Musings of a Copywriter

Camel Ride in Chandigarh

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Camel in Chandigarh. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Many of us derive a high after a bout of successful bargaining without realising that the moment of euphoric win soon peters out, only to be replaced by an embarrassing defeat as we get snubbed without a dash of realisation that the same old game checkmates us at some point.  

Years ago, a bosom friend of mine found Rs 30 to be a whopping fee for a camel ride in Chandigarh. He did not add up the extra cost of transporting the animal from Rajasthan and denied the owner the legitimacy to charge at will, arguing that the owner would also be selling camel milk to recover its maintenance cost from Punjabis who would relish the refreshing change from the usual buffalo milk, without calculating the quantity of milk a single camel would deliver every day. He did not admit that the opportunity to experience what he would only get to ride in Rajasthan was made available in the local zone and, for that, he should be thankful to the entrepreneurial owner who preferred to bring a novelty item instead of a typical pony from the nearby hill state of Himachal Pradesh.

All he did was sit with the obedient camel tied to a pole, waiting for customers to approach him for a single round of a circular ride of the cemented garden track. My friend looked horrified when he had to shell out the fee before riding the camel, much like a pre-paid cab ride. As was his wont, he bargained hard and brought it down to Rs 20 before mounting the camel that observed the entire exchange in the sitting position, masticating something like chewing gum as the owner did and winking at him. After my friend had made himself comfortable, the owner whispered something, and the camel stood up without a fuss. My bosom friend looked confident and showed me a thumbs-up sign as if he was inside a fighter jet, ready to take the first solo flight. 

That the owner was up to some mischief became evident as the pick-up speed looked unusual. He pulled the strings and made the camel run faster along with him so that he could save some time to recover the loss in the ride fare. My friend’s growing discomfort was visible as the camel galloped faster than a horse. He closed his eyes and clutched whatever appeared in sight to prevent a fall. He was no trained horse rider either, and I ran behind the camel carrying my dear friend, like a morning jogger offering moral support, to grab him if toppled, requesting the owner to slow down and stop before something tragic happened. But he did not stop before the round was complete. 

When the camel reached a standstill position, the owner was breathless, and the animal waited for further instructions. My friend had started hurling slang words again to order the camel to sit down and enable him to dismount. Finally, after a while, the owner signalled in his preferred language set, and the obedient camel went down on his legs. My rattled friend came down with a hand on his back, almost ready to pounce on the camel owner for endangering his life, threatening him to report the matter and seek cancellation of his licence to operate the camel with tingling bells around the neck in the beautiful city of Chandigarh. I told him it was the direct fall-out of the bargaining process he did to invite this trouble. The camel owner asked him to disappear when another person approached him for a ride and paid the total amount. He went around the park in a slow, languid manner. This pleasant sight further angered my friend. He agreed that the owner took nasty revenge in this manner and threatened to get the camel seized by using his contacts. He tried mobilising the small crowd against him, called him a rough driver who would have been lynched, beaten up black and blue. But nothing happened as the people looked mighty impressed with the novelty and instead blamed him for bargaining with a poor man to be as offensive as cheating and exploitation. 

He narrated those terrifying minutes in greater detail as he felt it was a close shave with death. He saw the gates of heaven open up for him as he closed his eyes to envision a Saviour. The chances of a heart attack were the highest during this brief phase. What he expected to be a leisurely ride had turned out to be nightmarish, and he blamed me for not lending him vocal support. He had conveniently brushed aside the bargaining gaffe and concentrated on the life-threatening outcome. He asked the camel owner to pay for an ointment to heal his painful back, but he took small steps and slipped out to serve another customer who was ready to mount despite the dire warnings of my argumentative friend in accented Hindi. 

As it is clear, my bosom friend was taken for a bumpy ride no less thrilling than a giant wheel ride as he drove a hard bargain. The camel owner also applied his tricks to outsmart him, proving again that the best bargaining deal often invites trouble for the one who hails himself as the big winner but ultimately ends up as a big loser. 


Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Musings of a Copywriter

Back to the Past

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Courtesy: Creative Commons

It was a stage of life when we were friends without knowing the meaning of friendship. Just like that. As we grew up and grasped what friendship meant, we lost the capacity to nurture unconditional friendship. Although we rarely admit our incompetence to strike genuine bonds, we always make tall claims of being real friends for life. Utter one word that pricks a friend’s ego, and you are thrown out of the chat room with collective opposition to make you a pariah forever. It is the equivalent of being punished by the schoolteacher who made you stand outside the classroom for disturbing the entire class.

Attending a grand gala reunion organised by school friends offers an opportunity to revive and relive childhood memories — although the attendees are more engrossed in observing your receding hairline or the protruding belly. Your grey hair reassures those with jet-black hair and gives the scope to suggest effective herbal therapy. Your glowing skin stirs jealousy, and curious friends, eager to dig up the secret of your taut skin, surround you. Tell them you apply nothing to nourish it, and they conclude you are simply masking the truth.

If you have been stylish during childhood but now prefer simple clothes, get ready to be accosted by a friend who flaunts branded apparel and tries to draw your attention to his fancy imported jacket by raising its hood again and again.

Life is strange, and meeting childhood friends makes you realise this bitter truth. Those who were the most dignified and sober types have turned out to be drunkards. Those who never used a cuss word now hurl abuses as an energy booster. Those who wore tidy shoes have turned out to be careless about polish. Those who were always late have now become punctual in life. Those with a strict routine for everything have no routine to follow. Those who never laughed or cracked a joke in school have become humorists. Those who were toppers have become showstoppers of a different kind. Those fond of reading books now dread owning a bookshelf. The compulsive liars have become worshippers of truth. Those friends who never said prayers have now become staunch devotees. Life has its unpredictable ways of shaping people and their destinies.

In a reunion, you meet old buddies and see how they have changed, grown, or decayed in the intervening decades. Although I do not attend these reunions, it fascinates me to wonder how they get the wavelength right to connect. Dance, swing, or hop to revive bonhomie? Do they stand in a queue and pass through the school corridors? Do they enter the classroom and sit on the last bench? Do they fiddle with the chalk and duster to sign their flamboyant designations and titles? Do they revisit the loo where they discovered their youth? Do they stand or jostle near the tap to drink water and then splash it on friends for aqua fun? Do they huff and puff and yet run and climb the guava tree or dangle from its lowest branch in a brave and desperate show of fitness and agility that they have lost? Do they shake an arthritic leg with a fake smile? Do they try to appear healthy and hide their blood sugar levels by gorging on sweets? Do they sprinkle table salt on chops and cutlets to show hypertension has left them untouched? Well, it is a heroic attempt to present the best side with a smiling visage.

Such impulses get the better of you in your middle age when you realise the risk of dying of a sudden heart attack looms large. Before you depart, you wish to meet these childhood buddies and relive the lost innocence. You are back to your primary school — as those were the days you lived without stress and shared without ulterior motives. Life was good, but then you wanted a life of your choice — to carve a niche, rise, and race ahead. The world beckons you then, and now your town of birth makes you feel this had been heaven on earth. Yet, it was the place you were eager to leave to explore the world. Now you have done everything, so you want to return to where it all started. Just another wish like the one that made you navigate the world for golden opportunities.

Now you want to sit under a shady tree and philosophise whether you have lived a good life. Deep inside, you realise it has been a mixed bag, and the cycle is almost complete. You want to slow down and enjoy what you lost or left behind in childhood in a somewhat apologetic way, and you want the company of friends who share a similar worldview now. The future holds no promise of anything worthwhile. But there is a lot in the haystack of the past to cherish and relish. Remember the jam and jelly and butter toast in the tiffin you shared. Perhaps the joys of a simple life pull the heartstrings, and those childhood friends allow you to be yourself and help you recognise the person were and have left behind to a long forgotten past.

