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Political dirty linen is beginning to be washed in public. And hung out to dry. Yet again.

The governments of the BJP-ruled states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat have been caught with the smoking gun. They have no place to run, neither to hide. Sedition is the unspoken thought in many impressionable minds.

Only the state governments of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Uttarakhand (UK) have come out smelling roses, their patriotism and good intentions beyond reproach. Only the state governments of UP and UK have bothered to publish half-page advertisements extolling the central government and its efforts in rolling out the world’s largest free vaccination campaign. With a photograph of the Prime Minister (PM), apart from their own Chief Minister (CM).

One is published on the page facing the one where the central government has placed a half-page advertisement extolling its own efforts in rolling out the world’s largest free vaccination campaign. The other is published on the page just behind the central government advertisement. And I am referring to The Hindustan Times here, the daily newspaper I read. I cannot say which other daily they are not published in.

Finish reading the central government ad, spend a moment in contemplation of your blessings, after you have already read the UP government ad and spent a moment in contemplation of your blessings, turn the page and the UK government ad catches you smack in the face, forcing you to spend yet another moment in contemplation of your blessings.

Did I even turn the page? Am I seeing double? Or triple? The insecurities of advancing age also come rushing back as the same ad stares back page after page.

But I guess I am missing the point, as usual. After all, unless three government advertisements say the same thing in the same edition of the same newspaper on the same day, how is the common man to understand?

To make sure the common man understands, since they understand the common man so well, they have taken the trouble to ensure that not a shred of additional information is shared in either of their advertisements. The copy is exactly the same as in the central government ad. Except for the “Thank you PM Modi!” extra line over and above the exact copy of the central government ad that both the state government ads have.

Check it out for yourself.

Can the non-Indian readers identify the central government ad out of the three?

This is clear evidence of both the state governments, even the central government for that matter, having independently conceived the idea and worked on the creatives. One cannot even begin to imagine the senior leadership time that would have been spent in fine-tuning the language of these ads. Publicis, Dentsu, WPP, Omnicom, Ogilvy and Euro RSCG, your loss of creative advertising talent has been the Indian common man’s gain of political talent.

Coming as it does on the day the central government has told the Supreme Court that they cannot make ex-gratia payouts for Covid deaths, as provided in the Disaster Management Act of 2005, as it is ‘beyond fiscal affordability’ of the government, it has particular relevance for the common man.

Fiscal affordability?

The centre, as well as the UP and UK state governments, have risen above the challenge of fiscal affordability and issued these ads.

Are the other states trying to convey an impression that they understand what it actually means? There will be hell to pay. Central governments have rarely been bothered with such trifles.

Besides, not taking up opportunities for publishing advertisements with a picture of the PM, preferably preening with a peacock…sorry, with a preening peacock, when the opportunity presents itself, could well be made an act of treason soon. These state governments are not trying to become test cases, are they?

I heard from a cousin that his children have questioned his claims about graduating from a prestigious college in Delhi University. “But where is the PM’s picture?” they asked him when he proudly showed them his graduation certificate. The children, adults now, had just received their Covid-19 vaccination certificate with the PM’s mug. Never mind that in the early eighties when he graduated the PM was not the PM, not even the CM of Gujarat. He was probably not even an elected representative of a municipal corporation at that time. Poor chap has returned his degree certificate and requested the University to issue a fresh one with the picture of the PM.

I believe from the next renewal, all driving licences issued in India will have the picture of Mr. Modi, instead of the driver.

And silly me. I never realized that PM Modi is funding this vaccination drive out of his personal fortune. I am sure if that was not the case the ads would have said “Thank you, central government!” or “Thank you, government of India!” Simple man that he is, he has never made a hue and cry about his fortune. Messrs Ambani and Adani have much to learn from him.

But I must admit that I was caught off guard by the declaration of this being the world’s largest free vaccination programme.

If you have the world’s largest population, or thereabouts, how can you have the world’s largest free vaccination drive as well? Isn’t something amiss here? Should you not be having the world’s smallest free vaccination drive while the world’s largest free vaccination drive is carried out in Singapore, or Luxembourg, or Vatican City? Especially when the government that is implementing it has been elected by the largest voter list in the world.

