The Blahcksheep

The Blahcksheep

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Tonality


“Good morning, Sanya!” I received a Whatsapp text from Dharam, my account manager. I have five missed calls from him. The text, which sounds like a greeting, is a passive-aggressive bomb regarding my laxity. But I am accustomed to this. “I will handle him,” my brain reverts back, as I get the blanket off myself and move to the washroom.

“Sanya, yaar! I have told you so many times but you don’t listen to me. The client is angry.” There he goes again. I know the exact words of the client and the reasons for his fury but I also know that the same client is going to revert back in the end saying, “Hey, it all worked out for the best, so let bygones be bygones.” 

“Hypocrite,” my mind wants to blurt out in front of my account manager. However, a certain sensibility looming at the back of my brain prevents me from doing so.

“Okay, so I want an improvised copy along with the signature tagline for the brand by the end of the day.” He is going on and on when he catches my attention by saying “by the end of the day.” I have realized that my mind is strongly attuned to deadlines. We will ideate on it later, let us focus on the client’s whims and fancies!

I make myself comfortable on the cream-coloured couch of the living room after having breakfast. I am trying to play some music that could help me fish out copies, when an auntie from my locality walks in, looking for Maa. I give a small shout to Maa, as our home is hollow and there is not much furniture around to keep my voice down. I am trying to play some song that would match the mood, but I cannot figure out what to play. I turn off the music in frustration and start working. Auntie is observing the whole scenario as a silent spectator. She sees me struggling with my clumsiness, and is unable to resist her curiosity as she ends up asking, “So beta, what are you up to these days?”

Here we go again. I sigh and put on a pleasing smile as I say, 

“Auntie, I am working as a copywriter for an agency.”

“Copywriter? Like, what’s that? Do you copy stuff and write?” I want to have my laugh as she tries to make sense of this new word in her life.

“Auntie, think of it like this, I write for brands and ads. The ads you watch on T.V., or you find in the newspaper, I write them. That’s my job,” I say, trying to be as simple and patient as possible. Of course, if my client is struggling to make sense of it, I cannot expect her to get it. Can I? We will discuss this later.

“So beta, you write ads like ‘Washing Powder Nirma’?”, I get a reply as fast as a hyena’s jump on her prey.

My younger sibling, whose presence was not bothering me, chokes out a giggle as he hears this and I give him a stone-cold look as if to tell him, “Don’t you dare laugh, otherwise I will write an obituary as well.”  Only I can laugh at my profession. 

“Yes, auntie! Something like that only.” I replied back. Before she could pose another question my way, Maa descends the stairs and saves me. 

My phone suddenly rings again. This time, it is not the account manager. It is the boss. I am a bit puzzled but I take the call. 

“Hey, Sanya! What’s up with you?” There is a certain kind of energy in my boss’s voice. I could hear my account managers around the room as well. God, don’t I miss this, the camaraderie of working together. But anyway, let us focus on the conversation.

“Hey, Shruti! I am good. Tell me, to what  do I owe the pleasure of an early morning call?” Was I too frank? Leave it, there is no fun in crying over what has already been said. 

“Sanya, you just got my favourite client boiled up. He is finding the copies too much, too out there. He is not quite happy with the language. It is too ‘casual’ and ‘blunt’. That’s the feedback from him.” 

As she is saying all this, I am making notes. However, like always, I blurt out,

“Shruti, the campaign demands it. I am struggling to be more subtle!”

“I know, Sanya! I understand your point. But, it is what it is. Get me an improvised copy. We cannot delay this.” She hears me sigh and I say, “I will get back to you and Dharam on this asap.”

“That’s good to hear.”

I hang up and start working on it again. It is frustrating on some days and rewarding on some. How do you write so much in so little? My mind gets frustrated when the client does not get the tonality of the campaign. Fucker, there is a reason behind it, rack those grey cells of yours!

*****

As I am returning from my morning run, when it is just eight o’clock, dhobi wale bhaiya is adjusting the antenna of his radio on this small make-shift press. “Tujhse naraz … zindagi …..hairan  hoon  main..” The morning dew is still present, waiting for the winter sun to come and suffuse the much-missed spark in it.

I am standing in front of the sliding wooden panels of my locality. I do not wish to enter this guarded locality. I look away and find a road leading to the old grocery shop. Does Ramu Kaka still sit there or has his son started to manage the place? Maa often used to send me to him to pick groceries. A certain kind of curiosity to see that old face makes me take the dilapidated road that nobody in the locality uses anymore. It is a narrow lane, and garbage is spilling out from the corners. The paint is coming out of the walls. The lane forks off to the grocery shop on one side and a Crocodile Park on the other. Weird park, weird locality, I know! 

