Monday, August 31, 2015

Anjali - How Business Is Done

Anjali had her annual rakhi making competition at school a couple of days before the actual rakhi day. She told me while we were driving to school that she had never won any prize for rakhi making in all these years. 'But this year I will win,' she said with a determined look. With little preparation and a simple idea she managed a third prize - which was a big deal with her. She was happy with the result. (Also happy with the fact that her akka had told her before the prizes were announced that she suspected Anjli might win the first prize - that was as good as winning the first prize for her.)

Back home she showed me her rakhi and told me how simple her idea was and how detailed and complex the other rakhis were. She was all praise for the first prize winner who made an elaborate affair with pulses and stuff like that. 'Aunty said that she was giving marks mainly for the effort that went into making the rakhi,' she said happily.

Sometime then the business idea developed. 'Nanna, why don't I make rakhis for all the attas?' she asked. 'Anyway they have to buy rakhis to tie to you and Pappa.' I readily encouraged the idea wondering what it would lead to. But the enthusiasm was infectious so off we went to the faithful Himalaya Book Store. She carefully chose the kind of colored paper she wanted, the ribbons, fevicol and such other stuff. Suitably armed we headed off to her aunt, Mythily atta's, house where the rakhi manufacturing process would begin.

It was no mean task. She has four cousins in Hyderabad plus the eight rakhis she needed to make for my four sisters. Twelve in all. She recruited support and technical expertise from two aunts and got eight rakhis done on day one and and the remaining four the next day. The pricing was then fixed - the more complex ones would be priced at 50 bucks and the others at 10 bucks or something like that. The aunts were informed accordingly that no rakhis needed to be bought - they were already made.

Sealed in a box like the Finance Minister's budget, the rakhis made their way home amidst tight security. A sum of five rupees a head was promised to the two helpers and me, for buying the material. The rakhis came out on display on the D day. Money briskly changed hands and she went about comfortably selling them at a hundred bucks a pair. And then her cousins had to come - word had spread  that rakhis had been hand made.

By the end of the day the enterprising little miss had grossed something well over two and a half thousand which went straight into her notes bank. To her credit (and her aunts) the rakhis did look very different and colorful and I enjoyed wearing them all day. But seriously, I cannot even imagine doing anything a tenth as enterprising even now.

Looking back at the entire event I can only admire the thought process and the preparation which led to the result she richly deserved. All on her own she thought of making rakhis (where no seeming demand existed - in fact there was competition from regular shop keepers), she thought of the idea ahead, captured her market. Then she motivated me to buy her the material she wanted, got the help of two of her aunts to make the rakhis. Then the pricing was done (good solid pricing if you ask me). The sale was interesting too - a nice display on a big table. The emotional angle. There was a clear need. There was an event. There was an opportunity. She stepped in and just captured that market. The way she foresaw the need and went about preparing was worth it all - with all the innocence of a child but neatly mixed with the pragmatism of a businessperson.

I thought it was a brilliant piece of business management. Next year on - I am sure her market is pretty well defined.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Paradoxes of Our Lives - When We Worry In the Now, We Are Not In the Now

Worrying in the now, is not being in the now. To be in the now, one must be in the present moment, not in the future.
Enjoy the flowers
Pic courtesy - Sailaja

To stop oneself from doing something now because of the fear of something in the future (like not being able to pay bills, some similar consequence etc) is not living the now. However much it may appear practical, it takes away from the experience of the now, and from its possibilities and experience. Mostly it takes away enthusiasm and the joy for life.

To be in the now is to be there. Not worry about it.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Children of Heaven - Movie Review

Am watching this wonderful film again but this time I had Anjali for company and so had access to some more viewer reactions. Though I saw the movie only about four years ago, it seemed very different this time.

The conflict is between what is necessary to survive and how it is constantly threatened. In this case two siblings, a brother Ali (9 years) and a sister Zahra (7 perhaps), from a poor family, try to survive on one pair of shoes between them. The girl's shoes have been lost by the brother accidentally and they dare not tell their father because he is struggling financially anyway and is behind rent already. To add to their woes their mother is ill and has just had a baby. To keep things going the boy agrees to lend her his sneakers - out sized and dirty - if she comes quickly from school and gives it back to him so he can go to school after. The kids race through Teheran's interior roads as they try to make do with the one pair of sneakers between them. Until one day the boy enters a competition because the third prize winner gets a pair of sneakers. He promises to win those sneakers for his sister but however hard he tries to come third, Ali comes first, and is disconsolate! His school director and physical instructor are very happy though.

The scene where the father earns good money on his gardening project and instantly starts planning all the things he wants to buy - and how he somehow loses it all because he cannot handle the money and conjures an accident is pure genius. Some people just cannot hold money and lose every bit of what they think they do not deserve. The other scene is when Zahra discovers her lost shoes - on another school girl's feet and takes Ali to confront her. But when they notice from a distance that the girl's father is blind, they return without confronting. Zahra's anger later when she realises her acrifice went in vain because the other girl's father bought her new shoes is brilliant. 'Why did you give them away?' she screams, instead of giving them back to me! It suddenly struck me that the young boy was good at running because of all the running he and his sister did. But sneakers or not, the end is happy with the kids playing near the water blowing bubbles, and the father bringing them stuff from the market including shoes for the girl. Beautiful!

Srimanthudu - Movie Review

Mahesh Babu is the scion of an empire that's worth 25000 crores but he wants a simple life where he shares his wealth and helps others. That is the conflict that drives the story - rich boy does not want riches but wants to distribute IT and help others - against the wishes of those who want him to multiply the wealth. Deep down, as always, the conflict is between father and son.

To further inspire him on his philanthropic pursuits he meets a young lady who ardently espouses the cause of one child to married couples - so ardent that she could well have them commit to it right there and then. Also she is learning rural development techniques to improve her rather sad village. Everyone is leaving the village for various reasons and even have a people-left-village-counter - but mainly - bad people. The bad people are of course in power, are Union ministers and have brothers and sons who are equally bad and are also (in flashback) the reasons for his father's attachment to his money. (They also tell us that they are bad.) The bad people have an army of bad people, a bunch of aspiring WWF wrestlers, who have this special ability to bounce off the ground like springs when they fall. Anyway turns out that the young man adopts the village and retains it to old glory by bashing up the bad guys again and again and when he realises their bouncing qualities, eliminates the lot with an elegant solution -  a short circuit.

Mahesh Babu does what he does best, looks good, delivers his lines in his inimitable way, fights the bad army and dances in his usual way. All good so far because we can go to watch this guy do all this stuff again and again and it does not bore you. Shruti Hasan was not as interesting to me as she appeared to Mahesh Babu, in fact she appeared the opposite. All else was regular fare. One thing in MB's favor - he does make rather boring stories watchable just by being in them. So watch.  

A Simple Heart - Gustave Flaubert

Have you read Flaubert? Yes I have. Buying those 26 Penguins was one way of ticking off authors and read their best writings. So Flaubert gets ticked off rather late in the day with this slim story 'A Simple Heart'. As with most stories of those times it is full of sadness and hopelessness and ends on the same despondent note.

The simple heart in question is that of Felicete, a maid, who devotes her life to work and work she does like a woman possessed. She wants nothing more than a simple life and asks little from it. She comes from a sad childhood, left to fend for herself, makes her way around with her limited talents and learns to survive, falls in love and out, keeps away from all that could hurt, finds a good job and becomes the ideal maid. In terms of affections, she showers them on her work, her widowed mistress and her two young children. Young Virginie, the mistress's young girl whom Felicete grew up dies, then her own nephew whom she loves dearly dies. She gets herself a parrot and showers all her affections on it. Her mistress dies too leaving her little. Finally the parrot dies too and Felicete gets the bird stuffed.

When Felicete dies finally, alone, she dreams of the parrot, the source of much joy to her, beckoning her into the heavens.

Somehow, despite all the extra helpings of misery, Felicete stands out as an unforgettable character. Very ordinary but with extraordinary love.

Anjali - The 10 Good Things Of The Day

Lying in bed before sleeping I asked Anjali if she could recollect 10 things that made her happy during the day. She thought for a moment and started off.

