Thursday, June 30, 2011

Conforming - Where it All Begins

The first sign of conforming to a set order begins at school. Apart from the timings and other set routines, the most visible factor of conforming to the order of society is the school uniform. At one point or another, we all fall prey to this. Anjali resisted her uniform for several days and finally succumbed to a mix of bribery and trickery, subtle threats and some not so subtle ones - all that we see in civilized society outside.

Anyway she went to school wearing her shiny red frock and returned from school wearing her uniform - suitably bribed with a balloon. Better the ballooon than the stick and once again I must doff an imaginary hat for the teacher's at Daksha for not insisting on timeframes and in their own gentle ways, got Anjali to wear her uniform.

She looked quite happy when she returned to a huge ovation, cameras and all!

A Father's Day Memento

As part of Father's Day celebrations I let Anjali lead me through her school and show me the things she does at school everyday. After some fun and games where I was asked to make a snack (which Anjali wisely refused to eat), make some stuff from paper (which turned out all wrong) and some other such stuff which would have made Anjali wonder how I ever got through primary school, the school had a couple of simple things for me to do. One was to get blindfolded and trust my 3 and a half year old to lead me on a path which she faithfully did and another where we had to give our handprints as a souvenir for ourselves. As always I was amazed at the genuine warmth and affection that everyone at Daksha has for children (and for bumbling fathers). Here is a picture of our handprints taken on June 26, 2011.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

When Is It Time to Quit

When there is nothing left to do. Nothing piled up, no ideas that you want to implement, nothing that seems to warrant an improvement. As long as there is nothing left on the shelf and you have no intention of filling it up with things to do, it is time to quit. Pack up and move on to something else. Some other shelf you want to fill.

Some people ask me how I quit a nice, secure, cushy bank job for the uncertain life of a writer. My shelf there at the bank was bare when I left and I somehow felt like I did not want to fill it again. I left it bare, took as much meaning it gave me from all the years and the experience, and left. That was about all it needed to let it go.

When I look at my writing career today, I wonder how my shelf looks. It looks so full that I wonder sometimes if I have the time to put them all down as stories. It is a wonderful place to be in, when the shelf is full. Ideas, undeveloped themes, uncharted territories, ah, this is wonderful. Novels, short stories, scripts and so much more.

The same goes for my book shelf which is pregnant with unread books, all that I picked with great love and interest over the years. So many more books to be reread also and seen from today's perspective. On the movies list also there are so many lying in the waiting-on-the-shelf list, many from Sagar's enviable collection. And many to be rewatched again! And there is so much music to be rearranged, listened to, friends to be called over and shared with.

Ah, life is full and content. There is much to look forward to!

Life Paradox - To Want More Yet To Be Content

This is a paradox that life throws at you. You will not get more if you do not desire it passionately and work for it. If you do nothing, you always feel like you have missed on something that should have been rightfully yours (even if you have done nothing!).

Some start desiring things passionately and then after a while look back and say 'see, nothing happened' (as if the world should get up and clap, it's not for them stupid). Some do nothing and wonder at how others who appear to do nothing are getting much more than their share of the reward (I am smarter than them, then show it). What does one do, desire or not? Work or not?

Wanting more perhaps means really wanting something honestly. Not because someone else also has it or because Shahrukh Khan says it in a cola ad. It must be a want that you would genuinely desire and enjoy, as you would your favourite toy, your love. This is a want that involves sacrifice, has value and you appreciate it. Many wants in your list may not be stuff you really appreciate. For example, a 100 crore, in my bank! Now, if you really did get a cheque for 100 crore now, would you know what to do with it? Chances are that you would not know how to lovingly take care of your 100 crore gift. In some mad fashion you would spend, invest and lose it all in a few years. Similarly you would lose many things that you desire and possess and if you do not value or respect it, it goes away.

The other method is to be content, and be open. (This is a state where being content does not mean that you have given up on everything.) Being content only means that you are not constantly agitating about not-having-enough (a state they saw, that will surely ensure that you will not have enough). If anything, you should be looking constantly at ways to make more, while being grateful to what you have! A peaceful, stress-free, positive and constructive state-of-mind would you not say?

Being open, on the other hand indicates that you remove all barriers like criticism, resentment, unforgiveness, self-pity, guilt, jealousy, anger, frustration (basically all negative emotions that take away the focus from what you really want) and just be open. You can picture yourself standing in a state of gratitude, looking at what you really want that you would love to have in your world! But if you can only find the negative emotions coming up, however much you think of what you want, be grateful that you have got what you wanted i.e. the negative emotions. That is what you really want!

If you genuinely want something, desire it with full focus, minus the negative emotions, prepare to enjoy it when it comes and voila, it is yours!

My Short Term To-Do List

This is my short term to-do list, something I am going to follow up on very seriously.

1) Complete final edit of 'The Misfit' take a print and check for gaps. (by June 2, 2011)

2) Start work on 'Story of the Successful MBA' - (align idea, 2 chapters done by June 4th 2011)

3) Stick to diet, exercise routine on a daily basis - (min 30 minutes of exercise)

4) Design brochure to market workshops at MBA colleges - (June 2, 2011)

This, for now. Will check for progress next week.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

MOJO - Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter

Another interesting book by renowned executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, the author of 'What Got You Here Won't Take You There'. I liked the first book which was gifted to me by Shobha and since I liked it, she gifted me the second book as well. It deals with a subject I am really curious and passionate about - being 'in the zone' or in his words 'Mojo'. Apparently the word mojo referred to a folk belief in the supernatural powers of a voodoo charm. Marshall defines it as follows - Mojo is that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts from the inside and radiates to the outside.

He says there are four ingredients that make up a great mojo - sense of your identity, your achievement, your reputation and acceptance. Who are you, What have you done, What do others think of you and Are you at peace. There are ways to measure one's mojo (I'd much rather feel it) and he also touches upon the mojo paradox which is interesting - our default response in life is not to experience happiness and meaning! He also adds another which says our default response is to experience inertia. Marshall then takes you through chapters on how we perceive our identity, our achievement, our reputation and our acceptance. And then he gives a mojo tool kit that one can use to get an improved mojo.

These tools are built into the four building blocks.

Identity tools - (establishing criteria that matter to you, finding out where you 'live' in a mojo matrix developed by Marshall, being an optimist always and looking at a life if you take away that 'one' thing).
Achievement tools - (rebuilding one brick at a time, living your mission, swimming in the blue water - or finding new places, new avenues to build a reputation away from an already crowded place)
Reputation tools - (when to stay and when to go, handling exits, measuring reputation, reducing boasting and criticizing when at work or outside - apparently 65% of time is wasted in this useless exercise)
Acceptance tools - (Influencing up and down - accepting all roles as they are, naming things and nailing them, giving friends a lifetime pass)

One of the most important things that I learnt from Marshall's books is that self-help or coaching may not really make any difference if one does not tackle changes that are required, aggressively. One must be aware that one needs help on a daily basis and this is where a wonderful thing he does interests me. He has hired his good friend Jim Moore, as a coach. All Moore does is call Marshall everyday and ask a list of predetermined questions, simple ones, relating to his exercise, food, drink, rest, personal life. professional life. The idea is that when monitored, one feels a sense of obligation to do what one has promised to do. I am planning to implement this straightaway. Maybe, I am thinking, even put up things that are important to me on this blog where I know some eyes are watching. That itself might push me to do things I don't.

I liked the stuff Marshall has said in the book. But I am not too sure if such a metric based process can build mojo. I would imagine that one more angle - that of one's feelings, one's expectations, one's spiritual side - might need to be examined a bit more closely to get that mojo which I feel is a state of complete honesty, of love, of blanking out all walls between oneself and the outside. But despite my minor reservations which are more for the sake of debate, there is much for the executive to learn from the book.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rangam - Tamil Movie

Watched 'Rangam', A Tamil movie dubbed into Telugu with Jiiva as the lead yesterday at Prasad's. I heard nice reviews about this movie and when a good friend of mine came by to Hyderabad, we planned to catch up over the movie. I think its a total paisa-vasool movie.

