Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thought for the Day - The Sweet Spot

There is a sweet spot in every instrument. It makes the sweetest sound when struck there.


There is that sweet spot in everyone. It is an interesting thought to explore those sweet spots in all we meet. It might add some sweet music to our life.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Interview With Parth Gokhale - On How Not To Forget Good Occassions

Parth's essence is best explained this way. He is the only person in the world that I know who remembers every one's birthday and anniversary, every one's children's and grand children's anniversaries, and makes it a point to wish them without fail, year after year, irrespective of the fact whether they remember it or not. Now he is a gregarious guy and his list runs to a pretty large number and what amazes me is this - I suspect he has no qualms about wishing even those who rarely acknowledge his warm and heartfelt greetings. But Parth goes on spreading happiness and joy from his side, making sure that no one is deprived of at least one smile, one warm greeting on a special day. It is a noble thing to do certainly and one that requires much love, energy and patience - all that Parth has and displays in much abundance.
Me and Parth (some years ago)

Now that's a soft and sensitive side to him that he does not hide - despite being a senior executive in an MNC Engineering firm (he's not some college kid who has much time on his hand). Puts that in a slightly different perspective does it not? He is a rare one, this Parth, for being that and doing what he believes in to make the world a better place. In my opinion Parth is the kind of a person our world could do with a lot more of. Unafraid to show his love and affection, unafraid to say what he thinks is right, willing to set the standards that he expects others to follow - Parth does appear like he is operating out of a fairy tale. But wait, there's more.

Parth is not only about birthday and anniversary wishes. That was just to show one side of him. He goes that extra mile for the people he loves, is sensitive and intelligent. He has a fine sense of humour, enjoys good music and  what's more, sings well. He has a lust for life, for love and for all things good in God's world. Rarely would anyone ever have a grouse against him - and why would they. You can spend many hours talking anything with him - books, sports, cricket, movies, people, ideas, religion - and expect an intelligent and honest answer. And to top it all, he is a self-confessed perfectionist!

I've known Parth for over two decades now and since I know that he is one who will never stand you up on an engagement and will always keep his word, I decided to interview him and get a peep into the mind of a person who can love unconditionally.

Q. What interests you most in people?
A. Their attitude towards other people, towards work, towards nature...  I take to people who show a caring attitude.
Q. What do you think people really need?
A.  People need a realisation that contentment and peace of mind are more important in one's life than one-upmanship and material possessions.
Q. Why are you nice to people? 
A.  Can't help it I guess!  It comes naturally.

Q. Why do you remember every one's special days even if they forget yours?
A.  I try to remember people's special days (I'm by no means infallible!) because I want to, because it gives me joy - not with the expectation that they remember mine in return; because I like to think it pleases them to get a wish from me just as much as it does me to get one - and I do get wishes on my special days too, not necessarily from the same people I remember...

Q. What emotion are you most comfortable with (your preferred emotion)?
A. Being emotional. I cry easily while reading books or watching movies. I like the fact that I am capable of being moved. I like being able to feel what they are portraying. My second most preferred emotion would be happiness.

Q. The traits that you admire in people?
A. Curiosity and willingness to learn or to know more about things that interest them, even the small things in life. I like the fact that they actually take time out to know more about those things. Olaf's father was one such.

Q. Who makes you laugh the most?
A. Raja (a cousin)! Children.

Q. Your favorite comedians?
A. Charlie Chaplin, Mehmood, Amitabh Bachchan

Q. What would you like to see more of in this world?
A. I would like to see undisguised expression from people. Say what they mean and not seek to manipulate.I would like to see more openness, honesty and transparency. People should say what they want to say and not say something and hide something and expect others to understand. There's too much of that going on.

Q. If you were in the perfect world, how would it be?
A. There would be no misunderstandings within the family. People I love would be all around me. I'd be doing work that I would like to do (work that I do now is work I love too). Travel much. Time with friends. Time at my disposal.

Q. If you had the power, what would you like to change in this world?
A. Slow down progress a bit. Things are changing too rapidly. We're consuming the environment too fast.

Q. Who were the people who influenced you the most?
A. Can't think of teachers and mentors as such. My mother has perhaps had the most influence on my life.

Q. Your biggest strength?
A. My humaneness, my capacity to love.

Q. Your biggest weakness?
A. My unwillingness to confront. Not incapability, just the unwillingness.

Q. Your biggest fear?
A. Of failure. More so since the fear grows even more because I haven't really failed.

Q. On work ethic, your advice to young professionals?
A. Do the job right. Think through, put in some study, don't do things in a hurry and push half-done jobs. Do a good job.

Q. Your secret to success as a professional?
A. One must have a passion for work. You need to be interested in work. Get involved. Find challenge. If you have superficial engagement you won't do a good job. Also, learn to be patient. Be there for the long haul.

Q. Are you a perfectionist?
A. Yes, I want perfection in what I do or what my people do.

Q. Has your attitude to perfection changed as you grew older?
A. Yes, now I know that some people are not able to cope. Sometimes I overlook the imperfections. Sometimes I completely trust the guys to do it and do not pass it through my filter at all.

Q. Has this change helped in terms of results?
A. I think so. (Positively.)

Q. Your top 5 songs?
A. There are many more but these come to mind first: Mere Naina, Koi Lauta De, Pukarta Chala Hoon, Jaane Woh Kaise, Door Rehkar Na Karo Baat

Q. One thing you'd like to change about yourself?
A. I get angry easily. Would like not to get angry. At other drivers or at Neha (daughter).

Q. Your favorite childhood memory?
A. A cruise on the Mediterranean sea that I had gone on a school trip with my school friends from Stella Maris College, Malta in 1978. Another trip to Victoria Falls, Zambia, in 1975.

Q. Your favorite food? Your favorite meal (outside of home)?
A. Shevya chi kheer (and it's one thing my wife makes even better than my mother!). At home I love the full meal, freshly cooked.  My best meal outside home was the one I remember having in a road side dhaba near Chennai - rice with sambar, rice with rasam and finally more rice with curd, served on a banana leaf. A sumptuous vegetarian meal!