1) I was class monitor (was fun)
2) Sat with Brahmani today (it was nice)
3) We made a card for Celesta (who was leaving the school - was her last day at school)
4) Laughed with Mansi (her best friend - they laugh like crazy)
5) Played with Shreya (she is a special child who has a great fondness for Anjali and vice versa)
6) Helped Akhil write his notes (he is a special child to, very introverted but with fantastic language skills - he speaks awesome English she says)
7) Played kabaddi (I don't always play but I joined today)
8) Bought stuff for making rakhi (her own initiative)
9) Decided to make rakhis and made first rakhi (same as above)
10) Did 80 laps while skating (very proud of the fact)
..
..
11) Oh, I forgot, got first prize in spelling bee

I knew about number 11 of course and was wondering when she would think about it. But it came almost as an afterthought - perhaps even as a reaction to my 'anything else'. I found it interesting to see that most things that came to her mind were things that were fun and about her friends. Playing, laughing, helping, making cards, making rakhis etc came easier and with a lot more joy.

If I were to make the list, it would have come with number 11 first - the achievement. My identity comes from such stuff - external validation. For the child, just being, sharing, laughing comes ahead of such stuff. Perhaps it would be nice to slide back into life like that.





Thursday, August 27, 2015

Link - 8 Exceptional Iranian Films

Thanks to the magnanimous and large hearted Sagar, a world of Iranian cinema opened to me a few years ago. Sagar generously lent me some twenty movies - and some of those masterpieces are not in this list - but its made me fall deeply in love with Iran.

That's 4 in this list -- A Seperation, Colors of Paradise, Turtles Can Fly and Leila. And so many more.
http://www.lmt-lss.com/8-exceptional-iranian-films-that-show-us-the-true-power-of-cinema/

Thought for the Day - To Understand is To Recognise

I had an interesting conversation with a young life coach yesterday.

'What makes you happiest?' she asked. Tough question.

I thought about it.
'It's not so much the big names, big recognitions etc. But when I write something and I feel someone got the exact essence, it means a lot to me. It connects directly even if it is from an eight year old or some unknown reader. It means much more than praise from the top critics.'

Some thing about wanting to be understood I guess. Some fear of not being understood.

After all, the greatest tragedy of life is this for me - all my great intentions that have not been seen for what they are.

On the other side, life hits the right tones when someone, somewhere, in all that clutter, connects with my intent. Few, but they are there. They recognise a kindred spirit, my anguish, my want.

Makes it all worth it.



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Heat and Dust Project - Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha

It's the broke couple's guide to Bharath - Devapriya and Saurav's. It's an ambitious project and a seemingly masochistic one because the challenge is to keep it under 500 bucks a day. It means one has to travel by buses, shared autos, stay in sub 400 hotels, skip meals sometimes and many times wonder why you are doing this and what's at the end of all this. It makes even less sense when you realise that the couple are all set for a comfortable life with all the right degrees and jobs and resumes - Devapriya has written two novels already and Saurav, an energy and security expert, has written a book on nuclear power and his next is due on sustainability of economic growth. But these are the things that grow you so you must give in to these ideas (and grow the broke couple certainly would have, if my growth through this reading is anything to go by). And that's pretty much enough to say that it's a book that can impact our ideas of India (and travel) considerably, and change our attitude to them in a nice earthy, down-on-the-street way.
Harper Collins, 276 p, Rs. 250
It's the big dream come true marrying practicality. The big dream - of someday-I-will-just-go-and- travel and see all these nice places, meet interesting people and write about them. For most of us the someday never comes because we get jobs, get married and then most things are out of control. Too many constraints come into the picture - mostly now because there are two people who think differently. And with the facebooky life where everyone is heading off on swanky SUVs or waving at us from familiar foreign locales at the drop of a hat, its not cool anymore to do stuff like this. Why would you want to do this instead of hiding someplace trying to match up to the other facebooky lives? Just to prove you wrong you get two people who think they can subject themselves and their marriage to something like the Heat and Dust project.

So back to our big dream - and so many dreams which are compromised because we are not courageous enough like D and S to just up it and take the sub 500 route. But they are a practical couple too and they make a book out of it for good measure, which might well become a bestselling book and then get made into a movie. Make something out of something you'd have liked to do anyway. So in a way I find that the enterprising couple are way more practical about big dreams than most of us who max out credit cards and experience a fraction of what they did - and at the end of it all have no book, no experience, no new friends and certainly no movie deals.

It takes courage and conviction however, and that the couple show in tonnes. From their bus rides to Jaipur, Pushkar, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Barmer, Junagadh, Mathura, the little hotels, lack of loos, lack of good food, they stick through it all, meet people who turn out to be interesting - autowalla in Jaipur, hotel walla, bus walla, jugaad walla, boatwalla, 5 star walla (in the end). You cannot be the same person after so many experiences - or the same couple. But that's what they signed up for. Some review says 16,000 kms - its a lot.

Did I forget to mention the support cast - or the ones who come closest to the protagonists as support cast in this adventure - the Israeli twins Motty and Zvika? The twins are always in the background (with emails and phone calls) and step up every now and then into foreground at the unlikeliest places with interesting tales and experiences. From love (shy and rejected), army service, faith, future - they bring a nice contrast to the book. I am glad that D and S somehow chose the twins as support cast and not an Indian pair because of many reasons. For one, how is it that foreigners get better deals and are able to adjust to India faster than Indians do? (The twins seem to get better deals!) How is it that they get so comfortably under India's skin when most of us cannot? (Shantaram onwards, every single Indian experience written by a foreigner seems to show an India we do not want to walk into - starting with the slums). How is it that two random Indians cannot really seem to share an Indian experience as intensely as an Indian and a foreigner can? How does a foreigner transcend boundaries of caste and community, religion and faith, color and background, that we are so suspicious about? An Indian carpenter would not be the same as a foreign carpenter right? Nothing shows India up to Indians like foreigners travelling in India. On the bikes in Goa, the beaches they seem to own, the joy with which they immerse themselves into the festivals, the kumbh melas, the Gokarns, the Rishikeshs, they do it all in their twenties while we are still facebooking and checking out fancy hotel prices and flight deals to see the Taj Mahal. My suspicion is that we have a long way to go as a people. Unless we grow to tolerate one another, (if not the indulgence we reserve for the foreigners, at least a basic civil tolerance), I see little hope in that direction.

I am now more practical about my travels after I read the book. Buses offer me freedom. They are within means. It's also where I am comfortable. Maybe the last line is what I needed. Get that back pack or rucksack they say. It's comforting and seems within reach. It's an Indian way to travel on Indian budgets that most Indians would identify with. At least I do.

I loved one chapter that begins with a line from some book one of them is reading which goes something like - she was the type who would cut off her nose to spite her face, and to prove herself right she died on his thirty second birthday (or 33rd). How well do I identify with that? And what a line. (I am writing all this entirely from memory so forgive the approximations.)

Is travel some Bengali thing - this is a question I always asked myself because wherever I went I'd find Bengali families on tour. They love their travel, they love their family time. Its an education watching them as tourists.

D and S share their innermost fears and apprehensions, hope and aspirations, as they write of their travels. D writes from her heart, all romance and idealism, emotion and honesty, here and now. S writes from the head, all control and plan, clipped and to the point, in the past or ahead in the future. It's an interesting contrast and it came through a bit when I heard them speak at their book launch in Hyderabad. But in little ways, they reveal themselves in their observations, in what they choose to write about and what they do not, (just as batsmen reveal themselves in the strokes they play and those they do not). You realise not far into the book that its a love story disguised as a travel book. And its a fine love story too.

"The Heat and Dust Project" is unique in perspective and experience. It is written well - and one cannot say that of much travel writing which tends to get so boring that you give up after ten pages. This one keeps you glued and makes you want to come back for more - not so much for the depth of their travel and research but for the depth and transparency of their personalities - they are interesting people and they make things, events and people interesting. I have already gifted two copies to  two friends from the US and they loved the idea - they hoped they could do what D and S did sometime. They will like the book certainly.

