake is fast changing too, from the Hilton Residence to the many high-rises in the making. From the sea-side to Battaramulla, there are many residential and commercial towers dotted around the landscape.

We are not big on International Standards in Fire Safety and Prevention. Many high-rises in Colombo have their own construction snags still unresolved and buried under paperwork. My apartment building has no emergency stairway; the two stairways are inside the building and not accessible from outside in an emergency. It has a sprinkler system and hydrants in place, but I have never seen them being tested in the three years that I lived there. Most buildings do not have smoke detectors or sprinklers, even though the apartments are sold at prices on par with the West.

Not to mention our ignorance and habits. We love to park our vehicles, keep garbage bins and potted plants blocking “the empty” fire points. We hate brushed-metal and aluminum; we love teak and mahogany. Expensive wood decorate our humble residences, from the entrance to the bed-post – lacquered and well-varnished! We don’t throw old newspapers and magazines; we collect them. We store plastic bags and containers, even though there’s nothing to store in them. We keep gas cylinders in the kitchen, with another new-cylinder by the side as a back-up!

What if, I mean what if, there is a massive fire in one of those high-rises?

Our Colombo Municipal Council Fire Brigade has no equipment to reach the highest floor of the tallest building in the city. Leave aside the highest floor of the tallest building, I wonder if they could still reach beyond the 6th floor of the Colombo Hilton.

Given the large number of high-rises mushrooming in and around Colombo, isn’t it time we had a well equipped Fire Brigade that’s up-to-date and capable of addressing the need? Ideally, with an air-rescue wing, if they were to keep up with the man’s desire to reach the skies...

We all love the high-life, closer to the clouds. But I’m sure we would love to reach the heaven one day, but in good shape – unroasted.

Right?

2008-12-17

Dubai Kids discovering Sri Lanka

My son was six, and my daughter was three – too small to remember her previous visits – when we left Dubai for good. We arrived at the airport early in the morning and drove to my sister’s place in Colombo suburbs. It was a pleasant morning – the sun shining and the birds chirping... as usual.

The car enters the house, the doors open, and kids jump out. Elisha starts running around the garden screaming in sheer delight: “jungle... jungle... we are in a jungle...!”

She was shocked and pleasantly surprised by the lush green, and the beauty that is Sri Lanka.

As time went by, they began to see the ‘real’ world. Discovering, exploring, au naturalé.

And they gradually realised that:

  • mangoes didn’t actually grow in supermarkets in boxes. They grew in trees – throwing a stick or a stone to pluck some is a whole lot of fun.

  • however colourful they may be, plasticine or modelling clay is not fun. The mud patch by the paddy-field is the real deal.

  • even though they are big, one can actually feed a cow, they don’t bite or chase kids.

  • the wrinkled, toothless and fragile creatures are not monsters from cartoons, they are actually sweet old people – just like their grand parents.

  • the big-grey animals browsing the paddy fields are buffaloes, not elephants.

  • baby elephants at Pinnawela would not fit in to a shopping bag they took from home.

  • the dirty and exhausted-looking kids on the street are not retuning from a game of football. That IS the natural look of a homeless child.

  • being a poor kid living on the street is sad. Not getting a new toy every month, isn’t.

  • not every stone that shines is a gem and exchanging their toys for these “gems” is not a very good idea.

  • the “river of gems” (menik ganga) is flowing with water, not gems.

  • its fun to eat with fingers.

  • you can build a “spider hotel” with some strings in the bush, but spiders still prefer their natural habitats.

  • the rain is not a once-a-year affair.

  • lizards cannot survive for long in a plastic bucket under the bed.

  • geckos climb walls, but crocodiles don’t climb trees.

  • mice are like people, they follow their footpath. Just like Ratatouille.

  • language is no barrier when it comes to having a good time with other kids – it doesn’t really matter if you are Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim or multi-racial.

  • Pokemon cards have no value for kids in Bandarawela.

  • one could feed the monkeys without actually putting them in a cage.

  • Sinhala-Hindu new year traditions are so much fun, especially if the money is good.

  • it’s good to have a large family, specially if there are many cousins to play with.

  • Thomas the Tank Engine is not a fairy-tale, trains do exist and not everyone travels in a car.

There’s an aura of surrealism that surrounds Dubai; making it a materialistic-heaven for those who are driven by their dreams. Dubai is attractive; but it’s a bubble that warps one’s perception of the real world. No poor or the aged, no sick people in the vicinity – pretty much like Prince Siddhartha’s life before the Great Departure. Too clean, too organised, too good to be true. Compared to Dubai, our island paradise is more conducive to children and their upbringing, no amount of money could change that I suppose.

2008-12-14

2009: I Propose...

Legal Age for Smoking to be 18. “Teenagers” can have sex “legally” when they are 18 (age of consent) or even less in some communities; and they can purchase alcohol, vote for an imbecile, or even drive a car – all these – three years before buying a cigarette. Oh, come on...!

Condom Vending Machines. The Paradise Isle is recording less than 1% Population Growth; and obviously the islanders are not getting enough sex. Just look at the frustrated idiots in Jathika Chinthana Paravahaya et al. Sorry, I’m not promoting their site by giving the link here.

Playboy Sri Lanka. From Sigiriya and Embekke to Bellanwila Temple, we are a nation that appreciates feminine beauty, undoubtedly. If the best description of a woman in our history is written by a Buddhist monk, why can’t we have Playboy today? At least, in the name of literature..!

Duty Free Cigarettes. The local brands are twice or more harmful than the imported cigarettes – compare the tarnic (Tar & Nicotine) levels. So, for the sake of our own health, why not allow “less harmful” cigarettes – even if they are taxed? More money to the government, more choice for us.

Underwear Ads. With real-people in real underwear. See Playboy above.

Legalise Prostitution. If Dubai can do so much without legalising it, why can’t we do it, legally? According to a good friend of mine, who is a very senior officer at the Dubai Police, the “night-club and meat-market culture” has been a major reason for the reduced rate of crimes and sexual offenses in Dubai. Besides, we could nominate someone like Wimal to oversee the business, isn’t he good at pimping?

A Night-hub for Families and Friends. Mangala’s Beira Lake Project didn’t take off, but wouldn’t it be nice to have an area where there are cafés and restaurants with lots of stuff to do in the night? For the young and the old? Kind of 21st Century Galle Face, kind of a night market..?

Sri Lanka to revert to its old name, Ceylon. Ceylon Tea, CGR, CTB... we are still very much Ceylonese at the core – and the image it connotes is rather romantic, welcoming and pleasant.