Q. 3 things that you think God has blessed you with?
A. Family, including the extended family. Beautiful friends. And an attitude of being content with what I have.

Q. One thing that moves you the most?
A. When I see something or read something that I exactly feel myself. I get a feeling of oneness with that character then.

Q. One big lesson you learned from life?
A. Things are not always the way you'd like them to be. Things are not as transparent. It makes me sad. Frustrated. I hate such things.

Q. What are the things you enjoy doing the most?
A. Jigsaw puzzles, climbing (Sinhagad), being at home, meeting people I love to be around with.

Q. If there is something you wish to tell Neha from your life experience what would it be?
1) Don't be afraid to love. Love as many and as much as you can and ignore what others may think or say.
2) Remember to do the things you enjoy doing.

These questions pertain to the favourite series
Q. Your favourite three books?
A. Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, Lord of the Rings, Joy in the Morning

Q. Your favorite English movies?
A. Mackenna's Gold, Lord of the Rings, Ten Commandments

Q. Your favorite Hindi movies?
A. Sholay, Padosan, Chalti ka naam gaadi

Q. Your favorite authors?
A. P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie and W.E. Johns (the author of Biggles)

Q. Your heroes?
A. Gavaskar - perfection is what I relate to in him. And Gandhi, who was truthful to his ideas.

And that ended a short interview with one of the nicest people you'd meet, Parth Gokhale. From climbing Sinhagad to going off to Sreevardhan, to long weekends eating pomfret and drinking beer and watching the US Open, to bonfires and long singing sessions, we shared much. Here's to being who you are Parth, and wishing that you get back all the love that you share many fold from the world.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Gangs of Wasseypur II - Movie review

The saga of murder and revenge in Wasseypur continues. After the murder of Sardar Khan in the first edition of GOW, we have his two sons Danish and Faizal left to handle the fishy business (they actually become fish pond owners in a move towards becoming respectable). Danish takes over (he is impressive the boy who acted the part) and does well for the short while he is allowed to before Sultan (who else) kills him off. Faizal, the drug addicted second son takes over thanks to his mother's inspirational talk and he goes about killing off all the chaps involved in the killing of his brother and then his father.

All except the main guy, Sultan. Now why would you leave that guy out? Anyway Sultan almost bumps off Faizal (a sho which is shown at the beginning of GOW I) too, but does not succeed. He, keeps himself busy bumping off the other members of Faizal's family - the daughter in law, the mother, the aunt, the younger brother and so on. What was most interesting about this movie to me were the names given to the younger Khans - Perpendicular and Definite. In fact no one knows what Definite Khan's real name is. Perpendicular has a friend called Tangent. It's amazing. Most likely true if you ask me. But I am not joking - those are the names of those poor, mad boys.

Anyway Definite is the upcoming Khan, more so since the short wearing, cinema crazy, blade chewing Perpendicular is bumped off. Definite is the son of the other woman, the Bengali, and is crazy enough to carry on the good work of the earlier Khans. Faizal, somehow, by the end of the movie, after about a million joints inhaled by then, decides to pop off Ramadheer Singh and he does that in fine fashion. After that he is bumped off too by you-know-who. All's well and that ends well.

I was checking the film reviews and there is a lot of praise. Frankly I got bored to death. The actors were great, the characters were good, the story telling was fine and all that but its just so pointless and so, for me, a waste of time. When I ask myself why it is that these movies have failed to touch me, it is because of the lead characters. They do not seem to have any great character about them - save Sardar Khan's first wife who has some dum, some personality. All others are flawed and listless characters and do not rise above the mire they are in. The first son Danish had some promise but he was cut short. I liked the love story between Faizal and his wife. Nice.  I also loved the use of the film songs, the film posters, to tell us how quickly we have aged without realising while the kids in the movie have grown up, killed and have got killed. I think you'd like it if you are a film critic or if you like blood gore and gangster films. I am neither a critic nor do I have a stomach for all this any more. I will now head towards the romances and the comedies section.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Thought for the Day - Slow it down

Try this. Just slow down everything to a pace that you enjoy.  It's a delicious feeling.

There is much fun in life when you slow it down to your frequency. Your beat. The way you walk, eat, talk, breathe becomes so much more enjoyable when you slow it down. Savour it as you would a delectable gift. Slowly.Ever so slowly. Knowingly.

I have found a rare joy seeping in when I slow things down to that pace, my pace - and take it really slow and easy. It's me and me alone. My moment. My music, my song, my world.

What's the hurry? Easy does it. Slow down and see how much richer life gets. How much deeper you can go into the moment. it's a moment of sheer bliss, love, gratitude, joy.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Day Trip to Manthani With An Old Friend

Mohan was my first friend in Hyderabad. We came to Hyderabad in 1977, to a new house in Sundar Nagar, in the wilderness outside the city almost, which has became my home ever since. Mohan was living in Model Colony, a twin colony.
View from the jeep
 There were few houses in our colony those days and fewer boys my age so we hit it off together. We'd play cricket, read books, walk the many dogs that Mohan had, cycle around and when we grew older, watched movies, got into scraps and so much more. We started a cricket team, played matches against each other being from different colonies, played together in a combined team and so on. There was much we did together then.
The school building that got flooded, now abandoned

But we went to different schools and had different things to pursue. Mohan became interested in karate and several other martial arts and certainly life on the wild side. I became more interested in cricket and preferred a more sedate life to Mohan's. We'd meet often though, and exchange notes and it was always a warm and trusting bond. It was Mohan who was with me when I got the news that my father had an accident, who accompanied me on along journey to the hospital, who cried even before I could, when he heard the news. We were 17 then.
View of the temple complex across the rivulet

From exploring his wild side further to a point when everyone despaired and wrung their hands, Mohan did an amazing U turn and became a fine arts critic, an expert on culture, heritage and history, and joined the prestigious NIFT as faculty. I went on with my life and our meetings grew rarer. But he is always genuinely glad to hear of my progress, of my writing career, and was present at the launch of my first book which is a big thing for me. We catch up for 30 minutes or so every year on an average but somehow that is more than enough to know that the old bond exists.
The main Ram temple
Ruins
More well preserved ruins

Mohan's mother passed away a fortnight ago. I met him that day. Much has been endured by him physically and mentally. I offered to go with him to immerse his mother's ashes and that was how we went to Manthani - just the two of us - on a day trip.
The dhwaja stambham
The river bed across the ruins

We drove off towards Karimnagar early in the morning in his new Bolero and reached Manthani, a small town on the banks of river Godavari by half past ten. Manthani is an ancient centre of vedic learnings and even today there are many scholars in the town who are well versed in the vedas and shastras. Manthani is also called Mantrapuri, or the town of hymns, and is believed to house a thousand brahmin families. Mohan says that the planning of the town is itself a highly sophisticated one.