If you are still looking for me to commit, here it is - this one is highly recommended. One of the better, more honest books to have come from Indian writers. (My problem with Indian writing is still this - we are not honest enough -yet. This one is.) No wonder it's listed as one of the 11 books to read in 2015. Thanks Chitra and Krishna for gifting me this fine book.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

For Next Level Performance - Organise Your Effort

A young boy came to me. He wants to go to the next level at work but does not know how. He is hard working, has the right attitude, has got enough skill to make it.

We only need to know enough skill to survive. We don't need too much skill or too much talent. If you have basic skill you can go all the way.

Organisation of effort - The Missing Link

What's missing is organised effort. Its not about how many hours. Its about how those hours are used. Are the right practices being followed? Are key things like concentration, fitness, growth mindset, process orientation being addressed?

Most of us go into work without knowledge of the above. Merely going and practicing 10-12 hours a day will get you nowhere.

A few questions.

1) What are my limitations? (gives boundaries to work within and makes it more under control)
2) How can I work around my limitations to apply myself best? (reduction of errors in given space)
3) How do I turn in error-free performances? (elimination of all possibilities of errors)
4) How do I gain control over the process - technically, physically and mentally? (deconstruction)
5) Do I know how to self-correct when I make a mistake? (process orientation)
6) Do I know when to pull back and not throw it away? (process)
7) Can I carry on and on as long as I want to? (mental and physical fatigue)
8) Can I dig deep and raise my game? (access hidden reserves through past preparation)

These questions go beyond mere practice.

Organising effort
The above questions look to deconstruct areas of discomfort and address each separately. Grey areas, strong areas, areas to work on, first principles - they sort out the mind and make things more bearable and under control. From here, its a matter of concentration and sticking to plan.

Organising effort is only a 10% shift. You are dong the same things already, probably even more than required. By organising your effort you get more results by efficient practices which may require less effort even. You also feel more in control since you know cause and effect, context and process.

By a 10% organisation of effort you can see a drastic change in results.

How to Perform at 10x Now! - The 10X Application Formula

The time for preparation is over. Good, bad or ugly. Now switch off the preparation mode.
Its time for application.

The performance. The match. The exam.

How to convert our preparation into maximum result?

You are ready - access all preparation
1) First realise that you are fully ready - as you are. There is nothing incomplete. There is nothing more you need to know, Back yourself on all the preparation you put in over the years. Bring that into play. You must now deliver a knockout performance based on what you know.

Only you know what you know best - you are unique
2) Focus on what you know - not on what you do not. Be the expert of what you are saying or doing. Even if it is a small thing, share it with pride and confidence. You know what you know so go ahead and deliver it the best way you can.

Know limitations, set boundaries to reduce errors - keep it under control
3) Organise yourself within what you know. Know your limitations and stay within them. Create space inside the limitations so you know boundaries. This will help reduce errors that come when boundaries are vague.

Organise effort and increase impact - make things happen
4) Build the best from what you have. Connect with the purpose of your action - what are you offering? Why? How can you best connect to the people around you who are listening to you, watching you, reading you. See it from their perspective and build your act around it.

Work on the beginning and the ending - slippery areas
5) Work on the beginning and the ending - they are the areas that require care. That's when you can slip up.

Once you settle in don't relax - go for more
6) Don't be easily satisfied. Keep going. Keep pushing boundaries.

You can, by adopting the above mindsets and processes, apply yourself better and be more confident about things where you feel you are not fully prepared. 10 X Application is about - making no mistakes, working from within limitations to achieve small goals, staying in control, expanding from area of control and pushing goals further each time one sub goal is achieved.

10X Application is possible now. Practice it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Link - The Guardian's 100 Best Novels

I clocked in a lowly 25. Most of those need to be re-read as well. But its the kind of a list to look forward to. Thanks Guardian.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/17/the-100-best-novels-written-in-english-the-full-list?CMP=share_btn_link

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ecstasy - Finding an Old Lost Love Song

Discovering an old song that you lost over three decades ago probably beats meeting an old love from those days. Not probably - I am sure it does - if the feeling of ecstasy I felt when I heard this number is an indication. Finding 'Can't wait anymore' that lovely ballad by Rock Machine in the 80s kind of completes the list of songs that I have been searching for in the past three decades.

Listen to it.

Rock Machine - Can't Wait Anymore
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JCvoO-q5yA

The young group  came up with a brilliant rock album called 'Rock n Roll Renegade'. My younger brother Ram showed a glimpse of his talent of picking the winners from newcomers when he bought this album of a relatively unknown group. And what an album it was.

What stayed in this album was this song. I remember those lyrics 'Trying to erase...' easily - and the rest of it came by as I played the song. Something rings so true and honest about the lyrics, about how the song was composed and sung. Many a night I played this song again and again and it filled the dark room beautifully. Lovely.

The other day we were listening to music at Kiran's house and I asked him if could access this album (I'd tried earlier but somehow failed). Kiran did, in a couple of minutes, and this huge wave of relief and ecstasy washed over me.

Old lost love? No chance. Give me an old lost song any day.

P.S. Another one from the album 'Top of the Rock' for good measure.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxvbRiGmU-k

Bahubali - The Beginning - Movie Review

It is as it promises - the beginning. Two warring cousins, one power hungry uncle who is crazy about making his son the ruler, one loyal servant to the throne irrespective of right or wrong, a queen seething with vengeance, a warrior princess - its set up nicely for the conclusion.

Bahubali is a spectacle with grand scale and that is what remained with me the most, even more than the story (perhaps because it was incomplete). All characters are intriguing and larger than life and promise much. The war scenes are shown well and appear genuine thanks to the detailed preparation and execution. As with movies of such scale it is the scenes with the visual impact that are given much thought to - so we have the young Bahubali scaling impossible waterfalls, boating through an avalanche scene, the martial arts scenes, the passionate love scene between the two lovers, Bahubali conquering the enemy leader in an unexpected turnaround - all shown impactfully.

Prabhas looks the part and so does Rana. Ramya Krishna breathes life into her role. This Bahubali chap seems destined for greatness one way or another. Great work by Director of Photography Senthil who is also destined for greatness.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Link - 129 of the Most Beautiful Shots in Movie History

Sunday Cricket Lessons - Align Your Body

It could well be one of the most important lessons I have learned yet. While showing me the two ways of bowling - side on and open chested - Baig saab stressed on the need to align the body in the action.

For example, in a side one action, your arm has to go in a manner in which, lets say you are standing with your legs apart, you head turned over your left shoulder as if you are looking at the batsman, then, your right arm needs to wheel over in the same line as your left arm would have followed. It means that the arms move in a semi circular fashion and the leading hand (shoulder) aims at the batsman and (most importantly) the bowling hand follows in exactly the same place where the leading hand was.

For a better visual, think of a windmill.

The blade behind must follow the blade ahead in exact alignment right? Else what happens? The mill loses efficiency drastically. In fact it will soon be all over the place and probably break up into pieces. (To me this principle could well be the golden principle in bowling - just as watching the ball on to the bat is in batting!) And that is exactly what happens to bowlers whose arms are not in alignment. Ball is all over the place, injuries etc.

When in alignment it is so tough to go wrong - with line, length, pace nip, swing, direction. Just get aligned and see the difference.

In life, should there be a lesson? I am sure there is. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Anjali - Hand-written Letters and Land line Phones

I took Anjali to the post office a year ago and told her how it works. She liked the idea and even wrote a couple of letters to her cousins - complete with pictures, little stickers, I love yous and many large hearts. She got one reply from one of her cousins and that ended the whole story.

So I thought.

The other day she accosted me with an envelope. She had written a letter to her ajoba (grandfather) and wanted me to post it. This ajoba lives in Hyderabad so I had to call him to get his address. Ajoba was mighty thrilled at the idea of getting a letter from his granddaughter and started making plans on how he will write his reply to her. (He in fact started off with his opening lines etc.) It looks like the work for the postal department has increased a tad. And if she does get a reply I am sure she will write some more.

