Shashank Gupta, a copywriter for twenty-five years, looks inward and asks his complacent somnolent self some questions too late in life.
I like to bark orders like the head-chef at a roadside Chinese takeaway and imagine I’m the bee’s modified behind and the serpent’s retractable front teeth, but lately, I’ve sunk back into my existential cloud and wondered if all this that I do was one big fraud inflicted by me upon me. Some of the campaigns I helped create were nothing short of my guts spilling out undigested momos of self-importance, and the bitterness on my forked tongue was acid-reflux of plain simple remorse. So I created a questionnaire meant only for me in the hope of coming to terms with my bile-spewing gall bladder.
Which book am I reading right now?
Have I been reading enough? Going by the theory that a writer has to be a reader first, I fail miserably on this. Had the virus not kept us indoors for sixteen months I do not think I would have averaged a book a month, which is way below a single termite’s output. The worst news is I’ve stopped relishing reading, suggesting that I had probably stopped enjoying writing too. You see, reading is just another way of writing someone else’s book in your own way in your own mind.
Have I said ugh to anything not in English?
So many times have I sent for the Hindi writer or worn a condescending sneer as if at home we spoke French with our paan-spitting maid and ate idli-sambhar with fork and knife. Writing is writing, my dear Winston, whether you did it in yelps or barks. If you are hurtful to anyone religion you are a registered fool. Someone who can’t write in the vernacular, can’t write and is an ass. Sorry, Ass, it’s just an expression.
Have I been unkind to account executives?
You bet. I have pulled out my intestines and strangulated many just because I could. A writer has the choice to be sensitive and generous and not God himself. And funnily, I hated it when there was a snigger behind my buttocks taut with misplaced vanity. An undeserving writer is quick to rebuke and is the master of sulk. If I have not behaved well it disqualifies me as a keeper of words. I don’t think my twists of phrases sparkled enough without the wisdom that is born out of empathy and depth.
Did my writing wait for divine intervention?
Have I asked for months to come up with an idea? Have I awoken on the fortieth day and puked something downright average and covered it up with fanfare? Did I go out, put my hand down the monster’s gullet and seize the idea, or did I act like the creative monster who was also a bully? I put my feet up and acted pricey is what I did. I wasn’t writing a novel after all and all the thinking, the creative soup, had already been cooked by the planners. I just liked to wear my beard long and pretend I was Tolstoy almighty.
Did I take rejection kindly?
No, never. I thought my puny idea was great. I did not take rejection as an opportunity to throw it out of the grasp of the monkeys in my mind and come up with something truly astounding. A rejection is a tool that vacuums out smelly putrefying concepts and frees a real writer to think again. It is fresh air. I was mean to my tremulous critics because I was insecure and did not trust the writer within me.
Did I ever want to write a brochure?
Of course not, and even if I had to do a full-page advertorial I never wanted to read it aloud and relish the beauty embedded therein, because it was a work of disdain. My copy, apart from the headline, was dashed off in minutes. I didn’t sit and tingle with the words dissolving on my tongue. How was I a writer then? I have almost thrown up when I hear lazy dialogue in commercials replete with cliché, and I was the perpetrator of such slimy sludge too. Somewhere back then I had stopped planting words with care.
Was it all about money?
It was. Doing compromise ads, meant only to look good, was also about money at the end of it. I didn’t try to bore too deep. I didn’t write anything that could make a happy father cry out for what was missing in his life. I thought this kind of writing wasn’t writing in the first place. I didn’t imagine for once how telling the product truth beautifully could change the world. I had not understood that my words were reaching out to too many so soon and that I had the power to make some difference. I never saw it philosophically.
Was copywriting the destination?
Whether it is the trudge between one campaign and another or between one kind of writing and the next, any writing can only be the journey. It’s about growing up, and if we haven’t gone beyond the skill of writing for mass consumption into regions and forms that introduce a new way, a new thought, we still have a long way to go. I think I lost my bearing. I forgot I was a writer only because I loved to write. But it is never too late for an impostor to open his eyes to himself, and slice open his own heart once in two decades.
The author is is NCD at Adfactors and the author of 'Pimp'.