Saturday, February 2, 2013

Wisdom of the newborn

Expressions on her face come and go, like waves
On the shoreline of a pristine honest ocean
Each with a succinct story, an adult will spill a million words for

There is no audience, save herself
For this genuine play
Of which life is the author (potter), and her face his clay

Ah! what stories she tells
Some sublime and some passionate
Some pale and some in blood red

Some with cries, and some in silence
As her tiny body twists and turns
And small hands in mittens flay thin air

Stories of ghostly battles being fought besides the door
of spirits hovering near the curtains and goblins on the floor
They say the newborn's eyes are for the unseen
For connecting with the profound wisdom of those unborn
Through her soundless lips that spout bubbles of air
Her pleades are about us 'elders' fallacies in life

In her suppossed ignorence we find our bliss
In  her urgency, we see vulnerability
In her clarity of thoughts we search for our cloud of language
And in those limited times when her divinity dawns on us, we shudder!

But recover and lamely, try and teach.


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On modernity and religion

Inspite of being 29 years old and having spent 10 years in Delhi- I had never been inside a Gurudwara before. A chance visit there today left an impression on me of serenity, calmness, and interestingly-of religion keeping pace with modernity.

The event was a rendition of Guru Puran on account of death in the family of a senior colleague. Inside a traditional gurudwara in Greater Kailash I was fascinated to see a screen connected to a laptop. As and when priests chanted hymns in punjabi- the screen had translations in English and Hindi that people seated on the ground could easily follow. What was also heartening to notice was that the translations were timely, succinct, professional, and had no spelling/font bloopers.

Making religion simple lends a lot to making it more accessible. Given existing desperation in urban life for the poor and downtrodden- having something meaningful to hold onto would make life much worth living. Religion maybe false hope, but as I’ve realized over the years- many a times a prayer is all you have to hold onto. It does help if I can assign meaning to the prayer- even if it is in a power point slide within a temple. I hope we do get to see that someday too.

An encounter with a minister

On a cold winter morning, about a year and a half back, I was catching a flight back to Calcutta from Delhi. It was a usual back-to-work flight for me after having spent a weekend at home. I was travelling by Indigo- and had booked a front row aisle seat which I felt was most comfortable for an entry and exit from the aircraft. I was early- and had to make way for a middle aged couple who took up the seats next to mine. The Gentleman in the middle and the lady to the window.

The first thing I noticed was the pile of newspapers for the day that both carried with them. Amongst themselves- they had probably a total of 9 publications and given that it was 6:30 AM in the morning- I could make out that they had something to do with public service.

The flight took off; I remained engrossed in my book, and except for the initial polite hello didn’t converse much. And perhaps wouldn’t have opened my mouth either- except for a PA announcement by the pilot on a sighting of Mount Everest through the left window which made me crane my neck to get a view- and for which the Gentleman very politely shifted. We had a clear sighting and it was an intriguing view-though we were cruising at 30000 feet and I knew from memory that Everest was 8 thousand something feet tall-it felt as if we were parallel to the mountain.

I voiced my surprise aloud and that was a conversation starter. He gave a confidant explanation of which I wasn’t convinced- but didn’t dispute. He enquired about my profession, and that led to perhaps one of the most hilarious exchange of credentials in my professional life till date.

Me(with a note of pride): “I am a consultant in PwC. What do you do?”

Him: “I am a minister in the Government of India.”

Me: “Oh”

He turned out to be Dinesh Trivedi- Minister of state for Health in Oct of 2010 and currently India’s Railway Minister. At that point of time- I did not know of him but later read reports that talked of him belonging to a rare breed of politicians in India who are sophisticated, suave, and at the same time have a connect with masses. In our subsequent discussion- I could see behaviors which would vouch for all of the above.

He was inquisitive and curious to know more. He wanted to know more about Assam and what’s happening there- what works and what does not. I talked to him about the 108 Ambulence service and how that has been a transformational initiative. He had an evolved view on corruption and how it did not matter in the long run- as long as people deliver what they promise in the end. The backdrop was the ongoing Commonwealth Games organized by his government which had gotten off to a good start inspite of massive corruption. He was curious about what the business community thought of Bengal- and humbly sought my opinions on the same. Though his party was considered anti-industry at that moment- he took pains to explain that it wasn’t so to me. In fact the suggested that I see the latest Hollywood movie of the moment- the sequel to “Wall Street”- which I remember thinking was quiet ironic.

As for his energy levels and humbleness-one incident stands out in memory. There was an elderly and obviously poor man who was on a flight for the very first time and he could not figure out how to use the lavatory door and was struggling with it. Mr Trivedi saw that and immediately jumped out of his seat, opened the door for him, and also waited outside patiently till the man finished his business and then he helped him back to his seat. I was floored- realizing that it was a minister of the Government of India doing this!

As I write this, I realize today in the 26’th of January. Mr Trivedi- I also realize our republic needs a lot more ministers like you.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The dilemma of my bookshelf

Finally I have a book shelf to myself. To a book lover but a non-collector of things it can be quite a disconcerting thing.
Its not really spacious- nor does it have a lot of partitions- just 4 shelves where I can finally display and arrange some of the few things which are precious to me. Instead of having them gathering dust underneath the divan or haphazardly locked up on the top shelf of a wooden cabinet. So last weekend was a happy time putting it all behind a nice glass case in the drawing room. Neatly arranged for display by authors. The bottom shelf for Booker prize winners- one top shelf for authors of whom I have more than one book of. Also- some space for inevitable junk and pulp fiction which piles up.

I'd like to believe I've never been a collector of anything in my life- and I hope I shall never get that urge. I intensely feel there's something very vulgar in that act of drawing boundaries and demarcating 'this is mine..while you view and envy..i shall gloat'. Or you may simply put it down to lack of ambition. For whichever cause- I've always wanted to leverage and share whatever little I had to momentarily lay my hands on some thing which is pleasurable, joyous, yet very transitory. And then pass it on. Comic books, wrestling/cricket cards, music tapes, everything.

Even when i graduated into started reading serious stuff-I'd never feel the urge to hold onto any of it.

So now- the book shelf is an interesting dilemma. Looking at all those books together gives me deep sense of peace and fulfilment. So much so that I've printed a photograph of it and kept it on my work desk. Just looking at those well told stories neatly nestled against each other makes me somehow feel I've done justice to the pleasure they gave me while reading them. But then- doesn't that also make me a collector now?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Sense of an ending

Its not a good story. In a traditional sense of a story.

The plot is the past and an old man's moldy memory of it. Memory that's mutable. The past is what he makes of it. A life incident that has taken on a different shape with the passage of time. But then facts tumble out and his established past takes on an unsettling shape.

There are a few twists in the tale towards the end which are quite dramatic. But those by themselves do not make it a good story. So then- what does?

Is it his ideas about time and memory? Not by themselves- I say. And really- he's not talked about anything new there. Yes- the reader does develop an almost vicarious interest in the protagonists struggle to deal with uncomfortable incidents which arise from the depths of memory. But memory and its versions have been dealt with umpteen times before in literature. And mostly classified under the label 'Modern History'.

