Anvar of thirty-plus years ago. He had come over to our place in Warden Road. Throughout our conversation, I noticed our five-year-old daughter, hand on chin, staring at our young guest. At the end of the visit, my wife and I walked him to the elevator, followed by our little girl. Before the lift started its descent, she pushed herself between the two of us and blurted through the lift’s grilled gate. “Hey! You’re very handsome. I want to marry you.”
I cannot testify to similar infatuation among advertising’s more mature little ones, but I know that Anvar Alikhan was a favourite of the gods in HTA, all the way up to Subhas Ghosal, our Chief Executive, all of them seeing in him creative fibre with a rare refinement.
Everything he did – from the opening of his lunch box to writing copy – he did with immaculate finesse. He spoke and wrote the chaste phrase touched with surprise and humour. He was courteous and gentle; never pushy. Anvar was the quintessential gentleman. As conversationalist and writer he was an aesthete with a mine of information, his wit, turn of phrase and his repertoire of little-known facts lighting up every moment he spent with you.
As a copywriter he shunned the wordplay that passed for good writing at that time. He knew his advertising.
I remember a campaign he worked on for Colorchem. It used to be our annual award-winner in the industrial advertising category. The ads would have pretty words, even more prettily art directed by Sudhir Deokar and they would unfailingly bring home the shiny metal at the award ceremonies.
Anvar warned us that he would do nothing of the sort. Instead he took a full month, going round to user industries and spent time talking with printing, weaving and dyeing masters and the other technicians who actually worked with the product. He didn’t talk about colour or Colorchem. He talked to them about their work and how they felt about it. He discovered fascinating archetypes among them that became for him the key to his empathy: he visualized the martyr, the superman, the challenger, the prima donna and the philosopher, all of which inspired Sudhir to produce the stunning visuals he did.
I believe that the campaign he produced was a breakthrough in industrial advertising. For Anvar, the fact that it won a number of awards that year was inconsequential. He felt more rewarded to know that these technicians had cut out these advertisements and had them enlarged, framed and put up in their factories. “When your target audience collects your portfolio,” he said. “You don’t need to keep one of your own.”
Anvar took the same sensitivity and professionalism with him when he moved South as creative director of our then Madras and Bangalore offices and it showed in the work they produced there.
Unfortunately for me, I lost touch with Anvar after my retirement. Under that cloak of invisibility, however I have clandestinely peeped and eavesdropped on FaceBook, Scroll-in and social media to pick out the incandescence of Anvar’s new writing in which I see the same impeccable attention, not so much to detail as to the little-known fact; personal experience, scholarship and micro-history presented with a sense of wonder and a smile. After every reading, I found myself waiting for the next Anvar piece.
I now have to wait in vain. One of his last posts, somehow, even at the time of reading it seemed like a last post, a premonition. “It has been a long, serendipitous journey…,“ he wrote. “But that old journey now ends. And a new journey begins …. “
Wet-cheeked I bid him Godspeed on this journey. He is still the favourite of the gods. Now of a higher realm.
(Ivan Arthur, the former NCD of HTA (JWT) is an advertising veteran and a trustee of the AICAR business school.)