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  



The Shaping of Modern Calcutta through Lottery Sales

Book Review by Somdatta Mandal

Title: The Shaping of Modern Calcutta: The Lottery Committee Years, 1817 – 1830

Author: Ranabir Ray Chaudhury

Publisher: Niyogi Books

If you ask any layman about the city of Calcutta (now rechristened as Kolkata) you will get three major pieces of information — namely, it was founded by Job Charnock in 1690; it was the seat of East India Company and capital of British India till 1911; and that it was divided roughly into two sections — the white English town at the centre and towards the south and the native town in the north. Beyond that, very few people have the idea of how the city developed spatially and how several major arterial roads, tanks and squares were built systematically during the beginning of the nineteenth century and this is where The Shaping of Modern Calcutta: The Lottery Committee Years, 1817 – 1830 by Ranabir Ray Chaudhury gives us plenty of information about the gradual development of Calcutta. This was undertaken by raising money through sale of lottery tickets and implemented by the creation of a Lottery Committee which functioned specifically for thirteen years from October 1817 to 1830.

Under the system then prevalent, the surplus lottery funds remained with the Bank of Bengal which would continue to be involved in the sale of tickets and the payment of prizes but would have nothing to do with other payments. The three senior members of the committee were John Eliot, Charles Trower and Henry Wood who had already looked after the construction of the square and tank at Baparitala (Wellington Square) and the new road being built from Dharamtala Road to Bowbazar. Later officials like Henry Shakespear and Barwell, G. Gordon and A. Colvin were inducted, and featuring in various sub-committees, they were also deeply engaged in the city’s development work.  

In 1830, for all practical purposes, the functions of the committee relating to the improvement of the city ceased effectively. Though the beneficial impact of the committee’s work affected everyone, native and European alike, and there was nothing remotely furtive about it, yet the Directors of the East India Company in London were not happy with what was happening in distant Calcutta on the city-development front, choosing to view the evolving picture in a different light. Keeping in mind the virtues of economy in expenditure, the Company wrote to its Government of Bengal that whenever there was any activity relating to general and public utility, some part of the charges ought to be borne by the inhabitants. Further, the Lottery Committee was handling large sums of money and perhaps there was the Company’s deep-seated skepticism about the sensibility of such expenditure in general and a tendency to conclude that the money was not being spent efficiently. The work done by the committee was phenomenal because the projects conceived and implemented by it still cast a long shadow on life in modern Calcutta. 

It becomes very clear that the city of Calcutta gained immensely from the development work carried out by the Lottery Committee since October 1817. The Strand Road had spruced up the eastern bank of the River Hooghly beyond recognition; the western side of Tank Square (today’s BBD Bagh) down to the Maidan till the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, had been given its modern shape with its grid of streets; pucka drains had been built and upgraded all over the city; the major north-south arterial road extending from Park Street in the south to Shyambazar in the north with four squares along it had been constructed; Free School Street had been made; the entire area south of Park Street up to Circular Road had been transformed into ‘virgin’ land ready to be settled in by the genteel (for the most part, sahib) population of Calcutta; and the modernisation of the Garden Reach area, reaching up to Khidirpur in the north, had been begun.

Among other things, the Lottery Committee built the major arterial roads in the northern and central parts of the city, which in time determined the layout of the contiguous residential areas. Dalhousie Square and the entire ground between Park Street and Circular Road were developed by the committee. Previously, a large part of the ground south of Park Street was low-lying and marshy, generating pestilence all around. Bustee clusters were located here probably because of the availability of Gangajal from Tolly’s Nullah (the Adi Ganga) through the existing network of drains, the river being some way off to the west.