English to be the “working” language, officially. And a Language Protection Act to protect the purity of Sinhala and Tamil languages from the new wave FM channels.

Tamil Nadu to be the “Dravidastan” or “Ealam” Independent Tamil State. Paradise isle is for those who’d like to live in harmony, all LTTE Sympathisers can take off to Tamil Nadu – the official Tamil-only nation. One way tickets provided courtesy Mihin Air!

A “National Interest” Act. An Act that protects the national interests and allows us to take the culprits like Asantha De Mel to courts. It could even be the ones that are not releasing the land to build highways etc., or someone like Ranil who doesn’t seem to understand what “rejected by the public” means. The Nation, its People and their interests, first.

Take Anonymous Bloggers Out of Kottu: Those who run blogs tarnishing the image of our country but has no balls to show their profile.

Ban Political Parties that promote racial and cultural divide. So no more JHU, TNA or Muslim Congress – only the inclusive, non-partial, national parties allowed. SWRD and his family has caused so much damage by “Sinhalisation” and we mustn’t let division take over.

Internal Roaming. From Dialog to Mobitel to Tigo to Dialog – when we cross the non-coverage areas. Its a bugger to switch SIM cards you know. Plus, Credit Transfer from mobile to mobile. :)

24-hours Bill Payment Centre. For Water, Electricity and Traffic Fines. So that we don’t have to leave work for little things in life.

e-Cash for Government Payments. So that, hopefully one day, this country shall be rid of corruption... It has to begin somewhere, right?

2008-12-12

So, this is Christmas!

Lady Divine takes a look back at her 2008 and Sach the one follows. He tags me, and inspires me to go public with my recap on 2008.

So here goes:

  • Completed three years of separation from Gestapo.

  • Got my SL driving licence suspended for a month. Yep, suspended, for abusing a stupid cop.

  • Registered a business enterprise in my name. But never managed to get it going the way I wanted.

  • Designed a house by the riverside for my pretty neighbour.

  • Put my arm around Ranil W and lectured him on how to run his affairs. I was drunk.

  • Drove to Kataragama every weekend for almost three months.

  • Experienced a Hollywood-style car-chase and a rescue, when my son was almost kidnapped by Gestapo (my ex) on his way back from school. Six hours, three police stations, one Army Check point, three Vehicles. Lived the adrenalin rush to the max.; and I won.

  • Got the divorce. My cousin gives his two cents to G and tells her not to f*around in OUR country.

  • Got stuck in the longest ever traffic jam – driving an old cab with a bad clutch for over three hours. It felt like forever and my ankle has never endured such agony.

  • Fed the crows from my balcony every day. The hobby lasted until Prima Bread went up in price.

  • Agreed to let go of the kids for their own benefit, while keeping the right for custody.
    Experienced the epitome of sadness and emptiness in my entire life.

  • Moved to Sydney, Australia.

  • Felt very sad to leave the gang behind, and felt sad to leave SL for the first time.

  • Saw parts of the vast expanse the aboriginal girls covered in the “Rabbit-Proof Fence” in my own two eyes.

  • Met some of my prep-school friends, after sooooo many years and wondered how did they become fat, ugly, “uncles.”

  • Travelled a lot. Inside and outside the Paradise isle.

  • Took up an offer with Drive/Dentsu, and relocated to Saudi Arabia.

  • I was in love. Still am.

  • Decided to get married, again. Next year. Yes, to the pretty neighbour above.

  • Wore a borrowed-sarong in public in for the first time, to appear in the Tissa Courts to bail-out my prospective brother-in-law who was caught with 5 grams of herbs.

  • Switched my loyalty from BBC to CNN.

  • Ate at the biggest Pizza-Hut outlet in the World.

  • Did an amazing trip to Vavuniya.

  • Made many new friends, online and offline. Amongst them, some Saudi females.

  • Saw women in Bikini’s in Jeddah.
And I’m still intact. I know 2009 is gonna be the greatest year in my life!

2008-12-11

Yesterday was Friendsday

I’m sitting in front of the idiot box – aimlessly staring at the picture frames – planning my long day ahead, running through what needs to be done in my head. My little daughter Elisha crawls out of her bed and trots along rubbing her sleepy eyes, searching for me. She finds me, and a pretty smile lights up her face. She looks cute and quite huggable in her pink mermaid-pyjamas.

She gives me a big hug and hops in to my lap. Says, “good morning paaap, its time to call all your friends...”

“Friends..?” I am puzzled. “Why Elisha, isn’t it too early in the morning to call my friends..?”

“Yeah paaap, but its Friends’ Day today...!”

“Friends’ Day? What Friends’ Day? I don’t know anything about Friends’ Day..!”

And then she looks at me with her pretty smile, starts counting her fingers:
“Paap, look:
Sunday...
Monday...
Tuesday...
Friendsday...!”

Oh yeah, she has been learning the days of the week at school. And of course, Wednesday DOES sound like Friendsday, and its not such a bad idea at all.

We keep learning from our kids everyday, don’t we?

2008-12-09

Pepsi gets a New Look

The cola of the new generation now fashions a new look. A new logo, a new bottle.

From a design point of view, Pepsi seems to be following the arch-rival, once again. Coca-Cola revamped their look so cleverly people hardly noticed the change. They went back to basics, dropped the added frills and fancies, cleaned up the “ribbon” and dropped the drop-shadow under the logo. Instead of going with Photoshop filters and adding bevels and “effects” like most new-age designers would do, they went back to the original, a simple wave that you and I could draw with a pencil, and colour with just one red marker pen. Coca-Cola also brought in the original brand name in the new “Zero” Can. Cleaning up, and consolidating brand-power. Clever.

Pepsi followed suit. They changed the famous “globe” in to something that’s supposed to be a “smile” – but went overboard. It looks more like Pacman gone wrong, or a “kindi” (sarcastic) smile, in our lingo. This smile also reminds me of Barack Obama’s campaign logo for some odd reason. Then, they went and fiddled around with the logo-type. Instead of keeping the well-established font, Pepsi went back to their 1964 one-calorie “Diet Pepsi” Can and brought it back to 2009, with a touch of femininity. A girlie look for the new generation. Perhaps to match the cosmosexuals who would love a Pepsi at their favourite nail-bar.

As if the damage was not enough, they played with the shape of the bottle too. The new Pepsi bottle now features an uncanny phallic-resemblance, complete with foreskin. For better grip, someone commented...