The movie gets off to an action packed start with a bank robbery. A newspaper photographer Ashwathama (a very lively and likeable Jiiva) sees the bank robbers getting away and follows them on his bike and takes some pictures while doing some amazing bike stunts. Great stuff, the stunts. He sends the pictures to the police who identify most of the robbers save a couple. At work Jiiva meets a new colleague, an ace reported from Vizag, Karthika (forget her name in the movie) and falls for her. There is another journo, Saroja (don't know her real name but she fits the part), who is in love with Ashwath.

Karthika soon finds a story on a villainous politician (Kota Sreenivasa Rao). He is planning to get married to a thirteen year old girl to get his stars working favorably for him. When Kota shows up at their office the next day, Kartika finds her recorder missing. No evidence! She is about to get fired when Jiiva risks his life and gets pictures of the wedding when it is taking place. Kota goes to jail and everyone is happy. Unfortunately its election time and Kota, an aspirant loses out.

Meanwhile a young idealist student leader Vasant starts a youth party and tries to contest the elections honestly. He has no chance as the ruling party (Prakash Raj as CM) buys votes through cash, liquor and other bribes. However Ashwath who is covering the elections gets good stories of how this young student and his team is doing good work like saving people from fires, treating the ill etc which get printed. The youth brigade starts getting better response from the electorate and when there is a massive meeting, it all comes crashing down with a bomb under the stage. Ashwath is the one who saves Vasant from getting blown up because he gets a message from Saroja that there is a bomb under the stage and he rescues the young leader just in time. But several people die, including Saroja. I kind of predicted her death anyway. She looked dispensable.

With the attack, the youth party wins the elections. However one fine day Ashwath finds that the bank robber (who is also a terrorist with socialist ideas) was present at the meeting, choking Saroja to death with his feet. When Ashwath meets Vasant at the CMs office, the same guy (with an unmistakable id on his face in the form of a scar) is there but he escapes. Ashwath has questions, how did Saroja know about the bomb, who killed her, why is this chap with Vasant? Meanwhile the other love interest Karthika who is not turning any great stories so far finds out that Vasant and Ashwath have a back story. They were college friends. Ashwath explains that he wanted to cover and promote his idealistic friends in their political foray without mucking up the professional ethics of a journo. What ethics?

Anyway the rest of the movie moves into action packed mode as we try to unravel some of these questions. There are twists and turns, lots of fighting and action and it all ends well finally. I loved the action scenes, the exotic locales where they shot the songs and the lead pair looks like they are dancing within a few inches of their death, the twists and turns. Total time pass. Maybe the last fight could have been cut by a few minutes but there is another twist right in the end so its okay. Of course there are things that you would question and ask to be cleaned up, some loose ends here and there, but who cares. We are not looking at a classic here and it was not meant to be one either - as an entertainer it gets full marks.

Schindler's List - Movie Review

I revisited the movie ‘Schindler’s List’ a few days ago. The last time I watched it was in the early 1990’s, perhaps as a student. We walked away then, after the movie carrying images of a young German businessman who helps save Jews from concentration camps in Poland. Though I was aware of the atrocities that took place through visuals of photographs of the World war that I have seen, or maybe books I have read, the movie brought the horror a lot more closer. But still, for a young Indian, the war and the genocide appeared so distant and removed, from another place and time, and I never really integrated it as the history of humanity – something I am part of. When I watched the movie again with a different perspective now, twenty odd years older, I was shocked at what I saw. How could I have made a passing comment on something like this and got on with my life when I was 20?

‘Schindler’s List’ is a movie based on a novel, based on the real life story of Oskar Schindler a German businessman who arrives in Krakow, Poland soon after Germany occupies Poland circa 1939. Schindler hopes to profit from war and is looking for profitable businesses to start. He is a Nazi party member, a lover of the good life with a series of women, the choicest of clothes, parties, wine and so on. While he is scouting around for business, the Germans are building concentration camps and herding in the nine million Jews living in Poland systematically under the vague promise of relocation. The Jews leave their homes which are taken over by the army, and arrive in Krakow, knowing nothing of what they are headed for.

Meanwhile Schindler finds Stern, a Jewish accountant, who helps him get Jewish factories and Jewish investors. The factories would make army mess kits for the German army. Schindler hires the Jewish prisoners because they are cheaper than the others, and he pays their salaries to the SS which is in charge of the concentration camps. He hires Stern to handle the administration of the factory. Stern hires as many Jews as he can labelling them as ‘essential’ workers. Most of them are new to the work and learn their work fast to stay alive.

In Krakow the Jews are herded into ghettos which are overcrowded. Soon the men and women are separated. The old and infirm and disabled are shot down in cold blood. Children are taken away in truck loads and killed because they are too young to work. The able bodied are retained for work. People are shot for no crimes, at whim, without any regard.

A German commandant Goeth arrives to oversee the making of the concentration camp. He is a man who seems to enjoy killing for no reason. As the SS starts shifting Jews to the camps, murdering people at will, Schindler is horrified and transformed. He uses his contacts and money with the SS and Goeth to build a sub camp for the Jews so he can employ them in his factories. At every stage now, Schindler pays heavy bribes to get his people who are now being shifted to the Aushwitz camp to the gas chambers. Along with Stern Schindler makes a list of Jews for his ammunition factory, a list of 1100 people, men, women and even children, who he says are essential for his production. In this phase Schindler moves heaven and earth to bring the Jews into his factory, makes the factory premises out of bounds for the SS guards and lets the Jews live as normally as they can. The factory produces nothing. Schindler buys ammunition from other suppliers and supplies them to the army to escape inspection. In the process he loses all his fortune. Luckily for him, the war also ends at the same time.

The SS guards are called in when the announcement is made that Germany has surrendered. Schindler tells the guards that they can return to their families as men or as murderers, that is their choice. The men leave the Schindler Jews alone and leave Poland. Schindler himself has to leave that midnight as he is a wanted war criminal, a Nazi party member and a war profiteer. As he is about to leave in his car at midnight, the 1100 Jews who consider him their God, surround him and give him a signed list, that to them, he is not a war criminal. They also give him a gold ring made out of the gold tooth of one of the Jews with an inscription that says if one has saved one life, he has saved the world. Schindler breaks down when he receives the ring and tells Stern that he could have done more if he had more money, he could have sold of his car and bargained for ten more people, his Nazi medallion and bought two more. Stern comforts him and tells him he has done much more than anyone could have.

Oskar Schindler was apparently invited to plant a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous in 1958. His grave is in Jerusalem and is visited by the descendants of the Schindler’s list. At the end of the movie, the actors who played the roles of real Jews in the movie walk hand in hand to Schindler’s grave a place a stone on it as a mark of respect.

The Nazi regime exterminated six million Jews in the genocide. One million of them were children. This genocide was based on a myth that Jews were conspiring to take over the Aryan quest for supremacy – a myth. Hitler had made clear his intentions to kill all Jews before the war. The Nazis made what was called the Final Solution for the Jewish question which was to kill all of them in an industrialised and systematic way. Apart from shooting them at random, piling them on in rows and columns, and then shooting the next row, until piles of naked bodies grew and rotted, the Nazis used gas chambers where poison gas was used to kill thousands at once.

In Poland, at the time of the making of the movie, in 1993 or so, only 4000 Jews were alive. The Schindler’s list had grown to 6000 - from 1100. The paradox was that one German businessman sacrificed everything he had and risked his every life to save as many Jews as he could while a whole army was systematically killing them. How the Jews got over this is something I cannot fathom, how they forgave the sins perpetrated against them is something I can never understand. One can only offer prayers and pray for their peace.

This is the same humanity that we are part of where millions of defenceless people were slaughtered. If it were not documented it would seem too fantastic to be true. It happened not too long ago – merely seventy years ago, with the rest of the world watching. It could happen anywhere if the people of the world are not vigilant and put the brakes on ambition that borders on madness. But despite all that went on this movie is about Schindler who stands for all things that give us hope.

