Friday, October 29, 2010

Off to Pune by Road

A road trip to Pune tomorrow. Anjali seems okay with the idea though she wavers between travel by bus. 'We'll go by bus,' she declares and we wonder if she will throw a tantrum when she sees the car. Then she says it is okay if we travel by car. 'Okay, nanna,' she tells me encouragingly. And then a complete volte face. 'I do not want to go to Pune mamma,' she declares. 'I will stay with my dolls. They are waiting for me. I will stay with Chitra maushi and Prashanth Kaka.' And when we say she can stay back and we'd like to go, she changes her mind again.

It has been a long time since I had a long road trip and am looking forward to this. And to a week of chilled out time in Pune with friends and family. Sinhagad, Deccan gymkhana, lazy mornings, late nights, Main street, shopping, maybe a drive to Lonavla or some other place close by - lots of possibilities. More from there.

Anjali and Her Fear of Masks

A new challenge arises. Today is Halloween Day at Anjali's school and everyone will come wearing masks and scary attire. Now just a month ago when Anjali celebrated her birthday, her young cousin, the one nearest in age to her and who will probably turn out to be the one she will be closest to going by the affection with she calls him, Chimu, wore Mickey and Minnie masks and was prancing around. The sight of the masks, of faces going behind cartoon characters caused considerable worry in Anjali's mind and she protested loudly - with tears and yells until all the masks came off. Later on she confessed - 'I don't like masks Mama. They are scary no'.

And so all the masks went away, celebrations returned to regular party levels and we all forgot about the masks. Until we saw the note from school. When told about the masks and Halloween costumes, she pondered for a while and then declared that she would go as the Fairy Queen. Shobhs went a step further and asked her if she would like to dress up as a witch with a mask but there she put her dainty foot down. No!
Queen Fairy. And so Queen Fairy will go to the Halloween Party.

Raktha Charitra - Blood And Gore

Watched Raktha Charitra, a movie that is not based on any real characters of course, and is completely a child of fiction of Ram Gopal Varma. That disclaimer kind of bugs me a bit but what the hell, I guess everyone needs to take their precautions. In which case, the entire story can be fictionalised but again it is not done - for commercial reasons I guess. So goes 'Once Upon a Time In Mumbai' with the same disclaimers, and so goes 'Raktha Charitra'. But spare us the scenes where people get killed under a Gandhi statue please - why drag him into all this again and again as if we really cared two hoots about it (in which case you'd make a movie about peace).

Anyway, less about that. The movie is based in Anandapuram (Anantapur for those who want to know what it is inspired by), a poor town that gets riddled by factions. This faction stuff begins with one mischief maker (Kota Srinivasa Rao) who poisons the local leader Narasimha Reddy's mind against his Man Friday. The fallout pits one community against another - the powerful Reddy landlords on one hand and the backward community of the Man Friday on the other. Man Friday becomes the first casualty, again the handiwork of mischief maker Nagamani Reddy, and that begins the bloodbath. By now RGV is already excelling in shocking the audience with blood red visuals, dripping blood, crunching skulls etc - and the story has just begun.

Shankar (Sushant Singh), eldest son of Man Friday  vows to avenge his father and goes underground to carry out guerilla attacks. He kills some, by which time his younger brother in city, Pratap (Vivek Oberoi), comes to know of his father's demise. Pratap returns to find his elder brother also dead, killed by the cop, attacks the corrupt cop who did the deed, gets rescued by underground army, and has no choice but go underground. And from then on he begins killing his father's killers - Narasimha Reddy first, Nagamani next, and so on. Now what comes up nicely in the story is the son of Nagamani Reddy, Bukka Reddy (Abhimanyu Singh) who is the highlight of the film as the half crazed, drunken, sex and violence addicted villain who cares a hoot for anything. And it is against this seemingly unslayable, unshakeable villain that Pratap has to win. Pratap is given a lifeline by the new political party started by a film star (a thinly veiled NTR) and he wins the election and becomes the Minister. The movie ends someplace where Pratap is made out to be the cog on which the government, law and order and all else is running - and shows a small shot of Surya (who plays the role of Suri), screaming for vengeance against Pratap in a jail. Welcome to part 2.

Violence has its ways of seducing the audience. RGV excels in that - showing violence seductively. But in overdoing it, maybe he even puts off the audience's vicarious pleasure in watching violence. If he did that, he has killed his own goose, because this is what he is best at. Soon after the movie starts you can feel your muscles tensing at the anticipation of the violence that is to come - you know it all beforehand. The story goes in a linear fashion and there was no surprise in it. Just for a moment, I felt for Pratap who wants to avenge his father's and brother's death, for a moment no more (maybe, even because Bukka Reddy was so brilliant in his portrayal) and after that it goes on in an almost documentary mode. You even have a constant commentary on the state of affairs by the story teller - RGV, I suspect, in the Telugu version.

Vivek Oberoi has one expression to carry for most of the movie. The star of the show is Bukka Reddy who stays with you well after the movie is over and women will probably stay far away if ever the actor walks into a crowded place. Will I watch the second part? Not really - I can foresee what will happen. A role reversal with Pratap being the villain and Suriya the victim. I guess the ratings did justice this time - a 3 from me on 5, and that because RGV is so comfortable in making these flicks. And yes, if you are not the type who wants to watch hands being hacked off, legs being crushed by rifle butts, heads by stones...get the idea, keep off (or carry barf bags).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Levels Of Satisfaction

There must be several levels of satisfaction I guess. What I am interested in is knowing what are the things that give us the most satisfaction. Let me see how this goes. I'll try and figure this out as I go.