Pepsi did exactly what Coca-cola did. Dropped the 3D effects and gradients from their logo and cleaned it up. Opted for simple typography, no depth or drop shadows anymore. Chose a flat blue colour background that you and I could colour with a marker pen. And consolidated on the visual identity: just look at the bottles below.

Well, that’s the new generation, growing under the shadows of the old.

The evolution of the Cans, the phallic-bottles and the new aluminum range from Coca-cola and a century of Pepsi:



2008-12-07

Sex Sells

Nothing could be as boring as a man’s underwear. Unlike the feminine variety, men’s undies are considered a mere a basic requirement, without any frills or fancies. It’s a necessity which we’d like to do without occasionally, underneath a Barefoot sarong. Aaah... the joy of free-wheeling, aka air-conditioning the assets.

A pal of mine also mastered a clever(?) way to make them last longer between washes, by wearing them inside out. Thank god he doesn’t wear them from the head like the sarong.

As everything evolves, there has been a bit of excitement in this department too, up to the point where there are G-Strings for men. I guess the silks, laces, ribbons and bows would take a while – but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are already there with the gay marriages being legal et al.

From the traditional G-String (amudey) to the classic “luncket” with a buckle and a coin pocket in the ‘70’s, to the male-thong, the Paradise isle too has evolved; and now, we boys too could make a fashion statement in the bedroom, finally. But, we still don’t think of our undies are sexy; we still don’t call them “intimate apparels” and they are a far cry from the ones that the fairer-sex wears – not even close to their sexy little numbers that make us skip a beat...

Having said that, I didn’t think a men’s underwear ad could be exciting and sexy until I saw this campaign from a Danish Ad Agency for JBS. Titled “sniff” the 2007 Campaign comes from &Co, Copenhagen. Not surprisingly, their follow-up campaign in 2008 didn’t look this brilliant, except of course, for the sexy model who decorated the page.

Here’s the campaign for your entertainment. My advice, let your imagination take over:




2008-12-05

Panadol is giving me a Headache!

I hate stupidity in advertising. Especially when it comes from the big brands. I’m tired of seeing Panadol ads abruptly disturbing my television programme just to remind me of the time, in the middle of a movie – sometimes even in the middle of a sentence. These senseless and inappropriate time-checks are giving me a headache, and I’ll have to look for something else for relief! If I needed a time-check a few times every hour, I would stare at a clock, not at the television. I watch television to wind-down and chill-out, not to get pissed-off at some marketer’s stupidity.

Television break-ins and break-outs are great, if only the idea is well executed in a smart manner. Smart, meaning – Simple, Meaningful, Appropriate, Relevant and Timely.

Here’s a good example of a break-in/break-out that most of us see often on Al Jazeera:

“Tonight
we see some strong Arabica Coffee
brewing
over the Middle East.”

“The Weather
Sponsored by Qatar Airways”

video

Very Nice, very smart. And there’s more of them. Not only they linked an airline-business to weather, they cleverly managed to get the consumers like you and I, to actually like their advertising.

I know the people pushing buttons at the television stations aren’t that clever to fade-out to a commercial break before butting-in with a time-check; but I’m sure there must be some brains behind the Panadol brand team. The creatives, the client servicing, the brand managers, the marketing manager... the whole line-up can’t be stupid, can they?

Munchee can break-in anytime with a “snack” angle, or Horlicks could “at the end of a tiring day.” Lipton too could, anytime, because anytime is teatime in the Paradise isle.

I would hate to hate one of my favourite brands. Panadol must master the “art” of advertising – find a relevant angle, be simple and meaningful, pick the appropriate way and the right time – be clever, and my headache shall be over.

2008-12-03

Being a Single-dad in Colombo

An alarmingly high percentage of my friends are divorced and the rate seems to be going up. Having been a single-father raising two kids in Colombo, I have learnt a bit about life-at-large for a single-dad the hard way.

Here are some 15 Useful Points to Ponder before you decide to untie the knot if you plan to live in Colombo after divorce:

  1. Get divorced, don’t take the kids. Your kids will think you are an arse, and the estranged ex will think you are worse. Trust me its better to let go of the kids and watch your heart fall to pieces than to fight a system that doesn’t support single-fathers.

  2. Rent an apartment, not a house. Never tell the landlord you are divorced when renting. Ideally, take along one of your best female friends and let them assume that you are a happy family. Better yet, take your mother along.

  3. Image is important: You are not divorced; its just that your wife is overseas. When you take off to Kandalama or Hikkaduwa for the Sinhala Hindu New Year, tell everyone you are going overseas for a quick trip. That way, the elusive wife doesn’t have to show up for another good year.

  4. Never attend the kids’ PTA meetings alone. Its torture, torment and bad memories from our school days, all put together in a two-hour slot that feels like eternity. Again, take your best female friend – she will enjoy the rumours later, and you will enjoy the attention.

  5. You can’t keep a maid if there are no women living in the household. If there are women living in the household, you don’t need a maid. That’s Catch 22 personified for you.

  6. Start an affair. The society will think that you are less-likely to rape their wives and sisters and you will be classified “Safe to be With.” If not, you’ll have to pretend that you are gay. The choice is yours.

  7. You don’t attract women if you walk around with two gorgeous kids. There are no proper parks in Colombo where pretty females go jogging – that only happens in Hollywood, in the movies.

  8. Have dinner early, ideally pickup something on your way home. Late dinner means driving all the way to Pilawoos; and pumping gas for 500 rupees when the meal costs much less. Better yet, pick up some food and a six-pack of Beer so that you could have beer and forget the food – and still be within budget.

  9. Learn to cook, it will certainly help. You could start with the “bites” that go with the beer. See 8 above.

  10. There are no “Single’s Soups” or any “Single-Serve” heat ‘n eat stuff on Keells shelves. Except for some cheap, tasteless alternative.

  11. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Get someone to sleep-over and party like a rock-star after the kids go to sleep. Friday night is the best, because you don’t have to do the breakfast and snack boxes for the kids the next morning.

  12. Greet the traffic cop at the gate when dropping the kids off to school. He might be the same guy stopping you on Havelock Road when you are driving back from Zanzibar at 2.00 in the morning, well marinated.

  13. Be generous. Let the kids spend the weekend at your mother’s, sister’s or the friends.’ And, you could spend the weekend in someone else’s house.

  14. Cops might knock on your door at 3.00 am on their regular rounds and wonder where the woman of the house is, when they see the kids. Improvise and have fun, they must be idiots to ask silly questions.

