For someone who spent eight of his almost 25 colourful years at the very same 55B Mirza Ghalib Street that is the epicentre of Sujit Sanyal’s Life in a Rectangle, his candidly written memoir is a trot down the characteristic advertising grasslands of Calcutta’s yesteryear.
An easy-going and highly entertaining book, it is about how Calcutta nurtured and shaped some of the finest minds of advertising and how those wonderful people then outgrew Calcutta. Some left the city for greener pastures, while others, sadly, left us for another paradise. Mr Sanyal’s book is largely anecdotal and the stories he so vividly captures are all about the good times and the bad, the really fun times and some, quite sad.
early, he chose to make this a rambling all-over-the-place kind of book without a proper path in place, but at no point does it make the reader feel unstrung. A free-flowing string of entertaining stories, they have been told as any advertising person would when you catch up after a long time. It leaves you with a montage of images and a potpourri of memories, mostly nice. Clarion, though — as anyone knows — had more ups and downs than all of Free School Street’s and Ripon Street’s potholes put together! But that’s another long story for another time.
Getting back to the crux of my piece, the truth is I heard about Life in a Rectangle from my brother Mohit, who was invited to walk the audience down Calcutta’s advertising journey at his book launch in Delhi — from his ‘Contract’ed, but unlimited point of view.
Incidentally, Mohit, the last shishya of Subhas Ghosal, has seen a lot more of our largely-fun-but-lately-dirty advertising world than I have; he is one of the four pillars who gave my career a rather solid structure.
I’m not sure what implications Life in a Rectangle holds for even a generation after me, but clearly it is a well-travelled, beautifully told series of short stories by one of the last few gentlemen in our business. I had to, quite unfortunately, give Mr Sanyal’s book launch and the panel discussion a miss, owing to work and social pressures (in that order), but snacking voraciously on it over the first few nights and having made a wholesome meal by the end of it, I have to admit that he has a vivid storytelling ability of a typical advertising man.
This book is nothing but a hard-cover adda session that has every character of those days mentioned lovingly and realistically — something all of us do even now, whenever we meet old colleagues who have turned friends, over the years. Clients and some iconic brands, client-agency relationships way back then, the ethics of conducting business, encounters with legends and all those wonderful, real people who crafted such memorable communication in between living mad lives, are all strewn across in abundance. Clearly, through all his experiences, Mr Sanyal possesses the rubbed-off pedigree of Mr Ghosal and to an extent, professor Subroto Sengupta.
Life in a Rectangle is a must-read for anyone from that bygone era and is, perhaps, the only ‘advertising reunion’ in print that I have laid my eyes and hands on. We all remember our beginnings and lovingly like reminiscing our glory days among wacky characters of rare talent, combined with a sense of acerbic wit and dry humour. It is a book that dwells on strong human relationships and lifetime bonds made while conducting business, above all.
Advertising was, as Bill Cosby put it, the most fun you could have with your clothes on! So if you’ve been a part of the people’s business from the ’70s through to the ’90s, please pick up a copy of Life in a Rectangle.
Believe me, your life will come full circle!
(The author is the co-owner of One by One Design)
Crossword Bookstore on Elgin Road boomed with laughter on the evening of March 30 as the dadas and didis of Calcutta’s advertising world caught up with one another after years at the launch of Life in a Rectangle: The World Around 55B Mirza Ghalib Street (Fingerprint, Rs 395) by ad veteran
Sujit Sanyal, held in association with The Telegraph. Oindrilla Dutt and veteran actor Jagannath Guha read excerpts from the book.
“It is not an autobiography. It’s the Clarion story, the story of everyone who was a part of Calcutta in the 1970s and ’80s,” said the author, tall and energetic in a rich navy blue kurta.
From adman Ram Ray to evenings at Oly [Olympia on Park Street], the book which was released by Dilip Chatterjee, former president of Advertising Club, Calcutta, gives the readers a sneak peek into the lives surrounding Clarion McCann Advertising since 1976, when Sanyal joined the firm as a trainee.
“I just had to download those memories somewhere, and while sitting and staring at the laptop, the words came naturally to me,” laughed Sanyal.
The event also saw Sabyasachi Ghosh, the current president of Advertising Club, join the bunch of ad people as they swapped memories of hilarious client presentations to the familiar last-moment adrenaline rush.
“This is an insider’s book, but for people who are not insiders it gives rare glimpses into the circumstances in which the advertising world grew in Calcutta,” said Guha about the book, written by one of his first students at Bhawanipur College and later a friend.
- Calcutta Musings (sydneydxb.wordpress.com)