The book, and the man it reveals so much about, is like dragon fruit: the thorns are superficial. The flesh is succulent and sweet
In popular imagination, creative life is often, inextricably tangled with eccentricity, excess and ego. Van Gogh cut off his own left ear. Keats was in a perpetual haze of opium. Andy Warhol satirised his own art. Words like ‘nihilism’ and ‘iconoclast’ come readily to mind.
So when you pick up a book titled Pandeymonium by an author called Piyush Pandey, heck, the superstar of India’s advertising industry, you approach it with excited trepidation: like you are about to strap yourself into a particularly precipitous rollercoaster.
That brings me to a spoiler alert. In spite of its onomatopoeic title, and the mythology surrounding the author, your innards won’t get churned about; your legs won’t wobble; and the only giddiness you are likely to experience will, probably, be triggered by an Olympian cast of characters.
Pandeymonium, the choice of title, turns out to be a conjuror’s misdirection: just like the forbidding—even intimidating—moustache that is trademark Piyush Pandey. The book, and the man it reveals so much about, is like dragon fruit: the thorns are superficial. The flesh is succulent and sweet.
“Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed. That he is grown so great?” Cassius asks Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 2). And Cassius isn’t alone. Everyone is curious about the journey to greatness. Where did it begin? What were the formative influences? Who were the gurus and mentors and what did our protagonist imbibe from them? How did he ford the perilous rapids, scale the precipitous cliffs and survive all the hazards that might have felled a lesser mortal?
Early in the book, the reminiscing is personal and intimate. We are introduced to a large, very large, family from a provincial outpost, Jaipur, various members of which, without exception, went on to scale great achievements and receive applause. We watch a defiant youngster discover a great love, cricket. And bam! Just when you think ‘autobiography’, the book segues, never to turn back, into Piyush’s travels in the captivating country called advertising.
Great communicators have an instinct for what their audience expects of them. Piyush Pandey has ably demonstrated this, time after time, by unerring, memorable creative work for an endlessly diverse client/brand spectrum. How many times might he have heard the question: “But how do you do it?”
Cassius’s question was dripping was sarcasm. After all, there really wasn’t any miraculous ambrosia that Caesar had stashed away. The ‘meat’ that provides nourishment to the great achiever is available to everyone. The difference is nazariya, a point of view—and an elephantine memory. In Piyush’s world, the humdrum morphs into a drum-beat you could hum to. The humblest tradesman inspires soaring tradecraft. An entire chapter is about his early keenness for cobblers and carpenters and what that did for his decades-long work on Fevicol and other brands from the Pidilite stable.
Call me stupid; but the big tribute in the title of the book eluded me almost up to the half-way point. What does “****** on Advertising” remind you of? Yup, you got it. Ogilvy. The book, above all else, is about the inseparable melding of the man and the agency that became his life.
In a recent conversation with him, Anant Rangaswami, a man I am privileged to count as a friend, and credited by Piyush Pandey as the ‘curator’ of the book, described it as ‘an Asterix comic’. You get a broad sense of the story when you zip through an engrossing page-turner, the first time. Then, at leisure, you flip open to a random page and you notice details that eluded you earlier. Obelix punches a Roman soldier into the sky, and now you notice his chattering teeth clatter to the ground, surprising a butterfly that happened to be passing by.
It is, then, a lively read but do I have a grouse with it? A tiny one: the anecdotes are well told and bring those moments to life for us, the flies on the wall. Do we then need a ‘moral of the story’ every time?