  15. Il Gelato has a great range of Ice Cream. Kids will love it, and so will you. Incidentally, pretty women love ice cream too.

Last, but not least: If you are a married male with kids, contemplating divorce – don’t. There must be a way to fix things, unless you are married to a Gestapo.

2008-11-28

Taste Your Own Medicine, India!

Mumbai is under terror attack. While I strongly denounce terrorism and killings of innocent civilians, deep down there is a great sense of “sweet revenge” that lingers in me. I can’t help it, but I’m happy that the Indians are getting a taste of their own medicine, finally.

What goes around, comes around – they say.

The Indians bred the tiger cubs (Tamil terrorists) in Madras, in government sponsored training camps and released them to the wild in Sri Lanka, trained and well-equipped to take on the Sinhalese – and look at the price we paid. They turned my Tamil friends against me, they planted hatred in their eyes. They ignited the fire that burns in this isle – it was their tactic in winning an economic war and stalling the economic boom we were witnessing in the late 70’s and early 80’s. They did succeed, leaving our Paradise in utter shambles. They poked their finger in every business in the island, and reduced us to dust – and continue to keep playing the “big bully” in the region.

Looks like its pay-back time, coming from the one above. One by one, day by day, they will pay for what they did to us. I wouldn’t care if it takes a year, a decade or a hundred years – but the tables are slowly turning.

Call it Karma, call it the rule of the universe – its time for those who sponsored, sympathised and bred terrorism to feel it, and live it – like we did for the past quarter of a century, and continue to do today.

Well, India, welcome to our world. I hope you’d enjoy living in the world you created for us.

Pic: Reuters

2008-11-18

10 Ways to Find a Creative “Idea”

Feeling good today. I delivered a great presentation on “How to break-free from the Creative-block” to a limited audience in Jeddah, and it was very well received. I felt good, because I too knew it went well.

Art directors, copywriters, creative directors – we all go through these moments when we run out of ideas and hit the brick wall. Once in a while, we run dry; we run out of “ideas.”

With a deadline imposed upon us, hovering above us like a huge dark cloud, we somehow tend to do something and escape the imminent embarrassment. In simple, we bullshit from time to time. The Client Servicing and the Clients are none the wiser – and since creativity is an art, no one can nail you for the “crime” you have just committed. (We are not only creative, we are clever too..!)

Deep down, we know the truth. We just wish that we had done something better.

But How?

I shared with my audience TEN closely-guarded industry secrets or 10 techniques rather, that empowered them with the knowledge to break-free from their creative-block next time when it strikes. Taking “Toyota RAV4” and its positioning (USP) as an example, I delivered a good presentation that even made the research guys think of “creativity in advertising” in a new light.

It just felt so good.

Which made me wonder if I should write a book on “10 ways to find a Creative Idea” or should I just become a creative trainer. Or perhaps its just a momentary emphatic feeling of achievement – I’ll know what to do with myself when I wake up in the morning.

2008-11-16

Bravo, bravo, bravo..!

The news is refreshing. The last bastion of terror on the North-West has fallen to the might of our military. As hope rises, it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is no room for terrorism anymore in the Paradise Isle.

Quite frankly, LTTE should never have become a menace of this scale, if only the government in power treated the Tamil Terrorism the way they treated the Sinhala Terrorism in 1971 and in 1989. The uprising in 1971 was too early for me to remember, but the terrifying images of 1989 still haunt me: Dozens of bodies burning in every nook and corner every single morning, and the horrible stench that filled the air... Severed heads of victims decorating roadside fences while young Sinhalese students bound to lamp-posts and set on fire – alive... Kidnappings, abductions and killings that are far too many to document even after two decades...

That was a horrifying, but fitting, finale to an armed group that tried to rule the country by terror. Over 60,000 are still missing – and that history is better forgotten than to be remembered.

Compared to what they are capable of, the successive governments and the military have been too kind to the Tamil Terrorists. They should have treated them the same way they treated the Sinhalese in the ’70’s and the ‘80’s – eliminating them from the root even before they could hold a gun in their hands.

Nevertheless. I suppose 25-years-too-late is better than never, anyway.

Image: www.army.lk

2008-11-11

Remembering Aimless Sex and Senseless Murder

There are some remarkable differences between the animals and the human race. Amongst them, are two things humans do without a purpose or a reason: they indulge in aimless sex and commit senseless murder. Humans are the only species to kill their own, without a justifiable cause.

Since there are many interesting blogsites that talk about the former, I shall stick to the latter.

Today, November the 11th, is the 90th anniversary of the end of the World War I. Known as the Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth, and Armistice Day in many other countries – the day is named after the armistice signed between the Allied Forces and Germany in France, where over 40,000 men were sent to death wave after wave in just one day. The day is still remembered by all those who felt the loss of nearly 20 million lives in that war. For the rest of us, it’s a special day to remember the War Veterans world over.

Be it the Poppy Flower, or the local rendition – sooriya mal – the natives of this island paradise too remember their fallen men and women on this special day. It is also a moment to remember the innocent, unarmed civilians who have lost their lives in LTTE ethnic cleansing, genocide and terror attacks – starting from Kent Farm and Dollar Farm, to recent bus-bombs all over the country.

This is a day for me to remember all those brave men in the front-line, including some of my dear friends, who gave their lives to protect the integrity of this nation. This is a moment to appreciate the sacrifices the military is making to relieve the nation from the grip of senseless terror and their relentless effort to get rid of the 25 year old menace that has crippled our economy, ruined our nation and destroyed our future.

This post also pays a special tribute to my best, and the dearest friend in the Air Force and my college-mates who are currently serving in the Navy and the Army. Its a special time to cherish the many moments we have shared and the many memories we have built in some of the most interesting and not-so-civil places in the country. It is also a moment to reflect on my life, wondering if I truly regret the decision I took to walk away from a prospective military life.

This country desperately needs to see an end to the War and LTTE’s barbaric atrocities. As the Sri Lankan forces condemn terrorists to an imminent defeat, the country could finally breathe a sigh of relief and feel the sweet smell of success in the air. For once, the government has not fallen prey to the “ceasefire-calls” from the terrorists that usually end in catastrophic military carnage. Lasting peace may not be as near, but eliminating LTTE terrorism would certainly pave the way for a long-term solution through political dialogue.

While we offer our support and encouragement to those who are in the battle front, we also offer prayers for those brave men and women whose guns have gone silent in the name of my motherland: may your souls rest in peace.

