Guest Column: Right-Brained Citizen Blog#3: ‘Insert Special Characters’

“Walk in to any adverting agency and there will be this crazy bunch that keeps the mojo of that place going. Call anybody who works or has worked in advertising and they will have dozens of stories about these magical creatures,” says Sainath Saraban, NCD at Leo Burnett

e4m by Sainath Saraban
Updated: Jul 14, 2015 8:19 AM
Guest Column: Right-Brained Citizen Blog#3: ‘Insert Special Characters’

It’s just another day at work. The brief doesn’t make sense. The idea is still eluding you like that guy who owes you money. The deadline is approaching at the speed of, well, a deadline. There is nothing faster than an approaching deadline.  

The guy in the next cubicle has his own set of worries when Mr. X-Ray vision approaches him and says, “Give me a cigarette.”
My worried cubicle neighbour looks up and says, “I don’t have any.”
Mr X-Ray vision says, “Oh really! Or is it that you don’t want to give me a cigarette?”
Worried cubicle neighbor, “Seriously. I’ve run out.”
Mr. X-Ray vision saunters up to me, gives me his fake God-man laugh and says, “Ha ha ha ha…an open pack with 17 Classic Milds lies in his second drawer. I can see it right through the wood. But he doesn’t want to share. So be it. Ha ha ha.”
He walks away still laughing at the selfishness of mere mortals.
My worried cubicle neighbor opens the second drawer.
It is empty.

When you join advertising, your appointment letter says many things.
“It is with great pleasure blah…blah…”
“You are entitled to… blah…blah.”
“Your bonus is….blah…blah.”
“You will not….blah…blah.”

But what it doesn’t mention is this fabulous fact, this magnificent perk, this hidden gem that’s actually one of the biggest incentives there is.
You will be sharing your work-life with some very special characters. And these people will ensure that you have a good ride, and provide memories that will last way longer than your last bonus.”

Mr. X-Ray vision is just one of the many special characters that inhabited my advertising life - someone so memorable that I’m still talking about him after 18 years. And he has some great company.

There was the ‘Moonlighting King’ - a super-charged copywriter who was the ‘Bruce Lee’ of the freelance business. He worked full-time with us and part-time with half a dozen other agencies simultaneously. So every now and then he would get in to his sky-blue Maruti van that had a bunch of wax grapes dangling from the rear-view mirror and distribute headlines and body-copy pretty much like that guy handing out leaflets at a mall. He’d come back looking nonchalant about the whole thing and proceed to play carom.

The ‘Bird-Watcher’ - a very articulate and polite gent who had a diploma in ornithology.  ‘That’s the study of birds’, he said in an attempt to enlighten me. He was so in love with wildlife that, at a workshop in Wyanad, Kerala, he saw a leech latched on to his leg merrily sucking his blood and getting fat. Our man, plucked the leech out gently, held it lovingly and said, “Oh! Baby, please don’t do that” before letting it go. Bystanders just stood there somewhat shocked, hoping that it was just a bad dream.

Rowdy Re-mix.” - this art director who subconsciously mixed two different songs and genuinely believed he was singing the right song. He would sing, “Seven Up - Taste The Thunder’ (blasphemy according to some!), and ‘Yeh laal rang…magar chupke chupke’- (the first line is from a Rajesh Khanna film and the second from a Shah Rukh starrer) with such conviction, you’d have your doubts before correcting him!

Then there was the ad-film director who ate only white food.

The absent-minded music-director who called the sound engineer because he was terribly late for a session and told them he was just around the corner. He was caught out because he’d very ‘smartly’ called them from his landline at home.

The space cadet of a canteen guy who handed me an empty plate and said, “Sir, Maggi.” I looked at him and said, “Where’s the Maggi?” He looked at the empty plate, blinked and walked away.

The art director who while watching an ‘adult’ movie with a bunch of guys had just one thing to say, “What lighting, man!”

The creative director who wore the same attire for a whole week, just to keep us guessing – ‘was he not washing his clothes or did he really have 5 identical sets?’

To a lot of people these fine human beings might come across as oddballs. But to us, these guys are the spirit of the place.

Walk in to any adverting agency and there will be this crazy bunch that keeps the mojo of that place going.  Call anybody who works or has worked in advertising and they will have dozens of stories about these magical creatures which will be followed by ‘Sigh! Those were the good days.”

They help us forget the rejections we face each day.
They see us through “Aaj bhi full-night hai boss.”
They make sure we’re laughing our heads off even as we make that 653rd iteration to the ad.
They make us believe that the antidote to a disastrous meeting is converting it into an anecdote.
These people are the Ajinomoto in our lives enhancing the mundane and making it delicious.  And unlike MSG, they are actually good for you.

You know what? It doesn’t matter where you work or what you do, if you have a bunch of these special characters with you, you’re sorted.


Sainath Saraban is NCD at Leo Burnett. He loves Samurai Manga, beer and Indian cinema among a million other things. He is very glad that he is right-brained and left-handed, and not the other way around.

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