<--Added on 8/22/08 for migration to TPB -->
Anything but Big Fun : bubblegum
Three men in a tub
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker,
Turn them out knaves, all three
Thus goes the nursery rhyme, which concludes with the emphatic message that rascals should not be suffered gladly. The message led me into a train of unrelated thoughts - what segments of our people or institutions would easily pass for the knaves in that rhyme?Talking about people, politicians, policemen and bank employees(but for a select few) would easily top the list. What about institutions? Doordarshan, the nasty dinosaur might win the contest hands down. But then a separate post is surely necessary to list out DD's shenanigans of the past. An unlikely segment in the growing-up days that popped out of the blue were the contestwallahs - the kind that insert posers/puzzles with an entry form in their products.
One of the very first contests that came to mind was an offer by NP Bubblegum circa 1984. Now this was before the days of Big Fun, which came with a bang in 1985 and promptly swept the market. NP was more of a toffee manufacturer I think who expanded into bubblegum. Around the 1982-83 phase, the standard offering for kids was the ubiquitous 10 paise Nutrine toffee, in the green wrapper. Higher up in the pecking order was the 20 paise bubblegum, with the 35 paise Cadbury's Eclairs occupying the top position, being the rare buy.
NP's 20 paise bubblegum came wrapped in a white wrapper with black spots. To be precise, it was a pink flat piece of stone, which required substantial mastication to produce the first bubble! Kids would launch into a furious grinding operation immediately after purchase, to set the stage for bubble-blowing. More often than not, the exercise left the effect of a Mike Tyson uppercut on your jaws. And if you were to run around or play while simultaneously trying to tame the ceramic-hard NP, it would knock the wind out of your sails in no time.
It was in the summer of '84 that one of the Amar Chitra Katha/Tinkle back-covers advertised the prize of a free comic for sending 30 gum wrappers of NP. The contest became the rage among the colony kids and for good reasons as well.
In those days when TV was a rarity, summer hols became a sore point with the parents of our locality, most of whose houses had both parents working. Even as the Annual Exams approached, restless kids pestered their parents for trips to relatives' homes. Doting grandparents added fuel to the flame. Some kids had relatives doing the nanny-work at home, while the older ones stayed at home and engaged themselves with whatever little game they could invent. It was at this point that a couple of children's libraries arrived in the locality. The monthly subscription was Rs.5 and for a paltry sum(like 25 paise) you could borrow as many comics as you liked and return them the next day. Some of the rich(but with no appetite for reading) kids got their parents to shell out the fiver and more. The strategy of the smarter ones(whose parents disliked seeing a bunch of comics spreadeagled all over the bed in the evening) was to befriend the spoilt brats, get access to the maal, devour every comic and then consolidate their relationship with the subscriber by narrating the stories at the end of day. My siblings and their friends in the locality became champion moochers who enjoyed a fresh haul of Archie, Disney, Indrajal, Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle. Creaming the comics off "angel investors" was their speciality. Every afternoon, a little bunch would gather in our porch, deeply engrossed in reading or atleast padam-paarthufying. Illiterates like me hung around in vain hoping for a story telling session to start :(
Back to the contest: the promise of a free comic thrilled us no end. It was after all something you can repeatedly savour, without bothering to return it to the owner at the end of the day. With no time constraints, you could re-live the pages for the nth time at night as well. We launched into a massive wrapper-collection operation keeping the deadline in mind. The importance of purchasing NP bubblegum was conveyed in clear terms to magnanimous uncles/aunts. The collectors diligently accumulated the 5 and 10 paise coins, blowing it on an NP whenever they got a chance. For once, the 10 paise Nutrines were ignored. Everytime we bought an NP, stealthy looks were cast along the floor in the hope of finding a free wrapper carelessly discarded by some buyer!
In due course, we squirrelled together the 30 wrappers. Eager hands placed them in an envelope and dispatched it to the company, anxious to beat the deadline.
But alas! Weeks turned into months but nothing happened. A few months later, the postman brought a parcel. Finally, the reward for our pains had arrived. We ripped the wrapper and welcomed the Phantom comic inside with shrieks of delight!
Just one problem: the cover said Part Two. An enthusiast blazed promptly through the comic: it was a punchfest, there were scenes of men flying to the Phantom's punches, followed by a close-up of the imprint of his ring on the villains' jaw - a "Jungle proverb" dedicated to the 'Ghost who walks' added for special effect. The last page informed us that the story would be concluded in Part Three! So in effect, we had no idea why Phantom was on that spectacular punching-spree and no way of knowing if all those punches were really worth it in the end.
So that was the bottomline: a bunch of small kids had bust their humps to accumulate 30 wrappers and in return, the NP honchos had sent them Part Two of a Three part comic. That's something even the sadists on Doordarshan's payroll would have been hardpressed to emulate!
What it also meant was elsewhere in India, some kid must have got the Part 1 and another would have got merely the climax to that adventure!
But the burnt children didn't dread fire though. Big Fun arrived in 1985. It joined the contest bandwagon releasing a picture of a Disney character in every stick. The deal was to collect a certain number of characters who had a star emblazoned at the bottom. This was completely probabilistic and only the regular chewers had any chance of matching up to the requirements. By then, TVs were worming their way into most middle class homes, cricket fever was on with India due to host the 1987 World Cup. Big Fun cashed in on the interest and started releasing the pic of a cricketer, his star value translated into runs and wickets. Now the deal was to collect 120 runs and 10 wickets, to be exchanged for a mini-book with cricketer photos. Seeing my frenzied efforts at raking up the runs, Amma finally took me to a stationary store owned by her friend and got me a free copy of the prize. It was too pathetic a deal for all the trouble as by then we had a decent collection of sports literature at home. If I remember right, Big Fun rascals unabashedly bumped the price from 30 to 50 paise soon after! I guess I lost interests in chocolate/gum contests after that. Pretty soon, the glamour of bubblegum wore off.
Now though, I just cannot stand anyone around me giving his jaws a workout with gum. In fact, I've had absolutely no problems with smokers, I've actually cultivated the notion that smokers are generous guys since they often have to set money to the torch. Most of the smokers I have come in contact with have been extremely friendly and broad-minded, as opposed to some extremely stingy, self-centered and egocentric teetotallers. But grinding gum and other maattu-business is a definite no-no.
Research seems to have proven that chewing gum helps people concentrate and improves memory. I am dismayed by the findings. However for now, I will stick to my prejudice against gum-chewers.
Vivian Richards and Michael Jordan are excluded.
[Pic courtesy: www.cartoonstock.com]