Sunday 27 October 2019


In my first advertising job, in Lintas, the agency had two Apple Macs. One was an older machine, CPU and monitor in one unit, the other had a much larger colour monitor. Each profit centre had allotted hours in the 'Mac Room,' and all the art directors in what was then India's second-biggest agency took turns using the computers within those slots. Most of them would use only the machine with the larger colour monitor. So I, the trainee copywriter, would frequently sit at the old machine and mess around, asking the seniors for help when I got stuck.

I got reasonably competent with Quark XPress, Aldus Freehand and Adobe Photoshop. Enough for one of my senior art directors to draw scribbles with measurements marked, and instead of passing it on to the studio to make a mock-up, letting me create the layout. He was a grey-haired gentleman who clocked in at 9.30 and picked up his bag at 6 and was having nothing to do with this new-fangled stuff, but was happy to humour me. I would wait for after-hours when the Macs would have less of a queue, and work on the layouts, type in my copy, and leave printouts on his desk which he would see in the morning.

My next job was in Trikaya Grey, where, the Mac Room was in the studio, with full-time operators at the machines. The protocol: visualisers and art directors would take pencil-and-paper layouts to the Mac Room and sit beside the operator, who would make the layout.

The studio worked in a bureaucratic kind of way: stop work at 1 p.m., have lunch and then play cards or relax and chatter, and start work again at 2. (We dismissively called this 'studio mentality,' but I have since reconsidered this opinion. Having acquired respect for work:life balance, I now think of workplaces that valourise long hours and sacrificing personal time as exploitive.)

My art colleagues then were Mangesh Rane, who like me was at the beginning of his career (and, unlike me, he quickly became a star), and Ashok Parab, who was a bit more senior, but with no ego about learning how to work digital. (And slightly later, Yardena and Satish Ambewadikar, but they came in knowing how to handle Macs, and of course Makarand Joshi, who named himself Mac The Man Not The Machine and who came in as a Mac operator and worked his way up to now be a creative director in one of the advertising majors.)

Since I knew the software, we would sneak in extra time at the Macs by going to the studio at 1 p.m,, and I would be Mac operator for Mongoose and Parab. Adjusting leading, tracking, kerning and condensation by fractions of a percentage point, moving pictures or 0.25mm rules 1mm higher or lower, creating white space to let layouts breathe and stand out — and never making the logo bigger — I got a free education in design from them. I'm still grateful for that, and while I never got good enough to win awards, I actually had ads out in which I was art director as well as copywriter (and one which I also illustrated) and being able to do self-defence layouts and have a reasonably informed opinion on design has helped me no end in my work life.

Now the story proper. **

One of Trikaya's top creative people was the legendary Vikas Gaitonde, and among the brands whose work carried his touch was Mauritius Tourism.

It was a weekend and Mangesh and I, who were working that day, had the Mac Room to ourselves, Below us, in the paste-up section, there was a spot of trouble. Vikas was in office, because the client needed something quickly. But the place from which the agency usually ordered typesetting was not available (or maybe they didn't have the particular variant of the typeface that he wanted for the headline; I don't remember this clearly, but I think it was a variant of Bernhard Modern).

Enter Mangesh and I.

We scanned the page with that typeface from a type book. Then Mangesh made the layout. and I cut-and-pasted in the letters of the headline one by one, him instructing me on placement to the fraction of a millimetre. A little tweaking and we got the exact condensation right, and while it took some time, we eventually had a printout ready for the big man, and then for the client. And that is how I once did manual typesetting on a computer.

* Jeeze, I'm a reminiscing old fart already. Shoot me now.

** Argh. A meandering storyteller.