We took a small single road that led from the town to the river side, where Mohan's friend and guru, Chandrasekhar Maharaj lived in the premises of a temple they have been taking care of for several generations. It is a temple that has three deities, Shiva, Ram and a third that has no deity, but Mohan surmises it is the Sun God. We approach the banks and find that there is nothing else but the temple complex and a devastated school which has been submerged and ravaged by floods in 1994.
Motorbikes being ferried across
 The temple Mohan reckons belongs to the Kakatiya period. It is still in pretty good shape. We went across the rivulet to the other bank where he performed the last rites. I wandered along and saw some more of those old carved stones. On our return I was given a personalised visit to all the temples by Chandrasekhar Maharaj and then we ate an amazing home cooked lunch at his home. After a relaxed hour, we started back to Hyderabad.
Bullock cart ride

It amazes me to see so much of history lying around. The temple architecture is mindboggling because of the way the stones are placed, one upon another, with such intricate carvings on it. How they lifted such heavy slabs and how they placed them so precisely is something the mind cannot fathom.  And apparently the idol was brought down from the top of the temple dome if the local folklore is to be believed.
More carvings in the river bed

It was nice to see the way people used a bullock cart for transport, to see motorbikes being ferried across the rivulet on a boat, to see the poorest of the poor operate cell phones, to see bullock cats cross the parched river bed, to see cow herds wear classy t shirts, to smell a whiff of sweet smelling grass in the neighbourhood. It was also surreal to see the centuries old history lying next to all that's modern, to see this family take care of what their forefathers did.
A grim reminder of a bygone era
 It is an eclectic group of people that surround Chandrasekhar Maharaj, with books that are being read from the epics to the modern day problems that afflict the world. Manthani has several more temples including aDattatreya temple and a museum that we could not visit because of time constraints, but someday soon I wish to return and explore it all more peacefully.

The Paradoxes of Our Lives - To Get More, Appreciate The Little That You Get

It is in appreciating the little things that we get, that we show our gratefulness to the world. The food we have the water, the air, the love, the security, the beauty, the talents, the health, the family - we take all these for granted. And then we are unhappy that we don't have more.

I love the way some people get on with their lives. The unhurried manner in which they speak, walk, talk, it all indicates the pleasure they are experiencing out of every moment of life. It is not about wanting anything, it is the sheer richness of life they are experiencing that makes one smile. The small gift, the wee smile, the little fruit, everything is wonderful to them.

Bliss is in experiencing the world in the small things we have. The depth of the moment. That's more than one can ask for.


Friday, January 25, 2013

The Paradoxes of Our Lives - What We See Inside Ourselves, We Project Outside

What we see inside our internal theatre is what we project outside into our world.

If our reel inside is good, we project a fine movie into our real world. But if the reel inside is bad, the movie we see in our world appears unfair. Whichever way it turns out, the movie is ours. The projector is ours. We are choosing the frame, the colour, the music or the lack of it, everything.

Since we have the power to shoot what we want, to pick and choose what we want , we could always go back and change it. We could use better footage. Or what the hell, we could reshoot the whole thing with new images, people and a new script.

Change the reel inside brother! It's not the camera at fault. You are the one behind the camera - and the projector.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

1 Day Workshop at Gap Miners

A 1-day workshop on 'The Champion's Mindset' for the newcomers at Gap Miners a couple of days ago. I ran them through the course material of what a champion is, what a champion needs to work on, what a champion works for, how he goes about planning it, how he prepares and how he sustains it. It was heavy duty stuff as it requires one to take a close look at one's own pluses and gaps, and one that needs a certain amount of concentration. Some coped better than the others. However, as I always feel, though the workshop does shake you up a bit, it also opens up certain thought processes which can be explored when the participant is ready. Some take it right away, some after a week and perhaps some after years. The articulation and visualization of their dreams, the acknowledgement of their strengths, the way forward, all make for stuff that can come in use later.

But I could see one serious gap which they all took for granted - one which I should have them explore a bit more. The gap between their current state of affairs and their desired goal was something they brushed past without understanding the importance of that gap. A simple example could be this - I want to play professional golf - but I have never ever been to a golf course yet and am showing no sign of going there as well. Or I want to direct films but I have not made a short film yet or even simpler, have not written a script or a story idea yet. Or I want to start a business but have no desire to understand how the business is being run in this office. It is this step where one has to start acting upon to get anywhere o the path of their dream.

It opens up an interesting course of action for me in the next few sessions. Really interesting.   


Dave Barry's Only Travel guide You'll Ever Need - Dave Barry

This is a book I hugely hugely recommend. It made me laugh so much that I felt I would die - there are parts where I had to take long breaks before I could get started again. It's just so stupidly funny. The entire book continues in much the same vein as the title - pompous, irreverent and full of useless information. But then you need to like the Dave Barry kind of humour which is something like 'France's National Underwear Changing Day is March 12'. I love him to death.

The book has helpful maps which will lead you nowhere. I also love his carefully drawn tables, line drawings and so on in his earnest manner to help us. But what I like the most is his footnotes which are incredibly funny and for the first time in my life I am actually looking forward to reading footnotes in my life. Let me get the first one. Footnote for this sentence 'Singapore is in an entirely different continent' is this - 'possibly Africa'.  This is one of the funniest books I have ever read!

