“In our factory, we make lipstick. In our advertising, we sell hope.”
-Peter Nivio Zarlenga
What is the greatest invention of the industrial era? Mr. Lee Kuan Yew or LKY, the father of Modern Singapore Nation State believed it is the Air Conditioner. The reason for his choice was simple. The comfortable life we live, in a tropical country like Singapore would not be possible without an air conditioner. We would be spending our entire lives wiping off sweat from eye brows. The AC changed all that. Mr. LKY reasoned, that quality of life and productivity of her citizens is much better because of the Air Conditioner.
I used to think this must be true till I realised during IPL, that the greatest invention is not Radio or Motor Car or Steam Engine or the Air Conditioner as Mr. LKY said. It is actually the ‘Mute’ button on the TV remote or more precisely on Laptop keyboard.
And the reason behind my choice is very simple. I agree that all the inventions mentioned in the previous para from Radio to Steam Engine have helped in improving our lives. But without the ‘Mute’ button, civilisation as we know it, would have collapsed and we would have become marauding monsters. Let me explain..
Advertisement or ad is important. No doubt. Without ad, we will not know anything about a product or service (whether we need them or not is a different thing altogether). But to observe an ad and to grasp the content, we should be in a receptive state of mind or we should have the choice to decide when we want to see the ad. Take, for example, print ads which appear in the morning newspapers. You can read them or skip them – the choice is yours. If for some reason you can turn to page 2 only after reading the ad in page 1, no one would have read newspapers and print newspapers would have vanished long time ago and not after the advent of online news.
On the other hand, TV does not give you that choice. It is all pervasive and gets on your nerves all the time. To watch a sitcom or a soap (or serials as they are called in India) of twenty minutes, you need to endure ads for ten minutes or more. Now imagine watching these ads without the Mute. I am sure everyday millions of TVs would have been shattered to pieces as irritated viewers would have thrown everything including the kitchen sink at it in a fit of rage.
There are two things in life which don’t seem to end. A cricket match and Windows update. They just don’t seem to end. While I am not sure about Microsoft, I am sure, the folks in England who invented the noble game to get some sun on their backs in their short summars, would have devised the game differently, had they known, advertisers in India would be at our throats for hours on end and decided to bowling from only one end. The changing of ends after each over gives the advertisers time to broadcast ads and to get on our nerves.
The shortest form in a cricket game takes twice as much time than any other popular sport for e.g foot ball. The biggest sporting event in the world, the finals in football world cup finals takes only 90 minutes and the shortest game in cricket, the T-20 takes three hours. And this gives broadcasters more time to play havoc with your lives.
I am sure only half baked nitwits are given the responsibility to decide when they would insert ads during a game. Consider these..
A batsman is hit on the head by a pace bowler’s delivery. The fielding team and the medical emergency crew from the pavilion rush to see if the batsman is alright. It may not be life threatening but this particular batsman is the one who is going to win the match for you and you are eager to know if he is going to continue or he would retire (hurt) to the pavilion. Tension is running high. And what does the broadcaster do? He will insert an ad asking you to buy an after shave or deodorant or a sanitary napkin. In a tense moment like this, all you want to know is, if the player is OK. Not whether all the beautiful girls in the world are going to run behind you if you are going to use this particular brand of deo.
Few days back, India were on the verge of losing a match to an underrated team who are at the bottom of the table in the current world cup and billion viewers were glued to the TV. And all you got to see during those tense moments, repeatedly, was Deepika Padukone’s pillow fights with her ex and her non stop flirting with the current one. I can’t recall the product names in either of them.
My colleague during Hercules days, Chris Rozett and I were watching a movie in HBO at a hotel long time ago. Every few minutes there was a break for ads. Chris asked me if HBO was a free to air channel in India. I answered ‘no.’ Immediately he said, “why are they showing ads then? You have paid for cable, only to watch content without ads.” We are somehow hoodwinked. We pay for watching programmes without ads and end up watching only these idiotic ads most of the time.
Even an elementary school student knows that advertisements substitute substantial cost of a newspaper. Without ads, the newspaper you buy for five rupees would cost fifty rupees. Yes! but when that becomes greed to make money we have a problem in hand. It is exactly like the hardware – software nexus. You change a gadget because it won’t support the new software. And in few months your new hardware won’t support the old software and you update the software paying good money. Recall windows upgrades. It is the same with broadcasting now. The ICC increases the price for broadcasting rights as they see broadcasters make lot of money. So the broadcaster pays a billions of dollars to make money they show even more ads. And ICC raises the price again because they see even more ads are aired. Lovely! What a nexus.
As far as I am concerned, the only brand recall these inopportune time ads would achieve is you will only recall these brands and avoid the products like plague as they have irritated you so much.
Lastly, why did it take me so many years to figure out the importance of Mute button. If you are watching a program on TV, when the ad is aired you have an option of flipping channels or you can simply press mute button. In Chennai, where I don’t have a TV, I watch the matches on my laptop. After each over, I had to minimise the screen size to see the ‘mute’ button on screen. I thought there must be an easier way to do this and that was when I realised there are keys at the top of the keyboard and there are play/pause and mute buttons amongst them. It took me couple of decades to realise what the keys were meant for. Without the ‘Mute,’ I would have probably stopped watching the matches or broke the laptop screen when one of the ads were aired (higher odds for the second thing to happen) had I not learnt how to ‘Mute’ those giggling noises.
