Tuesday, October 16, 2018

MeToo - A Conversation and a Thought

Very clearly all men are uncomfortable with the #metoo outpourings. Most seem to feel that the women in question should not bring stuff from so long back out now. Some say, why didn't you take it up then. All sorts of stuff - but definitely got everyone thinking about sometime or the other when something inappropriate might have been done or said.

They Should Have Slapped Them Then
I had this conversation with my friend. He was clear that women keep cribbing about men but want equal rights etc. He feels they should shut up. They are doing it for publicity and perhaps some gain. They are shaming guys after all these years.
'So let them speak up,' I said. 'Listen to them. Why do you have a problem about them speaking?'
'Why should they?' he said. 'It's irritating.'
'If something happened to them and they want to talk about it let them,' I said. 'They are only sharing what they experienced. They are not asking for apologies or for action against these people. At least they have a right to express what they experienced.'
'No,' he said. 'They should shut up. If they wanted to do something about it, they should have done it then, not now.'
I asked him what his discomfort was. 'Why are you so uncomfortable in even listening to them. Let them feel better and get it off their chest.'
'They should have slapped them then,' he said.
'They wouldn't know what to do. Who to speak to. How to handle it until it was too late. It took them so long to pick up the courage to say it was wrong. Can you just listen at least now?'

The 70 Years Misrule, Men Are Under Threat Narrative, 
In the same breath, my friend is also a big supporter of how the Congress misruled us for 70 years and how they should be taught a lesson. Or even Trump's 'men are under threat from women who make allegations,' narrative. To me, in both cases, people in power are cribbing about being the victims which is not done.

Now how can the same men who feel so victimised by the past regimes of over 70 years vintage say the women should have slapped the perpetrators. In that case you should have protested then when the governments were misruling and not now. Now there is no ground for complaining about some misrule that happened then right? But you want to be the victim there and you want to be the victim here. On the whole this is a story of men trying to be the bigger victims. And trying to be macho about it.

I found it difficult to identify that thread earlier but now I got it. All macho men who crib, are actually cribbers and victims.

Anjali - How to Stay Focused

I was telling Anjali how despite the best intentions of losing weight I always go back to overeating or exercising irregularly. She heard me carefully and then told me gently how she prepared for her exams this time (with her OKRs).

'I stuck some nice messages for myself all over the place so I don't lose focus,' she said. 'In my books, on the wall, in my bag etc.'

'Wow,' I said. 'That's the way to do things if one is serious about it.'

'Yes,' she said warming up. ' And I told myself that I will not go and watch TV or play. It was so difficult but I held myself. Only after I finished my portion did I got to play. It's a great feeling then Nanna, because you feel like you have earned it and you play more happily than if you played without finishing your portion. You always feel happy if you can delay that happiness a little.'

Hmm. What was that study about delayed gratification and success? You got that right kiddo. And you have results to prove so I cannot argue with that. Now, where am I with my OKRs?

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying - Sogyal Rinpoche

Sogyal Rinpoche guides us through this book, to make us aware of, to prepare us to the reality of death which we so naively, complacently ignore. It is the Tibetan way so there are many Tibetan practices that h refers to. Several of my doubts have been cleared through the book, using my own cross-references to what I have learned, read or experienced. It took me more than a month to read.

Denying Death
When we deny death, he says, the effect goes beyond the individual. Since we believe that death is final, we do not have a long-term vision, engage in plunder, which we would not do if we knew we would have to come back and pay for. The concept of rebirth and life after death is fundamental to this book and he dwells a bit on both.

We can use our lives to prepare for death because death is the beginning of another chapter, the mirror through which the entire meaning of life is reflected. There are states we go through, after dying, called bardos which are changing realities, an intermediate stage between death and rebirth. We die, hover around our body without realising we are dead and stay in that confused state until we realise we are dead, which is when we get the dead consciousness, and then depending on our state of mind and to some extent our karma, attain rebirth, not necessarily in human form. Sometimes we just hover.

Using Life to Prepare for Death
Life can prepare us for death. Simplicity, discipline and meditation are likely to make us better prepared for death. We are all born to realise and to learn, to share more love and more loving. Our life purpose seems to be to learn to love other people and to acquire knowledge.

Practice Non-Grasping
The root of all problems is grasping. We must practice a non-grasping way of living. The only thing we can hold on to is impermanence. Letting go is the path to real freedom. The only thing we have is now.

Two things we must always ask ourselves - that every moment I am dying as everyone else is, and so I must treat all with compassion. Am I pursuing enlightenment because my understanding of death and impermanence have become keen.

We are all dying says one master. Diseases like cancer are warnings to remind us that we have been neglecting deep aspects of our spiritual needs. If we take this warning seriously and change fundamentals the direction of our lives, there is a very real hope of healing, not only our body but our whole being.

Nature of Mind
To prepare better for death and after death, we must understand the Nature of Mind, our true nature, through meditation. It is the gap when we are free of clinging - a gap we must try to prolong as long as we can. We have two minds - the ordinary mind of duality and the Nature of Mind, primordial, Rigpa. When one is enlightened the space inside merges with the space outside. There is no duality anymore.

To end distraction is to bring the mind home to its true nature. Meditation is bringing the mind home, to realise and to relax. Sogyal gives ways to meditate - the practice. Sit erect with back straight is most important Gaze into an ocean. Eyes open. Let is expand. You can use an object, a mantra, focus on breath. Do it without effort. You must experience an absence of thought. It can become a part of your daily life.

Karma is action. Whatever we do with our body, speech or mind will have corresponding reactions. The effect of your actions depends entirely upon the intention or motivation behind them. Wise selfish people think of others, help others and as a result they too benefit.

The Four Bardos
Bardos are transitions. There are four bardos - the natural bardo of life, the painful bardo of dying, the luminous bardo of the dharmata and the karmic bardo of becoming. At the moment the body is left, we are offered the greatest possible opportunity for liberation. If at this moment we can recognise the Ground Luminosity, we attain liberation. Normally we pass through without recognising, unless we are practitioners. The practice of Dzogchen, a state of total awakening, prepares people best to deal with these transitions when they arise. It involves two practices - Trechko (cutting through delusion with fierce, direct thoroughness) and Togal (quality of immediate realisation).

Helping the Dying
In death, people need practical, emotional and spiritual care because they are at the most vulnerable point of their lives and are about to lose everything, their body, their possessions. They are confused and clinging. This is the point when they need unconditional love, compassion, listening, so make them comfortable and peaceful. Make death a peaceful, transformative process he says.

When we are with people who are dying he suggests we establish an unafraid, heartfelt communication. A dying person is weak, feels insecure, is grasping. Be relaxed. Relax any tension naturally. Let them speak of things they want to. Encourage them. When they are communicating their most private feelings, do not interrupt, deny, diminish. They are most vulnerable. Listen, receive in silence.  Touch them. Look into their eyes. Hold.

A dying man once said 'I was looking for someone to look as if they are trying to understand me.'

Tell them not to worry about any unfinished business. Tell them that all will be taken care of after they are gone. they have one enough and can go peacefully. Give two explicit verbal assurances - give them permission to die and reassure the person that you will be alright after their death and there is no need for them to worry

After Death
After they are dead, leave the body undisturbed for as long as possible. Talk positively. Let them die in peace.

There is a practice of Toglen where we take on their suffering and give them our happiness. The most non-grasping of them all. And then there is the practice of Phowa to help the dying where one visualises the consciousness merging with the greater consciousness of the Buddha.