The story of the making of Strand Road is narrated in detail, as with increasing economic activity and population pressure, it would provide the inhabitants with easier access to the river, both for recreation and commerce. The Lottery Committee was also responsible for putting up the first brick-and-mortar decorative balustrade which still adorns the Chowringhee area and Red Road. Thus, in its 13 years of effective functioning (till 1830), the committee had been successful in providing the critical push necessary to transform Calcutta from the topographical shape it had inherited since the years immediately following the landing of Job Charnock at Sutanati in August 1690 into one which, in a manner of speaking, would make the city ready to be launched into the 20th century and beyond.

The interest in reading the book persists throughout because apart from the maps, figures, numbers, statistics, and other logistic details, we get a lot of information of the different hindrances the Lottery Committee faced while implementing their projects. Human nature has not really changed much and so we read about people at that time who flouted the rules to line their own pockets and for whom profiteering was the norm.

The basic premise here is that human nature being what it is, there are some aspects of life and behaviour which are universal in their reach, both temporally and spatially. Another very interesting area of study is how the officials encountered the problem of encroachment, the process of land acquisition and the demand for compensation by native plot holders. The committee was aware of matters affecting the native sentiment and there are instances of how they altered the alignment of a major road to suit the convenience of the natives. Even then in some instances tiffs and legal hassles with local residents in North Calcutta were also recorded. Apart from private property rights, religious considerations too played an important role in the decision-making process of the committee.

Before concluding it is worthwhile mentioning a few lines about the author of this volume. During his quarter-century with The Statesman in Calcutta (1970-94), principally as a leader writer, Ranabir Ray Choudhury became interested in the past of a great city which the East India Company had selected as the nerve centre for its operations in the Indian subcontinent and further to the east, extending to Singapore and beyond. In time, this growing interest led to three compilations – Glimpses of Old Calcutta 1835-1850 (1978), Calcutta a Hundred Years Ago 1880-1890 (1987), and Early Calcutta Advertisements 1875-1925 (1992). He next wrote The Lord Sahib’s House, Sites of Power: Government Houses of Calcutta 1690-1911 (2010). A City in the Making, Aspects of Calcutta’s Early Growth (2016).

This volume under review is his sixth book and thematically is a sequel to the last one. That work ended with the formation of the Lottery Committee in 1817: this book takes up the story from there. From a connoisseur of the city, we get details of its development to a point that a lot of unknown facts are provided to the reader which the author garnered from documents and archival material available at the West Bengal State Archives.

Though he is not a historian, trained or otherwise, the author mentions in the ‘Introduction’ how he faced the constant struggle to avoid getting enmeshed in detail and to refocus attention on the broad current of policy and the effects of its implementation. Attention to the specific problems faced in the day-to-day execution of projects also does help to throw light on the precise nature of hurdles encountered at the grassroots level. The book is therefore highly recommended for scholars of history, architecture, town planning and every layman reader who is interested in Kolkata – a city which has been defined in multifarious ways as a city of joy, a city of palaces, a dead city, and so on.


Somdatta Mandal, an academic, critic and translator, is a former Professor of English at Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, India.


Click here to access the Borderless anthology, Monalisa No Longer Smiles

Musings of a Copywriter

A Bone in My Platter

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

The customer polished off the chicken biriyani – leaving behind no trace of a single grain of polished saffron rice on the ceramic plate with golden borders. The solitary bone relaxed in spacious palatial comfort but soon became the bone of contention. He complained to the manager about the poor taste while making the payment. 

The young waiter, a lad of eighteen, standing nearby, heard everything. He went and took the bone from the plate and lobbed it at the shining bald pate of the customer while he was walking out with a toothpick clamped between his fingers. It hit him right in the middle. He quickly turned back to see what missile was that. He found close to his feet the same chicken bone he had left behind in the ceramic plate. He picked it up, took a studied look, and sprinted to the counter to lodge another complaint with the manager, alleging he was hit on the head by some crazy staff with the chicken bone, hoping for prompt, punitive action.  

Like a forensic expert, the manager took time to identify the piece of evidence, perhaps wondering whether the clever customer had brought it in his bag to levy a false charge and create a scene. There were endless possibilities, and the manager was in no mood to hastily accept the charge without cross-examining the customer.  