Satisfaction - The Achievement of Goals
Satisfaction probably happens when you get what you want. At least momentarily (until the next want appears and then you are unsatisfied again). It is connected with things we wish to acquire, to achieve. Things we set out as goals sometimes, as wishes - I wish I could go on a world tour, I wish I had a Merc - kind of wishes. So, if we have a set of goals, and we achieve them, we are likely to get satisfaction.

Borrowed goals - Strike Them Off
But if the goals tend to be unrealistic or things that we have borrowed from others, then they will remain unfulfilled goals which will cause a sense of dissatisfaction. So, it is necessary to quickly run through the list and see if we really want some of the goals. (I mean, I am not sure if I want to travel across the world now. I am quite content to see what comes my way - I really don't see myself aggressively running around the world, ticking off things I visited.) So that goes off my list (and even that gives me satisfaction of not carrying a big burden of seeing the world). Now after the list gets shorter, thanks to goals eliminated by lack of desire.

Goals With No Belief - Off They Go
Then we have goals that we would like to achieve but do not have the belief that they will ever come true. I would like to be the richest man, or I would like to have mansions in all countries or have a resort on top of the Everest or something like that. Things which you would like to have but seriously doubt you will ever get. I mean, if you even considered these seriously, I mean close your eyes and actually see yourself having them and seeing all the attendant pros and cons, you may get burdened by the actual thought of possessing these. For example being the richest man brings a whole lot of work, responsibilities and dangers arising from protecting the riches. Or if fame is what you wanted, but you do not like constant public life, then maybe it should go off the list. So if belief does not hold, off goes a few more goals.

Your Goals  - Call To Action
Then come those goals and wishes that you want but you do not feel like working hard for them. No action from you means it is not for you. I guess the dreams that really come true, the ones that you care for and go for, are the ones that make you act instantly, for long, without reward. Things you'd like to do because you care for them. And these are generally in the realm that others call crazy. But at least, you now have a set of goals that are yours, that make you believe in and that make you act. These can be used to reduce level of dissatisfaction and work for their fulfilment.

Satisfaction - 2 Ways Of Being Satisfied
Now satisfaction comes in two ways - one on being satisfied with what you have and whatever comes your way and two, wanting a certain life and going about getting it. Both are equally difficult I should think. It is almost impossible to live in this world and be happy with all that comes your way. There are too many temptations, too many desires, too much choice. On the other hand getting all that you want also seems difficult because of the limitations, firstly, of our own consciousness, of time and energy. But let's say, if we have a list of things that we really want, that we wish to act for, that we believe we can achieve and that are our own - then we could go after them. Normally they are all represented by one big goal and if we identify that soon, we are on our way. Say, if you have a lot of material things on your list, the big goal could be identifying a big source of money!

Levels of Achieving Goals
And here again come many ways to get it. One when it comes by its own. Life is a perpetual lottery of sorts that you keep winning and you enjoy it all - then your consciousness is wonderful and have a great time as destiny's child. You are not even thinking of words like Satisfaction. One other way could be if someone gave it gratis, or you got it off somehow. Here again there is an element of achievement, but satisfaction will never be full. The only way that can give a lot of satisfaction, is in having your own goals, those crazy goals, and going after them. Since they are your own goals you will give it your all, you leave no stone unturned. And then, when you get what you wanted, what you really wanted, then satisfaction rains down as sweetly as rain in a desert.

And if one can look back at the end of their life and feel that way - of having achieved what one set out to do, one can feel very satisfied. That is the highest level of satisfaction to me.

The Paradox
Funnily, as is often the case in life, it does not matter whether you achieved what you did or not. You would be happy with the effort you put in. With giving your 100% to it. And it also often happens that life gives you much more than you asked for, when you give yourself to what you really desire.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Launches

I went to a book reading of excerpts from 'The Counsel of Strangers' by Gauri Dange at Crossword, Banjara Hills the weekend before last. The reading was done by Little Theatre which is known for doing book readings and plays and had started by the time I joined. I quietly sat at the back, behind some 20 odd people in the audience. Of course all the front rows were vacant and we huddled at the back. (Why do we do that I wonder - so we can slink away if it gets too boring?)

Anyway the reading was too long and I could not make out much of the book and its contents from the reading. To me the best part came when the author read out a small part at the end. No offense to the other readers of course, all of them highly accomplished in the art of reading and theatre, and who read very well, but somehow it did not go quite well that day. Perhaps it was too long, or maybe because I came in late and missed some parts. I quickly made a mental note to always read my own stuff at book readings in future - somehow there is an element of conviction, something seems to click together, when the writer reads his or her stuff (however badly). I have been guilty of having other people read at my book readings, to break the monotony I justified, but I don't think it is a good idea anymore.

But what summed up the typical book launch in India, written about so much by all writers from Anita Nair to Shobha De, was the comment from one of the readers after the event. 'Ah, for once there were more people in the audience than on the stage,' she laughed. 'The last reading we had less people in the audience and more on the stage'.

Which brings us to the point of what the bookstores are up to when they organise such events. I have had experiences with Crossword and Landmark, two of the biggest bookstore chains in our country where I have had book launch/reading events and I always wondered how badly they are organised. Somehow the author comes last in the scheme of things in these events and everyone, from the publisher to the bookstore, seem to be least bothered about the whole affair - in spite of the fact that they are the ones who will gain the most.