The practices, the meditations, all prepare us to deal with the states of life, death, after death. There is a way to sleep when dying, on the right side or in the sleeping lion posture. There are detailed descriptions of what one would encounter at each stage - the outer dissolution as the body slowly ceases to function and stops, the inner dissolution, the black experience, the Ground Luminosity, the bardo of becoming.

Pray Mindfully with Right Intent
The period after death - from seven days to 49 days are when we can help the person the most through our practices and prayers. The first three weeks even more so. Pray sincerely, compassionately and they will benefit whether they just died or whether they died a hundred years ago.

The book gives many ways to prepare oneself for death and in doing so also live better. Some questions like what happens to those who die due to an abortion (they travel once again through bardo states until rebirth, and they need the same purification practices, seeking of forgiveness if the parents feel guilty, helping others, sponsoring humanitarian and spiritual projects). Suicide attracts negative karma while organ donations is good karma. So go ahead and donate your organs - I am planning to.

In essence, this life of ours is valuable and precious and we must use it well. What we do in this life will determine what happens to us after. Life and death are all a creation of our own mind but our habits and patterns guide us. So discipline, meditation, can help us use the knowledge of the bardo states to seek liberation. It is a practical guide and makes immense sense in how one can help those dying, how one can help those dead through prayers and practices, how one can prepare for one's own death and mostly, how one can life better and thereby prepare better for death.

Practice non-grasping to start with.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Telangana Food Festival - Complete Scam

I saw this poster on a bus advertising the 'Telangana Food Festival' - 12-14th October. I was excited. I wanted to check out authentic Telangana Food. Anjali made me promise her that I would take her to that festival and on Saturday evening we began an arduous journey from Nizampet to People's Plaza in totally unforeseen traffic along with Harsha and Mythily. It took us an hour to get there.
Including price of bouncers of course!

The food festival was inside a huge tent-like structure which was a let down because we thought it might be an open-air affair overlooking the Husain Sagar lake. The entry tickets were priced at Rs. 50 which was rather steep and we were frisked by proper bouncers who are normally wearing black and seem about double the width of the average person. Why bouncers like it was a pub or something?
Telangana di ice cream - Feast!
As we entered we found an SBI stall. Serving authentic Telangana food perhaps. And then a series of authentic Telangana stalls - biryani, Ankapur chicken, Marathi Katta, a Telangana di Punjabi Rasoi, Patisseries, tandoori chai, Ahobilam sweets, millets, some water of a questionable brand being sold at 30 bucks a bottle. Where was the Telangana food dude? Or did I miss Telangana di KFC and Pride of Telangana McDonalds?
Buy some authentic food, buy a car and zoom off!
The middle portion of the tent was marked off for some second-hand cars. There were a few chairs to sit around which were in heavy demand. I drank some tandoori chai at Rs. 50, tried some vada pav (very spicy and tummy achy) and decided that enough was enough. Anjali ate some ice cream embellished with some stuff.

Very very disappointing and a huge let down for anyone who believed this was about authentic Telangana food. It was downright unethical to advertise it as Telangana Food Festival. I checked the Telanaga tickets and found that one Spartans media was in cahoots with the Telangana Tourism to promote this scam. Complete nonsense.
Better views, more air, more space, better food!
We stepped out and found much better stuff outside - ambiance, bhutta, chai. What a waste. Spartan and Telangana Tourism, please pull up your socks.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Lovely Review of This Way is Easier Dad by Komal

I really liked this review because Komal absolutely 'got it'. Got the intent even - that small voices matter and we must listen to them.

That's more than I could have ever wished for any reader with this book.

Thanks Komal.


Andhadhun - Movie

Sriram Raghavan is slick and brilliant. He is always ahead of the audience. Can never guess a twist or a turn. Quirky and well-rounded characters make it so much more interesting. Edge of seat stuff. I like the silence after the movie as you can hear everyone's mind whirring about putting all the pieces into place and seeing if they fit in. Hmmm. Loved his Johnny Gaddaar and now this. Tabu is sensational and Ayushman brilliant. Not to forget Radhika Apte who makes it all look so easy and good. Go watch.

Gumnaam - Movie

An old 1965 Manoj Kumar-Nanda classic. Murder mystery based on Agatha Christie's 'And then there were none'. Mehmood is brilliant and its the longest I saw Helen in a role. Good fun!

Column in the HANS - The Great Divide

Friday, October 12, 2018

Anjali - We Take Things for Granted

We were driving back home when this old lady came to ask for alms. She looked pretty haggard and old and worn out. I gave Anjali some money to give her because she was on that side of the car.

While we were pulling out Anjali said 'She smiled when I gave her the money.'

I nodded.

'Must have been hungry,' she said. 'She looked happy.'

I nodded again.

'I feel we take so many things for granted in our lives,' she said after that. 'Look at her life and her hardships. She has no home, no money, no food. Instead of being grateful for what we have we keep saying we want more, bigger house, bigger car.'

I nodded again. Bang on. Be grateful for what you have. Good place to start.

Batti Gul Meter Chalu - Movie

Lovely Uttarakhand dialect with every sentence ending with a 'bal'. Sharp, witty dialogue which is sometimes too sharp and too witty and almost makes the characters one-dimensional caricatures. Nice theme about an apathetic electricity service provider. Promised much but went the familiar route. Shahid is brilliant, Shraddha is good. Good view of Tehri!

My Musical Notes - PinkFloyd "The Wall"

The first version I heard of this iconic album was from a cassette that my good friend Dr. Satyanath Patnaik (or to all of us, simply Mani) gave me. This was early 80s. I was amazed that people could make music like this - such different sound, so radical and clearly political. This music was not just about entertaining, it had something to say. They said then that it was banned in India, but after checking the net I find that South Africa had banned the album and the song 'Another Brick in the Wall'.

For a novice just starting out, Pink Floyd breaks all conventions. 'Another Brick in the Wall', 'Thin Ice', 'Hey You', 'Mother', 'Empty Spaces' grab you. But what you can listen to again and again year on year, decade on decade, is 'Comfortably Numb'.

After 'The Wall' I listened to several of Pink Floyd's albums. 'Division Bell', 'Dark Side of the Moon' were certainly those that caught my imagination. But more on them when I come upon hem later.

20 years after I first heard 'The Wall' I attended a Roger Waters show at Bangalore with Kiran (we drove down and drove back) and was amazed at the professionalism, the care and passion that goes into their craft. How could anyone sing what they wrote and sang twenty years ago, when they were youngsters, with the same emotion, passion? I decided then that is what I would like to be like. The lasting memory of that concert - it winding down with 'Comfortably Numb' in an ethereal setting under the Bangalore skies and the image of a fan lying down and soaking it in, eyes closed, behind the screen right in front of the stage. He didn't want to see them, he just wanted to hear the music.

'Comfortably Numb', 'Another Brick in the Wall' and 'Hey You' are my favs from this album. There have been many many evenings spent on 'Comfortably Numb' which is an anthem song for all those high spirited evenings with the boys and will probably remain till the end of days. Usual suspects that I enjoyed it with are Kiran (as recently as last week), the irrepressible Anil Menon and several other victims of mine when I was handed the keys to the music.

Thought I heard it first from Mani's tapes, my first possession of this cassette came when I picked it up from a music shop in the shopping arcade outside World Trade Center in Bombay in 1994-95. The shopping centre had a bookstore and a music shop and I would walk in every payday and buy one cassette and one classic book to read. This cassette was one of those golden collections. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Unishe April - Movie

Rituparno Ghosh's national award-winning film starring Aparna Sen and Debashree Roy. Family dynamics, misunderstandings and how they get cleared up by the end of the day - 19th April. A day in the life of a mother and daughter. Unhurried. Well crafted. Sensitive. Glad I saw it.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Pather Panchali - Movie

Finally off the list. Glad I watched it now when I can appreciate the depiction of the human condition, human emotions, limitations and frailties. Ravi Shankar composed the music. Can't forget the scene when the father returns home with gifts. And to prove my theory - another movie based on a shor novel - this one by the prolific Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay who wrote 16 novels and over 200 short stories. With the movie in the hands of such giants like Satyajit Ray, Ravi Shankar and based on Bibhutinath's story one wonders at the talent that abounded those days.