I reach the kirana store where I have often bought myself Kurkure. There is dust accumulated on the shelves and the brown bread seems to be growing fungus. There is silence, and nobody is sitting on the chair where I often used to find Ramu Kaka. However, the seat is dipped as if it has been in use. The old T.V. is trying to buzz some kind of bhakti poetry, yet I am unable to make out the lyrics. Never mind. I give a call to see if anyone is there.

 “Koi Hai?” I wait for two seconds for some response but nothing happens. I stand there in silence, scrutinising if there is something I can buy. But the dust is too thick to read the words of the items that were once neatly displayed.

“Haanji, kon hai?”, a woman in her late fifties comes out of the shallow door that is almost hidden in the back. I never interacted with his wife, though. I do not even remember if I ever got to see her. The woman is in a plain cream saree, and her head is bellowing with grey hair. I try to put on a smile and shy away from any awkwardness that might arise as I am in my workout pants. Suddenly, I am conscious of everything around me. 

“Namaste Aunty Ji. Mein Sanya. Idhar hi rehti hun, pass mein!”, I am struggling for some humility that I have yet to learn.

“Beta, tum Sanya ho naa. Tum Bombai jaa rahe ho naa..Pata hai sab beta..Ramu Kaka ne bataya tha.” 

I am shocked at the preciseness with which she describes my whereabouts. I also remember how my mother has a gossiping tongue, and how small my world is. Suddenly, a bit of dust gets inside me and I cough and  usher out,

 “ Auntie, Ramu Kaka kaise hai? Kafi time ho gaya hai.. Dikhte nahi. Pehle walk karte the,…”

“Beta, unka lung infection ho gaya hai. Treatment chal raha hai. Pata nahi kab theek honge, Covid ne kaam kharaab kar diya. Bhagwan bharose hai sab.”

I sigh and ask her if everything else is going fine. I am embarrassed by my reply. I want to chide myself. I ask if she has bathing soaps in stock and she says yes. I buy myself a dozen of those knowing truly well they are expired. I fish out the money and ask her to keep the change. Then, my legs get themselves to my sheltered peace in an unaccustomed hurry.

                                                                     *****

“Sanya, when’s your flight scheduled for Mumbai? The boss wants you here asap. We cannot wait anymore.” I wonder if Shruti is asking me out of sheer obligation or if they are actually looking forward to my coming.

“It is scheduled for 5th January. I will be there soon,” I try to revert calmly. 

“Cool, then! Also, I need to tell you, you cannot delay it anymore. We need you there. We are done with Covid and Rakesh wants everyone in the office!” A subtle warning, a subtle obligation, a certain concern. Everything checked. My boss’s tonality is upto the mark.

“I know. I will be there. Don’t worry.” As soon as I say this, she hangs up. Will I be? 

                                                                  ******

“Sanya, get me the tagline for Crescita! And it better be apt.”, Dharam messages me. 

I read the message as I am making myself coffee. Two tablespoons of coffee and a bit of sugar. I am beating the coffee beans through the cake mixer. I have got the ceramic cup out. The milk is in the refrigerator. Milk can wait. My mind is rushing to think about Crescita. Taglines. Everything in 3-4 words. Can we do the same for people? We will discuss this later. 

We Invest Your Win. Does it make sense? Nope. The coffee beans are turning into a light-brown colour as the grinder whirls at its superlative speed. It is making a noise that is giving me a rush.

Invested in all the right places, just for you. Naah. We are not writing Crescita’s bio in a dating app. Strike that now! Let us boil the milk. I like it in Cappuccino style. Enough milk to  melt as it touches the roof of your mouth.

Your Growth, Our Win. Too out there. Make it subtle, Sanya! I poured too much milk into the brewed beans mix. It is not what I wanted! 

I distance myself from the shelf; the ceramic cup sits listlessly waiting for the hot brew of my day. It is just coffee, it does not have to be perfect every time you make it. 

Your Blunder Will Be Ours. Invest with Crescita. Thank you.

                                                                     *****

“Why don’t you select one song and stick to it?” Ria, my childhood friend, complained as she was sitting in the passenger seat. I was hopping from one song to another. The metallic music player had gotten rusty, it connected with my Bluetooth at the very last moment, just before Ria lost all her patience. 

“Okay, let’s drive. We will listen to songs later!” I tried to pacify her and got the handbrake down when the music system buzzed.I rejoiced as it connected to my Bluetooth. “Finally, phew!” I gave a sigh of relief. However, I kept on changing the songs as we were driving, and suddenly Ria said, “Why aren’t you letting any song play? The moment I start vibing to any song, you end up changing it!” 

“It’s just that they are not fitting. I am figuring it out,” I blurt out in confusion as I find it difficult to talk while driving. 

“Sanya, just let it be!” Ria scolds me. Yet, I keep on changing the songs. The tone is either too high or too low. I am trying to adjust to it. 

We finally arrive at this small Ice-Cream Parlour situated at the other end of the city. Ludhiana is a small city for that matter, the other end of the city means fifteen minutes.

