Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Interview - Mrs. Sreedevi Varma, Flow With Life, Live a Life of Giving

80 years of life packs enough to warrant an interview immediately and the first thing I thought of when I heard that Nisha's mom was about to turn 80 in a couple of weeks was that I needed to get her views on some of the things she has experienced. She has lived pre-Independence, has seen India get its freedom, has seen India grow as a sovereign entity, seen the era of radios, of transistors, of televisions, of emergency, of satellite TV, of mobiles, of internet. Aunty does not look 80 and appears to be freer, happier than most younger ones. When I proposed an interview she shy smiled shyly and said that she has nothing really to share. But she was kind enough to humour me, and I am grateful for that.

Q. 80 years is a long time. What are the impressions you carry?
A. I was born in Kerala in 1934, in a village called Kannambra in Palghat district. I was born into a joint family, a Nair family. Our family were landlords. We were 6 children and I was the 5th.

When I was 6 years old I moved to Trichur and started going to school at Vivekodayam school. I was always encouraged to study and I enjoyed my years at school. Then we moved to Cochin in my 6th class and I studied in Cochin Girls school and later at St. Theresa's College. I did my B.A. Economics from Maharaja's College. After my education however I was not encouraged to take up any jobs nor was I in a hurry to work. There was no culture of women working those days. The next thing was my marriage and I married into the royal Varma family from Cochin.

My husband had a job in the Singareni Collieries and I came to Kothagudem in Andhra Pradesh. The initial years were tough since I did not know the local language Telugu, but we had many friends from Kerala and other parts of the country. While there, my three daughters Asha, Meera and Nisha were born,

Q. It was pretty progressive of your father to encourage you to study wasn't it?
A. He was an incredible man. He lived to be 96 years. But how he lived so healthy and strong for all those years is an interesting story. It was mainly because of his habits and discipline. He'd get up at 4 in the morning, have his bath at 630, breakfast at 730, read the newspaper, attend to work, buttermilk at 10, lunch at 12, nap, tea at 3, buttermilk at 5, dinner at 730 and off to bed by 9. I was very young but I remember his routine and the discipline.

There was a large age gap between me and my older sister, and it was she who I grew up with. She brought me up like her own daughter. So some part of the credit goes to her as well.

Q. How were those days without gadgets? Any particular memories of life then?
A. Those days there was not even electricity in Trichur. We were happy with the Petromax lanterns. Of course, no television and mobile, so a lot of time with family and friends.

Q. What has been your life philosophy?
A. That there will always be changes. We need to adjust to the flow. Otherwise life will be difficult. Adjust. Be empathetic. We were brought up in a broadminded environment, got an education.

Q. How do you look at life now? How do you cope with it? With all these changes?
A. Thank god that my health is good. I do kriya everyday. Go for an evening walk. Cook, something that I enjoy. Keep myself busy and active.

Q. What are the lessons you learned form life?
A. We should be sincere to others. Honest. God fearing. Don't expect from others. Always give. Be open minded.

Q. What is important to a person to deal with life successfully? If you could rank them.
A. Character. Relationships. Knowledge. Money.

Q. What do you think is the purpose of life?
A. To do things. To make others happy.

Q. Do you have any regrets? That you could have certain things differently?
A. No. Nothing at all.

Q. Your happiest moments?
A. When Asha, my oldest daughter, she got her Ph.D. When I got my own degree. Nisha's marriage. Meera's marriage. I am happy that I have 2 nice sons-in-law.

Q. Any other happy memories?
A. We had some fun times in Kothagudem and Bellampally. The club was a great getaway. Playing shuttle.Cards.Swimming. I remember my husband playing tennis. He was a sporty man.

Q. Who were the people who impacted your life?
A. Dr. Rama Varma, my husband's nephew. His dedication to his uncle was amazing. My husband. My father. They were the other two people I can think of.

Q. Your favorite books?
A. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee's books, Tagore and Shakespeare.

Q. Music?
A. I enjoy listening to Vasanta Kumari and Lata Mangeshkar. I enjoy Carnatic music. I studied music for 8 years with Bhagavathar Narayanaswany and Mani Bhagavathar.

Q. Your passions in life?
A. Cooking, stitching (embroidery) and music.

Q. What are the three most amazing places you have seen?
A. Coming out of Kerala was itself a huge thing and opened up a new world for me. Bangalore is a place I like. I also liked the USA. It's so clean and beautiful and nice. However I do not like their culture. People stand in the queue and kiss openly. It was rather awkward. But otherwise USA is a nice place too.

Q. Any message to your grandchildren?
A. Obey your elders. Be honest. Study well.

As with my other interviews with those who have lived to be 80, Aunty's clarity of thought got me. Not for one moment did Aunty think before she gave her answers. She spoke honestly and every now and then when she spoke of her childhood, I could get a glimpse of the child she must have been. Hers is an uncomplicated world as she makes the best of it, lives happily and contentedly with those around her. There is an overwhelming amount of gratitude in her voice as she speaks of her older sister and how she brought her up, her father and his broadminded ways and her husband who she admires greatly for his brave and positive outlook to life. The interview went much longer than what is reported as Aunty reminisced stories and we finally had to wind up as lunch time drew closer. I identify with her view of life, of going with the flow and more importantly of living a life of giving. Aunty is one who practices what she preaches and there was much joy in her voice as she told me of her plans for the next couple of months - her 80th birthday celebrations, her visits to Kannambra for some occasion, meeting other relatives etc. Wonderful stuff and thank you Aunty for giving me the time and sharing your life with me.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Eat That Frog - Brian Tracy

After your have kissed the frog now eat it, says Brian Tracy. But much as the idea may seem repelling, the content of the book is not. Here he gives 21 sutras that will help make work much more productive. No doubts about it.

Brian starts by talking of the power of written goals (glad he did) and, the need to ask if one does not know how to go about things. Let us now get to the meat of the matter.

1) Clarity of goal
It is the most important thing. Know what you want, where you are going. His secret formula is - decide, write, set deadline, list, plan, act, monitor everyday. On your goal that is.

2) Plan in advance everyday
List unaccomplished tasks for the next day, apply the rule of 10/90 mts i.e. 10 % of the time spent planning saves 90% time while doing it. Do tasks by priority.

3) Use the Pareto principle
The 80/20 rule, the Vital few versus  the Trivial many
Writ down the 20% vital few, do not succumb to temptation to work on the 80%
List the 20/80, do the 20 first.

4) Consider the consequences
Long term perspective helps. Delay gratification. Sacrifice short term. Pick tasks that move you forward

3 Questions for productivity -
What are the high value activities?
What can I and only i do that if done well will make a real difference?
What is the most valuable use of my time right now?
Which one project if I did well would have the greatest positive consequence in my work and my personal life?

5) Practice creative procrastination
Don't bother yourself with small tasks

6) Use the ABCDE method
Make a list of all jobs on paper.
Categorise them into A,B,C,D,E. Focus on the most important.
Should versus Must.

6) Focus on Key Result Areas
Why am I here?
Break down job into 5- 7 key result areas. Must get completely responsible, accountable.

Big 7 in management - planning, staffing, delegating, supervising, measuring and reporting
Clarity if important. Grade yourself on each KRA.
Poor performance produces procrastination.
As yourself - What one skill if I developed and did it in excellent fashion, would have the greatest effect on my career?
Become excellent in your key results.

7) Apply the Law of 3
Identify 3 core tasks. List everything you did over a course of a week or a month.
If you could do only one thing which could contribute the greatest value to your company what would that be?

90% value comes from the 3 tasks. Everything else is either a support task or a complimentary task. that can be delegated or downsized.

Double your contribution, double your pay - there's a nice story of one of Brian's participants being a live example and how she achieved a double of salary and free time by practising this rule.

Quick list method - 3 most important goals of your life.
30 seconds, 3 - career, health, relationships, social, professional

I like what he said about work. - Work all the time you work. Head down. Start early. Work late.

8) Prepare thoroughly before you begin
Make comfortable work space. Be prepared in advance.
Get on the job. Start work.
Launch forward. Your dreams.Get 80% right."You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."
Behave like a pro!

10) Take it one barrel at a time
One step at a time.
A cute Sahara desert story. 500 miles the desert is crossed on the basis of two barrels, one ahead and one behind, where you are never too far away.

11) Upgrade your skills
Feeling of inadequacy, lack of confidence come from inability in key area.
Upgrade. Get better at key tasks.
3 steps to mastery - read, courses, seminars on key skills
Listen to audios in car

12) Leverage your special talents
USP - What are you good at? Do well? Easily?
What you got compliments for?

13) Identify Key Constraints
What's holding you back? Identify the limiting factor?
80% are internal factors. 20% are external.

