Apocalypse and the Asylum

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Sunday 3

The concerned city authorities were of the opinion that the best way to reduce traffic-congestion in Dhaka was by inconveniencing the commuters enough into staying home altogether. They had arbitrarily prohibited certain types of vehicles from certain routes, turned other roads into one-way streets which abruptly ran into two-way streets, and installed high dividers in the middle of the streets but forgotten to construct sidewalks or overpasses.

This meant that Emil had to take three rickshaws to travel five kilometers from Bashundhara to Banani to get to work every morning. Multiple small trips meant he needed to have small changes with him at all times and since he was always in need of small changes, was always running out of small changes and asking the rickshaw-pullers if they could break a 1,000-taka note for a fare of 25. Some of the rickshaw pullers, newly arrived at Dhaka from surrounding villages, did not even know that there was a 1,000 taka note in circulation; many did not know what a thousand was.[i]

Emil had, only once, considered sending a venomously worded letter to the appropriate ministry for causing him, a productive member of the society, such a headache. First, he could not figure out what the appropriate ministry was; then, he could not find out just where this appropriate ministry was located; and finally, after crossing the first two hurdles, he could not find a post office to buy a stamp from. The said appropriate ministry had no working email address of course and there was no way Emil was going to go down there and talk to a government bureaucrat in-person. And so, that is where that adventure ended.

Emil arrived late for work that day, at 9:12AM, and walked up the five-flights of stairs. Everyone was already in the conference-room and he headed right in and took the empty seat beside Anindya.

An hour later, they were still getting nowhere constructive with the new product.

“Masum?”

“Ji?”

“Let’s break this down, hm? What were the unique selling points of it?” Rashed bhai asked. Masum bhai focused on the piece of paper in front of him and began reading, “Number one, with regular use, it will prevent teeth decay. Number two, it prevents bad breath. Number three, it is unisex. Number four,”

“Tcht, no need for numbers.”

“Aachcha, next point, it comes in a convenient tube which is easy to use and store. The next next point, it will be available in all departmental stores, making them convenient to buy…”

“Boss, are these really that unique points?” Shaheen bhai asked.

“Creatives will find a way to make them unique. That means you guys.” Rashed bhai looked towards Masum bhai, Anindya, and Emil.

There were six of them, sitting around the highly-eccentric conference-table, discussing a new brand of fruity toothpaste that Proverbial Advertising was going to be representing, playfully named Froopaste. “How is this any different from the other fruity toothpastes in the market?” Anindya had asked at the beginning of the meeting, and Rashed bhai had duly informed him, “This will have the picture of a fruit on the tube, a unique fruit never associated with toothpastes before.” “Which fruit is that?” Masum bhai had asked and Rashed bhai had once again informed, “That is for us to decide, using our better judgment.” “Do we have samples?” Anindya had asked and Rashed bhai had replied, “They are waiting to see which fruit we recommend before designing the tubes.” “But the paste is ready?” “Of course,” “Could have gotten us a jarful of that.” Anindya remonstrated, “Would help if I knew what it smelt like.” “So how is this any different from all the other existing fruity toothpastes, again?” Masum bhai had asked. “This will be of a different fruit; it will smell different, it will taste different. And we will insist that whatever fruit we pick is the very best fruit to make toothpaste with and anyone using any other fruited-brand will suffer infinitely from toothache.” “But why fruits? Aren’t vegetables healthier than fruits?”

Time seemed to have slowed down[ii] since then and the hour had progressed one laborious idea at a time.

“Are we sure these are selling points?” Shaheen bhai asked, always the skeptic.

“Creatives, how are we going to make Froopaste look unique?”

“We say it includes natural fruit extracts which is good for gums.” Anindya piped in, “Na, the entire mouth. Good for the entire mouth. The tongue, the gums, even that hanging dong.”

“We say the fruit extracts in the paste keeps it fruity-fresh, and prevents it from going stale,” Masum bhai added.

“Excellent. Completely unique. Who wants stale toothpaste?”

“Not me.”

“Me neither.”

Any other ideas?”

“We say that the fruit extracts make for a healthy, nutritious start to the day.” Emil said.

“Nice, nice. Very nice. But then we need to pick a healthy fruit. Which fruit can we use?”

“Apples?” “Oranges?” “Dates!” “Mangoes.” “Dates!” “I say Pomegranates.” “Potatoes.” “Dates! Dates from Saudi Arabia!”

“Uff, Masum!”

Over the next hour, they managed to discard a handful of fruits out of consideration. It was decided that even though linking patriotism to Froopaste would have made for a killer campaign, linking toothpastes with the consistency and texture of jackfruits did not make a winning combination. Mangoes were under serious consideration for a while until a fight erupted in the conference room about which regional variant of mango was the juiciest and the idea was temporarily shelved to prevent a schism in the boardroom.

Then they decided to take a well-earned break.

