Friday, September 24, 2010

Roald Dahl as BOY

‘Boy’ is an autobiography of Roald Dahl’s childhood. A must read for anyone who wants to relive their childhood. While reading the book I did relive mine!

Dahl is the protagonist as he takes us through the early years of his life. His family structure, the death of his father when he was only three years of age. Of Norwegian descent, Dahl’s lived in London and went to Norway during his summer vacations. His description of summer vacations brought back my own vacations in Karachi.

Dahl not only makes use of his memory but also of all the letters which he wrote to his mother from boarding school which help him to provide specific details of his various schools. What is most entertaining, though, is the little insight the book provides on the source of some of his amazing ideas for stories like Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches, to name a few.  A lot of villains in his children books seem to be reincarnations of the head masters and teachers he had in boarding school!
Dahl joined the Shell Company at the age of eighteen and worked for sometime in London before he was posted to Africa (much to his delight). Dahl makes a great comparison between routine life, as he experienced in London, and the non- routine life of a writer (which he became later on).

‘I enjoyed it. I really did. I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours and a fixed salary and very little original thinking to do. The life of a writer is absolute hell as compared to a businessman. The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn’t go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him. If he is a writer of fiction he lives in a world of fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not. Two hours of writing fiction leaves this particular writer absolutely drained. For those two hours he has been miles away, he has been somewhere else, in a different place with totally different people, and the effort of swimming back into normal surroundings is very great. It is almost like a shock. The writer walks out of his workroom in a daze. He wants a drink. He needs it. It happens to be a fact that nearly every writer of fiction in the world drinks more whiskey than is good for him. He does it to give himself faith, hope and courage. A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it’.

September was Roald Dahl month on the beanbag. Read my blog on his other autobiographical book, Going Solo.

Photographs: Google Images

Thursday, September 23, 2010

books+marriage=true happiness!

What were (or are) the items on your checklist for ‘your soul mate’?  Or simply put, ‘Ten things I want in my husband/wife’ list. Everyone makes that list and in case you haven’t, get down to it. If you write ten things, you might get five (or maybe, like in my case, eleven!). And if you haven’t added a books section in that list,  I suggest you do so.

Surprised? Don’t be. You're Reading that Book too? Marry me! talks about singles in USA who are trying to find the right person through common likes (or dislikes) in book tastes. Imagine if you’re a bookworm and the only books your spouse ever read (or still reads) are Archie comics. Ouch! According to the article singles can match with people who have the same literary liking. So if Pride and Prejudice is your favourite book, you can go out and discuss it over dinner with someone who loves Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy as much as you do, or maybe more.

Having similar hobbies (books or otherwise) is a bonus, really! Especially in our society where marriages are decided by elders and there is hardly any (unsupervised) courtship period. Opposites do attract but when you have to spend the rest of your life with someone, you better have a few things in common. Love of books is a good thing to have. What will you do in old age? Curling up in your ‘his’ and ‘her’ rocking chairs with books is not such a bad idea.

Women, in our society, have to tailor their hobbies around their husbands. Which simply means, what the husband doesn’t like is never done.  What with children, in-laws, maids, relatives; hobbies don’t stand a chance! But if you and your husband share a hobby, you both will be able to take out time to actually do things together and thus, find yet another thing to cement your relationship. Hobbies provide a pastime for old age also; when your in-laws are also mostly old and your children settle in their own lives.  (I think I am thinking too much of growing old. Yikes! This is what happens when the big 0 strikes! Read my birthday blog on turning 30. To be or not to be thirty ).

Hubby dear and I are huge book lovers. On our very first meeting, to hubby dear’s question, ‘What are  you reading these days?',  (after I had told him that reading was a hobby), I had answered (a little haughtily if I may say so myself), ‘I just finished one of Dostoevsky’s book, The Idiot’. Imagine my surprise when he replied in quite a matter of fact way, ‘The Idiot? Great book!’

We are still buying books and Dostoevsky’s is our favourite writer, hands down!