14) Put Pressure On Yourself
Lead the field, create the imaginary deadlines. Put pressure on yourself to achieve.

15) Maximise your personal pace
Overwork is underproductive. Find your pace. Sleep. Take vacations. Keep Sunday off to rejuvenate. Guard physical health.
Ask yourself
What should I do more of?
What should I do less of?
What should I start doing?
What should I stop doing?

16) Motivate yourself into action
Be your own cheerleader, coach yourself.
be on top of your game.
Have a positive mental attitude.
Optimistic people are more effective. Look for good, seek lessons in setbacks, look for solutions in every problem, think and talk about goals continuously.

17) Get out of technical time sinks
Tech addicts. 23 hours saved.
Refuse to be a slave. Zones of silence. Turn off devices for a full day.

18) Slice and dice the task
Close things. Swiss cheese your tasks.

19) Create large chunks of time
Schedule chunks of time. Make every minute count.

20) Develop a sense of urgency
Action orientation is the key. Develop a sense of urgency. Bring a sense of momentum.

21) Single handle every task
Don't waste time. Non-stop work. Self-discipline, self-mastery. self-control.
Set high priority tasks and persist until it is 100% done. Become a superior person.

The book makes tremendous sense. Now to get to the priority works. I seem to be stuck in the 80%.

The Eternal Dilemma - The Candidate or the Party?

There is something wrong here. I am always caught in this dilemma - do I vote for the candidate or do I vote for the party?

In most cases if the candidate is good, then the party does not give me confidence at either state or even national level. On the other hand if the party is perceived as good because of its national leaders, then the local candidates do not inspire any trust.

For the past few elections I have gone to vote with this dilemma in mind and I know for sure that I voted for candidates and parties that lost. And maybe rightly so because for all their intentions they do not have the muscle nor momentum. The others had the momentum but lost all moral credibility.

How does one deal with this system of voting where let's say I have a good local candidate but belongs to an utterly spineless party that I do not wish to see in power at the top? So I vote for the candidate who is a hooligan and a landgrabber who represents a party that is promising a change but I know that this local representative of mine will not give two hoots for development here?

The more I see it the more local our interests should lie. If we all pick the right candidates here and hold them responsible for local problems, only then do we have a system where we have a bunch of leaders who are into development, who are for the people, representing us at the very top of policy making. How then are all the criminals and social rejects finding their way into the parliament? How is it that we are faced with a situation when we have almost no choice, save one half-decent candidate, from Prime Minister?

Someone find a way out of this please, this is just not working.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Arbitrage - Movie Review

This was a taut thriller. Hedge fund owner trying to sell his company is being thwarted by the buyer who is being elusive. He returns to his family on his birthday and then slinks off to meet his rather demanding mistress. Out on a late night spin he falls asleep at the wheel and crashes the car. Girlfriend is dead which is what he does not want because it will bring his whole life apart - it will crash his family, his business and his deal. As he walks into the woods in a daze the car goes up in flames. He hitches a ride from a known source, untraceable and tries to act normal. He has however suffered bruises and some internal bruising.

How Miller handles the extreme pressure of trying to save his company and sell it off to repay the loans made to cover a stupid investment (of 412 million without authorization? Come on!) is the rest of the story. As he tries to cover and and does it well using all his experience, he somehow finds out that it is not always about winning. There is much he loses though it appears that he has won - the respect of his family, his friends.

It is an interesting movie and one that opens up much perspective thanks to its many layers. Richard Gere is brilliant and the hardnosed tycoon who will do anything to win. He is fantastic in some scenes, the one where he negotiates the deal with the buyer for instance. Tim Roth as the cop cannot be ignored. Watch it if you have not. You won't get bored for a minute.

Frozen - Movie Review

Promised to watch this movie with Anjali and so we did. Brilliant animation. Young princesses, Elsa and Anna, are destined to live in seclusion because Elsa has this power of turning everything into ice, a power that she can also use for good things if she can get over her fear. The two princesses grow up in seclusion from each other, with Elsa's secret remaining with her. The parents die and when Elsa is to be coronated the Queen of Arundelle, the doors of the palace are thrown open. The two princesses see the world for the first time - Anna loves it, Elsa fears it. But Anna falls in love with Hans, a Prince from a neighbouring country. Elsa, now the Queen, does not permit their engagement. In the melee, Elsa's protective gloves come off and her power causes things to freeze over.

Elsa is hounded out of the palace by the people as they see her powers as magical and she retreats deep into the North. Anna chases her to undo the damage she has done. She leaves Hans in charge of Arundelle. On the way she meets Olaf the snowman and Kristoff, an ordinary ice-seller. Together they try to save Elsa and their kingdom from Hans who turns traitor. But can Anna survive her icy heart? Will she find the act of true love that can cure her? Hang on and watch this slippery, slidy show that dazzles. Nice!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Kiss That Frog, 12 Great Ways to Turn Negatives Into Positives In Your Life and Work - Brian Tracy and Christina Tracy Steen

Brian Tracy brings in the analogy of the Princess who kisses a frog and gets a Prince and everlasting happiness. He dwells on the key moment in this book - when she has to make up her mind to kiss the frog - and says that is what we all must all do if we wish to improve our lives. He first figures out that most of us have rather low opinions of ourselves and rightly so and gives us 7 truths to first hold on to.
Collins Business, 168 p, 

1) The 7 Truths About You
  • You're good and excellent
  • You're important
  • You have unlimited potential 
  • You can create your world by your thought
  • You're free to choose your thought
  • You have great destiny
  • You have no limits 
Nice. But we need to start believing those.

Brian dwells a bit on Michelangelo's famous sculpture David and how he always passed that slab of marble lying by the road until one day he got the idea. Then all he did was chip away all that was not David and voila, David appeared out of the rock. So why is this being mentioned here - we are all blocks of marble with Davids inside.

2) Imagine Your Handsome Prince
Fully functional people are  genuinely happy, at peace with the world and themselves, self-confident, positive, personable, relaxed, feeling that they are fulfilling their full potential, grateful, energised, feel terrific. Brian urges us to imagine a magic wand that gives us the power to design our perfect futures - income, family, relationships, health, financial etc. Imagine the perfect world and participate in your life.

3) Look your frog in the face
Face the facts. Be realistic. Deal with reality.
Analyse the situation.
  • What exactly happened?
  • How did it happen?
  • What can be done?
  • What actions will we take now?
Worry Buster
  • Define the situation clearly
  • Look at worst possible outcome
  • Accept it
  • Seek to improve situation 
4) Clear the Ugly Frogs
These are  negative emotions which you must replace with positive ones. Take control of your mind.
"You feel happy to the degree to which you feel in control of your life." Program your mind to be optimistic he says. Use the power of thoughtfulness.
The Law of substitution - says that the mind can deal with only one thought at a time. So each time you are aware of a negative thought replace with a positive thought.
Reframe situations to see the good in them and how they have been beneficial to you and turn the entire world to your side.

5) Drain the swamp
Brian deals with the roots of emotions - justification, identification, hypersensitivity and judgementalism. He feels anger is the core of all negative emotions and leads to blame.
The cure for this - Say 'I am responsible'. Take responsibility for your life. Control your responses.

6) Change the water in your pond
Establish new thought patterns. Here he comes with good and solid prescriptions.
1) Positive affirmations. The rule to make positive affirmations are the 3 Ps (PPP) - Present, Personal, Positive i.e make affirmations in the present tense, make them personal and make them positive.

2) Visualisation - I cannot say how important this one is. Visualisation needs to be Vivid, Intense, seen for a length of time (Duration), and seen often (Frequency). A very powerful tool.

3) Rapid Programming Technique - Use the formula of Verbalise,, Emotionalise, Realise to create the world you want.
For any event you are worried about there is nothing like being prepared. Also he says that there is much power is saying No. When there is a choice go for no.

7) Look for  Lessons
Never complain,, Never explain,
Change your vocabulary to say the right words, to look at the bright side, to adopt zero based thinking, think positively and constructively
Or simply - no regrets, no blame, accept life, think future

8) Leap forward confidently
Keep away from destructive criticism. Do not fear failure, do not fear losing. Leap away.
Brian asks two questions that can give perspective here.

Q1. If you had all the money in the world, what would you do? What would you stop doing? What would you start doing?

Q2. What one great thing would you dare to dream of if you knew you could not fail?

9) Kiss Your Ugly frogs good bye
These are guilt, manipulation and control. Avoid the victim language.
Free yourself from guilt by using these steps.
1) Never criticise yourself
2) Don't criticise anyone
3) Refuse to use guilt on others
4) Refuse to get manipulated by guilt

10) Expect the best from your frogs
Live and learn. Get rid of envy and resentment. Admire instead of envy.