2008-11-10

Image is Everything

Israel expels another 25 Palestinian families from their homes, after an Israeli court rules against the residents. Some of them have been living in these homes for over 50 years. In the meantime, on the other side of the border, the Israelis continue to acquire Palestinian land and build homes, settling more and more Israelis in the Palestine territory.

Over the years, the Israelis have succeeded in their campaign to portray themselves as the victim – not the aggressor. As a result, when there is a crisis in the West Bank, the World looks on, turning a blind eye to the aggression.

I have been watching their battle for well over fifteen years on television. Every time, the international media would report both sides of the story, from both sides of the fence.

I remember once watching one incident while sitting in a Dubai pub, along with my colleagues who were hailing from various different countries around the world. Yasser Arafat, quite angered by the Israeli atrocities was screaming on television – in his “not-so-polished” English, with his classic unshaven look. He wore a military look as always, and had the chequered bandana wrapped around his head. He was angry and furious, screaming and shouting, threatening the Israelis that Palestinians would take revenge in their honour.

Then appeared the Armani-clad, Boston educated Israeli government spokesman who spoke fluently and eloquently, to the point, maintaining his calm and collected outlook. He started the conversation by saying “We are a civilised nation living in a barbaric world...” and my newly arrived friends from Europe were immediately convinced that the Palestinians were barbarians... instantly.

No amount of arguments, or the many rounds of drinks that followed, would convince them otherwise.

For the World that’s watching, what matters is their own interpretation of events; not necessarily the truth. The West aren’t as news-hungry as we are, nor are they interested in digging deep to find the truth. They are quite happy believing what they see and what they hear on their favourite television channel. (I guess their television stations too have earned their credibility, unlike ours.)

“Image” has been one of the key reasons why the terrorist organisations from Sri Lanka have managed to successfully paint themselves as the sole-saviours of the Tamils. They are successfully conducting anti-national campaigns all around the world, raising funds for arms purchase.

When a government spokesperson clad in military uniform announces that “we are running a civil administration in Jaffna” at a press conference, we are humiliating ourselves in front of the international audience. The world doesn’t believe that statement. No one does, except for some idiots in this Paradise isle.

Its all about the image. Its all about establishing a credible and distinctive difference between the government and the terrorists. We have been continuously sending essential items, food and medical supplies to the terrorists who are fighting against us. We have been treating captive terrorists with dignity while they’ve beheaded our soldiers. Our military has been successfully maintaining the lowest civilian casualties in a conflict, giving priority to human life – sometimes even risking their own life. We must advertise, advertise and advertise the good – conquering the bad publicity around the world.

Perhaps its time we took a leaf out of the Israelis’ book.

We must improve our image – starting from the style of writing in the defence website. Imagine an Armani-clad, well-educated and well groomed government spokesperson with a well-spoken British accent handling the international media. If that person happens to be a gorgeous woman, perhaps we could even bomb-the-hell-out-of Kilinochchi and the World would still be on our side.

Image Copyright World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org) swiss-image.ch/Photo by Remy Steinegger

2008-11-08

Of being Gay and Happy

Colombo is planing to host an Athletic Meet for the Gay & Lesbian Community (to be politically correct, LGBTIQ community). While the gay and happy people are celebrating here, on the other side of the globe they are taking to the streets. The State of California has voted to ban same-sex marriage in Prop 8 just a few months after its implementation.

This brings to the table a paradox in democracy.

Can a majority of the community vote to deprive a minority of their rights? True, the majority of the population aren’t gay; but can they take away the right of a minority in the name of democracy..?

I just wonder.

2008-11-04

“I have one word for you folks, TOMORROW..!”

In less than 24 hours, America decides who would be their next President. Will we see the Change We Need is the biggest question that’s looming in the air. Popular vote tracking for the last five weeks show Obama’s continued lead while this morning on Anderson Cooper 360°, five out of six of the best CNN Political Analysts on the panel predicted an Obama Victory. The sixth hoped for “nothing less than a miracle” to get McCain in to the White House.

Whether Obama wins the Presidency or not, he has already won in many aspects. The biggest victory in his political arena is winning the ticket – beating an opponent of great calibre, Hillary Clinton. She is much tougher than McCain, McCain is a little pussy-cat compared to the Clintons.

Obama has already won in his biggest election promise: greater public participation in running the world’s largest democracy. The American public has been enormously electric this time, from volunteers knocking on doors to the public-at-large running Obama Campaign on YouTube, Facebook, Blogger and all imaginable new media.

He has paved the way, and given people the power to run the American politics. Already.

Internationally, Obama enjoys an overwhelming popularity – from young republics like Yugoslavia to good old democracies like France. A Facebook international group shows Obama 73% to McCain 15% while the rest remains undecided; but unfortunately for Obama, its up to Joe the Plumber – the average American – to choose their next President.

Whether he wins or loses tomorrow Obama has already given us hope and he has re-ignited the American Dream in an age where McCain instills fear and hatred in our hearts.

Image source: www.barackobama.com

2008-10-25

Media “Freedom” vs Responsibility

The “Reporters Without Borders for Press Freedom” released the World Press Freedom Index 2008 and Sri Lanka ranks at the bottom 10 at the 165th place, barely beating Iran, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Burma, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.

Zimbabwe – where BBC and a host of other international reporters are banned – is ranking at 151. Saudi Arabia, where an individual cannot even take a picture or look at a woman in public ranks above us. United Arab Emirates where journalists and photographers need clearance papers ranks at 69th place. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq offer better press-freedom, according to the report.

I love my country – with all its imperfections. Most people who live here take our freedom for granted – they should live in countries like Saudi Arabia or Russia to understand what we enjoy here in this paradise isle. Journalists here enjoy certain privileges that ordinary tax paying citizens don’t: their “Media ID” is the immunity from traffic violations, curfews, road-blocks and it opens doors that are usually shut for the rest of us. They enjoy the occasional banquet with the President while the rest of get to sit in road blocks cursing, and watch him go whizzing by.

Our media freedom extends beyond what’s painted by the Reporters Without Borders. Most countries and most governments control news from sensitive areas and issues – but we often see our media personnel walking through bomb-blast sites contaminating would-be critical evidence and clues while paying no attention or respect to the authorities. The recent Madrid plane crash site was closed to the media until the investigations were over – the only news footage media received were from the government. If a situation that is not a national threat is handled in such manner in a country which ranks at 36, I wonder what takes us to the bottom of the list.

