I’m a Sucker for Sad Stories

It’s Friday. The equivalent of Sunday in the other parts of the world. I got out of bed well past noon, had a cup of coffee and made a few calls to the ones that are dear to my heart.

Wandered around my little ‘house’ in my shorts and settled down to watch the American Idol Season 10 auditions.

There’s a girl from Kosovo who gets the nod. Her parents are delighted. The Idol does a little recap of the War in Yugoslavia and I think of home. And war.

While I disagree with Sirasa TV copying the Idol, I salute the fact that these talent shows give hope to the hopeless people. Some of their sad stories bring tears to my eyes.

Especially this one:

I just love this girl. I love her voice, and most of all, her courage.


“I will die today, so Egypt can live tomorrow”

“I will die today, so Egypt can live tomorrow” read a placard held by one of the protesters in Tahrir Square as I sat in front of my computer for the second consecutive day. A stream of pictures – of people waving flags and chanting – flashed nonstop on the television screen a couple of meters away from my desk. I was keen on knowing how my Egyptian friends looked at the unfolding drama, through their Facebook status messages and twitter feeds.

I was eager to know what was going to happen.

Then, there was the news of Mubarak’s address to the nation. But, alas, after a much-awaited speech, the Farewell Friday dawned with much anger and huge disappointment.

It was the third Friday, 18th consecutive day, for the thousands of protesters. As the day wearied away, I began to attend to other domestic affairs, losing interest in the on-going saga. I watched the Egyptians in Saudi Arabia, praising Mubarak and his 30-year regime on television.

The revolution seemed going nowhere.

I remember Hussain. My copywriter, a good 15 years ago, in Dubai. He had just joined the agency as my team-mate; it was his first time in the real world of advertising. We were pitching for KFC business. Sitting opposite in my office, he would occasionally pause to light his pipe and we would wander in to conversations that took me to the mysterious past of the Nile civilization. We would brag about our pasts and heritage, share our thoughts and agree on alien invasions – for one obvious reason: the intelligent people who built the pyramids or the flying machine that took Ravana to India, no longer existed. They were abducted: there was no other way to explain the common stupidity that prevailed in our countries. The chaos, the madness and the people’s optimism to rise beyond adversity, brought Egypt and my Paradise closer to each other. Hussain and I became very good friends. We had ancient civilizations to boast about and Western Empires to blame on everything that went wrong.

Sometimes, in the middle of a sentence that he was crafting, Hussain would stop to protest. “I cannot lie about this lump of lard. It’s unhealthy, horrible and shouldn’t be sold to kids. How dare you’d expect me to say that KFC is finger likin’ good..?” he would grumble.

Like many thousands of people who gathered at Tahrir Square today, my Egyptian friend was a God-fearing man. I had to brain-wash him and nurse him back to the deceitful and manipulative world of advertising, in many such occasions.

Then I remember the pretty ones from our network. Rezan and Yosr carried the evidence that Cleopatra or Nefertiti were, in fact, real people. They were gorgeous, beautiful people, inside and out.

Maya, Heba, Rania... my colleagues of yesteryear – they are very much like the Sri Lankans. They are happy people, who have learned to be optimistic amidst the constraints and restrictions. We faced common threats, we behaved in similar fashion in many ways. If their car bumped in to another – which is a common occurrence in jam-packed Cairo – they wouldn’t even bother getting the police involved. Their cops were as ‘good’ as ours.

In the last few days, leading to the events that brought down Hosni Mubarak, there was some unbelievable spirit of solidarity building up. The youth of the Arab World was with the people of Egypt. One of my dearest friends wrote “Viva La Revoluciona!!!” on her wall while another friend of mine sat sleepless throughout the nights, waiting for the change to happen. These were young Saudi women, supporting a cause. “I’m proud of my brothers and sisters of Egypt” read another message. There were many millions of similar sentiments expressed in Arabic, on Facebook, YouTube and every imaginable mode of communication.

Egypt, needed change.

And change has come to Egypt. In a most unprecedented manner, with minimum blood-shed, a revolution has taken place right before our eyes.

In the God-fearing, system-abiding, Arab World, this is much more significant than anywhere else.