The movie is shot in black and white and leaves many dramatic visuals in your mind. Only in the end does the movie turn into colour as the surging Schindler’s survivors from Krakow turn into their current selves in Jerusalem. One other shot is shown of a young girl in a red coat, later shown among the dead. She would be six or seven years old.   Liam Neeson is brilliant as Schindler and I wonder why he did not get it that year, Ben Kingley is perfect as the Jewish accountant Stern while Ralph Fiennes plays the role of Goeth well. And for making this wonderful movie and reminding us of certain things that humanity should not forget, Steven Spielberg, thank you. For the record, the movie won seven Academy Awards.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Anniversary of the Darkest Hour of India's Democracy

I was browsing through the newspapers when I happened upon Kalpana Sharma's column in the Hindu. She is a fine columnist and one who writes wonderfully about several pressing issues that most people seem to have forgotten in their bid to be under the spotlight. Unlike most other columnists who thrive off current affairs and bringing down public figures, Kalpana Sharma always brings something new to the table in that dispassionate and well-researched way of hers. Today she wrote about the Emergency because she remembered that it was on June 26, 1975, that the Indian Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi imposed a state of Emergency in India. She also likened how some states in the USA had similar sterilisation laws for certain sects of the people early in this century!

Now I was a young primary school kid to comprehend what Emergency was in 1975. As we grew up we heard some fleeting reports about it but never heard enough debate in any circles. There was the general idea that it was bad, that good people went to jail, press was censored and forced sterilisations took place. But today when I was looking up stuff on the Emergency I saw a picture of a young George Fernandes, handcuffed, and I remembered that picture froom my childhood.

Why my ears cocked up and my eyes lit up was that I had recently read Rohinton Mistry's 'A Fine Balance' which is a fine novel with a backdrop of the Emergency. What the two tailors, his protagonists, Ishvar and Omprakash go through in those times must have been generally what would have happened to the poor in those days. Of course everything happens to the two tailors, but certainly most poor people would have faced some indignity, some infringements of their basic rights during that time. Many apparently died due to complications arising out of a lack of medical care after the sterilisation programmes.

Mrs. Gandhi imposed a state of Emergency after her election was ruled void by the Allahabad High Court for some minor offences such as using government machinery for election purposes and so on, while acquiting her of bigger charges such as bribing the electorate etc. Not only was her election ruled void but she was forbidden from contesting elections for six years. One of the things Mrs. Gandhi did upon imposing Emergency was to get the laws changed in such a fashion that her election stood valid!

Known for some of the more infamous things, the period of Emergency saw all political opposition herded into jails, freedom of press was curtailed and reports censored, mass sterilisation programs were organised where people (specially the poor) were sterilised against their will, slums were cleared by use of force, city's were beautified by slum clearances and so on. The police had an inordinate amount of power vested with them as they could arrest anyone without any charges. Many people went to jail with no specific charges against them, the figure is put at 140,000.

Certain things and ideas were in favour of Emergency. The elite and even the middle class probably were fine with it as they were not so affected by it. One thing everyone speaks of was that the trains were on time. The agri and industrial output apparently increased in those years, called the 'Years of Discipline'. Among vocal supporters of the Emergency were J.R.D. Tata, Khushwant Singh and Mother Teresa.

The role of the Sikhs and the Akali Dal was significant and something I had not heard of before. The Sikhs, led by the Akali Dal, protested against the imposition of Emergency and fought it tooth and nail saying that it will stand only for democracy or nothing at all. Sant Longowal was at the helm of affairs then. With no opposition, no free press and no individual rights, the foundations of democracy were threatened. The Sikh uprising was called the last bastion of democracy. The Sikhs compared it to their fight against the Mughals, the British and came forward to get arrested in large numbers on New Moon days symbolic of Darkness. Amazingly, of the 140, 000 to be arrested, 40,000 were Sikhs (who constituted 2% of the population).

After eighteen months, Indira Gandhi announced the elections. The opposition came together and formed a coalition known as the Janata Party. Morarji Desai was made the first non-Congress Prime Minister of India. But this rag tag government did not last long and the Congress came back into power with an overwhelming majority within two years.

There is surprisingly little literature on this phase of Indian history. It is something all Indians should know about. I am grateful to Rohinton Mistry for having used this backdrop for his novel, else I would have known so little about such an important phase in India's evolution. Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight Children' has references to the Emergency and a character called the Widow which had a striking resemblance to Indira Gandhi. Apparently she sued him for that!

There are too many things we take for granted, and among it, is our freedom. The true idea of democracy would come to fruit when we as civilians understand the value of what we are, what we can do with our vote and what we can construct by learning lessons from our history.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Our Trees Still Grow In Dehra - Ruskin Bond

I finished reading Ruskin Bond's last book in my shelf 'Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra'. Much of it had already been written in bits and pieces in his oher books (I read about 7-8 of them so far) so most stories sounded and appeared familiar as I read them as the same characters, places and situations came up. But all credit to Ruskin Bond that we are drawn into his world, into Mussoorie and Dehradun and Chamba and Landsdowne, into the hills and its smells, into a young man's lonely mind.

The first story 'Escape from Java' was new and I read it with relish as a young Ruskin and his father escape from Java to India during the World War II. It has a fine account of their adventures in a boat that loses its way and they are floating about on the sea until rescued with an interesting character Mr. Muggeridge. The second story of the 'Bent Double Beggar' (he came up in earlier stories) - interesting mainly because of the teachings of the wise beggar that Ruskin Bond has listed down. Very profound stuff really.

'The Untouchable' follows next about the boy who lives in the house and cleans and how both he and the untouchable boy sit close by and weather a scary stormy night. 'All Creatures Big and Small' is an account of his fiesty grandfather's colection of animals and birds and reptiles and his pechant to dress up in disguises and walk into the market place. Quite a character his grandfather. 'Coming Home to Dehra' is about his displacement from the boarding school in Shimla to Dehradun after his father's death, an incident which hurt young Bond deeply as he shared a loving relationship with his father. 'What's you Dream?' is a fine story that captures a tonne of wisdom in two pages (a dream my by, is what you want most in your life).

'The last tonga ride' describes Bansi Lal the tonga wala and Ruskin's noontime capers with him, until he and his grandmother move to England, riding the tonga for the last time. 'Calypso Christmas' is a loud and colorful description of a New Year he celebrates with some lively West Indians in London. 'Last Time in Delhi' is about his visit to Delhi to meet his ailing mother. 'Binya passes by' is about his love, a mountain girl that he kissed in the mountains. 'Small Beginnings' is about how he met Prem, his adopted son. 'Death of the Trees' is about how the trees are being felled for development. There is a large excerpt from his novel 'The Flight of the Pigeons' at the end.

Like all Ruskin Bond stories, an easy, soothing read that takes you into the world of the mountains. For me who has been there once, I can picture them again in my mind and try and create what he writes about from his experience. As always he leaves a world of joy, sorrow, frienship, love and parting. But he leaves you with a smile, many loveable characters.and hope

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Silence - Irani movie

Another movie from Sagar's collection - 'The Silence' is a movie directed by acclaimed director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. It is a movie made teasingly, as it tries to enter the world that exists in a child's imagination.

'The Silence' is the story of Khorshid, a blind boy of maybe ten years old who lives with his mother in a faraway place by a lake. His father is away fighting in Russia and they have no money - and are facing eviction. The mother catches fish for them to eat, while Khorshid, who has an ear for music tunes instruments at a percussion instrument factory in the town.

Makhmalbaf establishes early on that the boy has a weakness for pretty sounds, pretty voices as he chooses bread from a bunch of pretty young girls based on the sweetness of their voice. Since he has the tendency to wander off after every sweet voice or sound, the boy's mother and the many girls selling bread who help him, plug his ears with cotton and take him to the bus stop. The bus driver takes care to drop him at the last terminus where another young girl who works with him, Nadereh, picks him up and leads him to the music instrument shop. Of course, at every pretty sound Khorshid wanders off, drawn like a moth to a flame. Once when Nadereh loses him in a crowd, she closes her eyes and follows a music she hears and lo behold, Khorshid is there. That was a nice scene.

