Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Designer’s Date with Destiny

Friends and friendship always go beyond the scope of its definitions. During the course of our life we befriend many people. Some of them leave without any trace and some of them leave indelible marks in your memory that stay forever.

Mohan, for me, belongs to the second category. There were several contradictions between Mohan and me. But, there was something that kept us together.


Story Begins


I was introduced to Mohan by my ex-boss on my first day in office as Assistant Editor of a leading business magazine. My boss said, "You both have to work together. You both know Tamil. That will help in simplifying the communication process."

After introduction to all other team members, in a small cubicle that could accommodate four desktops, I was given a corner seat facing the wall. Mohan was sitting behind me. Mohan was very senior to me and had over 20 years of experience in advertisement companies as a Designer. So, he carried that pride and had the rigid nature of rejecting the design suggestions from senior Editors. So, my primary responsibility was to take the concepts from senior Editors and make Mohan replicate the same in colorful printed pages of the magazine. I got this tough task as my prime responsibility.

 

Steep Learning Curve


In the very next issue of the magazine was a special issue and we were asked to change the overall layout of the magazine. For me, that was my first print media desk experience. As a novice, getting this tough task as my first assignment was nothing less than a nightmare.  

During my magazine journalism classes in college, I have come across magazine editorial jargons. Even we had magazine design as a topic. There we randomly got one magazine each from our professor and were asked to design cover page and conceptualize content pages. The challenge was, we were not given computer or any other software to do this task. We have to draw and show how a cover page looks and where we place the image and the text.

Above all, in the class, in front of all the batch mates, our professor would ask which color we used for the masthead? We would be saying teacher red..green etc. Our professor would then correct it with her feedback. That's the only experience I had as a Designer.

I had one other experience related to design. I did a Graphics Design course with two of my crazy friends in college. The computer training center was located in a colorful and famous college in Kottayam, Kerala. 'Bird watching' was the main motto. We stretched that two months long course to four months and ended up learning nothing. We spent time roaming around the college campus. We chit chatted with fellow students in computer class. We also played computer games when the tutor was not around.

 

Catapulting Challenges


To start the editorial process, I have to understand what the existing layout of the magazine was. Mohan and I didn't face issues in breaking the ice. He helped me find previous issues of the magazines. I went through all the magazines and got a good idea of the design standard of the magazine. I had detailed discussions with Mohan. We went out to buy old magazines for design reference and took inspiration from those magazines.

For each section of the magazine, we started creating different layouts. In the next one week, after several rounds of approvals and disapprovals we finalized the layouts for the whole magazine. When the magazine came out, it got mixed responses. But, undoubtedly, it gave me a lot of learning.

By nature, I'm a calm and composed person. That came in handy when I worked with Mohan. I understood his nature of work and adjusted myself to that. He didn't like people commanding him. He works at his own pace. During magazine closing time, I had a tough time working with him. Boss would set unrealistic deadline and Mohan would say "That's not possible. I won't do it". Every magazine issue closing was like real crazy time for me.

 

Sleepless Nights in Office


During most of the issue closing work. For Mohan and me, office becomes our home, as we would stay in office during weekends. The work starts on Friday morning and it continues till Friday night and  after midnight we would sleep on any of the tables with newspapers as our blanket and a bunch of old magazines as a pillow.

We wake up early in the morning and continue the work till noon or evening depending upon the volume of work. I would edit the articles and attach relevant pictures and send it to Mohan and brief him about the number of pages and overview of the layout. By the time he finishes the first article, I would send him the second one. Finally, chopping the articles and tweaking the layout happen to adjust the space.

The advertisement would be placed in order and as per the last minute change content would be shifted. All kinds of permutation and combination happen while creating the final pages of the magazine.

 

Shaky, Shivery Brandy Walker


At around 6 PM, all the employees would leave office. During issue closing Mohan, the senior security guy and I would be the only people in the office. In between my editing works, I keep on reminding Mohan about the need for finishing things faster.

After 8.30 PM, Mohan's pace of work declines drastically. That's when we send the security guy to buy brandy and side dish for Mohan and food for me. Mohan was addicted to drinking alcohol. Many a times I have seen his hands shivering and he struggles to keep the mouse in control. As soon as the security guy brings food and drinks, Mohan takes his quota of drinks and snacks and set the drinking table very next to his keyboard. In a glass, he mixes high proportion of brandy in little water and gulp the whole glass full of brandy in a few seconds time.

Most of the time, he used to drink like this in empty stomach. I tried my luck several times advising him against this unhealthy drinking habit. Every time he would smile and say, "Pradeep we have to enjoy each and every moment in life. I’m well over 45 years of age. I’m not married. But, I have experienced all good things a married man would. Enjoy life till the last minute. Lead a life without any regrets. Live as if there is no tomorrow." I felt too young to advise a senior person like him.