                                                                      ******

It is the 12th of January, and I force myself to get out of bed. I check my mobile. There are no messages or missed calls. I check the calendar; it is Thursday. I wear my slippers and move out of the room to check if I am willing to have breakfast. I do not even remember what I had for dinner last night. 

I make myself some coffee and have it with an Aloo Parantha. I know coffee does not go with Paranthas but do we have an option?

Suddenly, my phone rings and it is Dharam calling out of the blue. It has been a week. Did I forget to sign off from the Office Portal? I do not  remember. Maybe he called just to give me gossip he cannot resist keeping to himself. But, another call around noon, that’s weird. 

“Morning, Dharam!” I check the time to make sure it is not exactly noon.

“Sanya. We are in a pickle. I know you do not work here anymore. But I would really appreciate it if you can give me a Sales and a Creative Copy for Crescita. Nobody can handle the client. Shruti is still interviewing people for your position. We need more options. I am sorry but I will owe you for this. You have a way with words.” A panic rose in his voice along with urgency. I liked the admission. How hard is it to find another copywriter? Is the world not teeming with them? I thought I would be easily replaceable. 

The tonality has changed the tables. 

“Okay, send me the brief in my mail. I will start working on it asap.” I replied. It has been a week since I have written anything. Let us see if the brain has gone rusty.

I take my laptop out and bring it into the living room. I make myself comfortable on the sofa and connect the Wifi to my laptop when the doorbell rings. It always rings when I am about to start. I stand up, trying to slip my feet into my slippers, and move to the door edgily to open it. 

I see the round face with a bit of makeup done in patches, the similarly parted hair on either side, the chunni dropping unevenly to one side and a call to Maa comes instantly. “Maa, Auntie is here.”

I can hear Maa come out of her bedroom and close the door behind her. 

“Namaste, Auntie!” I keep the tone a bit low and nonchalant. I don’t want to attract any attention or questions.

“Namaste. How is it going? What happened to Bombay? You were supposed to leave naa?” Here we go again.

Before I can reply, Maa comes and interrupts us with her surprise, “Shalini, is it true? Ramu Kaka died this morning? Was the lung infection that fatal?”

I am taken aback for a minute or two. I did not see that coming, He died.

I pick up my laptop from my living room and try to move into my room when I overhear, “Nahi, Jyoti. It was not fatal. He did not have the money to get the operation, and all his savings had flushed  away because of it.”

Maa makes a certain sound with her tongue on the roof of her mouth and numerous ktch come in one string, her disappointment expressed through her speech. Tonality in sound, Interesting!

As soon as I close the door of my room behind me, all the voices shut down and I try to fish out a copy for my ex-colleague.

                                                           *******

“Sanya, what’s up with you?” Ria asks as I am mixing sugar in my coffee. There is nobody in the cafe; covid has taken away the charm of the small city that once used to brim with people. 

“Nothing, Ria,” I try to say in somberly as I keep the small mixing spoon out on the cutlery. I give a deep sigh, she is accustomed to them.

“It is okay if you can’t go to Mumbai. You can still make something here,” she is trying to solace me over the lost possibilities.

“You won’t get it.” I mumble out these words.

“Spill it out. You are burning a hole in my pocket. I cannot accompany you every evening to dead cafes as you are mourning for your lost metropolitan life.” she says and continues, “This is the sixth day in a row that we are sitting in a new cafe since the day you cancelled your ticket to Mumbai.”

I stay silent.

I sigh and look out the grilled window. The moon is up and about.

I feel like speaking my mind.

“They sacked me because they said the client did not like the voice in the copies that I wrote.”

“And you left?” there was surprise in her voice.

“I could not trade my voice for anything in this world,” an admission was made. I continued further, “ Staying didn’t make any sense.”

Suddenly, my Whatsapp notification rings. It is Dharam. I opened it. 

“Thanks, Sanya. The client loved it. I owe you one for this. I am sorry for the way you left. We will surely catch up when you are in Bombay.”

 A smile lights  up my face.

“Want to share this small flicker of happiness?” Ria taunts as she catches the slipped smile on the corner of my mouth.

“The client liked the tagline,” I replied back.

“Aha, what was it?”

“Invested for you, always.”

Ria looks at me as if she wants to say something but chooses to stay quiet.

 As we move out, Ria starts humming the song that was playing in the cafe.

“Tujhse Naraaz Nahi Zindagi… Hairan Hun Mein.”

I finally figured out what song to play on the drive back home.


Bhumika Aggarwal photo

Bhumika Aggarwal

Bhumika is currently working as a copywriter with an advertising agency in Mumbai. A graduate in literature in English from Delhi University, she does not shy away from writing her words on paper napkins at airports or going for open mics. A humble product of chance encounters that have shaped her life in ways that she tries to render in her writings. 

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