11) Let go of the painful frogs
Let go, forgive
85% of your problems revolve around relationships
Forgive these four groups - parents, others, intimate relations and yourself
Go forth and apologise.

12) 7 Keys to a Positive Personality
  • Positive self talk
  • Positive visualisation
  • Positive people
  • Positive mental food
  • Positive training and development
  • Positive health habits
  • Positive expectations 
In a nut shell the book is about identifying the frogs in your life (negative people and negative emotions), accept that you're a great person, confront negative situations, take responsibility, don't criticise, condemn, blame, accept and like yourself as you are, free yourself from guilt, look for something good in all problems, seek valuable lessons in setbacks and obstacles, treat every person as if she was the most important person in the world, practice the 7 steps.

There is enough content and more to make a difference to your life. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Travel - Bangalore, Mysore and Srirangapatnam

It's been a while since I drove long. So I was wary, I wonder why. Early start on the 15th and we, Shobhs and Anjali and I, speeded off to Bangalore and reached same by 3 in the afternoon. It was the day of Visu and we were treated to sadyam, a fine meal, by Nisha and friends. Some relaxation later, we went and got some DVDs and watched the atrocious Hasee to Phasee. Next morning got me moving about a bit more but I noticed that Rajesh's book shelf was loaded so I decided to help myself - Habit, Eat the Frog, Kiss the Frog, Dhirubhaiism, Art of Cricket etc were all read up one after another interspersed by a couple more movies.
Cubbon Park
On the 18th I went and saw the Yanni concert. On the 19th morning we took off to Mysore and reached the place by 12. Had a bit of a lunch at Aruna's Dad's place and headed off to the Mysore palace. I saw this when I was a kid and now I got the full impact. Marvellous structure. We hired a guide for 350 bucks and he took us through all sorts of shortcuts and got us out. It was a long weekend and there was a huge crowd.
Maharaja Palace, Mysore
We also dropped in at the cute little Railway museum and checked out the Maharani's saloon etc. Also a ride on a toy train.
Maharani saloon and the Maharani
At night we checked out the palace again - this time fully lit up. There was a sound and light show in Kannada which I could not fully get. But when the lights came on, it was well worth the wait.
Palace at night
Next morning we headed up the Chamundi hills, saw the wonderful Nandi and then went to the much recommended Mysore zoo.
Nandi at Chamundi Hills
This is a small zoo but well kept and well designed. Of course it does make you feel rather sad to see the animals all alone in their enclosures and Anjali wondered how they must be feeling away from families. Tragic stuff. To ease our consciences we bought some expensive stuffed toys and returned.
Chamundi temple
On the way back I stopped at Srirangapatnam and we saw the tomb of Tipu Sultan, next to the tomb of Hyder Ali (his father) and his mother. I was not too keen on the other sights in  Srirangapatnam and we headed out, picked some vadas in Maddur and zoomed back to Bengaluru.
Tipu Sultan's tomb at Srirangapatnam
Travelling on the Bangalore-Hyderabad highway, you shell out over 600 bucks for toll which is about a buck a km which is fine. All the culverts are at some angle to the road and I wonder why. Also stick to the centre of the road because I noticed a couple of bikes and people stepping out from behind the bushes on the median quite casually. One bike almost did us in. Suicidal chaps. Watch out for the culverts - bad design. I suspect that the bus accident which claimed many lives was due to one of these shaky designs.

Bangalore- Mysore has no toll but the road is full of traffic and speedbreakers. You'll never be able to hit the gas on that road. Felt sad I could not go to Coorg, but next time.

Revanche - Movie Review

Sounds like revenge- the word I mean. And its a plot of vengeance so it must be. I have had this movie for a long time and mindlessly slipped it in and good credit to the movie that it held me till 1 pm at night. Enter the movie in a brothel where there is a prostitute and a keeper of prostitutes of sorts. These two fall in love which is not a good thing because the brothel owner will have his own plans. Anyway a few steamy scenes onwards, we realise the the man or the guard of the prostitutes has made a plan to help the girl escape. He does and also comes up with an idea of robbing the local bank so they can live happily ever after.

Shift scene to a young cop who is not able to conceive a child and not been able to shoot straight in his shooting classes. (Some connection there.) Anyway his wife keeps company to an old man who lives on a farm all by himself and drives him to church etc. She is a bored housewife.

Bank robbery is botched because young prostitute wants to go along to see the action. Unfortunately for her the young cop lands up and finds the whole thing very suspicious, her accent and all. Before long the robber arrives, points a gun at the officer and makes away, girl, cash and all, not knowing that the cop has bad shooting skills. The cop aims for the tyres and hits the girl's head. She dies.

The guard (he is a convict) escapes to his grandpa's house and is completely distraught at the death of the girl. The cop is psychologically shattered at the accidental death. Turns out that the old man is the convict's grandfather so we have the cop's nosy wife pottering around the house where the bank robber is. Anyway robber-guard now plans to kill the cop for vengeance. Wife of cop somehow gets impregnated by the convict-guard (she schemes it all) and in the end makes the connection. He is the bank robber. Her husband killed his girl. He wants vengeance. Anyway her job of getting pregnant done she tells him to buzz off, keeps the secret of his identity safe. All's well and that ends well.

What's the payoff you may ask. Cop gets psyched out for killing the girl. Convict gets a child he fathers but he cannot claim and perhaps the satisfaction at having got his perverse revenge. Cops wife gets everything. Moral of the story. Don't sit in cars when your boyfriend goes to rob banks. But despite me, this movie is made well and I saw it frame by frame without losing any interest. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Jolly LLB - Movie Review

This is a cute little movie with the most perfect casting. Not a dull moment, a racy story and well told. Movie starts with a bang, a crazy car chase. Drunk son of a rich pop drives over pavement dwellers - evoking memories of Sanjeev Nanda's case. Son gets off due to legal loopholes. Enter Jolly LLB a young lawyer form Meerut out to make his mark in Delhi and he files a PIL against the case. How he fights his own demons, greed and finds a way out of the legal mess bu sheer gumption is the rest of the story. But there's not a dull moment mind you.

Arshad Warsi as Jolly LLB is very convincing and good, Boman Irani perfect as the smooth talking big shot lawyer and Saurabh Shukla as the judge is perfect. Amrita Rao plays the love angle. Good job Subhash Kapoor. And those who have not watched it, go watch.

The Art of Cricket - Sir Donald Bradman

I learned much from a Rupa edition of Dennis Lillee's 'The Art of Fast Bowling' when I was a school kid. I learned the cutters and the slower ones straight out of that book and much else. Since then I have been a big fan of providing young cricketers written material which they can use while playing (one reason why I wrote 'The Men Within'. I was more than glad to see that Akshar's collection of books included 'The Art of Cricket' by Don Bradman - a gift from his uncle, and pounced on it.

The Don wrote with great clarity and simplicity and most stuff applies to  young cricketer as well as senior pros. For example when he starts talking about the equipment, he talks of how comfort must be a guiding factor. He talks of building the 'pride of ownership' early in young cricketers (so important) when they buy their equipment. They should have a say in the matter. While picking bats or any other equipment the Don emphasises the importance of 'feel' or 'balance'. Of paramount importance is 'comfort' and 'right size'. He points out that a good cricketer cares for his equipment and pays attention. An eye for detail denotes enthusiasm he says, and rightly so.

Paying attention to keep the straps of pads inside (all batsmen know the danger of being given out caught behind thanks to loose flaps), wearing a cap so the heat does not hamper concentration while batting or fielding, and wearing clothes and equipment so one looks like a cricketer.
'The player who is interested enough and takes care of minute details is the one who is likely to triumph at a critical moment.' 
A truer word has not been spoken of anything that can be done well and all professionals must pay attention to this line.

Batting
While dealing with the art of batting, he talks of timing and judgment, and the importance of standing still. If there are two things one must bear in mind they are to 1) concentrate and 2) watch the ball (from the bowler's hand as he is in the act of delivering the ball).

Once the ball leaves the hand, the ball must be the sole object of your attention. So closely do the best batsmen watch the ball that they see the seam on the ball, some even the stitches on the ball. If you watch closely enough, you see the ball turning in the air.

The Don emphasises practicing with the ball as much as one can. It is important to face one's fears and he advises batsmen to address all the areas of discomfort by practising against those fears. It is necessary he says that one has access to sound coaching where the coach only builds upon what he already has. Though there is an element of top and bottom handedness in every stroke a batsman plays it is not to become the be-and-end of all things. Play instinctive and attacking cricket after having practiced well. The Don feels that the game of cricket is a lot like chess, with moves and counter moves. You must think them out.

The stance is all about comfort. The head must be still as you face the ball. Concentrate on the ball and the rest is easy he says. He should know. Comfort and relaxation are the keys.