Karwaan - Movie

Nice attempt. Some holes. Found the premise hard to digest - do corpses get switched like that and if they do, can you lug them around like these guys did? What is Irrfan Khan's character really? He looks too old to be a friend, too young to be an uncle (actually not)? Anyway.

I like any attempt at humour.

Baby - Movie

Nice. Action-packed stuff. Taapsee Pannu was a revelation.
Would it have had an even better run if it had a different name? I'd have watched it the first time round for sure. Anyway, never too late.

Anjali - OKRs Achieved

I read 'Measure What Matters' by John Doerr recently and was completely taken in by the simplicity of the idea and how well it works. I  promised myself that I will implement the idea and also share it as much as I can to make ideas come into reality with better execution for as many as I could.

The idea is really simple - write 2-3 Objectives - stuff you want to achieve. This must be significantly big and not an incremental improvement over what you are doing. It could be ideally an objective you want to achieve over a time period of a year, 3-6 months etc. If you achieve 0.7 of the Objective, you have done really well.

Each Objective must have 3-4 Key results which are outcomes/ results and not activities. KRs will be specific, timebound and measurable. At any point you should know where you stand with your OKRs. It's your own Objective. Share it with your team and have frequent conversations about it. Get feedback and develop a culture of recognition. (A link to my detailed book review for those who are interested http://harimohanparuvu.blogspot.com/2018/08/measure-what-matters-john-doerr.html)

Since I was super kicked about the idea, I shared it at home with the usual victims, Shobhs and Anjali. All of us sat down and wrote OKRs and while Shobha and I have longer-term Objectives (which are doing way better than normal), Anjali wrote hers with crystal clarity. There's a huge difference in the way she wrote hers and the way I wrote mine. Hers is uncluttered and has one Objective only. And it sticks out a mile. She added a line for herself at the bottom 'Be the best you can be'. I was happy that I could share the idea and she could benefit from it at her own pace.

But then she sat down and prepared for her exams exactly as she planned. I was impressed with her focus, her questions and the way she would egg us both to help or ask questions. There were times when she woke up early to study.

Result. She topped almost all her exams and with a comfortable margin, which was a first. Top she does but not all, and there is always someone snapping at her heels. This time she sailed through easily. The execution was spot on. Results clear.

'Congratulations! I said. 'Well done' when she told me with great excitement in the car that she topped all exams. 'OKR nanna,' she said, not losing sight of the simple practice we had used. And the moment we came home she took a sketch pen and wrote on the top of this OKR - 'OKR Achieved'. I loved that act of closure. And celebration.

Now to send this to John Doerr and thank him for the wonderful book. It works and very well.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Article in SpeakIn - How Cricket Keeps India Motivated

A link to the article that was published in SpeakIn.


Anjali - No Plastic Please

Now Daksha School has always been advocating a pollution-free and plastic-free world, so many of these ideas are firmly ingrained in Anjali's mind. So a couple of years ago she walked into our colony Ganesh committee and asked them if they were installing a clay Ganesha (and they showed her that it was indeed a clay Ganesha). She has been advocating carrying our own bags etc when we go shopping and she is now a passionate foot soldier for the no-plastic, save the earth campaign.

Today we went to a sweet shop to buy a few sweets and samosas - the sweets for her good performance in the recent exams. The guy packed the stuff in a plastic cover and gave it to us. 'Nanna', she said. 'No plastic.' I wondered what to do and this time the young activist took charge unlike the last time when I told her that we could do it next time. She yanked the cover off and placed it back on the counter. The chap at the counter looked at her face and knew better than to convince her otherwise.

In the car, the young activist let flow a tirade. 'Nanna, we must all do this. One person cannot to it all by herself. Even if no one on this earth will support me I will do it. But it will help and make it easy if everyone joined in (hinting at people like me surely). And what am I convincing them about? To save our earth? To save themselves? Come on, this is just too much. This is our earth. It gives us so much. It gives us life. And this is how we treat it? How can we take it for granted? How can we keep littering it with plastic and then it pollutes and kills animals. I saw a video where an animal eats up plastic thinking its an edible thing. Can't we carry bags, bottles....'

So passionate was she spoke almost non-stop throughout our 15 minute journey. I suggested that perhaps since we cannot change everyone at one go, we should perhaps model that behavior and at the same time influence them by spreading the information and giving them small tips on how to avoid using plastic.  She thought I was, as usual, trying to contain her enthusiasm and sobered down a bit. I suggested that maybe I could interview her and she could express her views on the blog it would be a good start. A few people would see and may change their habits or behaviors a little. She agreed to the idea. So the interview is on next.

I do not remember being so passionate about anything like this in my life. There is a different kind of kindness to things that are not human (animals, birds, earth, environment) that I see in these kids that I never felt nor saw much in our days. Bodes well for the future. Good going Anjali.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

How Teachers' Feel When their Students Do Well and Remember Them

It's been four or five years since I have been teaching the 'Arts Management' course at the Department of Dance, University of Hyderabad. It's a course that started in the right earnest - I was one of the last resources they tried just before they were about to give up. I found it an interesting challenge. To share my learning about how to manage 'art' - as a writer I felt I had seen some part of the lonely journey of an artist, of dealing with the self-doubt that creeps in, and with a background as a corporate manager with some exposure to marketing and advertising, I felt I could help.

Having been a cricketer who reached some level of representation and then could not sustain the upward journey, I had personal learnings that could be shared. The first batch of students were exceptionally good and their response gave me the confidence to take the course forward. Then another batch and another and another. I kept evolving and my themes got sharper as I understood them better - being secure, learning mindset, how to be an expert, artistic vision, goal setting and preparation, 4 Ps of marketing. It's such a heartening feeling when I see the old students share posts on social media about performances, getting awards and just knowing that they are on their journey.

However, last year's batch was different in the sense that I did not have as much time with them as I did for the earlier batches for various reasons. By the time we could get the basic things going, the semester was over and I felt that perhaps I could not make as big an impact as I thought I would. In all these years, if someone were to ask me, this would have been my 'failure'. No enough expert interactions, not enough performances, not enough anything.

So it was a pleasant surprise when I saw a post on fb today, and then another and another, when my students expressed themselves after their convocation and remembered me in their thanks.

That's when I felt how a teacher feels when a student remembers them out of the blue. A well-intended effort to make a difference going home is worth it all. A full heart, and a feeling of immense satisfaction. And of gratitude. Since these words will remain as some of my most cherished, a validation that it was not a 'failure', I would like to capture them here.