It’s a bit like proudly claiming in a public-money funded ad and thanking the PM for India having the world’s largest number of children. Or the largest number of adults. Or the world’s largest number of employed people. Or the world’s largest number of unemployed people. Or the world’s largest number of construction workers. Or the world’s largest number of non-construction workers. Or the largest number of children in school. Or the largest number of children not in school. Or the largest number of, well, anything.

Wouldn’t you be surprised?

Poster Boy

Flop!

The crisp newspaper I was holding in my hand drooped, as if in response to the brute force of an invisible mushroom cloud emanating from the calmly spoken, but nuclear-powered word.

It had started calmly enough. Leafing through the newspaper I had chanced upon an ad for Padmavati, the latest Bollywood release. As the movie only claims to be “based” upon historical events, its release is being objected to by a section of the population claiming that it presents a distorted version of history. Nobody else would have guessed that its presentation is not an accurate representation of history. And, since it is a private, commercial movie, that never claimed to be an accurate representation of a period in history that is, at best, fuzzy and vague, it needs to be violently objected to as not doing so would tantamount to not upholding the honour of the nation.

BBEI9kb I was showing the ad to my wife to suggest that we catch it over the weekend, afraid that if we miss this one we would have to wait for another week (since new movies are released only on Fridays) to see a Bollywood movie that was being violently objected to by a section of the population in order to defend the honour of the nation.

One glance at the ad and the verdict had been announced by my wife. In one word.

B-b-but why do you say that?, I asked tremulously, not willing to give up so easily.

Can’t you see it? Or, rather, can you not see what is missing?

Never having developed the ability to see what was not there, I looked around helplessly.

Look more closely.

Since the ad mainly consisted of close-ups of Deepika Padukone, the lead actress who was playing the title role of Padmavati, I looked more closely.

You still don’t see what is not there, don’t you?

I nodded helplessly. That faculty had still not developed.

Tell me, where is the picture of our Prime Minister (PM), Mr. Modi in this ad?

There is only so much a man can take. Why should there be a picture of the PM in an ad for a Bollywood movie? Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? If he starts working in the movies, who will go around coining slogans for our development?

Knowing who I was up against, I had the good sense to not voice these words. But my face probably gave me away.

She got up quietly, went to the cabinet where the old newspapers were stacked and returned with a sheaf of them.

She casually opened up one of them and thrust it in front of me. There was an ad in front of my eyes.

Modi2

I looked up at her.

What does this ad tell you?

Beyond telling me that the more money I spend the more I will save, ads have never really told me anything. This one was no different. It told me nothing. I merely stared blankly at it.

You will probably want to tell me that the back-breaking work of connecting the remote parts of the country and enable digitisation has been done by thousands, perhaps millions of lowly-paid workers and hundreds of dedicated engineers, toiling in hostile conditions.

Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? You may even wish to ask if he is an engineer or a worker.

Isn’t it clear from this ad where the credit belongs? Isn’t it clear who is responsible for achieving success in connecting the remote areas? Do you see the picture of any engineer or worker in this ad? But the PM’s picture is there, isn’t it?

It was an open and shut case as far as she was concerned, but seeing the still slightly hostile look on my face, she flung another half-opened old newspaper towards me. As if by magic, the old newspaper, while in flight, opened up to another ad when it landed in front of me.

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Knowing you, you will perhaps argue that the rapid strides in medical facilities, eradication of killer diseases across the length and breadth of the nation has been done by doctors spending the prime of their lives in studying and understanding medicine, and then committing themselves, alongwith health and social workers, to improving the lives of millions of poor people across the country.

Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? You may even wish to ask if he is a doctor or a nurse.

Isn’t it clear from this ad where the credit belongs? Isn’t it clear who is responsible for the success of prevention and control of diabetes, and many other diseases? Apart from the model, do you see the picture of any doctor or nurse in this ad?

Though still unable to see what was not there, I was decidedly getting the drift, as I often do when my wife gives it to me. The drift that is. But she was not done with me. Not just yet. She picked  up another old newspaper and opened it right under my nose.

Again there was an ad in front of my eyes.