It all starts with the author (in this case me) checking with the publisher that maybe we should do a book reading. Publisher will take his own sweet time and come back with dates in 2050 or something. Also with a question - 'Is there a celebrity?'. And then if you do somehow manage to rope in a celebrity, then you have a fair chance of pulling the event off or the dates will be moved beyond 2070 by which time you could be dead. But let us say they do fix up a date. Then the bookstore tells you that their PR team will design the posters (which is generally a good job) and will also get the required press (which is generally a lousy job). They will also tell you that they have sent mailers to their database of 3000 people. What they don't tell you is that not even 3 people (I am not joking) will turn up from these 3000 unless you are Jeffrey Archer or some name they can tell people about.

So, if you are smart, you would like to know what is going on and be involved a bit in the process so you are not addressing a gathering of the stores salespeople and the lone PR Executive. And this is when the fun begins.

You figure pretty soon that most people from these chains (at least the ones whom I met) generally treat authors as impediments in the book selling process - as far as they are concerned the author should be out of sight writing books and not be seen. They are quite happy not speaking with the author, not picking calls, making the author wait or even hustling the author through the meeting. I have had the good fortune of having all these things happen to me.

Firstly, these executives are all twenty somethings (who are here as experts on God knows what) and are generally chewing gum, on the phone or some such thing. Most get on your nerves with their 'I know what to do' behaviour. Which is okay if they know they are doing, but they don't as you will soon find out. So you have to put up with a lousy show, and an attitude to boot. I once called this girl from Crossword and made an appointment to meet her. She gave me a time and I travelled half the way across Pune, waited in the bookstore for a while, after which she breezes in and says that something urgent came up and could we meet later. And she was the event coordinator! When I told her that she had given the time and I had travelled half way across town, she gave me exactly five highly distracted minutes of her time, most grudgingly, and sent me off without listening to anything I had to say. Or another time when I had an appointment with this chap in Mumbai and well I had to wait more than half an hour to meet him. The good thing with him, was that he was better organised and knew what he was doing. Bala, of Crossword Mumbai, was probably the only one I met who pulled off the show pretty much as it was supposed to go - a good MC, handled celebrities well, was courteous and is a decent bloke and a good bookstore executive.

There are more from this House of Horrors. Like the time when the Landmark Branch Manager in Hyderabad would not listen to me when I told him to expect more than a 100 guests because most would be my cheering squad from hometown. 'No, we know,' he said, 'not more than 40 people ever. Even when we had this really big celebrity.' So we had more than 70 people standing and this guy profusely apologising.Or the Marketing Chief from Landmark who handles South Zone who would not take calls, respond to mails or smses, despite the fact that we had done two wonderful events that were a sell out in Landmark stores. I wonder what kind of a professional would do that - he still does not, this gentleman from Landmark and I have given up on him. Probably none can beat the Pune event coordinator (yes, the same lady) who stopped the Chief Guest, Padma Bhushan awardee, Shri Chandu Borde in the middle of his speech so he could release the book because - you must listen to this - the lone reporter from a local daily wanted to leave right then!! The lady from Crossword confirmed a book reading for me, fixed the dates etc and told me how we can do an event. I checked with her a fortnight later just before getting my tickets done and she regrets - wants to postpone the event by a month - she overlooked a SALE that had come in suddenly! And of course there are minor hazards like the comperes at these events who are always mispronouncing names, do not know what to say, do not know the order in which the event is flowing and talk complete nonsense. And in most cases the store has no clue that there is an event happening even five minutes before they start.

Now if you are smart, you will get your own press. You will get all your friends and family so there is a crowd of at least 20 people. I have seen readings with 4 people. And you will learn that it is going to be a long time before book selling in India will become professional enough to respect the customer, the author, the publisher, the celebrity and also realise that by doing these basic things right, they can sell more books. More on this soon though.

The Articulate Indian

One thing that I have always found interesting  is the amount of garbage we generate in cyber space in the form of our opinions. Obviously opinions and thoughts do matter in a society like ours and everyone must express oneself - only most of us do not seem to know how to without being downright offensive or abusive.And in the process begin a war of sorts. 

For starters, the next time we have an opinion to share, we can spare a thought for this. How much are we actually contributing to the solution? Or are we just rabble rousing? If there is no solution, it is better we go and employ our time and energy better, until we find something of use that can be shared.  

From those who specialise in generating volumes of complete nonsense to people hiding under the garb of intellectualism, we have enough content in our daily lives that we could do well to delete. Of the entire content, ideas that point to a solution probably comprise only10% or less. Listen to political leaders, celebrities, intellectuals, run through the papers, websites and see how much of the content makes sense at all or is useful. From their issues to their demands, their problems and daily lives, its an amazing joke that we seem to be living out. And to complement that - we have a horde of articulate countrymen commenting on the news (some true and some untrue - and almost all of it irrelevant and pointless) feverishly typing away to display their lack of sense, knowledge and propriety.

One one hand we have a modern day replay of 'The Emperor's New Clothes' where we can see all, but we tend to silently agree with the nonsense, for fear of offending the stupid Emperor. And on the other we have a bunch of nutcases playing up these ideas.

And it is not even funny to laugh about it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Anjali And The Traffic Signals - Constant Source of Consternation

It has been over a month since Anjali learned about traffic signals at her school. The first few days were spent in educating us (as always) about the traffic signals. 'Red means stop,' she said emphatically thrusting out her hand. 'Orange means get ready,' she said revving up. 'And green is for Go, Go Goooo,' she said, opening the flood gates with a huge smile. We nodded, confused the colours for her, refused to stop or go and did all things adult with her as she reveled in her new found knowledge.

