Friday, January 31, 2014

Flashbacks of a Fool - Movie Review

Daniel Craig stars in this rather vague movie as a has-been actor, Joe Scott. The movie starts with a highly charged sexual scene with lots of nudity with Craig and two women and some drugs and alcohol. Established that he is beyond control! The only semblance of control is his housekeeper, a young girl who is probably a student, Ophelia (I could not get what she was all about). Joe goes to a business meeting and does not get the one role he might have on his hands. And then, he hears of his best friend's death in England (where he is originally from) and goes to attend his funeral. Established that his life is in the pits.

Sometime then flashbacks occur on why and ow Joe Scott ended up in America as a big star - he caused the death of a little girl unintentionally because her mother pushes the little girl out of her home to have a romp with young Joe. Joe loses his best friend and a possible flame due to the well planted love bites by Mrs. Housewife.

Back in England in the present, Joe sees his mother and the widow of his friend (who is in financial trouble), helps them out, and then goes back home. A changed man perhaps but we don't know. There is an interesting tidbit about the wife who seduces him - she has a terrible life and even more terrible death - her head is severed in an accident and is never found. The explanation is that it was carried off by a fox. Such is the movie. Avoid. Why did I pick it? The title sounded interesting. Lesson to be learned - get the right titles. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Elements of Style - William Strunk and E.B. White

Slim at 90 pages, the original version by Professor Strunk is supposedly 40, the book can improve style by leaps and bounds. So clear and precise that by merely making note of the contents your language and writing will improve. This is one memento of our old friend Late J.R. Jyothi, a fellow writer and a keen and honest student of the art of writing, that I will always cherish. 

I will reproduce the contents here. It will help many refer easy and be better writers. Thanks Prof. Strunk and White.

In Elementary Rules of Usage the stress is on:
  • Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's
  • In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction use a comma after each term except the last
  • Enclose parenthetic expression between commas
  • Place a comma before a conjunction introducing an interdependent clause
  • Do not break sentences into two
  • Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation
  • Use  a dash to set off an abrupt break or interrupting and to announce a long appositive or summary
  • The number of subject determines the number of the verb
  • Use the proper case of pronoun
  • A participial phrase at the beginning of the sentence must refer to the grammatical subject

In elementary principles of composition:
  • Choose a suitable design and hold to it
  • Make the paragraphs the unit of composition
  • Use the active voice
  • Put statements in positive form
  • Use definite specific concrete language
  • Omit needless words
  • Avoid a succession of loose sentences
  • Express coordinate idea in similar form
  • Keep related words together
  • In summaries keep to one tense
  • Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end
A few matters of form and words and expressions commonly misused.

An approach to style:
  • Place yourself in the background
  • Write in a way that comes naturally
  • Work from a suitable design
  • Write with nouns and verbs
  • Revise and rewrite
  • Do not overwrite
  • Do not overstate
  • Avoid the use of qualifiers
  • Do not affect a breezy manner
  • Use orthodox spelling
  • Do not explain too much
  • Do not construct awkward adverbs
  • Make sure the reader knows who is speaking
  • Avoid fancy words
  • Do not use dialect unless your ear is good
  • Be clear
  • Do not insert opinion
  • Use figures of speech sparingly
  • Avoid foreign languages
  • Prefer the standard to the offbeat
Reading just these contents would have improved the style by 20-30%. Wonderful book. One that all who engage in writing must own.

Thought For The Day - Slow Motion Life

Another old article. 10 years or more vintage. I think I was a better writer then. Or certainly a more optimistic one.
Slow Motion
Pic. Satish N

Winners stretching themselves at the line, the wind gently leading gullible silky tresses astray, a moment passing in the bat of an eyelid, life seems best remembered in slow motion. The most ordinary things in life appear cloaked in magic once they are slowed down to that pace.
 
Our lives, on the other hand, are a dizzy blur, as we race along jumping many moments at once. There is no now. Its always later. We are already in the future looking back and front. We need more, and we need to beat everyone to it. All in the shortest time.

But how much ever we want to hurry it, time, in its own old fashioned way, comes in a string of moments. One after another.

S l o w l y.

Somewhere, people have picked up this funny notion that we can outrun time now and store up a bit of it for later. But time is like a shadow. It slows down if we slow down and zips ahead if we speed up. If we choose to rush our whole life, we find that time has also rushed along with us and we are still left with the same amount of time as the one who took it one moment at a time. Like greedy children who gobble up all the goodies until their stomach aches, we may have gobbled up our moments without savouring them, and now there are just not enough moments left.

Thankfully there is a solution. Slow motion life! The best thing about slow motion life is that we can start it immediately. Right now!

Slow motion life is simple. Take life as it comes i.e one moment at a time. Be fully immersed in ‘now’ because that is the only truth. Not the future, not the past. Be fully centred in the present and watch as everything slows down. Time slows down – and expands. We get to look at the sky. We find a smile easily. We find a moment for everybody that counts, everything that matters. We are more patient. Things happen the way we want them to. We listen to our own selves and not the babble of a million others. The babble of meaningless words said, and worse, unsaid.

Leaves falling off trees, clouds drifting about in the sky, eagles gliding the azure, waves rising and falling, the rise and fall of a sleeping baby’s chest - there is such a lovely rhythm to the beat of the universe. We can tune ourselves into that rhythm. Make it our rhythm. We can centre ourselves in ourselves and not somewhere else. We can be those people in slow motion!

Thank God for slow motion.

Aesthetics apart, I think slow motion is about the way of life. It is about complete control and focus. It is about deliberate action, about complete balance, about a perfect peace, about a wonderful state of mind that’s completely ensconced in love. It is the way of the monks. It is the way of the sportsmen, of kings and rulers, of wise men and of the saints. (Which does not mean that it is beyond us because it is the way of nature and therefore of us). After all nothing in nature appears to be in a meaningless hurry does it?

Slow down. Go the way of your true nature.

Life can get really    b e a u t i f u l!