I for one, totally agree with the government controlling the battle news for the sake of our own forces and security. Matters of national security and military secrets are not for general consumption, the Media must learn to act responsibly understanding the fine line between the greater good and the harm. Publishing a picture of a bomb-laden vehicle is not warning to the general public, but its a warning to the bomber – our media doesn’t seem to understand the “effect” of such simple matters; let alone more complex and sensitive military information. The Ministry of Defence updates the media on a regular basis, and the national television is reporting from the battlefront all we need to know. BBC doesn’t get access to American military sites and operations; they get access to British Forces in Afghanistan. So is Sri Lanka: the national media is in the battlefront with our forces in Kilinochchi; there’s nothing wrong in keeping the independent media personnel out of sight.

So what makes us rank amongst the worst 10?

If it is the media personnel being threatened by certain “dark” elements, they should think again. It is not only the media personnel that gets harassed by the mob, beaten up or thrown in jail in our country, the common man faces the same situation and endures it every day.

If it is the the government not opening the gates of our military bases and sensitive locations to BBC et al, they must place USA at the bottom of the list for not opening up Gitmo bay and hundreds of other sensitive locations.

This is a country where anyone has the freedom to report the truth from anywhere. This is country where one can even publish a newspaper against the government, let alone an article. As a direct result of this media freedom, the market is flooded with menacingly useless radio channels, television stations and newspapers that lack substance and discipline.

Our media personnel need to understand their responsibility in this society. They are the ones who paint our image black or white in the eyes of the international community. People in other countries read what our journalists write about us, its our contribution that creates our image. I think it is the prime responsibility and sole obligation of our media personnel to look at countries like Saudi Arabia or Russia and understand the freedom we enjoy; and ensure that our image internationally is uplifted, not vandalised.

2008-10-23

AirTel is Winning without a Fight

In my opinion, Sri Lanka already has too many mobile service providers for a country of its size. Healthy competition is a virtue in an open economy; but as usual we Sri Lankans defy convention. Conventional wisdom says that competition improves the quality of service but in Taprobane, competition brings down the quality of service – along with the rates.

With the AirTel phobia, the established foursome of mobile service providers (Dialog, Mobitel, Tigo and Hutch) are under-cutting each other and are offering some products that make very little marketing sense. Dialog’s 50% Discount for Lifetime, is one classic example. They are encouraging the consumers to go for deals vs Quality of Service – and encouraging the consumers to jump from one to another. The result: Unbelievable offers, unbelievable deals, and hundreds of different “packages” with none delivering a superior – or at least satisfactory – service. Its the same old shit (pardon my French) – only in a new bucket every time. The fairy-tale connection speeds continue, existing only in their promotional leaflets...

No one ever built a sustainable brand or a loyal consumer base by offering cheap deals. Consumers who get fooled by the cheap deals would leave them, as fast and as quickly as they joined them: a cheaper deal from someone else is all they’d need. The foursome are encouraging this “deal-driven” consumer behaviour and what they are not realising is that they are slowly digging their own grave in brand-loyalty. They are allowing room for cannibalism, instead of widening the the consumer base and attracting profits. Sri Lanka already offers one of the cheapest call rates in the world, and further discounts are going to eat in to their (already slim?) bottom-line. Looks like AirTel is already winning, even without a fight.

Offering superior products and services on the other hand, would attract a better consumer base who wouldn’t mind paying a premium for a better quality of service they’d receive. They would stay for longer, pay for longer – in return for a hassle-free and trouble-free service. They’d be loyal to their brand and they’d be the best spokespersons any brand could ever have.

Being the market leader, Dialog doesn’t need to feel threatened by the entry of AirTel. Mobitel shouldn’t be scared either. They should have the confidence to take the higher road and offer what the consumers are aching for: unmatchable superior service. Then, they can shelve the deals and rest easy – for they would know that their customers don’t carry an “extra SIM” from the competitor in their wallet anymore.

I might be the only one complaining about the quality of service – most of us have the habit of “switching” to something better without trying the “fix” the problem at hand. I guess selling a mobile “package” in Sri Lanka is more like selling potatoes at the Sunday Fair – there’s no brand loyalty for potatoes, and looks like there’s no point in talking about it either.

2008-10-21

Sri Lanka’s most Powerful brand

Advertising lingo is somewhat confusing to most laymen. I have met brand managers who didn’t know the difference between “Brand Values” and “Brand-Value” – let alone the laymen. That may be so, but there is a new Sri Lankan brand that has been extremely successful both in local and international scene; the ‘brand-team’ has managed to create the most successful, most powerful brand in just over two years!

Its not an FMCG, its not even anything we consume or purchase. Its not a product or service, but something that would easily qualify to be a “company” or a “corporate.”

Most of us don’t even think of it as a brand – but considering the spending on advertising, brand-building, public relations, events and media over the last two years – we would all agree that the most expensive “brand” in the country today is none other than “Mahinda” – yes, the President Mahinda Rajapakse.

No one has adored more full-page-colour advertisements in newspapers than “Mahinda” in the recent past.
On outdoor circuits, “Mahinda” easily beats the greatest locations and biggest spenders.
On public relations spending, “Mahinda” easily beats the biggest brands.
His typical budget for a single event could easily exceed most of our annual budgets.
He’s got the largest battalion of “brand-ambassadors” promoting his image from Hambantota to the Parliament: the latest addition to the well-rehabilitated and gel-groomed Sinhala terrorist is the former Tamil terrorist from the Wanni jungles.
His brand adorns t-shirts, caps, walls, and all around us – he even almost made it to an airline that carries the “Mahinda Lotus” in its wings.
Beyond the box, keeping in line with the traditional street-performer – he’s got a court jester too in Mervin Silva...
There is not a single communication channel this brand has not explored or ignored.
The brand team knows the power of Word-of-Mouth; and he’s got the biggest number of mouth-pieces harping his good.

Talk of brand “influence” and we all know how that works in the island. Leave aside the physical influence, even in terms of design, his influence has crept into corporates including Sri Lankan Airlines templates too, where we begin to see the “Mahinda Wave and the Lotus” at the bottom of the page..! The whole country – including the fashion-savvy (or so I thought) Colombo crowd – seems to imitate his shawl around the neck...

No other Sri Lankan brand has been successful in international image building as “Mahinda.” His international profile makes him look like the savior of our times. On World Economic Forum, “Mahinda” has been advocating peaceful resolution of the Middle East situation as the President of Sri Lankan Committee for Solidarity with Palestine over the past 25 years, WOW! All facts, well presented – a true testimony for successful image building. The result? “Mahinda” gets invited for global forums and speeches and his brand team is doing a fantastic job. I’m sure the team must be eyeing the Nobel Peace Prize – if only “Mahinda” manages to “liberate” the suffering Tamil community from the grip of terror...