In a few days Anjali figured a new signal game in which she could ride her small bicycle at home and we could tell her the signals. So it became a favorite pastime of hers to ride from room to room and finally come someplace where the signals were to be. The designated traffic cop was to shout Red, Yellow and Green and she'd stop, rev up and go off with a big smile, satisfied with the progress her students were making. Sometimes the traffic cop would be busy reading the paper or a book or watching tv and she would wait at the signals, completely disgusted. 'Nanna,' she'd warn if it was me. 'You are not telling me red. You must tell em na nanna. If there are no signals there will be a dash.' Suitably admonished and lectured by the three year old I'd return to my duties, wondering what would happen if all the traffic sops were admonished like this by us. They'd probably do their job better.

Soon her interest turned to the signals in the real world. The moment we get out of our house in the car she expresses her desire to 'see the signals'. The first signal we run into on the main road is defunct and it is daily tale of sorrow, of the state we are in, of the callousness of the traffic police. 'The signals are not working nanna,' she exclaims everyday with a concerned face tinged with disappointment. 'Do something. Tell them to repair.' I promise her everyday and fail of course. I f she continues like this Someday I will have to remove it secretly myself. On the way to her school there is another traffic signal which is also defunct. Once again the familiar cry of indignation goes up. 'The signals are not working nanna, mamma.'

But the day she sees working signals, and she can spot them from quite some distance, she is thrilled to bits. 'Red, red, red,' she screams. 'Stop, stop, stop.' Sometimes she gets confused between the red of one direction and why everyone is going away despite the stop signal. 'Mamma why they are not stopping,' she asks. 'Now yellow,' she says in anticipation but some signals skip the yellow, teasing her. (Must be adults.) But its okay since the next colour is green, her favourite signal. And then we get a full throated 'Go, Go, Go,' and a big smile at the thought that the world was back to its best, everything is as it should be.

This enthusiasm does not  scale down even a notch. It is more than a month or even longer but the sight of traffic signals probably never got so much joy to anyone I have seen. And so the world goes around, like a multi coloured signal for Anjali stopping, getting ready and going, going, going!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Painter of Signs - R.K. Narayan

I read RKN's 'The Painter of Signs' recently. At 183 pages it is a slim and easy read and with RKNs smooth, humourous style, it moves on rapidly, drawing you deeper into another corner of his fictional world of Malgudi.

Raman is a painter who makes a living out of painting signboards. He considers himself superior to other painters since he is an educated painter who understand calligraphy and the business and craft of painting. A bachelor at thirty, Raman, is also bent on keeping women and their charms away from polluting his mind and he tries to follow the Mahatma's advise - keep your gaze on your toes during the day and at the stars at night. However, Raman is fighting a losing battle as thoughts of women pervade his mind at times when he is not on guard.

It is at this time in his life that Daisy, a ferocious campaigner for Family Planning, enters the village. Daisy needs a board painted for her office and Raman is hired. This business commitment sparks off something within Raman which grows and grows. As luck would have it, Raman is offered a job of painting thirty boards in thirty villages around Malgudi by Daisy, who asks him to join her on a tour to identify the places to paint signs. During the course of their travels in buses, bullock carts and so on, Raman falls hopelessly in love with this young lady who speaks so passionately about the need for family planning and who is vigilant against all sorts of instigators for procreation. Several times Raman wonders at her zeal, at the extent to which she could go to promote family planning.

A series of incidents later, when Daisy and he come close to one another and even plan a life ahead, Raman finds himself caught in a twist. His unmarried aunt who always took care of him since his parents died, decides to boycott Daisy's entry into their home and goes off to Benares forever. But life is not as simple as falling in love with this clear minded, sharp tongued campaigner for family planning, as Raman finds out.

'The Painter of Signs', published 1977, is laced generously with RKNs humour and wit. The two characters of Raman and Daisy are endearing just as the old aunt's character is. The usual suspects of the Boardless Coffee Shop, Ellaman Street, Kabir Street etc pop up in this part of Malgudi as well. Another masterpiece where RKN portrays Indian society in the small towns so well, the fears, the hopes, the aspirations and all that these characters had to live with in those times. RKN deals with the subject of love and suppressed sex in his thirty year old protagonist with a tongue in cheek manner, but I guess it is still true of any youngster like Raman even today. Read it to know how well simple stories of ordinary people and ordinary places can be told by a master story teller.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Article in the Indian Express - October 24, 2010

The following article appeared in my Sunday column 'Un Intended' The New Indian Express today.


LOVERS, ABUSERS AND TECHIES IN AN ATM


Harimohan Paruvu

Among the various types of intriguing human behaviors, some occur only in ATMs. For example, there is a sect which tends to believe that ATMs serve as private phone booths as well. The moment they step in, they shut the door securely behind them and call long lost friends, girlfriends or business adversaries and engage in long, animated conversations. Any signal from you to get on with the ATM job irritates him and he only talks longer – wait, it’s my ATM time! 

Then, there are the techie types who use ATMs to broaden their technical knowledge. The moment they get near the ATM they press all the commands on it, pull it, bend it, unplug it and only after they have convinced themselves that they have mastered it, exit. By now the machine is sparking or bouncing about from the torture that it has just endured, making it difficult for the next guy to use.

Some young lovers use ATMs as secluded zones to exchange sweet nothings (and other stuff if possible). Once they go in, you can be assured of a leisurely tryst, as he helps her with her bag, her ATM card and explains how the ATM functions, while she gazes at him as if he invented the ATM. They surreptitiously touch hands, brush against one another, look deep into each other’s eyes  and smile knowingly - and if you make any unhappy noises or peer through the glass, they dart venomous glances at you, as if you were a third rate voyeur. And when they exit, it is with the air of a couple returning from their honeymoon and you better lower your eyes.