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Amercian Hustle - Movie Review

It's set in the 70s-80s and is apparently based on a real life sting operation by the FBI called ABSCAM. Con artist Irving (Christian Bale) meets Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) and they expand their con business as they complement each other. Sydney poses as an aristocratic English lady and Irving as a loan arranger. They also fall in love but Irving does not want to leave his adopted son. The two are trapped by an FBI agent Richie (Bradley Cooper) who promises to let them go if they help him make four arrests. They agree.

Richie gets ambitious and wants to expand the operations to cover politicians taking bribes from an Arab sheikh who is supposed to fund them. The politicians also get some mobsters involved and soon everything goes out of control. Irving and Sydney split, Sydney starts seeing Richie, Irving's wife Rosalyn suspects Irving and in the middle of all this the operation has to go on. Anyway, all's well and it ends well as Irving and Sydney somehow con Richie and buy themselves some space and get out.

It goes all over and its funny in parts, specially in the first part. the acting is high quality stuff though with Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and a powerhouse cameo by Robert De Niro making it all very tight. They are all dysfunctional and neurotic characters - real life stuff. I enjoyed listening to all the old 70s and 80s music, the jokes in the first half, but it ended kind of tamely. Would I watch it again? Not really. Once is fine.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Leadership Session at Gap Miners - Week 2

We recapped the work of last week.

On the traits of the leader to build upon viz. Goal clarity, Subject knowledge, Decision Making, Delivery, Process-orientation and focus on goal (and the ones I feel should be added - Man-management and Communication) the 1st time managers were rated (by peers and bosses). They were to rank 8 and above and specific work needed to go in if they fell short.

They were asked to write two lines about each of the above traits to understand their clarity on it - and identify areas to improve.

Goal clarity   - Goal of the team, metrics to achieve, percentage improvement over past metrics, time frame, overall purpose of the team effort. The clarity, if complete, would win instant respect from team because it sets the purpose.

Subject knowledge - To deconstruct their role, finding out key subject areas to know, to brush up on all basics thoroughly, identifying knowledge gaps, finding strong areas and weak areas, working on weak areas quickly within a short time frame. The lack of subject knowledge may  compromise respect. However being open to learning and being honest about it, and learning quickly enough to know more subject than any other will gain respect.

Decision Making - All decision making is a product of good use of information. Information itself is a product of good and qualitative analysis of data available from past records, patterns, people, clients, competitors etc. Using good quality information helps make high quality decisions. All decisions therefore are better off having a proper basis, a sound base of knowledge coming off well-analysed information. While at that, managers are also better off practicing making instinctive decisions in all areas of their lives.

Delivery - All work of the manager is to deliver what has been promised. The organization has given him/her the job because it trusted him/her to deliver. Hence goal clarity, subject knowledge. planning, strategizing, man management, decision making etc are all used to achieve the goal (minimum guarantee) and exceed it if possible. In any case, the delivery should not go below what has been promised. Proper metrics for quantum and quality of delivery to be arrived at, planned well in advance, work deployed and monitored to ensure delivery. There can be no slip ups in delivery. These can be monitored by weekly or short term delivery on tasks. Cut down on errors, do not repeat errors, make process more efficient.

Process-orientation - It is important to write down the process and know which areas are totally in control and which are not. If one has less information or knowledge over certain parts of the process one must learn more about those instead of hoping they might not come into play. Here it is important to know the process well enough how to self-correct to reduce downtime. A  periodic, closer look at the process can always increase efficiency in the process. Any deviations in the short term tasks should result in a quick check on whether processes are being followed and if they are, then whether the processes are correct.

Man- Management - It is all about people so it is important to know how to use this resource well. People skills are all about earning their respect as a leader and as a professional. Along with the above attributes one respects people who are honest, trustworthy, fair and just, have a genuine interest In the team and the people, responsible, supportive, courageous, objective, approachable people. Good leaders are tough on work ethic and soft on aspirations, push their people to grow and become better people, always give greater responsibility and do not do others work. They teach their people to fish, and do not give them a fish everyday. To push people to work harder is to show the greater benefit at the end, the conviction of achieving the end at any cost, to make the process interesting and as something worthy.

Communication - Everyone at all times should be on the same page. This must be ensured even at the cost of repetition. Once communication is fine tuned, much redundant work gets reduced and efficiency improves. It is always better to communicate by email or sms or in some written form to establish and maintain a record.

The leader must at all times be clear of his/her first principles. His first loyalty is to the organization and the task given to him. The team always comes first, individuals next. Performance of the duty is paramount and nothing should come in the way.
Why is he/she here? To fulfill the task entrusted. To fulfill that task what must he do? Give his best as an individual, get his team to work best as a team and get all the individuals to give their best. How does he do that? By getting the team together like a fist, giving it a purpose and getting it to perform at its optimum.

We briefly discussed the aspects of process-driven leadership - Goal clarity, Role clarity, Target setting, Giving inputs, Communication and Performance Appraisal. On all the above aspects the team leads were asked to prepare a brief note to discuss in the next session.







 

Monday, January 27, 2014

10 Medications That One Must Have Every Day

These are 10 medications or pills that I prescribe everyday.

Pic courtesy: Satish Nargundkar
1) Laugh 10 times: 10 times during the day or more. At least once, laugh out loud. Really loud. Even if it means watching your favorite laugh-out-loud clips everyday.

2) Exercise for 30 minutes: Play your favorite game ideally. Or walk or run. But spend half an hour doing something physical.

3) Sing for 5 minutes: Loudly. If you don't like others to listen in, sing in those alone moments in the car.

4) Be Alone for 10 minutes: Spend 10 minutes alone. Absolutely by yourself. Doing whatever you want. Whatever YOU want.

5) Music for 15 minutes: Listen to your favorite music for sometime - 15 minutes at least.

6) Meet happy people for 30 minutes: Young children, funny people, happy people. Friends. Avoid the sad ones.

7) Smile all the time: At everything. At people. At yourself.

8) Break the rules once: Do something creative - joke, make mischief. Do something you never did before.