So is it the torn complacency of the protagonist which makes this a good read? Again- he does not come across as being too sorry a figure. A genuine do good-er- who seems to fall into an ever intriguing past the more he proceeds to set things in order.

Is it then the remorse that the reader identifies with? The underlying sense of helplessness arising from the inability to change whats happened in the past. Or perhaps it is a deep sense of foreboding arising from his curse which turns out to be true- almost word-by-word years after him almost ranting it out in frustration in an old letter.

Whatever it is that makes this book a good read is difficult to lay a finger on. But it is worth reading for sure.

As life moves on

There's an ad for a healthier cooking oil which i've been hearing on radio these days on my drive to work. Almost as if he were very sincerely selling it- a voice over promises a life filled with very usual, regular happenings in your life in the new year of 2012. Late night movies, a good book read, birthday surprises, marathon preparations, marriages within the family, warmth in relationships etc etc. It somehow manages to capture joy-de-vivre very sweetly.

That's the state I find myself in- in the beginning of year 2012. Life has moved on. Time has passed. Things have happened. Many a times- things have happened to me. Some times-I'd like to believe, I've pushed to make things happen. Some aspirations have been fulfilled. A lot still remains to aspire for.

When a baby is born, apparently there are some Chinese philosophers who go up and bless the child- 'may you have an ordinary life'. Increasingly- I can see the value in that.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Eat,Pray, Love

Elizabeth Gilbert. I happened to be introduced to her via the TED website. A talk of her's which was marked in their category 'Earth Shattering'. I get intrigued. Isnt she supposed to be some girly, chick-flick script-writer? What can she have to talk about which gets marked as being profound? TED dumbing down on its intellectual value? However the topic she'd picked seemed to be of possible relevance to me. Something to do with the 'origins of the creative process'. Stuck as i was not doing anything creative for long, (check out the date of my last post!)i felt she just as well may provide me the elixer.
Young, tall, blond, good looking female. And dressed in black. She talked fast, and (voila!) talked sense on what i'd assumed to be an ambiguous and complex topic. She kinda resembled an articulate, down to earth, and more earnest version of Julia Roberts, without the make up but still with a lot more spunk. All without a teleprompter in sight. The sexist Nishith Upadhyaya, who doesnt admit to being sexist, admittedly was hooked. Next search on google-Elizabeth Gilbert.

The cover page of her book resembled a movie DVD cover. Turns out it WAS the movie DVD cover. In the past, i have been hit hard trying to figure out books on spritual journeys. Even though they were considered profound by most. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintanence for one. I picked it up presuming it to be a book on a journey. But in the end it resembled more a journey through a diseased individuals mind. Paulo Coelho, to me resembles another one such. Fixated on a single idea and covoluted to boot too. But i wouldnt blame him. His works are all translated...and i always feel a lot gets lost in translation.

Eat,pray,love is split into 108 succint sections. In line with 108 beads in a hindu prayer string. Each section dealing with a separate thought within a given context. Breezy and insightful at the same time. To me there was something strongly appealing about an independent single women travelling the globe on her own-with a very loosely predetermined purpose. Travelling for travels sake. Of course its been done before. But mostly, if not all by the men. But really, how many women have done it? And also come out with an extremely witty book at the end of it? Read it for the unique girly perspective which (surprise surprise) can be profound too.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The tall green web

Off Race Course road. Thats what the hotel address read. Very uniquely banglorean, or bengalooruren, as some would have it. I idly racked my brains and tried to come up with another city in India which had a similar convention in naming addresses. I could not. Maybe it was a convention widely followed in the US and had made its way here. Possible, i thought, in this city which had a whole locality very subtly named 'Dollar's Colony'. Or it could have been an old bangalorean pensioner's way of remembering street locations. Crescent Road, Off- Race course road. A more prominent road serving as an aide-to-memory for a more non-decrepit one. I hoped it was the latter reason.

They called it a 'boutique hotel'. The phrase to me had come to mean, we're small-but-we-will still-charge-you-a-bomb. A tall, single, white building with a granite facade and a mustachioed doorman. The receptionist made some polite enquires about my mode of payment. I insisted on carrying my own luggage into the lifts, where i was joined in by a stylishly dressed male guest. Wavy black hair, red shirt with the top button off, and tight jeans on on ebony and atrociously hairy skin gave him a Lokhandwalla meets MG Road chic. Or LA meets MG, possibly. In my travel-rumpled half sleeved shirt and jeans on that Friday evening I felt terribly out of place.

I got up early next morning for a run. 'Go straight sir- there's a golf course on the right, it makes for a good walk', said the front desk person. Even at 5 am there were sizable number of cars on the corners. A short walk along narrow, tree lined, shady roads in the morning fresh smog led me to the beginnings of an expanse of greenery on my right. But it was not only the grass that was green, there were tall L-shaped nets around the course which rose into the morning air like some giant's mosquito net. Inside, as though it were a border built to keep out trees, was a vast expanse of undulating, even grass, stretching unrealistically into the horizon. I entered through the arched gates reading 'Bangalore Golf Club' and a watchman standing perpendicular to me raised a red triangular flag. The surreality of the event didnot take away from the fact that he had indicated me to halt.

I looked to my left, and there was a gentleman out on the greens, getting ready for his swing. Whiskers, khaki shorts, sun glasses, sun hat, and the golf iron all swung together in a motion resembling a staccato animation formed by a child flicking the edges of note-pad and thwacked! the ball. He, however had only managed to catch the ball's edges and the white meteor shot off in front of my eyes in a tall and angled arch, forming a slight but magnificent contrast to the green of the grass and (as it gained altitude) the net. High in the air, and completely off-course, it sort of plunged into the vast green-ness of the nets, making the web bulge outward in a slow and languid manner. The whole fabric rocked back and for a moment seemed in danger of toppling over. It soon however, recovered by gaining enough elastic strength and flung the projectile back, which landed and rolled to near my shoes.

Whisker's walked up to me and cheerfully said, in a deep Texan drawl, 'It's a flyer'. Something about that moment made me deeply feel, yes- i am definitely in Bangalore.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Mumbai Spirals- Day 4