Khorshid's boss has no ear for music, only money - and he is angry with the boy for not tuning the instruments properly and coming late because of his wanderings. Of course that means no money and eviction from their house as the landlord's deadline approaches. But the boy is irresistably drawn to music and instead of asking his boss for an advance, follows a musician who makes fine music in a bus, and with great difficulty finds him. He is fired from the job, but he does not care as he is very happy listening to the music made by the travelling musician and his friends. But in the knocking of the landlord on their door, to the percussion sounds in a hall Khorshid finds the tune of Beethoven's Fifth symphony (Ba Ba Ba Boom he says) and makes everyone play that tune - on copper vessels that are being dented, percussion instruments etc. You can take away his house, his job, his sight, but you cannot take away his music.

It is different no doubt. I have not seen anything like it. There are extreme close ups of people, of those pretty girls and Khorshid, shot in a way that we are not used to. It is so close that it is almost physical, as if the camera is touching the face like Khorshid would, to make our who it is. There is a magic in the way the music draws the boy, the way he cocks his head in concentration when he hears music. It is too early to say yet because I saw the movie only today, but it could be one of those movies that just goes and stays in a place of its own because there are few movies like it.

Not One Less - Chinese Movie

Watched a heartwarming Chinese movie yesterday, 'Not One Less', another from the Sagar collection. It is a story set in a village in modern day China. The village has a small school run by one teacher, Gao. Now Teacher Gao has to go home for a month to attend to his mother who is sick with cancer. Since it is a two room school with one teacher teaching a bunch of poor children, the village head hires a substitute for him, a thirteen year old girl, Wei Minzhi. Though she appears young and not quite up to he job of handling 28 young children, they have no option but to hire her. Gao explains to her the duties, hands over the meagre resources and leaves. The girl is more keen to have her payment of 50 yuan from teacher Gao. She says that the village head asked her to take it from him. Gao tells her that she had better collect it from the head. It appears the new teacher is more interested in her fifty yuan.

Next morning the village head picks up teacher Gao early and is heading out of the village when the girl runs after the jeep. She questions them about the money. It is then that Gao tells her to do her job well, and not lose any more students from their primary school because they have already lost 10 recently. Children keep going away to work for their impoverished families. If she does not lose even one student in the one month, he will pay her fifty yuan. Wei agrees and takes up the job.

Now Wei is not the greatest teacher but she has spirit. Since she stays in the school with some of the other children it soon becomes apparent that though she may not be highly read or efficient as a teacher, she will stand for no nonsense. When the sports coach picks one of the school children, a good runner, for the sports hostel, Wei hides her. She does not want to lose even one child. The coach and the village head however find the young athlete and whisk her away in the jeep but not without Wei giving it hot chase. The naughty kid in class Huike is reprimanded for his behavior in class and made to apologise to the class monitor in the middle of the night.

The  next day Huike is missing. Wei finds out that he has been sent to work in the city because his family is very poor. Wei has already lost one student and is in no mood to lose another. She pleads with the village head to get the boy back but he refuses and tells her that he will not come back. Wei presents her problem to the class and offers to go to the city to find Huike. The class helps their thirteen year old teacher raise money for the fare by lifting bricks in the nearby kiln. The money is not enough as the whole class calculates using their maths, as to how much is needed. Somehow Wei gets to the city, walking most of the way. This is China in 1999, mobile phones and western clothes everywhere, and the young village girl somehow tracks the address that Huike's parents give her. Huike's contractors say they lost the boy when they arrived in the city. With dwindling resources, but an iron will, Wei does everything she can to track Huike - writing notices and putting them up. She even goes to the television centre to get them to put out an ad for Huike. Wei sleeps the nigh outside the station as the receptionist does not let her in, asks everyone with glasses if they were the station head, is finally spotted by the station head who likes her story. They do an interview during which Wei hardly speaks but the interview catches the eye of Huike in the city and he comes to find her. Wei and Huike are sent back to their village in a truck with provisions, donations and supplies for the school.

'Not One Less' is a wonderful movie. It is based on a story 'A Sun in the Sky' and apparently  had actors who were not professionals but who played what they really are in real life. Teacher Gao is a teacher, the kids are school kids etc. It apparently coincided with China's thrust on primary education in the 1990s and was seen as politically driven. However the movie rises much above all that and shows rural China well (it could have been any village in India) just as it shows the city (it could have been any city in India with the crowds, similar settings). It mostly deals with human spirit, the innocence of youth, the meaning of real education in a way and warms the heart thoroughly. The kids, the actors were brilliant and it has some wonderful visuals in beautiful light. I completely enjoyed the movie and recommend it without reservation.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

From Erode to Andhra Pradesh - Education and Government Schools

Right on the heels of the heartening news of the Erode Collector Anandhakumar joining his daughter in a  government school and improving the general infrastructure of the school, there comes this news. That Andhra Pradesh, which has recently started an 'enrolment drive' for children in schools is competing with Jharkhand for the lowest rung in the literacy ladder in the country! Andhra stand last in South India of course.

The dropout rate, from 1st to 10th, in AP is an appalling 46.21 percent. It is 72.66 percent in case of STs and 49.68 percent in case of SCs - primarily due to poverty. In government schools the dropout rate is 45 percent by Class V, 56 percent by Class VIII and 63 percent by Class X. No prizes for guessing why. The pathetic condition of schools. The other day we saw a photo in the newspapers of sacks of grain occupying school rooms which may force late start of school or will make children sit in the hot sun outside.

Students in government schools in AP apparently constitute 88 lakh of a total of 1.49 crore and the conditions of schools is such that most schools suffer from lack of toilets, drinking water, power supply, benches, tables, black boards and chalk pieces. Most schools are run in one room, two room and four rooms. 50,000 government primary, upper primary and high schools have no toilets for 40 lakh girl students! To improve the infrastructure of schools the government spends Rs. 1000 crore on the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme.
 (Source: The Deccan Chronicle, June 22, 2011)

The figures are alarming. Are we looking at being a global power like this? Is this how Andhra Pradesh is going to contribute in shaping the youth of tomorrow? But obviously the resources are there. All we now need is some will to make a difference. All we need are a few more Anandhakumars and we can see a change in the statistics!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

R. Anandhakumar - Well Done Sir

It is the stuff that should get all the cynics in India, in fact everyone, standing up and clapping. I was amazed to hear on television that the Erode District Collector had admitted his daughter in a government school – a panchayat union primary school at Kumuilankuttai. He has instructed that his daughter would take the free midday meal and that she be treated as any other child in the school.

In a world that is going crazy blaming everyone else, wanting heads to roll, wanting people to be hanged and shot for crimes, and coming up with doomsday predictions for India, here comes this officer who quietly does more than a few millions of us can do. More than what we would all dare to do. In a world where it would be so easy to just go his own way (like so many of us) he chooses to make his statement like a man – through his actions. He admits his daughter in a government school.

As Mahatma Gandhi said ‘You must be the change you want to see in this world’. Mr. R. Anandhakumar has followed the Mahatma’s words. Apparently he has declined to speak about his action to the press and is getting along with his life. Where a billion of us are not, he is doing it by choice. He is being the change he wants to see. While we are all blaming someone else and hoping someone else will solve our problems.

Imagine what would have happened in that government school with this one move. Teachers will be more attentive, careful punctual. In fact not just this school but all the government schools in the area will instantly be on their toes. The midday meal will be of good quality. The school premises will be clean. The toilets will be clean. As I read the reports on the web I can see that all these changes have already been effected. Even parents of other children have been instructed not to spit and dirty the school premises. No one will take that school lightly any more, specially not the government officials. With one move, Anadhakumar has set the lives of hundreds of children in that school right. And I hope with this one move, he has also inspired many people in power to show that with great power comes great responsibility. A responsibility that if they choose, they can deploy to stunning effect.

Well done Anandhakumar. I salute you and I know so many more join me. Whatever history may say later, for this one symbolic move, a symbol as powerful to me as that of a solitary student standing in front of a convoy of army tanks in Tiananmen Square against all odds, you deserve the accolades. I compare your act with one of the most enduring images of our times because we are a nation of a billion people who are on the verge of losing hope, and you have given us a glimmer to hold on to.