"Also Harimohan Paruvu sir.... Your classes has made me to really think about how one should lookup to build up their career... And I got inspired a lot from those sessions of urs and I will definately try my best to achieve them.. Thank you sooo much sir....."
- Anjali

"Thank you for everything Dr. Anuradha Jonnalagadda Ma'am, Dr Aruna Bhikshu Ma'am, Dr Sivaraju sir , DSV.Sastry sir , & also Harimohan Paruvusir for all those beautiful thoughts you induced into our restricted thinking brains. The dept of Dance Will always be grateful and I promise to improve my standards in every work that I do!!!
- Sravya

"University professors Dr.Aruna Bhikshu mam,Dr.Anuradha mam , Dr.shivaraju sir, D.S.V sastry sir & Harimohan Paruvu sir.. With your able guidence and mentoring , I am groomed and succesfully passed out. All the credit to this acheivement is due to your relentless support given to me with lot of care and concern during my course. Iam greatfull to you alwaysI Promise all my GURUS that i always be passionate and dedicated artistπŸ™
 - Anuradha

Only the Paranoid Survive - Andrew Grove

Andrew s. Grove was President and CEO of Intel Corporation. Under his leadership, Intel became the world's largest chipmaker. He was also considered by many as the world's best manager.  'Only the Paranoid Survive' was Grove's pet line - he feels that in business, paranoia must be valued. The book is written in a simple manner and gets key points across. "Success breeds complacency. Complacency leads to failure. Only the paranoid survive."

Read it. Imbibe it. Use it. As clear as that. More so if you are the CEO, or in top management. The book is about 'How to exploit the crisis points that challenge every company and career'

"Something Changed" - New Rules Prevailed Now
Grove begins straightaway by what we should be paranoid about - Strategic Inflection Points that show up when least expected - the times when your fundamentals are about to change. These are moments when you feel 'something's changed'. If you are not aware of or do not give such moments due importance, it could well be the beginning of the end for your organisation and its leadership position. Or, if you react quickly, it could be an opportunity to rise to a leadership position. Grove cites his personal experience with the Pentium Processor and how a small bug that was exposed and exploited by the CNN caused Intel a USD 475 mn write off. All because Intel never realised that through their messaging and size, something had changed the dynamics of the market and though Intel was not selling directly to the end users, the end users felt let down by Intel because of the Pentium in their computer (which they bought from some third party). Intel found itself in a position where it had to hire teams to respond to irate end users directly (who felt let down by the whole 'Intel inside' campaign, in order to recover and regain lost reputation, share etc. Sometimes Grove says, these Strategic Inflection Points can happen so quietly that you do not know what changed until it blows up in your face. So could you be aware and paranoid about that change happening (especially when things seem to be under control)?

Grove says that the ability to recognise that the winds have shifted and that there is need to take appropriate action before the boat is wrecked is crucial to the future of the organisation. Unfortunately, Grove says, that the top management is normally the last to know that something has changed. It's the lower levels and middle managers who are more aware that something's changed. So if you want to have a finger on the button, you know where to look and ask questions.

A 10x Change - How Business Manages this Transition Determines it's Future
Grove says there are 6 forces that could affect the business. Anyone of them could hit the business and affect a 10x change in direction. These six forces are (power, vigor, and competence of) - 1) existing competition, 2) complementors (those from whom customers buy complementary products), 3) customers, 4) suppliers, 5) potential competitors and 6) what you are doing now that can be done in a different way. Any of these has the power to cause a strategic inflection point. Grove warns that in 10x change, only the beginning and the end are clear, and the transition is gradual and painful. The Strategic Inflection Curve is when the convex starts turning - from the top of the arc it can come down or go up. It's that point when the organisation seems to be on secure ground but someone asks "are we on track here?" No one is really sure until it is too late.

Recognition happens in stages. We know that something is different but not really sure what. Grove asks us to keep an eye on subtle changes in the following - 1) customers attitudes are different, 2) development groups are no longer able to get it right as  easily as they did earlier, 3) competitors are stealing business and 4) a growing dissonance between what the company thinks it is doing and what is actually happening in the bowels of the organisation.

Once the signs are visible, it becomes clear that it is no more a lost trail but the valley of death where for sure things will never be the same again. Heads will roll. Here Grove says, act. Don't wait for everything to be known. The Strategic Inflection Point is the time to wake up and listen. And if needed, act. This is what the manager needs to be paranoid about. Grove gives examples of the PC industry and how many missed the PC industry signs - until the cost advantage by performance fell by 90%. Also, how the industry which was earlier vertically aligned (everyone thought they should manufacture computer chips, computers, operating systems, application software and sales and distribution) to hold leadership positions. And how it split up and became horizontally aligned with newer players coming into leadership positions. Grove's experience - the more successful the players were in the earlier industry, the harder a time they had to change.

Every Strategic Inflection Point threw up winners and losers. 
He gives out a set of new rules for the Horizontal Industry.
1) Don't differentiate without a difference (i.e. don't introduce improvements if they are not giving your customer a substantial advantage - don't do it to get an advantage over the competition. All in all, don't try to fool the customer)
2) First movers and only the first movers have a true opportunity when the tech break happens
3) Price for what the market will bear, price for volume and then work to cut costs, to help achieve economies of scale

10x Changes are Everywhere
The 10x Strategic Inflection Points are everywhere - not just IT or the technology industry. It's in retail, shipping, movies etc. It's in our lives right now. He gives examples of Walmart (superstores in small communities - many stores perish), Next (PCs with Windows came in - Next moved into software), Talkies (silent movies died when talkies arrived - Garbo became a star, older stars faded away), Shipping (new tech came in the form of containerization - Singapore and Seattle adapted, were more efficient and grew, while New York and San Francisco died), travel agencies (they lost business when airlines capped commissions and the agencies tried to pass on the commission to the buyer) and PCs of course with the sharp price performance drop. Grove says that changing customer buying habits could be a subtle sign of a Strategic Inflection Point. Professor Tedlow of Harvard Business School concluded that businesses fail because they leave their customers (change a strategy that worked in the past arbitrarily) or because customers leave them. Simple as that. 

We Can Do It Ourselves
Grove takes us through Intel's own 10x problems and how they adapted from a semi conductor company to being memory experts. Then the Japanese came and there was a fear that perhaps this was a 10x Strategic Inflection point moment because the Japanese called up really fast, had fabulous quality and low price. Under pressure, when Grove asks his Chairman Gordon Moore what a new set of top executives would do if they were fired now, Moore says, 'Get out of the memory business'. Grove says - 'why don't you and me walk out that door, turn back. come in and do it ourselves?' Against all their training and belief (two big ones - that their memory business was their technology drivers and they needed to present a full product line to their customers), Grove and Moore decided to make the changes themselves. Microprocessors were an obvious choice but guess what - a lot of their own people and the customers said ' we wondered why you took so long.  One good indicator that Grove says was what the middle management had been doing (he is a big fan of keeping an eye on the middle management who he feels has a better pulse of things) - the low down management kept reallocating resources to more profitable sections like microprocessors already and the decision only validated what the company was already doing intuitively.

Differentiating Between Signal Or Noise
An example he gives on how to know whether the change we perceive is a signal or a noise is how they dealt with the change of technology of chips from CISC to RISC. Intel had no clear idea about what the future was. It allocated a lot of resources to build RISC technology which was faster, but it did not mean that the CISC, which was quite popular with its clients, was dead. So Grove kept watching because the Strategic Inflection Point, in this case, was not very clear. His advise - to distinguish between the two, answer these questions.
1) Is your key competitor about to change (take the silver bullet test - if you had one and only one bullet to shoot at one competitor, who would it be?). If this changes, something is about to change.
2) Is the company complementor about to change
3) Are people around you seeming to lose it

Let Chaos Reign - Debate Until Clarity Emerges
Typically, Grove says, there will be Cassandras keep hinting that 'something is happening' so be aware and be wary (paranoid!). The middle management is a great source. Listen to them. 'Learn what happens at the periphery of your business,' he says. A clear distinction from 'learn about what happens in your business'. It's what's happening at the outer periphery that matters and gives pointers. Check and ask questions. When in doubt Grove says, don't try and figure it out all at once, or go by 1st version. Avoid the trap of the first version he says.
He recommends, that the only way out is to
1) have a broad and intensive debate
2) base your arguments on data but not everything is data - keep balance (he does that beautifully with his book which is more 'feely' than data driven)
3) Allow space for discussion and debate by facilitating an environment that is safe to speak out (reduce fear) - ideally each will respect the other and will not be intimidated by the others knowledge or position.
Chaos will reign. But stay with it. "Resolution comes through experimentation. Only keeping out of the old ruts will bring new insights."