Kudos to brand building! Even though I do not agree with MR’s “Brand Values,” I sure cannot ignore the “Brand-Value” “Mahinda” has gained in such a short period of time.

2008-10-20

The World doesn’t need a Patronising Grandpa

Colin Powell – former US Secretary of State and good friend of Republican Candidate John McCain – endorses the Democratic Candidate Barack Obama. This is an eye-opener for those who thought a retired military man is the ideal protector of American freedom, the American dream and the American soil.

We have seen the war and we have felt it in our hearts. War or the military might is not the answer. This is not an age where guns and mighty power resolves issues, this is not an age when patronising bullies take leadership. This is beyond the information age where dialogue is mightier than the gun; this is the age of the younger, more realistic new generation leaders. America today is witnessing a new awakening amongst the under 30 voters thanks to Obama, as they are increasingly becoming confident of their political power. Over 44 million 18–29 year-old voters are rallying up this time, with a clear 20% lead for the democratic candidate. Obama has also explored new frontiers in fund-raising successfully, by taking advantage of the new interactive media – talking a language that young voters understand.

Leaving aside McCain playing day-to-day tunes and tactical ads (and Palin swinging to Saturday Night Live tunes) vs Obama’s well-thought out strategic campaign; the world has seen the best of mafioso and his lipstick hockey mom who doesn’t even know what newspapers she reads. McCain seems to think Muslims are “less-American than the other Americans” and his unethical advertising is irritating. McCain would be the ideal choice for an ignorant and arrogant America that breeds separatism and the result could spell more hatred and more trouble for America. Obama, on the other hand, seems to be someone who feels the heartbeat of the new generation across the globe.

This is 21st century, where inclusive leadership style with substance and style could resolve issues – this is not the slave-age where the guns do the talking. Colin Powell – being a more experienced and respected soldier as well as a great statesman and diplomat – endorsing Obama is a direct signal to the Americans that choosing McCain+Palin would be a huge mistake. McCain as President could spell disaster for the rest of the world; and for the sake of nations like Sri Lanka, I sincerely hope Obama becomes the next American President. McCain might be the leader some Americans want, but Obama is the World Leader the rest of the world wants.

My vote goes to Barack Obama, without a doubt. Only a vintage wine would get my vote, not a vintage politician.

2008-10-19

“Hello, Gorgeous” and the Top 100 Movie Quotes

On the occasion of their 100 Year Anniversary, the American Film Institute revealed the top 100 movie quotes of all time in a three-hour special event. A jury of 1,500 film artists, critics and historians voted to select the top 100 from 400 quotes shortlisted. Clark Gable in celebrated civil war epic Gone With the Wind spoke the words “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn...” that became the most memorable movie quote of all time.
  1. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
    Gone with the Wind – 1939

  2. I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.
    The Godfather – 1972

  3. You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.
    On The Waterfront – 1954

  4. Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
    The Wizard of Oz – 1939

  5. Here’s looking at you, kid.
    Casablanca – 1942

  6. Go ahead, make my day.
    Sudden Impact – 1983

  7. All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.
    Sunset Blvd. – 1950

  8. May the Force be with you.
    Star Wars – 1977

  9. Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.
    All About Eve – 1950

  10. You talking to me?
    Taxi Driver – 1976

  11. What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.
    Cool Hand Luke – 1967

  12. I love the smell of napalm in the morning.
    Apocalypse Now – 1979

  13. Love means never having to say you’re sorry.
    Love Story – 1970

  14. The stuff that dreams are made of.
    The Maltese Falcon – 1941

  15. E.T. phone home.
    E.T. The Extraterrestrial – 1982

  16. They call me Mister Tibbs!
    In The Heat of the Night – 1967

  17. Rosebud.
    Citizen Kane – 1941

  18. Made it, Ma! Top of the world!
    White Heat – 1949

  19. I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!
    Network – 1976

  20. Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
    Casablanca – 1942

  21. A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.
    The Silence Of The Lambs – 1991

  22. Bond. James Bond.
    Dr. NO – 1962

  23. There’s no place like home.
    The Wizard of Oz – 1939

  24. I am big! It’s the pictures that got small.
    Sunset Blvd. – 1950

  25. Show me the money!
    Jerry Maguire – 1996

  26. Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?
    She Done Him Wrong – 1933

  27. I’m walking here! I’m walking here!
    Midnight Cowboy – 1969

  28. Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By.’
    Casablanca – 1942

  29. You can’t handle the truth!
    A Few Good Men – 1992

  30. I want to be alone.
    Grand Hotel – 1932

  31. After all, tomorrow is another day!
    Gone With The Wind – 1939

  32. Round up the usual suspects.
    Casablanca – 1942

  33. I’ll have what she’s having.
    When Harry Met Sally – 1989

  34. You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.
    To Have And Have Not – 1944

  35. You’re gonna need a bigger boat.
    Jaws – 1975

  36. Badges? We ain’t got no badges! We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!
    The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre – 1948

  37. I’ll be back.
    The Terminator – 1984

  38. Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
    The Pride of the Yankees – 1942

  39. If you build it, he will come.
    Field of Dreams – 1989

  40. Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.
    Forrest Gump – 1994

  41. We rob banks.
    Bonnie And Clyde – 1967

  42. Plastics.
    The Graduate – 1967

  43. We’ll always have Paris.
    Casablanca – 1942

  44. I see dead people.
    The Sixth Sense – 1999

  45. Stella! Hey, Stella!
    A Streetcar Named Desire – 1951

  46. Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.
    Now, Voyager – 1942

  47. Shane. Shane. Come back!
    Shane – 1953

  48. Well, nobody’s perfect.
    Some Like It Hot – 1959

  49. It’s alive! It’s alive!
    Frankenstein – 1931

  50. Houston, we have a problem.
    Apollo 13 – 1995

  51. You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?
    Dirty Harry – 1971

  52. You had me at “hello.”
    Jerry Maguire – 1996

  53. One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.
    Animal Crackers – 1930

  54. There’s no crying in baseball!
    A League Of Their Own – 1992

  55. La-dee-da, la-dee-da.
    Annie Hall – 1977

  56. A boy’s best friend is his mother.
    Psycho – 1960

  57. Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.
    Wall Street – 1987

  58. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.
    The Godfather II – 1974