That meant Shaheen bhai’s cue to tell a story and keep everyone entertained.

“I heard this a few years ago, boss,” Shaheen bhai said, “it’s not really a story though.”

“Let’s hear it,” Rashed bhai said enthusiastically.

“It’s not really a story, boss, just something I heard once from a friend.” Shaheen bhai said and everyone leaned in closer. “This friend of mine, boss, his family is so rich, we used to call him Shylock. Do you know who Shylock is?” he asked, turning towards Masum bhai.

“Of course I do. Who doesn’t know?”

“Who is he?” Shaheen bhai asked cheekily.

“I thought you were telling the story!” Masum bhai protested, “I don’t know your story!”

Anindya shook his head and winked towards Emil. Emil almost returned the wink and then scratched his eye ferociously to get the mote out of his eye.

“Alright, fine. You know everything. Shylock was a very wealthy Jew in ‘A Merchant of Venice’, boss. Right Emil?”

“A very wealthy moneylender, yes.”

“Ki Masum bhai, have you ever read Shakespeare?”

“Yes, of course. Haven’t you?”

“How many of Shakespeare’s novels have you read, huh? What’s your favorite Shakespeare novel?”

“Shylock. And Romeo and Juliet.”

“You know what people like you are called? There is a word for people such as you, I can’t remember,” Shaheen bhai said, clicking his fingers, trying to think of the word Masum bhai was, “Yes-man! That’s the word, you are a yes-man. Am I right Emil?”

“Technically, no. But…”

“What does that mean?” Rashed bhai asked.

“Boss, yes-men are people who like to agree. You tell them anything, they will say yes.”

“Why?” Rashed bhai asked, eyebrows raised high on his bald head, “Is it a medical condition?”

“Because they love to please, boss; it is a disease in their blood. And because Masum-mia has no one to please in his bedroom, he tries to please us here in the boardroom.”

“Kirey Masum,” Abdul bhai slapped Masum bhai on the back, “is what he just said true?” slapped his back again; much harder. Anindya was slapping the table, trying to get it to agree.

“No, no. absolutely not!” Masum bhai argued, “I never try to please anyone but myself!”

“Hoho, arey Masum bhai,” Anindya said, “you need to find yourself a girl.”

“No, no I don’t.”

“Anyway, boss, the story that I was telling,” Shaheen bhai said, “so the last time Shylock was in Dhaka, we were hanging out, sharing a bottle of whisky, and it was right after the economic crisis of 2008. Right Emil? 2008?”

“Sure.”

“And he was telling me that in America, where he lives, bars and churches are always built within walking distance of one another. If you find a church somewhere, you can be sure that there is a bar somewhere within a five-minutes walking distance.”

“What?”

“But why?”

“Eita ki koilen?”

“It’s because when things are bad, regular drinkers begin to pray and religious people turn to the bottle to cope.”

Anindya liked what he heard so much that he jumped off his chair and loudly clapped his hands, “That is an excellent point, Shaheen bhai. Excellent. Exactly spot on!” he shouted, thumping the table again, trying to get it to agree with him; lashed out, and kneed it with his left leg; thrust his groin at it. Sat down quietly. “Absolutely spot on!”

Masum bhai tried not to look scandalized.

“That is really what happens,” Shaheen bhai insisted, “after every crisis, the crowd in bars and churches switch over. Shylock even mentioned a book he had read about it.”

Abdul bhai slapped Masum bhai’s back again, “Kirey Masum, what are you thinking about? Tui khabi naki? When things go bad, eh? Eh? Just a little bit? Eh? Khabi?” Shaheen bhai butted in, “Arey Abdul bhai, who’s to say he doesn’t already?” Abdul bhai slapped Masum bhai’s back again. Anindya slapped the table the few more times, giggling up a storm. Rashed bhai asked, “Masum, everyone is taunting you, why aren’t you defending yourself? Is it all true?” more slapping.

“No! No! Absolutely not! It’s a sin! It has been said!”

“Oh come off it, Masum bhai,” Anindya insisted, “come with me and Shaheen bhai tonight. We will take you to a bar; no one ever has to know.”

“But I will not come,”

Rashed bhai intervened, “Ok, that is enough. Masum, work through your issues. Seriously. But back to our brief for now. Where were we?” he thought for a while, “Where did we break off? Let’s take a break from which fruit to use. What tagline can we use?”

“Before that, Rashed bhai, this brief is incomplete.” Anindya said, “What is the target demography? How can we come up with a marketing campaign without knowing who we are selling to?”

“Boss, I think what is more important than demography is psychography.” Shaheen bhai spoke to everyone present, “I am young at heart. 18 till I die.” He said proudly, raising a finger in the air, “I do not fit into my demography. We need to figure out what type of people we are targeting and what are the things they care about.”

“Right, absolutely. Who are we targeting? What do they like? The brief does not say; that is a big problem.” Masum bhai said.

