Ramesh Narayan
Sep 19, 2013

Why can’t we remember?

I look at and marvel at the wonder of legacy. And I seem to see it wherever I look

Why can’t we remember?

The advertising industry in India is a little older than the country itself, and is thus entering an age group which would probably explain its forgetfulness of its founding fathers.

That is a generous statement. Actually, I wish to raise a few questions about the history of those who were probably responsible for building our present day agencies, and newspapers.

What set me thinking was that many companies revere their founding fathers. For example, in my college days I always attended the Dorab Tata memorial lecture. The Birlas, Tatas, Bajajs, to name some of the old business houses in India, cherish their legacy. Internationally too, there is a great cachet associated with the word ‘legacy’. I realise I have named owner-managed companies in my examples but internationally, professionals who have built institutions too have been placed on lofty pedestals.

What about our industry? How many young professionals would know about the contribution made by Subhas Ghosal, Subroto Sengupta, Mani Iyer, RK Swamy,  Kersi Katrak, Ravi Gupta or Frank Simoes? How many young professionals would remember agencies like Sistas, Trikayaa, Chaitra, MCM, Aiyars, to mention a few?

Is the situation different in media? How many young professionals would remember Ramnath Goenka, KM Mathew, G Kasturi, among others, who shaped the Fourth Estate in the years after India earned its independence?

Why can’t we remember them? Is it because in the agency business pioneers sold out to ‘professionals’ who didn’t understand the value of entrepreneurship? Is it because the corporatisation of the agency business made it a large well-oiled machine without a soul? Is it because multinational owners preferred to usher in a mercenary culture and their managers were ready to forget the ethos and culture that an entrepreneur inculcated in his company? Is it because the present day management is so insecure they do not want to acknowledge a great legacy?

I really do not know the answers to these questions.

However, cursed as I am with a selectively good memory, I look at and marvel at the wonder of legacy. And I seem to see it wherever I look. Yes, I see the indelibly cultured grace of Subhas Ghosal in the many professional lives he has touched. I see fine traces of Suresh Mullick’s creative genius in the greatness of Piyush Pandey. I see a hint of Ravi Gupta in the path breaking work of Chris Rosario and Alok Nanda. I see the steadfast adherence to integrity and professionalism that marked KM Mathews not just in the behavior of his wonderful sons but also in the DNA of the newspaper he nurtured. I see the pugnacious quest for the truth that embodied Ramnath Goenka in some columns of The Indian Express.

Most importantly, I see a need to preserve what was has been handed down to us by men far wiser and greater than us. Something that posterity could marvel at.

A memory of a time when giants roamed about in our industry. Frank, fearless and free.

(The author is an ad veteran and founder, Canco Advertising. This article appears in Campaign India’s six anniversary issue, dated 20 September 2013.)

Campaign India

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