Saturday, September 6, 2008

When Sita sold detergent

The deserted streets, the gutkha chewing rickshaw-wala perched on his seat at our living room window, my grandmother touching Arun Govil's feet on the telly screen, our maid calling my mom from the kitchen - "Boudi, Ramayana shuru hoye gechhe!" (Ramayana has started)
Those were heady times. Especially a saree-clad Deepika who plays Sita one day in Ramanand Sagar's 'Ramayana' selling detergent powder on TV on the next. A friend (pissed I'm sure at having to make tea while visiting me at my shack) commented on a packet of Homelite matches on the counter.

"Do you remember how Homelite used to be a status symbol?" When I was growing up in a one-room hovel in a galaxy far far away, my mother would save on monthly expenses by getting a 10-pack Ship matchbox. I had much use for the empty match boxes.

I would cut out a portion of the cover, wrap three rubber bands around the box and develop a toy guitar that I would strum around the house to my mom's irritation. Or bury a dead fly in an empty box that would double as a coffin. Or wrap it in old gift wrappers and make tiny gifts to place at the foot of my toy Christmas tree.

I always looked at Homelite boxes in awe, thinking of the things I could do with them. For one, they were much bigger than the average match boxes, plus they had compartments inside! And cost more as well.

With booming consumerism, we are now spoilt for choice by the big multinationals. If Homelite was a stranger at our house, so was Maggi instant noodles. Ten bucks a packet was a princely sum for my parents especially when locally-made chowmein packets in transparent wrappers cost Re 1 a pack. Toh koi ye kyu le, woh na le?

Every time the Maggi jingle would come on TV I would fantasise about a home where a mother would not act as if I had just eaten her pet dog every time I nagged her to buy Maggi.
"School se aate dhoom machate..
Ek hi baat ye dohrate..
Maggie Maggie Maggie...
Do Minute..
Pal Bhar mein tyaar
Khaaney mein mazzedar..
Maggie Noodles"

That is how it used to go.

Nirma washing powder was a regular buy. What with a school uniform that felt like jute overalls, nothing would get mud (and sometime blood) stains off without the tough love that Nirma had to offer. In pre-Revive days my mother would strain the rice water daily (she still does, bless her soul) and soak my clothes in it so I would go to school wearing what felt like a starched bullet-proof jacket.
Coming from a family that gathered at 5 pm for the merry Ho Ho, my mother (the same one who starched my clothes to distraction) would bring out the tea and papadums.

Lijjat was a winner all hands down. For some strange reason the rabbit in the Lijjat papad ad scared the beejeesus out of me. It wasn't cute and clearly it was a man in a rabbit costume.

My father, a strong believer of the mysterious healing powers of Boroline, applied copious amount of it on his hands and face. That is the smell I still associate with him. Boroline is still going on strong, but what cost him Rs 5 a packet is now Rs 20. And he has expressed his desire many times to write to the company as a consumer dedicated to the product.

Those were the times of consumer loyalty. Sometimes simply for the lack of choice. Some ads were surprisingly progressive for their times.

"When history gets a real drag,
and the teacher is a real old nag
Zing it up
Zing it up with the zing thing
Goldspot the zing thing

Was the Goldspot cold drink ad. If I had a penny for the number of times I sang that song in history class, albeit under my breath, I'd be a millionaire by now.



Anonymous said...

Fun-taashtic. I am all misty eyed... nostalgic about nostalgia actually.

Five Wise Men said...

thanks. But why anonymous?

Anonymous said...

coz pappu kant disclose saala!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rituparna, stumbled through your blog through Anirban's page. Interesting. I share the same passion for old advertisements and TV/radio messages and have been downloading a few of those. Good work... will add you to my feed.



Five Wise Men said...

thanks abhijit. appreciate.

aditisen said...

I remember when people kept Camay soap wrappers were kept in showcases, the post made brought back memories. We always made excellent advertisements and still do.
I am adding you to my blog roll.

Five Wise Men said...

thanks aditi.

aditisen said...

Aw! Sorry for my ambiguous sentences and flawed grammar in the last comment. I was clearly failing at multitasking.

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