Monday, December 17, 2018

Half Lion - Vinay Sitapati

This is a lovely gift from Abhinay complete with a nice message to me. This is also the third or fourth book he has gifted me - all diverse and eclectic in content. Vinay Sitapati's book on P.V. Narasimha Rao, former Prime Minister of India appears to have received wide critical acclaim with the Economist calling it 'The book of the year' and the Times of India calling Vinay 'the new rock star historian;. Vinay has a PhD in politics from Princeton University and has degrees from National Law School Bangalore and from Harvard. He is an Associate Professor who teaches Political Science and Legal studies at Ashoka University.

The book starts with the way PVNR was treated after his death on December 23, 2004, with Congress leaders persuading the family to cremate him in Hyderabad and not Delhi, refusing his body access to the Congress Bhavan and other such unpleasant politics over his death. the finger points clearly at Sonia Gandhi with whom PVNR did not share a great relationship after he was made Prime Minister. In the end, it was in Hyderabad, near the Tank Bund that his final rites were done, and Vinay actually ends up saying that his body was left half burnt (which is the title of the first chapter). It's rather dramatic but it serves its purpose - the former PM was not wanted in Delhi by the Congress by that stage.

Coming from a Brahmin family in Nizam ruled Vangara, in Karim Nagar district PVNR showed an exceptional penchant to learn. His father who was a landowner decided that PV was better off studying and he was sent to another village when he was five to study. The separation seemed to have a traumatic effect on young PV. He was adopted by his rich neighbour who owned some 1000 acres of land and was worried that it might be taken away by the Nizam. PV was debarred from college in Warangal when he and in college mates sang Vande Mataram against orders to stop and were expelled. This was in 1938, Rao was seventeen. He went to Nagpur to complete his degree then went to Pune to study astronomy. He went and studied law in Nagpur and then joined B Ramakrishna Rao, a lawyer in Hyderabad. Married pretty early to Satyamma, he sired eight children with her, but left her to handle the children as well as the lands while he studied and went about with his life and politics.

Rao was influenced by the nationalist leader Swami Ramananda Tirtha, President of Hyderabad State Congress who wanted the lands owned by the middlemen to be transferred to the tillers and make for a socialist society. His other mentor was B. Ramakrishna and he was made the president of Karimnagar district Congress and lost the election in 1952. In 1957 he won the election from Manthani. In 1956 when Andhra was carved from the Madras state there were demands for a separate Telangana. Rao became a minister in the state cabinet. He was in a relationship with one Lakshmi Kantamma, wife of a Forest Officer, who was elected to the Parliament. Rao never let his family close to the politics. He was also never interested in politics - he wanted to be an academic.

In 1971 he was made Chief Minister by Indira Gandhi. He was firm in enforcing his ideas of land reforms which were not very popular. However, the 'Jai Andhra' movement in 1972, which was an offshoot of the mulki judgment, cost him his Chief Ministership. He quietly acquiesced and stepped back. Then he became the General Secretary of the Congress Party. He saw the Emergency through and lived to see the return of Indira Gandhi the Blue Star Operation and the subsequent assassination of Indira Gandhi. All through, PV was seen as a man who would not trouble anyone, his demeanour, his quiet and perhaps even his stature made people feel secure with him. There is no reason why he got so many posts without high ambition. In 1970 his wife died. In Delhi he was friendly with a journalist Kalyani Shankar - romantically or no - it's not clear.

He served as Foreign Minister in Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet - at a time when Rajiv was trying to get rid of all the older people in the party and getting his own friends and 'yes' men into the party. There is an instance of how one of his friends makes PV put his foot down - a lesson in manners to the sixty plus politician - something he never forgot. When he became PM he banished them all. At the time of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, he was all set to retire. He had sent his books back to Hyderabad and even taken up monkhood at a pitham in South India. Rajiv Gandhi's death opened up a new avenue for him and PV seemed to have played his cards well and somehow managed to become a PM in a minority-led government and at a stage when he was forced to make reforms. He picked his people well, Manmohan Singh was one of them, and went ahead with the reforms that pulled India out of economic crises. In those years he also faced the Babri masjid crises and started the nuclear program despite pressure from the US. He started selling India as am economy for foreigners to invest in, would take businessmen along with him to improve trade.

All through he was politically not very strong and survived by the skin of his teeth. He believed in godmen, Chandraswami and Sharma, had his private relations with women like Lakshmi Kantamma and Kalyani Shankar which he did not hide from anyone, went everywhere with his cook Rajaiah, read thousands of books and made detailed notes, mastered the computer and learned two languages. He wrote and translated books, tried his hand at fiction. He would read books by the dozen and would write notes of appreciation to the authors - Sitapati mentions a note to Arundhati Roy and her reply to him.

PV was a contradiction, a man thrust into the position of power without him wanting it. He would have been happier in a college just as Manmohan Singh might have been but they did bring their own brand of leadership and achieved much quietly. The Babri case was one where he was said not to have done anything - Sitapati devotes an entire chapter to it and it appears that PV tried to get parties together through backchannel talks, made errors in judgment about people and felt betrayed when the mosque was brought down. Despite the best of intentions, people are judged by the outcomes and PV will have to bear the cross. PV, right from his days as Chief Minister in Andhra, had a way of isolating himself by choosing a course of action in conflict with his mentors or his colleagues - land reforms in Andhra, hawala cases against his colleagues when PM, sidelining Rajiv Gandhi's friends and perhaps even ignoring Sonia Gandhi, overestimating his judgment and underestimating VHP and Shiv Sena and even Arjun Singh, these seemed to be some of his faults. That he did what he felt was right was pretty clear.

Small incidents give his character away. The way he takes apart a malfunctioning water pump and repairs it, the way he figures a way to get better yields from cotton, the way he learns ten languages and computers, and pretty much anything he sets his mind to are interesting. He was not one to worry about credit long as the job was done as in the case of the nuclear program (Vajpayee completed the job) and the economic reforms (he attributed that to Rajiv Gandhi). A weakness for women is one of his faults, it says.

An interesting book. Thanks Abhinay.


Sunday, December 16, 2018

My Musical Notes 18 - Leo Sayer's 'Endless Flight'

1984
There was this little shop in Chirag Ali lane, one I never knew existed. Choudary took me there one day when we were in Abids for some work in our first year Engineering. I was thrilled to see that the quaint little shop had a very unique collection of music. I had never heard of most of those artistes - some rare stuff.

That visit, I bought Leo Sayer's 'Endless Flight'. It's one of those one-song tapes (like Yes's 'Owner of a Lonely Heart) which I found later. Leo's biggest hit was 'When I need you' - a delightful ballad that stays with you. Never heard much of the other songs but this one stayed in most of my slow song collections. Leo had another great hit 'More than I can say'.

Choudary was not much of a music collector, but he was enthusiastic about music (he is enthusiastic about everything). I clearly remember him coming along with me (he was my manager and chief negotiator then, and even now) when we went to buy a Phillips car deck and a couple of speakers. On my own, I would have probably bought a music system minus speakers or made some gaffe like that so I would always take him along to bring some sanity.

That was my first personal music system, my own, bought with some money I earned from some cricket prize. (Choudary would also come along to buy my first car, my first TV, and several other things for me). If I remember right we got it for 1200 bucks. What was brilliant about Choudary was that he also bargained with the shop in Abis to throw in a cassette free (things I would never have done). We got Iron Maiden's - 'The Number of the Beast' (Can I Play With Madness) which put me off iron Maiden forever. But since I lost that tape, I need to record this here.

That Phillips car deck with an auto-reverse system and green indicators that shoe warmly in the night, gave me hours and hours of musical pleasure. We somehow fixed it in an old books shelf which could hold all my cassettes at the bottom and the car deck above with those two speakers hanging up on the wall.

Thanks is owed to Choudary for my car deck, Iron Maiden and Leo Sayer for now. He will feature much more in more musical notes later of course.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Movie

It's a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tennessee Willaims adapted into a movie. Released in 1958 it starred Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.

