The written word has a charm of its own. It is not merely what is available on the Internet and in media and books. Sign posts, menu cards, brochures, pamphlets and billboards, bloopers and unintended puns have the power to lighten many a heart with their original content and humour. However, I would like to dwell on another genre of writing that has grabbed my attention on and off. Though I have come across many such nuggets, the following take the cake…
A Xerox shop had put up a new price list. Alongside was another sheet of paper that read, ‘We are not responsible for the pricing. If you have any complaints, please approach the CM or PM.’ The smart man had zeroed in on the real culprits who could be blamed for the inflation. The writing on the wall discreetly encouraged the customer to give the matter some thought while discouraging the potential customer from questioning the cost.
Then there was this message on a sheet of paper stuck on the front glass of a large car: ‘Kindly park your car properly or we will punkcher your tyre.’ The car was not moved. Overnight there was an addendum to the note: ‘I mean puncture,’ in block letters. I could sense the despair of the scribe who felt that there was no response to the memo because he had misspelt his threat. I also observed the change in the use of the first-person pronoun from plural to singular. In the coming days, the car was parked ‘properly’, without inviting more such nag notes.
Another time, a sheet of paper stuck on the elevator door read, ‘Please don’t press 2, dead end.’ I could not figure out the import. A staff member explained that the general entrance to the second floor had been sealed off because it had an internal lift that connected the first and the second floors. Therefore, if people did stop at the second floor, the door, which was still operable, would open to a wall that sealed the entrance. I understood the good intention and the dark humour behind the cautionary words.
I cannot forget another such piece of writing taped over a young neem tree. ‘You will not prosper if you use the leaves of this tree.’ According to the grapevine, the sapling had been planted by a green enthusiast only the previous year. The locals had helped themselves to every leaf that sprouted, for medicinal purposes. The tree had survived the onslaught and had unfurled its green umbrella the following spring. It was Ugadi and there was every chance of the neighbours stripping the sapling to its scrawny branches, hence the warning. The tree lover had cashed in on the power of curse to play mind games on the people who may be tempted to relieve the tree of its leaves.
These and many such memoranda that are laced with humour happen to be insightful. They reflect the genuine intent to communicate effectively and honestly. They mirror the feelings of disgust, anxiety or disapproval. They also testify the fact that the scribes of these notes have possibly failed to express their thoughts orally. They could have been timid, may have wanted to avoid open confrontation resulting in embarrassment or unpleasantness, or, they may have believed more in the power of the written word. Yet, the fact remains that they are generally put up with the expectation of seeing desired results. Oftentimes, these gems of prudence are written in English, albeit with some creative liberties taken with the Queen’s language, with the hope of reaching out to a larger number of people.
If it has not been already done, these cryptic notes can be compiled, analysed and studied. They will throw light on the human mindset, lifestyle, and thought processes of our contemporary society.