Orhan Pamuk describes it beautifully as a city's huzun. Loosely, the word translates into melancholy. To me that is a dominating aspect of a city's life. Its what gets left over about the city after the tourist sights have been visited, the malls gawked at, food eaten, the history understood, the promenades admired, and the weather commented upon. It is to be found in everyday life lived in by residents as they go through their daily affairs within the city.
Of course, every city would have its own unique huzun. Delhi's huzun would lie within the cramped up quarters of the old city- seemingly busy, commercial and non-decrepit; but the ruins, crumbles of old monuments, and the elderly who would have seen a more glorious past telling a different story. Bangalore's huzun would be in the eyes of the old pensioner- who in the short span of a decade saw his sleepy township metamorphose into an unruly, ugly metropolis. Guwahati, the city i grew up in and the city which has seen most of its youth emigrate to other parts of the nation to be able to earn a living, is discovering the huzun of its elderly- who are left all alone, waiting. Waiting the whole year for the next bihu, or the next puja when their children would hopefully return and their lives will be complete again- for a short period of time.
Where then does Mumbai's huzun lie? Or does it even have one? The city of dreams and hopes where everyday about 2000 people emigrate with just the hope of becoming movie stars perhaps wouldn't even have time for anything as ponderous as melancholy. Where everyday life itself is a struggle against the odds, and any let up on this struggle being fatal- maybe people would seek to ignore such subtelities. And instead drown themselves in the momentariness of pursuit and the celebration of the immediate. This may be an explantation for the profusion of tabloids within the city. Residents desparately seeking a blanket of glitz and glamour as a cover for the underlying grime of their lives. A daily 50 pager dose of opium to tide over rains, crowded locals, long commutes, stenches, bad bosses, and office food. This is why the opium also stays lite and colourful, breezing over the daily trials and tribulations of city life.
Though sometimes, inevitably, and as an undeniable truth, the huzun creeps in. In the look of a well dressed executive unable to board the last but crowded local train to home (which would be 2.5 hrs by road); in the sight of a funereal procession slowly winding its way through one the crowded city roads on a weekday- the sight of which seems to make time stand still; in the loneliness of one of yesteryears moviestars-alone and frailly sipping his coffee outside one of the city theaters. I comes out while observing elderly Parsi couples walking hand in hand in one of the city parks- seemingly at odds with the world but very content with themselves. And this creeping in of something so inevitable, inspite of brazen and unecessary attempts to hide it, is what makes the event deeply poignant and beautiful at the same time.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mumbai Spirals: Day 3 - The Darker Side to the city

A chilling and disturbing photograph about crime in Mumbai that has lodged in my mind is the one I saw two years back at a press photograph exhibition at Express Towers. The photograph is attached alongwith this article. A mentally disturbed individual armed with a knife had attacked two girls at the Gateway of India, tourists from Manipur enjoying a stroll along the promenade. It was a completely random attack, with no real motive or even a connection with the victim. One moment, they were happily strolling along the promenade and the next, were being repeatedly attacked by a stranger, who stabbed one of them to death before anyone could react. He attacked from behind and slit one girl's throat and when her friend tried to stop him, he stabbed her on the forehead. A photographer from the Indian Express had captured this incident shortly after it occured, and that's how I got to see it one damp, windy, and gloomy saturday morning.

I saw this photograph early in the morning in my office lobby while waiting for the lift(my office used to be in Express Tower). This was a day when I remember being all alone at work, and feeling consistently disturbed by that photograph in a strange manner. Maybe it was the randomness of the attack which struck me, maybe it was the (by now, sad) beauty and youth of the victims. I remember feeling a deep rage against first the attacker, but then realising he himself was a victim who couldnot cope up with societal norms. Next, i was angry at the photographer- how dare he click snaps when humanity demands him to help the victim? Then i reasoned, he was performing his duty and pehaps there wasnt much he could do to help either. I was therefore left without a villian and didnot find anyone to blame and move on. The incident shouldnot have taken place, and someone with so much to look forward to, shouldnot have sufferred such. More so, I should not have been left feeling so confused and helpless. That is exactly the feeling which comes over me everytime I read or hear about a major attack of terror in Mumbai.

Thankfully, i get spared having any such feelings while reading about crime in the Mumbai Mirror. For the Mirror, crime is a joint venture. The serious half of the venture is handled by Times of India, their sister publication. Left-overs and hat-ke incidents is what this publication gets to dish out. And it does so with aplomb. Creating and dishing out twists where none exist. Building angles to the incident which neither the victim nor the villian would have thought conceivable. Jumping to conclusions faster than the proverbial bullet. Imagining criminal ideas, which would shame even the most ingenous criminals about their ineptitude. Have a look at some of the headlines from the crime section of the Mirror that i've managed to hunt down in my May spiral:

Fig 1: A former gangster goes to meet Balasaheb Thakare. Random article
created only to come up with a catchy headline.
Fig 2: After airlines, its now trains. It takes a Mirror to come up with a
full page practitioners manual on "Hijacking Trains for Dummies"
Fig 3: Previous day headlines- Docs booked for Making Suggestive
Gestures in local park. Next day headlines, its turns up they were only
following Ramdev's instructions.

The guiding principals of the Mirror editors seems to be "What's a city with no crime and no gangsters?" Chicago without an Al Capone, London without 'Jack the Ripper', Munich without the massacre, Calcutta without its pocketmaars, Paris without 'the jackal', and Gordon City with no joker and no penguin just wouldnot be the same. Mumbai, they gleefully point out, is after all the city with the best network of organized crime in the country. After films, horse racing, matkas, and movie hall popcorns it is the city's most profitable industry. After Sachin Tendulkar, the city's most talked about son has been Dawood Ibrahim. Gangsters in this city are not pure criminals, they are required by the tabloids to be entertainers as well. Pure crime can get you to TOI, but its only if your crime can come with a tapori twist would you find yourselves in the pages of a Mirror.

Mumbai Spirals Day 2: 1'st of May, Friday

As in humans, quirks are really what make a city. Rest is all just details.

Mumbai is blessed with many such. Local trains, scary monsoons, smiling terrorists, mithun chakrovarty, parsis, iranian restaurents, double-decker busses, long but polite queques, a chalu language, both reliance and tatas, fiat kalli-peeli taxis, nuclear reactors, electricity realiability surcharge, one shoe-house and millions of match-box ones, etc etc. Each quirk mentioned here, is in itself material enough for a popular volume of encyclopedia. Fertile ground for anyone with a little bit of imagination and license to come up with blockbuster hollywood movies, bollywood potboilers and "arty" cinema, theatre, and revolting reality shows. Imagine what brilliance someone with a twisted imagination and an ulmost unlimited license to run amok with facts can come up with. You get a good idea about the tabloid i read each night.
While at work, the folks at Mumbai Mirror seem to save the best of their opinions and advice for the entertainment section. It almost seems like after being world weary reporting on slums, hospitals, crime, blocked drains etc. they finally get a chance to let their pent up creativity flow in this section. And the results are facinating, to say the least. My travels through the spirals of the May calender took me to the 1'st of May issue. It was delight on this count. The issue had a one full page analysis on the future of the middle finger (in the election season this article sought to give advice to stars about the right pose to strike after the deed is done), a feature article on Kareena Kapoor giving advice to her ex. (with a pic of a very sincere and thoughtful Saif looking on nearby), an article invitingly titled DATE-TRAP on Abhi-Ash, and and small section on Kamal Khan's next blockbuster- Deshdrohi 2.