The back lift he feels is probably best coming from 2nd slip region though he says each finds his own way. But he does say this - if the batsman is in the correct position at the top of the backlift he cannot go wrong.

To coaches he says 'teach what to do and not how do to it' There are illustrations of defensive shots, attacking shots, off the back and front foot.

Backfoot defence requires a back and across movement. It is vital he says. Master it if you have ambitions. It is like this - weight on the right foot, head over the line and looking down at the ball. Practice it in front of the mirror he says, for hours if necessary.

Forward defence requires you to have the body and head to go forward together, to the pitch of the ball where the front leg is. The elbow-foot-head are in sync, head is well forward and down. Lean into the shot, hit it.

When you have to cut, he says cut hard, don't toy with it.

On drives he discusses the cover drive, off drive, straight drive and on drive. The technique is to lead with the left shoulder (for right handers) lean forward, play as close to the front leg as possible and  and follow through for control. The eyes must always be on the ball.

A positive mental approach says the Don is the only way to score at a reasonable speed. While covering the ways of getting out - bowled, caught, LBW, stumped, run out, hit wicket, handled the ball, obstructing the field, hitting the ball twice - he springs statistics. 59% times he was out caught and 27% times bowled or LBW.

Bowling
Bowling he says is all about perseverance and enthusiasm. It requires practice and hard work. He talks of CB Turner who would get up at 430 am and practice for 60-90 minutes aiming at a single wicket!
The Don advocates having a target and of setting one's mind of being a great bowler. He says that the '..greatest satisfaction any cricketer can have is to achieve a sensational match-winning bowling performance.'
All champion sides have strong bowling attacks says the Don and attack a bowler must to get the batsmen out. The Don emphasises yet again on attention to detail, on planning a field.

As a bowler or a team member, he says loyalty to the captain is essential and he quotes a great as saying 'I don't care a damn for your loyalty when you think I am right. The time I want it is when you think I am wrong.'

A bowlers two great weapons are control over length and direction. he must be a master of deception. The Don says that the run up should be of the exact length for optimum effect. The left shoulder down the pitch for a side on position and at the moment of delivery as in the crack of a whip. He tells bowlers to keep it simple (something that MSD does too).

To practice line and length, he advocates net practice with no batsman. When you bowl make the batsman play every ball. Pitch up with the new ball rather than be short. Observe, watch and learn.

Fast bowlers must develop physique, stamina and be hostile and batter down defences. Again he says attack the stumps with the new ball, give plenty of air and over pitch fr swing. Work on legs and core muscles.

He dwells on off spin and leg spin too.

Running between wickets
The Don emphasises the famous three calls of - Yes, No, Wait. What wonderful communication techniques.
He dwells on backing up, on dragging your bat, on running the first run fast - stuff that most cricketers miss these days even.

Captaincy
He expects the captain to be a man of character, a fighter, who is firm and whose place is secure. He must play to win, be a planner. Much of his work must be done in the dressing room, at nets etc. He must certainly know the rules. One of his greatest strengths would be to anticipate the batsman's weak spot.

Coaching
Don't alter natural skills. He tells cricketers to take practice sessions seriously and fielding practice even more so. Finally he says to the student that the best teacher is yourself - analyse things, work out what suits you, practice and observe.

Selectors
He says that they must have cricket ability, understand psychology. He warms against picking too soon.

Temperament
The Don speaks of responsibility and of keeping emotions under control.

There are chapters on the LBW rule and some others. Its such a wonderful book, so ahead of time, simple in its presentation but full of content and depth. I am glad I got to read it finally. Any cricketer, Akshar you lucky chap, who has this book, must keep referring to it every now and then. It will make new sense to you like all great books do. And like I always say, it applies so much to real life too.

IPL 7 - What Have They Reduced the Poor Umpires To?

I was extremely distressed to see what the IPL has reduced the umpires to. They have contraptions on their heads to record the hings going on around them, they are carrying heavy luggage like porters or sherpas, some bags of sorts over their shoulders, their clothes are fully plastered with logos and stuff and all they may be now asked to do is follow some cheerleading routine to spice up the game.

Umpires are respected figures, like judges. I cannot understand how anyone can command respect on the field when they look like a cock, with a camera for its crown through which the world is watching, carrying a bad like a jholawala out on a protest or even like someone out selling stuff. It's atrocious to see the extent the game is being compromised in the pursuit of money. Where will the cameras be next? In dressing rooms? A cross between Big Boss and IPL?

What matters more than these gimmicks of sexing up the game are real skill, real competition. Nothing in the commentary box inspires you because the content there is as bland as ever, as vacuous as ever (so what were you thinking? how were you feeling?). On the field there is even less on display save the comical figures that the umpires have been reduced to. The most interesting thing so far on IPL7 has been Priety Zinta who is her usual self, bubbly, effervescent and rooting for her team all the way.

By the way, isn't it funny how many teams are winding up or creating controversies? Sahara has wound up and its chief is in jail. The Kerala team (what was its name? Some Tuskers?) has wound up, cost a Minister his berth, and all kinds of stuff and nonsense after that. Deccan Chargers have wound up and its owners are in financial doldrums. Rajasthan Royals is there but only just. Its a wonder that CSK is still around despite all the controversies that mar its ownership and its role in the betting scandal. RCB chief was in trouble or at least Kingfisher was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Now that leaves KKR with a much sobered down Shahrukh, Delhi Daredevils with its invisible owners, Mumbai Indians and Punjab XI with Priety Zinta holding the flag.

Now, now, what's with the IPL and these owners and their stories.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Yanni - Live in Bangalore

The one thing I promised myself is a concert a year. I missed one last year because no group worth its salt came by. When I heard PV speak about Yanni coming up in our workshop at Stratapps my ears cocked up. Yanni at the Acropolis was fresh in my mind, I can see the cassette cover in my mind's eye, hear Santorini, Aria and other numbers. I liked what I heard of Yanni, the music had good energy and I wished I had gone to the Taj to see his performance. Well Bangalore is not a bad second either, though its almost 15 years later. So I booked my ticket for the show on the 18th of April, got a CD full of Yanni numbers and zoomed off in the faithful car with the family, Shobha and Anjali coming with their own agendas - of meeting friends and other activities.

The concerts have now moved out of Palace grounds and into the Hebbal area. Each ground these days looks like those vague cricket grounds we used to go to play matches when we were young, uneven, far. But this time the venue was a convention centre, White Orchid, near Manyata Tech Centre. This is within walking distance from Nish and Rajesh's home.
Proof

On concert day I dropped in early to pick up my ticket and check out the place. It looked rather small and I was wondering how they'd cope with the crowd. The program had been low key in its advertisement and not many people knew of it yet. The show was to start at 8 and I made my way there by 7, stood in one of the queues, met the young and happy Atish Singh, an architect, and we both struck up a conversation and a partnership. Inside, the hall was a disappointment. There were columns that came in the way of the people who did not get in early which was not shown in the plan and which was unfair because all you had to look at was at the screens. It looked like about 10000 people were packed in and once again, packed is the word, with hardly any space for people to walk by, chairs crammed in as they used to be in private buses. The place looked like a fire hazard to me, with its small exits, large crowd and no space to move or manoeuvre. Some rumour floated about that AR Rahman was amongst us and everyone stood up, wonder why. We could see nothing.
Yanni from between columns (he's to the left, in between the columns)

Yanni and his musicians came and played all the best numbers from 815 pm to 11 pm and I enjoyed the music and the musicians expertise thoroughly. The acoustics were bad and it did sound almost like listening to him at a system at home. But stop whining and let's listen to Santorini, The Rain Must Fall, Keys to Imagination, Aria, Felista, Butterfly dance, Nightbird, Nostalgia, Forbidden dreams, One Man's Dream. Once he started playing, all was forgiven. I was transported into all the times when I heard Yanni play, all my private memories of tranquility, of peace, of hope and it was nice to be there again revisiting old friends from two decades gone by. That is what music does to me, brushes up and brings forth memories until they come alive.
Yanni on the screen, but the stage was far better

The crowd had families and a large number of sixty pluses. Many parent-son/daughter pairs. No signs of smoke or any unruliness, all clean and spick and span. I loved what Yanni said at the end. He said he spoke to an astronaut and he said 'From up there I could not find any boundaries between countries. It all looked like one place, one people.'. Yanni said sincerely that he hoped for a world like that without boundaries, where we are all brothers and sisters. Ah, but we all hope for that world too.