A hurting and alcoholic ex-athlete who hates his wife, an older brother and his family who is out to get their share in their rich and dying father's wealth and the drama that unfolds over the space of two nights. Wonderful stuff.

I Am Not a Crook - Art Buchwald

It's a full book of columns that Art Buchwald wrote about Nixon and his bumbling Watergate gang and by the end of it, you know the entire story and some. In fact, Art dedicates this book to Richard Nixon. John Dean, someone called Stancy, Eldeman, Ehrlichman, Ron Ziegler, Charles Colson and his grandmother, Kissinger and his wife Nancy..and almost everyone even remotely connected with the White House. One column has two people working in the White House talking to one another, another where the White House is talking, plumbers, psychiatrists, George Washington, the tapes...so much so that you wonder if any angle has been left alone.

As always, Art Buchwald's columns leave you laughing out loud. One piece was exceptional because it drew more than one laugh. It's where a second-hand car sales showroom decides to bug its prospective customers so they get to know what the customers are talking about when the salesman is not around so they can better address their needs. It's hilarious.

Raja gave this lovely used book - owned by one R.Sundaram (and signed by him too) when I told him I now desired to collect as many funny books as I could to make my life more full of fun and laughter. He also gave me a Dave Barry book which I am yet to read.

Thanks Raja. And more importantly, thanks Art Buchwald. There was a time when as a youngster I used to read his column in the Hindu and it would make me laugh even then without having a clue about politics in America. When I wrote a column for the first time for the New Indian Express I secretly told myself that I would try to write like Art.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Anjali - Friends and Feelings

Yesterday Anjali got off her school bus with a stricken face. I could spot it from the distance. I could also tell from the way her ability to hold herself decreased as she walked towards me that it was no ordinary matter involving seats or some sharp word from the driver or the ayah. As she came closer to me her face crumpled and tears sprung into her eyes as she hugged me. I asked her what happened.
'Divya fell in our sports class from the slide and hurt herself. She was crying so much. I never saw her cry so much.'
Manali  - Pic courtesy Tenzin
Anjali would not stop crying. When I told her we could go and visit Divya, she calmed down. She started messaging her school Principal Anita aunty and her class teacher Sandhya aunty to find out how Divya was. After their responses came assuring her that Divya was ok, she smiled.

And when she called and spoke to Divya, I could hear her distinct concern and relief in her voice at her friend being fine. Messages flew back and forth after the phone call, friendship vows were exchanged, plans made for making get-well cards.

That pain in her face when she first told me about Divya's hurt (which they could not stay back and help with, because their bus had to go and the teachers had taken Divya away) to the relief and celebration was a complete journey.

Another day last week, she spoke so indignantly about one of her teachers not allowing assistance to a child who needs assistance to write. Anjali grew up with her friend and was shocked that the teacher would refuse assistance even after the assistant was present and was permitted by the school. Once again, I could see her face carry shock and indignation at the unfairness and injustice. She marched straight to her teacher and told her about it.

That's a trait I admire in people - the courage to go and right a wrong. I have been guilty so many times of letting things be, letting them sort themselves out. It's cowardly. 90% of us fail to do that, and I really admire the 10% who stand up for their friends, who feel so strongly about right and wrong, about anything at all. They are so much better than us who don't feel anything at all, or rather deadened by our fears.     

I do wonder at such undiluted concern, at how affected they are as children. I am sure many adults are too. I deeply admire that trait to feel others pain so much, to be so concerned for them that you are beside yourself. I hope Anjali never loses that. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

My Musical Notes 17 - The Best of Alan Parsons Project

1984.
I was introduced to Alan Parsons project by Sanjay, my cousin-friend, who was then studying in IIT, Madras and Ram, my brother. The song they got me hooked on to was the one everyone loved 'Eye in the sky'. But then I also remember a song called 'Time' that I discovered in another assorted rock album that I had bought. Technically, that cassette, if I find it, comes before this.

Alan Parsons project brought some intelligence to the table. Right from their formal sounding name to the names of their numbers which go like 'Psychobabble', 'Games people play', Pyromania', 'Old and wise', the group had a distinct presence. They would not fit with the hard rock crazies, nor be the romantic silly headed pops guys. They were in their own little world which fit neither here nor there.

Alan Parsons, however, was always played in the rock music evenings which meant that the default group would have been Anil Menon, Sunnie, Ram, Kiran, Choudary. I loved the whole idea of an eye in the sky but in later years started liking 'Old and Wise', a sad song. However, when I first bought the cassette my favorite was 'Psychobabble'. Another big one for me was 'You don't believe'.

Those were the engineering college days, cricket playing days. My music advisors would be mostly Vidyuth and Naresh. Since not too many enjoyed this kind of psycho music it meant I was left to listen to it by myself in my room mostly. Which I did and thoroughly enjoyed.

The team of Alan Parsons (who worked with the Beatles and Pink Floyd) and Eric Woolfson met at Abbey Road Studios canteen in 1974. Goes to show that canteens should be infested more. 

Revenge of Gaia - James Lovelock

Gaia is the living earth, the part which Lovelock says is one living, breathing organism. This consists of the part of the crust before the molten centre begins.


The concern is about how humans are fast heading to destroying even a self-regulating system like the Gaia. Deforestation and the many other means in which we are leaving carbon footprints are taking us towards a clear doomsday scenario. Lovelock, however, feels that nuclear fission is an answer.

Many scenarios are discussed. Though I did not spend too much time trying to understand the actual mechanism I was impacted enough to think of the carbon footprint I was creating and how I could make some adjustments. 

My Musical Notes 16 - REO Speedwagon Greatest

1984.

My first REO Speedwagon was the album 'Hi Infidelity'. It had a saucy cover. I bought it at Sangeet Sagar - perhaps the salesman who was instrumental in my growing interest in music played it for me, or maybe I heard someone else playing it. But I bought the cassette. (That cassette of mine is missing though.) This cassette with REO Speedwagon's Greatest Hits came sometime later.

But from the first day, I heard 'In your letter' and 'Keep on loving you' and even 'Take it on the run', I was hooked to Speedwagon. Much later I also enjoyed their soulful ballad 'Can't fight this feeling'.
'Keep on loving you' figured in all the assorted slow tapes I made for myself and my friends.


'Can't fight this feeling' I remember was a favorite number and again made it to all my slow assorted tapes. Rather maudlin but I think I liked those kinds of songs. Also, remember Shobha M singing this song soulfully in one of her 'better to burn than fade away moments'.



An abiding memory for me is that of Sangeet Sagar and the cover of Hi Infidelity - for some reason Speedwagon takes me back there - of walks in the evening twilight from Police Control room to Sangeet Sagar full of anticipation and the walk back from the shop to the Public Gardens bus stop and then the bus ride home - couldn't wait to go home and play all the songs to my heart's content.

Lovely. Listening to the songs takes me back to those moments.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Comedy Writing Secrets - Melvin Helitzer

This book is one of the many books that Sunil gave me from his father J.R. Jyothi's wonderful collection of books. I might not be able to ever get the essence of this book across for obvious reasons, but the main structure can be put across, and some ideas for the newcomers. There are so many wonderful jokes and one-liners that made the book a delight to read.


Helitzer starts with the 3Rs of humour - Respect (humour gets us respectful attention), Remember (must be remembered) and Rewards. Humour writers must be aware of the MAP - Material, Audience and Performer. The key to good humour is Consistency and Targeted Material. The character of the material must fit the character of the audience and the performer.

"Instead of working for the survival of the fittest, we should be working for the survival of the wittiest, then we can all die laughing.' Lily Tomlin

All humour writing starts with imagination. Imagine a 'What if..' situation. Don't be inhibited. From the 'what if..' emerges what is known as observational humour.
"Imagination is intelligence having fun'. 

The known joke formulas are - Double entendres, Reverses (switch POV), Triples, Incongruity (pairs logical but unconventional idea), Stupidity (makes you feel superior), Paired phrases, Physical abuse (slapstick).

'The joke is a story and the surprise ending is its finale.'

"Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night.' - Woody Allen
Why we laugh
Surprise (embarrassment), Superiority, Biological, Incongruity, Ambivalence (conflicting emotion), Release (audience knows but one actor doesn't), Configurational (things fall in place).
Humour is social criticism. The object is to deflate.

Understanding what motivates audience appreciation is one of the secrets of writing humour.

"He may not be able to sing, but he sure can't dance.'

THREES Formula - The Anatomy of Humour
Target - Humour is criticism cloaked as entertainment, so criticise self, celebrities, places, things, ideas
Hostility - Cruel (sexual problems, intrusion of authority, financial condition, family patterns, angst and feelings of helplessness, intellectual, insecurity about our physical characteristics)
Realism and Exaggeration - Truth (state cliched problem, create surprise ending), Exaggerate
Emotion and Surprise -building of anticipation in the audience, pregnant pause, surprise is an absolute must

POW - Play on words
Imagine a 'What if...', then Play on words. Go in a predictable direction, switch at last minute.

'The heart patient refused the transplant saying he'd already had a change of heart.' - George Carlin
Cliches -
Double entendres (double interpretation) - Irony, Oral misunderstanding, Usage blunder, Malaprops, oxymorons
Simple truth (literal meaning) - Non sequiturs

"A hundred years from now the works of the old masters will be a thing of the past." - Grove Day

Reforming (alter word order spellings) - Oral cliches (shrimply awful)
Take off (acceptable interpretation, realistic but exaggerated) -
Association (combination of cliches by relating different subjects)

"Familiarity breeds attempt.'

3 Prerequisites for a reformed cliche to be funny-
- cannot be obvious
- should be mildly outrageous
- must be immediately familiar to the audience

Make sure the joke is the last possible thought. Humour is written backwards. Hold joke till last possible minute.

Reverses
Change POV - offer a solution that is both logical and diametrically opposite of what is expected
PS. Don't telegraph message.

'I have a brother in Harvard Med School'
'What's he studying?'
'Nothing, they are studying him.'

Triples
One liners, Epigram, Anecdote, Free association, Commentary, Word association, Insult, Working the audience
Tripe format - 3 actions
PAP Test - Preparation (situation set up), Anticipation (Triples), Punchline (strong pay off)

Humour writing is a lesson in word economy.

Paired elements
Synonyms, Antonyms, Homonyms
use as paired phrases, sentences, words,, states

"She wasn't just throwing herself at him. It was more like taking careful aim.'
Funny Words
Words with K in them are funny. Funny words work but in the middle of a joke and are frequently used in groups. (Names, Cities, Ethnic experiences)

Double entendres - exaggerated and understated realism
'In show business, the key word is honesty. And once you've learned to fake that, you're in.' - George Burns

"When a thing is funny, search for a hidden truth" - Bernard Shaw

Humour is everyday life turned into absurd shapes. Get your facts first and you can distort them as much as you can.

Stretch Band theory
Overstatement / Understatement
Push it till the limit.

"My one rule is to be true than funny" - Cosby

Subtle humour isn't underrated, it is understated.

Surprise or Shock
Humour is like guerrilla warfare. Humour shocks first, surprises next.

The alternative to obscenity is understatement.

Staying in character
It must be the perfect characterisation of an imperfect character.

The 20 masks of comedy are
Stand up/ Aggressor / Sad Sack/ Druggie rebel / Intellectual student / Political satirist / Storyteller / Rube or Country boy / Old timer / Ethnic type/ Immigrant / Partners/ Sketch performers/ Ventriloquist / Actor / Impersonator/ Clown/ Vaudeville / Improviser/ Bumbler

Characterisation can be aided by - Costume, Props, Voice and Physical appearance

Establish an identifiable character. Let the audience feel superior. Make the audience care.

Markets for Humour Writers
Speeches
Humor writers get paid well. Lee Iacocca paid 90000 USD for his humour writer.

In a speech, there are six areas for making humour work
Preparation - rehearse, be early, pack the hall, keep the sound loud
Title - most important
Introduction of speaker - write a clever introduction
Introductory remarks - not too much humility, not more than 3 funny pieces
Speech - have something to say, do not apologise or explain, remember wit is the salt, not the meat
Getting off - standing ovation lines

Be aurally oriented. Remember, it takes 1 week to write a good speech.

Greeting cards talk to the reader. Tell them what they want to hear.

Cartoons - something is hidden from one of the characters. Everyone including the audience knows what is taking place.

"Journalism tends to make all kinds of people bigger. Humour brings them back."

Print humour - News anecdotes/ one line jokes / over statement / understatement / ironic tales

TV Sitcoms themes - Family aggression / workplace aggression / mistaken assumptions / Intrusions / Heart break / Moral and ethical conflicts / Sympathy for the disadvantaged / Physical mishaps / Something of value / Failure to cope

The book must be read to get a glimpse of what he is trying to convey. This is almost like the index of the book. But even in the classification, there is something to learn about the structure and the basics of humour writing. Like everything else, one gets better with practice. Thanks Tops and Jyothi saab.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Passion Quotient - Virender Kapoor

The book is about passion and how it's an important part of success and profit. Virender Kapoor has been the Director of one of the Symbiosis Institute Business Management colleges and has written 18 books, one of which is PQ. His books cover topics like Speaking like Modi, Succeeding the Akshay Kumar way, Excellence the Amitabh way, Innovation from Einstein, Leadership the Gandhi way, What to Learn from Military Principles, Effective Leadership, A Wonderful Wife, Life with Values, 12 Essential Abilities of Extraordinary People,  Winning Instinct, Wonderful Boss, Jugaad, Heart over Matter and so on.

He says passion is about energy, excitement, care and that which makes you go the extra mile. To find your passion check your own profiles and your memories and you will find what drives you - your values, convictions, desires. Identify what you risked things for, what you did with no transactional element to it, what came easily. Once you identify it, spell out your whackiest expectations. A list of career drivers are provided to help find direction. A passion profile is also indicated.

To be passionate simplify, adapt, face your fears, take risks. And to find fizz on the job be self-driven, achieve, share, learn and have goals. He gives profiles of 10 people whose passion brought rich rewards - Sunil Mittal, Sabeer Bhatia, M.F. Hussain, Narayana Murthy etc

Passion and creativity go tother he says and he deals with how to be creative as an individual and as a team. How to foster passion in schools and colleges and how children and parents should be and think is also dealt with. He winds up with a leadership chapter where he profiles JRD Tata, Mother Teresa and General Patton.

I thought the book went all over the place. There are a few useful tips but nothing concrete or earth shattering. At one place there was 'Right' instead of 'Write'. Surprised Bloomsbury could make such glaring errors. The book tries to inculcate the missing factor into our lives and is an honest effort in that sense but it spreads itself too thin. The bios don't help at all because we all know their stories. In the same genre, Frank Bettger's book which talks of enthusiasm is brilliant - it gets the point across forcefully. Despite a noble objective, I felt the force with which the passion quotient could have been put across was missing.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sunday Cricket Lessons with Baig Sir

After years, Baig sir finally saw the results of his hard work. Kartikeya Kak, who came to learn the ropes as a young school kid almost a decade ago when he came to Hyderabad on holidays from Kenya, and one in whom Baig sir invested as much time and energy simply because Kartik would pick up what he said and would work honestly and sincerely at it. We watched him grow, play league matches, perform well for the league and the University and finally get picked for the state. His selection would always be a mystery - despite match winning performances against top teams, he would not find a place. In the last couple of years his non-selection disheartened Baig sir so much that he would always mention his selection and wonder why he was coaching still.

So when Kartik got an opportunity to play for the Hyderabad Under 22 team (where he was fourth standby despite having played for the senior team last year and go four wickets in the ODI) and got four wickets, there was some joy. It quickly dissipated when he was dropped for the next two games. Then he was played and he picked up 8 wickets and 7 wickets in the match against Karnataka  and earned Hyderabad an unlikely win over a tough opponent. This is easily one of the best match winning performances I have heard of in the past many years for Hyderabad at any level. He followed that up with another five against Assam yesterday. Finally, Baig saab smiled yesterday. And to top it all Kartik, in his interview to Times of India attributed his success to Baig sir.