Of course the post mortem of the middle finger was the most interesting of the lot. In the words of the reporter, "when celebs posed for the cameras after stepping outside polling booths, how they choose to provide evidence of their democratic leanings was a crucial indicator of their funk." Huh?? Celebs who made the mirror cut were Aamir Khan (Aamir Knows what to show) and Shatrughan Sinha's family (Bihar ke Ungliyaan). Defaulters were chastised in Mirror's own unique way. Abhishek Bacchan was adviced to "understand the repurcussions of image better", Govinda and Bhagyashree were given up as no-hopers, (they proved crasser than their on screen personas) whereas John Abraham's stance was flirtingly chided as "John for some reason seems to pull off the middle finger with an endearing mix of boyish vulnerability and rakish charm."
Of course there was no reference to any possibility of celebrities being gleeful about getting a chance to merrily show their middle finger to the assembled paparazi in the feature.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Mumbai Spirals Day 1: Wednesday, May the 13

The main headline for this day was a flight scare which happened on board an Air France Paris Mumbai flight. Apparently the pilot heard a "thud" and decided to return back to paris, where they checked and found it to be a false alarm. The sensational bit was a radioactive cargo on board, 3 gms of a radioactive isotope called Yttrium-90 on its way to Tata Memorial Hospital at Wadala. The article then went into a long discourse about what Yttrium-90 is, what are its usages, percuations, etc etc. I, along with about 16 Lakh mumbaikars got empowered with the following useful daily tips on handling Yttrium.
a) Superconductor needles made of Yttrium- 90 can cut more precisely than scalpels and are used in surgery.
b) Yttrium- 90 has to be stored behind lead and lucite (google tells me this is a trademarked organic chemical compound) shielding.
c) In case of exposure, Urine samples need to be quickly taken and analysed.

But perhaps the more interesting twist in the tale is only to be found in a related article on page 4. Once the flight landed back in Paris, Indian's amongst its passengers were apparently shoddily treated, and later they accused the airline of racism. As a build up to subsequent racist attacks on Indian students in Australia, the issue gained great prominance and was subsequently followed up prominantely by the national media!
Looking back, its just amazing what 3 gms of Yttrium-90 can do, isnt it?

Also, notable in the paper was this ad in first page. Like a corny tag line in a Yash Johar movie(It is all about loving your Family!) this ad. too had a masterpiece. It said, Vasista Rishi- It is all about knowing your life history- past, present, and future!

Nadi Shastra: Solutions for your problems in your thumb print

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Mumbai Spirals- Intro

A city is defined by its human idiosyncrasies. That is what makes them unique. Of course, there are things such as topography, architecture, location, temperature etc. which vary. But none perhaps as interestingly as the behaviour of humans living within.

I just finished reading Sam Miller's "Adventures in a Megacity". Essentially a tour of Delhi in concentric circles, he presents a piquant view of how its people interact with the city. With a creaky knee, he covers nooks and crannies of "my" city that i didn't even know existed. And perhaps will never be to, and experience. Not only perhaps because i'm downright lazy, but also perhaps because Mr. Miller is a firang and i'am desi. Some of the things described in his book are never going to happen to me. Like the touts at CP surreptitiously squirting shit at my shoes. Hoping to have me pay them back to clean up. Nor would ear-cleaners above Palika Bazaar be ambitious enough to approach me with a chart of written references from Irish nurses and a Rs 300 bill.
At the same time, i would perhaps never be alarmed whenever i see people nonchalantly walking across tracks of a local train. Nor would i get concerned about "killer" pigs following me at a slum in Rohini. Not because pigs are perhaps not attracted by my brown skin, but because i would seem affected while trying to be excited about such mundane happenings.
So does that mean, there is nothing about Indian cities that i can find idiosyncratic? Of course that cant be true; and that's what instigated me to start my own "Adventures in a Megacity" Except for some problems for which I had to find immediate solutions to. I was 1600 kms away from the city i wanted to write about, ie. Delhi. Serious problem. I had to compromise by replacing it with the city I am in right now. Thus my mega city becomes Mumbai.

Next, came the challenge of it not being something original. Mr. Miller, and countless others have done it already, and clearly, i would not be doing anything unique just by replacing Delhi with Mumbai. Plus the Geography of Mumbai doesnt really support movement in concentric circles. Unlike the plains of Delhi, its shaped like the palm of a hand, and attempts of circumlocution might require me to walk across long stretches of the ocean. Also, i was not exactly excited about having to meander through the inevitable slums in this city . So in the hope of doing something original, i hit upon a plan of meandering across Mumbai through the eye's of others. I chose my medium to be the unique rag which is synonymous with the city. Mumbai Mirror.

Tabloids, by their very raison d'etre, provide citizens an alternate interesting perspective about happenings in their city. They may be scandalous, more closer to base feelings, and spread innocuous rumours about starlets; but are in general colourful and harmless publications with no greater pretensions then their circulation figures. Fulfilling citizens need for material to gossip on. Mumbai is blessed with several such. Maybe its because of the film circus here, or maybe its because people here are too closely stacked up and need an emotional vent. Whatever be the general reason for the increased gossip appetite, my specific contribution till date was as a dedicated bed time reader of the Mirror. All that has now changed.
Mr. Miller set up on a concentric spiral across the city. I decided to set up on a similar spiral of the pages of the Mirror across one month in time. He picked up the Delhi map and plonked his finger at the centre and spiralled it outwards to chalk his route. I, similarly picked up the calender for the most recent month, ie. May, put my finger on its centre date (it auspiciously turned out to be May the 13'th) and spiralled it outwards. And thus began my derivative adventure.

Fig 1: Mr Miller's route Fig 2: My Route

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Post American World

I recently finished reading this book by Fareed Zakaria titled "The Post American World". It was an interesting read since it presents a pragmatic perspective about the current seemingly volatile, uni-polar world we live in. In the face of a growing sense of a rise in religious fundamentalism, wars, and heightened unilateralism; the author refuses to predict an alarmist and radical future. Instead, he argues, and i quote, "today we are probably living in the most peaceful time in our species existence."

He says this is because:

- Between 2000-2007, the world economy grew at its fastest pace in four

decades. Income per person across the globe rose at a faster rate (3.2%) than

in any other period in history.

- Politics is troubled, but markets panic only over economic and not political

news. For example, Turkey which shares a border with Iraq has averaged more

than 7% growth since the war.

- Religious fundamentalism is fueled more by a "cottage industry" of

scaremongering flourishing in the west that tends to extrapolate every trend

that they dont like. In reality, he argues, it is a persistent problem, but one

involving a small number of fanatics.

Today, he says, there’s a mismatch between reality and our sense of it, primarily arising out of a revolution in Information Technology that brings us news from around the world instantly, vividly, and continuously. In short, he say's it feels like a very dangerous world. But, it isn’t. Instead, it’s a safe world with the US in charge.

And firmly in charge as well. Since the middle of the 1880's, the US Economy has been the world’s largest and by 2025, most estimates suggest that it will still be twice the size of China (in terms of nominal GDP). Its defense expenditure is more than the next 14 countries put together (current wars represent less than 1% of its GDP, so there's no drain to speak of!). A recent newspaper article put this value at $540 billion, compared to $68 billion for China and $28 billion for India. At the same time, it leads in the industries of the future. In biotech for example, revenues for US firms were $50 billion in 2005, representing 76% of global revenues. Its educational institutes are the best in the world. According to a Chinese study, eight of the top ten universities of the world are in the US. Innovations in Information Technology? Here is a sobering statistic. In India, university graduates 35-50 computers science Phd's each year; in America the figure is 1000!

The authors point is, unlike popular belief, a dramatic and tectonic shift in the balance of power to the developing world led by China and India is not going to happen. The US influence is not disappearing anywhere fast. Instead, its just that in today’s world, apart from the US, there are countries like India who are playing the competitiveness game equally well. For example:

- In 2005, 24 out of the 25 of the world’s largest IPO’s were held in countries

other than the US.

- By 2050, estimates say India’s per capita income will have risen to 20 times its

current level.