With one move you have shown what an IAS officer, a government official, can do if he wants. With one move you have washed away all the sins that the beurocracy seems to represent. I know there are several more of your ilk in the government, in politics, who are doing their job silently, efficiently, cancelling out the burden that the other side piles up on you. You have shown the way that many others will follow. And I hope that the public, that includes me, will now cease to make irresponsible remarks on beurocrats. You have given us a new hope. And I am now waiting to see more such acts from people in power – politics and the beurocracy. Imagine what would happen to government schools if even a few collectors or government officials did this, if the elected representatives, the MLAs and MPs sent their children and grandchildren to these schools. Or what would happen to government hospitals if the people in the government started going to government hospitals.

(Here one must mention that the Hon'ble Governor of Andhra Pradesh Mr. E.S.L.Narasimhan went to the Gandhi Hospital for a surgery treatment recently (the last time a Governor went to a government hospital according to a news report on the web was Mr. K.C. Abraham going to the Osmania General Hospital in 1980. And this fact was bought to my notice by my good friend Vinod Ekbote, an upright, incorruptible government officer who belongs to the class of officers we would like to see more of.) If more people in power come forward like this, even a small percentage more, we will need no Lok Pal Bill which the government is carefully derailing. This is all we need - an implementation of what is already there!

10 Things to do in the rains

This is a list of 10 things I promise myself this monsoon:

1) Bhutta and chai: Eat bhutta and drink chai while watching the rain pour over the Hussain Sagar one afternoon. From the confines of the car ideally.

2) Pakoda party: Plan a hot chai and pakoda party with the family one evening. Or even friends who are upto afternoon revelry.

3) Morning ride in the rain: Take off for a long ride in the rain in the early hours of the morning on one of those days when you wake up to heavy rain.  Drive to Gandipet possibly.

4) Go see the waterfalls near Hubli: Drive down to Hubli to see the many waterfalls there that my good friend Sunil Jyoti promised to show me.

5) Rum and rice and chicken party for friends: Throw a party one nice rainy evening for friends with some rum, hot rice and chicken for company. Music, loud jokes et al.

6) Ghazals and the rain: Late night rain! Open all windows and doors, shut off all the lights, play ghazals and sit on the steps watching pouring rain. Maybe a cup of hot tea and the right company.

7) Ballads and a ride in the night rain: Play some of the old ballads in the car and take off for a night ride in one of those fine drizzling rains. Preferably late in the night after midnight when the roads are empty. 

8) Walk in the rain: Go for a walk in the rain with Anjali and Shobha. Umbrella, raincoat etc.

9) Chase a rainbow: Show Anjali a nice rainbow after a rain someplace out in the countryside preferably.

10) Irani chai, hot samosas and friends: Gather the old gang, settle down in a nice Irani cafe, munch on hot samosas and listen to complete nonsense.

That is a lot of stuff to do already!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Baran - Irani Movie

'Baran' is a 2001 movie that Sagar, my guide to some wonderful cinema, gave me a DVD of, telling me that it is Majid Majidi's film. Majid Majidi is of course the acclaimed director of 'Children of Heaven' which has been copied many times frame to frame in several Indian movies but without its soul. Yesterday it was time for me to meet 'Baran', or rain as it means in Persian, and see what Majid Majidi has created.

'Baran' is mostly set in a building site that is under construction just outside Teheran. The foreman of the construction site is a kind hearted Irani, Memar, who runs his business by employing refugee Afghans who come as cheap labour. The Afghans have been displaced from their country thanks to the constant war-like conditions and most Afghans have no status and no identity cards that allow them ration or any normal transactions in Iran. Memar hires these refugee Afghans for cheap labour and good work and takes care of them well. Only, when the inspectors arrive, all Afghans must hide because it is illegal.

Lateef is a young Irani boy who works on the site. His job is to prepare tea, get the rations from the store, serve food and tea for the workers. He is a spirited young lad with a witty and sharp tongue that gets him into trouble, and a ready pair of fists and legs to back his tongue. One day an Afghan worker Najaf falls off the second floor and is injured. The inspectors land up the next day to check on Memar as they have heard of the accident. They find no Afghans and leave with a warning. At the same time Najaf's friend Soltan brings Najaf's weak, delicate looking kid for work and says that Najaf needs some money because he has to feed his large family. The kid is not used to hard work and after a few disasters is transferred to Lateef's job.

Lateef gets the hardwork which he despises. He does not like Najaf's weak son, Rahmath, and troubles him and Soltan a lot, until one day he discovers that Rahmath is actually a girl. Lateef had thrown some stuff on Rahmath and Soltan as they are walking to the construction site to wash it off, Rahmath removes her headgear in the room where she prepares tea and food. Lateef falls in love. No one but Lateef knows the reality of Rahmath and he keeps the secret. He becomes very protective about Rahmath. He wears better looking clothes, wants to be around her all the time etc.

One day Rahmath is caught by the inspectors at the site as they are looking for Afghans. She starts running away with the inspectors in hot chase. Lateef joins the chase, tackles the inspectors, and helps Rehmath escape. The angry inspectors make Memar get rid of all Afghani labour. Lateef is sad that he will not see Rahmath again. He takes leave and finds the Afghani refugee camps outside Teheran, locates Soltan, sees Rahmath from a hidden place and is troubled by the sight. The beautiful Rahmath, now in a girl's garb, is working at hard labour of picking up heavy stone for a river, to sustain her family. He feels helpless as he cannot do anything, and he returns. The same day Lateef withdraws his year's savings from Memar and gives them to Soltan to pass on to Najaf. He feels that with this money Najaf will stop Rahmath from the hardwork until Najaf's leg gets better and he can work. When he goes to meet Soltan the next day he finds Najaf instead. Soltan had offered him the money but Najaf had refused and told Soltan to use the money to visit and get his ailing wife in Afghanistan treated. The honest Soltan gives an IOU for Lateef promising to repay the money which Lateef throws in the river.

The next day Lateef sees Najaf come to Memar to borrow some money as an emergency has arisen. Memar has no money. Lateef trades away the only thing of value on him, his identity card, gets money and passes it on to Najaf telling him that Memar sent it to him. Next day he is dismayed to find that Najaf has packed up and is using the money to go back to Afghanistan to visit his recently deceased brother's family. Lateef helps the family pack the truck and as they are leaving to board the truck, Baran's (which is Rahmath's real name) shoe comes off in the rain. Lateef picks it up and puts it on Baran's foot. Baran looks into his eyes for a few moments, smiles in understanding, puts on her veil, as she leaves him to join the others in the truck.

Nowhere in the movie does Lateef express his love for Baran, either directly or to anyone else, except perhaps in the last scene when he puts on her shoe, his eyes give away his love and his sacrifices for her. But the young teenaged Irani construction worker gives his love everything he has, selflessly, without a moment of hesitation, without expecting anything in return. His love as pure as the rain that falls down in the last scene, Lateef merely looks on, surely with a full heart, as the truck goes away while he surely has to return to rebuild his life from scratch. Majid Majidi gently and most powerfully underscores the fact that love is a language that goes beyond borders, beyond intellectual incompatibility, beyond veils of sophistication. If a youngster can find so much love in his heart to help unknown Afghans with all he has, surely a country, a world led by erudite leaders with all the resources of the world at their command, can find a way to end this madness of war. But for that, they must first find the love in their hearts which they have lost. Only love can heal, only love can bind, only love can take humanity forward, and the young lad shows the way.

Mostly without music, 'Baran' is gripping and tells the story with an endearing simplicity that touches your heart.

Waiting for the Mahatma - R. K. Narayan

This book was the last in a bunch of R. K. Narayan's books that I had picked up sometime ago. 'Waiting for the Mahatma', published by Indian Thought Publications (Rs.115, 254 pages), was first published in 1955 by Metheun & Co Ltd and was subsequently reissued in 1979 by another publisher.