Today while talking about preparation, I was telling the young trainees that mental preparation is pretty much like the two wolves story. I told them the two wolves story - of the two wolves inside them which were fighting and asked them who would win. When I told them that the wolf that they fed more would win they nodded their head. Of course, I had to make sure they understood the gist and told them that what they feed their wolves is their thoughts. If they feed stuff like - I am not good enough, the world is not fair, they are all bad etc the bad wolf will get stronger. On the contrary, if you feed stuff like - I am good, I can handle this, the world is fair etc you will feed the good wolf. In fact, even if they did not feed the good wolf, it would be a start if they stopped thinking negative thoughts and stayed in neutral space.

What we bring to practice or to a match is our energy. It had to be undiluted. The moment we start thinking of stuff like this which is not in our hands or which is useless, we are dividing the intensity of our energy. We need to get our complete focus, full energy when we are playing. It needs some serious mental discipline, mental practice.

They all nodded. Mary asked a question. 'But sir, we put in so much effort but sometimes it does not happen?'. I was thankful that she innocently asked a question that validated what I was saying. I told Mary that there is no point saying it aloud that 'I am trying so hard, and it is not happening.' The more you say it, the harder that belief becomes, and the more the belief becomes firmer, the more excuses you will find not to make your r0aality happen. So it is better not to say this even if you feel it. 'Don't feed the bad wolf.' Instead, think in this direction  - how do I make this happen? If you have no clue, ask the Coach, ask friends but learn how to make that happen.

It will happen by making it happen. Not by saying it's not happening despite your best efforts. Find a way.

All champions find a way through the many difficulties. The road to the top will not happen without any tests. Be prepared for the battles. Save your energy.

To connect it back to Kartik, I have never seen or heard him speak ill of anyone or complain about his non-selection. ll he did to counter his disappointment was to practice harder and to keep performing. It's important to carry a good attitude, a good energy to the dressing room, to be an asset even if you are not playing. That's how doors open. 

My Article in The Sunday HANS - Election Fever

My take on the election fever!

https://epaper.thehansindia.com/c/34712213


Friday, December 7, 2018

My Musical Notes 15 - Best of Journey 'Frontiers'

1984-85.
This was an interesting trade. I was visiting my friend Kumar at his house. He had just returned from some trip abroad and he showed me two tapes he brought back with him. One was Journey's Greatest Hits. (The other was one of the Thomson Twins.) I had never heard Journey so I asked him if I could borrow it. Kumar was not much of a western music buff anyway.


Back at home I listened to the tape and loved the numbers. 'Separate Ways'. 'Send her my love', 'Rubicon', 'Don't stop believing,' 'Stone in love', 'Open Arms,' and 'Faithfully'. I could listen to all these songs and when Kumar asked me the next visit if I wanted to trade the tape for a helmet of mine (riding) I was happy to give it away.

Two incidents come to mind. One when I was totally sozzled during some night out with the boys, one of those when I was in a rare but really bad shape, a friend said he would take me out for a spin in his car so I could feel better. As we drove I heard Journey sing 'Open arms' in his car and through my numb senses I told him I could place the group and did. It kind of proved to them that I was ok if through all that I could get the group and its song right.

Another incident was when I was playing against a tough VST side. MCC had a weak team that year and this was the first game. We won the toss and elected to bat. I remembered listening to 'Stone in Love' that previous day and there is one small bit when the music plays in a particular way and it stuck in my head. I would hum that tune and it would still my mind. I kept humming that tune all day and ended up scoring a hundred. I also remember going to Naresh's house after that inning and bumping into Shobha on the way at Deccan Chronicle. Listen to it at 2.28. That's what I hummed all day. I can hum it all day even now.

'Faithfully' made it into all my slow tapes and it's a song with a beautiful video. I think I shared it with everyone who liked rock ballads. Journey will always remain special for that hundred and for so many lovely moments.

Thanks Kumar.

Master class on Single Malts by Krishna Prasad Nukala

Krishna Prasad Nukala is one of the most interesting people I have ever met. He epitomises living life to the fullest, following his passions to the ends of the earth, literally. He has travelled far and wide and experienced much. Whether it is Scotland to follow his passion for Scotch whisky and single malts, Spain, USA, North eastern India, Kashmir (trout fishing) or some remote village in Maharashtra for some experience he found interesting. Prasad is also a fine cricket player and loves the game and we played together for a couple of seasons for MCC. After retiring voluntarily from SIDBI where he worked as a Deputy General Manager then, he worked for a while with Kirby systems. Today, he is one of the foremost authorities on single malts in India and frequently gives talks on his passion. He is the only one from India who is part of an elite group of malt experts and lovers called Malt Maniacs.
Krishna Prasad checking his malt dramming glass while his little beauties are lined up before him
I had an experience of malt tasting once when he came home a decade ago. It was a wonderful experience. So I invited him home again when Raja and Satish were in town so they could enjoy listening to his experiences. Raja is a single malt enthusiast and I was sure he would enjoy it. Prasad garu landed up on time as always, fully equipped with his malts. He even got the glasses which he said will enhance the 'dramming' experience for us.

The evening started with an introduction into his experiences with single malt and how he got into the Malt Madness group. Challenged by the group's head to prove his madness for malt, he took off from London where he had gone to attend some program, to Scotland, got off a bus in the middle of nowhere in freezing temperatures and with no warm clothing, nor a soul in sight. That he got off on the wrong side of the island was another issue. However, the single malt gods had an eye on him and sent him along an old couple who dropped him off at the distillery he wanted to visit. The distillery was shut but the master distiller was still there, keys in hand. When he heard of this man from India who had come to Scotland to see the distillery, he changed his plans, opened the distillery and gave him a tour. This experience was good enough for the Malt Maniacs and they admitted him into their elite group of 17. They taste exotic malts from across the globe, rate it, and share their passion and love with others.

Prasad garu took us around the world of malts - from Scotland to Taiwan to Japan to India, while telling us what legs were, what flavours to expect, what peat means and so on. We tasted Glenfarclas Oban, Beneromach, Mortlach, Bummahabhain, Mars Shinshu, Caolla, Kavalan, Edradour, Ben Nevis, Ardbeg, Amrut, Paul John. A few sips of each but wonderful to taste such exotic tastes. One has to experience it to understand the difference. There is a nice warm buzz, a delighted exclamation at the taste that surprises you, a shake of the head at the wonder of such creations. Beautiful.

Despite a long evening spent of tasting the malts, we were in fine nick the next day unlike the regular drinks that leave you flattened. And listening to Prasad garu's experiences, insights and explanations was very enlightening and entertaining. It was truly an evening to cherish and remember, one that Raja said 'we won't forget in a hurry.'

Thank you Prasad garu.

Tumbbad - Movie

Interesting debut movie by Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad. Good creative collaborations - Anand Gandhi of the Ship of Theseus is Creative Director.
It's a bit like the poster shows - dark, red.


Mitron - Movie

Remake of the Telugu hit movie 'Pellichoopulu'. Not half as good.


Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Leadership Lessons from the Mithali Raj Case

There are lessons to learn from the episodes of the past few weeks concerning the Indian women's cricket team and its handling of Mithali Raj, one of the most prolific batswoman not just in India but in the world, one with decades of experience as a player and captain, one who has seen the ups and downs of women's cricket from the time it was out in the wild till now when it is finally seeing some exposure and money.

Mithali was dropped from the team midway through the T20 World Championship, despite performing well. The reasons given by the coach are that she was dividing the team and was bad for its morale. The reason given by captain Harmanpreet is that the team took a decision to leave her out. Their reasons might have sounded convincing if they had won after dropping her, but unfortunately, they lost the semis badly and guess what, thanks to a batting failure. With such bad vibes in the dressing room, obviously, things are not going to go any other way.