Rein in Chaos - At Some Clarity, Act Purposefully and Clearly
Grove says that through the transition period, let chaos reign. While things are muddy, managers are likely to go through a process of 1) Denial, 2) of trying to avoid the issue or distracting themselves and 3) finally, accept and take pertinent action. Be wary. Don't be complacent because if your action is too late, you missed the opportunity. Get rid of the inertia of success.
Grove suggests that the CEO or top man actually draw an industry map just as you have an organisation map. Says it's worth making one.

As you are getting closer to some amount of clarity you will be clear about two things - what you are going after and what you will not be going after. A word of caution here - Grove says, be realistic. If you're describing a purpose that deep down you know you can't achieve, you're doomed.

Lead Through Actions, Through Culture
One of the best lines I got from the book - Strategic change does not just start at the top. It starts with your calendar. Grove actually gives out his calendar in the middle of a drastic change and he is critical about it. Why am I attending these meetings like nothing is going wrong? A clear case of getting used to old habits and patterns of thinking, or even of denial and distraction.

He differentiates between strategic plans and strategic actions. Strategic plans are what we intend to do. Strategic actions

The greatest danger is in standing still. Keep an ear and an eye out for what the middle management is doing and saying. No change can be completely bottom up or top down, an ideal balance makes sense. Grove urges managers to have a dynamic dialectic and to encourage debate.

An organisation that has a culture that can deal with these two phases of debate (chaos) and a determined march (chaos reined in) is a powerful adaptive organisation. Such organisations have two attributes -
1) It tolerates and encourages debates (vigorous exploring of issues, indifferent to rank and including individuals of varied backgrounds).
2) Capable of making and accepting clear decisions, with the entire organisation supporting the decisions.
Such organisations are more strategic-inflection-point ready than others.

In the last chapter Grove speculates abut the Internet and the likely 10x changes it would cause.

The clarity of thought and the simplicity with which he puts across the sum of his immense experience, learning and wisdom, makes the concepts clear to even a school child. Keep a lookout for Strategic Infection Points that could disrupt your ride, spot them early, debate, learn, and when there is enough clairity, act decisively. There is enough to talk about inclusivity, transparency, listening to signs and having the conviction to change oneself, one's calendar, one's patterns and thereby dealing with the outside change. He accepts feeling helpless, vulnerable, and how he would listen to everyone - juniors, experts - anyone who could teach him about the changes in the industry like a student, paper and pen in hand, taking notes. Many of his actions, described very honestly and humbly, are major theries today - of a learning mindset, of inclusivity, of being vulnerable to be a powerful leader. Not for nothing is he considered by many as the greatest manager ever.

The book is not limited to running business organisations -it could be an individual's life, an organisation, a team, a society, a country or all of humanity. 10x threats can be seen by humanity but are our leaders capable of having a debate, of including all points of view, of making clear decisions? All heads of states must read it, all CEOs must read. All responsible people for that matter. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A Mini MCC Reunion

Babu was in town and wanted to meet the old MCC gang. So Ranjan, Pavan, Suri, Subbu, Srinu and I showed up.
A good net - Suri, Subbu, Pavan, Ranja, me and Babs

A knock at the MLJ Academy for old times sake and then some food and drink. Great time.
More like it - our meetings are typically fun and laughter

Lots of talk about the games we played and won, what we learned and what it meant. More on this soon. And with better pics.

No reunion goes without reminiscing these matches/incidents:
1) Win over Sacred Hearts: We got out for 135 and Sacred Hearts were 0 for no loss after one over. Srinu bowled a ferocious spell and got 5 for 25 or something like that. I supported him well enough to get 5 for30. Pavan pulled off some unbelievable catches at short leg. The most spontaneous celebrations we ever had till date - at Outswinger pub - sponsored by the man of good times Chandra.

Another big win over Sacred Hearts which piled up a big score of 270. We lost a couple of early wickets before Chandra and Raj played outstanding innings with unbelievable strokeplay. And another time when we defended a not so big total easily.

2) Win over MPG - We beat a strong MPG team consistently and comfortably over the years. I remember one when we won the championship - we scored 281 and they scored 270 plus after being 130 for no loss. Fabulous game. I got 78, Raj got a hundred.

3) Beating a team with 121 on board: Uncle promised us beers if we won this tight game. They needed 15 with five wickets in hand when Srinu decided enough was enough, took the ball from my hand and bowled another ferocious spell. They were shot out for 119. Fierce stuff.

4) Falaknuma - We were chasing some 260. While batting at about 100 I tried to pull a short ball and it broke my nose. There was blood all over. By the time I got patched up and came back, Suri had got us back the advantage with a stroke-filled 90 plus. We won.

5) Winning the championship twice - 1995-85 and 1997-98: The spirit of winning was inculcated deeply but we always played fairly and within the rules. Since we played to win the best team played, the team had a culture of discipline, and there was an edge always. We played on our strengths.
Winners 1994 - A2 league championship 
6) Subbu's famous samosa incident: A match which was seriously in balance. I was in the middle of a hot spell. I turn at the run up to bowl in parade grounds when Subbu raises his hand and asks me to stop. He had a samosa in his gloves which he had bought from a passing vendor. All hell broke loose when I lost it.

7) ECIL: Playing against a good team with a broken finger I batted and scored 27 out of 125 and then bowled unchanged for 15 overs, holding the ball with my thumb and index finger, I finished with 5 for 25 and we won the match. Full credit to Maheshwar Prasad who insisted that I bowl. In fact I was not supposed to play the game - just went to watch with my swollen finger.

8) Beating EMCC: We were bowled out for 130 or so and had little chance against the strong EMCC. We heard the inevitable 'finish the match before lunch'. I got the first wicket and then Vanka Pratap out lbw and from 30 for 2, EMCC folded for less than a 100. Brilliant catching by Babu and lovely bowling by Mohan.

Beating EMCC again: John Manoj once again uttered the same 'finish the game early' words. Low score. I got 4, finished my spell and then got the left arm seamer Chary to pick up 4 at his end. Won by 10 runs or so.

9) Losing to Ameerpet: In the season we won the championship the only match we lost was against Ameerpet. We had Vivek, Raj Kumar, me. But we scored few runs and could not defend it. However after that one year, we beat Ameerpet every year.

10) Dropping Suri because he came late: Suri and Subbu went for breakfast and Suri came late. He was the best batsman we had but as a matter of discipline I dropped him. Lot of acrimony because it was not really his fault and I drew a tough line but rules were rules.

Similarly, we forfeited the match when Ram, Ranjan and Babu went to drink chai and returned when we were already 7 down and our 9, 10 and 11 were out drinking chai. Though we could have asked for time or held up the match for 10 minutes I forfeited the game. Again, a matter of culture and discipline.

 There were fights, jokes, injuries. Shameem's crazy knock which won us a match, Prashant's wonderful technique, Bapat's resilience, Rajan's tenacity, Pavan and Vijay helping out the administration bit, Suri always by my side be it batting or bowling or fielding, ready to die for the team, wonderful stuff. They told me yesterday how upset I would be when we lost and how I would go off without talking to the team and how they would meet over chai and decided to win the next game for me. I told them how much it taught me about many things in life. We all shared our stories and promised to meet again soon. 