P.S: And yes, I have a large collection of Sponge Bob figures, Kung Fu Panda (the film) figures and even a very cool Wolverine (a gift from a dear friend!). A hobby which hubby dear doesn't share but doesn't mind either! 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Mobile hai Internet!

The ad under fire these days is that of Telenor internet more. In case you have no knowledge of the ad, please click on the following two links.

Before you start foaming at the mouth with rage and seething with anger or blushing with embarrassment (especially if your name is Faiza or Talha or Hassan) take a deep breath and evaluate the ad from a truly branding perspective.

The ad, you must admit, is quirky, especially the raspy voice-over. Sharp images, decent models and a crisp script make this a fun ad to watch. It's targeting the young people (generally) as they spend most of their time on the internet, surfing or chatting. User imagery is perfect - all students, from ages 12-22 can relate to the situation in the ad. The one thing I find objectionable in the ad is that both the ads revolve around the stories of two boys. Don't girls use internet too?!

Now this ad has created a lot of furore, or so it seems from an article a student of mine sent across the other day. So I sat up and took a careful notice of the ad again (I've viewed it so many times already on television!) in order to find the objectionable stuff in it. Following is what might be considered 'objectionable' in these two ads:

Ad: Faiza 
1. Gender stereotype - girl in library, with hair flying like a film star. Are we teaching girls to pay attention to their looks more than their studies?
2. Teaching kids (and adults) how to track people on Facebook.
3. Our youngsters are being taught immoral acts (making friends with the opposite gender).

Ad: CV
1. How can someone have such a casual attitude towards sending a job CV? Are we teaching our kids to become irresponsible and careless?
2. OMG! A dirty message in the inbox! We are encouraging porn!

Yes, I believe these are the only objections I could find in the ads.

Now for some serious ad analysis. Advertising, besides conveying the product message to the consumer, is also a reflection of consumer lifestyle at a certain point in time. Simply put, ads reflect the trends and lifestyles (activities, hobbies, pastime etc) of consumers (and this is not limited to ads only. It also applies to movies, music, drama, theater etc). The young generation (ages 12-22) is very tech-savvy and also heavy users of text messaging and chat services. By providing internet on their mobile phones, Telenor is cashing on this very lifestyle feature of the new generation.

That's all okay, you say, but the ads are inappropriate! I disagree. If you think the ads are inappropriate, you are using the ostrich approach. These ads are not teaching the youngsters anything they didn't know already. All of them use Facebook and trust me, they don't go on it to check the pictures posted by you dear old Aunt who now lives with her son in some remote corner in America. Nor do they do it so that you can post pictures of your grandson's birthday party for that same dear old Aunt. Facebook is a medium to make new friends, connect with old ones (which might include old flames) and check out the 'pictures' of friends' friends' friend. Get it? People didn't stop studying when Pink Floyd released, 'We don't need no education' (all those adults objecting to these ads were probably in their teens when the song came out).

Yes, there is a gender stereotype. I would, too, like to see an ad in which the story revolves around a girl and her friends. Dressing up is one of the fun things about being a girl and there are girls in colleges and universities who do come all dressed up (we had a few in univ also. The majority belongs to the 'wake-up-wash-face-go-to-college category). Anything objectionable in being dolled up? Yes and no. As long as they are not distracting (both in an attractive and annoying way), its all cool.

As far as destroying the morals of our youth by showing mindless activities like surfing all day on internet or opening dirty mails is concerned, are the youngsters of our country so gullible that they'll forget their morals, customs, traditions, teachings and all, just because of an advertisement?! 

Think about it. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Great (or maybe not) Gatsby -

Re-reading ‘The Great Gatsby’ made me realize its true worth. I was, unfortunately, a little disappointed in the book when I had read it the first time. Maybe I skimmed through it quickly, wanting to know the end and not realizing that the beauty of the story finishes in the end, with Gatsby.

 In Gatsby, Fitzgerald created an alluring character. From the moment you hear of Gatsby as Nick’s next door neighbour, you start wondering about him. His mansion, his yellow Rolls Royce, his immaculate garden, and especially, his Saturday night parties fuel your curiosity. Who is he? Why does he throw such big parties? How did he come into so much money?

