Books

A kaleidoscopic memoir

Vinay Kamath | Updated on June 20, 2021

An anecdote filled book records a life well travelled

V Kalidas spent 45 years in The Hindu group and retired as Vice-President of advertising. In his long and fulfilling working life, Kali, as he’s popularly known, traversed through Calcutta, where he started his career with The Hindu, through Bombay and finally at the HQ in Madras, all cities which took new names eventually.

In this period, Kali lived through many experiences, successes, frustrations, joyous moments and many trials in securing top-notch advertising for the newspaper group.

Kali has written about his experiences in a book, appropriately titled Through the Kaleidoscope.

But the book isn’t just about business and transactions of the ad world but is a medley of nostalgia of football addas and mist-filled, mellow evenings spent in Calcutta; his love for jazz and Carnatic music, aficionado that he is; of his extensive travels and jottings; life with Anglo Indians in Madras; test matches at Chepauk; and organ recitals at St Andrews Kirk in the city.

The book abounds in anecdotes, especially where Kali talks about the near hits and misses in securing plum advertising.

The Santro saga

He writes about the time the Hyundai Santro was being launched with great fanfare and hoardings had come up all over Chennai and the ad department found that by some oversight The Hindu hadn’t been included in the campaign.

The group had already made several presentations to BVR Subbu, the then marketing director.

It was launch day in Delhi and Kali, who happened to be in the city, rushed to the Maurya Sheraton where Subbu was concluding the press conference.

He managed to catch Subbu’s eye on the way out and explained the faux pas by the auto company’s agency.

He could breathe easy finally when Subbu gave instructions to his team to include The Hindu in the campaign next day!

Or the time he had to bear with Anil Ambani’s annoyance as the newspaper wanted a few lines tweaked in its mammoth print campaign for the largest ever debenture issue. The agency, Mudra, had told Kali to approach Ambani for the change as it couldn’t do anything about it.

Kali’s book also captures the changing times of the era he lived. He writes about how in the 1960s and 70s Calcutta was still flourishing under the influence of the British companies and enterprising Marwari groups.

The ad industry too flourished with fine ad men from Subhas Ghosal to Subrata Sen Gupta. “During that golden era, the legendary Satyajit Ray was drawn to advertising as a commercial artist for a while till the call of the celluloid world lifted him up into a different sphere where he won international acclaim.”

But the decline in Calcutta’s industry saw business shifting to Bombay and the north and Calcutta too began to lose its pride of place in the advertising world. And, Kali too had to make the shift to Bombay!

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Newspapers continue to depend on advertising as the major source of revenue as they have from the time they came into existence.

The changing times

But, as Kali writes, much has changed as well. Digital today plays a big part.

Ads in the papers too have seen many innovations: gatefolds, cut-outs, scratch and sniff, talking ads, ads with an editorial wrap-around, skybuses that dominate the page below the masthead.

In some newspapers, even the sacrosanct masthead is not spared! “Oh, what a far cry from those halcyon days when the newspaper’s brand shone through its majestic masthead in awe-inspiring Gothic!” bemoans Kali.

Also, as he says, the newspapers’ service to an advertiser goes beyond a mere insertion.

Brand activation and loyalty programmes; events marketing; bundling of business solutions; digital applications et al, have gone far beyond yesteryears’ uni-dimension print ads.

Kali devotes a chapter to the legendary former editor of The Hindu, G Kasturi, with whom he worked closely for decades. GK donned several roles, apart from that of Editor and was at home with all the nuts and bolts of the newspaper — from newsprint, colour separation; printing technology page layout to circulation and even marketing and advertising.

“He would spend considerable time explaining the proper laying out of ads and how equal respect had to be accorded to both the advertiser, who was investing quite a bit on the ad, and the reader,” writes Kali.

Through the Kaleidoscope records a life well travelled.

Published on June 20, 2021

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