Now this could well be a situation in any team - corporate or otherwise. A very senior member is part of the team. A young leader has taken over the reins. She is being helped by another professional who is trying to make his own mark. The pressure of the senior player's presence certainly is felt by everyone. But the decision is not straightforward because of two reasons 1) she is performing well for the team 2) their discomfort could well be a sign of insecurity more than anything to do with the senior player. The captain and his support staff may feel it is better for the team if the senior is not there. Harsh decisions may be taken. But as in all cases, any harsh decision comes from an insecure mind.

How does one handle such situations? What really is 'best interests of the team'? What is the role of the captain? What is the role of the coach? And what is most important? Let's consider a few issues from the Indian women's team based on what we know. At this point what we know is enough.

Leadership and team management lessons to learn from this episode

1. When a Senior Player (legend) is picked in the 15, don't drop them
When a performing senior player and a legend at that, is in the 15, you cannot drop her unless there is an injury or some other problem. It's in bad taste. It shows no grace. It shows narrow-minded and near-sightedness. Imagine Sunil Gavaskar Sachin or Kapil Dev being in the fifteen, scoring runs, and then being dropped in the semi-finals of a World Cup? (Kapil, unfortunately, was dropped for playing 'a bad shot' once - the only time he was dropped. One can imagine the pettiness of the people concerned.)

Whoever was party to the decision of dropping Mithali, the coach, captain and the selector, need to be first counselled, perhaps sacked even. Not for intent - no one wants to lose games - but simply for lack of common grace, common sense and acting against the interests of the team because such decisions mess up the team morale. And mind you,  Mithali didn't leave the team midway, nor made any press statements. (Navjyot Sidhu actually left once in the middle of a tour in a huff and got  away.)

Even if someone so senior had to be dropped, they have to be taken into confidence, explained the situation, and found a way to go about it so the team wins in the end. Not by dropping her like a hot potato. For just not following common procedures of grace and dignity, the people concerned must be removed.

2. It's the Coach's and Captain's Job to Maintain Good Dressing Room Atmosphere
The main job of a Coach and the Captain is to maintain a good dressing room atmosphere. A good dressing room atmosphere will help in getting better performances from the team. This means that the Coach and Captain cannot afford to get personal and take sides. They have to rise above, talk to players concerned and get them together as a unit. Not behave like dictators.

Even considering a scenario that Mithali spoke roughly to Powar, it is his job to defuse the situation and get the best out of her. That is his chief role as a Coach. It gets downright petty if all he does is get down to, she said this, she threatened this. Manage it dude. That's your job. Not mess it up further.

And the same goes for Harmanpreet and Smrithi. If you cannot get the team together as a leader, you are acting against the team's interest. I will fully absolve Mithali here because she is only a player here. It's for the leadership to get the best out of her.

If they have not, they have failed. Not just themselves but the team.

2. The team is the Basic Unit, not Players, not Support Staff
It is the team that is the basic unit. Not individual players, not support staff like the coach. The one responsible for maintaining the unity of the team is the Coach, and the Captain. Unfortunately, in this case, both are acting on one side and isolating a player, a senior one and a diva at that. Clearly, they are derelicting their duty, not her.

3. Leave Room for Graceful Resolution
By writing letters to the BCCI in undue haste recommending Ramesh Powar whose reputation is not great at this point, (simply because he did not display tact, nor man management capacities, and further took sides and isolated a senior like Mithali) Harmanpreet and Smrithi have done two things. 1) Left no room to maneuver for Mithali and the selectors 2) chosen to go out of their way to take sides. It's us and Powar versus Mithali is their message. Now consider a scenario if Mithali is selected and Ramesh Powar is not, how will they go ahead and play together? Did they even think of that? Or are they so hot-headed and full of arrogance that they will take such a situation head on? In the situation, who is messing up the team?

They are young and need to be counseled. That is the job of the seniors in the administration. But the seniors, like the Coach, selector, BCCI administrator in charge of women's cricket, left them to dry. They are not doing their job.

4. The Coach is not Permanent - Your Team Is
As Sanjay Manjrekar mentioned in his tweet, the coach is not the end all in a team - she is just a support cast. The team is the end all. If the captain starts relying on the coach more than her team and her resources, it's time that the captain needs to be relooked at. If this is the extent of her man management skills and team binding skills, the selectors should look elsewhere until she learns better.

Harmanpreet's job is to get the best out of her resources. She failed.

5. The Wise Men at the Top Should Nip Such Troubles in the Bud
The BCCI should not have allowed this story to escalate this far. If the people concerned have any grace, any administrative sense, they would have been clued into the dynamics in the team and ensured that Mithali either played (or had a graceful exit) and ended the story then. By letting these decisions be taken by people who are not equipped to see beyond themselves, who do not have the foresight to see what lies beyond their decisions, they have let this situation snowball into something so big. Saba Karim should take the blame for this as the person in charge of women's cricket.

Even now the BCCI should step in and negotiate between these egos - sack Powar, get the girls together and talk some sense. A stronger and more sensible administration would have sorted this out long ago. Instead, we have at the helm a tainted CEO who is hanging on despite serious allegations of sexual harassment, who is backed by the CoA which has done no credit to itself by its handling of several things. So one cannot expect much there but more dereliction of duty and perhaps even more mischief as is obvious in the leaking of the letters that the girls have written to the BCCI. Now, will someone be accountable for leaking all this information out to the press?

Anything can be achieved they null, if you can put your ego aside. Here is a clear case of egos at clash. Leadership is about managing these egos and getting the best out of the team and winning. Not
coming back with excuses and sob stories.

Which is why the leadership team must be sacked, in the Indian women's cricket team and the BCCI, until they learn their job. Someone should be made accountable for this mess. This is not about Mithali Raj, it's about the process.

When things go bad, in any organization, the heads at the top should roll. Else it's the same old wine in a new bottle. Which means that the results will continue to be similar. It's time to wake up when so many aspects of the process are flouted and no one is held accountable.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Anjali - Daksha School Annual Day

Another year and another Annual Day function. The years seem to be flying off pretty easily and faster now. Indications that one has fallen into a rut in terms of thinking I would think. What shows up as a reminder is how fast the children have grown. Normally they use Ravindra Bharathi but this year Sathya Sai Nigamagamam was the venue.
Anjali introducing a primary class
Anjali is now in her 6th and her class mates put up a show along with the 7th class which has a smaller strength. Up front she also got to introduce one of the performances by a junior class and she did a confident and efficient job of it. Brahmani narrated the story of her Telugu play in Telugu and did an impressive job of that. I do like the idea of the seniors introducing the next program and they all did a great job of it. They learned their lines by heart, walked up confidently, used their body language well and delivered to an audience of 500 or more.

The themes were around learning through play, tradition, a festival theme, a wedding theme showing how different things were then, a Telugu play adapted from a popular Telugu novel, a grandfather (Vamsi I think) and a grandson (Karthikeya who did a great job) reconciling the generation gap with the grandfather recollecting his son's life. At appropriate moments the story would lapse into flashbacks where the children would dance to appropriate songs in the father's life. So the childhood song was 'Lakdi ki kathi', and other songs included 'Aa leke tujhe' and 'Lose control'. Anjali performed in 'Lakdi ki kathi' and 'Self control' and she was all serious about it and went about it efficiently as always.

This year they split the pre-primary and primary sections so the entire show was more relaxed and got over in 2 and a half hours. Next year they are hoping to get their own campus at Bachupally so a bigger campus with some grounds.

As usual, very enjoyable. Mostly, watching the kids grow up into small adults with distinct identities was interesting. Mansi, now tall and graceful, Yeshwant, Saket, Keertan, Divya, Brahmani, Manha and Anjali. More pictures once I get them.  

My Musical Notes 14 - Yes's 90125

1984-85.

My friend at Sangeet Sagar pulled a fast one on me. The cover of this album was attractive and I had only vaguely heard of YES thanks to Jetset or some other such magazine. I asked him how the music was. He said it was good and he played it for me. Very smartly he played the one big hit from this album 'Owner of a Lonely Heart' which strikes a chord in anyone's heart. But the rest of the album was trash.

