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.