I was rather amused to read what my good friend, BG, has written – about a certain Mrs C suffering from a backache. Well, some backaches do tell stories and this one certainly seems to have, and tickled several ribs as well. Times have indeed changed dramatically in India and in Madras that is Chennai.
In 1996 when I traveled to London ahead of the launch in India of Durex (I was heading PR for the TTK Group then, and the group had tied up with London International Group to manufacture the world’s highly rated condom), the officer at the immigration counter at Heathrow chuckled when I told him I worked for the company that manufactured Durex. Perhaps he was a puritan but his endless chuckles suggested otherwise. He even got his colleagues into the conversation and soon there were quite a few around him smiling at me. Things seem to have changed in England too, judging by a rather salacious report in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/world/europe/08puttenham.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&hp), which talks about a village in Surrey now becoming famous for ‘dogging’ or public sex.
Such stories interest many people and there’s no denying the fact that today, more than ever before, sex sells. Look at The Times of India Crest first anniversary issue. It’s all about firsts – who scored the first century, who was India’s first Dalit PM, who was the first Maruti owner (Mrs C was perhaps not born then) and of course who was India’s first sex symbol etc. But the picture is one of one of yesteryear’s leading film ladies in a bikini, with clues about who she is. Now, that’s a laugh (eh, chuckle), because all of us can recognise Sharmila Tagore and it doesn’t take very hard to guess that the picture was possibly taken for a Filmfare cover.
Coming back to Mrs C and the poor Maruti 800, I am reminded of an advertisement for a condom brand (don’t remember which one) that showed a dotted car at the end of a precipice shaking violently… the ad was telecast years ago. For that ad to actually translate into reality on the ground it has taken 15 years. As BG says, more power to Mrs C and her ilk.
Talking about changing times, Marutis 800s and condoms, I can’t forget one afternoon more than two decades ago when one of my close friends from Calcutta had come home with his parents and sister. They had attended my wedding and had come to bid goodbye. Suddenly he drew me aside and led me towards the dining area, thrusting a small packet into my hands. Instinctively, I knew what it contained and I hastily shoved it down my trouser pocket. With a sheepish look on our faces we returned to catch the conversation the sitting room. The visitors left.
Obviously, I was curious to see what that was inside the packet looked like. But with people all around I felt I was being followed and finally got to opening the cover only late night. I smiled when I saw voluptuous bodies adorning three condom packs (not as shocking as seeing Sharmila on the Filmfare cover). The smile disappeared quickly when I realised I had to hide the pack somewhere – there were children around the house and nosey elders and it was early days in the wedding to be doing all this. It took another hour for me to eventually deposit the cover inside the cupboard locker. My wife had a quizzical look on her face but I tried to keep a straight one.
Today, don’t be surprised if you find youngsters traveling with a condom pack in their bags. There was the Mood’s ad that showed a young man hesitating at a pharmacy store to order a pack of condoms, stealing glances at other customers and eventually slipping away. Now condom packs greet you at Health & Glow shops and all sundry outlets. No one even bothers to look at you if you place a pack on the counter.
I must end with this story, as factual as BG’s is about Mrs C. During my TTK days, many, including journalists, used to ask me whether I could get them condom packs. After all, I had taken many of them to TTK-LIG’s facilities in Pallavaram and Virudhunagar to show them how condoms are manufactured (the company had all the quality standards possible – ISO, British, French, German and WHO). I would of course comply and my office draw would usually have enough and more stock of a whole variety of Kohinoor and Durex. Not surprisingly, there were hardly any requests for Prestige cookware, Kiwi shoe polish, TanTex inner wear, Woodward's gripe water or the Eva range of toiletries, all TTK brands.
One day, another friend, a journalist from Calcutta, dropped by. He had come to Madras to do a couple of stories, including one about the Durex launch. He kept sipping hot masala chai that I offered all visitors and kept chatting and smiling. Slowly, he drew his chair closer and bowing his head asked me in a hushed tone, “Dada, aapnar kachhe dotted ba ribbed hobe?” Meaning, do you have dotted or ribbed. As a memento, I gave him a boxful of assorted condoms - dotted, ribbed and flavoured. His joy knew no bounds and he didn’t stay much long thereafter. Much later, I learned that his marriage had failed and I wondered whether that box was the cause.
Now, of course, buying a condom is no big deal, as much as having sex in a Maruti 800. I must tell BG that although the clock keeps ticking, today’s 40 is yesterday’s 20. And as such, judging by his appetite for libido and life, he is supremely positioned (pun, did you say?).