Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sitting in a Mall and Wondering What Went Wrong

Now that we are retired from corporate life - ostensibly for writing (ah well, the novel is chugging along) - we spend a lot of time in malls, just browsing, seeing the branding, reading books in the bookstores, and generally bumming around. We see a lot of branding material, which used to be what we were doing when we threw it all away to devote time to writing. We see displays, standees, shopsigns, shopfronts (vinyl, acrylic, plastic you name it), we see flexes featuring bloopers ("ends of season sale", "Upto 50% discount" and in a luxury brand store "100 % genuine leather"), we see them and think of our days in marketing. There were exhibitions, events, kiosks, promotional brochures (leaflets) to be written and designed, websites to be populated with content, ads to be written and released, all great fun till you burn out with the urgency of it all. Everything is wanted with great speed and accuracy, everything is decided at the last minute. And there were ad agencies and suppliers to be paid and kept happy, which they were not, a swollen-headed tribe that they are.

We were at this mall today and we see another veteran like us - a statesque grey-haired sardarji - also studying the landscape sitting on the bench where we sat. We wanted to reach out and ask what he did during his lifetime and how he is doing. But seeing the ominous silence he was enveloped in we demurr. May be, a tragedy has ocurred, may be, something he doesn't want to discuss. We let him alone and we sit in silence. People pass in different states of being occupied - mobiles, music, talking into their devices, playing games on tablets, texting, whatsapping, whatever that means. And there is silence, broken only by a toy train that whisks children around the mall, playing a tinny tune, resembling a real train's sounds. Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Good" had an entire verse on trains:

He used to carry his guitar in a gunny sack
Sit under the tree near the railway track
Engineers would see him sitting in the shade
Strumming to the rhythm the drivers made.

Well the song is our favourite and ranks among the top ten songs of all time, and Chuck Berry is a great singer. He is still alive. We like to imitate him singing the song but can't capture his vitality, his mojo, his stage presence. The singer in us has died.

Where were we? Okay, at the mall, we sit in silence, now that we are retired, studying life and what went wrong and how it could have been corrected. We - the Sardarji and us - aren't mobile addicts. We regret certain mistakes of our life, which might have, hypothetically, contributed to global warming, religious extremism, the recrudescence of superstition and blind beliefs in people's lives. In Nairobi, Kenya, a mall was attacked and people died. A mall as the one we were sitting. In India a man who fought superstition was killed. A cousin's son died at the age of 38 in a desert kingdom. What wrongs have we done to be thus?

What went wrong with the marketing and branding of our country that we have to think of selling our family jewels to save our currency? Are we no longer the outsourcing back office of the world? What went wrong? What?

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