Yanni has played at monuments such as the Acropolis (his Live at the Acropolis is the second best selling video in the world), Taj Mahal, Forbidden City, Burj Khalifa, Kremlin, El Morro castle, Byblos. He has produced albums that were in the Billboard categories, received Grammy nominations, played in 20 countries for over 2 million people. He looks young and happy, the reason why he chose music over psychology in which he graduated, and believes in the one world and one people philosophy. Interestingly Yanni apparently also set a Greek record  in swimming when he was 14. Pursue your dream, find a way and you will achieve it, seems to be the story of his life.

Enjoyed the show, walked the distance home. After getting stuck in the melee at the Guns and Roses concert, I decided to travel by auto. Home in half an hour. Content. To listen to more of Yanni in the car now.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do and How to Change - Charles Duhigg

This was an interesting book recommended by Rajesh. The back cover talks of how one ad man took tooth brushing from an obscure practice and made it a daily routine, how an army general was able to calm violent crowds with the help of fast food, how Michael Phelps broke a world record with his goggles full of water etc. It deals with habits and how often we do things out of habit and not by any rational choice. The book deals with the habits of individuals, organisations and societies in 3 parts. I read the first two with great interest and need to re-read the third part.

'Most choices we make each day may feel like they are the products of well-considered decision making, but they are not. They are habits. And though each one means relatively little on its own, over time these habits have an enormous impact on our health, productivity, financial security and happiness.'

The idea is simple, when habits emerge, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. We make several choices only by habit and not by any rational thought which may not always be in our best interest if the habits do not serve us. However habits can be changed, ignored or replaced, which is good news.

In dealing with habits of individuals, the author deals with the 3 topics of - the Habit Loop, the Craving Brain and the Golden rule of habit change. The habit loop consists of the Cue, the Craving/ Action and the Reward. Pick any of your habits and observe carefully and you will find this pattern unerringly. To change habits, keep the all important cue (which triggers the craving) and reward constant, but change the action or routine in the middle. Simple! Apart from the loop of cue, routine and reward, one major ingredient is belief. 

In the part about organisation I found some of the stuff that the owner of Starbucks, Schultz, said, very interesting.

He came from a modest background but he remembers his mother telling him this constantly - "You're going to be the first person to go to the college, you're going to be a professional, you're going to make us all proud.'

She always asked him - 'How are you going to study tonight? What are you gong to do tomorrow? How do you know you're ready for your test?'

Schultz says - 'I believe that if you tell people that they have what it takes to succeed, they'll prove you right.'

'Giving employees a sense of ownership, a feeling that they are in control, that they have genuine decision making authority, can increase how much energy and focus they bring to the job.'

'Gving employees a sense of control improved how much self-discipline they brought to the job.'

Other examples include that of Febreeze where the marketing team was off the target in assuming that customers wanted to get rid of smells at home. It was only later that they found that customers who had smells at home did not need to freshen rooms because they were used to those smells. It was the other customers who used Febreeze as a room freshener that used it daily as a reward for cleaning up their rooms well. 

Or the case of the football coach of Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tony Dumpy who took a down and out team and worked on its key habits. Each player learned a series of habits that they needed to master. Though Dumpy was not around to see the teams success, his methods of changing habits worked. Foamy shampoos, tingling toothpastes etc are other stuff that make customers feel that they have achieved what they set out to do. Cue, tingling, Reward, smile. 

I did like the method that Paul O Nell of Alcoa took, not talking of profits or turnovers etc but remaining focussed on the keystone habit - safety. That single minded focus on improving safety to zero brought Alcoa back into the reckoning. I always believed in the idea that if you do one thing well, the other things fall into place. You need to build that crazy momentum that's all. There is also the story of creating habits out of crisis, accidents and design as in the Rhode Island Hospital. And the case of Target which tried to predict and manipulate habits. While discussing habits in societies, the cases of Saddleback Church and the Montgomery us Boycott are discussed. The Neurology of Freewill is discussed as well.

The framework to change habits is this - Identify the routine, experiment with rewards, Isolate the cue and Have a plan.

Charles Duhigg is an investigative reporter for the New York Times. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and Yale University. Early on in the book he poses the question - 'How do habits change?' And then he says - 'There is unfortunately no specific set of steps guaranteed to work for every person.' 

'The evidence is clear; if we want to change a habit, you must find an alternative routine, and your odds of success go up dramatically when you commit to changing as part of a group. Belief is essential.' 

Yes, individuals change, organisations change and societies change. There seems to be a broad pattern but nothing concrete yet for me in this book except that we need to work in groups. It is one of those many books where a premise is researched and stories found, but nothing conclusive is given. I need a prescription if I need to change my habits and there, I find little help.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dhirubhaism - A.G. Krishnamurthy

A.G. Krishnamurthy was the CMD of Mudra Communications, one of the fine gifts Dhirubhai Ambani gave to India's advertising world. Mudra set the tone with its professional approach and a constant striving to get to the next level, something we are not used to in many things Indian. AGK is an author of two other books but this one came my way thanks to Shikha and I am glad she thought it worthy of my reading. Much of what I am trying to get across in my leadership sessions are covered here and I feel better for that.
Tata-Mcgraw Hill, 96 p

Th book has 15 traits that Dhirubhai exemplified through his actions which made him what he was as AGK saw it. The 15 'isms' are as follows. I also loved the way AGK summed up his experiences and have quoted him in the review.

1) Roll up your sleeves and help. You and your team share the same DNA
AGK says that 'when things went wrong, he was our best ally.'
'..he trusted the capabilities of his core team implicitly'.
'..his first instinct is to always join his men in putting out the fire rather than crucifying them for it..'
'It was his faith in us that gave us the strength and inspired ordinary men to achieve extraordinary feats.'

Wonderful trait. One who wants to get the job done, not merely to prove he is right.

2) Be a safety net for your team an they will perform wonders
'when you are confident that there is someone out there to break your fall there is no limit to how high you will fly.'

It could not be truer. I experienced the same feeling when  met a few spiritual gurus. All they did was this - be the safety net for millions. Tell people you love that you are there for them and see how they respond.

3) Be a silent benefactor
The story of how Dhirubhai doubled the loan for a friend who defaulted due to a drinking habit, and got him back on track with that gesture is brilliant. Easy to lose faith there. Also his acts were not limited to money - a kind word, a pat, a letter it all helped.

4) Dream big but with your eyes wide open
'He never let present norms govern his vision, yet he worked night and day familiarising himself with every little nitty gritty  that constituted his dreams, constantly sifting the wheat from the chaff,. He was the hardest worker I've ever met.'

I liked the bit about the hardest worker.

'Even though he ventured into areas he had no prior experience in, he was confident of his ability to learn.'

5) The arm around the shoulder leader
This is something one must instantly practice. Arm around the shoulder. I loved his greeting - Kya dost. Brilliant stuff.

'Dhirubhai had mastered the art of communication.'
'When you put your arm around someone, communication becomes effortless.'
'He went out of his way to get people to open up.'

Nicely said AGK.

6) Supply creates demand
Dhirubhai was always known for his take on supply creating demand rather than assess demand and create supply. It only shows that the consumer cannot be trusted to estimate demand and rather new ways can be found to fulfil new needs. So he created capacity for 10000 tonnes of PFY when the estimated demand was 6000 tons. Dhirubhai's lack of education was compensated by his capacity to learn, common sense, sharp intuition, guts and belief in his homework. He also reacted fast - speed and efficiency were his hallmarks.
when supply creates demand, prices come down.

7) Money is not a product, its a by-product
The instruction to AGK was to produce the best textile advertising in the country. Good work is bound to bring in recognition. Process was important, result would follow.

8) Leave the professional alone
AGK talks of the naming of Mudra where Dhirubhai trusted his choice when all ad agencies had anglicised names.

'Dhirubhai believed in professionals. He trusted that I would do the right thing.'

9) Change your orbit constantly
It is all about growth and more growth. Bigness - buys better. You can invest better. Innovate and expand says AGK.

9) Optimism
'Hope is your most powerful weapon.' - Dhirubhai

'His life was proof that lineage and a privileged background was not mandatory.'

10) You can find a friend in every human being
AGK says Dhirubhai was genuinely interested in people. He listened to them.

11) Think big
This is probably the biggest. If he had one thing in ample supply it was courage. Starting 101 retail outlets at one go, hosting the Reliance Cup and bringing cricket in a big way to India, Dhirubhai proved that is pays to be big and spectacular

13) Hold on to your dreams
His lack of education, finance, safety nets did not deter him, He found a way around each time. He focused on his strengths, his willingness to learn, his quickness with market information, ability to respond with speed

AGK says - 'hold on fast to your dream, know your strength and you can make the most impossible dream come true'.

14) Bet on your people
AGK believes that Dhirubhai's philosophy on betting on his people lay the foundation for the gigantic empire that reliance is today. He had the ability to hand over complete charge to people he picked for the job.