- Indian companies are becoming far more competitive and use their capital

more efficiently, in part because they do-not have access to unlimited supplies

of it. Over the last 5 years, more of the Deming Awards for managerial

innovation have been awarded to Indian companies than to firms from any

other sector.

More than anything else, he says this rise of India is unlike a quiet, controlled, quasi authoritarian country slowly opening up according to fixed diktats. It’s a noisy democracy that has empowered its people economically. Taking three steps forward and then two backwards. Boisterous, colorful, open, vibrant, and ready for change. With a commitment to act based on public opinion and no unfinished aggressive business to complete with neighbors. And this is something that governments in the west understand and appreciate. And this is why he says, countries would not only stand back and applaud this rise but would also support it. Particularly countries like the US.

Interestingly, in this influential book, the chapter on China is titled “The Challenger” and the chapter on India is titled “The Ally.” As a summary, I believe the author himself puts it very succinctly in the very first sentence of the book. He says, "This book is not about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Conrad and the concept of work

I had not read Joseph Conrad at all. Though references to his works have been plenty in a lot of what i read. So the other day i was glad to pick up a copy of his acclaimed short story Heart of Darkness in my regular bookstore. Of course, before reading it i had a good idea of what the story would be about-the abject pretence of high moral rectitude by perpetrators of the folly of colonialism, told through the eyes of an insider. The actual story was just that- and more. It had an interesting insight into why people indulge in the act classified as "work". An act that my profession happens to be terribly interested in.

To my mind, being an "HR guy" today largely means dealing with:

a) People issues- motivation, maintenance, grievances, development etc
b) The classification of work - understanding roles, differential pay, fitment etc.

Sometimes it can also mean grappling with people issues arising from the classification of work- organization structuring for example. However, it is about the definition of work itself that Conrad had an interesting insight on. His protagonist, the cynical-colonial sailor, when faced with a particular bit of unsavoury task says:

"No - i don't like the work. I'd rather laze around and think of all the fine things that can be done. I don't like work- no man does- but i like what is in the work, - the chance to find yourself. Your own reality, for yourself and not for others- what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can really tell what it really means."

If this be true, it does throw up some interesting questions for my profession. Excluding the part of lazing around mentioned in the definition, if the only objective of people working is to be guided towards self discovery, to uncovering self reality- does HR realize it? Or does it choose to look at work only in its economic equivalent and and structure all its policies accordingly.

The concept of self realization, which perhaps comes closest to what Conrad was talking about, has been placed at the topmost hierarchy of needs as being practiced currently. What this means is, as a legitimate aspiration, this need will only be catered to by my profession for the senior most professionals in the organization. But Conrad's protagonist was a mere steamboat sailor! And his aspiration to traverse the heart of Congo for self realization was very natural. Maybe a parallel to the millions of today's skilled migrant worker. What, are we as a profession doing to address this basic need of work at this level?

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Virar Local- A scary preview

"An urban legend, urban myth, or urban tale is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories thought to be factual by those circulating them. The term is often used to mean something akin to an "apocryphal story." Like all folklore, urban legends are not necessarily false, but they are often distorted, exaggerated, or sensationalized over time."

Mumbai, like all large cities, has its fair share of these. The beer man. The hammer man. Leopards picking up children and nonchalantly crossing the streets at Borivili. Parsi ghosts of south mumbai. All these stories have at various points in time gained in prominance, spooked citizens, and have helped sell a lot of copies of Mid-days and Mumbai Mirrors. But like all things uniquely Mumbai, its most popular, long standing, and spookiest of urban legends has to be one involving local trains and lots of people. Its called the Virar Local.

Like any other visitor or new immigrant to this island city, i too received my instructions about surviving in this city from many sources. Some were perhaps immaterial guides about things such as interpreting auto meters(one needs to pay rupee 1 less than the display). Some were practical- about lift queues and bus routes. And then there were some which always seemed like hyperbole at first. Floods and rains, for example.

I'd luckily landed in 2006, the year following the worst monsoon disaster. When on the road in some of the low lying areas, colleagues would suddenly point towards an impossible looking height on some landmark, and say "the water reached up there", sounding very prophet like. To a cynical me, at that point in time, they all looked as real as the biblical Noah. Having come from the north-east, which i knew faced rains much more than any other part in the country, i assumed monsoons here would be a walk in the park.

It turned out to be a swim instead. Of perhaps all the cities in the world, its only in Mumbai where a person leaving home in the morning for work/college/school has to fear drowning on his normal route as a distinct possibility. The rate at which water rises on the streets resembles bathtub getting filled up. A humongous bathtub filling fast, and with no plug in sight to pull.
But i think I've digressed a bit here. Natural disasters(though some people might have a challenge with classifying the Mumbai floods in the same category) hardly do make for an exciting read nor can they become urban legends. Let me come back to the story I started with earlier. The Virar local. "Never board a Virar Local unless you are travelling right up till Virar" is a piece of advice which every Mumbaikar would have heard of. "They would not let you get alight otherwise." When i first heard this, i immediately scoffed at it. The thought that the very same Mumbaikar, who legendarily would extend his hand and pull you inside an already crowded local(a la Diwala Dulhaniya), could turn into a prison warden and not let you alight was too filmy a twist to accept as being true. I'd always assumed it to be one of those "apocryphal stories" , which are good to hear but always seem to happen to no one but a friend of a friend. Of course, as a daily traveller in Mumbai locals, i am no stranger to crowded compartments. Distinctively crowds in this city have always been sensitive to the comfort of their co-passengers. Whenever possible, they will make it a point to try and create room for others as well as respect other's private space. Therefore, i always assumed the Virar story to be an exaggeration.
Till the day i boarded one, of course. Or rather till the day my train turned into a Virar Local, to be more exact. Let me explain.

The local system in Mumbai is acknowledged to be one of the most complex functional networks in the world. Trains start, pass-through, and end at a bewildering number of stations and junctions on a tight schedule. Though there only exist two directions of travel (north-south), start and end points of trains vary. On my way back from work at Malad, I typically travel till Andheri and it was on one such journey that my train on reaching Andheri was designated to ply on the opposite direction as a "Virar Local". That meant the platform at which i would alight in would be teeming with passengers rushing in to board the train.

My compartment was crowded and I tried to make room and head towards the exit. Surprisingly, i noticed no one else bothered to move from their places and head towards the exit even though the last platform was approaching. In fact, after some time i noticed people standing closer to the doors were hurriedly shifting and trying to fit themselves in towards the inner reaches of the compartment. This was decidedly eerie. Till an elderly gentleman gently put his hands on my shoulders and explained- "yeh train Virar local banega -Aap baith jao". I was still quite perplexed and right about then the train gently rolled into the platform. The crowd, as i peeped through the windows seemed to be spilling out into the tracks. I sat down, mesmerized because i had never in my life seen a platform so crowded. And then the train came to a halt and the noise began. Of people rushing into the compartment. It was loud and sounded almost like an invading army. People flowed in, but very unlike a tide. It was more of a tsunami. These people rushing on board looking for seats had the look of famished animals searching for meat. Within seconds the whole bogie was crowded. If any unsuspecting soul had been standing near the doors, he would have been crushed. I had a tough time alighting from that stationary train, even when it was waiting in its station of origin. I could completely agree that these people would not allow me to alight from the train in anywhere on route. The legend was true.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gang of Girls

I distantly heard a strong feminine voice. "Seat No 39 is mine". It took me a moment to recollect that i was stretched out on the seat in question. I opened my eyes, trying hard to peer through the blur and locate the source of the voice. Well built lady of around 35. I could say that she was kind hearted, but at the moment she had a stern expression on her face. Directed towards me. And that makes me uncomfortable. If it was a mean face, I'd have been less bothered. Maybe tried to talk back. I was only lying down stretched across the side berth, the main berth was completely empty and she could have easily settled down there first. But then this was not that sort of a face at all. This one said that it had seen a lot, but had seen through all of that very gracefully. I really would have floundered trying to pick issues with such a face.