Dave Barry makes fun of every type, person, country, thing and spares no one and all I did was laugh so much till I felt my body behaving in a manner that I was not used to - eyes reduced to slits, tears streaming down, uncontrollable laughter that others can only shake their heads at. Ah god, thank you so much for giving this man this wonderful gift. But there I must also thank Vinod for introducing me to Dave Barry in a big manner, giving me several of his books, and keeping the tradition of laughing helplessly alive. (Truly enough, the New York Daily News review on the blurb goes - Read it and die laughing. You know, you just could.)

Gangs of Wasseypur - Movie Review

Finally saw the much-acclaimed Anurag Kashyap movie 'Gangs of Wasseypur'. It is entertaining and interesting and left me feeling something I cannot say what. It's not a feeling of awe, nor of newness, nor of being completely entertained - its actually a feeling of having seen or known of this before. Maybe my short stint in Dhanbad in the early 90s, a period when Suryadeo Singh, the coal mafia don actually died (I was in Dhanbad that same day), got some deja vu acting up. 

Or have I become immune to the mafia stories? The movie is undoubtedly well-made with authentic characters and fine performances, great locales and a wonderful story, but why am I feeling rather low, or worse, apathetic. I must figure that out. Maybe its just my mood. But the idea of a revenge story set in the coal mines of Dhanbad (or Wasseypur), of a bandit, of a butcher mafia, of a son seeking revenge against his father's murder, is nice. Perhaps the motives were not strong enough for me - the son was too young when his father ( a goon himself) is killed. The son is no nobleman himself. How he manages to suppress the strong Qureshi clan by a few bombs and just two supporters is another thread that did not convince me. But I do like Anurag Kashyap's work and must say that it's a nice and a refreshing change from the flogged-to-death Mumbai mafia stories. Somehow the badness of these goons is not entertaining anymore, nor are they seeming like heroes. It's all rather pointless.

Do I recommend it? Yes, if you like gang wars, butchers, revenge stories. Manjor Bajpai is good and Nawazuddin Siddiqui brings his Michael Corleone like brooding presence forcefully. I was searching for how the Sardar Khan character lives up to his 'Keh ke loonga' line. To me he did not, really. He does bleed the mafia don but just about.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Anjali - Do The Things You Don't Like, First

Anjali came home today from school and after her usual banter about her friends and their antics, turned her attention to the 'lots of homework' she had today. The mood turned despondent for a second, but she strode into her room to get her bag.

As she returned with her bag she announced loudly, 'I don't like Maths'. That is a new one, I thought. 'There's too much work in Maths  - I have to write, 81, 82, 83. 84 and 85 three times each,' she explained.
I wondered what to do to make her like Maths again.

In a couple of moments she was down on the floor with her Maths book open in front of her, writing her 81s, 82s and 83s. As all was going well, I remained silent. After the work was done to satisfaction she looked at me and said 'Nanna, what I don't like I do it off first. That way it won't be there later.'

Ah, Anjali, how I wish I'd known that earlier. I would have got rid of much stuff that I don't like by now! But thanks - never too late to start.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Hyderabad Literary Festival 2013

The 3rd edition of Hyderabad Literary Festival kicked off at the Maulana Azad Urdu University, Gachibowli, on the 18th of January 2013. The event got off to a high profile start with the Governor of Andhra Pradesh Shri E.S.L.Narasimhan inaugurating it. Several writers of national and international repute gathered on the new University campus, right next to the ring road, where the trees are all between three and five foot high. I was to be in conversation with popular novelist and writer Anita Nair, in the post lunch sleepy session on the first day.

The first thing that strikes you about the University is the total lack of shade (mainly owing to its newness). Hyderabad is rather warm already and this lack of shade makes all movement between buildings rather uncomfortable. The first people we met as we entered the HLF were two of the best - Krishna Shastry Devulapalli and his lovely wife Chitra - and life sped on to a nice, racy, fun, repartee and laughter mode after that. There's never a dull moment with Krishna around and we decided to find some place to get some chai.

We were directed to a canteen, a ten minute walk away, by Vijay Kumar, good friend and key person in the organization of the HLF. Vijay hurried off to deal with the many issues of running a Lit Fest while we sat in the canteen sipping chai, discussing books, authors, festivals, editors, publishers etc. At about 1 p.m. we walked along the sunny, stark, newly laid roads towards the VIP lounge for lunch. Met Rajeevan and Dilip D' Souza, who is always good fun. Spotted Sridala with Ranjit Hoskote. Anita and I headed back to the centre for our 2'O clock show but since most people were still at lunch and the program had got delayed a bit, we had to wait for a good half hour before the talk got on.

It was good to see Akshara Book Store marking its presence there. I love Akshara Book Store - Lakshmi hosted so many fine book launches and kept the book reading scene in Hyderabad vibrant for many years before the big chains came and commercialised the story. I do hope Lakshmi gets back to doing those events - Akshara always had a nice energy to it.

Back at the event, we discussed Anita's prolific writing (she had 14 books in 15 years of writing), how she manages to write so much, the quality of her writing, the range (short stories collection (Satyr of the Subway), novels (The Better Man, Ladies Coupe, Mistress, Lessons in Forgetting and Cut Like Wound), 4 Children's Books, Translation (Chemmeen), Screenplays, a Play, how she manages to easily slip into the dark sides of her characters, whether it was easier to write novels or screenplays, the process of writing, the discipline the goes into it, the way the publishing industry is progressing, new writing in English and so on. She read from her book 'Lessons In Forgetting' which has been made into an award winning English film with the same name, for which she wrote screenplay and dialogue as well. (The movie is scheduled for a release by PVR Cinemas in March 2013.) By now we were already pushing into other people's time and we had to wind up quickly after a few questions from the audience.