AGK says - 'when someone places their entire trust in your to handle a job, you will try everything in your power and beyond to assure him that he made the right decision by putting you in charge.'
'He saw skills in us we never knew we had.'
'He had the courage to bet on his people.'

15) Be positive
Dhirubhai never complained. He saw himself as the pathfinder.

It is a fine book and AGK must be complimented on capturing such wisdom so succinctly. I found all the 15 isms wonderful lessons to instantly adopt and carry to life. We can all find some degree of success certainly if we adopt them. This is a book that can be used in colleges and universities and discussed. This is a book that can create the leaders we want to see in the future. Somebody please go ahead and do it. AGK himself perhaps can begin the Dhrubhai Institute of Leadership where the only course needs to be these 15 isms.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thought for the Day - Making Money is Different from Enjoying It

There are those who make money. And there are those who enjoy it.

The ones who make money need not enjoy it. They may hoard it, be constantly worried about it, be accumulating it, but they may never enjoy it really. They could be worried, be in jail, be under threat etc and are not in a position to enjoy the riches, the houses, the cars.

Then there are those who somehow get to enjoy the money. The hand at the farmhouse gets to enjoy the farmhouse, the careaker of a summer house, the benami owner and keeper of monies. Even an honest man who has the heart to enjoy money and not fear it running out is far ahead of the man who is earning it but who does not have the stomach to enjoy it.

So do you earn money? Or do you enjoy it?

Ram Leela - Movie Review

The movie gets off to a colorful, gunfight and never lets off the pace. Two warring facions in a distant lawless district in Gujarat, Rajadias and Sannadas, or soemthing like that have been warring for 500 years. Now the feisty Ram of the Rajadias who believes in love and not war, falls in love with Leela of the other clan and marries her secretly after much kissing and innuendo and secret meetings. No one likes all this and the two are torn away from each other from a lodge in which they hide on day 1 of honeymoon.

By some quirk of fate both Ram and Leela become heads of their clans. They die. The clans unite. Movie over.

You know, that's about all that comes to mind. Its all grand, costumes, scenes, settings, but it never comes alive. Not the intense and charged love, not the drama, not the violence. The songs are good and fast and come often, the two Ranvir and Deepika, look good, everyone does their job well. Movie over. Wonder what was missing though. It looked like it has everything but something is not quite right.

Confessions of a Thug - Meadows Taylor

This is definitely one of the the most unusual books I have ever read. First published in 1793, it is written by Meadows Taylor who one can presume safely, was with the East India Company, and who had access to getting information from a thug first hand. Taylor does a fine job of relating the account of the fearsome life of a professional thug and life in the 1700s in India. I must thank Ramesh for insisting that I read this book.

The book starts directly with Ameer Ali recounting his initiation into Thugee, a profession of waylaying, inveigling unsuspecting travellers and robbing and murdering them for money and other goods. As a young boy Ameer Ali's parents are waylaid by  gang of thugs who make them believe that they are soldiers or businessmen. Thugs normally kill every single member of the parties they take after, but here, the gang leader Ismail, takes a fancy to the young Ameer Ali and against all advise, adopts him.

Young Ameer Ali is taught all the tricks of the trade by seasoned thugs and he is a good learner. The profession has strict laws and regulations, signs and systems, roles and responsibilities. Their goddess is Bhavani and they believe that it is because of the permission or grace granted to them by goddess Bhavani, that they are allowed to kill and murder and loot. They do not kill all - some communities and castes are exempt, lame and blind people are exempt. They have a way of seeing omens, send people called sothas to search for victims or bunij, have expert bhuttotes or people who murder the victims by using kerchiefs to strangle them quickly and silently, and lughas who dig mass graves, strip the victims of all valuables and bury them in a fashion that they cannot be discovered by man or animal. So well organised is the entire effort that it is chilling to note the manner in which they get rid of their victims without remorse and go to dispose and share the loot.

From a place called Jhalone the gang moves together towards Hyderabad, murdering businessmen, nawabs, common people, robbers, thieves and collecting booty as they go along. Ameer Ali grows up to be a fine bhuttote and shows all the cunning of a good leader.He also finds love, rescues Zora, whom he loses in Hyderabad. finds another woman Azima whom he marries. His gang members help the young leader as he connives, plots, murders while maintaining the garb of a businessman and a noble man. He joins the marauding Pindharis and learns much from them as he rebuilds his gang.

Towards the end Ameer Ali ignores the omens which are so crucial for the profession of thugs and finds himself in bad shape. He loses his son, his wife, his father, kills his own sister unknowingly, is thrown into jail, driven out of the kingdom, jailed and finally turns approver for the British who are keen on putting an end to this miserable profession. By then Ameer Ali thug has murdered close to 700 people.

It is a fascinating account of the lawlessness of those days. It is obviously all true and recounted so well and in detail. The thugs show no remorse, no mercy, work in superb coordination. Their methods, eating the goor of Tupounee, after every successful outing, and so many others are simply unimaginable. Without doubt it is one of the most unusual books I have ever read, written in a delightful fashion by Meadows Taylor. Here's a book that traverses areas that I know, Maharashtra, Hyderabad (Puttun Cherroo, Karwan, Charminar, Mir Alam tank), Nagpur, Aurangabad and opens up the mind to how a dacoit or a thug can think. It is, my dear reader, chilling to know that there could be some among us who could think in such fashion, who could strangle you to death a moment after receiving help, who would do anything to get the few rupees you may carry on your body. Read it if you can get your hands on it. And if you have the stomach for murder and deceit, looting and betrayal. And certainly if you want to understand the way our country was in those days.

Hasee To Phasee - Movie Review

Wacthed this abysmal movie called Hasee to Phasee and wondered what was going on. Many people said it had good reviews and was fun and all that. I could make neither head or tail of it.

The movie starts with two young geniuses who know how to open doors from the inside. Their genius is recognised early by their fathers (who have prominent roles in the movie). It does happen that as with all people these two young geniuses also grow up but we don't know who they are because they have a horde of siblings. So boy goes to attend a marriage in Mumbai by sneaking out of the window (he must be the genius) where he finds a girl sneaking out from between a barbed wire fence (she must be the other genius). He helps her down from the wall and she considers it a good time to invite him to Goa. But he resists her asexual overtures and goes off with the new found knowledge that the two generate from their little genius minds - playing a game of cricket on two revolcving sides with flying fieldsmen (like in the game JK Rowling invented I think, Quiddtich was it?).

The boy is obviously unemployed and is constantly seeking to snare people into investing in his house, in his half assed commerical ventures. He has a fiance who does not seem to love him too much but still wants to marry him. It transpires that the girl who jumped the wall is the black sheep of the family. She lives in China and has got the Chinese government to invest a crazy amount of money in some project of hers (she makes crazy rubber balls). To fund the project she steals money meant for her sister's wedding. Obviously under stress from the Chinese she keeps popping pills which make her make funny faces and blink her eyes and speak like a robot, like Spock. She has some fine encyclopediac knowledge on many things (and has invented a small rubber ball with 10 crores which she keeps in her pocket).

Somethng about her blinking eyes and funny faces attract the other retard in the movie (in fact the whole cast appears to comprise of retards) and there is love breweing. Reason why the blinking girl has come back is to steal money from her father again. She is constantly in touch with some crying Chinese who appear as if they are under torture or are losing some family member shortly. Anyway she is not welcome for many reasons and even I would not welcome her in any social gathering of mine as she appears to be a fit case for the mental asylum. Why the others put up with her I did not understand except that they are also in need of psychiatric help.

Anyway it does happen that the boy gets an investor to invest 5 crores in his revolving cricket idea and also gets to marry the girl who has just got 10 crore as a loan from her father to pay of the Chinese. Why she does not give them her rubber ball we don't know, and why she does nothing with that ball is also something we don't know. Also better not know.

I found nothing entertaining. I do not understand their motives for doing anything, why they fall in love, why they get married, why they get engaged, why they get into businesses, why they raise loans. What's with these people? 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cinema Buffs - 10 Masterpieces

I got this link thanks to a post by Senthil on fb. I did two of the 10. Bicycle Thieves and Citizen Kane.

http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2014/10-masterpieces-of-world-cinema-every-movie-fan-should-see/2/

Have fun.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Why People Go To Villages During Elections

Today I went to a small shop with Koni. He asked the person there (a lady who does not belong to Andhra Pradesh) where the regular shop keeper was. She said that she has gone to the village because of the elections. I have heard at least two other people say the same. A maid, a driver, someone else. Some voters I have seen in the news are returning to villages that they have left months ago following communal flare ups. Why are people going to the villages during election time? Are they so eager to vote?