'Waiting for the Mahatma' is the story of a young man, Sriram, who resides in Malgudi and deals with the influence the Mahatma had on him during the years of the Indian freedom struggle. Sriram is an orphan who has lost both his parents and  he lives with his grandmother in one of Malgudi's older localities, a comfortable existence with his father's pension and a doting grandmother. He does not appear to be doing much in terms of furthering any academic ambitions and prefers sitting at the window and watching the street. Now since he is twenty grandmother takes him to a Fund Office where they have their pension money and tells the manager there that Sriram has turned twenty and can now handle his own money. Sriram feels free to take some decisions, draws some money and walks about spending it when he meets Bharati, an ardent follower of Gandhiji, who is collecting money for some funds. Sriram falls in love with her instantly and thus gets involved with her life. Her life is pretty much revolving around Gandhiji and his movement so Sriram joins the freedom movement in the hope that he may get closer to Bharati, who also appears to be an orphan.

Gandhiji comes to town, moves on his own whims and fancies, does not stay at the guest house nor with the rich patron, and prefers to stay in the untouchable colony, gives speeches, meets people etc. Bharati takes Sriram to meet Gandhiji and Sriram is told to do what Bharathi tells hmi. She becomes his guru. Sriram moves to a cave in the hills, gets deeper into the Quit India movement, tries to force the marriage issue with Bharathi but gets rejected, gets involved with a terrorist called Jagadish, is wanted by the police. He visits his grandmother in disguise who survives a death scare and is rescued dramatically off her funeral pyre when her toe starts wiggling, gets arrested at the burial grounds and goes to jail. His only solace is that Bharati is also in jail somewhere.

In jail he meets many different criminals and is finally released after the British leave India. His grandmother has gone to Varanasi. his neighbourhood has changed. he writes and locates Bharati who invites him to Delhi where she is living in a hut and taking care of refugee children. He proposes again and they seek the blessings of the Mahatma who promises to perform their wedding himself, the next morning. They go to the prayer meeting where a person rushes up to the stage to the Mahatma and shoots him.

'Waiting for the Mahatma' dwells on the freedom struggle, the Mahatma and his ways, and the kind of an impact he had on the youth in those days which was very interesting for me to read. RKN brings up many arguments through different characters, those who embrace a violent route and those who follow Gandhiji (without fully understanding how his method of non-violence or satyagraha could drive away the British). But such was the power of his conviction that they followed him and his words to death.'Love the enemy, and only then will he change,' said Gandhiji and they all tried to love their enemy. They practised non-violence, spun the charkha and made khadi, shunned all things foreign, behaved like true satyagrahis - all at an age when they would hardly understand the true import of what they were doing. Gandhiji's take on untouchability is shown impacting Sriram as he wonders how his grandmother ill treats the boy who comes to clean the roads. Much were the sacrifices demanded from the youth and his followers by the highly evolved Gandhiji, and they all did try to be perfect examples of what the Gandhiji asked of them. Sriram is a perfect example of a young man who has no leanings or convictions, and is only motivated by love, but even he gets into the movement and makes some big sacrifices.

The Mahatma's ideology and thought are too bizarre to even comprehend that he took it to the people and made it happen. The more one thinks of it, the more improbable and dreamlike this whole non-violent movement, satyagraha appears - it sounds like a fairy tale, a moral science cum spiritual weapon that Gandhiji used in the most violent act that humans conceived -war. His views of everything were so progressive and evolved that it is incredible to imagine where he got them from and how he tried to practice them with such discipline. To me he is the biggest phenomenon of all time.

As for the rest of the novel Sriram's love story does not take off for me. As a character in the book he is rather weak, not of strong convictions, except  when it comes to possessing Bharati. Maybe that was how RKN wanted him to be as well. The girl seems unsure about everything except what Gandhiji tells her. In fact they both are rather undeveloped with some gaps in their lives. This is a novel where the backdrop of the freedom struggle works for me but the characters and their motives do not. Unfortunately much of the wonderful humour that RKN is known for appeared forced especially, when Sriram. And to me Gandhiji's wonderful philosophy stands out as RKN puts it in Gandhiji's words.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Laughing Prohibited at the K.B.R. National Park, Hyderabad

This one made me laugh out loud. I buy entry tickets each time I go to KBR Park and retain them because they carry a friendly suggestion asking you to retain and show the tickets on demand. On demand? Could you not request? Why this anger and aggression? Will you come on horses and point guns at me and demand to see my ticket? Would you shoot me if I fail to produce on demand? Is there a time limit within which to produce the ticket upon demand or off with my head?

Preoccupied completely with preserving the ticket and keeping it handy for production upon demand by officials who might jump out of the trees, from behind bushes or from under the grass, I never really turned the tickets over to read the Divisional Forest Officer's more detailed and a more friendly message at the back of the ticket. These rules were even more intimidating. Among the more interesting ones were the following.

2) Laughing and making noises inside the National park individually or in groups is prohibited. 

Now someone must have figured that apart from the laughing clubs (which they have been trying to discourage from laughingly artificially for a long time) other people have also caught this contagious disease. How dare these people laugh, individually or collectively, in our National Park? Maybe the Forest officials suspect that the laughers are actually plants of the fake-laughter clubs and sometimes sneak in to plant bouts of individual laughing by themselves in the park. Hence the clear directive that no matter what, you cannot laugh in groups or even individually. If you feel like laughing, you may go outside the park and roll on the road, for all we care. Here, please walk around with a face devoid of all semblance of laughter, or stuff your mouth with something if you feel the urge. There are laughter detectors here who catch you at the first hint of a smile and haul you off to court!

3. Entry into the Conservation Zone is strictly barred.
I have been going to the KBR Park for almost 20 years now. I have never seen a board that says 'Conservation Zone'. Maybe I missed it. I shall keep a sharp eye for this zone tomorrow. Or did they mean 'Conversation Zone'. That would be more in keeping with their no laughter policy. No talking either.

4. Keep to your left and give way to others
I did not understand this really. Keep to the left of the path is fine, but keep to 'your' left? If I keep to my left would I not be going around in circles? I suspect I might be spinning at the same spot if I follow that particular advise. Now, I have another doubt, if I do for some reason stray to the right, is that punishable?

6) Permit holder is bound by the provisions of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972
As with anything else, from traffic rules to our basic rights, taxation to wildlife, we have no clue what this Act says, what we can do and what we cannot. But I am assuming that these conditions carry the spirit of the Act. So walk quietly, keep hands to yourself, do not laugh, produce noises, talk and just vanish if you can.

7) Feeding of wild animals in the National Park is an offence
Thankfully the definition of wild animals in the KBR includes some peacocks mainly and I will go with them on this one. But if the place were to host certain wild animals that we normally associate wild animals with, it would be more likely that they would be feeding on us and not the other way round.

Anyway, thank you (keeping the tradition of gratitude intact) Wildlife Management, Hyderabad for making me laugh out loud (outside the park of course). It is always a pleasant experience to walk in the park, with its wonderful greenery, peacocks, great views of sunrise, energetic and happy people, well maintained walks and lawns, nice quotes on tablets inside and the heavenly unpolluted air. I consider KBR to be the the lungs of Hyderabad and I enjoy all my mornings there.

And now I know these conditions, I know that I will walk along with a suppressed smile, cheeks puffed up, from tomorrow onwards!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Gratitude and Corruption

Extending the thought on gratitude to the current heartache we are all suffering from, corruption, I wonder if gratitude could be the way forward. Reading through an R.K.Narayan novel 'Waiting for the Mahatma' one gets an idea of the highly idealistic way in which the Mahatma fought the battle with the British. 'Love the enemy, remove all traces of hate for the enemy and then you will see a change in him,' seems to be the general idea. The beginning point of it all seemed to be forgiveness, love and seeking a change in the enemy so they stop behaving in the manner they do.

Is it that we need to accept that the corrupt system is but a reflection of us. The system reflects the collective level of corruption we are steeped in. It reflects the greed we have. It reflects the need to promote the self at everyone else's cost that we have. It, and the few people concerned, do it in a bigger way. We do it in our smaller way. That is why they represent us. That is why they are our elected leaders. We cannot disassociate ourselves and claim we are pure and they are all the criminals. It is we who have given them the mandate, the power, the environment to do what they did. Remember, the perpetrator only does things that the victim seems to want, even at a sub-conscious level. That is why they are tied together like the Stockholm syndrome.