9) Compliment at least 5 times: I believe its good. It might get you some back too. Liberally douse the world with compliments.

10) Indulge in your passions for 30 minutes: Don't let your passions die. Stoke them. For 5 minutes, or 10 even. Listen to your favorite music, dance, cook, play, meet friends.

Looks like you are set for a good life already. We'll take a weekly check up after one week and see if we need to change any medication.

The Success Indicator - MaryEllen Tribby

Want to be successful? Follow Mary Ellen Tribby's Success Indicator. Adopt the behaviors required and drop the ones that you carry.
Simple.

Here's a link to her original article.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maryellen-tribby/the-success-indicator_b_1874431.html
There is an image of the 'Success Indicator' that you get if you google it. It's a nice one to keep on your desk too.

Successful People
  • Compliment
  • Have a sense of gratitude
  • Forgive others
  • Give other people credit for their victories
  • Take responsibility for their failures
  • Read everyday
  • Keep a journal
  • Talk about ideas
  • Want others to succeed
  • Share info and data
  • Keep a to-be list
  • Exude joy
  • Set goals and develop life plans
  • Embrace change
  • Continuously learn
  • Keep a to-do/project list
  • Operate from a transformational perspective
Unsuccessful people
  • Criticize
  • Have a sense of entitlement
  • Hold a grudge
  • Take all credit for their victories
  • Blame others for their failures
  • Watch TV everyday
  • Say they keep a journal but don't
  • Fear change
  • Think they know it all
  • Fly by their seat of their pants
  • Operate from a transactional point
  • Secretly hope others fail
  • Talk about people
  • Horde information and data
  • Don't know what they want
  • Exude anger
  • Never set goals

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hyderabad Literary Festival 2014

The HLF gets going today (started writing 2 days ago). I had no role to play so I was not sure what to do there. I thought I'd attend my friend Krishna Shastri Devulapally's session but he could not make it as he was indisposed. As fate would have it I was asked to step in for Krishna and be in conversation with friend Vamsi Juluri, writer and Professor of Media Studies from the University of San Francisco, on the topic 'Films and Fiction'.

Which is good. Two years ago we three were on a panel about Hyderabad being writers from Hyderabad - moderated by poet Meena Alexander who read some of her poetry there. In response to her question of what Hyderabad means to us, Vamsi said he liked the rocks of Hyderabad, Krishna said something similar and I said I liked the Irani cafes.

I liked that version of the HLF best because I found my profile right next to Gulzar's in their booklet. Last year I was in conversation with India's most prolific and versatile writer Anita Nair but somehow my profile went missing in that booklet - a sign of things to come. This year I thought I'd be missing from the venue itself (because no one invited me and it'd be terribly festival-junkieish if I insisted on going especially as I knew very few and enjoyed the company of fewer) until Vijay called and asked me to converse with Vamsi. (I think this is what happens when you don't publish books often enough.)

The venues are in the middle of the town - Road No 8 - were easily accessible which is a plus. I liked the main venue Ashiyana which had the lawns, the hall and the pool side, all wonderful locations for the literary festival. The pool side was the best because it did not need one to climb down steep steps and climb them back up again. I saw some old friends and acquaintances - Jayesh Ranjan, Papa Raju, Sridala, Suryaprakash, Praveen. Vijay and  Giri from the HLF of course as also Surya.

The conversation between Vamsi and me was centered around, unintentionally but quite relevantly, Vamsi's first novel 'The Mythologist' which was about a boy who thought he would make it in movies because he is promised a role and how his life meanders into that of a writer after that does not happen. Films and fiction you see! We spoke about why novels and why not screenplays (is there a persona problem there because one is private and another public), which is easier to write, do we have a screenplay in mind when we write our stories, the purpose of making films and writing novels, what would our take be if a director or producer mutilated our stories, who would play the Mythologist if it was made into a film, would Vamsi visualize his story as a film, how easy it was to write a story about cricket (for me) etc. Some questions about Draupadi and Durga and how they were alike or not, about the writing process, about self-publishing and how to attract publishers and we were done. An impromptu interview by young Chandralekha of St. Francis for their college radio and we were really done. We missed having Krishna's presence and certainly Chitra's - I can't imagine them separately anyway - and could not help wondering how much more fun it would have been if Krishna had been there in the discussion. Also missed having Anita around but she is busy promoting her new book 'Idris' which seems to be getting good press.

I drank some chai (not good) and went home. I returned on Day 2 primarily because Vinod was there and we attended readings from fiction in the afternoon session. I loved Colin Cheong's reading from his book 'Man in the Cupboard' - both content and his reading style - he's brilliant. I must now copy his style. Difficult but. Makarand Paranjpe said that he (and perhaps all writers) write in the hope of being famous and rich.

I moved out again with Vinod and we went to La Makaan where the surly guys at the canteen served us with little interest or love, they epitomize the commercial angle so well, and we ate hot egg bondas and drank some chai (good stuff). Dropped Vinod and went off to the airport to do some picking up duties.

The HLF grew well in the past few years and I liked seeing those milling crowds and all those writers and poets, film makers, publishers and book sellers, readers and young writers around. The venue is superb - can't get better save the parking issues but that's okay. The feel is good and I think the committee can pat itself on its back for a job well done again. Hoping to see bigger and better names, and a growing and vibrant HLF that truly delivers what it set out to - bridge the literary gap between all these.

Will Somebody Please Write Me A Letter?

This is another one I found from an old collection of articles. Still holds good - the write me a letter part.

I can't get over the fact that my family and friends do not remember my postal address anymore. They have all shifted to e mails (and SMSs and Whatsapps and Whatsupps) which do not require any knowledge of postal addresses. Now if the family and friends do not know my whereabouts it may not be such a bad thing after all (I have been trying to lose them for years), but e mails/smss etc have other features that make them a lot worse than the letters that family and friends sent me earlier. Emails and their ilk are curt, rude, come in by the dozen, and often with an attachment that accompanies them like an insolent, unpleasant friend. And the James Bondesque alpha numeric messages do not fool me a bit because I know the senders are not as busy as they make themselves out to be. 