Some Kind Words That Made My Day - From my MBA Classmates

An outpouring of affection from my mates at the Osmania MBA college. I want to preserve this - and no better place than the blog.

"Hari you have been a great Ambassador of the MBA group.

You have eulogised each one with your flowery, and compassionate words.

You have found the best qualities in each friend of yours and the respect that you shower has endeared you to each one and has enhanced your towering stature.

Like a true sportsman that you are you  experimented with your life and had the courage to settle  down with the best for you -  Shobha and writing .

Hari I found you to be the most caring, compassionate soul and a person with a human touch which let's you see the good in everyone.

 Your attitude to life and people around you reflects your analysis which you so eloquently brought out in your writing.

Hope one day we all attend the function where you are awarded the Booker prize. Hope you had a great day."

- My skipper at Osmania, Vijay

Well said Vijay.. you are all of this and much more Hari - Visa

"Well said. Thank you for writing such lovely note for Hari. Was wondering how a writer like Hari could be graced with something close to what he can put into words. Great job.
You are special. Hope you had a wonderful day. - Radha

Hi Hari Mohan, birthday wishes and prayers for your good health and happiness.
You epitomize friendship, coolness, leadership, filial, spousal and paternal love;
Magic at the pitch or the page ;
Ability to shake n stir just about anything including a drink;
You made a lasting impression in 1985 when I first met you with KP Choudhary in the OUCE lounge.
You've been an inspiration for my on-the-spot article for our OUCCBM 1991 magazine
You trigger verbosity in others even as you remain stoically laconic.
So there I've said it all. My friend.
- S.V. Ramana, old pal

"Wow... I wait for everyone’s birthdays  to appear for 2 reasons..
1. To wish them and
2. To read your write up

This was your best so far, Hari..

As Vijay says you are a divine soul who sees only the good in everyone.  Hence, your divine soul reflects in your happiness, bliss and your personality! Love the way you share happiness with others and your calmness being  your forte.. wish I could be as calm and cool as you!!πŸ˜€πŸ‘

May the year ahead be as beautiful as your bundle of joy (Anjali), as bright as your better half-Shobha, and as loving as your family!!πŸ‘πŸ˜€πŸ˜

May you be blessed with good health, happiness, success, prosperity, joy and peace!!
Hugs to your Hari!!
Stay blessed!!

A card made by my 10year old - Vidya

Hari, I may not be a good writer like most of you, but what I have written is DIL SE."
- Hema

Loved Being the Object of poet Bijju's poem!

"Languid pace , unHARIed Grace,
Tremendous wit , makes a near perfect fit.
A way with words , inspiring all
We count on you , standing so tall.

Soulful eyes , incapable of lies
Speaking from the heart, playing your part.
Never do you pretend , when being a friend
Love & warmth you extend , joyfully no end.

Easy manners , Mirthful looks
Emotions many , Expressed in books
Your infectious laughter , so full of life
Source being daughter, and no less , the wife !

- Bijju

Thank you everyone from the class of 91!  

Gifts Galore!


Tagore's collection from Sagar. Been thinking of reading Tagore for a long time. Now thanks to Sagar, should be done.

Half Lion from Abhinay! Looks very interesting indeed. PV Narasimha Rao's bio.

Munshi Premchand's short stories. - From myself.

Sketching book!

Sleep - A Poem that Came Back after 20 years

A long time ago in the mid-1990s, I used to keep my creative juices by devoting 15 minutes before work each day to write a few lines of poetry. The routine was simple - get to the office at Cuffe Parade, Mumbai early, grab a quick bite, head to my cubicle and write on any topic that seizes me. It was an exercise to strain my brain. It went on for a month or so.

Every day I would display my current day's poem on the space beside my computer. Some clients would find it interesting, some colleagues would read it and sympathize with me and my maker and my boss Subaraman clearly told me that writing poetry, especially the kind I was writing, would lead me to depression (mainly because he found my writing depressing).

I gave up shortly after that because I did not want to be depressed. That ended my short tryst with poetry as well.

Now, almost two decades later, I get a WhatsApp message from my friend Mony, who was then my colleague and teammate in the IDBI Cricket Team and listener of Jagjit Singh ghazals etc. It is a pic of one of my poems titled 'Sleep'. He shared it with his young daughters and told them that I now write books.

"Mony: Remember?? I showed my elder daughter.... and she was all smiles really
I told them that the person who wrote this is a famous author now... immediately my younger daughter googled you and showed me your images!!!"

I was thrilled to see this. I never knew Mony had a copy of that poem. Suddenly I wondered, there may be so many such thoughts lying around in the world. Stuff we wrote or said intentionally or unintentionally.

I am amazed that Mony has found it after all these years. What I am concerned about is what he was doing with it in the first place.

Jokes apart, thanks Mony, for preserving such a lovely memory and sharing it.

Column in the Sunday HANS - Emotional Indicators Wanted

Emotional Indicators in Traffic Wanted!


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Thought for the Day - Money Follows Action

If there is a link between money and action it must be this. That money follows action and not otherwise.

In most cases the common premise is that if we have money, we will do this i.e. act. But money is only the outcome, of action, and not the other way round.

It is when we choose to act that we generate the outcome of that act. To create money then, we need to act creatively, purposefully. It will follow.

Friday, September 28, 2018

My Musical Notes - ToTo

A huge discovery and a big step forward in my musical life was the discovery of the music store Sangeet Sagar at Basheerbagh. I have no idea how I discovered the store but everything about Sangeet Sagar was brilliant to me. Those days they would have a huge display of vinyl records and a number of cassettes. A large Hindi section, but most interestingly for me, a large western music collection.

I would sidle into the shop and hang around at the back while more important people came and finished their work. I would check out the records, the many groups I had heard of and had not. Normally I would be ignored or hustled by the other salesmen but I remember one tall salesperson, complete with Amitabh Bachchan hairdo, who would ask me what I wanted, play out songs, make recommendations. Sangeet Sagar would record an album for 10 bucks on one side of a C90 tape. And that meant that I would not have to spend an entire 45 - 60 bucks on a cassette. The recording was pretty good too and the collection, really nice.

Africa - Toto
So it became a ritual.

Something I would do all by myself and fully enjoy every moment. I'd first find myself an empty cassette (which would cost 30 bucks perhaps). I'd take the bus at 4 pm from ESI Hospital. 4 pm was important because by the time it would drop me at Control Room near Public Gardens the evening would be mellow. The sun would be slanting across the gardens and I would love walking across the IT bhavan, past all the shops and then reach Sangeet Sagar. I would spend some time figuring out which albums I wanted to be recorded and then finally go with the man's suggestion. The groups I got introduced to thanks to Sangeet Sagar were phenomenal - Men at Work, Yes, REO Speedwagon, Tina Charles, Toto and so many more. Listen to a couple of songs, give him the tape, pay money, get a receipt and walk back contentedly to Public Gardens bus stop. By now the sun would be just setting. Get a window seat and enjoy the ride back home. Couldn't wait till the delivery day and then repeat the same procedure.
Rosanna - Toto

Toto then. And more specifically Toto IV. I had no clue about this band and never heard of it. Just went with the recommendation of my friend and got hooked to the two huge numbers 'Rosanna' and 'Africa'. Incredible sound. Toto remains one of the greatest and most serendipitous discovery of mine and their music still resonates. I could listen to Toto anytime by myself.