And then there are ATM lovers who love the ATM itself. They touch the ATM, caress it and do all sorts of things with great tenderness that you wonder if they are making love to the ATM and making little ATMs by the side. On the opposite end of the spectrum are ATM abusers who beat up the ATM at the slightest provocation. They bang it, they insert the card violently and punch the numbers so hard that the ATM goes into trauma.   

Some use the ATM as a mini hotel where they can perform private duties such as dressing up. So, you find young men quickly readjusting their shirts, pulling out their belts and trousers and tucking them back in. And, there are some, who view ATMs as public places and barge in to join you in what they think is a community activity. You try to shield your pin number from their inquisitive eyes, while they get angry at you for withholding valuable public information.

However, the most dangerous lot are the technically challenged chaps who have no clue about the ATM, They look at their ATM card as if it will bite them, they hover suspiciously around the ATM machine wondering how to approach it without upsetting it, they insert the card in all the wrong slots and wring their hands helplessly as the ATM swallows and digests their card. And then everyone, from the security guard to helpful bystanders, line up to extricate the card, thereby permanently damaging the ATM in the process of educating the chap on how to use the ATM.

Obviously these activities are best watched if you are first in line. But be careful, because there are insidious characters who stand beside you posing as helpful bystanders, only to move in ahead of you, as you watch. And if by chance you end up enjoying watching them as well, welcome to the gang of ATM voyeurs.

Anjali Discovers A World Full Of Ants

A couple of days ago Anjali went to the backyard to play. She came back screaming and crying in a short while pointing to her right foot which was red and swelling up. We soon discovered that she was bitten by an ant - a species she considered extremely harmless until then. Whatever ant bit her, carried quite a sting and that swelling lasted a couple of days, frequently reminding her of the hidden dangers of ants.

Anjali showing the colony of offending ants
The next day we ventured out to go to the park beside our house. The first twenty minutes was spent perilously negotiating ants of all sizes and shapes - harmless black ants scurrying about their work, mean red ants looking to get rid of their anger, big black ants - the world was suddenly full of them. It was like walking through a minefield for her as she pointed out to ants as we walked - cheema - or when inspired by English - ant. 'Carry me,' she commanded, soon as she discovered that she was hopelessly outnumbered, looking out from her perch in trepidation. How now?

Once we were on the road, she picked up courage and walked to the park. She went up and down the slide for a while and then decided to walk to her seesaw which is when she discovered ants flitting about in the grass. The normally one hour park sojourn was soon quickly cut down by half as Anjali discovered a world of ants running about, coming for her legs, not leaving her alone. I explained to her that the red ants bite and the small black ants are generally harmless and the big ants normally keep out of your way if you leave them alone. She listened carefully, repeated after me and insisted that we return to the safety of our house.

A lone ant scurried about at home. Anjali would gleefully attempt to murder the fellows earlier but now she watched it carefully and came running to tell me. 'Black ants don't bite na,' she confirmed before getting on with life.

Life must seem so different from her eyes, down below, close to the ground, with creatures she does not understand. But they show a great spirit of adventure in trying to climb, jump, scale and get a ringside view of life as it unfolds.

Buy Rohinton Mistry's 'Such A Long Journey' - The Book Satyagraha

For someone who has not read any of his works, I have always been a great admirer of Rohinton Mistry. He is one of those literary (or other) figures who intrigues me no end. I remember reading sometime ago how he cancelled a book tour mid-way in the US because of the treatment he got at the airports. This was a brave guy I thought, who did not think twice about cancelling a book tour in the biggest market possibly for books - the US because he was offended by behavior of immigration officials or something like that. And I do so admire people like him who stand up to what they believe in, irrespective of the commerce or publicity involved. I do wish I have the courage to do something like that when the time comes.

His novel 'Family Matters' had such wonderful reviews that I always thought I'd read it. However I never got a copy, most likely owing to the size of Mistry's books. He is one of those writers who seems to be in no hurry to tell the story, probably dwells in it languidly, building it, describing it carefully as he sees it in his mind. Anyway, sometime ago my good friends Naresh and Anu recommended Mistry's 'A Fine Balance' and I promptly got myself a copy, which I have not read yet. It is next in line to a series of R.K. Narayan's seductively slim volumes.

And then I heard of the controversial removal of Mistry's book 'Such a Long Journey' from the Mumbai University syllabus for all reasons non-literary. And I decided to buy that book right away, and all else of Mistry's writings, and if I like what I read which I think I will, recommend the same to all else. Nothing can stop a good book and thank you all concerned - those who wanted the removal from the syllabus (I can still forgive them because any University student may be within his or her right to ask for the moon) and those who actively banned it (these one cannot forgive because they misuse their power and lose the sense of discretion which they must exercise), another of those spineless wonders we have in public offices, the Mumbai  University Vice Chancellor whose name is best forgotten- I will finally get to read an author I should have many years ago.

This is my way of protesting against spineless authorities. And if you feel a bit like protesting from within the confines of your home or in air conditioned malls, go buy Mistry's books yourself.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Old Dogs - Really Funny Movie

Watched 'Old Dogs' on Star Movies last night. It was hilarious. John Travolta and Robin Williams are old school chums who grow up together and build a sports marketing company. The movie starts at a point when their company is about to get into the next level with a big Japanese client and needs the two to focus and get it right. And that is when Robin Williams gets a message from Vicky.

