When Frank Simoes, in his own words, 'gatecrashed the advertising party' in the Sixties, his bosses at S.H. Benson, precursor of Ogilvy Benson & Mather, knew they had found a young man of talent. A decade later, Simoes set up his own agency and went on to create campaigns like Vimal and Raymonds, which have probably set a record of sorts by being III existence till today.
Twenty years after the birth of Frank Simoes Advertising, heedless to the calls of family and friends to 'lie down until the feeling goes away', he abandoned the advertising profession for a full-time career as a writer. In this book, we bring together the best of Frank Simoes: as ad man, as inveterate traveller and biographer of the two places he loved most, Mumbai and -Goa, as a great gourmand and-connoisseur of good feni and Scotch, and as an irreverent, witty and often scathing chronicler of our times
This is a book you can visit at different times, in different seasons, and come away each time enriched.
Frank Simoes was born in Mumbai on 7th March, at 7 a.m., on the seventh day of the week, i~ 1937. At the age of eighteen, he decamped from hearth and home for a 'working passage' on a cargo ship, a polite euphemism for six months' hard labour. Having splurged his wages on Bacchanalian revelry at various ports of call, he signed off in Genoa with two pounds fifty pence and all his worldly belongings in a backpack.
His experience in Europe over the next year: reluctant sailor, dharma bum, journeyman, writer, employee in pursuits as eclectic as dishwasher, porter, erratic typist and general dogs body, provided a winning curriculum vitae for a career in advertising and a second career as a writer.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame of both the Communication
Arts Guild and the Advertising Club, authored over 300 articles and two books, Glad Seasons in Goa and Fare Forward Voyager. He attributed much of his success to the lack of a formal education.
Frank Simoes passed away in 2002, in Mumbai, survived by his wife, daughter and countless friends and admirers around the world.
Frank Simoes and I knew each other for perhaps a quarter of a century. We had many things in common. We were both born in the city that is now unfortunately known as Mumbai, and both our families originated in Goa when it was still under Portuguese rule. Had we been English, we would also have flaunted the same old school tie, for we both went to St. Mary's High School in Mazagaon, though he was junior to me. I knew him well, and wish I had known him better. But when we were young men, he was busy carving out a very successful career in what was still called Bombay, and I was living in various foreign countries. When we did eventually meet, it was through an old Bombay institution, the cocktail circuit, first founded by the British.
I lived abroad for twenty years before, in 1980, I returned to the city where I had been born, Bombay. Some of its physical features had remained the same, though it had been allowed to become grossly overpopulated and was consequently far more squalid and filthy than it had previously been. The malefic presence of communal hatred was felt everywhere.
But there were still islands of culture in the city, though widely separated. Some belonged to Marathi artists who wore impassioned beards, others were inhabited by Gujarati writers and painters. They had existed throughout the history of Bombay and so too, like a band of Robinson Crusoes isolated by history, had a small population of westernized intellectuals. All these groups had existed in my father's youth, and each group had met regularly in one another's houses to talk over Scotch, or chaas or cups of very sweet tea: to each his own.
Thirty years later, when I returned to live in Bombay, the groups still remained. I had not believed in cultural cliques when I lived in Europe and America, but here they seemed to me a necessity. They brought together the few like-minded people in Bombay and made them friendly. Otherwise each of them would have been alone, and none would have felt part of society, for normal Indian society, like it or not, was not what they fitted into. They might be patriotic Indians, but their minds and personalities had been moulded by western culture and they could not help this. It was a historical accident caused by the British years.
The nature of elitist westernized society in the city had also changed to keep pace with the times. Thirty years earlier, people had dropped into their friends' houses of a Sunday morning for a beer, or on weekday evenings for some stronger beverage. They al- most always came uninvited, and were always made welcome; and they almost always stayed on for lunch or dinner, as the case might be. Now these intimacies had almost entirely disappeared. The group of westernized friends still existed, but they rarely visited each other's homes. They met and talked at cocktail parties or dinners thrown by other people.