I have nothing against messages getting crisper, but there are a couple of things one must watch out for with great alacrity. One of the great deceptions of this form of communication is the instant personality upgradation that the sender assumes, thanks to typed alpha numeric matter. On e-mail and sms, all senders appear to be well organised,  intelligent and sensitive people which, as we all know, is not the case with 99% of the world. For example, my friend who scrawls like a chicken, has lousy spelling and sends in little after-thoughts on the sides of the letter discovered email/sms and was instantly transformed into a hip guy with a great sense of balance and proportion. Now that’s not my friend at all and anyone who forms an impression of him based on his email/sms better watch out!

And when messages from family, prospective romantic interests, prospective room mates come nicely packaged in email/sms, it gets really difficult to know what you are getting into. I mean it would be disastrous if the mature, perfectionist you were planning to marry turned out to be a giggly, air headed girl. I can't tell you how easily one can get fooled if one is constantly exposed to this kind of a deception.

In sharp contrast, the good old handwritten letters reveal the personality behind the message lucidly. Right from the way letters are begun and ended, empty spaces utilised and even by the way they are glued -handwritten letters provide an honest insight into the writer. For example one can easily make up one's mind whether one wants to live with someone who keeps spilling pickle everytime he writes a letter, or with someone who thinks every tiny space has to be filled with alphabet!

And one can hold letters and hug them and kiss them or tear them up if one so feels like it! With handwritten letters you can express your feelings. It's important you know.

One cannot hold virtual letters and cards or express any feelings because of obvious reasons - they are not made for that kind of an activity. You can send the best of cards to a person but if the person cannot hold it, its pretty much like dreaming. It is like showing a gift in the window and saying 'hey pal that’s for you'. I also don’t care much for messages that say 'hpy b'day 2 u!’, as if the whole day is spent by this wisher sending millions of such messages to the whole world.

Despite handwritten letters being long, boring and sometimes illegible, I realised that I want letters and cards with little PS messages scrawled along in the sides on my birthday. With little impromptu works of art aimed at cheering one up. With a whiff of perfume put discreetly put on it. With all the delicious uncertainty of a wonderful, hot dinner being served up.

I want the pleasure of opening the envelope carefully so I do not tear out even a small part inside. I want to be able to hold the card and open and shut it as many times as I want to read it. And I want to fill in suitcases of such cards and letters and preserve them and read them when I grow old.

I wish people would start writing letters and sending cards the way they used to, sometime (a couple of decades ago) ago. Yes, it’s a little more effort but since we all are either switching channels or surfing the net all day or moaning all the time about how little time we have, we could spare a few moments for this activity. I don’t mind waiting a couple of days more for the cards and the letters to arrive, but please, will someone write me a letter?

I promise to write back right away!
 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Constant Gardener - Movie Review

The Constant Gardener is a movie based on a novel by John Le Carre with the same name an is apparently based on a real life incident. Dan Quayle, a British diplomat discovers that his activist wife Tessa is murdered with her driver. Though the murder is blamed on her colleague Alnold, it is found that he is murdered too.

The soft and withdrawn academic Quayle, who loves his gardening, tries to find out why she was murdered and comes to know that she had been investigating a pharma cartel that was testing drugs fraudulently on the Kenyan population with harmful side effects. The pharma company is ruthless and warns Quayle that he will be eliminated too. Quayle is found dead in the same place that Tessa was found. Though its shown as a suicide it is revealed that it could be a murder but by then enough damage may have been done already. Ralph Fiennes and Raquel Wiesz play the lead roles in this movie. Africa is shown beautifully. The movie is rather slow with the love story popping in flashbacks. Though it's promoted as 'Love at any cost' its really a thriller and that's the angle they should have chosen I felt.

We Are Marshall - Movie Review

Marshall University loses its entire football team in a plane crash - 37 players, coaches, crew totaling over 75 deaths in one incident. Can the college and the town get over the trauma and rebuild the team and heal themselves?

'We are Marshall' is a true story and is listed among the top sports movies of all times. The way the college President is convinced by the surviving members to keep the program going, the way he convinces the football board to allow Marshal to play freshmen, the way the new coach handles his broken team and staff and how they bounce back makes for fine viewing. Mathew McConaughey as the new Coach Jack Lengyel is full of energy and interesting to watch.

A fantastic story and certainly inspiring.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hyderabad - The Aatu Guide To Newcomers

This article is over two decades old - a humourous (or so I thought) take on aatus. Was published in a newspaper called the AP Times which was the refuge for many writers of my type in its short but sweet life. The key was to make everything verbose and increase the number of words to fill in empty spaces in the newspaper.
I don't know if anything about this article holds good now - but I suspect most might. 



 Love them. Hate them. But you can’t avoid the “aatu” when you are in and around Hyderabad. Despite the fact that most destinations of the city are well connected thanks to the diligent and creative work done by our state transport service, the use of the aatu is frequently called for, due to the special nature of some areas and occasions.

Most such areas also sound like somebody made a horrible spelling mistake which is all the more reason for one to hire the services of a discreet aatu.

The above mentioned occasions that require Aatus range from (a) occasions where speed is a major factor (b) occasions where person wishes to remain incognito being in company of gf/bf at public centers (where public wishes to ogle at gf/bf and create an embarrassing situation) (c) occasions where mud on pants is better avoided (d) occasions where 1000 people are already hanging out in the bus shelter in rain or white hot heat and some of them are dying already – and similar situations.

