The Woman Who Won A Pot Of Gold

A serial winner of consumer contests tells her amazing story

Indu Balachandran Published Aug 1, 2020 00:00:00 IST
The Woman Who Won A Pot Of Gold Illustration by Keshav Kapil

Before me was a blank entry form for a slogan contest: “I love shopping at Vivek’s because ...”

I filled in the empty space with an off-the-cuff rhyme:

Every time I watch TV,

Grind, cook, clean or bake,

I keep saying, secretly,

“Thank you, Vivek!”

My daughter counted out the words. “Make ‘every time’ one word, Ma, and it’s 15 words exactly!”

This was in September 1997. Two months later, we jostled for space in a packed hall of excited families in Chennai. The letter from the popular household retailer simply said “You have won one of the top 15 prizes in Vivek’s Diwali Mela”. A grand line-up of household appliances greeted us. We wondered excitedly which prize our slogan won. My daughter had set her sights on a mini Solidaire TV; a VIP Strolly suitcase was my big hope.

With each drum roll, the prizes went out—crockery sets, gleaming TV sets and washing machines. Once a family of eight rushed to the stage when a name came up. The audience whooped—perhaps ours would come next!

Over 400 prizes were handed out. Time for the Big Three: all of them gold—yes, real 22-carat gold.

Two women wheeled in a grand display: chains, bangles, earrings. The cheering was deafening as the judges announced the prizes: for 3rd place—250 grams of gold jewellery; 2nd place—500 grams of gold. My daughter and I nearly stopped breathing. “This is like the Miss World Contest,” she whispered, when you pray your name is not announced—who wants to be a runner-up?

Finally, first prize. Who in this vast hall of shrieking people would it be? And then we heard it. My name. We won! We actually won one kilo of gold!

The beaming organizers even had a man, carrying a huge gun, escort us all the way home with our winnings. We drove home in an advanced state of lunacy, and ironically, only one thing registered clearly: I got my trolley bag. Vivek’s had packed our shiny loot in a big (and free!) VIP suitcase.

25 Wins, and Counting

Some people win at beauty pageants. Others, in politics. I am happy to say I win consumer contests. In the course of pursuing my entirely middle-class, dream pastime, I’ve nabbed 25 prizes so far, including a crash helmet, a microwave oven, gift hampers, light fixtures, air tickets, a backpack, flasks, cash for a shopping spree ... even two tickets to the movie Iron Lady. And no, not one of them involved any luck or lottery (much as everyone says, “Oh but you have such luck at contests!”). Sure, I may have been ‘lucky’ to have had a Dad who encouraged us three sisters to write Ogden Nash-type nonsense rhymes as kids. He also sang this witty TV jingle he’d heard in England in the ’60s: Clean your teeth with Pepsodent/ You’ll wonder where the yellow went! I was only about seven then, but I was hooked. A lifelong pursuit of finding fun with words began. Small wonder then that I made a career in advertising.

My earliest ever win for writing was in college. A hilarious typo about our faculty members in our graduation invitation—‘Address by faulty members’—got me ₹150 from Reader’s Digest for the humour column College Rags. When I joined an ad agency, I became suddenly aware of contests and prizes and sent in entries, usually in my children’s names (for ‘luck’!). Picnic or hike/ Go anywhere you like/ With your BSA Champ bike! would’ve been rejected as too cheesy by my own clients, but it won my happy daughter, then 10, her first two-wheeler. When Health & Glow launched their stores, I sent in four entries (all rhyming, of course). The 2nd prize was free air tickets for two to the Maldives. My son and husband were off to Malé that very month.

Soon, I was everybody’s favourite relative. Aunts and cousins badgered me to “please just write me a line”. One aunt was particularly annoyed that my slogan for a department store won her only a dozen teaspoons. But not my sister Bhanu: She called frantically from Bengaluru, at the start of a Vir Das stand-up show—to “quickly send any one-liner” to put in a box. Off went this by SMS: I was offered a job as a babysitter. But who wants to sit on babies? At the show’s end, Vir Das declared the big winner: my ecstatic sister. And she got her first iPad.

A Middle-Class Addiction

Last year, my son and I were at Vivek’s, looking for a new TV set. A poster caught my eye: Contest! Well, lightning never strikes the same place twice, but hey, that gold win was 20 years ago.

I secretly wrote out my entry, but sent it in under my unsuspecting son Kanishkaa’s name this time.

One day in April, the bell rang. Two beaming executives from Vivek’s were shaking the hand of a bewildered Kanishkaa at the door, with an invitation for winning ‘one of the top prizes’. On prize day, the suspense nearly killed us. Ok, the first prize—a flat worth ₹25 lakhs—went to a farmer from Chinglepet. When my son’s name was announced for 2nd prize, our hearts stopped altogether—a Maruti car!

gold-woman-with-son_073120084456.jpgThe author (right) with her son Kanishkaa after their Maruti-car win (Photo courtesy Indu Balachandran)

Panicking, my son grabbed my hand dragging me on to the stage. The crowd stopped roaring temporarily. Terrified of being asked what he wrote, my son blurted: “Actually it’s my Mom here who wrote a slogan, not me ...” The applause went several decibels higher—a mother wrote for her son! That seemed totally in line with good Indian family norms.

Which brings me to why I never let a contest go without trying. Most people who hear of my wins exclaim, “I never win anything”, but that’s probably because they never sent an entry in the first place, certain that it’s all fake, it’s too much work or that they’re just not ‘lucky’. I’m not a lucky person either—I’ve never won at housie in my life. I have a trick or two since I write for a living, but many of them don’t work. But, the adrenaline rush of wishing for the results is indescribable. In that hall of excited families, I saw what every one of us had in common—a middle-class delight in seeing the word ‘free’, an abiding trust in a family store and the enormous optimism of ‘I can win this too!’—as the drums roll and we wait for our names over hopeful cheers.

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