Ajay Gahlaut
Jun 19, 2020

Cannes Lions 2020: 'A Russian’s measure of social distancing differs greatly from an Indian's'

Ajay Gahlaut shares the sights from his journey to the French Riviera

Social distancing at the Palais
Social distancing at the Palais
Copywriters are like migratory birds.
Powerless against wanderlust, every year, come June, they take to the skies in large numbers and descend, chittering, hooting, clucking and tweeting in Cannes. 
So when the advertising gods beckoned and deep called unto deep, I had little choice but to pack the trusty suitcase and, Corona virus notwithstanding, speed Cannes-wards like a homing pigeon.
‘Egad!,’ you exclaim. ‘This chap appears slow in the head. Is he not aware that Cannes Lions 2020 stands cancelled?’
But what if it wasn’t?
And what if I were there?
Then the joke would be on you, wouldn’t it?
Be that as it may, I landed in Cannes after a rather irksome flight. Suffice it to say that the hazmat-suit clad air crew were as grumpy as a Haryana Roadways bus conductor and the food resembled the regurgitations of a Siberian Crane. 
I stood, at what I thought was a safe social distance, in the queue for the airport taxi behind a large masked man with Russian stickers on his suitcase. He turned around slowly to face me, pointed into the middle distance and said, ‘Mprxchqix!’ in a menacing whisper. While my Russian is shaky at best, when spoken through a mask it leaves me totally befuddled. His body language though, spoke loud and clear: ‘Get further back. Or else!’  A Russian’s measure of social distancing, I gather differs greatly from an Indian’s.
The drive to Cannes from Nice was as smooth and uneventful as it has been for the last 12 years that I have been going there. Except for the garbled murmurings of the friendly mask-clad cabbie bemoaning, and this is mostly conjecture on my part, the lack of league football in France.
Not much had changed on the Croisette either. People were thronging the sidewalks, going about what passes for business in the South of France. The only difference was that even the nude sunbathers on the beach were demurely clad in face masks. 
Dropping my luggage off at the apartment I made my way to the registration area. The socially distanced queue was longer than ever but there, like compressed lines in a bar code, stood a few of my countrymen huddled much closer together than the rest.  I made my way to them. After all what point is there to a queue if you can’t jump it. 
It’s night as I write this. And I must sleep for tomorrow I have to catch an exciting early morning session on 'Mothers as consumers in the New Normal', called ‘Kids, don’t forget your Remdesivir!’
(The author is chief creative officer and managing director, Publicis Worldwide India.)
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