Vicky is a woman whom Robin Williams meets in Miami while trying to recover from his first divorce - his pal John Travolta's idea of getting over it. Robin Williams has a one day/ night relationship with Vicky which ends in the two getting married in their drunken happiness. Next morning, Robin Williams annuls the marriage once he realises what he has done - getting married one day after getting a divorce. That same Vicky is now back, with two twins from that one night, asking Robin Williams to handle the twins while she goes off for a week long jaunt. The movie goes through some predictable gags and some unpredictable ones - unruly children, a children-averse Casanova Uncle Travolta, mix ups, missed appointments, unscheduled camping trips and what not. The mixed up medications part is hilarious and will soon inspire Bollywood I am sure, just as the Grandad bit is when everyone mistakes the two men to be the childrens grandads. Lots of laughs elevated to a new level by these two brilliant actors.

Do watch it. Guarantees more laughs than you expect and well worth your time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lecture to 1st Year MBA Students - Pendekanti Management College

Firstly, let me congratulate you on having chosen to be MBA students. You are now part of an elite band. You are now part of a group that can make a big difference to the way things are managed in our country – in business, in politics, in education, in arts – you can take us to the next level. If you choose to. It is necessary therefore, to share what we have learnt, the mistakes we made so you can learn from them.

The Mediocre MBA
Most are more or less going through their academics, their career and life not knowing what to expect. Hoping someone will pick them. Hoping that just by passing through MBA, they will get a job. Hoping to be successful. In terms of ability not many have the skills to manage – not much subject knowledge, not much clarity, no communication skills - written or spoken, unexplored leadership skills, no initiative, no track record of managing anything.
I would not hire anyone like this. This is the story of mediocrity, in which we appear to revel in comfortably.

The Fully Baked MBA
One wants a fully baked MBA who is ready to hit the shop floor. MBAs who know their subject certainly, and have applied it to some extent. In MBAs we want people who know what they are doing, who can take responsibility, to know the industry, who offer solutions, who offer better ways to do things, who improve efficiency, who understand team work, leadership, who can make things better. That is what you get paid for. Not for a degree that means nothing. You need to justify your salary, you need to be able to say – I am worth this much because I bring this value.

The secret to success – Project Success
Irrespective of your background, your ability, your past, your intelligence, you can rewrite your entire life starting now. Take stock of what you have now in this time of preparation. You have two years, approximately 600 days to prepare. In these two years, you must use your resources - the time, the wisdom available to you (through books, lecturers, guest lecturers and secondary sources of information) and most importantly the energy that you have, to the optimum. The ones who use this time well go ahead, the ones who use it badly, will remain. If an average IIM puts in something like 12-15 hours a day, you must exceed that. Alright, at least put in a third of that and see.

This is for every one of you. Your job is to fulfill this gap between mediocre managers and fully baked managers.
As students or as raw material nothing differentiates you from the IIM students, if you choose to use your time well.
The resources you have are the same:
-          Knowledge (books, libraries, lecturers, guests, internet etc) – so get all basics right, get your subject knowledge in place
-          Application of knowledge – this is where you can score over the other (meet more people, understand more businesses, understand the dynamics of money, see if you can get results by design, try yourself out in leadership roles, take initiative more often)
-          Time - 600 days
-          Energy (you have a limited amount so use it where you want to) – use your energy well so get the maximum results out of it
The best prepared will succeed. So prepare.

2 Years To Prepare For Life
Do not stand in line with a begging bowl. Instead create what you want. Find out soon, what jobs you like best, what organizations you want to work for, what kind of a company you wish to start, what kind of a life you want to lead - and pursue that thought. Very often I find people queueing up to take whatever comes their way - please don't. It happens to people who are unclear about what they want, unsure of what they can do and who are unprepared. Go after what you want. And to do that, you must start preparing now.

Write your Vision
Start identifying what you want to do, what makes you happy. Things you can do for long hours, things that give you happiness. And follow that route. If you have an ambition of being a big shot in Microsoft, start aiming for that. Get requisite skills. In any field, any company. Even your own company. Food, music, acting, travel, finance, people, writing…start identifying what will define your overall life, when it is over. Start the process now. By the end of this period you should be able to say – yes, this is my route. My vision, my way.

Your Mission
Your mission from now on is to be responsible, smart, intelligent, politically aware, enterprising, articulate students who step out of this institute as MBAs second to none. You work to create a brand image of a college that has a distinct identity for itself and its students.

Your Role – Responsible Adults
Your days of handholding are over. You now have to understand how to use all the resources you have. no one will tell you. Take complete responsibility for your life. You cannot blame anyone now.
Just because you joined this college does not mean you are guaranteed anything – not a job, not knowledge, nothing. It is what you make of what is available to you.
Your role as PG students is to know your subjects inside out, is to challenge thoughts and theories, is to create new theories. Which means that you do not just learn what is taught, you fully understand, compare and apply. Your role as managers is not to merely know the theory, it is to know the practice. Which means that you must apply all that you learn. Meet people, speak, start a business, learn about banking, meet an entrepreneur, meet the canteen wala, see how money works, see how you can use money, see how to use all this in a commercially viable manner, see and find out if business is all about money or something else also. You are all ready for adulthood and this course expects you to start behaving like that. The lecturers will teach, but you must apply all that is taught everyday.
Learn, apply, grow. Use everything to grow
By the end of 2 years all your basics must be in place
-          Knowledge
-          Communication skills (written and spoken)
-          Initiative
-          Knowing your talent
-          Knowing what you want to do.