We also have a land line at home which is rarely used. Say an average of two calls a month seems to be the norm. So I told Anjali a couple of days ago that since she does not have a phone of her own, the land line could be hers. She was mighty thrilled at the idea of having her own phone. She picked out all the land line numbers of her aunts and cousins, ajobas and ajjis and is calling them now on a daily basis. She has also appropriated the old phone book that had numbers written down - mostly land line stuff. The aunts and other relatives are super thrilled at this new development and they are also calling her on the land line. Suddenly there are a lot more calls at home and lot more talk going on - it feels as if its an old joint family has awoken.

Interesting, the things kids do. (These are the most uncool things right now for them.) More interesting to see the energy they do these things with. And the energy they spread when they do these things.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Thought for the Day - The Link Between Effective Communication, Good Sales and User Focus

The company where I spend many Tuesday afternoons, Gap Miners Pvt Ltd, has several young and enthusiastic sales personnel. We discuss many issues including effective communication, good sales and user focus. Though these topics are all dealt as separate topics, they pretty much need the same thing.

Empathy. Genuine empathy.
Best described by someone as - your pain in my heart

(You can add human relationships to the list.)

Empathy and good communication
To communicate effectively one must understand what the other person is like, the state of mind he is in, the language he understands, when is he most receptive, what puts him in a good mood to listen etc. If we look at normal communication, we normally speak from our point of view, and do not necessarily care if the other person is listening or not. We go on and on about our products, our problems and how he must solve it for us. Not many people are interested in listening about you - so it might help to communicate to him about things he likes to hear about. Now this would need some research - a businessman may be interested in listening to how you can solve a pain point, or even an outright attempt at flattery like how you find his business interesting and good and stuff like that. By shifting the perspective a bit, we have the person hooked into the conversation and then its a matter of how deeply you can connect with him.

The key here is not how good your product is - its about how much empathy you have for your customer and how much you really want to help (or at least make an attempt to help). This requires not merely good product knowledge etc but more importantly it needs a thorough understanding of the customer. It needs empathy.

It certainly needs you to put your ego aside and think from the other person's point of view. Ego and empathy cannot exist together so you have to decide now. Ego? Empathy?

Empathy, communication and good sales
Good sales are a result of the same. An understanding of the customer's need - which requires some amount of research, some amount of putting yourself in his shoes. Most times we have people making products but never using them as a user. The moment you use your product as a user, in your customer's shoes, you find the many ways in which you can see how it fulfils (or not) their need. Then you can speak in a language they understand. That connects, and a sale is made.

Again its not about how good your product is - its about how you connected and communicated with your customer.

Empathy and user focus
This is what user focus is about. How much ever everyone talks about customer orientation and user focus, they remain mere words unless you really get out and put yourself in their shoes. I find very few companies have the patience or the empathy to do this. The ones that do it clearly fill a need and typically do well. The ones that do not, wonder why such a good product as theirs is not selling. Its not selling because you are not able to connect to your customer and tell him how you can help him. (In most cases we are telling him our problem and asking him to solve it for us by buying the product!)

Do it. Use your products as a customer does. Think of ways to make the experience better. You cannot go wrong.

Empathy and human relationships
And I add human relationship to that list. And pretty much any job that needs to be done well. The moment people come into the equation, your first thought needs to be - what will get this person interested and involved in what I am saying. Whether its a speech, a book, a movie, a product, a service - thats the key. Once you get a fix on that, you can get a foothold and then slowly but surely the door opens. To good communication. To  good sales. To users. To hearts. Once you get to the heart its very easy to get to the pockets.


Book Event - 'In Between the Bridge' by Abhinay Renny

Young Abhinay Renny is presently graduating from VNR VJIET (Vignan Jyothi Institute of Engineering and Technology). He is pursuing his Mechanical Engineering in that institute. While doing that and the many other things that youngsters of his age must be doing (he also plays the guitar, is an athlete, loves playing basket ball and seems to have tons of friends of both sexes), he also found the time and energy to write down a book 'In Between the Bridge'. It's a love story set on a college campus and flows along through a mix of prose and poetry. I haven't had a chance to read the book yet but have glimpsed through it (and heard another speaker read some parts of it at the book launch).
Pothi, 124 p, Rs. 259

But what's noteworthy about young Renny's effort is that he not only wrote the book but also went through the pains of getting it published - he has had it published in the US and the UK. And now in India through that wonderful publishing house that gives so many writers a chance to express themselves - Pothi.com. (Dr. Rajendra Nargundkar, Marketing Professor with IIM, Indore now, and interestingly one of Vignana Jyothi's original team when it started the Management School, has had his humorous take on his life 'My Experiments With Half-Truths' published by Pothi.com.) For one so young to pursue a lonely vocation like writing a book all by himself is in itself a huge achievement. Not only that, Abhinay went further and organised a fine book launch event at his college auditorium yesterday. The auditorium was packed with friends and supporters cheering his every word. He has the complete support of his college authorities, from his lecturers (Kiran, who proposed that he invite me as Chief Guest and went out and called me), Head of Mech Department, Prof Kiran Mai, Principal, CEO of the Vignana Jyothi Group and many others who took time out to attend the event, encourage the young man and exhort the others to follow the lead.

Not everyone can gain so much love unless he is a special person. Abhinay came dressed smartly in a suit to the parking area, a big smile on his face. His friends handled the mike (a very competent compere who easily ad libbed when she had to and who handled the explosive sound system with poise - well done young lady - you did better than most), the camera, the hospitality (Shashank and one other young man who led me in and out). Abhinay gave his friend, cover designer Krishna his due through an AV (Krishna also gave a fine speech about art and how it is expressed through the child in us - mature words). Then an AV about Abhinay which showed his precocious desire to change the world - he made a great effort to go and meet the grand dreamer of change - APJ Abdul Kalam himself - when he was a tiny school kid.

Writing changes us in many ways - and this is what Abhinay must have undergone - the honesty to put his feelings into words, the responsibility to put his name on the book and accept it for what it is and the commitment to see it through all the rejections, the lows and uncertainties. I am sure he will do well - all signs bode a good future for the lad - and all the best my young friend with whatever you do in life.

And thank you VNR VJIET for a lovely gift - a healthy potted plant that is alive and that will grow - instead of cut flowers. A thoughtful gesture.

What Happens When Light Touches Us

This is what happens when light touches us.


There's an inexplicable energy, a beauty about it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Talk on Leadership - School of Management Studies, Hyderabad Central University

Dr. Jyothi from the School of Management Studies, Hyderabad Central University, invited me for a talk we have been long discussing - on leadership. I think, now, that it is perhaps the one key line of thought that students need to get exposed to - of leadership and its true meaning. Our future depends on it. This was a two hour talk - and given below is its gist.

Good morning,
If things were to change drastically in our lives in the next five years, what should we do? I am not merely speaking for us who are in this room alone. I am speaking for society, our country as a whole.  
What do we want to change?
The partial list as provided by the students - Poverty, Caste, Corruption, Communal differences, Gender inequality, Terrorism, Environment, Animal abuse, Cleanliness, Education system, Politics, Traffic.....
Lovely stuff. Full of ideals and values.

Can we change things? Do we have the power?
How can these changes be effected? How can we influence our lives, our futures in 5 years? Can we? (The initial response was a sad - NO! and I don't blame the kids for that.) 
Though it may appear like an uphill task, you should say yes, because we do have the power to change things. You have the power to change things. So lets look at how we can change things. In 5 years.

Who will change things for us?
Who will change things for us? The government? Our leaders? But what can leaders do if they start an initiative like Swachh Bharath but people do not carry the work forward (after the initial selfie rush). The only way we can change things is when all of us start showing the leader in us - in small ways. If the Prime Minister does it for all of India, we need to take leadership for our room, our home, our college, our university etc.The only way is for each of us to assume leadership positions. 

Why can't we do it?
But can we take leadership positions? Are we prepared to assume leadership positions? Are you ready? 
You are not. Nothing has prepared you to lead yet. Someday we hope to, but not now. 

So you find yourself at a disadvantage.


Do you think it might help you if you understand leadership?
Two big questions - Is leadership important at all? Are leaders born or made?
(We agreed that the leadership is important. It is the one thing that can make a difference.)