In these cases the friendly buses offer little help and simply shrug and pass over a couple of bystanders. And then the call of “aatu” becomes imperative. We believe that it may serve the newcomer to be prepared to meet this omnipresent band of merrymen and observe some typical responses and situations which involve them.
An “Aatu” is an auto or auto-rickshaws or rickshaws or ricks or shaws, as they are fondly called in other places and languages. In Hyderabad they are called aatus of course! According to Srilatha, a housewife from Dilsukhnagar, summoning aatus is easier said than done in Hyderabad because most aatu drivers (AD’s) tend to stare at you in the bean, spit some paan beside you and carry on with their business of cruising alone (newcomers may mistakenly assume that the business of AD’s would mainly spit paan beside their feet, but then we must assure you that our aatu drivers are driven by different motives).

To be fair and truthful, not all AD’s spit paan and recede from your life. There are some who listen carefully to the call of aatu and come obediently when summoned, but on most occasions it has been found that it is not easy to agree to their view on the service changes to paid unless you undertake a visit to your bank immediately.

Service charges will include in these cases charges for (a) responding to call of aatu (b) providing transport to areas of Bosnian similarities at great peril to AD (d) burdening the aatu beyond prescribed weights by way of carrying your excess baggage which could be your handbag or even the excess flab (d) providing transport at odd hours like 9.30 am and such others.

When you refuse to agree to charges you will find. AD growing leaner and meaner and his vocabulary distinctly hotter causing you to (a) hop into aatu beg for AD’s mercy (b) fork out compensatory charges for engaging him in business talk when the could have been cruising alone like his mates.

The tactics adopted by the AD alias AW (AutoWala), may convey the impression that are in intimidating sort but let me assure you that this is merely a manner of conducting business in the Hyderabad.

As with so many other things in Hyderabad there has evolved a code between the AD and the client which endears the AD to the passenger upon identifying oneself as a Hyderabadi. The code is the key to comfortable aatu travel and it is easily understood once the newcomer reads these insights thrown up by tried and trusted fares in Hyderabad. Once the methodology in understood, the newcomer will find the experience to be one filled with learning and fun.

Poet Joseph in his description of a Hyderasbad Auto, compared it to a firefly – “Aatus in Hyderabad being of yellow bodies and bearing black hoods stand out by themselves on the landscape like fireflies on a clear black night and therefore do not call for the keen eye. But more importantly it is their crazy, weaving path that fascinates the eye preceded only by the purring, squeaky sound”, said he.

Fashion queen Zola in her Aatu(o) blography had revealed how she switched to wearing leather which incidentally because an instant hit in the fashion circles. She says thus: In my struggling days I used to travel I frequently by aatus. After sacrificing many clothes at the altar of the aatu, I realised that for travel by aatu it is advisable to dress in leather clothes and helmet (leather because many sharp part of aatu stick out causing ordinary fabrics to tear and helmet to save top of head from damaging roof rod of aatu),” And so Zola’s leather designs came into the world which are ideal for use in aatus.

To complete the task of picking the ideal aatu. Mr Ramachandran, a retired bank employee known for his keen eye and terrific power of observation feels that “an easy method is to keep a keen eye out for aatus is the following order (a) aatus cruising at 15 kmph alongside curb with AD looking out invitingly for fares (he is desperate for a fare) (b) aatu who has dropped fares in the interiors of residential colony and returning to main road (he is generally in a flexible state of mind having just made enough money to last a couple of generations) (c) aatu waiting to pick up angry bus commuters who were rejected by bus-goers-selection-committee despite (these are stood in bus stop for ages (these are also pliable AD’s and are probably main) (d) aatus waiting in aatu stands (in these cases AD generally picks up loyal childhood companion to ride along with him).

These are three kinds of aatus one must look for in the given order to achieve best results. Do not ever waste energy over aatus parked at following spots (a) outside the Irani cafes (b) outside women’s colleges (unless you are an exceptionally good looking woman) (c) outside cinema theatres (AD probably wishes to too movie) (d) outside railway and bus stations (these are very expensive propositions) (e) aatus where AD has a girlfriend in tow. All the above belong to the don’t –budge – an – inch category an if they do there is a price to pay.

Mr Shahid, a journalist, and his colleague Ms Mallika snickered: “We have noticed with growing mirth that there are some people who insist on looking for a well maintained aatu. This is a myth. There are no well-maintained aatus in Hyderabad. But if you are the choosy kind, merely check for holes on hood, a place to keep your feet on and something solidly fixed inside the rickshaw to hold onto in times of experiencing centripetal and centrifugal forces.”

Upon identifying suitable aatu and an AD with the inclination to do business you may follow the next few steps carefully, compiled by Rohit, a sales executive.

“Never jump into the aatu and then spell out destinations like some people from strange places are wont to do. If you resort to this tactic you will find yourself sitting in a huddle in a corner of there aatu which has since shed all inclination to move anywhere thanks to AD’s predilection for predestined spots. You will then experience the humiliation of having to give up the insides of aatu in full public view amidst loud sniggering from other AD’s.”
“At all times you must bear in mind that AD is a sensitive and proud soul and you may conduct enquiries in the following manner. Walk up respectfully but with quiet dignity into AD’s line of vision which is most likely following the backside of lady walking by. When close enough seek into, in well modulated voice which signifies respect with an underlying authority. Use these exact words as the opening lines always ‘Chalrein kya?’ (meaning are you interested in business?) and wait patiently for reply. If no reply, recede from line of vision and locate next aatu. If AD spits paan at your feet you are in luck. He is interested and he will ask very suspiciously ‘where?’ No offense meant. All AD’s are inherently suspicious by nature. You may then spell out destination.
(to be contd.)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

10 Things That Hyderabad Had

Here is a list of 10 things I could think of which were synonymous with Hyderabad in the 70s and 80s.

1) Double decker buses
Going up and taking the front seat was a huge high. Nice.

2) Trailer buses
Sitting in the back bus was very interesting.

3) Empty parking spaces
We could park anywhere and everywhere without the parking mafia fleecing us.

4) Irani cafes at every corner
Feel like a chai, stop at any corner and you'd find a nice, peaceful joint with nice and peaceful people inside.

5) Apsa
The mango beverage developed by AP government which lasted not too long.

6) Huge hand-painted movie billboards
No printed digital billboards then. All big hoardings were hand painted and well some of them were more dramatic than the others. Some had no resemblance.