That was the only time that I trusted him and was let down. But he was always good otherwise. I made it a point to do my research next time so I don't get into such situations. But actually 'Owner of a Lonely Heart' is really worth the entire album.

I have heard it many times with my rock music group which included Choudary (by default), Anil Menon, Sunnie, Aqueel, Sunil Jyothi and others. Of course, once the song was played the cassette would come off. The tape is still in great shape. YES and the 'Owner of a lonely heart' will always remain in my heart as another sweet memory of my Sangeet Sagar days.


Checking the album I realise that it contained another big hit of theirs - 'Cinema'. They won a Grammy for that. I never liked it.

Sita - Devdutt Pattanaik

Devidutt Pattanaik tells or rather retells Ramayana from Sita's point of view. It is told in a lucid and simple manner and puts the story in perspective as a whole. All the different stories we hear about Sita, Janka, Dasharatha, Ram etc come together.

I viewed the story for the first time as a great underdog fight. A man with a band of monkeys taking on a trained and prepared army. Pattanaik says this through his characters - that while one army is fighting because it's their job another is fighting for a cause. The importance of purpose, of asking for help, of growing one's team members and believing in them, of stepping aside and letting them help.

Another leadership theme that comes across is that of followership - Ram's story would have been empty if not for Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman who epitomised the spirit of followership. Like Derek Sivers says - it's the first follower who starts the movement. All three are unflinching in their commitment and devotion.

At one stage Hanuman says - he inspires me to be a better man. Man? I thought Hanuman was a monkey. Some pop words like 'better man', 'victim' and 'expand' come into the narrative late into the story.

The justification of sending Sita out because of gossip which is seen as a 'stain' reeks of injustice. However it is explained away in some wishy washy manner. Ram would have been greater if his nonjudgment extended to forgive and accept and defend Sita without proof. But we are human and do not understand the ways of the devas who are constantly running off with someone else's wives in a very 'nonjudgmental' manner. My point is - if there is no judgment there, where does right or wrong come from? Accept the rakshasha and his deeds as well without judgment. But then I am a judgmental human and cannot really understand these things.

The book has a box item in every page which gives little tidbits. If you read the tidbits you will lose the flow so read the story. Else you will never get through it. I almost gave it up myself before I picked it up again.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

My Musical Notes 13 - Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest

Now I had seen Simon and Garfunkel's record on show at 'Sangeet Sagar' which drew my attention. The duo looked quite happy and colorful on the cover and somehow I felt I might enjoy their music. I asked the tall, helpful salesman, to play it for me. He did. I liked what I heard and I asked him to record it for me. Simon and Garfunkel's Greatest was mine to hear.

I heard it out and liked the songs 'Mrs. Robinson', 'Sounds of Silence', I' am a rock', 'Scarborough Fair', 'Bridge over troubled waters', 'El Condor Pasa', 'The Boxer' and the very peppy 'Cecilia' which soon became my favorites. They had a very different sound, some sincerity to their songs and a simplicity that was endearing. The lyrics were very interesting too.

Years later I discovered Mrs. Robinson in 'The Graduate'. Ad I must have listened to that tape so many times over and over again with those who wanted to listen to the duo. Shobha and I certainly spent many hours listening to S&G in Pune and Hyderabad. Really good afternoon music or evening music I always thought. Of course, the HPS gang - Kiri, Ranjan, Madhav and Vardha had heard it too. Choudary would have heard it by default.

One interesting memory of Simon and Garfunkel was this little bet I had with a good friend Shobha Meera, who knew more English and more western songs than I did (she would know the lyrics and full songs and the pronunciation too). I was humming Scarborough Fair and I thought it went like 'Are you coming to Scarborough Fair..' (it does). So I sang it like I knew. She was pretty sure it was 'going' and not 'coming'. It transpired into a bet - I don't remember what. I was unsure until we heard the song again and it was proven I was right. I would have never got the second line right - but the third and fourth are easy. But that was a good bet to win.

Of course we were a bit scandalised when we heard they were gay, which it turns out they were not. Paul came out with his singles later. I saw Art in a classy film with Jack Nicholson 'Carnal Knowledge'.


Talk on inspirational Leadership - MDP for SCR on behalf of University of Hyderabad

I was invited to speak on 'Inspirational Leadership' by Prof. Jyothi of the School of Management Studies, University of Hyderabad, to a group of 30 supervisors from South Central Railway. The University of Hyderabad is conducting a Management Development Program for South Central Railway at JNIBF which was previously JNIDB. It's a nice sprawling campus and when I was working in IDBI, I attended a few training programs as a trainee. This time I was on the other side. Here's the gist of the talk.

I started with trying to get some common understanding of leadership between all of us. e finally agreed it was about taking responsibility to get something done. Now this does not need us to be endowed with a position of authority nor even some super qualities at birth. We can as we are now, choose to take up more responsibility in every moment of our life because life presents us so many opportunities as we live. In ways, small and big, we can decide to respond. In fact one nice way they explain responsibility is by breaking it into response-ability - which mean your ability to respond to life. All it needs is a decision to respond.

However, leadership is made out to be something exotic and difficult which I believe is not. We are all leading in some way or another. We take responsibility for our lives, our families, our roles at work and so many other things, whether we like it or not.  The question then is how do we understand leadership a little better so we can do what we are already doing better.

One reason why I felt we don't take too many decisions or risks is that we are insecure. I told them that we are insecure as long as we are hiding something. Normally we try to hide the fact that we don't know things, and that we could go wrong. To be secure all we have to do is say 'I don't know' when we don't know things and we are in secure space. We can learn and we can help others learn. We all agreed that 'I don't know' is not a bad place to start.

I shared with them my concept of the Leadership Blackbox. Split into four quadrants the black box consists of "Why" are you leading (Purpose), "What" do you want to achieve (Goal), "How' will you do it (Process and Values) and "Who" are you leading (People). I told them that I felt if they for their 'why' correct, a lot of things would fall in place. We watched Simon Sinek's 'Start with why' to get the importance of why across.

I shared with them the evolution of leaders -
1) taking responsibility for excelling in own role
2) helping others and improving team's performance
3) taking additional responsibility when opportunity arises 
4) leading team effectively and achieving results consistently
5) growing leaders from within the team

I also shared my hierarchy of how leaders evolve.
1) Personal leadership where we take full responsibility for our role and then expand it some more and achieve 10x results for the team. Examples of Dashrath Manjhi, famously known as the mountain man and several other everyday heroes were discussed.

2) Effective leadership where we move from being an individual and realise get the team to work together to achieve the team goal. Here one needs to set a vision, share a common purpose, bring the team together, convince them and make them work together. The team will achieve expected results and every one is happy to be part of the team.

3) Inspirational leadership or Level 5 leadership is the next level when the leader is inspired by a larger purpose and inspires the team to believe in it. This requires a deeper understanding of man management, a higher amount of security which automatically means allowing oneself to be vulnerable, getting the best out of everyone by investing in each and everyone, setting high expectations and enabling them to reach the same, trust and belief, using the window and mirror approach and all in all growing them by trusting them with responsibility, allowing them to make mistakes and correcting them.

We ended by promising to start practising leadership in small acts like learning how to acknowledge, appreciate, and asking for help. The greatest leaders put their ego aside. We discussed how leadership is about action, purpose, decisions and giving for a bigger cause than oneself. If we have to make a difference to people around us we must model that behavior and not simply talk about it.

The audience was very participative and showed keen interest at the end of the day. Rafi, Naseef and Murugan from the University of Hyderabad were helpful and the perfect hosts. Thanks Prof Jyothi for the opportunity to do my bit and share my understanding of leadership.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Thought of the Day - Smile Judgment Away

I saw this line. Love is being non-judgmental.

I wondered how we catch ourselves from being judgmental. From letting our moods stay in neutral space and not be clouded over by judgment. One thing is to be aware. The other thing is to do something to break the spell.
Pic courtesy - Satish Nargundkar

I felt that a smile, that most potent of weapons that God has granted us, the weapon that can change the landscape, the background, the scenery even, simply because it allows scope for mischief (whereas its cousin the frown only has room for one outcome only, the smile has room for many, give or take a few). Once the pressure is off to be right, there is no use for judgment.