Make Mistakes, Grow
Apply all that you learn, discuss with your peers, give seminars, sharpen all your skills that are required - communication - written and spoken, knowledge, leadership capability, team work, initiative, capability to manage situations, ability to make good decisions, to process data, to analyse information. There are any number of resources available. The more mistakes you make, the more you will grow!
Don't repeat the mistakes of course.

Don't Hold Back, Give Your 100%
It is the time to know what our limits are. Push yourself 100%. In games, in festivals, in seminars, in discussions, in creative ideas, in academics...push it that 10% more. It is practice for life. To begin with get your act right on academics.

See Your Potential, And Live Up To It
You have a fair idea of what your potential is. What you see yourself as. Live up to it. Your best image. Not someone else's image.

What you get is what you give
Remember – in the outside world, what you get is what you give. You build ability, you give value, and you get paid or rewarded for it. So build ability in all you do. Just because you are an MBA you will not get a job – you get a job because you take value to it.
Find your limits. push yourself. 10 hours – 15 ours.
Take responsibility from now on for yourself
To learn is to make mistakes. So ask, make mistakes – it means you are learning

Best Wishes - Dream of a More Efficient Society, India
I will keep luck out of the picture and give you my best wishes. To design success. To hold your faith when it is tough. To go that extra mile. To know your true self and to be comfortable with yourself. To have the courage to see your true potential. The harder you work, the more confident you get. The more experiences you have, the more secure you feel. The more new things you learn, the more the ease with which you can handle a new situation.

Have an opinion. Take responsibility for your opinion. Use your education and time wisely. When you step out tomorrow, I would be happy to see students who are prepared to take the world head on. To take it to the next level. If all of you give 5% more than what you thought, that is all I ask, you will make a huge change to your lives, to our world. I hope to interact more with you later but for now remember, prepare to be the best, give it everything you have and use everything to grow as a person.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Goals And How We Go About Them

The first thing I realized, while doing a workshop, was the lack of goals. We have a vague idea of what we want and how we'd like to get it (and mostly we want it to come to us by itself).These vague goals are also not articulated for various reasons - doubt, fear, lack of deservability. Some goals are given up because we think they are too big, or because one feels they are not for people like me or because they involve money or other resources which one does not have at the moment.

The Extra Moment 
But if one truly wants something, one must stay with that thought for a moment more, look at it and hold it and say, hey, maybe I'd like to hold it like this one day. That extra moment can make all the difference to the dream coming true or remaining a dream.

Articulate It
When I ask people to write down their goals, their dreams, they write down all sorts of stuff from travelling around the world, owning houses, swanky cars, money, beautiful lives.

What Do You Really Want
But most often I realise that we are writing down what we have been taught is the cool thing to desire. Most times we do not really want most things on our list. For eg. I want to travel around the world. And if someone says, okay, here's your ticket to Turkey, you say, hey not now, later, then maybe you really do not want to go travel the world.

How Badly Do You Want It
Wanting something normally, if one really wants it, pushes one into frenzied action (or even deliberate action). Ask yourself how many times you have done it for things you really want - yes, you have. If it does not push you to act, maybe you should relook at your goal and examine whether you really want it. And those items against whom have ticked as the ones you are willing to work for, those are the goals and dreams that you can pick as the ones you really want. Right, onwards with this actionable goals for now. The rest can wait.

ACT
Once you look at this list and are comfortable with it, knowing you wish to take responsibility for them, knowing you will act on your dream, all you need to do is act. Even planning or thinking about how to get it becomes an act. Then all effort and thought goes towards achieving this dream. This becomes your preparation period. In this you use your talent, you acquire and hone skills, you raise resources and are obsessed with this dream. And you realise soon enough that however big, however stupid the dream appeared, it starts taking shape and you get your chance to say 'YES, I DID IT'.

Goals Give Purpose To Action
There are many who do not like the concept of goals. There are several theories that debunk the idea of having a goal. The idea of a goal is to give purpose to action. Once you see the goal, let us say of winning the World Cup, you see it, feel it and take pride in saying you want to win it. Take the responsibility, prepare. And then let the image take the back seat. It has served the purpose of spurring you to action, to the limits you can stretch yourself. Now go and stretch yourself and find that limit.

Preparation - To Be Your Best To Achieve The Goal
And now comes the moment. On being the best that the individual or team can be. Preparation must be done until one can confidently say that this preparation will give me the World Cup. No one else can certify this except the individual or the team as a whole. And once this is done, the state has been achieved when the individual or team has prepared enough, they are put to test. To competition. The goal remains in the  background, burning like the Olympic flame and all that separates you and your goal is action, is how you put your preparation into action.

The Moment Of Truth
Then you realise as you stretch every sinew, as you fight every inch of the way in your mind and with your body, as you hold on to all that you trained for in spite of an opponent who has trained equally hard, as you do not let a shadow of doubt creep in, as you hang on even 'if I die' - the gates open slowly. And then you realise that you have opened not just the pathway to the goal but something much bigger. In sport, in business, in war, in love - it is all the same.