Modi1

You will surely try to tell me that the reduction in GST rates for leather exports is the result of the hard work and research done by traders and producers in the industry who got together to put up a rational and logical case for the reduction of GST being in the best interest of the country leading to its reduction.

Is he an actor in the movie? Is he the director? Is he the producer? Is he the music composer? Is he even an extra in the movie? You may even wish to ask if he is a leather trader or exporter.

Isn’t it clear from this ad where the credit belongs? Isn’t it clear who is responsible for the industry achieving success in reducing GST rates? Isn’t it clear that the PM, out of the goodness of his heart, has decided to shower this munificence on the leather export industry at this time, for the good of the nation of course. Do you see the picture of any hardworking leather producer or trader in this ad?

I was speechless. As usual.

Are you now convinced?

I am a reasonable man. Faced with a wife with an opinion in direct conflict with mine, and a bundle of old newspapers still unflung, I became thoroughly convinced.

Tell me, if the makers of a Bollywood movie do not have the self-respect to include a prominent picture of the PM in their ads without him having any role in it, what kind of a movie do you think it will be?

Flop!

Responsibility

I used to worry about the ability of the younger generation to take responsibility. Even chiding my children occasionally, to the utter lack of amusement on my wife’s part, leading to more nights on the living-room couch.

But recent events have proved me wrong. Once again.

It seems that while I was busy worrying and chiding my children, and sleeping on the living-room couch, organisations that stand up and take responsibility have been growing and prospering, as I discovered from a friend’s recent post.

They even have a name.

They are called political parties. And governments. And they mostly do it (take responsibility) on other people’s money. And one of the key responsibilities of governments, as I have learned, is to take responsibility for what they have either done or not done, or what others have done or not done.

Were it not for the full page adverts in major national dailies, purchased with my money of course, I would not have known how responsible this government is.

For instance, I would not have known that the present government, that came to power three years back, is responsible for the unprecedented success of the space programme that has delivered unprecedented successes many times since its inception over sixty years back. Foolishly, I had assumed that it was the vision of the founding fathers that had created the space programme.

I would not have known that the present government is responsible for the surgical strikes that not only served as a strong warning to terrorists and resulted in spectacular lack of success on the Kashmir issue, but also introduced a new term to the vocabulary of most Indians. How many previous governments can rightfully claim to have expanded the common man’s vocabulary?

I would not have known that the present government is responsible for providing universal access to banking services. Not drinking water, not grid-supplied power, but banking services.

Even state governments have come to the party.

Kerala has claimed full responsibility for introducing the Fat Tax. Just imagine!

Chhattisgarh has claimed full responsibility for electrification of 98% villages. Without any responsibility for supplying power.

Bengal has claimed full responsibility for marching forward in its endeavour to make the vision of a golden Bengal come true. Not green. Not white. Not silver. Golden.

Each claiming its share of responsibility with its own paid advert in national dailies.

Even though we found out why Kattappa killed Bahubali, before the government could claim any responsibility for it, could it be possible that we have found an answer to some of the most enduring mysteries of the world?

In the seventies, a number of ships and planes are said to have vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. Could this government be responsible?

Would my childhood friend, who was disconsolate after losing his pet pooch when we were both children, get closure after all these years? Can we safely conclude that this government was responsible?

Quite a handful already, isn’t it?

But, as usual, the common man is never satisfied. He wants more. He has started expecting the government to take responsibility for even real day-to-day problems.

He now expects the government to take responsibility for the poor state of roads in Gurgaon.

He expects the government to take responsibility for the precipitous drop in water levels in rivers, ponds and lakes across the country?

He expects the government to take responsibility for the security of women.

Is that fair? After all, how much can a government do? Ourtax money can only buy so much advertising space.

But the government is game. To take on more responsibility.

Even though it expresses inability to take responsibility for real day-to-day issues, it has offered to take responsibility for having brought down the Ganga and other perennial rivers from their glacial abode in the Himalayans.

It has offered to take responsibility for designing and commissioning the annual system of monsoon rains.

It has offered to take responsibility for inventing the game of cricket and Bollywood.

It has even offered to take responsibility for the first man to be sent into space sent by Russia and for Chelsea Football Club winning the latest edition of the English Premier League football.