7) Tailoring shops
We all had our favorite tailors who stitched our clothes. They had this way of measuring you out which is a unique experience.

8) Cloth stores
We had to buy cloth to get it stitched in cloth stores.

9) Cobblers - Lidcap stalls, we'd get our shoes and chappals regularly repaired, now we throw them away before they are past expiry

10) Soda bandis - The lime soda stuff was awesome

What else?

Leadership Session at Gap Miners


A leadership session for first time managers at Gap Miners.
We discussed what leadership was all about. The general idea was that it was about 'leading' the way to accomplish a given task. At the other extreme, I mentioned that leadership was about bringing out the best in the resources.
 
We discussed how leadership as an attitude helps in performing better.
We discussed how it was best to have the attitude of a leader because then the individual understands the concept of a team and the individual's role in the team better. If we all carried the attitude of a leader we'd be far more purposeful, responsible and result - oriented i.e. we'd perform better.
 
We discussed the qualities of an ideal leader. The team gave 27 attributes. We trimmed it to 6 qualities each - professional and personal attributes. then we ranked them in order of priority.

Professional attributes
1.Goal clarity (clarity of thought) - knowing what the task is and what to achieve 
2. Subject knowledge - knowing the tools/knowledge to achieve it best/most efficiently
3. Decision making - using quality information to make considered decisions that are consistently good
4. Delivery - delivering and exceeding targets on performances, improving work culture and office efficiencies by doing all the 'expected' tasks/jobs well, bringing in a growth oriented and performance oriented attitude in the team
5. Process orientation - knowing the process - job based, personnel based
6. Focus on goal - unwavering focus on goal and its achievement
 
Personal attributes
1.Honest, trustworthy - being open and consistent, fair and just, treating everyone the same
2.Genuine interest in team's growth - genuine interest in team's growth and in individual growth
3.Responsible - taking responsibility for all that happens in the team, performance, morale, inter personal relationships etc
4.Motivating, supporting, approachable - a product of being genuinely interested, of good man management
5.Hard working - being two steps ahead of the team i.e. need to do your work beforehand to lead the team
6. Objective - always remaining objective, get metrics in every way, devise ways to measure

Things to do
1) Rate yourself on each of the above on a  scale of 10. If you are scoring less than 8, you need to work on that.

Remember that you will be judged by your delivery. Apart from delivering on the job, you also have to keep in mind that delivery includes the quantity and quality of all your acts - timing, work ethic, presentation, organization, approach to people and their issues both within and outside the organization.

Please try to consciously improve on these counts. Make small but clear changes. it will make a huge difference to the team members and how they view work. You will also understand that leadership does involve being gentle and tough - like an older sibling or a parent even.

The Usual Suspects - Movie Review

I suspect that I saw this movie before but the sad part is that I never really knew if I did even when it ended. As with most such movies I also did not understand when and what and why it went the way it did but well, if they leave you feeling like they got you in the end, their job is well done.

Five suspects are pulled up for an identification parade. They team up together for a job and one job goes to another until they all die. Almost. Except one guy, Kevin Spacey. The cops go at the investigation in the most ham handed manner ever and the only witness to it all is let off after he cooks up a fine tale including a mythical gangster who is like the devil. He tells his story convincingly enough, gets immunity, walks off and then it strikes the cop who interrogated him that perhaps all the stories he made up were from random lines and names off paper cuttings on the wall. You see, he is the guy who killed them all, the devil himself.

Most improbable this story. Why the cops would let the only witness to a crime where there are over 20 bodies piled up (don't tell me that was a story too) based on one cops judgment beats me. Why I watched this movie a second time beats me. The name sounded good - that's why. In fact these guys apparently first came up with the name (from Casablanca) and then built the story around it. I can understand. For all the hype and stuff, the story is full of holes. Kevin Spacey won the Academy Award for best supporting role for his performance - good as ever. But no more Usual Suspects for me. No sir. No more.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Anjali - Kindness Gets The Vote

I was checking with Anjali on the various attributes that she likes in teachers. 'Do you like teachers who are strict or those who are lenient?' I asked. (I had to explain what lenient meant in a way that I am not sure she understood.) She tried to get her mind around what I was getting at and after some thought she responded.

'I like teachers who are kind,' she said.

This is not the first I heard a child say this. I heard another friend mention the same attribute that their child had also wished for in teachers - kindness. It's interesting to see how children perceive the presence or lack of kindness.

The more I think of it the more kindness appears to be a quality one should aspire for. Thanks Anjali and all you children who voted for kindness.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Thought For The Day - Importance of Feeling Good, Hold Your Passions Close

I realized this the other day when I played cricket after a long while. Bowling off two paces was nothing to write home about but the very fact that I could bowl, do one of the things I love the most, gave me such a high that I feel empowered to do anything now. Why did I stop playing despite my injury? Could I not have batted at least?

So with music. I love playing my own music and losing myself, singing along. I did a correction the other day and it was a fun evening in every way. Travel, friends, reading, cinema, laughter - there are several things that make me feel good and I wonder why I do not indulge myself more often. In fact I was reading somewhere that one of the great causes of happiness is planning to travel - planning mind you, not actually travelling. Apparently the very fact that you plan a holiday makes you feel good. So with life I guess. You need not really play great - but the very fact that you played could make you feel good.

Go then and indulge in your passion - even if it's just a little. If you find your life dipping a bit on the energy and fun side I suggest you look back and check out whether you are in touch with your passions. If not, stay in touch. Get that old dong out, the old movie, go on that small outing, play that game, meet that gang that makes you laugh...it can put a whole new perspective back into your life.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Albert Camus - The Outsider

I re-read this classic again and as with the others I could look at this with new eyes. The story starts with a bang. 'Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday. I don't know.' We can see that the protagonist Meursalt is very objective about life and will report it like it is.
Penguin, 118 p
 He does not feel more than he feels and remains true to that. So he does not show any extra emotion than is required on the passing away of his mother, not even bothering to look at her one final time. He goes back to his girlfriend who asks him to marry her and he says he will. But when she asks him if he loves her he says he does not know. When she asks him if he will agree to any other girl, he says he might. Such is the stuff he is made of. Not capable of deceit or any subterfuge. Now when Meursault gets involved in a murder - he shoots an Arab that his friend, the degenerate Raymond gets into a scuffle with, quite by mistake (because the sun got into his eyes!) - his life is examined and its found that he is not normal. i.e., he shows no false remorse or regret - he is true and matter-of-fact about the whole thing including his sentence to death.