Anita spoke about how she is a full time writer, post her advertising days, and how she writes everyday with a lot of discipline which is why she gets much work done. She explained that writing is a process she really enjoys and looks forward to everyday - she loves going to her desk to write every day (she writes in long hand). On the quality of writing she said, she does not get started on the writing process unless she is clear about the idea, about getting the story moving from A to Z in a broad structure. She explained that she writes in scenes, a scene each day, which makes her novels visual. She spoke about how important it was to give oneself up to the character and not put oneself and one's own thoughts and limitations in the way. Anita said it was important to be honest to the process. When asked if there was a lot of honesty in Indian Writing in English, she said that there was perhaps not as much as she would like to see out there. Responding to a question on how long it might take us, as a society to accept ourselves and get honest with our repressed emotions such as love, sex, violence or anything else, she said it could take about a decade for our writing to get there. While on screenplays versus novels, she said each was a different medium, but she said she'd always prefer novels. She has her own dedicated set of readers and is more in control of the process, whereas with a screenplay a lot of external factors come into play, and it could change according to the director's vision. On her new novel 'Cut Like Wound' she said there were some queries to make it into a movie too. And so on and so forth. Writers Vanaja Banagiri, Krishna Sastry Devulapalli and a few others interacted with her before we ended the show. I'll probably try and get her interview in a separate Q and A form in another post.

I met Jayesh Ranjan, IAS Officer, and the earlier Secretary of Andhra Pradesh Tourism, who is just back from study leave. A major culture and sports buff and a wonderful person, he is one of the few who makes a positive difference wherever he goes. We also had artists and poets in Chandana Khan and Tejdeep Kaur Menon, senior IAS and IPS officers, who participated in the Festival too. With such people in the Government and people like Surya and Vijay, supported by a whole lot of well wishers including Shankar Melkote and the Little Theatre, the HLF is in good hands. However, I must say that the last version of HLF had more romance and more interaction primarily because the space at Taramati Baradari was contained in a smaller place. Of course its a bit out of the way but its very romantic too.

This edition had several writers and poets - Anita Nair, Vaiju Naravane, Rajeevan, Dileep Jhaveri, Satchidanandan, Ranjit Hoskote, Tabish Khair, Sridala, Vinod Mehta, Krishna Sastry Devulapalli and so many more. A good show once again by the HLF team. The Hyderabad Literary Festival is new and still evolving and I am sure it can only get bigger and better in years to come.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Lance Armstrong Case - Closure

I do not have the patience to see the Lance Armstrong interview on the Oprah Winfrey show. Simply because I don't know if after a couple of months someone comes out with a few more spectacular findings that it was all a big setup and that everyone made millions out of his confessions. TV shows, books, lectures - gimme a break.

By the end of it all one thing is clear - whatever Lance Armstrong did, he was not alone. There is obviously a much bigger set up behind that. More people involved in the entire creation of the myth and the destruction of it. But by now who cares.I don't. They won, they lost.

But what intrigues me is this - if such a case took so long to discover and such a myth has been built tacitly, I wonder what part of the story is true. For me, just the fact that a cancer survivor (and what Armstrong describes in his book of his disease is horrifying enough) had the strength to come back to health was big enough to make him a champion in my eyes I am good enough with that story. That he won seven titles and excelled in a physically draining sport was the cherry.

But what this entire set up, I am talking o the system that made and broke this man, has done is this - I don't even know if the cancer story is true now.

If it is, Armstrong still remains a winner to me, for he, as a cancer survivor, pushed himself, ethically or unethically, to ride that tour. All cancer survivors can take heart form that. He did (unless he did not really participate in the Tour and someone else did) physically ride and ride. The Tour Organisers should have been sophisticated enough to detect these cases quickly enough and if he got away with whatever he did, the enforcers are more to blame than him. After all that is what the enforcers are for. But if the cancer story is fake, and if he has not the Tour, Armstrong will remain one of the biggest creations of this whole phenomenon of branding and marketing that we see all around us.

Am I shocked? No. Do I feel sad? No. Each to his own. Armstrong will find his own demons or his peace. So will all those who were with him and against him. For me the story is over. Now I'd rather spend my time looking for other stories - of real heroes - in a world where the distinction between reality and make-believe is slowly blurring.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Anjali - Visit to the Birla Planetarium

Anjali's wish to see the Birla Planetarium (and mine too) has been finally fulfilled. Shobhs, Anjali and I finally made it there, with Manasi in tow. The last time Anjali and Anu and I had gone to the planetarium the guard told us that anyone under 5 years was not allowed in the planetarium. The moment Anjali turned five, she reminded me of this new status she has achieved - she was now eligible to see the planetarium. And so we headed off.
Happy together - Manasi and Anjali

As we parked and were about to enter, a guard came running at top speed and told us that cameras were not allowed in the planetarium. Fair enough. Only wish they could tell us this before we get down and walk some distance. But what makes it rather funny is that everyone has such fine cameras on their phones that we don't need anything else - and phones are allowed inside!

Anjali and Manasi were in their own little world and were happily playing about. We had some time so we went to the science museum first which had many interactive science principles in action - optics, mechanics, electricity, illusion and so on - and the kids enjoyed themselves. The interactiveness was the key, and this was so unlike other places where we are normally used to Keep-Off-Else-There-Will-be-Penalties boards and and all that. Also one young volunteer came up and very gently showed all the experiments to Anjali and Manasi. They had much fun there.
Exploring some plants

Then we moved to the Dinosaurium which had one huge skeleton of a dinosaur found in Adilabad district and it is named after that area where it was found - Yemenapalli. After about ten minutes there we headed of to the museum of Modern Art which was a lovely exhibition of paintings from several artistes. I got a depressing view of the concrete jungle that our city had become from there. Not a patch of green anywhere.
The concrete jungle

And then we headed into the planetarium. The show which was to begin at 4 started at 430. We all sat around a giant telescope in seats that recline backwards so much that you are looking at the sky. We see a wonderful night sky. The stars and the constellations are explained but in a sort of a complicated manner and as it went on and on it got rather boring. Pretty little about the planets however, which I think was what Anjali was interested in. The sound kept going off all the time which was pretty bad - so bad that we could hardly catch the last 20 minutes at all. The kids were bored and frankly so was I and I was glad to get out finally. I heard one gentleman behind me commenting that the 'earlier' show was better which meant that they made some modifications which certainly are not working. I think if they keep it simple and explain our place in the Universe clearly it would be much better than explaining the rashis etc. I asked Anjali if she enjoyed the planetarium and she said it was 'boring'.
Posing in front of the Forbidden Lawns
 But she liked the science museum she said and playing on the forbidden lawns near the planetarium. 'One of those 'Get-Off, Get-Off' lawns.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Vague Woman's Handbook - Devapriya Roy

'The Vague Woman's Handbook' by Devapriya Roy is about two vague women, one twenty something newly married woman and one fifty year old widow, who meet and help one another deal with their lives. Their issues are day to day issues of family, bills, fat, food, directions, and so on.

