Thursday, 17 March 2011

Story about a Cover - In Lieu of a Cover Story

The Story about a Cover  – In Lieu of a Cover Story

Arunabha Sengupta

We stood in the epicentre of the national passion.

Clicks, beeps and telephone rings from all around reassured us that the spiritual life blood of the small country was in safe hands. In our hands were the plastic cups of corporate coffee that we had to pay for. In other words, we were in Zurich, standing in the corridors of one of the major Swiss Banks where we work as consultants. Around us the bankers were hard at work. I eyed them absently as my mind worked feverishly at the problem.

“I need someone who can draw a cave,” I said.

Sujoy listened thoughtfully, revving up his brain, numb from the two morning hours in front of his laptop.

“Why a cave?”

“For the cover of this issue of the magazine.”

“Yes, but why a cave? Isn’t that more of a National Geographic way of doing things?”

 I shook my head.

“No. The cave I want drawn is hypothetical. It is Plato’s cave.”

“Wow,” Sujoy eyed Greta, a tall, long legged beauty who sat across his workstation, as she walked briskly to get her cuppa.

I assumed that the expression was a composite sum of wonder at a fantastic female form and incomprehension about a philosophical tool, with the balance heavily in favour of the former. I told him so, a little curtly. 

Sujoy frowned. “I tend to become philosophical too, when I look at figures on the spreadsheets.”

“And whenever you see figures walking around, your mental process is anything but
platonic. Plato’s cave depicts a few men chained inside a dark cave, facing the wall. They cannot turn around and face the outside world. To them reality is the sum of flickering shadows of whatever is projected on the wall ...” 

“Amazing. He predicted FaceBook junkies!”

I sighed.

“Great philosophical symbols can be interpreted in many ways. But here, a puppeteer projects images against the sun for the bound men to see the semi formed shadows.”

A smile dawned on Sujoy’s face as his eyes lit up.

“So like our corporate world.”

“That is why I want it as a cover.”

“And you want someone to draw the cave?”


“Aren’t pictures of Plato’s Cave available online?”

“Not the kind I want. I want it to be corporatised.”


“Say there is a carrot and a stick which is held up by the puppeteer, and it is projected as performance linked incentive on the wall.”

Sujoy looked at me over his coffee cup.

“Isn’t that shadow a little too abstract even for the most versatile of suns?”

“That’s what artists are for. To somehow create an abstract image...”

Sujoy nodded. “You have been in the industry too long. Do you know any artist?”

“I do, but they are either in Paris or in Kolkata. One is in New York. A few in California.”

“Somewhere closer to us? Say, for example, Zurich?”





“Nowhere in Switzerland.”

“Can you hire one?”

“I have neither the time nor the money.”

“And you want this picture by ...?”

“The next ten days.”

“Ah, the corporate world for sure. That is challenging isn’t it?”

“Think out of the box.”

Sujoy smiled.

“You can pose as a true puppeteer.”

I thought hard.

“Wait. That gives me an idea ... why not take a photograph? Chintz has just got a new SLR.”

“You need to find a cave. There should be some in the mountains. The monks are always going up to the mountains to meditate. At least they used to when they did not switch to Astha channel.”

“That’s in the Himalayas. I am not too sure about the Alps. Forget it. It is still freezing the marrows. Why don’t we create the atmosphere in a conference room?”

Sujoy threw his cup into the bin.

“Yes, we can shine a flashlight at the back and ... but if we take a picture, you have to come down to reality from abstractions.”

I did not like that.

“Let’s say we take a carrot and a stick. Can we get hold of them?”

“I can get a carrot from Migros. And we can break a branch from a tree. I am not sure, but I think we can do that for free even in this country.”

“Well, what can we show on the wall? Have you ever done something like Hand-shadowgraphy?”

Sujoy looks at me with pained eyes.

“A senior manager looking for esoteric skills in his people, aren’t you? I did not spend my entire life out of the box.”