Sensing that the manager was employing delaying tactics to let the culprit chicken out, he rushed to grab the collar of the prime suspect and sought a confession under coercion. Accusing the young waiter of insulting and assaulting him, he dragged him to the manager’s cabin, threatening to get him arrested for causing physical harm intentionally with a lethal weapon that could crack his skull or lead to severe brain injury. He threatened to shut down the operations unless the manager tendered an apology.  

The manager explained the waiter had no such sinister intent as he was trying to throw the remnants out of the open window for stray dogs. Somehow it turned out to be an odd in-swinger, moving inside in the wrong direction and landing accidentally on his head. The customer remained defiant and unwilling to buy this defence. Finally, the young waiter had to mumble an apology before serving other customers, placing clean dishes, and pouring water into glasses. The angry customer flagged an alert regarding the violent streak observed in the waiter — but he sported a fixed and deceptive smile to ward off such grave charges.    

The customer staged a demonstration in front of the manager’s fancy table, thumping it with his fist and refusing to accept the diluted version: unintentional mistake. Finally, the manager stood in front with folded hands and begged forgiveness to wrap up this matter before it snowballed further. The aggrieved customer was adamant and sought a complete refund, or else he would report it to the local politician. To stave off further aggravation, the manager refunded the entire amount paid for the chicken biriyani plate but cursed him in his mind with digestive issues like unstoppable bowel movements at night.   

When the pacified customer finally vamoosed from the eating joint, the manager summoned the waiter to explain his behaviour. He told the bald customer gave incorrect feedback as there was nothing wrong with the food. Because the customer lied about quality, he got miffed. He confessed he was surprised he was so good at hitting the target. He had hoped it would land in some other direction or edge past his ear like a bullet. 

Many customers relished stale food and paid generous compliments on the rich taste. Whenever the chicken was served fresh, customers had complaints regarding the fare. Sometimes it was not spicy enough, or the taste lacked something they could not express in words but feel on the tongue. Such vague feedback was responded with an ersatz smile and an earnest promise to serve better fare next time. Most negative comments poured in when the bill value crossed the expected mark. There were several examples of customers who ate more than they could pay. They came to the manager and quietly promised to clear the deficit balance the next day. But they did not turn up for several months, hoping the manager would forget the matter. Dealing with such clients was always a challenge.  

There was a demand for cabins with curtains from couples, married or otherwise. The waiters exercised their discretion to overcharge for privacy. The manager was helpless in getting it vacated because the food was served late — and they ate very slowly. Even after an hour, the couple would not finish a fish cutlet while others sitting in the open zone gorged on a full plate of chicken and Badshahi Mughlai. The romantic busybodies tipped the waiter and ordered a bottle of cold drink when pressurised to vacate the cabin. Some new customers came and stood shamelessly in front of these cabins. The curtains — flying high in the breeze generated by the ceiling fan — revealed what the couples were up to. They had to quickly get up and clear the table without bothering to empty the cold drink bottle or finish the cutlet on the plate. Eating was an excuse for love birds as their hunger was not food-related.

Managing the restaurant included managing the kitchen as well. There was a tendency to poach the cook with extra salary and perks by rival restaurant owners. It was a big headache – unethical poaching like horse trading in politics. On many occasions, the chefs used to run away and join a rival restaurant without informing just after the day of salary credit. As a result, the slot fell vacant, leading to the cancellation of several specialty dishes till a new chef was hired. Customers returned disappointed, but dishing out excuses did not work, resulting in a steady decline in customer loyalty.  

When the new chef came on board, his quality was not always up to the mark. There was a litany of complaints from customers who missed the earlier fare. There was nothing to be done except serving a formal assurance of improving the quality as soon as possible.  