How should the ideal leader be?
Let's list leadership attributes of the ideal leader. Clarity, contains group energies, shows the way, sets expectations, leads from the front, operates with optimism and enthusiasm, has long term perspective, believes that humans do good, is action oriented, plans carefully, executes plans, finishes job, empowers, loves, brings the best out of others, enthusiastic, is fair, has integrity, is warm and full of humility, leads by example etc

Are we ready to take leadership positions now?
What does leadership require you to do? In simple words - in needs you to take responsibility – 1) for yourself and 2) for others.    
We may feel we are not yet ready, that we are not yet good enough to influence the world. Let's see how some others are making a difference to the world.

Let's watch a video on youtube of Sean Stephenson – The prisoner of your mind.


There are no excuses really for us not to do what we can in our lives, in that small area of control. First one must understand that leadership is not about taking - its about giving.

Leadership and its phases
Let me quickly run you through leadership and its phases as I see it. Remember, we are troubled by the lack of leaders in our society. We need more good leaders, more role models that we can follow, our youth can follow. What we have today in our society are untrained leaders, those who have either been thrust in to those positions or who have somehow seized them. These are what I call insecure leaders and they have one big problem - they will not be secure with secure leaders around them. They will promote only insecure people as leaders and mess up the system further. So we need to figure out how to make insecure leaders into secure leaders and also understand how to be a secure leader.

Insecure leaders
Insecure leaders are leaders only because they have a position and the authority that comes with the position. But being insecure people, they do not take any responsibility. They have authority but you take no responsibility for it. Instead they worry about how to protect themselves and further their own interests. In this case, the team suffers badly. The state, the country, society suffers.

Personal leaders
These are all of us. Ordinary people with no position. People like you and me, the sweeper on the road, These people have no authority, no position but they can assume full responsibility if they want to and make a difference. We discussed the stories of a lady who stopped a boy who was going on the wrong side of the road and made him turn back and join the right side, a happy go lucky tea boy who made tea times full of energy and excitement for all of us at the bank, the story of the starfish beach from Chicken Soup series. Then we shared a few stories from Rashmi Bansal's book 'I have a dream' - of  Bindeshwar Pathak and the Sulabh success story, of Harish Hande and Selco, of Super 30 and the daughter of a rickshaw puller who cracked the IIT, of Kejriwal and the RTI, of Goonj and Anshu Gupta. How one person with a dream achieved so much with no power or position. This is what we want the students to practice now - personal leadership - in small ways to affect a change in whatever area they wished to impact. By practising personal leadership you understand the discipline, the compassion, the responsibility and commitment required to set things right. This is the first step to becoming secure leaders.

Secure leaders 
If you practice personal leadership you can grow into a secure leader. Here you can use your position position with all the responsibility and use it wisely, use authority to make the changes you want to see. You will facilitate change, transfer ownership and empower the group, you will help others grow, you make others feel secure.

How to be secure?
We can be secure by accepting our limitations - of what we know and what we don’t know. Insecurity comes from hiding what we do not know and behaving as if we know.

How to practice Personal Leadership? 
Practice ownership. 
1) for yourself - using your power to better your place or position
2) for others - using your power to help others better their position

All you students must find your own ways to change the world. List 25 acts you will do to make a change. Recognize your power to make a change, Do the act, think ahead and do it everyday

My prescription for young Personal Leaders
Start today
Do daily acts of Personal Leadership
Form groups, teams, organizations
Share your progress on social media, inspire others
Start making one small change a day

Dancing With the Dark - An Intense 2 Day Workshop

Shobhs announced this Self-Acceptance workshop 'Dancing With The Dark' over last weekend. The workshop is about accepting your shadow side (the dark side) - the parts of you that you have not accepted. Or worse, have rejected. So these parts hang on (to use a strong metaphor, like rejected children) and are discriminated against. All this makes us feel less than whole, and maybe a tad heavy too, because we are carrying these dark and heavy secrets.

The workshop idea struck me as something powerful and I signed up immediately because I think I am almost entirely a dark side (okay, just joking and pun intended!). It was an intense 2 day affair that started with an understanding of our shadow sides which pretty much is all those parts of us that we have consciously rejected or kept away - as not being part of 'us'. Now in most cases we know that this list could be a longer list than the other list of qualities we accept as 'us' and flaunt. Most times these lists grow because of our perceptions of good or bad, or perhaps based on reactions from others. The shadow bag grows bigger and bigger and we make a valiant effort to hide it from public eye. We don't want you to see that awful bag you know.

Now the whole idea of the workshop is to open this bag, dust the stuff we have rejected, clean it up and let them join our other 'acceptable' selves. We have an unapologetic version of our self sitting on the mantelpiece - take it or leave it. - but this is me

Freeing.

So in the workshop we had to first find the shadow parts (or the dark sides). One easy way to do this is to see what qualities or people affect us (irritate us, anger us, disturb us) and that list is pretty much the list of stuff we have hidden away. The principle behind this affecting business is that if "you spot it, you got it". So if you spot some injustice, bad work, behavior etc, be sure that you got it too! (Typically the more judgmental and critical of us get longer lists - so there's no surprise I got a long one!) If it particularly affects you enough for you to get upset - its something deep within you don't like (or want) so you project that self on to someone else and despise them for exhibiting it! This projection seems to have a reason too - obviously we cannot take so much self hatred so it is better we hate the guys on television or in the news or someone else.

Anyway we find that this is a longish list which itself disturbs you some. But then after unconcealing our shadow parts we now have to 'own' them - and not act like they are some bastard children. Own them. And then, even more difficult, embrace them. Its an interesting and intense workshop that gets you in touch with your best self, your most magnificent self and also your worst. And we need to make them both come together and live together with us somewhere in the middle. (Imagine living together with your super achiever rich and handsome brother and your sad and unhealthy and super failure poor brother with you somewhere in the middle and all of you meet after ages and have to make peace - sounds like an unexplored and interesting hit movie theme actually.)

Its powerful stuff. Some of the exercises make you realise how stuck we are with our thoughts, patterns and how difficult it is to accept that we can be otherwise in certain situations. But gradually we start accepting the worst parts of us, we tend to get less upset when someone calls us stuff we normally get upset with, we understand that is ok to be that and that in itself is quite freeing.

Thanks co-participants N,P and S. And thanks Shobhs for doing this rather difficult but powerful workshop.


One Penguin Down - 'The Tinder Box' and Other Stories by Hans Christian Andersen

This 55 page book is a collection of five short children's stories by the master fairytale teller himself. Of these stories I have read the story of the 'Princess and the Pea'. The other stories are 'The Tinderbox', 'Little Claus and Big Claus', 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier', 'The Nightingale' and 'The Red Shoes'.
Penguin Little Black Classics, P 55, Rs. 49
'The Tinderbox' is the story of a soldier who chops off a witch's neck (cruel chap!) because she does not tell him why she wants him to bring her a tinderbox hidden in a tree and guarded by three fierce dogs. After using her magic to get himself lots of money and the tinderbox he kills her off. Of course the tinder box produces three dogs of varying sizes and more importantly varying powers and they bring to the soldier the inevitable wealth, princess and the kingdom. A lovely children's story as you can see.

'Little Claus and Big Claus' are two village bumpkins. Big Claus seems to specialise in bumping off horses. Little Claus seems to be a guy who thinks lightly on his feet to make a good deal for himself. (There's also a farmer's wife who is seeing a deacon by the side which is underplayed.)  How Little Claus gets the better of the farmer, the deacon, Big Claus and makes a whole load of money in the process is what this story is about. Another good story for children.

'The Princess and the Pea' is about a real Princess who passes the test of a pea under twenty mattresses and wakes up black and blue. Why anyone would want to marry anyone so sensitive is what one would like to know.

'The Steadfast Tin Soldier' is a sad tale of love between a one-legged tin soldier and a trapped princess and how they end up dead together.

'The Nightingale' is about a real nightingale and a machine - and how the real one can heal while the machine cannot. Its all about feelings my friend.

'The Red Shoes' are about a pair of red shoes - it gets a bit gory with the young girl's feet being cut off because she has the red shoes on them and finally how the church comes to her. Seems to be a story about temptation and punishment and perhaps deliverance.