"I drowsed off" i said apologetically quickly clearing off my stuff.

Of course that was not the case. I'd boarded the train at Delhi and was overjoyed to see the side berth completely empty. Even the main berth had just one occupant. An elderly muslim gentleman to whom i'd quickly said my hellos. I settled down and soon made my bed, even though it was just 5 PM. I'd had more than a few late nights with work and was looking forward to sleep, getting gently cradled by the steady rocking of the rails. " A lot of Gujrati travellers in our berth- boarding at Mathura"- so informed my till then only co-passenger. Maybe indicating that my sleep preparations were perhaps a bit hasty since i was spreading out across the whole side berth. In my tiredness and anticipating the prospect of a gently rocking bed made me ignore him, saying something like "I hope they have cancelled their tickets" before surrendering myself to sweet slumber.

And here i was, being rudely awakened within 2 hrs. Whats more, as i was clearing out her side of the berth, i realized there was a trail of people behind her- all following her lead and rapidly lurching towards my berth with a minimum of 4 jholas each. A gang of about a dozen. Dressed in woolens from head to toe, with mufflers et el. Energetically chirping in a language i could barely make out. Though they were hardly inside the train, there were multiple headcounts listing kokli-ben, radha-ben, geeta-ben, leena-ben loudly underway. Being conducted by a number of them at the same point in time.

Out of the lot, the most aged were quickly sat down on available seats. They were perhaps the most agitated as well. In Mathura, for reasons best know to the railway babus there was only a 2 min stop for the train. 120 secs for passengers with trunks, suitcases, beddings etc to alight and then passengers with even more luggage to board from the platform. Anyone who's ever seen people travel on Indian Railways would say that's cutting things too short. And when its a case of 12 elderly lady teerth yatris, travelling back home with their cartons of laddu's, pedas's, and cans of Ganga Jal, it became impossible a time to meet. Geeta-ben got left behind at the platform, and Kokli-ben had to pull the chain. And the really elderly Leena-ben, sitting right opposite to where I was, got agitated and let out a loud wail when the train lurched. Of course, at the same point in time, Heera-ben, Kanta-ben and her bahu Himadri all had to try and assuage the loudly wailing Leena-ben by letting out wails even louder than her's. I was of course, fully awake by this time.

I realised the best course of action would be to settle down quietly and watch this blow over as best as i could. I was scared- just because everyone around me were agitated and excited. They were old, i was young. I could fathom no reason for their excitement. The train had stopped, Geeta- ben had easily boarded, but the headcounts were still on- the irritating assurances were still underway. I soon made good efforts to make myself as inconspicous as possible and settled down stiff on my side of the berth. But of course it couldnot last. Not when you are being surrounded by 12 agitated elderly ladies.

A suitcase was thrust on my lap. Could i adjust it under the seat? Whose shoes are those? Why are you travelling with a mango crate? Are they already done with serving coffee? Where do you work in mumbai- or are u still studying? Prism towers? son works there..JP Morgan. Leena-ben, mujhe toh aapna beta mil gaya. What is your seat number? Do u really need those two cushions...can u pass one here? Do they serve jain food on board? Have you been using these blankets for long?

Within 10 mins, i was left the most agitated within the compartment. The ladies meanwhile had quietly settled in, and were soon at home. In between answering their questions and adjusting their luggage i realised they had efficiently allocated space amongst themselves, very civil-ly shifted the muslim uncle to the next compartment, showed the TT their tickets, taken a count of all jholas, and had now settled down to examine each other's day's shopping. Soon the compartment's atmosphere transformed into one resembling a family drawing room. Within a span of 10 mins flat.

I quickly spotted my chance and rushed to the top berth, book in hand. Surprisingly my newly discovered mothers didnot try and stop me. Lying down on the side top berth gave me a safe ring side view of the action happening downstairs. Things were getting lively. Away from their men-folk for a short while, the ladies were keen to have a good time. Himadri was incessently getting teased on receiving a call from her husband by the octagenrain Heera ben. Kanta-ben shot back by enacting Leena Ben's expressions on her wedding night- 50 years back. Sweets, farsans, and Pepsi was being passed around, and whats more, also getting quickly gobbled up the elderly gang. It seemed as if all of them were acutely aware of the fact that only for a day, they had left behind the world of their husbands, kids, grandchildrens and other's myriad concerns. Heart ailments, blood pressure, thyroid imbalances, joint pains were were also forgotten. Tonight, the life inside the compartment, alongwith their friends, was entirely their own. Maybe tonight was the kind of night for them that came only after decades. Tomorrow they return back to their apartment households in Mumbai back to their existence designed to support others. But tonight, as i imagined looking down from the top berth, all the wrinkled, weather beaten, mottled faces had a curious glow. It was excitement. More closer than that, it resembled the look on a kid has who anticipates a chance to do a lot of unrestricted mischief with friends. To be able to see that on the face of 12 grandmoms at the same point in time was a blessing.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Fast Moving and Conning Goods (FMCG)

Fodder for unbridled consumerism. Fuel for the market driven economy. White goods. Brown goods. Goods sold relatively quickly at a lower cost. But high volumes. Cumulatively earning enormous profits. These days scrapping at the bottom of the pyramid. With the guise of benefitting the poor and development, of course. And providing employment to ex-wannabi investment bankers who in B-school interviews suddenly realize the value of "being in touch with the markets" in a downturn. Call them what you may. My reference is to a set of firms comprising the ISEC classification of Fast Moving Consumer Goods. Most of them have been fleecing people for donkey decades and now wear their age as proud shoulder badges. Most have enormously presumptious corporate vision statements which go like:

a) ".....we help people feel good, look good, and get more out of life."

b) "our brands are platforms for innovation, enabling us to better the lives of consumers"

c) "we put india first"

Nothing less than a focus on development, betterment of life of the teeming masses, contribution to a country's growth and foreign policies would have perhaps sufficed the megalomania of people who approved of these statements. All of this of course to be achieved through a faster and more efficient way of selling more and more soaps, detergents, cigarettes, carbonated water, and crunchy oil inside plastic packs marked "recyclable" at increasingly higher prices to people who had no need for them in the first place.