Maybe the first step is to accept that we are all the same. That they represent the worst in us. That maybe they should be forgiven first, as we should forgive ourselves first. That they deserve to be treated without anger, hate, resentment. That they be treated with, and this is the difficult part, love. And perhaps they also deserve gratitude not just for the things they did not do, but for the things they did. And for showing us how things can go wrong. Perhaps that will break this energy, not this baying for every one's blood. The Mahatma has already shown us the way.

I know a lot of people would say that times have changed. Times will however not change certain universal principles like this - what we see outside only reflects what we have inside. What we give, we get. And to change anything on the outside, you must change yourself inside.   

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Satisfying Session On Gratitude

As part of my weekly interactions with my team, I decided to talk about gratitude today. One of my theories is that people are not motivated enough on jobs or in life in general because they are not happy with what they have. They have all their focus on something else, something better. Naturally they end up feeling quite dull and demotivated. In fact one could say they lose a lot of energy in all these conflicting thoughts. How does one get them to bring a sense of gratitude - this was a challenge.

The key is to feel grateful. One, it makes you feel content and happy that your life has not gone waste. That in itself puts you in a good mood to go ahead with spirit, good humour and energy. Two, it gives you a tool to buy in the good will and good wishes of so many people around you. Expressing gratitude by saying a simple 'thank you', makes the other person feel recognised and responsible. For example, imagine a class where a mediocre lecturer is teaching and everyone is cribbing about how bad he is. But let us say that one of the students tells the lecturer how grateful she is for the lecture and how much she appreciates the effort. Chances are that the lecturer will come better prepared for that one student. Gratitude actually has the power of making mediocre people brilliant. On the other hand a resentful, cynical and supercilious behavior or attitude will demotivate a brilliant lecturer into a mediocre one. Same goes with life!

Everyone likes to be important. When someone makes you feel important by acknowledging your presence, your contribution, your goodness, your best nature is suddenly awakened. Gratitude unlocks the best in everyone's nature. He or she feels more responsible instantly and starts doing better, starts living up to the expectations of the others. That is what awards do, raise the bar and make the person more responsible. And gratitude is an award.

Funnily, by being grateful, you make the recipient of your gratitude take up your cause and responsibility. You get his or her help. You get them to motivate you when you are down because they feel as if they own your cause. Your life becomes much more simpler by simply saying thank you. You get more help. You get more good wishes because the others now want you to succeed. You get their prayers and you now have a friendly world full of support and good wishes. So, if your world does not appear to be supportive and friendly, use the gratitude key. It unlocks all doors they say.

To get ahead, to move forward, to have a peaceful, contented, prosperous life, stop taking the world for granted. The moment you take anything for granted it stops all good wishes, prayers and active help from that quarter. There will be assistance but only to the extent that is needed, without soul. But the moment you are grateful for all that happened in the past, all in the present, you see how everyone and everything starts contributing to your growth. Now the whole world takes up your cause!

Now does gratitude mean that one gives up all desire to get better. No, gratitude is the platform of contentment that gives you more energy and clarity to achieve what you really want. It is the best way to achieve more and get better things from life.

It's an amazing paradox. If you can just keep it simple, if you get the ego out of the way and thank everyone for what they did, everyone steps up and does more. If you clam up and blame everyone for all that is happening to you and around you, no one will step up. Then why do we still complain? Why do we keep on blaming, knowing that it will only get worse? Gratitude then to everyone you know, the good, the bad and the ugly, the things and conveniences, life itself. Ahhh, its a great feeling to let go and let the world do its job! 

Mobile Behavior - Intriguing and Amusing

One thing that I noticed is that mobile phones have brought out the smiles in the fairer sex. Wherever I see them, especially on the road, I find them smiling, talking away, draped in such an ecstatic mood that I sometimes wonder about their safety. So lost and happy do they seem that they wander about freely which is not a good thing on our roads.

The mobile phone has certainly given a great deal of security to the womenfolk in India and that is one of the best things that could have happened to them. A lady speaking on a mobile is not easy prey for our Majnu's who normally rely on shooting lustful looks, making idiotic comments, singing filmi songs and walking up and down to catch the lady's attention. Unfortunately with the lady speaking on the phone, Majnu's are a bit worried and back off from these tried and tested methods, because she might be talking to her Dad who might be in the police and giving accurate descriptions of them and their vehicles. SMSes and phone calls are a better bet for them.

The mobile phone also provides the women folk a lot of distraction in terms of listening to music, talking to friends and family and so on - and more importantly, while doing all this, not being bothered by all the trash that is said, looked, felt - from all the lecherous men going around. It always brings a smile to my face when I see them smiling and talking away on their phones. So happy in their little things.

One also wonders if they would be as happy if they were speaking to the person on the line in person. I am not s sure. They seem happier on the phone. Also one wonders if they speak to keep the dangers in the physical world away by getting a phone friend, who could turn out as dangerous. Phones are also dangerous because they let you say and hear things one cannot say in person. There seems to be a lot more intimacy started over the lines and air waves than there could ever be if phones were not there. But still, even if there were to be more phone affairs, it is still in the cause of love and one feels happy knowing that someone is feeling a divine emotion - in their ears at least. Maybe in a few ears the symbol of love could be the ear.

On the other hand men seem to be perpetually using their mobile phone to bite someone's head off. Most men I see have a sour and angry expression on their faces when they speak into their phones. They are either berating someone, giving gaalis, being curt and impolite or something like that. Maybe even with men the phone gives a great opportunity to let out the beast in them (as women have an opportunity to let out the love in them) which they have restrained. Maybe they can talk more and give more gaalis on the phone. I have not seen men smiling and being blissful as women with phones do. Actually if you ask me, from my observations, women seem to be smiling a lot more than men on the road even without phones. Men look thoughtful and angry on the road.

While women do not bother the phone too much by keeping it well ensconced in some safe place, men are constantly fiddling with the phone. Women have the phone connected to the headphones and are doing whatever they want to peacefully. Men meanwhile stare at the phone, punch at it, delete sms'es, put it in the pocket, take it out, take pictures, send sms'es and delete them, play music loudly, shout loudly into it. They cannot keep quiet and want to provoke the phone into doing something to them like performing .a belly dance or something

Women, as with most things in their life, seem to use the mobile phone for their personal pleasure and use and are least bothered about the rest of the world. Men on the other hand seem to be using the phone primarily to put up a public performance, looking all round to see if anyone has noticed them and their antics, shoving them in their ears and shoulders as they drive their cars and mobikes, yelling loudly into it and looking around to see if anyone noticed it, putting it on speaker phone so everyone can hear the conversation or the lousy music they are hearing, speaking into the mouthpiece and quickly transferring it to the ear as if they were some James Bond using some new invention M had given them.

Verdict. Take the phones off the men. Give all women phones. The world is a happier place.

Vision 2050 - Hilarious blog by Raja

Here's a great way to start the day. It is hilarious. I loved this blog by Raja a.k.a. Dr. Rajendra Nargundkar.

Good stuff Raja!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

I bought this book many months ago. My good friend Naresh Raghvan strongly recommended it a few years ago and I went ahead and bought it. The book had touched him deeply he said. I was a bit daunted by the size of the book, 614 pages, and kept postponing reading it until the other day. But once I started reading, it was easy to understand why Rohinton Mistry is such a highly regarded Indian writer who ends up being nominated in the Booker race every time he writes.
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry, Faber and Faber, Rs. 295, 614 pages

The book opens inside a train compartment in a city (one can assume that it is Bombay) at the time the Emergency was imposed, circa 1975. Two tailors, Ishvar Darji and Om Prakash Darji, uncle and nephew, are traveling to meet a potential employer, a Parsi lady. They bump into a young student Maneck Kohlah, who is also heading to meet the same lady, to check out his paying guest accommodation. The three hit it off well, the two tailors being polite and funny, Maneck, friendly and open. They meet Dina Dalal, or Dina Bai, a fortyish, beautiful, widowed Parsi lady who needs tailors to sew clothes for an export order and a paying guest, so she earns money to meet her rent and expenses. While telling the story of these four, Rohinton Mistry lays bare India's misery and joy, politics and relationships, justice and hypocrisy, pain and pleasure through some amazing characters who come and go, incidents that are too fantastic to be fiction - they have to be real. All the flavours and stench that India must have emitted in those years, and continues to do so today, are captured through the lives of these four and those who they encounter.