It always amazes me to read the amount of killing, deceit and violence in children's stories - the popular ones. It appears that children do love these angles of life somehow. And about horror and ghost stories. I remember Ruskin Bond once told me - they like to get scared a bit. It does appear that Hans knew the trick too and well. I vote for the Princess story as the best of the lot.


Amercian Sniper - Movie Review

Based on the true life story of an all time great American Sniper, Chris Kyle, who earned himself the title 'The Legend' (he achieved the highest number of kills in the Iraqi war with 255, of which 160 are officially confirmed ), American Sniper is in parts the conflict between the man and his conscience, him and his desire to do more (he could not save some) and an interesting sub-conflict between him and a worthy rival sniper named Mustafa who wreaks havoc in the American army and pins down the Legend equally well.

It also makes us think of the mindlessness of war and how so many lives are lost.

The war and the killings take its toll on the young NAVY SEAL and his family. He keeps going back to the war front to probably set something right, which he felt was wrong. When he finally returns he is killed by a 25  year old schizophrenic American war veteran that Kyle and his friend were trying to help. How bizarre is that.

The movie is based on an autobiography by Chris Kyle of the same name which became a bestseller. Clint Eastwood directs this movie with Bradley Cooper in the lead. Watchable.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Tale of 26 Penguins - Stacked On My Shelf

This is a classic tale. Or rather a tale of classics.

From 80 Penguins, Vinod and I chose 26 (with the three Penguins we picked up yesterday, it makes a nice 29). It's such a delicious prospect really. Can't wait to sink my teeth into them. Wonder why no one thought of serving Penguins this way.

Classics. Gustave Flaubert, Oscar Wilde, Gogol, Dante, HG Wells, Joseph Conrad, DH Lawrence...That shelf never looked so good.

Book Event - 'The Heat and Dust Project' by Devapriya Roy and Saurav Jha

The book goes with the tag line - the broke couple's guide to Bharat. So you get an idea that its a travel book with a twist - all travels under this project  are done under a strict budget of 500 bucks a day for bed and board. That's an ambitious task to undertake but the charming couple have done it and well, written about it.
Saurav Jha (extreme left) and Devapriya Roy (extreme right) at the book event

Devapriya Roy has already written two books 'The Vague Woman's Handbook' and 'The Weight Loss Club'. She has many credentials and interests - model (was the Keo Karpin girl once), dancer, academic, novelist and more. Saurav Jha is a contributor to energy and security issues and writes for national and international media. His first book was 'The Upside Down Book of Nuclear Power' and he writes a blog 'Geek at Large' on Indian defence issues.

Both are friends of another writer couple and good friends of mine Krishna Shastri Devulapally and Chitra Viraraghavan and writer-blogger-academic-marketing guru Dr. Rajendra Nargundkar so there was no way I was going to miss the event when I heard about it. I enlisted the support of the solid, dependable bureaucrat and one who knows all three mentioned above - Vinod Ekbote - who joined me for a quick mirchi bajji and coffee before we headed to Landmark. I thought the event went off really well. Both spoke passionately, insightfully and humourously about their experiences. IAS Officer Sumita Dawra, a writer herself (her next book on China is being published by Bloomsbury) spoke a few words before the authors launched into a conversation with Mohan and Seema form Taj - who did a fine job of navigating the conversation well. They recounted many interesting incidents, spoke about how some filmi deals which may come up, answered a question on how to get a publisher (they felt that the best way is to go to a literary agent) etc.

I enjoyed the evening, bought two copies for two friends who are visiting India, Aruna and Ritha since I already have a copy sent to me by Krishna and Chitra. I don't think I would have ever thought of picking up books as gifts had it not been for Krishna and Chitra who do this nice thing with books. They pick up books written by their pals and gift them (they gifted copies of 50 Not Out too)- and now - continuing their support for their friends they sent me and Vinod signed copies of 'The Heat and Dust Project'. Thanks K & C. I am now into the first leg of the journey with Devapriya and Saurav and it does look like a very promising ride.

Vinod and I saw a bunch of cute little Penguin classics and we picked up three. I got myself a Gustave Flaubert story. They cost only 49 bucks and are some really, solid stories. Maybe I should pick up some more tomorrow.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Deconstructing Happiness and What Happens When Happiness Happens

I cannot tolerate happiness. Really. A moderate life with no major ups and downs is my concept of happiness. Let me deconstruct a situation that happened yesterday.

I went to my bank for some work (bank work!) yesterday. You know how banks (my banks) are at 9 in the morning. They are packed, people are waiting, typically the bank employees are not in the mood and for special requests like mine - it normally requires a visit and a half and a wait of an hour. My previous experience points to that.

But yesterday all my angels were in attendance. I entered the bank and found almost no one there - customers were on holiday it looked like. My merry heart sank - that means bank employees would be goofing off too right? I walked into the empty area that led to this particular counter. The lady there smiled at me and reached out for my book. It was like a dream. A fantasy really, comparable to those early morning ones when such wonderful things happen like these beautiful women reaching out to you etc. Normally it would have been an empty counter, a 'closed' board. I gave my book to her and she quickly did what was necessary. I then asked my dreaded question - needed a small print out (normally a huge favor done only if you are closely related to the bank employees). Could she do it? Another angelic smile. Just a moment, could you wait she said. She pointed at the empty chairs. Please be seated. Now I was convinced I was in heaven. The steel chair felt soft as cotton. I must wake up soon. I was losing touch with reality, unhinging.

When she finally gave me what I wanted and in double quick time, I was floating. Fully unhinged. Have I recovered my god-like status that I lost in my childhood? I smiled gratefully at her. She smiled back. I started back before something could go wrong. It was exactly ten minutes since I stepped in. Nothing happened. I went out, sat in the car and quickly went home before things changed.

When do I wake up? Why had my life become so perfect?

And then I realised it.

My glasses, which cost me a fortune, were missing. I searched. Then after a couple of moments remembered putting them on the counter in my happiness. Sometimes I do stuff like that when I am happy. I really test my happiness.

See, my mind said. You cannot handle happiness. Why do you even ask for it? For that one moment of happiness see what you have done. You have gone and lost your expensive glasses. Imagine if you get more happiness. Like a lottery or something. I can't imagine what you would do then. It admonished me.

I could not help but agree. All my experience and training had shown me that my mind was speaking sense. I could go back now to the bank. I know I will find a huge crowd there. But the glasses would be gone. A huge price for my happiness. (Sh would not smile anymore!)

For a change I told my over-critical, sarcastic and cynical mind that perhaps I might find the glasses yet. It smirked. I held my ground, weakly. The drive to the bank was another 15 minutes (that was enough punishment along with my mind's supercilious attitude). I walked in, bracing myself for the queues, bad tempers. I approached the counter which now had two other people waiting. The moment of truth. I saw the place where I had kept it. Empty. My heart sank.

Then my sad eye caught the eye of the girl at the counter. She saw me, held up the case. My heart flew again. She smiled. I smiled.

Maybe my life is changing. Maybe I can make peace with some happiness still.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Aarushi - Avirook Sen

Avirook Sen's puts the entire story in perspective - which is the scary part - as we realise while reading the book. For the first time, I read the whole story as it unfolded, and not in small bits and pieces. What I remember about the case was how the tale twisted and turned wildly and how it was spiced by by unsubstantiated revelations of debauched activities that had somehow got bigger than the death of two people, one of whom was the supposed killers own precious daughter. Since so many experts and authorities were at work, and India's premier investigative agency, the CBI, was at work, we, the normal public, believe that they cannot all go wrong and that there must be ample evidence to convict the couple (which was finally the case - the dentist couple are in jail now). 
Penguin, 302 p. Rs. 299

Avirook Sen's book reveals how we live in a fool's paradise if we think that all the experts and authorities are by themselves checks and balances to arrive at a just and fair outcome. It is not about who is guilty really. Avirook exposes the kind of unscientific reports experts present, the way the system is manipulated to show or hide evidence and more importantly the social factors that seem to be at play underneath all this show of inefficiency, ineptitude and indifference. Not to mention how we lose all our senses when it comes to any mention of sex.