A favorite Toto memory. One time when we were all partying at home, I was playing requests by all my friends. Trina, Madhav's American wife, completely removed from our culture made one request - 'do you have Rosanna by Toto? Yes maam. She was impressed. I was impressed with myself. I don't think I shared Toto with anyone else but Trina surely gave me a Toto moment in my life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Delhi Thaatha - A Great Grand Story - Chitra Viraraghavan

Great writing to me is when a lot is told in so little. Chitra does that effortlessly in her book 'Delhi Thaatha, A Great Grand Story' - a story told about her great-grandfather Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, seen through her seven-year-old eyes. Chitra is a far more accomplished writer than many of us who masquerade as such. There is something in her understanding of the language, structure, grammar and mechanics that puts her in the next league. No wonder, her debut book 'The Americans' was published by Harper Collins in its literary imprint. Her choice of words even when she speaks and her understanding of the world reveal the same clarity, sharpness and seeing things for what they are. Not a word more, not a word less. And allows us readers to fill in the blanks using our own imagination. For all the books and stories I have read about Dr. Radhakrishnan, I have no doubt that this book will easily remain in my mind forever primarily because of the point of view she chose.

'Delhi Thaatha' gives us the essence of the person behind the persona of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. A quick look at his biography made me wonder how one can do justice to the man and his achievements without losing a big part of him.

That's where knowing your craft comes in and Chitra brings alive a whole new dimension of her great-grandfather in a few well-chosen incidents and recollections, just enough to give us a start, so we can complete the story. We can picture a small boy who grew up in a tiny village, with an innate curiosity and mischief, always thinking of something, absenting himself from school. So often would he be absent from school that his parents moved him to another school in a bigger town. Studying at Madras Christian College, making the most of his scarce resources, the scholar emerges, and then the teacher.

There's this delightful story of how when he was going to the station in a horse-drawn carriage a group of his students stops the horse carriage, removes the horse, and draw the carriage themselves. What a story! Reminded me of another teacher recently in Tamil Nadu whose transfer made the students cry and protest. One wonders how deeply such teachers must have touched their students to make them do things like that.

There are many more interesting incidents in his life we have not heard of - and we hold seven-year-old Chitra's hand and she takes us along - to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, to his house in Madras. Just as Dr. Radhakrishnan explains difficult concepts very simply to the child, Chitra does the same in writing this book. The book always stays between the affectionate great-grandfather and the seven-year-old Chitra. And we, the readers, remain at the seven-year old's side, comfortable with her granddad.

Great presentation, layout, rare pictures, lovely graphic design by Sunandini Banerjee and P. Balasubramanian's sketches. It is my early gift to Anjali who read it with great interest. 'I am amazed that Chitra aunty is related to such a great and noble man,' she said after reading the book.  It might just prod Anjali to explore some more about Delhi Thaatha and understand the quality of people we had in public life then. Chitra's depiction of her Delhi Thaatha is one that all readers will relate to, as a wise, gentle and kind man. We badly need to be reminded that such people existed.   

Talk on Creative Writing at NIFT

I got a call from Priyanka who teaches Fashion Communication at NIFT, Hyderabad, inviting me for  a guest lecture on Creative Writing for the 3rd year students. It was a 2-hour lecture - 130 pm to 330 pm. As always with post-noon sessions, the toughest part was to keep them awake.

Some of the points that we discussed:
We began at the beginning which is always a good idea - what does being creative mean really? To create as far as I am concerned is bringing forth a new idea - one that disrupts, an idea or view point that is our own, one that we take full responsibility for, an idea that propels a creative process. Creating needs courage and clarity.

Be bold and back yourself on your ideas. Write in an active voice. Don't worry about offending people.

75% of the time spent on creating goes into conceptualizing the idea, goes into getting the idea right in the head, and on paper. Then the writing process is only 25%.

My writing journey 
When I first decided to quit my job and write, I wanted to test myself if I was passionate enough about the process. I wrote an article a day for 4 months - roughly spent 10-12 hours a day on each. Once I realized I enjoyed the process of writing for such long hours I dived into it. If it is a passion do it, don't simply talk about it.

I shared how my first book 'The Misfit' never got published, nor the second, nor the third. The fourth got published. I shared how I wrote 'The Men Within' and 'If You Love Someone'. The structure of '50 Not Out' and how 'This Way is Easier Dad' came about and what it taught me about listening and observing. Overall, I shared the process of getting published and what it takes to write, get rejected and write again.

Insights - Mine
Creative writing is not some fancy 'creative' inspiration that flashes into our mind. It is organization of thought (first and foremost), good structure, a command over the craft and letting the story be the hero.

Start with a clear idea - a two line 'hook' about what the story is about. The hook should have enough energy to unravel a full-length story within it.

The premise of the story - the core of the novel - everything must contribute towards proving the premise. 

From the two line hook, develop a three para outline, with the three main acts - or the beginning (set up), middle (confrontation) and end of the story (resolution). This could come in about a page, outlining the way the story progresses. Then write a longer synopsis with more detail about how the story progresses, where the characters come in and do what.

I normally break the story up into its main sections - maybe three or five sections. It makes it easier for me.

The characters must be interesting. You must know them well. To know them well it makes sense to write their back stories with some amount of detail. Each layer you descend into their lives (where do they live, how much money do they have, guiding beliefs and practices, politics at home, hierarchy etc), a new layer opens up which adds to their personality. They become full-fledged, well-rounded characters.

Make fictional characters bigger - extraordinary.

Research well to write about things you have not experienced or know nothing about. It makes the writing authentic. One may not use most of the research material but it adds to the overall depth and credibility of the story and will not appear flat and two dimensional.

Dialogue must be natural and not forced.

Indirect dialogue more unique and interesting. Ask yourself the following questions about your dialogue - is it in conflict? is it trite? can it be said indirectly? is it as colorful and clever as it can be? 

After writing the first draft, I check for flow, scope for adding drama, comedy - doing it one draft ata a time. Look to add energy wherever it is falling off.

The story is supreme at all times. Do not get carried away by characters you like, lines you like etc. Always maintain that integrity of the story. Do not try to impress. Ask yourself - is this helping to move the story forward in the most efficient way or is it dragging it down or digressing?

Adopt a suitable style, tone, point of view and setting.

Find out who can tell the story best.

"Show and Tell" - Good writing allows the reader to form her own conclusions about a character or a situation by showing the character or situation through their actions. Not by telling the reader what the author concluded about the character or the scene.  Instead of saying 'she was a very good manager who turned around the company in six months' which is 'telling', devise ways to 'show'. Develop scenes and situations that show how she is efficient and let the reader make his mind up about her.

I don't believe in a writer's block. Keep at it. Some days it flows, some days it doesn't. You can always come back and rewrite that part.

Once the book is done keep it aside for 6 months so you maintain an objective distance from it. Then edit and rewrite.

The more you write the better you get. Start writing journals, blogs, look for publication in magazines, papers, websites.

Feedback is essential to grow. So start putting your writing out there, seek feedback and work on areas that need work. It takes time to develop skill. Blogs are an easy way to do that.

Read and read as much as you can. Read the great masters. Short stories are a great way to start.

Create a discipline of writing and write every day. If you embark on a book - the first draft should be done in 90 days. The key to becoming a writer is to write - one word at a time. 2000-3000 words a day. (In 30 days your book is done!)

Use simple words. Do not write long sentences. Never use words the meaning you are not sure of. Avoid using adjectives (except those of colour, size and number) and use as few adverbs as possible.
- V.S. Naipaul

Write for yourself first and then worry about the audience. Use active voice. Avoid adverbs especially after 'he said' and 'she said'. Don't obsess over perfect grammar. Read, read, read. Don't worry about making others happy. Keep off all distractions when you write. Stick to your own style - no rules. Write one word at a time.
- Stephen King

Write to the point and simple. Remove unnecessary words. Don't change tense in between sentences. Don't repeat words. Proofread your writing. Reread your article. Read it aloud.