Devapriya writes well but in this novel she is let down by a plot that is pretty thin. I can't help feeling that she could have just gone over the top and over-dramatized certain things (the credit card goons were an interesting possibility, the mother-in-law was another, kidnap threats, missing in actions, leering bosses, old girlfriends for husband, anything) and added some drama and conflict which would have helped as the two vague women go along their lives. Also, I suspect, the vagueness quotient got too much in the way and the novel ended up being just that - vague. That's a pity because it's obvious that she can write. 'The vague Woman's Handbook' ends up with all the promise of a Jeeves and Wooster story but without Wooster getting into a sticky situation - so Jeeves does not go beyond getting him a pick-me-up. Did Devapriya hold herself back a bit? Maybe. Should she in the future? No. On the positives, she is one of the better writers, confident and strong, and it is definitely one of the better debut novels.

Offside - Movie Review

I started watching 'Offisde' last year and completed it this year, primarily due to a technical glitch. Directed by Jafar Panahi,'Offside' is a story told in the length of a soccer match between Iran and Bahrain, an important qualifying match for the World Cup finals in Germany.

A girl wants to watch the game despite the law against women watching football matches in stadiums. She travels to the game by herself slimly disguising herself with a cap, a jacket and boy clothes. She manages to get a ticket but she is caught and herded with several other girls who also want to get into the stadium. The guards cannot understand why the girls take so much trouble to watch the match in the stadium when they can watch it at home. The moods swing as the match progresses, one girl asks to go to the toilet and manages to slip away, one girl picks up a fight, and meanwhile the match ends. They are herded into a police van to be taken to the vice squad. There is a tender moment when the girl reveals that she wanted to watch the game for her friend who died in crowd violence at a previous Iran-Japan game. The movie ends as the girls slip away in the confusion on the road.

That's the best thing about Irani movies and especially by Jafar Panahi. Take a simple setting, set up the actors in front and through them explore the situation behind it. Why women cannot watch football matches is something the cannot understand, when they are allowed to play. Apparently inspired by Jafar Panahi's daughter who attended a game despite the law, the movie, shot during a live Iran match, was banned in Iran. Watch it to marvel at how simple stories can be told so well and so deeply.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Average Indian Male - Cyrus Broacha

Cyrus Braocha is hilarious - in a manner that is his own. Self deprecating, irreverent and constantly pushing the envelope, nothing is sacrosanct to Cyrus. He is in the Dave Barry mould to me - completely zany, making the most unlikely connections – and makes me burst out in loud laughter when I least expect to. I am an unabashed fan and like him and his unique sense of humour that cannot and should not be imitated, nor even attempted. (In my opinion Cyrus, and the few other humorists we have, ought to be protected as national treasures for the simple reason that they stop us from taking ourselves too seriously, which is a joke.)

Random House India, 246 p, Rs.199

And so it was with a great sense of anticipation that I picked up 'The Average Indian Male' as I do with all humour books hoping that Cyrus would rip this delicious topic to pieces. But surprisingly Cyrus did not – at least not as much as he normally would have done. I felt that given his talent and the material available on the subject he could have done much more with such a topic. Did he take the focus off the Average Indian Male  somewhere? Perhaps. Did the letters format impede his natural style? Maybe. And so what could have  been a great book became an ordinary book for me. Cyrus, you’ve missed a super topic to rip up man. But there is fresh fodder for you everyday so perhaps you could do a sequel.  

Anyway, my Laugh-o-Meter (the number of times I laughed aloud while reading the book) stood at a healthy 12-15. But the first one came in a bit late at page 52 and then one big one came at 84 with that incredible Paramjit a.k.a Ducky who was a riot ('lots of friend'). Page 127 with Apruva Mahadik wanting to know how to make more  friends makes me laugh each time I read it (especially the P.S. where Cyrus asks Apurva not to email him again as he had contributed to the most boring chapter in the book). The latter half picks up and was more fun overall. 

In retrospect, a few hearty laughs are definitely worth my time, and I'd say that if anything, I was disappointed that Cyrus did not do enough with the average Indian male. Else, on its own steam, its still a fine funny book and better than most that pass off as 'hilarious'. Recommended if you have a stomach for Cyrus, else you may not like some of his not-so-subtle jokes. But for me, worth my time.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Daksha School Annual Day 2013

The Annual Day at Daksha School built up momentum pretty early. For the last month or so Anjali would come home and show off some new stuff she learnt - her dance moves or skit lines - and give a blow by blow account of what she and her friends had practiced that day. 'Teacher said this' or 'the others did that' she'd  go on gaily and the mirth with which she shares shows how much she enjoys herself. What got me hooked this time was when Anjali told me that when she goes to school she 'can't wait to get on the stage and tell my lines!' Wow! That's a nice state of mind to be in.