  59. As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.
    Gone With The Wind – 1939

  60. Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!
    Sons of The Desert – 1933

  61. Say “hello” to my little friend!
    Scarface – 1983

  62. What a dump.
    Beyond The Forest – 1949

  63. Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?
    The Graduate – 1967

  64. Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room!
    Dr. Strangelove – 1964

  65. Elementary, my dear Watson.
    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – 1939

  66. Get your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape.
    Planet of the Apes – 1968

  67. Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.
    Casablanca – 1942

  68. Here’s Johnny!
    The Shining – 1980

  69. They’re here!
    Poltergeist – 1982

  70. Is it safe?
    Marathon Man – 1976

  71. Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!
    The Jazz Singer – 1927

  72. No wire hangers, ever!
    Mommie Dearest – 1981

  73. Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?
    Little Caesar – 1930

  74. Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.
    Chinatown – 1974

  75. I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.
    A Streetcar Named Desire – 1951

  76. Hasta la vista, baby.
    Terminator 2: Judgment Day – 1991

  77. Soylent Green is people!
    Soylent Green – 1973

  78. Open the pod bay doors, Hal.
    2001: A Space Odyssey – 1968

  79. Striker: Surely you can’t be serious.
    Rumack: I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley.
    Airplane! – 1980

  80. Yo, Adrian!
    Rocky – 1976

  81. Hello, gorgeous.
    Funny Girl – 1968

  82. Toga! Toga!
    National Lampoon's Animal House – 1978

  83. Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.
    Dracula – 1931

  84. Oh, no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.
    King Kong – 1933

  85. My precious.
    The Lord Of The Rings: Two Towers – 2002

  86. Attica! Attica!
    Dog Day Afternoon – 1975

  87. Sawyer, you’re going out a youngster, but you’ve got to come back a star!
    42nd Street – 1933

  88. Listen to me, mister. You're my knight in shining armor. Don’t you forget it. You’re going to get back on that horse, and I’m going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we’re gonna go, go, go!
    On Golden Pond – 1981

  89. Tell ’em to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper.
    Knute Rockne All American – 1940

  90. A martini. Shaken, not stirred.
    Goldfinger – 1964

  91. Who’s on first.
    The Naughty Nineties – 1945

  92. Cinderella story. Outta nowhere. A former greenskeeper, now, about to become the Masters champion. It looks like a mirac… It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole! It’s in the hole!
    Caddyshack – 1980

  93. Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!
    Auntie Mame – 1958

  94. I feel the need — the need for speed!
    Top Gun – 1986

  95. Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.
    Dead Poets Society – 1989

  96. Snap out of it!
    Moonstruck – 1987

  97. My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you.
    Yankee Doodle Dandy – 1942

  98. Nobody puts Baby in a corner.
    Dirty Dancing – 1987

  99. I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!
    The Wizard of Oz – 1939

  100. I’m king of the world!
    Titanic – 1997

© 2008 American Film Institute

2008-10-13

Mobitel + Huawei E220 and the Mac

Mac users are the odd ones. They are the ones who are different, and more often than not, pay a little price for being different. This little note will hopefully help those Sri Lankan Mac Users who are reluctant to take advantage of Mobitel’s M3 broadband offer.

Ask a Mobitel Sales Person if the Huawei E220 HSPDA USB Modem compatible with Mac OSX Leopard and they would draw a blank. The promo-literature does not mention compatibility and the self-intallation disk that’s included in the modem does NOT carry a Mac Installation. The clueless and helpless sales personnel at Mobitel would, at best, ask you to bring your “machine” so that their tech guys could check it out to see if it works. That’s bad news if you are interested in using the modem with your G4 or G5 desktop.

Well, here’s the good news: The Huawei E220 HSPDA USB modem works perfectly well with the Mac. It works like a charm with my Intel-based MacBook pro and it is also compatible with the old Power-PC based Macs – I have connected it to my old G4 tower at home.

The only problem is in installation. Since there is no compatible software/drivers offered by Mobitel or Huawei, Mac users have to do a bit of homework themselves searching all over the net. The best place to look for the required installation is here; where you’ll find easy-to-understand, step-by-step instructions. Please note that all the parameters remain the same, including the dial-up number – just follow the instructions.

I haven’t experienced any notable issues with Mobitel + Huawei E220 combination, except for a time-out error when downloading large streams. That too, I think happens when the browser is idle while downloading, but that’s my guess. Occasionally, you might need to remove and re-connect the USB, if it has terminated due to lack of network activity.

Is it as good as SLT fixed-line broadband? Nope. SLT is broadband is marginally better. Given the advantage of being truly mobile (out of home), I would recommend this for Mac users on the go. How does this stand-up against the Dialog offer – I haven’t tried that yet; and I do not think that I would either. Also, Mobitel does not offer an “Unlimited” Package.

Well, Good luck and happy “Mobile” surfing!

2008-10-08

Wi-Fi Enabled; Consumers Disabled!

I have a laptop that’s Wi-Fi enabled. I can sit in a café in Singapore, use my Dialog account and surf the net – no problems, no hassles and no issues. The cost gets added to the roaming bill. Convenience is key; and being able to go online from anywhere is my purpose of carrying a Wi-Fi device with me. The purpose of Wi-Fi is to provide easy and convenient wireless access to the digital world – eliminating the physical restraints and the hassle.

Let’s forget Singapore for a moment. I travel within my beautiful island quite frequently – and, more often than not, fail to use the Wi-Fi facilities available in most hotspots. The reason: the services are offered by different service providers – and they all seem to ignore the consumers who are not their customers. If one seeks to be truly mobile in Sri Lanka using Wi-Fi hotspots, they must have accounts with all the service providers – or has to go through the hassle of getting temporary connections each and every time they’d want to surf the net. Instead of opening up the digital world and breaking the barriers, the Sri Lankan Wi-Fi service providers have created more boundaries, more hassles and more restrictions – and they lost the very meaning, and the very purpose of Wireless Fidelity services.

There should be a unitary system that allows a Wi-Fi user to log in from anywhere, immaterial of the SIM Card he carries in his pocket. The service providers should work out the “roaming” and “billing” part, that should not be the consumer’s problem. If I could surf from Starbucks in Singapore with my Dialog account, I’m wondering why couldn’t I surf from a Suntel hotspot – right here in Colombo..!

Aren’t we – the islanders of paradise – quite capable of complicating simple things in life?

Is it another sign of “misguided-education” taking over “common sense” or is it the marketing geniuses forgetting the consumer-convenience? I wonder... and fail to understand.