The overhead costs of operating a restaurant were high. The profitability dipped. The tipping point reached when the reputation hit the nadir. Customers did not get the menu of their choice. They had to wait before being served. A couple of years of running and ruining a family restaurant made me realise I had no potential to become a manager and manage a business well. I pulled down the shutters of the family-owned restaurant and presided over the end of its glorious run after two decades. The flop outing did not fill me with the passionate drive to prove detractors wrong – like being the author of an unsuccessful book has egged me to bake another one.  

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


Musings of a Copywriter

Life without a pet

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Pet owners consider themselves blessed and share enriching stories. It sounds like the credit goes to the pet for awakening the fine human that had been dormant, in hiding, till the advent of the creature. Those who live without a pet are not supposed to be caring. To be recognised as sensitive, they should be seen petting a dog or a cat, making a pout, or blowing kisses for a feline or a canine. Even if they are highly insensitive towards fellow human beings, the presence of a pet in life helps build the image of being gentle and compassionate. A boss returns home after sacking a dozen employees and cuddles his pet Labrador – to assure himself that he still retains the softer side.

Many pet owners feel offended if their pet is called a dog. They want pets to be accorded respect. It appears it has become a mission in life to ensure respect for pets. Most of the dogs have fancy foreign names difficult to pronounce. I have not managed to be as generous as the householder who yells at the domestic help, and his pet amplifies his scolding with a high-pitched bark.

Pet owners spend liberally on their upkeep. The pet is served branded food purchased from a supermarket for balanced nutrition. The allocated budget for the pet is much higher than the monthly spending on the domestic help who gets non-branded food to eat.

Frankly speaking, I have never been fond of pets. Preparing chicken or mutton is ruled out in my vegetarian household. It would be an additional responsibility to take the pet out for a fleshy treat during the weekends. And if the pet turned vegetarian because of lack of choice, it would grow weak and lose the aggressive approach while fobbing off salespersons, beggars, and monkeys.

A dog would never feel inclined to bark inside my house as it would be listening to meditative music all the time. Since I prefer spiritual shows on television, the dog would also develop spiritual leanings to prepare for a better next life. The lack of wholesome entertainment in the house would make the pet feel bored, forcing the poor fellow to hang around the entrance gate to seek friendship with stray dogs roaming on the street.

The pet would also be upset if I did not take it out for a leisurely stroll in the park, to ogle at beauties and seek their caresses with a cute wink. I cannot indulge in such flirtatious acts and get away with it without getting lynched in the era of instant justice. The freedom the pet enjoys with girls and women is what I envy the most. Holding a leash and keeping pace with the agile dog would be another cardio exercise for me. It would be plain silly to be its guardian and silently suffer while the pet relished the attention of lissome women around and left me with the job of collecting all those flying kisses on its behalf.

Pets are supposed to protect householders from burglars. When it comes to performing after dark, many pets fail to live up to the expectations. A neighbour’s burly dog fell asleep after consuming drugged cookies offered by burglars who decamped with cash and ornaments. Dozing off on a critical night when burglars break in and barking at the moon the whole night for almost the entire year is simply a case of dismal performance that calls for dismissal.

I have no idea how to keep dogs happy and satisfied. Cuddling them, pampering them, or chatting with them to vent frustration is not my cup of tea. I count myself as incompetent to understand the feelings of others. For such a person, understanding the psychology of dogs is tougher than clearing a competitive test. Any pet of any lineage would like to get rid of me within a few months of living together. It is downright selfish to torture the poor soul only to improve my sensitivity quotient.

I have never believed in competition, but the presence of a pet would make me reverse that. The dog trainer would like the pet to participate in various games and tournaments, to win medals and trophies, to outsmart the owner who managed to win nothing big in his career.

A pet in my bed is something I dread. I do not want that casual pawing, no scratches on the back to make the partner think there is another woman in my life. It depends on the temperament and mood of the pet, whether I am spared or mauled. Serious damage followed by an apology from the pet would be useless. Hence, all that is precious should be held away from the reach of the dog. If the pet suffers any accidental injury at home, animal welfare associations are likely to pounce on me. I need to safeguard my interest as the pet would play the victim card. The best way out is to keep it out of my life.