“Can we make the carrot and stick projected their combined shadow as money?”

“With contortions and deformed sticks I think we can manage a devalued Pound symbol.”

I sighed.

“Sujoy, I need a professional photograph. Let me think. If we use currency we have to go for dollar.”

“There is no stick or carrot which can form a dollar without a lot of physical persuasion. How will you get the S shape?”

It was then that I got my first brainwave. “We will use a whip. That’s great. We will use a whip. We will tie the whip to the carrot and make it go around it in the shape of an S.”

Sujoy seemed to be thinking.

“Well, that seems feasible.”

“Now, people have to be chained up. Do you have one of those chains we use to secure our luggage in trains?”

Sujoy gave me another long look. “We do that in India.”

“Come on. We are supposed to be a global company. Why this bias for local environment? Best practices are geography-agnostic.”

“Easy on the bullshit, please.”

“You sure you don’t have chains?”

“Quite, but you have a dog.”

“Is that relevant in any way? Should I get the dog in the photo? In some ways it is a quaint parallel. Realistic too. But the problem is how do we get a dog inside the bank and then into the conference room? Will security allow it? My dog is a Golden Retriever, too big to carry in a handbag.”

“I was merely suggesting that we use her leash.”

I saw his line of reasoning.

“Ah...well, that won’t work. What if I bring the leash along and she wants to pee while I am out? No, we have to do better than that. Don’t you have anything like chains? What about cuffs?”

“I don’t even have cuff links.”

Greta was returning with her cup. She looked at us and smiled warmly.

“You guys look so serious. Any problem? Can I help?”

I looked back at her, deep in thought. “We need cuffs and a whip.”

Greta goggled at me, her smile wiped clean, brows raised in shock. I stared back, unable to think of anything to add, far less to subtract post facto.

After an hour long silent thirty second, she haughtily retreated with her long legs to the calming quarters of her cubicle.

“I guess I ought to be moving too,” Sujoy observed. “I have to raise a travel request.”

“Really? Where do you think you’re going?”

“Back to India. Do you suppose they will let us continue working here after what you just said?”

“Oh ... well, don’t be silly. Tell her it is an Indian custom.”

“BDSM? An Indian custom?”

“Make something up. Be creative.”

“I think I told you to go easy on the bullshit.”

“Tell her the truth, appeal to her sense of humour.”

Sujoy rewarded my ideas with a stony glance.

“She is Swiss.”

“Don’t worry, it will work. The humour here is cheesy. Come on, we have more important
things to discuss. Now, with a whip and a few chains, we can hold the flashlight and project ...”

“If we project, why don’t we use the beamer? That way all we are left without are the chains.”

My face broke out into a smile.

“Illuminating beam, straight out of the box. Beamer it is. We can have two laptops. One that
is hidden, connected to the beamer and projects a dollar on the wall. The other with the corporate leader, at the back of the room, which shows a carrot and a whip on its screen. Everything electronic. Paperless, prop-less. No Migros, no broken branches.”

Sujoy frowned.

“Have we broken out of the chains too?”

“I think I will pick some aluminium foil from Coop. My daughter can make a few chains with scissors and sellotape.”

Sujoy nodded. “So everything is generated in the conference room.”

I nodded.

“Affirmative. Every distortion of reality, every fictitious projection, every fabrication of
every image, everything is hatched in conference rooms. The cauldron of chicanery. The modern day cave of Plato.”

“The laboratory of noxious day-dreams. And you think a guy with a month’s fad for photography, a few aluminium foils and a conference room will get you something to put on the cover of a magazine?”

I sighed. “Please. Control your inertia for coiling up deep within the box. Let’s just do it?”

“The Nike way?”


Sujoy looked hesitantly at Greta’s head which bobbed about in her cubicle.

“In any case I will look at some pictures of Plato’s Cave and see what can be done with some freeware photo-editors.”

I snickered. What would these guys do without trendsetting thought leadership?

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