To keep him active, I ask him questions. In between gulps, he would share his interesting and eventful life experiences. The security guy and I would have our food listening to Mohan's narration. After drinks, at the most, Mohan would finish two to three pages of work. Then, he starts giving excuses. I won't compel him after that. I would give him the plan for the next day morning. After 10.30 PM, I would go to the other end of the office with a bunch of newspaper and magazines. Mohan would watch some videos on his desktop and sleep near his desk.

The next day, most of the time, a Saturday, I wake up at around 6 AM and refresh myself in the office rest room. By that time, Mohan would be ready in front of his desktop. This is the time, I found him more efficient. We both speed up the work. Mohan creates new pages. I would send final pages in PDF format to my senior Editor by mail. The senior Editor would send the corrections by mail or phone.

By the time all the changes are carried out, time would be 4 PM. Well before winding up, we take print-outs of all the pages and on Mohan's bike, we both reach the Chief Editor's apartment entrance and hand over the print outs to him. With that, our responsibilities are over for the day. Mohan would drop me in the bus stand and he goes his way.

 

Sherif, the Ganja Guy


Our office was located on the 4th floor, which is the top floor of that building. It had a wonderful terrace with trees shadowing both the corners. As I used to stay beyond office time, the terrace and the beautiful city view from that terrace were my only reliefs when I was in office. From the terrace, I have watched the sun set behind far away high rise buildings and rain showers on the city landscape. A bunch of my office colleagues and I used the terrace for friendly conversations after long busy days at work.

Mohan had a good friend named Sherif, who frequently visited the terrace. Along with drinks Mohan smokes cigarette a lot. Whenever Mohan goes out to terrace to smoke, Sherif would accompany him. In fact, Sherif is one of the owners of that office building. Like Mohan Sherif was also unmarried. And both of them were of the same age.

Sherif was working abroad and he was an Engineering graduate. After a great start, he didn’t utilize the opportunities that came his way.  He became a failure in both his life and career. He went through a depression phase and got addicted to ganja and liquor. All his brothers and other family members ditched him. Our office building was his father's property. All three sons, including Sherif, shared the rent amount they got from that building. In that too, Sherif got a minor share.

With stained teeth, faded dress and shabby look, Sherif was a fun element for all others in the office. But, Mohan treated him like a brother. Sherif shared his painful experiences with Mohan. He advised Sherif and injected confidence in him. These conversations happened in the shady corner of the terrace. While Mohan smokes cigarettes, Sherif would smoke Ganja.

 

Terrace Intruder


After a few months, when Sherif became loud and excited on the terrace, somebody escalated it to Sherif's brothers. After that, the terrace door was closed to avoid his intrusion. After two such escalations, Sherif went missing. Nobody had any clue. After several months, Mohan told me that Sherif was admitted to Nimhans hospital by his brothers for mental treatment.

After a month or so, when the terrace was open to all, one fine day, Sherif came back. He looked very tired. Same old ganja and cigarette smoking session happened. Sherif asked Mohan "Am I looking like a mad fellow Mohan? Everybody is treating me like a mad guy." Sherif was very emotional that day.

Somebody once again reported Sherif's presence on the terrace to his brother. That was the last time I saw Sherif.  Not sure whether he went back to treatment or left Bangalore to escape from his brothers. Even Mohan didn't get any update about Sherif after that.

 

Mohan Decided to Quit


As work pressure started mounting month after month, Mohan became restless. He started losing his temper. From drinking at night time, he started drinking after noon as well. At lunch time, he would go to a nearby bar to finish his quota and come back to the office. Slowly, people started noticing this.

At one point, the rift between him and the senior management widened and one fine day, Mohan busted out and quitted his job. As a friend, I asked him, "Why did you do this?" He said, "I don't need this job." He left his job just like that without any regret. Within no time another Designer replaced his position. Mohan got his final settlement amount and he had many plans to spend that amount.

After Mohan left the company, work timing became a little bit disciplined. But, the company lost a senior employee, who was part of the magazine right from its initial stages.

After quitting the job, for one or two months Mohan contacted me. After that, there was a long gap. When I tried to contact him, he was not picking the call or the phone was out of coverage area.

 

Mohan Returns


One fine evening, when I was working late in the office, I got a call from Mohan.  After customary interaction, I asked Mohan “What are you doing now?”

