Veni Vidi Vici


It was year 1966. I was in Karachi. Trying to see the entire city of Karachi and leisurely passing my days. There was a distant cousin in Karachi then, who was about my age. He informed me that a renowned advertising company was recruiting executive trainees. I should give it a try. Two days later I saw an ad in the English newspaper, Dawn, that a company named Crawford Advertising Services Ltd. would be recruiting trainee executives. Applicants had to go directly to the company office to be interviewed. In the words of the Roman Emperor, Julius Caesar, “Veni, vidi, vici:” “I came I saw, I conquered.” With just a fifteen-minute interview, my fate was determined. I was told to start work the following Monday, Saturday and Sunday being closed for the weekend in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, then as still now.

So, I had a job, officially nine to five. I would arrive at nine, but there was no telling when I would get out. However, it was not a great hardship, at that age. My job was of a creative nature. An Executive Director had trained me up in advertising. She was Nilufer Andaleeb, Copy Chief at the Agency. From the beginning, I was trained on writing copy in English. It was about how to write an ad in as few words as possible, with as much appeal as possible. At first, I had a tendency to write with too much ornamentation, for which I was often scolded by Nilufer. 

She would say, “Use as few adjectives as possible.” 

I would ask, “Why so?” 

She would say, “Then it will become believable.” 

Now I understand that glorified speech is often unbelievable. Gradually, I began to get a grasp on the language of advertising.

At the time, all the up-and-coming executives of the advertising world met at a restaurant named Cezanne Ampi’s. It was across from the Metropole Hotel, the flagship hotel of Karachi at the time. There was exuberant conversation over coffee. On weekends I rode the buses all over Karachi. There was no dearth of places to roam in Karachi. A residential area for the rich, named Clifton, had sprung up by the sea. Going out of the city a little, on the sea-shore, there was Sand Spit, Manori, and Paradise Point to see. I got to go to these places on the sea-shore, once in a while. My co-workers and I would go on these trips, with much exuberance. There was also a park on a hillock in the middle of a residential area to the south-east of Karachi, called Hill Park. Boys and girls gathered at the park in the afternoon. We would go too, in a group. There was excellent Kulfi to be had at the park. My friend Khan’s kabab shop was on the main road, near Jinnah Sahib’s grave. The kababs were excellent. I recall feasting on kababs and engaging in conversation, seated on the footpath in front of the shop. Sometimes I went to Elphinstone Street. Rich people crowded the brightly lit shops there. Almost two years went passing by, in this way.

One day I learned that a new advertising company had opened a branch office in Dhaka, and they were looking for experience Bengali executives. I leapt up at the news. Here was a golden opportunity, I thought, and immediately acted on it. I went to the offices of the agency and was told to talk to their Administrative Manager. He had me take a written exam on writing ads in English. I must have done well. He asked me to sit in the waiting room for fifteen minutes and went to consult his superiors. He came back and asked with a smile, when would I be able to join. I melted into a puddle. I did have to give a month’s notice to my current employer, so I mentioned a date a month hence. I don’t know how that month went by.

In the meantime, I got my appointment letter from the new agency, Asiatic. On the appointed date, I went back to see the Administrative Manager. I would have to stay in Karachi for six months after joining, to understand how they worked. I got to know a few people at Asiatic, one of them, Ishrat Ansari, being of my age. He was politically conscious, and understood the problems of Bengalis. There was a sharp-witted English copy writer at Asiatic, named Zahid Nana, whose work I admired.  Another copy writer joined Asiatic while I was there, who had studied at Dhaka University and was a role model for many older friends of mine. He was Nishat Shadani, and I had the opportunity of working on a few projects with him. Gradually my days at Asiatic in Karachi drew to an end. My homeland of East Bengal beckoned. When I finally boarded a PIA flight to Dhaka, my heart was full of joy. 

It took a few days to settle in as a city dweller, with a completely different identity of being an office-goer. I had started to go to work, our office being in Motijheel, next to the PIA office. In the then East Pakistan, advertising was a difficult job, because, as we all know, the purpose of advertising is to sell consumer goods. In those days all the consumer goods came from West Pakistan, where they were produced. The producers had their own Marketing departments to sell the products. Most of the advertising was in print. Some ads went on ‘hoarding signs’ which are called billboards nowadays. Ittefaq was the daily newspaper with the largest circulation, followed by the weekly Chitrali. As executives of an advertising organization, we had to develop a relationship with the editors of periodicals. I developed good relations with Mr. Abdus Salam of the Observer, A. B. M. Musa, editor of the youth section for the same paper, Manik Mia, editor of Ittefaq, and all the reporters at Morning News. The Dhaka Station of Pakistan TV did make some commercials. I clearly remember two such commercials in particular. One was for the various products of Dhaka Dyeing Co., such as terry towels, bedsheet, pillowcases etc., that were advertised in still photos. Another was a black and white photo for United Bank.

In the course of doing my job, I saw that not only was there a shortage of products to be advertised, whatever was available got sold quickly, in the absence of competitive markets. Advertising was not needed. We did some novel work in this situation. For example, there were some modern jute mills, whose products were sold in the world market. We were able to persuade them that it was necessary to inform the general public about the importance of their products in the national economy. Not only would the people learn about the importance of the industry, the employees would also be inspired to greater productivity. Our pitch was persuasive, and they agreed to advertise in various periodicals. These jute mills, such as People’s Jute Mills, Crescent Jute Industries, and Jashore Jute Industries, were successfully promoted as distinct brands, by us. Nowadays, such advertising is considered part of corporate social responsibility. We even promoted the branding of a fuel marketing company like Burma Eastern. It may be noted that B. E., Esso and Pakistan National Oils, all sold the same quality of fuel. Their difference may have been in the customer service at their sales centers. The way we branded Burma Eastern was to promote customer service at their petrol pumps, and the company did create a buzz at that time. My days in East Asiatic went by through various innovations in my professional life.

Excerpts from “Shei Orunadoy Theke”