“But this is toothpaste.” Abdul bhai explained, “It is for everyone.”

“Right, right. Everyone can use toothpaste. We market it to everyone.” Masum bhai understood, “Toothpaste for everyone!

“How about ’Nature’s Freshness, Every Morning!’” Anindya asked.

“Nature’s freshness, huh? Na, look, we don’t want to get too natural; the city-dwellers might feel attacked for the choices they have made.”

Anindya nodded his head, “How about ’Fruity Freshness, Every Morning!’ then?”

Rashed bhai shook his head, “If we say, ‘every morning’, we are saying that you can only use this toothpaste in the mornings.”

“Yes, that is exactly what I was thinking. We have to make the consumers brush their teeth as often as possible. Not just during the morning.” Masum bhai said.

“But most people brush their teeth in the morning, right?”

“They brush once in the morning and once at night…at least. If we use the word morning, they will use the product only at morning.”

“Rashed bhai, seriously, does anyone really brush their teeth twice a day? I brush it once a day; if that.” Anindya retorted.

“I brush twice, as do most people.” Rashed bhai assured.

“I usually brush twice, boss. But I know a lot of people who brush just once or even thrice.” Shaheen bhai informed, “There are all sorts of people in this world.”

“Emil, what do you think? You haven’t said anything in a while.”

“I brush twice a day unless I am out of toothpaste. Then I do not brush until I have had time to go to a shop.” Emil said, trying not to involve himself too much, “When does this hit the stores?” and deflected.

“At the beginning of next year. But our deadline for this brief is in two weeks.”

Everyone around the table nodded their heads. “And Masum?” Rashed bhai asked, “Why are you not saying something?”

“I have a line in my head, but I am trying to polish the edges a little. Not done yet.”

“Let’s hear it,”

“Can I say it in a minute?”

“Let’s hear it now,” Rashed bhai insisted. Shaheen bhai smirked.

“Something like, I’m thinking, uh, and this is not finished yet, but I was thinking, what if we were to say, ’Like a Fruit Salad in your Mouth!’”

“…”

“Yes, I mean in the TV commercials and print ads, visually, I mean, at least, we can show people, like a young university student, and then an old man, a working women, a bus conductor, and various other people…all types of people because we just agreed that everyone uses toothpaste, yes? And we can show them brushing their teeth with this Froopaste and fruits falling out of their mouths. Like with other brands, right, they show CGIs of fresh minty-fresh breaths after brushing, we show that with fruits. Like, when they look at the mirror and smile, their teeth are all like pomegranate, and their tongue is a banana…And we can make sure that the fruits we show are in season, so it makes more sense…Like a fruit salad in your mouth!

“Heh. Hehe. Hahahah. Masum just wants to put him kola in a girl’s mouth. Right Masum?”

“Maney? What are you trying to say?” Masum bhai asked, flabbergasted, “I’m not putting anything in anyone’s mouth; lest a girl’s mouth!”

“Hehehe, that reminds me of another story, boss. I heard it when I…” Shaheen bhai began.

Emil felt his phone vibrate and took it out. It was a message from Sania. Hey, how has your day been so far?

Not bad so far. he replied, You?

“…that is how it has always been. Right Emil?” Shaheen bhai asked.

“Yeah, as far as I know.” Emil replied absent-mindedly.


[i] One of Emil’s attempt at explaining a thousand by showing the rickshaw-puller his ten fingers and saying, ‘This many hundreds!’ earned him an enthusiastic, impromptu, double high-five once.

[ii] The first axiom for the passage of time postulates that for any given observer, time will pass at a speed inversely proportional to the duration left to complete a given task. It is thus, that those with finite time at hand always looks up at the clock to see that time had gone marching forward while those believing in an infinite time-horizon experiences exactly the opposite. Time, thus, having rushed forward for some people and stunted, or even gone backwards, for others, illustrates why the earth is only 6,000 years old for some people and 4,500,000,000 years old for others.

A lot of people believe that time has a lot of explaining to do for creating so much confusion and misunderstanding through such micro-management. But every attempt at bringing time to justice has failed precisely due to one specific reason: whenever someone tries to get properly organized in this endeavor and set himself a deadline to finally catching time, time just ups and rushes forward, forever just out of reach. Thus, we arrive at the second axiom for the passage of time, time will always pass a degree faster or a degree slower than anticipated, whichever is most inconvenient for the observer.

Any discrepancies between the first two axioms is explained by the third axiom of the passage of time that states that any attempts at anticipating the speed of time will have the effect of altering the actual speed of time. The observer, thus, being a part of the system, may never reconcile the actual speed of time with the anticipated speed of time.

The observer may, however, delegate his tasks to one of his subordinates, and then assign any (in)convenient deadline (to the subordinate), and expect it to be met, with a significant degree certainty.

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