Pursuit of Happiness

Paper trail

Ogilvy India CEO Kunal Jeswani is not just a master of ad campaign strategies; he also bends paper to his will to create colourful army of birds

Faisal Magray

For someone who cannot stop the creative juices from flowing even when he is not chalking out the next campaign strategy, Origami was a godsend. This craft allows one to not restrict a paper to just that. That paper could be anything the next hour — a plane, a dog, a flower, or in Kunal Jeswani’s case most of the times, a bird. The CEO of Ogilvy India proudly displays the colourful birds perched atop a two-feet cylindrical table. That’s by no means his entire collection; it’s just a few of what he made over the past few days.

The hobby that also finds a mention in Jeswani’s LinkedIn profile, started incidentally. “A friend, Vikram Menon (now president – global operations at Madras Global), introduced me to origami at a training offsite in Goa many years ago,” he says. What started then, as an amusing craft, has become a part of daily life for Jeswani. “I just started doing it, almost absent-mindedly. Today, after 10 years, I pursue the hobby with the same zeal,” he says.

Jeswani started with birds and kept doing that for almost a year. “What followed was creating little variations of the same design as I went along — old birds, mamma birds, papa birds, baby birds, birds in flight,” he says. Eventually, friends and colleagues began to take notice and started gifting him origami papers and books on the craft. “Soon, I began exploring other things… butterflies, animals. But when I’m not really thinking about it, when it just happens naturally, I always slip back into making birds. I guess that’s where I feel at peace,” he says.

Jeswani’s commitment to the art is testament to the time he dedicates to it. “I don’t need to separate origami and work. When I’m in a meeting, I’m constantly making something with my hands,” he admits. While he is creating creatures that should be taking flight, they help him tame his thoughts and prevent him from drifting away. Just like someone would chew on a pen or doodle subconsciously, Jeswani’s hands are constantly fidgeting with origami papers. “It just happens with muscle memory now,” he says. The way many find folding clothes a therapeutic exercise, Jeswani feels that when he folds papers to his will. “Most people who know me believe that I am very calm. But the reality is that, there is a constant whirlwind of stuff going on in my head. Origami keeps me centered,” he says.

While the craft helps him listen and think, not everyone is clued into this eccentricity. Thus, he has also been on the receiving end of rolling eyes, especially during meetings. He recalls one such four-hour long research debrief when he almost got into trouble. “By the end of it, I had my own little army of birds ready to take flight in front of me! I didn’t realise how many of them I had made. But I’m pretty certain that the research team thought I wasn’t listening to them at all,” he says cheekily.

 Although those who work closely with Jeswani are now used to seeing little cranes and butterflies, he admits that most people don’t understand how he can focus on two things at the same time. “I can focus on the world around me much better when I am making something with my hands. It is one of life’s little dichotomies,” he asserts as he signs off.