Can you ask for more?

With the government poised to take on so much more responsibility, the responsible common man can continue to provide proof of his nationalism on WhatsApp?

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

“Advertisements are a society in microcosm”, it is often said, mostly be me.

It is either plain bad luck or an involuntary reaction against the gaining of knowledge that, despite it always having turned out to be an educational experience, I have not indulged in watching TV often enough.

My recent experience of watching the Hindi movie “PK” on TV was no different. Lady luck also seemed to be smiling on me that night. The movie was frequently interrupted by commercial breaks.

They were eye-opening.

Efforts made by our leaders with their frequent lip-service and seat-of-the-pant implementations for upliftment of women in society, through initiatives like for-women-only pink autos driven by males and rented mostly by male passengers, a still-to-be-launched-as-it-might-not-make-sense women-only bank run by males and efforts at the integration of the two genders such as a coach exclusively for women in the Delhi metro train, are bearing fruit. And how.

In the first commercial break, we came across a lady who has to feed a husband who multi-tasks. And, if that was not enough to handle, she even has to feed her son who also multi-tasks. It may be difficult for youngsters to imagine, but, being the age I am, I can tell you that the housewife of an earlier generation would have struggled.

But not the housewife of today. Faced with the situation, what does she do? In order to feed her multi-tasking husband and multi-tasking son, the woman of the house feeds them chapatis made of multi-grain atta.

Thankfully she is a single-tasker, focussed on the task of making sure her multi-tasking husband and son get adequate nutrition to go about their multi-tasking ways. And she is dressed smart. In a salwar and kurta. Not in a scruffy sari as the struggling housewife of yore would have been.

Barely had we got the chance to digest the monumental change this represented, the second commercial break came on. And brought with it a big car with 4-wheel drive. Of an American brand. With a man at the wheel and a woman in the seat next to the driver’s. Driving to a magical destination with lots of hot-air balloons going up in the air, chosen by the man, it seems. The man, as usual, in full control of the situation, as his smile indicated. As soon as he turns the power-steering with all his might by lunging left, the woman covers her face in wonder and amazement at the sight. And this woman is smartly dressed in western attire. And, what’s more, she seems willing to undertake the hot-air balloon ride. Tell me honestly how many of us can visualise a woman, say thirty years back, in a commercial, willing to go for a hot-air balloon ride.

When children come home dirty after being children, she cleans their clothes.

“So, what’s new?”, you might be tempted to ask.

Gone are the days when you would see a mother handwashing clothes, wiping sweat from her brow,  and advertising for bars of soap which clothes had to be scrubbed clean with. Today, nothing less than a washing machine will do. And they are not stopping there. Some mothers in commercials even have a choice of electric dryers instead of hanging the washed clothes out to dry on a line. Even brands of detergent are par for the course for these mothers of today. No mother ever advertised either a washing machine or dryer or detergent before these devices were invented.

Women are no longer confined to the house. They are mostly engaged in staring enviously at other women whose clothes are whiter than theirs. When pushed to the wall, they even engage in streetside speed-washing contests. Can we ever inmagine a woman of an earlier generation doing a street-side washing test to prove her soap or detergent is better?

When children come home hungry after being children they feed them. With healthy choices like instant noodles and frozen fries. Can you imagine a mother in the seventies doing that?

The time for reaping the dividend from this change has also arrived. In an FM commercial the same day, I heard two children talking animatedly as they came back home hungry.

Does your mother allow you to eat French Fries?

Of course. In fact, the frozen fries my mom uses have 50% less calories.

But I am so hungry. I cannot wait for the fries to be made.

Don’t worry. These fries take 70% less time to cook.

Wow! Such knowledgeable 8-year olds could only be the progeny of the modern, empowered woman.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, it used to be said. Husbands and fathers are rarely to be seen in these commercials, except occasionally replacing children as the cared-for subjects.

It has seeped into the consciousness of society. This change is irreversible. So engrossed was I in the commercials and their messages, I forgot that they were the side story. Each time the movie came back, I would wait eagerly to the next break for more educational commercials.

The times, they a changing, as the latest Nobel prize winner for literature once said.