Lead with the main idea. Use specific nouns and verbs. Cut clutter. Put keywords and ideas at the beginning or end of a sentence.

Avoid using filler words. Avoid using excessive use of 'that'. Use metaphors to convey ideas. No infinitives and gerunds. Use specific examples.

In Conclusion
To get over the inertia of writing and publishing I asked the students to get back to writing blogs which are a good way to write informally - and to send me a blog post of what happened in the session. The students promised that they would. When they do I will share it on the blog

I enjoyed the session immensely. Many thanks are owed to Priyanka, Mohan, NIFT and the students.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

October - Movie

Shoojit Sircar has an unhurried way of making films that you can watch anything he makes. October is one such. Varun Dhawan in a very restrained role that he does very well. Liked it.

The Dhoni Touch - Bharat Sundaresan

Here's a Dhoni book that promises to unravel the enigma of MSD. That's a big ask because you can hardly get the man to talk about himself. Bharat Sundaresan does a good job of offering an interesting perspective of the man Ravi Shastri calls LEGEND (all caps please). Bharat knows MSD well enough (as a cricket journalist he travels with the Indian team to report) for them to be having conversations about their hairstyles and how to improve on Bharat's, and this chumminess gets in the way of a fully objective view of MSD. At one stage in the book it felt like the first time I drank gin - and getting higher and higher long after you stopped drinking. MSD's greatness gets bigger and bigger to a point when we want to detach off so much perfection. But then Bharat did not promise us a full story about the enigma with its pluses and minuses - he only promised to unravel it from his viewpoint. Without interviews, and access to the man directly, it would be all based on evidence we see and try to put it all together which Bharat does and very well too. I loved his piece on Patrick Patterson by the way. Though I am a bit wary of the Pythagoras thing and Dhoni's keeping.

We start off on an unconventional note - MSD and Bharat and their long hair and how they keep talking about it when they meet. MSD's hair has undergone many changes unlike Bharat's who still maintains it waist length (I think). As with everything else MSD has his hair fully analysed and under control and tells Bharat to cut it - not fully, just to layer it so you have the same length, less weight. Hair is big for both players concerned here - Bharat's dedication of the book is to his wife Isha for letting him keep his hair longer than hers. When Bharat tells MSD of his desire to write a book about him MSD makes sure he gets all the info he needs - minus an interview of course which he promises a decade later or something like that. (That gets one to envy - or the opposite of it - when we cannot plan what's tomorrow. Can people be like that? Envy surely.)

Bharat goes to Ranchi and meets MSD's friends Chittu who takes him all around and tells him tales of MSD's childhood, his coach Keshav Ranjan Banerjee, his sports shop friend Chotu bhaiyya, his early exploits etc. Then his rise to the national team and his dizzy success after that and how he kept his cool after all that. The chapter on his army connection (he is a Lt. Col with the Indian army and one cannot forget the way he went up to receive his Padma Bhushan award), his love and understanding of weapons, his patriotism (which he wears literally), his love for his army jawan friends is all well captured thanks to Bharat's access to Colonel Vembu Shankar who is MSD's friend and senior. MSD apparently sent him a message on his last day at work - for a man who is notorious for not being in touch it gives away a facet of the enigma. MSD's many visits to army bases, where he goes with the least warning so he can mingle with his jawan friends with whom he shares a WhatsApp group are interesting to read. For someone who is very private and who does not pick up the phone nor reply to messages, from the high and mighty of the land, he is clear in his mind where his presence makes the most difference. In Rajdeep Sardesai's book 'Democracy XI' he mentions how difficult it was for him to track Dhoni and how when he finally met him in an elite party, he spent a lot of time with the drivers, waiters etc. Apparently he also leaves passes and tickets for room service people and waiters. This despite the tremendous demand for tickets from friends and well wishers. MSDs philosophy seems to be - if they have my number on their phone book, they have enough connections anyway. Another facet of the enigma surely - focus where you make the maximum impact.

There is much more about MSD in the book, some of which we already know and have seen, so let's cut to the enigma. What makes him tick (control the controllables)? What makes MSD so cool under pressure (breathe)? What makes him such a good decision maker (make more decisions and you get better at it)? What makes him so private and so grounded that even today his friends say he has not changed at all (stay in the moment)? Bharat explored this facet well enough with VB Chandrasekhar, my old pal (who finds my bowling boring 'line and length stuff' - and boring enough to get him out first ball in our Inter varsity match at Calicut - haha!). Now VB has seen MSD through his early rise and even in the IPL as the captain of CSK when VB was the Director or COO of CSK. That line - 'I don't make them feel like I am the captain. I let them feel like they are all captains' which MSD said when asked how he found leading so many ex-captains and legends is stuff Lao Tzu would have happily approved. Of course its all very well for us to quote Lao Tzu but to practice it under such pressure is what makes it all so special. I remember I asked VB the same question and he told me the same thing. Also told me that MSD is not reachable once the game is over.

Somewhere MSD has found the right idea and held on to it - that leadership is about facilitating and allowing others to step up and do their job and not imposing stuff on others, that the best way to control is to let go of control, improving others by giving feedback at the right time, about treating professionals with a level of respect and responsibility that they feel obliged to live up to the responsibility vested with them, about the importance of setting the context and narrative (as he did with the Rhiti Sports deal) and not simply fitting into someone else's context, about keeping things simple (like a Buddhist monk), about thinking of the situation at hand and being ahead of it, about believing in himself and his people immensely and holding that belief firmly till the end.

His first principles are firm. About people, about how to treat people, not gossiping or encouraging loose talk, about roles and clarity of roles, about dignity of self and other. A lot of what he has learned seem to come from his own powers of analysis and concentration, of learning quickly from his failures and successes, an eye for detail, a solution-oriented mind that keeps searching for tough challenges to conquer - his meddling with his bikes, gadgets, weapons, mastering anything he wants to in very short times (except swimming..that was a nice one), his belief that man will always have one imperfection. He is not religious but visits one temple in Ranchi before and after every tour and never shows his palm to a palmist. You get the feeling that he is not going to run to the major temples to hold on to what he has gained as I see some doing. He will figure it out, adapt and get ahead.

Chittu gives the secret away in one line - watch how he breathes. It's not that he is unfit. He breathes to be aware, to be present, to be fully in the moment. In this mastery of being the moment MSD has developed tremendous capacity to cut through the chaff and get down to the real thing when the rest of the world is breathing shallowly and losing it. That one moment of clarity, that conviction and belief and all of this encompassed in earthy wisdom and humour. In matches, in finances, in life.

Good job Bharat Sundaresan. I like your style. It's not too in the face, not too technical which is always debatable and which sometimes gets carried too far by some, and not too dramatic. Just the right amount to make it impersonal yet personal. Nothing in the book has taken away from MSD, and what it has added has been done gently and with sensitivity. Wishing you many more books and a job well done. I must recall that moment when someone says in the book - "anyone who touches Mahi will be a huge success, now that you are writing about him you will be too." To validate that statement I remember meeting young Sfurthi Sahare who wrote the runaway bestseller 'Think and Win like Dhoni' and her life certainly changed for the better after that. So Bharat, good things await. I have certainly picked a few pointers to improve my own life and my reactions to it from the insights you presented.

And thanks are owed to Shobhs, one of MSD's greatest fans, who bought this book so I could read it.