Avirook is a writer and journalist who covered the trial, met the people concerned, pre and post the conviction of the Talwar couple - for murdering their only child Aarushi and their man servant Hemraj. The trial court found them guilty and their appeal is pending in the high court now. Without going deeper into the story - I will try and relate what impacted me, the story as the book says (and as I understood it).

Bharti Mandal, the temporary maid of the Talwar's (the regular one is on leave and has asked her to step in for a couple of weeks!) comes to the Talwar's home at Jalvayuvihar on the 16th of May, 2008 at 6 am. She rings the bell which is normally answered by the live-in man servant, 45 year old Hemraj from Nepal. Bharti is standing near the outer grill door which leads into a small passage. Once into the passage one encounters an outer mesh door that can be locked from the outside as well as the inside and then the inside wooden door which leads into the main house which can only be locked from the inside. The inside door is opened by Nupur Talwar, wife of Rajesh Talwar. However she finds the mesh door locked from outside. The maid goes down to find the man servant who they think may have gone down to fetch milk, but as the maid goes down she asks her mistress to throw down the latch key so she can let herself in if she does not find the man servant. She does not find him and returns soon after. Once she lets herself in she finds Nupur Talwar crying. She thinks there has been a robbery. Nupur Talwar shows her the room of her daughter, thirteen year old Aarushi. The maid finds Aarushi lying in bed, her skull split by a blow and her throat slit. The walls are splattered with blood. But next to Aarushi are her stuffed toys, seemingly clean.

Aarushi's body was found by Rajesh Talwar who woke up after Nupur, walked into the dining area, and found a bottle of his whisky two thirds consumed. Since he had not drunk any whisky the previous night he suspects foul play and opens the door to his daughter's room. He finds her murdered. The neighbours, family and friends are called, the police come and news of the murder breaks out.

Since the man servant is missing, all suspicion points to him. When Nupur tries to reach him on his phone someone picks the phone and then switches it off. There is some blood on the door leading to a terrace in the Talwar's house, the keys to which were with the man servant Hemraj. The blood stains notwithstanding the police do not try very hard to open the door all day. In fact many items of evidence are handled badly or ignored blanking out many possible leads. Aarushi's body is sent for post mortem. 

Next day, the door to the terrace is finally broken down by an ex-cop K.K. Gautam who visits the house in the capacity of a "family friend" or "well wisher". The ex-cop finds the swollen, decomposed body of the man servant Hemraj on the terrace who was till then the main suspect. Two identical murders, with one blow to the head with a heavy object and a slit throat have been committed while the other two people inside the house were asleep.

One theory is that the two survivors in the house murdered the other two and covered up the job. Another theory is that outsiders were there and they committed the twin murders and let themselves out.

If the entrance was found locked from the "inside" when Nupur Talwar opened it in the morning, it meant that only four people were in the house. If the door was locked from the "outside", it could mean that there was an outsider. The door locked theory became important to establish that fact - which is where the new maid and her testimony became important. If there were others, did they leave traces of their DNA behind? 

The initial police investigation was conducted so shoddily that forget about seizing evidence properly and lifting finger prints carefully etc, they failed to recover a body lying in the same premises for want of breaking down one lock for over a day even after blood stains were detected on the hand rails and the terrace lock. The crime scene was allowed to be washed off the same day - so all sorts of theories had to be explored, evidence found and then the case put together. That's the first thing that hits you - what sorts of procedures do the police follow in such crimes. The toys are not seized, many other items near the bodies are not seized, the bottle of whisky which has bloodstains of the victims on it has been handled badly and no finger prints are found and so on and on. 

Lacking a suspect, now that Hemraj is dead, the police chief, IGP Gurdarshan Singh, with no evidence really announces to the press that the father is the killer within a week. The theory is that the father found the daughter and the man servant in a compromising position and had killed both, dressed up the scene and hid the body of the man servant in his own house (why would any one do that?). The father is arrested and put in jail (during which time he is assaulted by a mad man with a meat cleaver). Meanwhile the case is transferred to the CBI. But the sex angle sticks to this case forever thanks to our sensitive authorities - and the media. More stories appear, of orgies, wife swapping clubs and affairs. All of them are unsubstantiated but the public and media are salivating already.

The CBI team pursues an angle where three other servants, friends of Hemraj's, working with friends and relatives of the Talwars come into the picture. The dentists assistant Krishna had a grouse against Rajesh who recently publicly admonished him. Raj Kumar was a servant of their dentist couple friends, the Durranis, whose daughter went to the same school as Aarushi and was her friend. A third servant was Vijay Mandal who worked in the house of a neighbour. Based on the CBI's investigations Rajesh Talwar is released for want of evidence and the servants are arrested and sent for narco tests (which even the Talwars take). The narco tests implicate the servants fully, and clear the Talwars. But narco tests are not admissible in court. In the narco tests, there is talk of a khukri that Krishna had which was used as the murder weapon and which could be found in his house (it was found in Krishna's house with traces of blood on it along with a pillow cover that had Hemraj's blood stains). The two mobile phones of the dead people are said to be with Krishna and Raj Kumar according to the narco tests.

An eight member team from AIIMS submits a report on the post mortem including the two doctors who performed the post mortems (Dohare and Naresh Raj) that a khukri was in all likelihood the murder weapon. The report also says that nothing abnormal was found in Aarushi's sexual organs. That should have put the honour killing idea to rest.

Though the narco tests seem to point to the servants guilt, there is still not enough proof against them. The two servants steadfastly deny their involvement despite saying the opposite in the narco tests where they implicated each other - Krishna said Raj Kumar killed and Raj Kumar said Krishna killed. Caught in a bind, the CBI team works on Vijay Mandal to turn approver. When the deal is almost clinched the CBI chief rejects the proposal to make Vijay Mandal an approver.

Given the delay in making a headway in the case, a new team from the CBI comes into the investigation. Enter a new investigation officer (IO) A.G.L. Kaul with a dubious track record in terms of methods used to close cases. Avirook does enough homework here about Kaul's past cases and history. Kaul turns the case back into an honour killing case. He makes the post mortem doctor Sunil Dohare who originally found 'nothing abnormal' with Aarushi's sexual organs in the post mortem, makes an additional noting after a whole year that he had actually found it dilated. He changes the statement again after some more time - this time saying that the "vaginal opening was prominently wide open and the cervix was visible'. His statement is incredibly supported by two sweepers in the morgue who also note that the vagina was wide open (sweepers? giving testimony in medical matters?). When questioned on why he is bringing in his new observations so late in the day when they were not mentioned in his post mortem report nor in the AIIMS committee report Dohare says he did not include them in the report because he thought the 'findings were non-specific and very strange' (one would think that warrants a mention in a report). 

The mischief is this. What it does is that it suggests that Aarushi was sexually active - and if she is proven to be promiscuous - it now gives a motive for her father to kill!

It is evidences like this, based on completely unscientific conclusions that forms the basis of the conviction. 

A key piece of evidence is almost lost - retrieved - and finally ignored. The CDFD which analyses all the evidence finds traces of Hemraj's blood on Krishna's pillow which is recovered from Krishna's house after the narco tests along with a khukri. That pillow suggests that Krishna might have been in the house that night. In one simple stroke the CBI and the CDFD say that there has been a typo and that the pillow with Hemraj's blood is actually his own. A typo? On evidence on which hangs the fate of people's lives and reputations? Now Hemraj's blood on his own pillow in his room is one thing but how does one explain Krishna's pillow cover with Hemraj's blood on it? This evidence thankfully is rectified and CBI also corrects the version in the end - that Krishna's pillow cover was found with Hemrajs' blood. And incredibly it is left at that - despite the narco tests, despite finding a khukri with him and despite this hard evidence of the pillow with Hemraj's blood. No one pursues that angle of that pillow.