For the money silly. They reckon that the least one gets is 500 bucks a party or candidate and some other goodies like clothes, utensils and cricket kits. Perhaps the tipplers get some booze too. And maybe the biryani. But certainly one does not want to lose out on any count. Each vote in the family must pay. In the jhopadpatti must pay. And pay they will. So we have people giving up the job and buying tickets to return to villages during the election time.

The cost of an election is high. I asked a person who seemed to know how much an ordinary candidate may have to shell out. Anything between 2 crores to 100 crores he said. I cannot believe that figure. How much would fly and where. How many pockets would get lined up, how many bought over. It's a fantastic exercise, mind boggling in its scale of lies, duplicity, cheating, bribing, corruption, arm twisting. It's only a question of who can lie longer and louder, who has deeper pockets. How can any system check such rampant corruption?

How many are looking to serve the people? I find little hope there.How many are qualified to lead the country? No hope at all. I find not a single leader worth his or her salt to lead the nation. All I find are people finding ways to throw mud at the other, make unholy alliances, and do all they can to get to power.

So we have the power hungry throwing out money that they will ensure is paid back in full and with interest. And we have the voters, hungry to vote. Only we don't know who to vote for. At least it might not be a bad idea to head to the villages for a while.

Sue Townsend - RIP

Adrian Mole is one of the funniest characters I have ever read. His obsession with his book 'Lo! The ...Flatland', the chap at the BBC who writes back to him, his intellectual girl friend Pandora, the bully at school who becomes known as a sensitive poet while Adrian is languishing in literary anonymity are stuff one will never forget. I also bought her 'Queen and I' and marvelled at the way she took shots at the Queen. In India the author would have been dragged to court, face blackened, stones thrown at, cases filed by people whose sentiments would have been hurt, IT raids ordered and some other similar tactics we reserve for those who dare make fun of us. I am glad Sue Townsend lived in UK and continued to write about all that she wanted to write about.

Reading about her life I wondered how she wrote so funnily. There is nothing funny about her life. Here's a link to an article I read.
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/apr/11/sue-townsend-dies-aged-68-adrian-mole

I feel a special bond with those who made me laugh in my life - be it books, funny people, comedians, friends.I feel a loss when one of those passes on and so I feel with Sue Townsend. I will, as a tribute, revisit her books and certainly read some of the later ones that I missed out on. For all the wonderful times, those laughs, thanks so much.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sport Psychology, A Practical Guide - Dr. Arnold LeUnes

Shobhs picked this book for me and I flipped it over and said let's take it. Small and compact, it looked like an easy read. It gives certain ideas of this important branch of sports as it developed worldwide and where it has reached today. I am interested in this aspect.
Icon Books, Rs. 225, 187 p

The author deals with the following concepts in the book - Reinforcement and punishment, Arousal, anxiety and their assessment, Treatment of sports anxiety, Optimism in sports and exercise, Mental toughness in sports, Attribution theory and locus of control, Leadership, group cohesion and audience effects, Team building and goal setting Aggression and violence in sports, Psychological assessment, Risk-sport athletes, injured athletes and black athletes, Youth sport, Women in sport and Exercise and Fitness. Some of the topics interest me more than the others.

On reinforcement he talks of how reinforcement can be both primary (attached to a basic need like food, thirst, air) and secondary (a spin off such as money etc), positive (reward for desirable behavior) and negative (terminating a negative consequence of some behavior). Keys about reinforcement - make sure it is working, make it immediate, make it consistent, use as many reinforcers as you can, use Premack principle and encourage self-reinforcement and self-control. While punishing make it mild, prompt and consistent to have some positive effect.

Arousal is a state in which a person reacts to stress physically and psychologically. Arousal can be done in many ways. Pre-psych up strategies are many (music, imagination of arousal with each breath, stretching, imagery, verbal cues, pep talks, bulletin boards). Anxiety, a subset of arousal, and arousal, can both be measured physiologically and psychologically.

Sports anxiety can be treated. The extinction model (individual exposed to fears and flooded with fears so they confront them) counter-conditioning model (systematically desensitizing athlete to anxieties), Cognitive mediational model and Coping skills model are some of them.

One cannot discount the value of being an optimist. To change from a pessimistic to optimistic style one can follow the ABCDE model (adversity, belief, consequences, disputation, energised). Thought stoppage is another technique i.e. say STOP when negative thoughts are recognised, Countering (countering negative thoughts with realistic possibilities) and Reframing (reframing situations to advantage) are other techniques. The key is that optimism, positive self talk and cognitive control can be achieved through thought stoppage, countering and reframing.

Mental Toughness, accepted as a core component of elite performers, is made up of four major sub components - attitude/ mindset (high self-belief, desire, hunger), training (discipline, patience, pushing limits), competition (pressure, controlling the environment) and post-competition (celebrating and handling success, suing failure to drive oneself). Mental toughness is a conscious decision to be successful.

Attributions are what helps us achieve a certain level of closure and make sense of events around us. Attributions have four components - ability, effort, task difficulty and luck.  I don't believe in luck nor task difficulty. Better to focus on ability and effort.

In Leadership and Group Cohesion one ca measure oneself against Training and instruction behavior, Democratic behavior, Autocratic behavior, Social support behavior and Rewarding behavior.  In group cohesion there are three major conceptual models - Linear model (forming, storming, norming and performing), Pendular model and Life cycle model (encounter, testing of boundaries and creation of roles, creation of a normative system, production stage, separation).

In Team Building and Goal Setting, 13 strategies have been suggested. 1) Acquainting players with responsibilities of others 2) learning something personal about each athlete 3) developing pride within sub units of team 4) developing a feeling of ownership among players 5) setting team goals and taking pride in accomplishment 6) making sure each player learns his role and implements it 7) not expecting tranquility 8) avoid formation of cliques 9) developing team drills that encourage member cooperation 10) highlighting team success areas even when they lose 11) developing self-efficacy (belief that they will win) 12) developing a mastery of skills climate 13) educating the team on destructive effects of jealousy and how to avoid it.

In Goal Setting we look at Specific, Measurable, Actionable, realistic and Timely goals. Goals can be Outcome goals, Performance goals and Process goals. The ASCI (Athletic Coping Skills Inventory) and its sub scales are interesting - Coping with adversity, Peaking under pressure, Goals setting and mental preparation, Concentration, Freedom from worry, Confidence and achievement motivation and Coach ability. This one is worth taking. These psychological tests can measure enduring traits, temporary states and sport-specific characteristics.

The concept of helicopter parents and their deleterious effects on their children and their enjoyment of sports is a point that cannot be emphasised enough. These controlling parents are out of control, kill the joy of playing the sport and compromise their children's path.In the chapter on exercise and fitness there is a discussion on how regular exercise exerted a positive effect on thinking, mood, anxiety and depression.

Overall the slim and well-written book is a practical guide to sport psychology and one that most coaches must read. There are several links that he has suggested and I will try and get some in below which you can use to test yourself online. Good investment surely. Thanks Shobhs.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

World Cup T20 - Just Another Tournament

Was it the World Cup that just happened? It had about the same effect or even less that the Ranji season normally had on me. Somehow the cricketing bodies have managed to stuff so much cricket down our throats that it really does not matter anymore. It's a dangerous place for the game when fans and lovers do not care for it.

I watched parts of the first game, very little of a couple of games in between, and some part of the final, (despite being home). Nothing excited me, nothing seemed to make me feel the competition, make me feel the awe of yesteryear. I watched with a dull eye, the same people going through the same motions, the same people commentating, the same players playing. A stale, jaded game. Save the young Moeen Ali of England who struck the ball well in a most uncomplicated manner nothing impressed me, not even that Maxwell chap who played an awful shot and got out against India. Kohli stands out for his work ethic and commitment and that was all. Everything else, everyone else has a jaded look about it.

As for the final and the Yuvraj episode, these things do happen once in a while. Here's a team that is cruising along and a team that knows how to finish. Some of the best hitters of the ball are in the middle and some are waiting in the room. One expects things to happen automatically and before they realised what happened the crucial 10-15 balls have been bowled without Kohli getting the strike. Cannot help feeling that by the time they realised, it was all over.

Nothing emphasises the importance of good bowlers at the death than those few overs that choked a champion side like India so well. That is what good bowling can do in these shorter forms of the game. They can turn the game around on its head, make batsmen suddenly realise they cannot take things for granted. Obviously one cannot blame Yuvraj because he did try his best and just could not get the better of of the bowling. Somehow the two should have communicated and got Kohli on strike more often. Now that was something that did not happen.

