Saturday, June 21, 2008

My Friend, Ganga

The snowy-bearded guy is Ganga!

This is about my friend Ganga, the irrepressible, irreverent co-owner of a six-crore advertising agency. He is fun to be around! We were friends from the time we used to roam around in half pants. In school he used to be captain of the yellow house and I used to be captain of the green house. Needless to say, the guy trounced my house in every aspect of: games, debating, performing arts, etc. Now he is a big shot adman, and that hasn’t changed his rather rambunctious conduct of life.

We, a few friends from our school in the Chembur suburb meet every few months for a freewheeling alcohol-smoothened entertainment mostly at Ganga’s beautiful bungalow in the Basant Cinema area of Chembur, near the Presidency Golf Club. When I visit the area memories of films like “Lawrence of Arabia” (I was so impressed by this film that after seeing it in the 12 p.m. show I again bought a ticket and saw it in the 3.30 p.m. show), “Dr. Zhivago”, “Red Sun”, etc. etc. jump at me. How with a few rupees in my pocket I would brave the afternoon sun, on foot, to see these films. When inside, the cool air, the stereophonic sound, the wide 70 mm screen (the only one in Bombay then), the dim lights from the theatre ceiling, the pretty girls who would flirt coquettishly with their eyes, would mesmerise me into a state of near ecstasy.

I digress. I get too sentimental about those days. I must also add that Ganga is an actor (he is a friend of Nana Patekar, er, the other way around, his latest movie was the Pankaj Kapoor-starrer, Dharma), a copywriter par excellence, and a wanderer of far off places including Leh, North-East, and stray other game reserves in India, despite suffering from a back problem that has been troubling him for long. I would call him and he would answer that he would shout his usual greetings (“Matthew P John,” which was the name I answered to in school, before the school itself put the surname first and changed it to John P Matthew.) from the nether regions of India. He has also worked for several ad commercials, one being some fairness cream or the other (there are too many to remember), in which he is a bearded sadhu explaining the benefits of herbs in treating skin blemishes. Guess ad guys have to do it for a living, and I don’t blame him. There are too many talented ad guys doing these types of dumb things. The portals of Indian advertising agencies are teeming with thousands of would-be Rushdies who write scintillating prose, but the flattery and chicanery of advertising copywriting would wash their talents down the drains, I am sure. What to do? What a shame!

Again, I digress. And Ganga went off to the south recently, Ooty, in fact, for a jungle expedition. (That way, he is a profligate risk taker.) He went deep into the jungle to take pictures of elephants. (I might mention here, though he is humble about this, that he was instrumental in the Silent Valley area in Kerala being turned into a national park during the emergency days, and he met Indira Gandhi personally to get this done.) He got shots of elephants, all right. And guess what, Ganga being Ganga, when the guide shouted, “Elephants are coming, run for your lives,” Ganga tarried just a little bit to take some pictures from close up, was hit by an elephant, and bludgeoned just where his back wasn’t hunky dory, and had to spend a few days in hospital for surgery. When I enquired this is the SMS I received in reply:

“No damage at all, Matthew. Came to the hospital for room service.”

Thank God he is well. That’s Ganga for you!

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