All these questions Fitzgerald answers at leisure because he has to take you through the dynamics of the other characters that end up determining Gatsby’s fate. The most important of all these characters is Daisy, Nick’s cousin and the wife of Tom Buchannan. An affluent couple, Daisy and Tom spend their time socializing, travelling and entertaining. Their married life isn’t much to talk about, which the reader discovers early in the book when Nick meets Tom’s mistress, Mrs. Wilson.

Mrs. Wilson and Daisy are complete opposites and yet similar in many ways. Both are in unhappy marriages and in love with another man. Both cheat on their husbands and both have an unhappy ending (Mrs. Wilson more than Daisy, literally!).

The revelation by Jordan Baker (Nick’s love interest and one of the only headstrong woman in the novel) of Gatsby’s love for Daisy comes as a shock to the reader. At least it came as one to me. Daisy appears a shallow person, someone who is flirtatious and childish. On the flip side, maybe she wore a mask, knowing that she could not undo her life as it was of her own choosing. Gatsby’s re-entry into her world came as a respite from her unhappy marriage. He brought back her youth and her care-free days. Maybe she wanted to take revenge on Tom also, to punish him for all his philandering.  But she wasn’t going to leave her husband, Gatsby or no Gatsby. To walk off from a husband, a daughter, and a comfortable life requires resolve, courage and a lot of love and Daisy did not possess any one of these. Gatsby had come back into her life at a time when she was emotionally weak and therefore, she embraced him with open arms. It is easier to fall back on something or someone from our past when we are emotionally vulnerable. Gatsby, sadly for him, mistook it for love.

After reading and thinking over the book I agree with hubby dear, ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a tragic love story. Gatsby might be a conman who made his money through not-so-legal means, but he did it all for love. His fine taste in clothes, his yellow Rolls Royce, his mansion and his parties – all were for Daisy. He had no shame in admitting everything to Nick and in the end; he ended up losing his life for no fault of his. It was Daisy, and not Gatsby, who was driving the yellow Rolls when it hit Mrs. Wilson.

It seems Fitzgerald is saying between the lines, ‘Beware! Love is a dangerous thing!’ All three characters; Gatsby, Mrs. Wilson, and George Wilson, wanted a little love but ended up dead.

A little trivia related to the book. A number of movie versions of the book were made; the most famous is the one starring Robert Redford as Gatsby.  If for no other reason, it is a must watch to ogle over the young and very handsome Redford, immaculately dressed in some amazing Ralph Lauren suits. His suits started a new revolution in the fashion industry and I came across (thanks to Google) a cover of GQ magazine (March 1974) featuring Redford in a Gatsby getup. I wonder why this image is not used as a book cover!

Another trivia; there is a computer game based on the book also! I thought of downloading it but the source site seemed a little shady, so I just downloaded this picture.  

Pictures: Google Images

Friday, September 10, 2010

Aisam - you rock! (an open letter to the Paki tennis wonder)

Dear Aisam,
Thank you for bringing smiles on the faces of all of us back home. We cheered you from the very moment you stepped on the court, and jumped with joy at each point you made. Your loss did not make us sad, because you put up a great fight and were graceful in defeat. We are proud of you - maybe more than we were when our team won the cricket world cup. You made it this far on your own and unlike our cricketers, have always made Pakistan proud!

In this time of disaster and shame you've given us a reason to smile and feel good about being a Pakistani. 

We'll be praying and rooting for you tomorrow also! 

God Bless and good luck!

Photograph: Google Images

Trivia on Fitzgerald

Stephen King's 'On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft' is a most interesting read. Stephen talks about his early days and his struggle with drugs, especially alcohol. Two other famous twentieth century writers who were substance-abusers include Hemingway and Fitzgerald (writer of the month). King writes of his justification for drinking in his book.