“There are many lessons behind the days, long hours, and the events that took us all through what seemed like a never ending emotional roller coaster... FAITH!! We never have to loose FAITH in JUSTICE, we need to take all those lessons along to next stage :)” – wrote one of my Egyptian friends, on her wall as fireworks lit up the night sky in Tahrir Square.

The picture is ‘stolen’ from here: http://kalamu.posterous.com/


Advertising: Graphic Design vs Art Direction

Advertising, is a mysterious business. In my mind at least, advertising is an industry that no longer exists – it has evolved to become the business – or rather the art of – communication.

In this mysteriously attractive industry, there are people with fancy titles. When I was an art director, my parents could not understand what it meant or what I did for a living. All I could say was that my dad was pissed at the fact that his would-have-been-engineer-son had become a hippie, a total disgrace to the family.

When I proudly presented my first ever job that was published, he was even more crossed and quite disappointedly remarked that he didn’t send his son to the best school in the country to do that kind of thing for a living.

I didn’t see my parents for about 3 years thereafter.

Nope, I didn’t leave the country, but in my rebellious heart I didn’t find a reason to visit them – even for the new year holidays.

Yes, I could be an arse, sometimes. But, that attitude helped me immensely in the business, in the years to come.

Anyhow, there is a huge misconception about the titles in this business. In many places, Graphic Designers get automatically promoted to Art Directors, sometimes by virtue of their presence in the agency, long enough.

Art Direction requires a different skill set to that of a designer. There are many who successfully acquire the above, but some fail miserably.

Here’s an example of an ad that appeared in one of the industry magazines in the Middle East, clearly done by a designer:

The same ad, if it were to be given a touch of quick “art direction” below:


Corned Beef

There was some fashion do in Colombo last evening and my wife got a free ticket. Thousands of miles and some time zones away from Paradise, I was bored staring at a computer screen that had a dimmed screen with a message that read “User Not Online.” Of course I knew she was not online, but sometimes, you just want to click the dial button for the heck of it. I think it is very manly to keep trying such things – like pressing the elevator button that is already pressed, knowing that’s already pressed by the man standing right in front of you.

Men do weird stuff like that, while women would just shut the computer and walk away to do their nails, or something much more fascinating – like yapping about Monica Bellucci’s cleavage with their besties.

So I was bored. And homesick.

I was hungry.

I was too lazy to drive-through my usual last resort in nourishment – and sustenance – the place where a clown sits in the front bench. I’m sick of the big macs, the royales and the big tasty ones. I usually buy a whole meal, pour the cola down the kitchen sink, eat the fries and forget the burger: two sachets of ketchup mixed with one sachet of mayo makes an amazing dip for the fries. By the way, I haven’t seen them serving mayo at McDonalds in paradise - have you?

Anyhow. So I was hungry. Men come from a hunting and camping background – so I followed my instincts and decided to hunt for my prey, right within the perimeter of my kitchen. Mind you my humble abode is not a mansion with a huge kitchen that houses an army – its just a single bedroom joint where kitchen accommodates just one person. Not more, not less. While rummaging and foraging, I found an old can of corned beef, a quarter of a cabbage; and I knew there was some leftover rice in the fridge from the afternoon. So, I chopped-up some onions, garlic, and the cabbage that had been living in my fridge for a while. One more week and I would have had to adopt the cabbage or christen it with a suitable name.

Moments later, the lights were turned off, some candles were lit and yours truly was cooking a romantic meal for one, to the tune of Nina Simone and her Tomato Collection.

It was rather a quick one, but was much better than the pizzas, burgers and the localized Indian food available around the corner. I couldn’t say otherwise, for obvious reasons.

Enjoyed my meal all alone, while watching some silly movie that I didn’t even pay much attention to. It would have been fantastic if I had a bottle of wine and some female company, but sometimes, life doesn’t let you enjoy the luxuries every single day of your life.

So this morning, while chatting to my charming wife, I shared my culinary adventure with her.

“What kind of a meal was that..?” was her prompt response, followed by a hearty laugh, and I am still wondering what’s wrong with eating corned beef and cabbage à la Sri Lankan style, with some rice.

I am not at all disheartened by the reaction from the Minister of Domestic Affairs, I’m going to sell the recipe to Harpo’s or Barefoot as some fusion food – all I need is a fancy name that sells itself. :)