The other big expert in this case whose testimony becomes important is that of Dahiya, a Forensics expert, from FSL, Gandhinagar. Sitting in Gandhinagar, without seeing anything other than what is told or supplied to him, he makes a report which says that the weapons used to slit throats need not be khukris but surgical knives used by doctors because the wounds are very surgically done (no one checks whether a dental surgeon uses scalpels capable of such wounds, no surgical equipment is seized from Talwars) and that the head wounds are quite likely caused by a golf club and not a hammer as originally suspected (Rajesh Talwar plays amateur golf!). The expert has not dealt with golf clubs before, does not have measurements of the wounds or the clubs, but somehow concludes that it appears to be a case of 'honour killing' and that he is certain that the servant and the child were having intercourse when they were killed. These are his findings and conclusions in his report. 

More importantly he also says that his findings indicate that the two dentists dressed up the crime scene i.e. Rajesh Talwar hit Hemraj with a golf stick and then clubbed his own daughter. In this process, the expert says the wall had two 'blood splatters' which proves two murders were committed there - all from photographs. Rajesh Talwar then slit their throats with a scalpel and then hid Hemraj's body on his own terrace (where he perhaps hoped it would never be found). But here's the interesting part, there is no trace of any blood, fluid or any DNA of Hemraj in Aarushi's room. How then would one conclude that Hemraj was in her room at all, after having his his head bashed up and his throat slit?

The answer to that is this. The expert feels that the doctor couple carefully cleaned the room of all traces of DNA, left only Aarushi's blood on the walls and removed only Hemraj's blood from the walls. After all they were doctors - they would know which blood belongs to who.

Many of the theories that the experts present are astounding and one wonders how anyone can get away with such 'expert' findings. From rapidly changing reports, statements and testimonies of both the post mortem doctors, Dahiya, the CDFC officials (on the typo pertaining to the crucial evidence of pillow covers), completely inefficient and incoherent testimonies by the police on the crime scene (one policeman just says he cannot see an object that is clearly seen in a photograph in court), use of force and other tactics to win over friends against Talwars, all agencies, experts, authorities came together as one to somehow make sense of what did not make sense.

The golf club under suspicion had no blood on it. In a set of 12 golf clubs, two were found to be cleaner than the rest, which is the only cause for suspicion (they had been cleaned!). No scalpel was ever found. Hence the two theories remain exactly that - theories.

The next CBI chief decides to close the case and IO Kaul is asked to file the closure report for lack of substantial evidence against anyone.

Kaul instead goes to Dahiya again and asks him to reconstruct the crime. He also gets two of Rajesh Talwar's friends to testify against him and takes statements from them - non-retractable statements before a magistrate. These statements have little substance to prove their complicity but only point at the lack of emotion of the Talwars stuff like that. These reports are sent to the judge ahead of the closure report. Then the closure report is sent with a tone that is - we know the parents are guilty but we have not found enough so we will close the case.

Based on this suggestive closure report the judge finds enough evidence to treat the closure report as a charge sheet. The Talwars are asked to stand trial in the murder of their daughter and man servant. 

The Talwars are arrested and go to court. They land up in judge Shyam Lal's court. He is also known famously as Saza Lal for his high rate of convictions. The trial is another incredible story and must be read. The CBI summons over 100 witnesses but only cross examines 39. When the defence seeks to cross examine more witnesses, they are refused. Finally the defence seeks to examine 13 witnesses an the judge allows only 7. Everyone wants the proceedings to get over fast. The narco analysis never comes up in the court. The defence proves that a golf club could not have been used in Aarushi's room to murder her. The defence does not get copies of evidence and goes to the Supreme Court to seek copies - even then they get only partial information. Despite all this, all the weak and fluctuating expert testimonies, despite lack of solid evidence - Lal covicts the parents just in time - four days before his retirement. He has delivered a 210 page judgement on one of India's most sensational crimes and completely negated the points raised by the defence as to why they cannot be guilty and many times overlooking (Avirook proves point by point how the judge has somehow overlooked what has been said or proved otherwise - worth a read) what the witnesses and evidences presented in court have said otherwise. The Talwars are given life sentences.

Right now the Talwars have filed an appeal. Both are lodged in Dasna jail. CBI's Kaul passed away of a heart attack, Judge Shyam Lal retired and is practicing in Allahabad. (There's an interesting interview with Avirook at the end with Judge Shyam Lal where he learns that the judge has started typing his judgement even before the final arguments were heard.) Dahiya gets another extension and a promotion perhaps. The servants are nowhere.

It is a book that must be read not for the story but to understand how our system works. What is frightening is the realisation that dawns on you that this is not an exception; this is the rule. Which is why we are all scared of going to the cops or any authority because they can easily foist false cases against you. As I read it I found it difficult to sleep, read it twice over and wondered what the logic was - two dentists kill two people, one of whom is their own, only daughter in the most macabre of manners, leave the bodies in their house. So far, I can understand some impulsive hot headed, violent person losing his mind and doing such stuff. (If it was an honour killing he would also wear it like a badge and confess to it wouldn't he?) But to attribute that same person a clear sense to clean up all DNA and fluid of one person from a huge mess and simply stay put at home waiting for the police to find it all there beats me. And not one, but both parents. What is the logic? (And if the CBI prosecutor is to be believed - Rajesh Talwar sat there drinking whisky all night after the murders and subsequent clear ups, watching pornography until Bharati Mandal turned up in the morning!)

It is interesting to note that particular statement made by the prosecutor to the press. One of the reasons for the moral indignation of the cops seems to be the internet activity on the night of the murders which suggested that someone was up through the night (watching porn!). However what was conveniently left out seems to be that the same internet activity continued through the next day - after the murders were found - when the couple was not accessing the internet.  

I wonder what happened to the khukri that was found in Krishna's room. Did it show any DNA? Surprisingly the servants, though they implicate one another in the narco analysis, stay put and do not flee after the murders. Its an intriguing case no doubt and a tough one made tougher by the shoddy handling of the case from day one. But one feels after reading the book and the many errors of commission and omission by the CBI and other bodies, that not enough evidence exists to convict the dentist couple. There are too many gaps, to many assumptions. The decision to close the case was perhaps the best in the given circumstances since there was not enough evidence. But now, unless the points raised in the book are sifted through and answered by the authorities convincingly and beyond doubt, it will point an uncomfortable finger at our system. 

If the Talwars are found not guilty at some point, its astounding what damage the system has done to two lives, nay four lives, because the reputations and dignity of the dead has been brutally compromised. If on the other hand the narco analysis and the servants angle proves some lead pointing to their complicity, its even more macabre - the system has let off the perpetrators and has punished the victims. The question to ask which is more relevant is this - does this happen often or is it an exception? 

One realises that this can happen to anyone. The incompetence, apathy, utter disregard of systems and procedures, departure from common sense and all intelligence, rule us. And when it all gets together, as it does more often than not, its a nightmare. 

Avirook writes with great energy,  with rare courage and honesty, humour and compassion, clarity and focus. And without worrying if he is trodding on anyone’s toes (and if any cases will be foisted against him). He writes as he feels, as he thinks, from his perception of right and wrong, and does not give the kind of unwarranted respect to authority that most of us in India do and by doing so elevate complete nincompoops to the levels of gods. Avirook brings everyone down to earth – his only question being – has the job been done well and in the interests of justice. Unfortunately it does not seem to be the case (to put it mildly). Here it is more about getting my job done, all else be damned. Children, humans, parents – nothing matters as far as we are recognized for some sensational disclosure. 

I wonder what happens now – he has raised enough points for people and the media to consider and reconsider. What is worrisome is that there may be a huge silence from all parties. The story has already served its purpose – no further juice can be squeezed out of this story. Almost all angles have been covered. So why bother now? Let justice take its own course while we search for the next bit of entertainment. This possibility could well happen. And if it does god help us because certainly no other human will help. They will simply change channels.

Read this book. Its brilliantly written. Not many would have written it, could have written it. It's explosive stuff. Its deeply disturbing and that's something you cannot say for many books. Some of the stuff that the experts give as findings is unbelievable. Pure gems. And there's tonnes of humour (black - I was once asked very severely by another writer friend of mine what this black humour was - she did not like the insinuation that I said she was good at that - but I do like black humour.) Buy it and read it. Like Avirook says in the beginning, this is about how India looks from the ground.

Avirook Sen, for more than one count, mostly for the courage to stand up for what you think is right, take a bow.