'I also employed the world famous Hemingway Defense. Although never clearly articulated ( it would not be manly to do so), the Hemingway Defense goes something like this: as a writer, I am a very sensitive fellow, but I am also a man, and real men don't give in to their sensitivities. Only sissy men do that. Therefore I drink. How else can I face the existential horror of it all and continue to work?'.

Fitzgerald was an alcoholic since his college days and his drinking became heavy as the years went by. Alcohol left him in poor health and subsequently resulted in his death. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

George's Marvellous Medicine

Dahl writes amazing stories for children which come to life with the illustrations of Quentin Blake. Sometimes I wonder what came first, Dahl's story or Blake's illustration!

I've read George's Marvellous Medicine a number of times and each time I discover something new. Dahl's characters are very strong and each one contributes and, at times, steers the story through his/her personality. The children in his stories are not rebellious, mischievous or disobedient. They just want to make sense of the world and are puzzled by the attitude of adults towards them. They are sensitive and inquisitive, just like all children, and through their experiments (like in the case of George), they want to make things right.

George is a good kid who has a grumpy Grandma. Now, we might not be able to relate immediately with George because most of us have nice grandmothers who spoil us and bring us toys. But George's Grandma was not nice to him at all.  "She spent all day and every day sitting in her chair by the window, and she was always complaining, grousing, grouching, grumbling, griping about something or other. Never once, even on her best days, had she smiled at George and said, 'Well, how are you this morning, George?". 

Dahl draws such an evil character sketch of the grandmother that the reader has no sympathy for her. The grandmother is symbolic of any mean adult you might have come across as a child; a strict aunt who always complained about your shoes being dirty when you went to her house or a grumpy old uncle who would keep asking you about your grades at school or maybe your principal who would always find something wrong with your uniform and give you a dressing down during the assembly. 

So George decides to make a medicine which would, somehow, do something to Grandma. What that something was, he couldn't put his finger on. Being a child, his imagination knew no end and he set to work on a new medicine for his evil grandmother. The medicine itself is a piece of art. It includes almost anything and everything that George can find in the house; Golden Gloss hair shampoo, toothpaste, scarlet nail varnish, Dishworth's Famous dandruff Cure, liquid paraffin, Waxwell floor polish, flea powder for dogs, brown shoe polish, curry powder, mustard powder, extra hot chilli sauce, animal medicine, engine oil, anti-freeze, and dark brown gloss paint. Whew! 

What does the medicine do to Grandma? On taking just a spoonful, she jumps off the sofa and remains hanging in mid-air for a while. Then smoke bellows out of her ears and nose, and it seems she's on fire! Once George douses her with water, she starts growing and she grows so tall, she comes right out of the roof of the house!  The medicine does bring a change in Grandma physically, but otherwise, she is more or less the same; grumpy, and grouchy. So how does the medicine really fix Grandma? Well, that you must read and find out for yourself! [Her greed, impatience and jealousy makes her take a lethal dose of the wrong medicine (even though George tries to stop her) and puff!].

Two other characters in the book are George's parents, Mr & Mrs. Kranky. Mr. Kranky is a pretty ordinary guy. Again, through this character, Dahl shows a greedy side of adults. On discovery of the wonder that George's medicine can do, his father wants George to feed it to all the animals in the farm so they grow big and tall as Grandma. Then he wants George to make lots more of the medicine which they could sell all over the world and thus, become rich. As adults always do, Mr. Kranky hides his ulterior motive from George behind the mask of 'helping and feeding the world'. If you read between the lines, you can see what a shallow character Mr. Kranky is. 

So next time you're grumpy to a a kid, beware! He/she might just give you a 'marvellous medicine' when you fall ill! And then, puff!

What is the one item you would add to the marvellous medicine and who would you give it to? Do tell.  

Photographs: Google Images

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Author/s of the Month!

This is an ambitious month as far as books are concerned. September is the birth month of two amazing writers; Roald Dahl and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

No writers could be more different than these two. Dahl has a spectrum of books ranging from the very ‘scrumdiddlyumptious’ children books to the very absurd and decadent adult stories. Fitzgerald is known to most of you as the writer of The Great Gatsby. Even though I have read a number of his books, I don’t have the same affection for him, as a reader, as I hold for Dahl. But since he, like Dahl, is the author of the month, I shall give him some close attention.