Come to think of it, its perhaps natural for the learned individuals sitting at the board of these firms to cave into such ludicrous thoughts. Many decades ago, as fresh graduates from the nations best colleges and institutions when possibilities were endless for them, they choose to earn pots of monies by selling more and more tins of lard and beauty creams. Along with it came residential bugalows next to the sea and membership to clubs which till some years back were the exclusive domain of goras. Life was easy, and work was challenging. It couldnot have been easy to create a "quality of life" by building a market for fairness creams in himachal pradesh or compete for selling more and more hair gel in coconut infested konkan. But somewhere they realized folks whom they considered to be second-rate and who ended up in lesser lucrative professions like the administrative services were suddenly much more influential than they were. Of course there was nothing to be done now but smart under the wrong choices made earlier and bide one's time in a socialist state hoping for things to change. And change they did, when the country nearly went bankrupt and had to throw open its market and remove restrictions from existing corporates. Suddenly the scope of work was boundless. One could not only sell more and tins of lard in more and more markets, but also harbour ambitions of "nurturing life and vitality" of consumers while doing so. And that is how, i believe these corporate vision statements came into being.

Which brings me to my main chain of thoughts around what made me write this vituperative blog in the first place. Blatantly wrong advertisements used by FMCG firms in selling their goods. Increasingly, more and more of these are beginning to resemble shrill, third rate con-jobs of the type used by selling home shopping goods and is being done in an unapologetic manner. At random I just wanted to pick up a few and highlight the chicanery, speciousness, and pure hogwash behind their arguments presented:

a) Product: Fairness creams

Company: HUL (every other FMCG firm carries an honourable mention, but this one

in particular ad bakes the cake and eats it too)

Tagline: Ayurwed Ke Shakti

Everyone deserves to look good. But the convincing argument against fairness creams has always been that they try and change what "looking good" means by pushing through stereotypes which suit their product capabilities. In these ads, models are consistently shown being completely transformed just by the consistent purchase and application of creams. This transformation is then directly linked to the success and failure of that individual in life. Not only are these ads amazingly misleading they also cause harm to individuals and the larger society by making people falsely believe that such a change in possible in every case and is completely in their hands.

b) Product: Granier Fructis Hairfall Defense
Company: L' OReal
Tagline: 5X less hairfall!!

No one really knows if they mean to say that "Using Granier Fructis Hairfall Defense leads to 1/5 the volume of existing levels of hairfall" but everyone assumes it to be so. Look closely, "X" can logically mean anything. Also, assuming that's what they mean to convey, it still is an incredibly convulated way of presenting your statistics, isnt it? Fishy.

c) Product: Horlicks
Company: GSK
Tagline: Drinking Horliks makes children "Taller, Stronger, and Sharper".

The advert in focus has been banned by the standards agency in the UK and is currently only being played out in 3'rd world markets. Looking disinterestedly at the claim and disregarding the fact that it is aimed at its competitor, how can any ad. claim to change the physical attributes of a human being? This is just as bad as ads for those height increasing and muscle building tablets. All the more dangerous given the fact that its aimed at children and gullible parents.

As per a dated statistic, of the largest 100 economies on earth, 51 are corporations. Amongst these, consumer good firms are perhaps some of the most efficient as well as respected of organizations around. Out of the examples quoted, some are of corporations in India which have set best practises in corporate management for decades. It would then therefore be interesting to understand the kind of pressures which can make these firms stoop to such levels.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dev D

Its been described as a "contemporary deviant version" of the eternal story Devdas. Well, as deviant versions go, its one heck of a snazzy, stylish, electric, on-the-edge movie made on the life of a brat. A brat played by Abhay Deol, who's a languid Punjab da munda instead of the genteel, slightly intellectual-effeminate bangla-babu Devdas in the original.

I guess, its this one major spin off which has allowed Anurag Kashyap to build in some other powerful characters in this fabulous storyline. Paro for starters. A fiesty desi kudi who knows what she wants and how to get it. All without a trace of guilt, of course. If Mr. Dev D has humiliated me, i have every right to give it back to him with interest. So what if he is already down in the dumps when i decide to hit him? He brought it on himself didnt he? And P.S., i really love him as well.

Chandramukhi is the more forgiving types. But then thats only a minor detail in her characterization. She's otherwise an eclectic, half-firang, multi-lingual(tamil and french included), college going CSW whose pimp lets her live her life on her own terms. Oh! and did i mention, she also has an obscene MMS and a flourishing "phone friend"service running. All along with with a smile on her face to die for.

Then there's her pimp. A typical New-Delhi pahargunj jugaad complete with a garish suit and risque, witty quotes coming out of a head covered with slick cocunut oil. He makes sure that our contemporary hero is not limited to the usual bottle of whiskey but also has a wide variety of narcotics to choose from. With him, Dev D turns into the coke snorting, bar hopping loser who forgets where he spends the night at in the alleys of Pahargunj. Without him, the movie might as well have been set in the original Sonagachi. Amongst other very honorable mentions in the movie are the Patna Ke Presley's- for their rustic to-die for expressions during the song. These guys got the loudest cheers inside the hall.

Alongwith the characters, the backdrop of Delhi and its people played a major part. One scene which stood out for me was when Dev D returns from his safe haven in Pahargunj in a drunken state and get's inside a DTC bus to sit next to a nagging old lady who starts threatening him about how she would have dealt if drunks like him were her sons. At the backdrop, a ticket checker approaches their seat and right at the moment when he asks the lady for her ticket, Dev D, given the mentle state he is in, plucks the ticket off her hands and eats it. The lady, in shock, hyperventilates and screams- "Kha gaya-Kha gaya, yeh mera ticket nigal gaya."

The nuances of each location of the city is as it is. For example, when Dev D desperately needs coke, Anurag Kashyap shows him knocking on the doors of a shanty near majnu-ka-tilla (a place where you do get the stuff). Pahargunj is very much the same old Pahargunj where you still get aalu-ke-paranthe and aachar at Rs.5 per plate. Or when Chanda goes to college, the scene actually shows her standing inside a college (Ramjas?) in Delhi University. Very unlike Rang De Basanti where the whole of India Habitat Center was fibbed off as being Delhi University.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Our stories are us

"Who am i?" is, was, and will remain one of the most pondered on thought for mankind. Leaving aside the bigger philosophical angles to this question, and there are many such as-are there two me's? is my soul and body separate; what happens to me after death?; what about afterbirth?; at a very material level i believe we are what our stories are.

Let me try and provide an explanation why do i say this. Try and remember the last time someone asked you to describe another individual. Now there can be millions of ways in which folks answer this, but some common ones are Oh! Roshan! He just loves talking; Varun, umm..he is witty!; Amitav...umm now he's a fake isnt he? or some such. Essentially almost every time referring to how the other individual speaks or otherwise expresses himself. So the person who gets introduced becomes his story. Of course, physical attributes, location, status, also get referred to during human descriptions but usually they tend to take a backseat in more mature discussions. For example, someone might be really rich, poor, lame, tall, fat, etc etc but no adult would really want to focus at any length on these attributes. These are just not a rich enough descriptions. Nor can they communicate much of any deeper substance about any person. Calling Bill Gates wealthy doesnot say much about him. But describing him as an individual who is good at leading teams and inspiring others gives a much better perspective.