In his book ‘Neither Here Nor There,’ Bill Bryson has written the following about Television Programme in Norway:
“The best that can be said for Norwegian television is that it gives you the sensation of a coma without the worry and inconvenience.”
I think we would be better off watching a Norwegian TV programme than watching these wretched ads in Indian TV. A sensation of coma should be better than going into a rage every six minutes.
If something can be qualified to be worse than TV ad, it must be surely Airline food. While we have the option of flipping channels or pressing the saviour (Mute) button to escape an ad, with airline food you don’t have a choice. Well, you have a choice of going hungry. While it is possible to escape airline food during a short flight you can’t do that on a transatlantic flight or if you are flying non-stop from Dubai to San Francisco. Even in shorter flights, if you are taking a flight in the morning during breakfast time or dinner time, you would be forced to have take it (knowing well it is going to be a challenge eating it) as you would be hungry and ready to eat anything to save your life.
Bad food is not restricted to what is dished out during flights. Hostel food can be as bad or hospital food. But a combination of factors make the airline food worse than probably it is. Everything about the food is bad. The packaging, the way it is served and then the taste.
My grandma used to say this when I used to do something as an afterthought. She would say, “You are cutting your foot to match your shoe size.” This invariably happens with airline food. First of all you are struck in an aluminium tube for few hours. You have a tiny little place in the aircraft (especially if you are flying cattle class) and a tinier tray in front of you. Now the airlines packs a complete meal in the tiniest plate so that it can be put on top of the tray in front. So unpacking them without dropping the cutlery or the small piece of chocolate (which is the only good thing that will be on the plate) would be the first challenge. In a blink of a second when you are not watchful or if the aircraft hits a bump, your favourite chocolate would fall from the plate and gets into the wedge between the bottom legs of the seat in front. And the only way to get it back would be to throw the passengers out and uproot the chair from its roots.
And so you would unpack the food but where would you keep them? You will keep something on your lap something between you and the chair frame and a total chaos would ensue when you try to retrieve any of them without letting them drop and go to the inaccessible place mentioned before.
And then the taste. Airlines advertise that they have the most renowned chefs (Michelin star?) who prepares the menu and the recipes. In truth you would think your favourite pani puri vendor or the old lady who makes idli in a side street can make better food given a chance. The airline food would be so bland and tasteless you would crave for the hostel food you were so upset about for four years when you were in college.
I once complained about the sandwich Indian Airlines used to serve on domestic flights. I did not get even an acknowledgement. It was probably the worst food I have ever eaten inside an aircraft. It was so bad I still get shivers when I see a sandwich. How can I describe the sandwich. Well Bill Bryson has rescued me again. He writes about something he had during his travel in Europe. I quote,
“I hadn’t eaten since my snackette supper of the night before and I was so hungry that I would have eaten almost anything, even a plate of my grandmother’s famous creamed ham and diced carrots, the only dish in history to have been inspired by vomit.”
Excerpt From: Bill Bryson. “Neither here nor there: travels in Europe”. Apple Books.
Well that would be a close enough description of the sandwich I had.
The only saving grace in the meal that is served in some of the airlines is the after mint or mouth freshener tucked in a corner of the food tray. Many a time I have eaten the food bearing the unpleasant taste and smell thinking I will be alright when I eat the after mint. A good mint has some really nice ingredients. It would have aniseed, supari, core of coriander seeds, betel nut slivers, rose and peppermint essence. The trick is to get them in right proportions. Too much of sweet or seeds or peppermint would kill it. And Jet Airways had got that just about right. The mint used to be so good and you look forward to tasting it after a meal. (Compared to other airlines), Jet served decent food also. Jet Airways and the Joy of Flying.
A good mint would serve as digestive aid, smoothen the pallet and give enormous satisfaction after a meal. It would give as much pleasure to the passenger as to a person who finds an oasis after walking through the desert for few days and was about to die of thirst or for that matter the happiness of a Chennai resident who sees few drops of rain.
The mint became a sought after item even among the non fliers. Rachna (my daughter) and Vinay (my nephew) used to fight over it when they were kids. Jet Airways was always kind to me. Being one of their platinum card fliers had its advantages. An air hostess would always seek me out during the flight and ask me if my flight is OK and if I need anything. I always said, ‘few mints.” The kind air hostesses would always bring a bunch of them.
I once saw the mint (jet airways mint was packaged in their corporate blue colour and would look very attractive) placed on the table of a paper mill executive. Invariably anything I write, somehow, involves an incident from paper mill; effect of spending more than half of my life in paper mills across the globe. I asked him if had just flown in Jet Airways. He replied “No Ramesh. I was to go to Bombay last week, you see, it was to be my first experience in flying. It got cancelled at the last minute. But I like this mint very much. I always ask the GM sir to get me some whenever he flies in Jet Airways.”
Tamarind Candy served in Jet and a good mint from Cream Stone.
As I said a good mint is a rare thing. After Jet Airways the next good mint I found was served in a restaurant in Chennai, Cream Stone. It is almost as good as the one we used to get in Jet Airways.
Yes, a good mint also brings some nostalgia. Jet Airways also served a tamarind sweet (purely a digestive aid). It also became quite popular. I did not like it though. Not because it was not good. It was a huge task unwrapping the cover without tearing it. Part of the candy would always stick to the finger and make you feel miserable till you get out of the aircraft and find a rest room to wash your hands. Readers who know my patience in doing things without hurrying and make a mess of it, can imagine my struggle as well.