On the given day, 12th of January 2012, we (Shobha, Mythily, Anjali and I) landed up at Ravindra Bharathi, the venue for the Annual Day, dropped Anjali off and headed off to the old Kamat Hotel next door.
Anjali heading off for her show
 Now I have fond memories of this hotel from as fa back as the mid 70s when we would visit it with our father during our trips to Hyderabad and eat large slabs of chocolate ice cream and wonder how to eat a tutti frutti which was a tricky customer if there was one. Kamat still has the same welcoming smells of sambar and agarbatti, the same decor and seating arrangement and we ordered our idlis and wadas and puris and coffees. Manasi's parents, her brother Kushal and grandmother (Anjali's best friend along with Harsh) were at the next table as were many other parents. We trooped back in at 930, found a place at the back and were joined by Chitra soon. And then, the program began.
Japanese Umbrella Dance

Malay Dance

A welcome song by tiny tots (who would either sway off, not move or perform in their own manner in a most adorable manner) began the proceedings. We smiled, laughed and appreciated their effort under the spotlight. Then, there was a Malay dance followed by a Mexican dance, a Chinese Fan dance, an Arabian dance, a South American Samba, a Japanese Umbrella dance, a Texan Cowboy dance (Anjali was in that along with Harsh and Manasi her two partners in crime, and several more of her friends), a Hawaiin dance, a Spanish salsa, South African dance and to round things off, a robust bhangra to a fiesty 'Rang de Basanti'. Now if that list does not take your breath this surely will - all of them were performed by children  from the Play Group to the 1st class.
South American Samba Dance
Texan Cowboy Dance

South African Waka Waka

As we watched the children troop in with lovely costumes and props, each of the dances choreographed and practiced with such care and love, it filled the heart to see the young ones enjoy themselves so. And even more so to see teachers support the kids when they make a mistake, exhorting parents not to be harsh if their children fail to perform on the big occasion. That the children came on the stage and participated was more than enough for them. Some children enjoyed dancing, some enjoyed doing something else (like walking about or going off stage or talking to their friends or just doing whatever pleased them at that time) and some enjoyed just being there. Wonder of wonders, no child cried, and almost everyone got into the act. With the older children, the acts were almost perfect - everyone performing in a most confident manner that belied their tender years, holding on to every step and beat and completing their final posture until the curtain fell. I enjoyed each and every dance, marveled at the children's confidence and patience, and was all admiration for the teachers. Oh it was superb.
Bhangra
Swagatham
Spanish Salsa
Chinese Fan Dance

And then there were the skits. The English one by PPII about how we take our Universe for granted, the shift towards mindless consumption and production, the destruction of trees for factories that produce more, the generation of garbage as we consume things we do not need and the consequences of our acts. Anjali was in this one and she plays a consumeristic 'human being' who is rather fond of chips and who throws the packet into the garbage dump that is the world we live in. I found it very thoughtful, entertaining and impactful. The moment the children look at the audience and say helplessly 'can someone help us' wrings your heart and you know that you must not abdicate the responsibility you have to the Earth. The idea of recording the children's dialogues in a studio was brilliant as it made the skit so much more enjoyable and surely contributed to far more confident performances from the children. Well done all of you. You have certainly made an impact on all adults and the children. Going by Anjali's responses, I am sure that we will see a more caring and responsible generation coming up.
English Skit - Chop, chop, chop go the trees

The Sankranti skit 'Oorlo Sankranti' was certainly a popular hit because we do miss these festivals, miss the rural setting where India's heart really beats and it was a heartwarming eye opener for everyone. Again solid performances, good settings, great dialogues and a lovely climax. In addition to the fun quotient of burger loving, mall crazy children of the cities, there was the important message that we must not forget our roots, our culture, and came out strongly through the skit. I know Anita feels strongly about it and I endorse her views fully. It is not only important but necessary to know who we are, where we come from and what our histories are because it forms a crucial component of understanding where we want to go and how. Everyone enjoyed it specially the older generations.
Oorlo Sankranthi - A dose of rural culture

The Hindi skit 'Ek Chitti Bhagwan ke Naam' was about a child whose parents are too busy and do have not time for him. It brought home the point that the most valuable thing we can give our children is our time and not merely admissions in good schools, food that they like, expensive gifts and so on. I think many parents would have squirmed in their seats at the dialogues when the parents in the skit urge the child to watch TV or do puzzles when the child actually wants to spend time with them (I did). I won't be surprised if many parents start spending more time with their children after that skit (I will). Well done and well thought of. In a five minute presentation you posed a huge question that troubles this generation of nuclear families and double income parents. Certainly the answer lies within us and we must make time for what is most important to us.
Hindi Skit - Ek Chitti Bhagwan Ke Naam

In her Annual report Anita, founder of the school and good friend, spoke of how the school took a decision to start the 1st class and how it was a good mix of a well-designed curriculum. The curriculum is designed by an expert Ms. Asha (who came on stage) which shows how much thought goes into all this seemingly playschool activity. I believe that if, in these formative years, children get a healthy outlook it can completely shape their viewpoint of life. I find the huge empowerment that Anjali gets now as she reads her books by herself (reading off even big words like 'continue', 'favourite' and 'reliance' as she tells me) and thereby creates her own world. Anita thanked everyone and called everyone from her school on stage and the applause said it all. Wonderful stuff.
Mexican Dance
Arabian Dance

But to me the best moment of the day came at the end when the compere Ms. Hema interacted with the audience. Sirisha, Anita's sister-in-law and a practicing doctor in the USA, who landed that very morning spoke in glowing terms about the good work done by Anita and the team. A few other parents and grandparents shared genuine and spontaneous reactions to the exquisite show. But no moment captured it all better than when Anita's fourteen year old daughter Shreya spoke about how proud she was to see what her mother had done, and how hard Anita worked to put this show together. As she spoke Shreya broke down and it required a big hug from her mother to complete a perfect moment. I am so glad Shreya spoke and reacted so spontaneously because she brought out feelings that were probably bubbling up inside for most. I felt exactly how Shreya felt at that moment because I was overwhelmed by the sheer effort that went into the show. These children are 3 to 6 six year old for god's sake. To make them perform and more importantly to make them enjoy it is a huge achievement. And for Anita to set such aspirations to look up to for Shreya, her son Rohan, and certainly her set of admiring students (including Anjali) through her actions and her manner is itself one of the biggest testimonials to Daksha and its spirit. Always caring, always thinking, always putting in effort and preparing, always trying to better themselves - children learn much from just observing, imbibing and imitating the adults they see in their school.
It's My World

The Annual day at Daksha is all about preparation.The detail, the care, the balance, the right earnest and the intent. There is just no compromise on effort, yet they are most sympathetic to each child, knowing that it is the effort that matters so much more than the result. It is the quest for perfection that gets you. You only see a part of the vision through Anjali's versions, but you know where it is all heading to. And having known Anita and having seen her team in action over the past two years I know one can expect nothing less. Their desire to push for new boundaries when something simpler or easier could have sufficed is what sets them apart. Well done Daksha, Anita, Radhika, Kamakshi and your entire team. You have surpassed yourself this time.
After the loud and happy byes we headed back. It was a happy and tired Anjali who sat in the car, lost in her thoughts. When asked if she was tired she smiled mischievously and said they were dancing backstage to all the other songs as well. And that's Daksha for you!