Mersault is a character most writers think of creating sometime or the other because he is so deceptively simple and therefore difficult. He is honest, cannot lie, doe snot fall into patterns and therefore the outsider. The neighbor's relationship with his dog, the girlfriend Marie and her love for him, his unusual relationship with Raymond are all interesting and riveting. I loved reading 'The Outsider' again. (It is originally called 'The Stranger' and in some versions 'The Outsider'.)

Albert Camus (1913-1960), is of Algerian-French descent (this book is set somewhere near Algiers) and was the second youngest recipient of the Nobel prize. He died in a car accident along with his publisher.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

21 Powerful Affirmations

Here is a list of 21 powerful affirmations. Have fun.
 
1) Prosperity is my divine right.
2) Life is simple and easy.
3) My work is deeply fulfilling
4) I am open and receptive to new avenues of income.
5) I love and approve of myself.
6) As I say 'Yes' to life, Life says 'Yes' to me.
7) I love to exercise.
8) I open new doors to Life.
9) I deserve the best and I accept the best now.
10) I turn every experience into an opportunity.
11) I am flexible and flowing.
12) Every thought I think is creating my future.
13) I manage my finances with love.
14) I claim my own power and I lovingly create my own reality.
15) Life supports me.
16) My body is flexible.
17) I express my creativity.
18) Everything I touch is a success.
19) I release all fears and doubts.
20) My healing is already in process.
21) My future is glorious.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Confucius On Leadership - John Adair

John Adair is an expert of leadership training and is among the world's top forty people  who have contributed to the development of management practice. In this book he tries to understand and explain leadership through the sayings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. These sayings are found in the 'Analects' written down by his disciples based on their discussions with the philosopher - Confucius himself never wrote any book.
Pan Macmillan, 174 p, Rs. 299

The book deals with the generic role of the leader in one part and some of the qualities necessary in leaders in the second part. In this blog apart from reviewing the book, I will pick and choose all the wonderful quotations and proverbs that he has quoted which contain a wealth of wisdom.

Firstly Adair dwells on what leadership is all about. He explains the model of the three sets of need that are present in all working groups and organizations -  the task, the team and the individual. They are all interrelated of course.

Leadership and clarity go hand in hand he avers, at the very beginning.

In China, a leader (a highly specific role), he mentions, was called the vessel. (I liked that. One who contains the energies of the group.)

Also he dwells on the functions of a leader while getting the group to fulfil its task - defining the aim, planning, controlling, evaluating, supporting and encouraging.

Of humility

It gives them life yet claims no possession
It benefits them yet exacts no gratitude
It is the steward yet exercises no authority

Apt for great leaders!

Or the best quote I have ever heard on leadership by Lao Tzu

The best of all rulers is but a shadowy presence to his subjects
Next best is the ruler they love and praise
Next comes one they fear
Next comes one with whom they (despise or) take liberties
Fail to respect and trust people, they will fail to show respect and trust
The great ruler talks but little
When his task is accomplished and his work done
The people all say, 'It happened to us naturally'.

Wonderful stuff.

What is leadership?
Leadership, and I believe this too, is about showing the way. That in itself is a huge task. Most follow when the path is clear.

Roles
Roles are about expectations - performing what you are expected to do. If everyone is clear about their roles and act in accordance there will be harmony.

3 levels of leadership and Good leadership
Leadership responsibility is at three levels - team, operational and strategic. Leading is about showing the way and taking the team with you. And a good leader is one whom people will follow through thick and thin.

How to be a great leader
To be a great leader one must lead from the front - you cannot expect others to go where you are unwilling to go. The leader must lead by example because most follow the leaders actions blindly. The leader is the teacher too and needs to operate with patience and optimism and a long term perspective. Interestingly Adair says, leading from the front attracts love which is true power.

As leaders one must believe that humans tend to do good - which in itself shows that leaders need to deal in hope.

Socrates opined that Leadership should be given to those who have the ability to lead. Which implies, one should know the business.

On inspiring leadership
In Xenophon, Socrates's disciples words on inspiring leadership -
" ...inspiring leadership is about being able to make his soldiers feel that they must follow him through fire and in any adventure..."

"...some rowing masters can say and do the right thing and raise the men's spirits and make them work with a will. Other rowing masers are so lacking in this ability that it takes them twice the time to finish the voyage. Here they land bathed in sweat, with mutual congratulations, master and oarsmen. There, they arrive with dry skin; they hate their master and he hates them."

Cicero says
'...the man who commands efficiently must have obeyed others in the past, and the man who obeys dutifully is worthy of someday being a commander.'

'..the leader should be exemplary in his conduct, that by his manner he may show the way of life to his subjects...' - Pope Gregory the Great

ACHIEVING THE TASK
Leaders should be action-oriented men or the doers.

'He puts his words into action before allowing his words to follow his action.' 

A leader should be ashamed if his word outstripped his deed.

How do we achieve a task?
Have a purpose (ultimate end). Break it up into aims (open ended directional goals), broken into goals(closed end goals). Break it into objectives or targets (specific, concrete, time bound). Break it up further into steps (very definite things you can do to achieve objectives).

Planning and Execution
A good leader must be able to plan carefully and also be able to execute plans. Flexibility is essential in both planning and execution. A good leader should aspire to be both determined and tenacious when it comes to achieving ends, while remaining infinitely flexible over means.