"I'm working in a magazine Pradeep. Affected by Jaundice, I was bed ridden for the last one month. I have spent my entire final settlement amount. Now, I don’t have money. Even for my daily expense, I have to ask my relatives. That's when I got this opportunity. This is a new magazine they are going to start. The owner is a famous Advocate and they have allotted one full room for this magazine work. That Advocate's son is taking care of the magazine work. They don't have any idea about how to start. I need your help to create editorial calendar and overall content plan for that magazine. This is the only help I need. Let me know when you are free. We will meet and talk in detail."

Mohan's voice sounded exhausted. I met him after a few days. Mohan looked tired and his face looked dull. He said his body is weak and the Doctor asked him to strictly avoid alcohol.

"Take care of your health Mohan," I told him and asked him, "Do you need any financial support".

"Thanks Pradeep. Just support me in this magazine work. That is enough." I agreed to help him. On his bike, Mohan took me to that Advocate's office, where he got the job. With a lot of enthusiasm Mohan introduced me to that senior Advocate and his son. And showed me where he work and the designs he created for the new magazine. I felt good seeing him in action. We had a lengthy chat with that senior Advocate. In between conversations, Mohan was expressing good things about my work.

Their intention was to convert an existing tabloid sized newspaper to a monthly magazine format. The whole content and formatting has to be changed. I told them what needs to be done. And they were happy about my views, as they got more clarity in terms of content and packaging it for the magazine.

After that conversation, Mohan, Advocate's son- Naveen, and I came down and had lemon tea in the nearby tea stall. Mohan and Naveen told me about the content they are planning to create for the launch issue of the magazine. While departing, I told Mohan, "Whenever you need help let me know. This office is far away from my place. Moreover, I don’t have a vehicle. So, call me whenever you need my help."

 

Mystery Continues


Mohan kept mailing me the pages he had created. I suggested changes and he finalized it. Twice or thrice I met him in that office. After that, Naveen kept on contacting me, as Mohan was in and out of hospital. After two weeks, Mohan stopped using his mobile phone. Naveen was the only point of contact for me to know about Mohan's health. Naveen once told me that Mohan’s health is deteriorating. 

I have never been to Mohan's house. So, meeting him in person was getting delayed. At one point, Mohan stopped coming to Naveen's office. Naveen told me that, one fine day, Mohan called him and said that he will not come to the office any more. That was the last message Naveen got from Mohan.

I accepted that magazine work as an attempt to help Mohan. But, when Mohan left the job, I felt pointless in continuing that work. I once again met that senior Advocate and told him that I won't help him any longer. He was not happy. We had some heated arguments and I finally said goodbye.

 

Harsh Realities


After two to three weeks, when I was busy with my routine editorial works, I got a message from Naveen saying that, Mohan's health was critical for the last few days and he passed away. That message shook me. Mohan's smiling face appeared in my mind. I could hear him calling me ‘P..r..a..d..e..e..p’.

I informed this news to all my colleagues. That topic became a big discussion point and almost everybody in the office agreed to visit Mohan’s house that evening after office hours. But, when I reached Mohan's house, only two other colleagues were there. I worked with Mohan for just one-and-a-half year, but most of the senior colleagues worked with him for over four years. They were supposed to have better connect with Mohan than what I had.

When I entered that small house, I could see Naveen. I stood near Mohan's body that was kept in the freezer. I spoke to Naveen. Except Mohan I don’t know anybody in his family. But, during our late night discussions in office, Mohan had told me about all his family members.

 

Haunting Memories


When a person dies, not only the connection with that person fades away, but also the relationship we share with his friends and relatives become insignificant. Mohan has introduced me to Naveen and many of his friends. Without Mohan all those relationships are insignificant. 
   
 I just thought, if I could inform Sherif, Mohan's dear friend, about this sad incident. But, nobody knows anything about Sherif.

While leaving Mohan's house, I could hear a lady in her emotional peak yelling, "He kept on drinking and spoiled his life. He is not even 50 years old...MohanMohan..wake up Mohan…" I thought that lady was Mohan’s elder sister. There is no point in confirming that doubt.

That whole night, Mohan occupied my thoughts. The next day, when I reached the office, the security guy, who used to get liquor for Mohan looked very sad and asked me about Mohan and his last days. After hearing what I said, he said "Mohan sir was a very good person. He spoiled himself. He drank too much."

Inside office, those who skipped the funeral the previous day came to me to get the updates. Then they also commented, "Poor Mohan. He spoiled himself…"

When all the enquiries got over, everybody went back to their normal self. Within no time, it became a regular office day for all of us.

From my seat, I turned back. The new Designer was sitting on Mohan's seat. That's the harsh reality of life. We move on and in that process, we conveniently forget many things.

New people, new places, new expectations... Only a very few things linger in our mind.

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