Before I decided to become a copywriter I was interested in so many hobbies, far removed from writing except maybe for a home-grown greeting for birthdays and letters to friends and pen pals …school stuff I hated – essays, any school stuff I found them scary …for some reason (the system has killed many a writer creative person in India). So I didn’t have a teacher tell me ‘someday you’ll become a writer’. Yes my French teacher did tell me, when I took my daughter to join her kindergarten
“aren’t you the girl who used to run very fast”. I was uh huh – come again! Wish someone had told me, earlier; just maybe I would worked harder on making it to the Olympics – for sure… ha ha. But seeing my extra lean frame none would, I suppose! I lived to play and that meant a lot of aches and breathing difficulty and my mom being troubled for a hot press – a cloth in which roasted flax-seed was stuffed and placed on the chest for relieving congestion. Bronchitis was just one thing to be borne but it didn’t stop me once I was up and about and if it was ‘holi’( an Indian festival where dry colours were smeared and wet balloons, water thrown on each other (who talked of preserving the environment then)! And I wouldn’t go up to change even when my dress tore coz I was scared my second mom – my sis wouldn’t let me go back , no one else could stop me. Bless her; she knew it would mean another round of doctors and suffering for me and my mom!
Well that was going off tangent, quite a bit…if you would travel with me… Actually, all my school life I dreaded math and often dreamt of cycling fast to reach the hall, another one being not knowing the portion for the exam and hurriedly taking notes and stuff like – these were stuff my nightmares were made of!
Reading meant Enid Blyton’s and my all time favorites were Heidi, Pride and Prejudice; later it was M&B where I digested the ‘forever’ theme till reality struck years later…Agatha Christie, Harold Robbins, pulp fiction without too much gore were my favourites; with a plateful of sandwiches – jammy ones and a blanket, if it was cold and two hours later it was another book or time for the playground – badminton, cycling and stuff .
We didn’t get Cosmo and other foreign magazines so I borrowed them from my library and all their’‘how to’s’’ were by heart plus the ads fascinated me! After school I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but getting a University degree was a must for Indian girls, though for me being a housewife and becoming a mom was high on my list after college! I chose Commerce for graduation for my sis, a topper was in it and my dad had a business … he wanted us girls too to join him. He was a very forward thinking man for the 80’s in India!
… the nightmares continued after college for some reason.. I tried giving a banking test, absolutely unbelievable to me even today but those were the regular things girls went for unless thy were planning to become doctors, or some hi-fi careers – at least it seemed like that to me! While this was happening romance was blossoming and I wanted to marry and settle down while at the same time I was very passionately following a drawing and painting course. I did my own stuff copied calendars with some. ‘Radha Krishna’ themes ; even repaired a tile which had a landscape for a friend but it was not to be even after I tried my absolute best! As a kid I would enter all the contest ‘ why do you like Cadbury Chocolates… or ‘Surf is the best detergent because..’ in 10 words! Not one of them did I miss – but all to see my name, the prize really didn’t impress me… it seems unbelievable today but kids, teens are like that, don’t you think!
After college, I saw an ad for a ‘copy workshop’ but somehow it didn’t happen. Meanwhile, when my daughter was born I became very interested in the ‘learning through play’ method; quite new to India (Kindergarten though, had taken off quite well!). I gobbled all the knowledge or books; internet was not available to us , I decided that since I loved kids a lot … a course in ‘Early Childhood Care and Education’ – it would be! I was very enthusiastic and made all the teaching aids and joined the British library for books , since that was the first year the course was introduced no text books were available for the theory and understanding the nitty gritty’s of teaching kids. I wanted more and I researched and made notes and studied like never before! I topped the theory exams and to my utmost wonder I found that my answers were read out in class!
We interned in schools and children really loved the real examples while teaching math and fun ways we introduced new things with help of the teachers there. I found myself buying stuff, books, toys, clay, thick crayons, and all the stuff possible for my kid, too. I was fascinated by the method and my daughter turned to be like clay, she lapped it all (sometimes i wonder if ECCE(early childhood care and education) was to give her what we didn’t get as kids). Everybody in the family were happy, they were sure, I would teach or start my own school but fate intervened. I was sure that teaching was not for me , and wanted to study further and be part of the change do an ‘administration post grad’, but, since I wasn’t a science student(!) I didn’t get admission in the only college that had the course in Mumbai.
And suddenly one day, the newspaper came with the same ad for the ‘copywriting workshop’ and this time it just swept me with the tide and I was determined to complete this workshop…once again I was on the roll; cut up ads (my daughter helped:)) scanned and photocopied books bought as many as I could, read as much on the subject. Caples, Bernbach, Ogilvy, books like – Hey,Whipple Squeeze This, Pritkins Statement… were treasured by me and finally I found my childhood dreams vanished, those nightmares that haunted me had disappeared totally, … Three months later, a copywriting workshop certificate and some brand new ideas under my arm, I stepped into a local advertising agency INS accredited and imagine my luck, the copywriter was leaving after marriage and they were looking for an instant replacement. And, that’s when I got my first ever job.
The journey wasn’t smooth sailing…but, I knew I was at the right place and my time would come. I faced problems but I triumphed when my first campaign went national for JK Helene Curtis ! My first headline ‘boon or bane’ for a pharma client got me a shoot of laughter from the crew, but the client lapped it and that was all that mattered to me! I suppose I wasn’t typically ambitious to work in a big agency for it would mean up down two hours leaving my daughter in a crèche so I decided to freelance …we managed well between the two of us. She enjoyed the creative stuff and as she grew up, she enjoyed listening to my shop talk! Today, she’s studying advertising –that, after taking up science –wanting to be an astronomer! Later she switched to mass media, inspite of everyone wanting her to continue. Surprisingly, even I thought that she could get into copywriting after graduation in science for by then I found that a fallback was good with payments becoming low after the 1990’s real estate crash’ but you couldn’t force her…like mother…huh!!
15 years later, I haven’t won a Cannes or any copywriting award – just two prizes – one for a greeting contest and a tv channel “i like home tv because…” in you guessed it -10 words! I got to see my name as the first prize and fifth prize winner…and I actually loved the tv and music system I got – giving it away was a sad moment! Actually, if you’re a copywriter you also want this but I had made my choice by working for small agencies, but, these were the happiest years of my life and I cherish every moment of it. The only mistake was not joining a big agency then because you were paid for freelancing based on that stamp of a Big agency; my friends who joined Big agencies went on to make pots of money…but money, then, wasn’t my core need. It was satisfaction and that I got in plenty. I don’t have regrets; except for not meeting ‘big idea’ people and growing exponentially…hmmm! So who said the journey to discover your true love was easy or that it ever ends!!