Finish the Job
Though the journey must be broken into steps - both the first step and the last step are important. It is about finishing the job.

'If anyone were to employ me,in a year's time I would have bought things to a satisfactory state, and after three years I should have results to show for it.'

Don't think too much. Plan enough and move on.

BUILDING THE TEAM
"When people are of one mind and heart, they can move Mount Tai"- proverb.

Combination is important
Only a selection of well-matched group of animals produces team work that is effective and efficient.

Get them together
When spiders unite they can tie up a lion. -Ethiopian proverb

Common good outside us
Once we are bound together to our brothers by a common good that is outside us, then we can breathe. Experience teaches us that love is not to gaze at one another but to gaze in the same direction. There is no comradeship except through unity on the same rope, climbing towards the same peak. - Antoine de Saint Exupery

Importance of a good leader
Ten good soldiers wisely led will beat a hundred without a head. - Euripedes

Synergy and interdependence
The best of all teams are interdependent. They function best with a good leader, but they can function well for a time without one.

Combining individual strengths and pulling power in a common effort. Greater synergy is achieved when complementary skills, abilities and strengths are blended together. Acceptance of a common aim, agreement of operational rules and harmony of spirit is essential. A feeling of devotion to group and pride in belonging to it. Belonging to a team is a source of mutual strength and support.

DEVELOPING THE INDIVIDUAL

The wise leader meets the individual needs just as a parent does for his children.

Building loyalty
Sun Tzu - "Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys, look on them as your beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death."

You have to demonstrate that each individual matters.

Evidence of trust begets trust, and love is reciprocated by love - Plutarch

Bringing out the best in them
Loving another person means that you want to bring out the best in them. Delegate wisely, giving juniors bigger roles and listening to them, makes them feel part of the group.

Be approachable
Don't appear to others in a way that deters them from offering you their opinions. Don't just go through the motions, genuinely listen to what others have to say and then weigh it.

To be able yet to ask the advise of those who are not able. to have many talents yet to ask the advise of those who have few. to have yet to appear to want. to be full yet to appear empty. to be transgressed against yet not mind. - Tseng-Tzu on Confucius's approach to leadership

Other-centred
The right attitude for a leader is to be other-centred, not self-centered.

Stop being anxious about what others think about you and apply yourself to being worthy of their appreciation. Sharpen your scythe, be ready to lead.

Judging people
Judge people by their deeds and not words. But for the present only.

In his errors a man is true to his type. Observe the errors and you will know the man.

Certainly promote those who deserve to be promoted. In the rest don't fear, real talent will shine through.

All are equal to the leader. Listen to individuals. When you consult groups before a decision they will be more enthusiastic. Know individuals well.

SOME QUALITIES OF LEADERS
Some of the qualities necessary in leaders - Enthusiasm, Integrity, Being tough and demanding but fair, Warmth and Humility.

Enthusiasm 
To be fond of something is better than merely to know it, and to find joy in it is better than merely to be fond of it. - Confucius

Good leaders are whole hearted, never give up, never show even when they are tired, never think of retiring.

Over daily routine do not show weariness and when there is action to be taken, give your best.

Give your purpose enthusiasm, hope, make it interesting. Infuse your enthusiasm in others. Encourage others. Never let others rob your enthusiasm.

Integrity
It's a must. A good leader also needs practical wisdom and moral courage. Integrity means wholeness, unity.

It is happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust. - Samuel Johnson

When the shepherd is corrupt so is his flock. - Moorish proverb.

If you have lost the confidence of your team you must examine where you have resorted to dishonesty, duplicity, deceit, lying, dissimulation, manipulation.

Misleaders are blind shepherds. Is honesty the policy of your nation or your organization?

Being tough and demanding yet fair

The best leader is easy to serve but difficult to please.

The authority of position, of knowledge and of charisma - three types of authority.

King becoming graces - justice, integrity, temperance, stableness, generosity, perseverance, mercy, humility, devotion, patience, courage, fortitude.

If one sets strict standards for oneself and makes allowances for others when making demands on them, one will stay clear of ill will.

Be economical with praise - like gold and diamonds it owes it value to scarcity.

The master is cordial yet stern, awe-inspiring yet not fierce, and respectful yet at ease.

The chief has no relatives. - Tsonga people of Africa

By asking the impossible you get the best possible - Italian proverb

Leaders should not set out to be popular. Demanding through, the leader always respects the other. The other is always free to leave.

Don't compromise your standards or values. Demand the very best from your team and reward those who give it.

Justice is the first expression of love.

Warmth
The one nearest the enemy is the real leader.

A good leader will exemplify qualities such as goodness, kindness, humanness and compassion.

You can tell what type of a person someone is by the way they treat strangers.

People know that they are loved.

I liked the quote from John Hunt.
"Leadership should mean giving a lead by example, even without a position of authority. True leadership ...displayed by men who have no high position or reputation at stake, but with much to lose in terms of security, in comradeship and convenience, who stand up for what they know, from their conscience to be right."

From a lecture he gave titled 'Leadership in The Modern Age'.
'Leadership is best described as the art of inspiring others to give their best, and the courage to use this art. ..demands that the leader operates from within the group and not above it, that in setting a good example he does not steal the initiative of others; in other words, he takes his full share - but no more than his share of the job at hand.'

'.. implies a willingness not merely to decentralize or apportion the burden, but an ability to persuade each member of the group that is an equally essential job and that each has his liberty as well as responsibility to develop that part of a whole.'

...it is the art of combining the efforts of everyone to produce a combined result. No place for arrogance."
To say you know when you know, and to say you do not when you do not, that is knowledge.

Humility
It brings in a lifelong learning, willingness to accept failures.

You are not born a leader, you become one. - African proverb

This is highly evolved form of leadership that Confucius talks about and one that leaders must aspire for. It is one that talks of leaders with vision, compassion, genuine love and where one talks of greater good unlike Machiavelli's clinging to power by crook. It's an easy read but one that must be dipped into once in a while. It reinforced many of my beliefs about leadership.