What our fans did was normal. That is the general lumpen mindset of our society anyway. I look at the portals and they are constantly running polls - should we remove Dhoni, is India the most corrupt, should Yuvraj be dropped, should Kejriwal resign and god knows what. We are full of ourselves, our stupidity, or self righteousness, our sense of being the one's who have been wronged. Who are these people who get so offended, who want to drop players, pick players, change captains, change systems? Do they have a clue what they are talking about? No. They don't. So what gives them the right? The media. Why? Because we have a majority of such duds who wear their stupidity on their sleeves and do not mind making a spectacle of it.

Anyway less said of the whole affair the better. What's sad is that the game in its most exciting format has failed to excite. Too bad gentlemen. Time to think. You can't sex it up artificially. The game has to have real drama, real excitement, quality contests. You have to ensure that.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Before Midnight - Movie Review

Saw the last one in the 'Before..' trilogy. It went on familiar lines of long conversations between the two. Now a couple, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) have twin daughters from their long and passionate encounter at the end of movie 2, 'Before Sunset'. The movie starts with Jesse seeing off his son from his first marriage, Hank, who is returning to his Mom in the US after spending his vacation with Jesse, Celine and the twins in Greece. Jesse feels that Hank needs him in his growing years and tries to plant the idea that perhaps they should all move to Chicago; an idea that Celine stoutly opposes. She also has plans of a career of her own.

After some discussions on topics of love and sex with their hosts and others, the couple go to a hotel room. One of their friends had booked the room as a gift. Their insecurities come forth in many ways while in the room. Was there something about the room that made them like that? There is a horrible love making scene that is probably the worst I have ever seen in a movie and finally what looks like an end to their relationship, ends up in some kind of a reconciliation.

What I cannot reconcile in this episode is that they still have so much to talk about. Typically by this time in a relationship one or both partners go quiet. The humour and romance certainly is predictable as in long relationships. Certainly the fights are too. If you ask me, this relationship is doomed unless the two live far apart for long periods of time. He in Chicago and she in Paris. They could meet once in a while to talk endlessly while walking or whatever when they meet once in 10 years.

I am filled with a sense of completion if nothing else. An idea worth exploring this series. But it does get tedious after a while to watch these two all the time talking and talking. Greece looks great.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Dirge for the Dammed - Vishwas Patil, translated by Keerti Ramachandra

This book is not for the faint hearted. If you have low capacity for pain, do not venture near it because it tells the story of the displaced people of Jambhli, a small village near Koyna, in Maharashtra, with such unsympathetic force that you soon realise that it is not the kind of fiction we are used to at all. This cannot be anything but real life. Vishwas Patil tells the story not as a person sitting amongst the ousted Jambhlikars but by being part of their very soul. Not for a moment do you find the escape one hopes for in a story, not one crevice left for that luxury, and he tirelessly drives home the nails, tightens the screws around the hapless Jambhlikars. Never before has a story touched me in the many ways this has - it has all that the 'Grapes of Wrath' had or 'A Fine Balance' and perhaps more because Patil never lets in a whiff of fantasy into the tale. Save the smallest hope that the Jambhlikars retain until the end that they may at some point secure land and cash and a future for their displaced families.
Hachette, 471 p

Jambhli is a small village that has been identified to be displaced to make way for a big irrigation dam, the Greater Jambhli Project. The village comes together as one, not understanding why they have to leave their homes and go to new communities like strangers, beggars. But that is the least of their sufferings. Once they are evacuated they are treated like pariahs wherever they go and face hardship upon hardship for their allotted lands, livelihoods, communities and even cremation grounds. Patil leaves no angle uncovered as he drives home the message clearly of how the system ruthlessly exploits the meek, how the ones in power harass and hound the displaced, and how everyone seems to gang up against the illiterate, unprepared villagers. (We do too, don't we?) The local politicians, their goons, their sons, the police, the clerks, the forest officers, the revenue officers, the courts, the locals, no one has any sympathy for the displaced. All they have are schemes on how to make life difficult for them, how to usurp their properties etc.

The stories of Avadai and her son Haibati are perhaps central though only marginally. Khairmode Guruji and his ideals of fighting for his people's rights despite losing all he has and living in poverty, the naive villagers who know nothing of the ways of the towns, uprooted homes, starving families, Raja Kushapa who slays a tiger in the hope of raising money for his daughter's marriage, Mhaku, Subhanji, Shevanti. The way Haibati is cheated out of his job by making the register go missing, the way his land is allotted to someone else and the way he hopes and pines for a happy day in his life for his young son Sada, wrench your heart. Or even Guruji's own love for his daughter Shevanti, his morni, who marries into a dowry crazy family, and who finally has to live on her own finally. You'd think the author will give some respite but he does not relent, does not create a hero, a false sense of hope. Their lives have been displaced and that is the truth. Life will go on. Jackals will prey, vultures will prey, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Muscle power, money, bribes, castes and communities, progress and development, power and politics squeeze the life out of the Jambhlikars like juice out of the sugarcane, if I may use the words of the people themselves.

It is a man of low caste, the teacher Khairmode Guruji who becomes the leader of the displaced and he faces all consequences, takes on everybody's responsibilities, with a stout heart and an unrelenting will. But he believes in Gandhian principles as does Avadai, and they exhort the hot headed youth who are at the edge of reason not to resort to violence, though as a reader you wish you could take a chopper and wade through the homes of the local leaders and finish it off in one night of madness. (I sensed that urge coming on to me by the 200th page.) One wonders at the frustration that the many people deep inside India's belly feel at this systemic oppression, and one also wonders at the pointlessness of the battles fought in courts, on paper, through complaints and petitions. But Patil supports their patience, believes that the meek will inherit the earth one day, and one hopes they do. If that is justice, is it really justice, after whole generations have passed by? If the weak and the unequal have to suffer this way?

They are real. They are all there. One wants to go and meet them, hug them, hold them and let their sense of loneliness, despair flow out of the dam they have built within. One wants to protect them, stand beside them, tell them to leave it all and go away. There is no hero who will give them vigilante justice. There is only them and their desire to live on for their futures, for their children and grand children. 'The Dirge of the Dammed' is filled with a hopelessness that one cannot bear and there were breaks I needed to take as I read it because I could not handle it anymore. But the story had to be told like that only because that is reality. Lessening it would be injustice to all the displaced, all those who feel this pain, so I am glad Patil did not let go. It is life as they know it. As I read it I could see how their dreams got eroded, their illusions and pride dissolved, and how they could focus on nothing more than just basic survival each day. Patil leaves them though, with their spirit intact though their bodies are broken, despite the unequal war they are fighting.

Never will I be able to look at a dam again in the same way after I read this book.  I will always be reminded of Avadai, Guruji, Haibati, Gomya and others. Never will I be able to look at the migrants, the displaced people we see in the same manner again. The way the system is shown despite the few aberrations like Deshmukh and Pawar, who take it upon themselves to find some justice for the displaced is a reminder to us. We all live within this same system, one that supports the few one way or another, one that crushes dreams, spirits and rights so systematically. The majority are the victims yet they choose to be disparate, not together, in their fight. That is their biggest weakness, our biggest weakness. The few who cause trouble, who rule over the rest with fear, muscle power, bribery and corruption stick together. It needs an organised effort to deal with the system. One cannot do it alone. One cannot give up the fight either. One must fight, one must make the system realise that it is not above the people. It is for the people.

I can go on and on. Vishwas Patil is a much accomplished man. An IAS Officer (ironic that he  should write so ruthlessly about the system), an award winning author (the Marathi version of this book Jhadjhadati, won the Sahitya Academy Award in 1992). Other novels of his include Panipat, Sambhaji and Mahanayak. 'Not Gone With the Wind' is his critically acclaimed work on successful movie adaptations from literary classics. He has also directed a film 'Rajjo' with Kangana Ranaut. His case for smaller dams, for rehabilitation first and then the dam, for more empathy while displacing people from their homes, is made strongly and I fully endorse it.

I am most happy for my friend and editor, Keerti Ramachandra who translated this wonderful book into English. Take a bow Keerti, this is fantastic work. Not for a moment does the translation slack in energy as it courses through the story without a moment of doubt. It is strong, empathetic writing as if they came on their own, and Keerti's words bring these difficult lives and landscapes so alive that you cannot visualise anything but them and their surroundings, their feelings and their pains, their smells and their sights. Its compelling reading. The use of Marathi words is appropriate as is the way she used English in a manner as if the villagers are speaking. If 'Kanthapura' impressed me with the way the language was used, Keerti's effort is no less as it creates the world of Jambhli, its farms, its trees, its gods and cattle, its food and seasons, and spins it on and on. Wonderful work and I am so proud to see such fine work by my friend. This is not an easy book to read even, so I can understand what it must have been to write it for Vishwas Patil and even for Keerti, who must have imbibed it all before she translated it so fittingly.

This is a book everyone who has an opinion on people and the nation must read. The only condition is that you must have heart enough to read it.