I have dwelt on this point at length because it represented the new Bombay or Mumbai in which Frank and I met. We were friends . but not intimates as my father had been with his closer associates. But we belonged to a tradition started by our ancestors. I first met Frank at a cocktail party. He was a tall, loose-limbed man, with a boyish face under prematurely white hair. His face sometimes glowed with pleasure when he met a friend or heard a memorable witticism, but could also seem withdrawn into a dream that nobody else could enter.
At this first meeting, I did not know who he was. I was later told that he was one of the most successful advertising men in India. Born of an aristocratic Goan family that had lost its money, he was brilliant in school, particularly with the manipulation of words. He put this talent to use once he had left school. One of the stories about him concerns my father.
Like all talented young writers, Frank wanted to see his work printed. He continually submitted 'middles' - short articles that appear on the editorial page of The Times of India - to that paper. My father was then the editor. Frank sent forty-nine 'middles' to the Times. All were rejected. His fiftieth submission described how it had felt to have forty-nine turned down in a row, and it was published. Frank used to tell this story, which illustrated two aspects of his character: a resilient sense of humour, which he could use against himself, and a refusal to accept defeat.
He joined a large advertising firm as a copywriter and wrote some of the most brilliant copy ever known in the world of Indian advertising. His copy was inimitable and some of his lines are not only remembered but also still used years after he wrote them. He and the team he inspired, together with the Taj Group of Hotels, made Goa a landmark on the map of world tourism.
He told me wistfully that he would like to be 'a proper writer'. He used to show me articles and essays, some of which appear in this book, and I felt he had a natural talent.
Quite suddenly, or so it seemed, he decided to fulfil his life's ambition. He was not, in my judgment, an impetuous man, but he sold his highly profitable company, and built a beach house in Goa. With his wife Gita and their daughter, he lived partly there and partly in a Mumbai flat.
In addition to his immense body of work as a copywriter, he wrote a biography of the Goan industrialist Salgaocar, a man who also grew from small beginnings.
Frank wrote on many subjects and in the end, unlike most people, he fulfilled his ambition and wrote a book, Glad Seasons in Goa which concerns the building of his house and the gradual development of his friendship with the local inhabitants. As its tide suggests, it is a light-hearted book, funny and carefree, and yet it is a very human document and promised much for the future. Frank was pleased by its success and started to write a novel which he told me was more serious than Glad Seasons. He seemed very dedicated to this, and reported on its progress whenever we met. At this time he seemed to me to look slightly less well than usual, and departed to London for a medical check up. These became more frequent as time passed. He also became more sombre, more concerned in his mind with suffering and death. At a noisy party we sat with him all evening, and all evening, above the music, he described in melancholy detail how his pet parrot was going blind, and how he was powerless to help or comfort it.
What saddened me almost to tears as he told us this was how Frank himself looked. He had lost an incredible amount of weight. His elegant clothes hung loose on his body. An image came to me of Frank as the parrot and his grieving, helpless audience watching his pain.
The last time we ever met our remarkable friend was at another party. As on the previous occasion, he was too weak to stand, and we sat with him. Gita had not been able to come, and the other groups in the room were engrossed in their own conversations. Frank said with an effort, 'You both know how much I love Goan food. Well, I'm not allowed to eat it. I'm not allowed to drink but still ' He sipped a weak whiskey and water. 'When I'm better, I'll finish my novel.'
When a friend dies, one's first instinct is disbelief. It was different with Frank, because of how he had looked the last time I saw him. I grieved for many things that had gone with him. He had acted, as I said earlier in this piece, as a binding force between like-minded people in Mumbai, and thus carried on a tradition started by our ancestors before BAL Thackeray was born. He took pieces of the hearts of many people with him to wherever he went. And he took with him also a talent, which might have become unique and .Important, as Glad Seasons in Goa and the articles in this book make clear. Frank will not write any more, but those interested in literature should read what he left, enshrined in this book, to see what might have been.
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