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Heritage Walk in Pune With Kalpak



And our own little heritage walk in Pune. I’ve been going to Pune so often since the early nineties but never made time to go check out some of the heritage structures that were not further than five kilometers from Kothrud. And we want to see the world??

Anyway Kalpak and I decided to strike certain things off the list this time. We quickly zoned in on the plan. The first step to that always is meeting at the usual rendezvous, Good Luck Cafe at Deccan. There we polished off some bun omelette, cheese omelette, chote samose and chai and headed off on his new snazzy Royal Enfield 500 cc. Not more than 2-3 kilometres or so from Deccan we parked the shiny new bike near the Vishrambaag Wada. Kalpak is good company for these kind of visits specially because he has enough knowledge on the background and he kept me filled up on the info as we walked along.
Kalpak, great company

We walked along by the side of the old structure building which now seemed to house a post office and some other offices. We were told at the one official looking ticket counter that being a Monday, it was closed. Disappointment! Anyway we walked up, saw the impressive façade of the building, complete with its rather fancy woodwork. Lots of wood in these structures. This was the residence of Peshwa Bajirao II in early 19th century and was also the place from where he was arrested by the British later, signaling an end to the Peshwa regime. The inside apparently houses a school, a museum kind of a place with some artifacts. Built in 1807, it is in really good shape. Vishrambaag Wada was the centre where several education institutes were started. Rather intriguingly the PMC (which operated in those premises till 1959) bought the property form the British Government. How the British managed to sell something they did not own is a mystery. Currently it is under restoration though.

Then, we hopped across the road to a quiet Tulsi Baug. Most shops were shut being a Monday, thus making one of Pune’s busiest markets rather bearable. We were also lucky to find that this holiday has been utilized to put up photographs of journalists in a street exhibition called ‘Sadak Chaap’. We stared at some lovely photographs and moved on. We wanted to find the Ram Mandir which was somewhere here (apparently the name Tulsibaug comes from Tulshibaug Wada which is the Ram, Ganpati and Shankar temple). We finally asked a young man selling jeans and he pointed out to the temple rising behind the shops.
Ram Mandir, Tulshibaug

Next was the entry to the Tulshibaug Ram Temple, through one of the narrowest by lanes opposite a Hanuman temple on the main road. Even as we walked on, one of the Shahbad tiles that covered the drain broke. No serious damage. The temple looked like some work was in progress. It was impressive though with some ornate carvings on the spire. Could do with a flooring I felt around the temple. It is of 1965 vintage. I saw some quaint shops selling small cooking toy utensils made of brass or copper. Very quaint.
We exited from the temple and walked over to the Mandai or the Mahatma Phule Mandai, the vegetable market. It was a beautiful British structure, apparently built in the pre-independence era, with a central office and some eight branches where the shops (526) are located.
Section of the Mandai from top

It was a lazy afternoon and no one was really buying r selling anything but the fruits and vegetables looked really fresh. We climbed up the stairs and took a look around – wooden steps and well maintained too. Lots of shops with puja items as well. In comparison with the magnificent structure there is the new structure which is an eyesore. I mean, could we not just copy that old structure which is so aesthetic looking? It does bother one to see how our aesthetics have deteriorated and how easily satisfied we are to display our lack of sensibilities sometimes. Anyway we climbed up the parking lot which was some five floors and had a good look around. Nice. Oh, the Ganesh mandal of Mandai is one of the most popular ones in Pune.
Mandai, another view

Done with the Mandai, we walked down the road to the famous Dadgusheth Halwai Ganapati temple. It is a small temple which is right on the road but with heavy security. The idol is apparently insured for one crore. The temple as built in 1893 by Dagadusheth Halwai a sweet seller. The temple has some history in the Independence movement too as Bal Gangadhar Tilak used the Ganpati festival for public to congregate together. We went in and prayed to the beautiful idol and marveled at the jewellery and the décor. Beautiful stuff.

By now we were feeling a bit low on fuel and found the popular Joshi vadewale right in front of Dagdusheth temple. We ordered ourselves vada pav and some masala taak from the next store and refreshed ourselves. Onward then, to Shaniwar Wada.
Shaniwar Wada

As we walked along Kalpak filled me in on the details of the Peshwas and their history. We circled the Shaniwar Wada and its impressive looking walls. The Shaniwar Wada, a palace in the fort, was built in 1746 and was the main head quarters of the Peshwas until the British overpowered them in 1818. We went to the main façade, saw the statue of one of the Peshwas on a horse and then entered the Wada.
Shaniwar Wada from the Main Gate

Now inside the Wada there is nothing but the foundations because the entire palace of the Peshwas had been burnt down in an unexplained fire! Now this is a huge let down. There are the remnants of a complex fountain of a thousand jets that is shaped like a lotus. We walked along and found a place to rest our backs and watch the sky. The sound and light show was at 7-8 (Marathi) and 8-9 (English).

We started back after a short rest, bought some bhel outside and walked back to the bike a good couple of kilometers away. There's much we can do with three hours. A thoroughly enjoyable heritage walk with Kalpak who is just perfect company for this kind of a work. Thanks a lot for your time, energy and wonderful company Kalpak and let's do some more the next time we're in Pune.