And when there is no judgment, as the line said, there is love. Somewhere the good smile is where love begins. In the heart, in the eyes, on the edges of your lips.

Love is mischief. Love is fun. Love is all things. Mostly love is no 'shoulds'.

Lovely line.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Always a Parent - Gouri Dange

Gouri is a wonderful writer and her writing is full of style and verve. You should read her Three-Dog Night to get a sense of her writing. She is also a family counsellor and a writer who has been published by the best of publishing houses.

'Always a Parent' is a well-structured and thought-out book that addresses the parent-child relationship ('Managing our Longest Relationship' is the byline). The book has chapters addressing such important issues as Privacy and Boundaries, Inter-generational Living, Ethics and Values, Sexuality, Marriage and Choice of Partners, Career choices and relocation, Lifestyle, Money, Grandchildren, Childhood issues, Dysfunctional families, Property and Inheritance, Divorce and remarriage (kids and parents), Death and Dying. It pretty much tackles all sorts of scenarios that could crop up.

Each chapter has a thing or two that one could file away for use. The chapters are well structured - the issue, the turning point of such equations, how to clear up communication and leaves you with a parting thought. What really works for the book is that it is not heavy with academic research, addresses the problem directly, does not 'give' advise but rather suggests gently, does not take sides and is full of relatable examples. It's something that anyone can read and relate to and apply in their lives. For example, respecting boundaries, treating grownups like grownups and getting out of their space, letting people be and live their lives the way they want to, finding things to do for yourselves instead of making your children or your parents your 'projects'.

I remember how much 'Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus' influenced me. When I read that book and identified with the situations I was amazed at how similar the reactions, even the words used were so similar to what I used (and perhaps still do). Gouri's book made me relive a bit of that.

The tone is nice and easy, non-judgmental and conversational. Like Shabana Azmi said on the book cover, it's a book 'that needed to be written'. Nicely done Gouri.

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne

Bruno is a small boy growing up in Berlin. He lives with his Hopeless Case sister, his Commandant father and mother. His boss's big boss is the Fury. One fine day the family shifts to a place called Out With. It is a drab place, with a high fence on one side and no other civilization close by. Across the fence live some people. Alone on this side of the fence, Bruno wants his old friends back but his father says they may not be moving back for a long time.

The place has nothing but soldiers. Bruno decides to explore the place one day and at some distance from his house, finds a thin boy in striped pyjamas across the fence. His name is Shmuel. They strike up a conversation. Bruno gives his new found friend some food and he gobbles it up. Something warns him not to tell his family about Shmuel and the others on the other side. Their friendship grows until there comes a time when his father decides that maybe they should move back to Berlin. On his last day at Out With, Bruno decides to visit Shmuel's home and help him find his father.

Boyne does a brilliant job of telling the World War II story through two young friends. Fury and out-With, you can guess who and what they are. Now a feature film.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

281 and Beyond - VVS Laxman with R. Kaushik

V.V.S.Laxman's '281 and Beyond' tells the story of how the classy batsman from Hyderabad rose to the heights he did and how he coped with it and sustained it for almost two decades. As is evident in the title, the book goes beyond the Laxman of the defining knock of 281 (those who ask what 281 better stop here). For anyone aspiring for excellence, cricket, sports or any other field, the book provides fascinating insights. But for me nothing beats the dedication of the book - he names his uncle Baba Krishna Mohan 'for recognising the talent in him' first, before his parents. As straight a bat as there ever can be.

The book starts with a goosebumpy chapter on the 281 story which we are all familiar with. But the inside story of how he felt confident enough to take on the Aussies, how he was asked to go No 3 soon after he returned to the pavilion at the end of the first innings and 274 behind, how he and Rahul kept their heads and turned the tables on the Aussies and all that followed. It ends with one line where he says all the passengers in the flight got up and clapped for the heroes and you feel exactly what they are feeling. Sports is made of stuff like that and that's one reason why anyone should play and experience that thrill. That chapter takes the book off to a flying start.

As I read the book, what stayed with me was Laxman's perseverance through so much uncertainty, his injuries and his dilemmas. His dilemmas start with the first big choice - play or study. The choice becomes tougher when you are good at both and you have to choose one. Laxman could have got his medical seat but he chose the tougher and more uncertain route which gives you an early insight into his mind. Big sacrifices, tough choices, steel you up for the hard road ahead. And then there is only one road and you have to walk it however tough it might be.

He is torn between making these hard choices because his family is full of doctors and scientists and a career in academics would seem a natural choice. But he chose to give up academics and take up cricket (which provides a really minuscule chance of success). But to back that chance one needs self-belief and gumption and he has loads of it. He also has the unwavering support of his family - his father the popular and feisty Dr. Shataram and mother Dr. Satyabhama constantly providing him full support and his uncle Baba Mohan whose faith in Laxman's abilities far exceeds Laxman's himself. It's fascinating to read how his uncle clearly made the difference in the big decisions in his life. Everyone needs an uncle like that.

Laxman's preparation, the long road to success, are great lessons for any aspiring sportsman. The road is not smooth all the way and it tested his resolve at every stage. The incidents where he hurt himself after an accident and another similar one where he had to play on with painkillers despite painful injuries show his character, his determination to make it count. It is completely champion stuff and one only needs to look at so many talented players or aspirants who sit out at the first sign of discomfort (many times owing to a formidable opposition) to know the difference between why some make it and most don't. Playing smart is not escaping when the heat is on but walking through the fire and making it to the other side. I do wish so many cricketers from Hyderabad and elsewhere realise that. Interestingly Laxman also mentioned somewhere that he wanted the world to know that Hyderabadis are not some laid back, happy go lucky bunch but as intense as anyone else. And prove he did without sacrificing an iota of his style. In Hyderabad they would probably be happy that he did not sacrifice his style - because whatever we do and however hard we may work, end of the day 'shaan mein farak nahin aana' ('we should not compromise on our style whatever happens'- loosely translated because one can never translate Hyderabadi into any language ever!)

Laxman's early days at Little Flower school and his friendship with Parth Satwalkar (another gentleman cricketer who would have been a great role model as a cricketer, but who gave it all up for a career in dentistry), his success at the Under 13 Nutrine Cup in Vijayawada, junior levels, his journey of self-discovery are full of names of people we played with. The story of how his uncle took him along for his early coaching at John Manoj's coaching camp and how he got homesick after a couple of days is very endearing. His uncle really has been a special angel in Laxman's life - the way he made these decisions to join John's coaching academy, to give up medicine - almost like an angel that God sent. And another lovely story is how John lets him bat when Arshad Ayub was looking for players for Ensconce, knowing that a break into the elite A1 division would give Laxman a much better exposure. Now John could have well held such a quality batsman back for his own team EMCC but he wanted to give the young boy a chance. Arshad could see the young talent and picked him instantly.

I remember playing a match for MCC against Ensconce those days and young Laxman's bat was so broad that I found it difficult to get past it. I was well past my prime and was looking at applying management principles more than anything else to the game. But it was impressive - like a solid wall for one so young. With most batsmen you sense a chance, a chink. Rarely you find those batsmen who defeat the purpose of bowling even before you bowl with their compact batting - Laxman was one such. Sanjay Manjrekar was another one like that whom I had bowled to. Arshad, who had already played Test cricket by then, played a key role by asking Laxman to set his goal high by giving him the example of Sachin. I do wish more and more players - especially Azhar, Shivlal, Laxman, Arshad, Vekatapathi, Noel and others shared more such sessions, stories so it inspires more Laxmans and Azhars in Hyderabad. Somewhere a platform must be created - in Mumbai senior players still play so the stories get around. In Hyderabad, we could have these lectures too every once in a while. I was fortunate to have played years for Marredpally Cricket Club listening and imbibing what cricket was about from M.L. Jaisimha. It was better than the University education and I rue the fact that I did not ask him enough questions then.