I am accused of showing my wicked side instead of the sensitive side to animals when I chase away stray dogs and cats instead of indulging them with leftovers. Once encouraged, they become regular visitors and it is transactional. I give something and they follow me in the hope of further benevolence. When I do not feed them anything, they are least bothered to visit me or find out how I am doing.

Nowadays, stray dogs bark at me in the lane before looking away morosely. Recently, a dog tried to grab my fleshy leg for a quick bite but I managed to escape unhurt. After this episode, they look miffed as I chase them away with a stick. They climb the boundary wall to protest and bark, drawing the attention of other human beings in the neighbourhood. But the stray brethren of the locality know I am a peace-loving person who loves to co-exist. They have every right to live and enjoy life just like me. I am in full support of saving them from high decibels and firecrackers. I want a dignified life for them with no ill-treatment at all. So they should appreciate my sentiments and reciprocate by staying out of my way instead of bumping into me. I have no intent to derive pleasure or happiness from any animal source whatsoever.

I am not comfortable with the idea of a dog sitting next to me or on my lap while I am eating food or reading. I do not want the pet to scratch my CD collection if lunch gets late or tear my manuscript pages for brunch. Many writers and poets get stirred when a cat or a dog sits in front of them on the window-sill, busy with a pack of biscuits or a bowl of milk. I am not one of those creative types and the emotional enrichment theory is not applicable in my case. I avoid trips to the doctor for myself and I am not keen to visit the vet with the pet for vaccination schedules from time to time.

I do not want to drive the car with a dog in the backseat. I do not want the people travelling in an e-rickshaw or public bus to feel inferior when the dog peeps out of the car window. The person feels this dog has a better fortune and prays for such a privileged life. I would save that space and drop some passengers to their destinations in the car.

There are deaths in the families all the time and grief management is a big issue. The death of a pet in the family adds to this burden as the pet owner has to cope with another tragedy. I wish to avoid such negative setbacks and block the avoidable sources of grief.

A friend once told me I would have been a better writer if I had been a pet lover. I agreed with that because most good writers are pet lovers. If this piece fails to grab your attention, consider it the outcome of not living with a pet.


Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


Musings of a Copywriter

When I almost became a Professor

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

It is scary to witness a cabal of professors locked up in the staff room by agitating students who want to harass, heckle, punish, manhandle, slap their chubby cheeks, dislodge the spectacles, and look menacingly and maniacally powerful jabbing a middle finger. Holed up in a stuffy room under a slowly whirring ceiling fan, professors keep praying for the quick intervention of the Vice-Chancellor and his meek acceptance of the charter of demands so that the irate students release them from captivity.

Getting roughed up by students with a political agenda or by those with personal grudges is a nightmarish experience for any professor. But it is a professional hazard that most professors are now aware of and prepared to face during their teaching days. Such bitter experiences are included in the annual package. As a precautionary move, they empty their bladders every two hours because ‘being gheraoed’ includes not getting permission from students to answer nature’s call. They keep instant energy drink tetra packs in their bags for emergency use in case of dehydration and some toffees in the handbags in case of sugar level dip. You never know when students decide to strike!      

Though we never had the opportunity to hold our professors hostage during our university days, there were reports of similar incidents happening elsewhere. Imagine the plight of professors who were castigated for no fault of theirs. The impact of such scenes was long-lasting on me. I realised this when I began to explore the option of becoming a professor. The fear of getting slapped and caught in crossfire made me rethink the pursuit of academics as a career after completing my journalism course – the horror of being dragged through the corridors, down the stairs, and punched by promising students.

My record was clean: did not rough up any academician in my life so the question of Karma catching up with me was not applicable. But if you are destined to get abused by students, it will happen even if you choose not to become an educator. During an early phase of my career, I did mentor some students to improve their language and test my communication skills. The horrendous experience made me realise teaching is indeed a dangerous territory. Some strong abusive words were hurled at me like crude bombs and it included vile threats of a bloody encounter in the local area. With guns and other weapons being so easily available in the market just like toys, it is better to take such threats seriously. My hyper-imaginative mind began to visualise getting lynched by vandals brandishing sticks and knives. I avoided venturing out after dark for almost a year.  