This phenomenon is not limited to individuals either. Let's talk about groups. Ethnic, national, or religious. All seem to be described by what preoccupies them and what is it that they talk about. The French talk about love, hence they are described as being romantics. The Scots love talk about their drink and its history, hence any scotsman becomes a guy who loves his drink. Closer home, Marwaris talk about money. Hence all marwaris become money minded. Sardars love talking about their makki-ke-roti and sarson-ke-saag. They get described as foodies.

So what remains? I talked about individuals and groups being what their stories are. What about our history? Now this is where the power of a good story really comes on its own. Let us assume history to be a series of random events which have occured in the past. Regardless of what the factual issue was, it is that particular series of happenings which appeals to our sensibilities most that ends up becoming history.

Nothing can perhaps exemplify this more than the partition. Based on their own sensibilities, two countries have chosen to adopt two completely contradictory viewpoints as being the truth. And regardless of what actually happened, in their respective countries that became the fact. Because it was a better story.

In this same vein, after individuals, groups, and history comes god and religion. The dominance of stories in this field is undeniable. Just take a look at the number of gods and then the innumerable number of stories around these same gods. And then come their respective rituals, rites, myths- all having more colorful stories built around them. In fact the author Yann Martel while ending his book, The Life of Pie talks about this. The protagonist of the book is a child who has just survived being marooned from a shipwreck in a dinghy along with a full blown Royal Bengal Tiger. After spending 6 months in this fashion on the high seas he is rescued and while recuperating in his hospital bed is confronted by the authorities saying there couldn't have been a tiger in his boat since:

a) There is no physical trace of the tiger.
b) He might have been hallucinating- a state which is common amongst those shipwrecked.

The little child reflects and then draws a parallel between his story and god's existence in this world. He says, as without the tiger in my story, the journey of life without god becomes a dreary story of random events in this humongous universe spread across a short lifespan. With him it becomes a fantastic story of established cause-and-effect, blessings and recriminations, miracles and rituals played out in technicolor.

Since no one can say with certainty which is the truth, essentially our life boils down to which story would we prefer.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Of creative cooks, and accounting books...

Below is my take on today's happenings loosely based on Mr. Raju's letter and a generous dose of my creative license. In case anyone in keen on reading the reading the actual letter, they can access it here.

Raju admits fraud, Satyam books are cooked;
Writes a letter to the board, gets SEBI disturbed.

In his letter he says, he has deep regrets,
And carrying a burden on his conscience, says "my accounts were nonsense!"
My balance sheet is inflated, cash has been (ahem! ahem!)wrongly reflected,
Interest has not accrued, and debtors have been misconstrued.

Quarter on quarter, liabilities were understated,
Accounting norms were vitiated, margins were inflated.
Revenues were atificial, but to me, all was beneficial.

Over the last several years, he says, what started as a marginal gap,
in gains, got ingrained.
I tried hard to put a cap, using everything that was available under GAAP,
but all in vain, he refrained.

The difference got accentuated, because of the rising costs,
as an analogy, let's look at ecology.
We were on a tiger, while being unaware of an accounting rider,
that when the beast gets hungry, it consumes all and sundry.

Now to the part where the letter pleads to exonerate, folks he says,
i didnot corrode.
Men of letters, they just sat on the board, enjoying their food platters,
but never did they wink, on my creative accounting ink.

In fact, let me take the liberty, of constituting a task force,
of business and support, not to save face,
but to see how we can now acquire Maytas with grace!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2009: Where would I go?

First day of the year. A time to take stock and to make new plans. Since i am not really good at doing the former, let me concentrate on the plans bit. Its kinda more positive and makes for a better read. This time though, ill keep it simple and all related to travel. Either I do that in 2009, or i dont. Nothing in between. And travel because to me it symbolizes letting go and a deep commitment at the same time. Therefore none of the below wishes are going to be easy to achieve. However for it to be a good read, i shall start with the most exotic and then drill down to the more mundane one's. Here goes.

1. Everest base camp: South side. From Pokhara in Nepal. Its a 10-12 day trek which has sort of stuck in my imagination ever since i last visited Pokhara in 2004.

Well, reason are plenty. First and foremost, its sounds way too cool! I mean as proof just imagine this scenario where you have a conversation with a friend who's just back from his holiday as well.

Friend: "Hey, hi. How was your holiday. Where did u go?"
You(very nonchalantly, of course) : Yawn! I just returned from south face base camp yesterday.
Friend (slightly bewildered) : What base camp?
You: Everest, of course. I wanted to go in from the more difficult North Face but those stupid commis in Tibet refused my visa. Where did you go?
Friend: (sheepish) Matheran. I saw a lot of horses there.

Yep, that can surely be me. Except maybe for that visa rejection bit.

2. Istanbul, Turkey : Its contradictions that this city offers that draws me in. At the same point in time this (more than anywhere else in this world) has been described as being: civilized and barbaric, old and new, christian and muslim, europe and asia, etc etc. Source of recent inspiration has been Paul Theroux's repeated praise spread across 30 years in both The Great Railway Bazaar and Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. And of course quotes such as the ones mentioned below also help.

"If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul."

Alphonse de Lamartine

3. Palolem, Goa: This ones easy.One of the southern most beaches in Goa and apparently the most pristine. Though every single time im in Goa people have reminded me to go there, ive never had an oppurtunity to do so. Hope to tick this off my list pretty soon.

Thats it folks. My three place to go in 2009. Tell me yours.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A futile conversation

"Yeh sab heera hai ya yeh sone ka hai?"

I looked up, surprised at being so distracted during my trip to Turkministan. And that too just at the moment when i was beginning to appreciate the megalomania of that country's benevolent dictator. Mr. Novoyev, who the museum director was telling me, had renamed their names of days and months as per his choices.

Well, not exactly telling me, but telling Mr. Paul Theroux whose book i was reading seated in the auto on my way to office in Goregaon, Mumbai. Those words were spoken to me by my autowallah.

I looked up, and with memories of Turkministan fast fading, i realized what the context was. There was a BEST bus right in front with a hoarding screaming, "Kisna Jewels" and with sparklers the size of tennis balls shaped as rings and pendants. Even then, the question seemed out of place. A 3 year old could have told the difference.

"Heera hai", said I, feeling kinda stupid. He looked back, giving me a silly "i knew it" grin. He had an interesting look on his face though. A look of childlike curiosity. He asks

"Yeh heere ka mol kaise hota hai?"

I had by now shut my book. Partly to avoid making him look back and crash onto something and partly to satisfy my own need to share gyan, i started off on a long lecture on diamond valuations. I took him through a crash course on color, cut, clarity, and karats. Starting from the mines of South Africa, to the sweatshops in Surat, and from there onward to auction houses in London. About small pendants such as the one we'd just seen, used as anniversary gifts, and about the kohinoors of the world which influence bilateral relations amongst countries.

All along he was rapt in attention. Never once did he get a chance to look back during the next 15 mins. I felt good about myself. A glow which comes about when u've managed to explain a particularly arcane topic to a difficult audiance. Or so i thought.

As i was collecting change back from him, he asks. "Toh isme aur sone mein kya pharak hota hai?" I became silent. The realization of the futility of my knowledgeble and passionate speech saddened me.

Iska jawab phir kabhi dost, said i and walked away with a heavy heart.