Monday, January 12, 2009

Your suds are magical

My inspiration comes from deep within the core my own being but not without catalysts from the outer world. I can best expand on this seemingly mundane statement from a seminal experience that dates to my childhood. I was born in Rockville, Maryland, but when I was three years old -- in 1986-- my parents migrated to India. I spoke and understood only English, not having been exposed to any Indian languages. My new world was strange to me. It was a jumble of visuals and sounds but without language – and this at a time when a child is growing into the world of complex speech. My learning curve in the US had been nursery rhymes and fairy tales and, of course, Sesame Street.

In India, there were no Cookie Monsters or Oscars. But there was TV. Apart from my parents, TV was my only real communication with the outside world. Yet, I was a stranger even to this medium because it was mostly in the Hindi language. What was in English – news, current affairs – held no interest, leave alone comprehension, for me. What fascinated me, however, were the ads. They were in Hindi and yet, they connected with the mind and personality of an alien three-year-old.

What still stands out powerfully in my memory and mind’s eye was an ad for Nirma detergent powder. It was a no-nonsense, no-frills, I-am-what-you-see commercial with had a lively Hindi jingle that went: “Your suds are magical,” with a flourish and special lilt on the Hindi word for suds –“jhaag.” Without any effort I understood not only the message but also, perhaps viscerally, the words. Visuals, music, simplicity, quick takes, color, led me faster into the world of a new language than any formal classroom. I suppose that the uncluttered mind of this child rapidly absorbed the reality that advertising had illumined what was only recently a dark new world she had entered. I watched ads all the time. To me -- because I likened the Nirma ad to a friend who had led me out of my cultural banishment -- other ads became a charmed circle of friends.

The message was not of primary importance. In fact, any ad whose composition, cadence and rhythm did not support the message, or vice versa, drew my scorn and derision. If they appeared disingenuous or deceptive, they were not my “friends.” What endeared me to an ad the most was the color, design, shape, script, brevity – and above all if it could arouse emotion in me. The ones that made me laugh were my best friends.

When I look back, I see that my first efforts in self-discovery – and my own scripting of my creative self – consisted of writing jingles and making up story lines and scripts for imaginary products. I was barely 5 years old, and still attending nursery school (by now I was learning formal Hindi along with English) when I actually began dubbing and adding music to ads using a simple tape recorder and inviting my friends to do voices. This remained a hobby and recreation for a long time to come. Today this inspiration has become a passion for me. It is almost as if I now want instinctively to share the “friends” I create with others, to translate the world of my inner reality into the externalities of the world of professional advertising.