I have selected some interesting books from both authors. Reviews of the books will be coming periodically throughout this month. Read along, if you like these authors also, and share your views. Here is the ‘beanbag booklist’ for this month:

Roald Dahl; George’s Marvellous Medicine (there had to be a children’s book!), BOY (an autobiography of Dahl), and Over to You (collection of adult short stories)

F.Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby (obviously!), and This Side of Paradise.

Let’s celebrate Dahl and Fitzgerald this month!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ramazan- Eat, Sleep, Pray...Buy!

The countdown has begun as Muslims all over the world enter the last round of fasts. This month has been pretty steep for us in Pakistan; a shocking plane crash, terrible floods, sectarian & targeted killing and of course, the cricket betting scandal. This Ramazan has been one big test for us as a nation and whether we have cleared it, or not, is still a question mark.

Ramazan is the one month when all of us, all over the country, share (more or less) the same routine (not that this similarity of schedules unites us or anything, unfortunately!) and the same (almost) buying habits.

Think about it. You get up for sehri and have something to eat, which can range from anything from a cereal and toast to naan and nihari. The next time you eat is in the evening, just like everyone you know, and the menu comprises of a lot of snacks which are, maybe, followed by dinner. As you get into the habit of fasting, you seek variety and decide to check out your favourite restaurant for iftari or maybe meet up with friends a little late for a cup of coffee (socializing without food is so boring!).

Now, let’s put brands into this picture. Everything you do all day involves brands and even though you only eat twice a day during this one month, you end up spending more money on groceries than you do otherwise. We tend to become more vulnerable during Ramazan; physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Brands make use of all the weaknesses of consumers to their advantage. Over the past few years, most brands have realized that targeting the emotions and spiritual side of consumers equals more sales. It all started, once upon a time, with Olper’s Ramazan ad campaign. This one ad changed the way people viewed advertisements. The ad generated immense buzz and along with the Ramazan special packaging and the mobile vans (which were a new concept then), Olper’s scored a big hit with its consumers. Milk, though consumed at both sehri and iftar, was a product consumers never associated with Ramzan. But Olper’s changed that view with their positioning (As baba Al-Reis has said, ‘positioning is not what you do to the product but what you do to the mind of the prospect’) and since its launch, every year consumers eagerly await the Olper’s Ramazan campaign.

The funny thing is that Rooh-Afza, a brand which everyone associates with Ramazan, never really associated itself with the holy month. A brand which we ignore all year round suddenly becomes an absolute essential at iftar! And yet, the brand has never done any strong activity to promote this association. On the other hand, Coca Cola is actively promoting itself with Ramazan and trying to make a place for itself on the table at iftar. Instead of going through the basic price cut route (like Pepsi; as if Rs. 5/- will make Pepsi desirable!), they’ve gone through the emotional route which gels in well with their overall campaign, ‘Open happiness’.

A category which keeps a low profile during Ramazan, yet is consumed greedily (by some of us) at sehri and iftar, is tea! Tea brands have not really focused on creating an emotional bond with consumers during Ramazan, a major reason being the negligible increase in tea consumption. Most of the tea we consume is during working hours and if we minus the three (or more) cups we drink during the day, we’re only left with two. And some light tea drinkers minus tea from their menu completely since there are so many other beverages that must be consumed also.  

But the one item on the grocery list which actually doubles in consumption, what with all those fried goodies at iftar, is cooking oil. For cooking oil brands, Ramazan is very important. They often plan consumer promotions a little before Ramazan, introduce price cuts and make sure their availability is 100%. This year,Mezan stood out strongly with their celebrity endorsement campaign featuring Aamir Liaquat and special Ramazan packaging. Dalda, and their positioning of ‘Mamta’ (motherhood), blends in perfectly with Ramazan and it also comes out very strongly in their Ramazan campaign.The one thing that almost all oil brands do is offer consumer promotions which include either a price discount or a free packet of chat masala with the oil. Chat masala, like Rooh-Afza, is a very Ramazan specific product. The sales of chat masala are very sluggish throughout the year and unless the sales team gets rid of the bulk of the product during Ramazan, they have a difficult task ahead for the rest of the year to dispose it off.