It would have been so shameful to return to the classroom and address the same crowd of students that dispatched the poor academician (me) to the hospital. While it is true that the entire student community was involved in the fracas, some nastier ones would vitiate the atmosphere. Earlier, films depicted how professors were ill-treated. But the real world surpasses the fictional world. The mauled professors are rushed to the hospital and their families are busy praying for their speedy recovery.

When most of the students began to prepare for eligibility tests to qualify as lecturers, I sensed I had no proper knowledge in any subject. It was important to have a proper grounding or specialisation in a particular subject before teaching that subject. My knowledge always seemed insufficient to teach a classroom. It was also like a case of stage fright, facing a crowd of students who could raise a question, compelling me to consult the book for an answer. Imagining myself in such a predicament made me feel jittery. I could not convince myself to face the crowd with my half-baked knowledge though many others were confident of doing the same with a poorer knowledge base.

All they wanted was a safe job, with zero passion for the subject and they went ahead to build a career in academics. Most of them did not have a scholarly mindset but they were hard-working to scale up and make the cut because it was a question of qualifying in an entrance test and they had to scrape through.    

The scope of remaining in the company of young babes and the possibility of appealing to them would be a bonus reward. After seeing films based on students falling in love with professors, it was going to be good. Imagine a besotted girl madly in love with the professor coming up with gifts, just to have a chat. If she happened to be beautiful, then males would be stabbed with jealousy. The tendency to imagine extremes egged me to think of attacks with weapons inside the campus. With newspaper headlines screaming the next morning: professor stabbed, jealous student lover accused. 

This rise to fame was notorious so I dropped the idea of becoming a professor with the motive of falling in love with a girl student. Possibly, the madly-in-love girl slapped charges or went to town pressing me-too charges against me. A risky proposition was cancelled but it was tough to resist this because the perks of being a professor include falling in love with a student. On the downside, I imagined an obsessed student jumping off the parapet unable to bear rejection in love. All sorts of possibilities and fatal outcomes of being a professor came to the forefront, a whirlpool that dissolved everything related to academics.   

Another incentive to explore this career was the prospect of holidays that would give them the freedom to write and find readers in the classroom. With a secured job and limited working hours, there was ample time to read and write and find publishers who went ahead because professors command a big circle of student readers who buy the books driven by the fear of scoring poor marks. Imagine a professor asking a student whether he has read his new novel, and he promises to read it as soon as possible. This makes it easier to sell more books even if there is a conflict of interest. Besides, other professors and writers also write kind stuff in their reviews – in the fond hope of a similarly favourable review when they publish their titles.   

Unfortunately, the desire to become a professor waned as creative work in the field of advertising became more exciting. When the pressure of corporate writing left me with less time to write for myself, then I realised I should have become a professor to get a whale of a time to write instead of working under the pressure of deadlines. Now well past the age of being a professor even in an unapproved college, it is better not to think of it.

The joy of being a writer who has not pursued a full-time job is boundless. The madness of writing under stress and anxiety creates better writing and this would not be possible when you wrote in a calm state of mind. This is one merit of not becoming a professor – of writing with a free mind, without the burden of erudition that damages the free, natural flow.

Whenever a professor reads or comments on a piece of mine, I become a devoted student ready to be mentored because writing without a literature background makes you susceptible to frequent attacks so it is better to surrender and admit your ignorance in front of literature professors who will grab the chance to correct you or bombard you with heavy literary quotes. Instead of becoming a silly fool with limited knowledge and nodding yes-yes after every sentence, it is better to stake no claims of scholarship and call it a hobby, to dabble in writing without knowing what writing is all about. The forever-learner tag is easier to wear when you remain a student for life.  



Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.