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.

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Educating Ankur

I don’t watch much TV. Never have. Only occasionally watch sport or movies, with perhaps an odd Newscast thrown in. Even sport has gradually been squeezed out as my teenage sons’ interest in football has pushed my cricket-watching opportunity to a window of time when I am either not at home or asleep.

Fates, however, conspired a few days back to give me a share of the TV that I had not received in many many years. And I came away thoroughly impressed. While I have been busy not watching, TV has progressed beyond the mundane. It has become educational.

One of the most stirring debates I have seen was between two women on TV that day, on whether bathing in natural milk is more beneficial for the skin or bathing in bathing-cream manufactured by a private company is. I sat engrossed. As the debate between the two heated-up, a secret area in the room, behind the plush sofa they were sitting on, opened up, with, eat your hearts out, two tubs lined up side by side, with a gleaming tap running fresh milk into one and an equally gleaming tap running bathing-cream into the other. And, as normal women would do upon a secret area in the room they were having a heated debate in, opening up and displaying two tubs full of milk and cream, they jumped in and luxuriated.

It was edge-of-the-seat stuff. I sat transfixed. What would the answer be? Not only did I not know the answer, I had never even realised that that was a question one could ask and hold a debate on. Such was my ignorance, I hate to admit.

Anyway, to cut to the chase, I always thought it would be milk. But, guess what? It was the bathing-cream manufactured by a private company that turned out to be the winner. And, to put the issue beyond doubt, they even showed each other their hands immediately after their respective baths. Milk is overrated.

In a land where women routinely bathe in tubs full of milk and bathing-cream manufactured by private comapnies, this was a useful comparison. I am sure numerous women will benefit. Apart from me, of course.

I have seen youngsters use Deo-sprays for several years, mainly my own teenage sons. Never really understood the purpose. Till that fateful day again when I watched TV.

Firstly, I learnt how it should be used. The hand with the spray should be held away from the body in a manner suggesting that the arm has muscles developed to a degree that makes it impossible for it to be bent and the hand, at the end of the arm, brought any closer to the body. Then, one should press the nozzle and start spraying and moving the arm in a graceful circular motion all around in a manner that some of the droplets might accidentally even fall upon the sprayer’s self. Moreover, the entire operation is to be conducted only when a number of people of the opposite sex happen to be passing by. Till then, the holder of the spray to mouth inanities either in an unbuttoned shirt or even without one.

But, I am being superficial here. Let me get to the real point. I actually learned that all other Deo-sprays are full of air. There is only one which has actual Deo. It must be correct. Because another Deo ad came on soon after and said exactly the same thing. About all the other Deos. The other reason we can be certain it is correct is because immediately after spraying oneself in the manner described earlier, the sprayer immediately received tremendous attention from members of the opposite sex. Two of them won’t lie, will they? In fact, the second ad even clarified that the other Deos were full of gas. I wish I was more attentive during the lesson, I mean ad, and checked out which gas it was. Cooking gas prices are going up. Maybe we can use Deo-sprays instead to light a fire of a different kind.

What’s more, the benefits are not limited to education, which, at times, can be theoretical. Watching TV that fateful day has helped in finding solutions to real-life problems as well.

After so many years of married life, my wife and I have settled into a comfortable routine. She shoots down my suggestions without hearing them and I, hers. With the result that our household infrastructure, be it the fridge, the washing machine, or the stove, has grown old and often stops working. But whenever a suggestion is made by one party to replace something, it is immediately shot down by the other.

I was thinking about the fridge door, which has been refusing to shut, when a housemaid came onscreen, and started talking about the family she was working for, their spending habits, their food preferences, and lots more. I was lost in my thoughts of the fridge door and the beer bottles standing in the door and not getting cold, and barely paying attention till the time she said, “when madam says buy, sir says no, when I say buy, sir goes click-click”, indicating that the purchase immediately gets effected on an online portal.

I sat up and pressed the Rewind button. Nothing happened. I had been watching TV. But it did not matter. I had got my answer. My prayers had been answered. The solution had been found.

Now, I must confess that she did not look like a regular Indian housemaid, with her sharp side profile and dress sense. But since she said she was, she must be. This was an ad after all. One has to believe what ads tell you.

I have put out an ad for a housemaid. Including the preferred side-profile and dress-sense expectation.

I now look back on all the wasted years. Years spent not watching TV. There is no saying how much more knowledgeable I would have become if I had put those years to productive use. And we could have hired the housemaid a lot earlier.

I have asked my son to call me as soon as the ad-break begins when he is watching football. Learning never ends.