Other brands have jumped on the band wagon also. It seems that everyone wants a piece from the emotional and spiritual consumer pie. Telecom companies have a bundle of offers; special call rates between sehri and iftar, prayer alerts, special religious wall papers, hadith and Quranic verses through sms – you name it, they have it for you. I receive the most sms from Mobilink everyday trying to convince me to have a more fulfilling Ramazan by subscribing to one of their ‘offers’. If only they knew how much I hate their brand (and still own it! I’m not tearing my hair out this time. Why should I lose my hair over Mobilink!). Others, like Unilever, try and reach out to their consumer via an indirect route. This Ramazan, as I discovered on spending a certain amount at Park Towers, you are entitled to a gift bag which contains numerous Unilever goodies. You feel good about getting some free stuff, they make you sample their products and in most cases, grab you as a customer. End result: you feel the giant multinational cares for you during this holy month!

The brands which top the list when it comes to exploiting consumer vulnerability during Ramazan are our television channels. Every other channel has a special sehri and iftar transmission which are, more or less, the same. Everyone wants to attain the status that Aamir Liaquat had achieved these past few years during Ramazan. In fact, Aamir Liaquat was like Rooh-Afza; forgotten the year round and re-surfacing in Ramazan (this year, with the change of channel, he seems to have lost his earlier emotional appeal). In Ramazan our television channels offer a similar mixed bag of software; cooking shows, religious programs featuring scholars, and programs featuring actors, singers, and hosts trying to sound religious. No wonder people spend more time praying, there’s not much to distract them on television!

Having said all that, what does Ramazan mean to us? Do we consider it as a month which provides us an opportunity to spend some quality time with God? Or do we just take it like any other month of working and socializing, with a slight change in schedule? Have we equated Ramazan with consumerism along with its other attributes? It seems that we are more concerned about what we eat at iftar, how many iftar parties we go to, the various restaurants which we check out for iftar, the clothes & accessories we buy for Eid and how to make up lost sleep. We seem to have forgotten, especially if we look at the current situation of our country, the big picture of Ramazan. It is a month of practicing patience and being compassionate but as Pakistanis, we seem to have removed these two words from our dictionary and thus, from Ramazan.

Sleep, eat, pray and buy in Ramazan but also give, forgive, count your blessings and spend time with loved ones. Make most of these last few days of Ramazan – who knows what life has in store for us next year.

Photographs: Google Images

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Just one minute?

Mobilink has tried its hand at comparative advertising through its latest Jazz campaign featuring Mani and Azfar. Trying to use the humor approach, they have introduced a new package, Jazz Bemisaal Ramazan offer, which competes directly with Ufone 'Minute per Minute' offer.

The Ufone 'Minute per Minute' offer is simple. For every one minute you talk from your Ufone number to a Ufone number, the next minute will be free. To activate the service you dial a particular code but you can enjoy this offer for a limited time only.

And what is the Jazz offer? Well, after every one minute, you'll get one hour free. The catch? Unlike Ufone, which is offering this service on all its packages (except the Uth package), Jazz is offering this ONLY on its Octane package. Never heard of this package? That's why Jazz gave this 'bemisaal' promotion on it; hardly anyone owns this package!

The celebrity endorsement of Mani and Azfar doesn't do any wonders for the brand. Firstly both these stars have lost the appeal they had earlier (during the 'Sub Set Hai' days) and secondly, they aren't funny anymore. Thirdly, as compared to the Ufone ad, the execution of the Jazz ad sucks. The only consolation is that  at least its been shot on home turf, unlike the other Jazz Ramazan ads on air these days (which are awful, to say the least).

Why am I still a Jazz user?!? (tearing my hair out!!!)