Laxman recalls an incident with Uncle Jai when he was the Coach of the Hyderabad team and Laxman was struggling with his batting was vintage Jai uncle. He pulled Laxman out of the nets, walked him around the ground, told him that he cannot succeed if he does not enjoy the game and asks him to bat out in the nets just enjoying hitting bat to ball. Laxman enjoys that session so much, the pressure of performing and of technique leaving him and enjoyment coming in that Jai uncle plays his next card. He challenges Laxman to come back undefeated the next day without worrying about the runs scored. Laxman scores a double hundred. Jai Uncle was brilliant at this - if he made casual players like us play first-class cricket with his little insights and provocations - I wonder what someone with Laxman's drive and appetite would have done with the kind of exposure we got. How much more he would have enjoyed his cricket and through that how much more successful he would have been.

A peek into how Indian cricket evolved with the onset of various foreign coaches from John Wright with whom Laxman shared a good relationship and Greg Chappell whose stint with Indian cricket was a disaster makes for interesting reading. Laxman's account of Chappell's methods show Greg in poor light (and justifiably so) and the damage done was substantial. Once again, one has to remember that Greg was brought in on Ganguly's word (with all good intent). But the absence of process in such critical decisions makes it all the more a case study because everyone got affected and so did Indian cricket. Laxman's account is damning. Till date, these unilateral decisions continue in such a huge organisation which should now be putting all its efforts into aiming for more and more transparency.

The road to No 1 is covered in detail with an account of all the series and games. And with it Laxman's ups and downs, his struggle with opening and his decision not to open again and establish himself in the middle order, his gaining confidence as a player and blooming into full potential took me back on a nostalgic journey. I remember watching many games of his but so understated was his celebration after his achievement that it was only after reading the book that I realised how many games he had finished on his own for India in the company of tailenders, how many crucial knocks he had played that helped India win. Absolutely classy stuff and the comparison that Gary Kirsten makes between him and Michael Bevan is so apt. Any other player from Mumbai who had achieved half of what Laxman did in terms of helping the team win would have had many more titles than just a 'Very Very Special'. This is stuff that needs steel in your nerves.

The insights into players we know so well from the screen and their persona in the dressing room is always a welcome one - Sachin crying after losing games, Sehwag's approach to the game, Dravid's resolute commitment, Kumble's intense competitiveness, Ganguly's fearless approach, Dhoni's grounded one, Gambhir, Yuvraj, Zaheer, Kohli..their character shows up through their actions. His story of working in a fuel station when in the UK was interesting - once again shows how much he put into the game. His method of preparation, what he learned from Azhar about maximising the practice session, from Venkatapathi about the importance of making your own preparation are ones that young cricketers could pick up from. There is a chapter on Laughter and Loneliness, and he talks about how one deals with it on long tours. It is lonely up there and one can feel very insecure.

Towards the end he talks about his dream of bringing back the Ranji Trophy for Hyderabad which was one of his unfulfilled dreams just as perhaps not being part of a winning World Cup team must have been. But he was part of the team that changed the way the world looked at India's cricket and saw India win two World Titles and perhaps something as big - the No 1 ranking which was achieved over several years.

It is heartening to see how his entire family comes together as one unit be it at his retirement or at the launch of the book. I love the bond the father and son share, the mother and son as well. Sailaja comes across as a grounded, secure person and one can see how well their partnership works too. The work they are doing with their charity on child education is very interesting and much needed.

My review can go on and on and there is enough stuff to go on about. The book is as honest as it can get and very Laxman like - he does not dwell too much on the negative or the controversial (which serves no purpose anyway except create some unnecessary drama) and deals with all issues with a straight bat. There is an honest attempt to share the process of preparation, to aid players prepare better, for life at the highest level which to me is the best part of the book.

Laxman has always been a generous, straightforward, polite and helpful person. When I was writing 'The Men Within' in 2006 perhaps, I gave him a copy of the manuscript to read and he agreed to despite his busy schedule then. He came to the launch of 'The Men Within' without any hangups about being the Chief Guest or not and enjoyed himself as any other normal person. This was in 2007 when he was at the peak of his career. Subsequently, we worked together for a while when I was Chairman of Selectors and he was the captain of the Hyderabad Ranji team and we did the best we could to achieve what was best for Hyderabad cricket. Even in those volatile meetings, he would be composed and clear and polite. When I wrote '50 Not Out' I asked him to be my Chief Guest to launch the book in Hyderabad and he took time out and he did - and spoke so well. When I went last year to gift him a copy of 'This Way Is Easier Dad' my last book, he asked Sailaja to take a picture of ours, holding the book, and tweeted about it without me asking for it. What more need one say?
Signed copy!
Kaushik has done a wonderful job - like Harsha Bhogle said at the launch in Hyderabad 'it sounds just like VVS'. Putting it together, organising it and bringing out the essence of the person and his character through his actions and thoughts, good and bad, is no mean task. Kaushik achieved that delicate balance and it must have taken a lot out of him. He deserves a pat on his back for investing his all into the book. A glimpse into the kind of a person Kaushik is. For someone who has been a top sports journalist for several years and then Chief Editor of Wisden India, he chanced upon a copy of my book '50 Not Out' (which incidentally VVS launched in Hyderabad!) on the desk of Sidhanta Patnaik (who incidentally has written a book about Women's cricket in India that's coming up shortly) and took it, and wrote the best review the book ever got. He fully 'got' what I had attempted in that book. We did not know each other then but after that, we made contact, and he took me to the Press Club in Bangalore. and we have been in touch ever since. I  am sure there are many more books in him and have no doubt he will be very successful at that.

One for the shelf. more from it when I read it again - this time purely from a preparation angle. 

My Musical Notes 12 - Tribute to the Beatles

1984 was the breakaway year when I bought a lot of music and hear a lot of new sounds. It was then that I decided to end my ignorance of the Beatles and listen to the great band. Yuvavani was only playing ABBA, Boney M, Beegees and the Beatles and Elvis etc had faded off. But they were still the superstars and I wanted to check them out. John Lennon., Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Rex Harrison.

So one visit to Sangeet Sagar I spotted this 'Tribute to Beatles' cassette and bought it. It was a nice compilation by EMI with 'A Hard Day's Night', 'Yesterday', 'Ticket to Ride', 'Help', 'Can't buy me love', 'She loves you'. 'I want to hold your hand', 'I feel fine', 'All my loving', 'Love me do', 'Please please me' and 'Day Tripper'. I knew immediately why they were so popular of course. It was easy, happy music with catchy lyrics that were easy to sing along and made life sunny and nice. The sounds were simple and joyful and there was a simplicity to it that was accessible.

Before long I could sing every song along with them. I learned 'I want to hold your hand' hoping it will come in use sometime. I thoroughly enjoyed 'Help and though that its lyrics made so much sense. The slow ballads 'Yesterday' and 'Ticket to ride' are all-time greats.

A lasting memory of Beatles is this one time when we were stranded in a cyclone near Nayudupeta, Nellore. This was the Hyderabad Under 22 team and the favorites to win that year. Unfortunately, the train got stranded for four days and we were stuck with no food and no way of going anywhere. Water came up to the floor and we slept two to a berth. There was this youngish couple, thirty or so, modern and western music types and the lady sang Beatles songs all evening on the second or third evening to perk up the moods. She sang so well and we all tried to pitch in as much as we could. Beatles will always remind me of her. We returned to Hyderabad without going to Madras because our opponent had claimed a walkover while we were listening to Beatles. We also were reported in the news for helping out other passengers in the crises - nothing big - just small things.

Another special memory is that of Subbu who brought his cassette player to Nagarjuna Sagar when we were in our first year Civil Engineering and we walked along on the bund in the twilight, the player playing 'Can't buy me love', 'Yesterday'. 'She loves you'..and all of us singing loudly as we traipsed along, the world at our feet.

Countless parties we played the songs, sang along. Easy journey songs on long drives when driving fatigue gets to us. Always in the car.

Thank you Beatles.