You Have Been There
You have seen that you can if you want to. You have felt your potential. And you know nothing is impossible. You will flow way past your goal like a surging ocean wave with a power you have never imagined. Try it with a small goal. give it your best shot, your 200%, without any excuse and tell me what happened. The result is always the same - if your effort has been honest enough, you will get much more than you asked for. And that entire process to me, begins with that one moment when you dare to look at that goal of yours and decide that it is worthy of your effort!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Swathi - The Soul of Anjali Teacher, Golconda High School

Swathi, the highly acclaimed Telugu film actor, Nandi award winner and Filmfare award winner for Best Actress for her role in Ashta Chamma, plays Anjali, the English teacher in Golconda High School, the romantic interest of Sampath the taciturn cricket coach. The English Teacher not only brings much needed energy, humour and good sense to an environment filed with doubt, friction, animosity and uncertainty, but she also provides great relief from the testosterone charged cricket fields, Irani cafes and dressing rooms. Having seen Swathi's previous performances, I would be inclined to guess that she would have breezed through her scenes in her inimitable style - she is so much like that in real life too.
Swathi at Landmark, Banjara Hills

Energy and good humour is taken for granted when Swathi is around but I add good sense to her personality trait. Good sense as a mix of intelligence, awareness and understanding. She is intelligent, extremely sharp with her wit and repartee on one hand and deep in her quest to add knowledge be it through reading or discussion on the other. I also see intelligence as a trait that gives you the power of discretion, apart from the judicious use of knowledge, and this is something she displays in good measure. Swathi is constantly aware of the demands of the situation and brings an understanding to it that works out best for all concerned. This I state by my observations during our interactions in the past few years.

I watched her anchor a hugely popular television show and found her refreshingly different, irreverent. She pulled off the most audacious capers with ease and that too with some of the stiff big wigs of the industry - one plagued with sycophancy and star struck anchors. But where she scored for me was that she was never offensive, despite poking fun, always tongue in cheek, and carried the subject along with her as she did the rest of the audience. Many far lesser talented anchors lacking the sensitivity, sensibility and intelligence thrived for long on national television on the USP of mistaking spontaneity and wit for being insultingly offensive - Mohan Whatever of Snakes and Ladders and Sajid Khan come to mind instantly. It is a rare feature that someone in India could pull of such a show - and I would have loved to see her on the national stage in the same role, dealing with slippery politicians, big headed celebrities for years to come. She'd have been bigger than some of the current anchors easily with her amazing talent to carry everyone including the subject. It sounds delicious to even think of what she could have done on the CWG!

But television's loss is the film industry's gain as they say and Swathi seems firmly entrenched here now. And true to her potential Swathi stamped her presence authoritatively in almost every single project she has associated with. Recognition followed naturally, in terms of awards, the Filmfare award, the Nandi award, and the young actor is only 5 films old! The mind boggles at what she can do, given the right sort of roles and one can only hope that she gets roles that do justice to her histrionic talent. And that she is not limited to Telugu audiences only and goes far beyond.
Swathi, Sumanth, Ganga Raju and Mohana Krishna at the book launch

I first met Swathi at the audio launch of Ashta Chamma and then at the screening of Ashta Chamma and was so pleased to find her absolutely normal and down-to-earth as she went about checking out our reactions to the movie. Actually we were too dazed to react by the interval, the movie moving at a rapid pace and in an unconventional mode, so we saved our reactions to the end. Ever since, I have always found her very easy to talk to since she can talk about a great many topics easily and is very comfortable being herself. Sometime later, when she read 'The Men Within', she was gracious enough to call me and congratulate me on writing it, a social courtesy that I find very endearing and rapidly disappearing these days - and I was glad she liked the book. So when Art Beat decided to make a movie out of the book, Swathi, to me, was the logical Anjali teacher. She looks the part, adds verve and class to it, and mostly had read the book and approved of it. I never really pictured anyone else doing that role and it was almost a given that she did it.

For someone so young, Swathi displays an amazing amount of maturity. I think she balances her private and public life well, keeps her feet firmly grounded, genuinely cares for people and enjoys whatever she is doing. She has the rare gift of being able to elevate ordinary circumstances to new heights with her presence, especially in front of the camera, and that is an incredible asset that many directors, co actors and producers will discover, as she works on more movies, more diverse scripts. She reminds me of Kajol in her younger days, with her ease of walking through difficult roles and scenes. And she is one of the few actors that one waits for, hoping to see roles that bring out her best, an anticipation that is delicious. Imagine her in 'Come September' or a 'My Fair Lady' or a 'When Harry Met Sally' kind of a role! That would be something. But I am sure there will be better roles coming her way.
Swathi reading from the book

Ganga Raju Gunnam as Chief Guest, Indraganti Mohana Krishna as Guest of Honour, Sumanth and Swathi as Special Guests, were kind enough to grace the occasion of the Hyderabad launch of my second novel 'If You Love Someone...' at Landmark, Banjara Hills. Mohan introduced the book and Sumanth and Swathi generously agreed to read passages of the book and I think they actually did read the passages much better than I did. In fact I think Swathi would  make a terrific Meghna as well, sure of her mind, sharp of wit, of positive action and above all a capacity to understand. And again, like I feel with Sumanth, I am so glad that such a talented and clear headed group of individuals have come together to make movies - from Ram who brings good sensibility and responsibility to the projects, to Mohan, Senthil, Sumanth, Swathi, Nani and all the rest - that one can only anticipate exotic fare in years to come.

I am waiting to see Swathi in 'Golconda High School' of course but I am also in the ringside to watch all her future projects. I do hope she has planned for a long haul here because it is clearly where her talent lies, where she can reach the most people and benefit them through expressing herself fully. It is a responsibility she has to bear, and bear well. Having said that it will be interesting to see all the other ways in which her multi faceted persona chooses to express herself in future, with the passage of time. Here's wishing you a great journey Swathi, one that you enjoy thoroughly, one where you find people and ideas and projects that you love working with. That is one way to get the best of you - success, fame etc will flash by as initial milestones in your journey - not at the end.