So we realise that Ishvar Darji and Omprakash Darji are not darjis at all. They are cobblers by birth, or chamaars as they are called. To tell their story Mistry takes us to the time of Ishvar's father Dukhi's time, sometime after independence. The chamaars are untouchables, and their sufferings are told with great detail and sympathy. Separate living quarters, cannot draw water from the well, cannot pray in the temple and so on and on. Dukhi is a man with spirit and after having suffered much, does not want his two sons Narayan and Ishvar to suffer the same fate as he and his other friends and he sends them to a town to a tailor to learn how to sew. The tailor is a Muslim, Ashraf, who teaches the young students and they learn the craft well and become family to Ashraf and his wife. When they come to the village, there is much celebration that someone has broken the trodden path and stepped outside. The higher castes do not approve, but not until the time a straight forward Narayan gets into an argument after his marriage, does the wrath of the higher castes unleash. Narayan insists on voting in the elections (and not merely putting his fingerprints as all lower castes do in the village) and Thakaur Dharamsi has him and his two friends killed in the most gory manner and burned inside their hut - Dukhi, his wife, Narayan and his wife and their girl child. Om Prakash, Narayan's son survives as he is away with his uncle Ishvar at Ashraf chaha's house. And they remain there after their tragedy, merging with their Muslim benefactors, and even saving the Muslim family from Hindu-Muslim riots. The Muslim tailor family and the Hindu apprentices become one family, bound by deep gratitude for one another - the Muslims to the Hindus for saving their lives and the Hindus to the Muslims for teaching them a livelihood and treating them as humans, something that their Hindu brothers did not.

The advent of ready made clothes makes work difficult to get by and the two tailors go to the city in search of work. There they sleep on the roads, find a slum, meet all kinds of characters in the slum - the hair collector Rajaram, the Monkey man and his monkeys - learn how to defecate near the train tracks, go hungry, learn to share, and finally find work with Dinabai. There they are pleased to meet Maneck, the son of Dina's schoolmate Aban, who lives in the mountains (Shimla, Mussoorie, take your pick) with his parents who own a general store. Maneck feels deserted because his parents have sent him away when all he wants is to be with them. And all they want is that he get a good life so they sacrifice their time with him. Maneck finds the ragging in college hostels unbearable, meets a friend Avinash who is a students union leader and who disappears one day, and lands up at Dinabai's house. Dina does not like her friend's son mingling with the tailors. The tailors work hard but the younger one thinks Dina is not paying enough. Dina is doing everything to survive on her own without asking her brother for help - hiding the fact from her landlord that she has a paying guest and workers at home - reason enough for the landlord to evict her. But her landlord finds out and sends her notice for eviction.

Meanwhile the tailor's slum is razed as part of the city beautification program. Dina bai does not let the two tailors into her house, not comprehending their propensity to find themselves at the receiving end of the worst things that fate can throw at them. They sleep on the pavement and are herded away by the police to work in an irrigation project along with all the other beggars. With great difficulty they survive the hardships of hard labour, bribe an agent, the Beggarmaster, and the brother of their dear legless beggar friend Shankar, and get out of the project site. Dinabai is horrified at her tailor's state when they come back to her house almost dead, and lets them into her house. And so begin some of the finest days for the four as they hide like fugitives in their own country - Dina from her landlord, the tailors from the police and Maneck from reality. Beggarmaster settles the deal with Dina's landlord who has sent goondas to threaten Dinabai, and beats them up. For a few days all is well with all of them living like a family, cooking eating, helping one another, joking, until Ishvar gets the urge to marry his nephew and goes to his village. Maneck goes home for a vacation.

The tailors go to their town, Ashraf's chacha's town to meet the families of chamaar girls for Om Prakash. There they encounter the same landlord Thakur Dharamsi who is now in charge of the family planning department and you dread, fearing the worst. Om Prakash displays his father's famous spirit and he spits on the road when he spots Dharamsi - the landlord looks at him and says 'I know you'. And you want the two tailors to leave everything and run back to the city. But they don't - we have done noting wrong - they say. But it is not so much about doing nothing wrong, it is about their naivete, their helplessness, their hope, their politeness.

Then Mistry unleashes a rare fury as he piles on misery upon misery on the tailors, being as truthful as he can, promising no happy endings. I got angry, felt betrayed as Mistry changed course from what seemed a happy ending for the tailors and set course with Dharamsi and his horde of doctors, police and the family planning brigade which picks up people from the road in garbage trucks and has them undergo family planning operations. Mistry kills and maims the wonderful characters he has created with abandon - one has an accident in the city as he runs away from the fear of police, one stabbed by someone he thinks he has helped, one loses legs in a family planning gone wrong, one is castrated by a vengeful upper caste, one who goes mad at losing his little niece and nephew, one who turns up by the train tracks. And when you find hope seeping out of you almost completely, Mistry allows but one ray of hope at the end. The system can take away everything but it cannot take away your spirit, your laughter.

Mistry is unforgiving of the country and its policies, its cultural and religious hypocrisy, its practices, its almost useless systems, its governance, its Prime Minister and almost everything. And you can see the fragile lives of the two tailors who are polite, delicate, sensitive, going about trying to make an honest living despite all the odds, the life of Dinabai as she tried to stand on her own and Maneck as he fails to come to grip with life. Life as untouchables, slum dwellers, police excesses, people in power, higher castes, senior students, government hospitals, officers, forced vasectomies, slum clearances, courts, communal riots, religious bigotry - there is almost nothing that Mistry has left untouched. And through all that muck, you see these four lives, pure and simple, merely wanting to get on with their lives honestly but not understanding that perhaps it might not be as simple as that. Mistry brings everything into the ambit of the book, the outside which appears so harsh and heartless, and the inside where all humans operate at a human level, fighting their own insecurities and fears.

It was incredibly funny at times and Rajaram, the Ukridge like hair-collecting character turning into a family planning motivator (Masterwaiter, masterwaiter!) made me fall off the chair. And so many more times as well. Ishvar and OmPrakash join the elite gang of my favourite characters in books, in the high positions alongside Tam and Richie from "Restraint of the Beasts" (Magnus Mills). I love the subtle undercurrent that always makes me laugh when two men are together. I find it the most funny situation in the world. But its the way the two tailors cope with life as it strikes them down again and again that wrings the heart out of you, that makes you want to plead with Mistry to let them off and give them a better life. When they get the shelter and food and love from the other two, Dina and Maneck, you hope that Mistry spares them. I got angry as the book drew to a close and Mistry spared no one, as hope started to leave, angry that I had wasted my time, that I had been betrayed after reading 600 pages. But then it is not Mistry you can get angry about - he has written a wonderful tale - I suspect not everyone can digest it. He points out our society and country and its failings and its strengths so clearly that sometimes one cannot take it. In my craving for a happy ending I almost forgot that sometimes, some lives do not get happy endings. But they are still happy. Nothing can conquer their spirits.

Some books change you as a person and this one certainly falls into that category, especially for all Indians who have not been privileged to see and hear tales of the Emergency, of untouchability, of communal riots, of governments, of what went on and goes on, in the hearts of some of our fellow countrymen. But now I know what Mistry is capable of, and I will not touch his next book until I have recovered sufficiently. For those who appreciate this book for its fiction, I must ask them to think again because it is too fantastic to be in the realms of fiction. It is factual - surely a run through some pages of newspapers would tell us that Mistry had spared us many more injustices that would have made our blood boil. But to layer it in this fashion, to tell this fantastic story sitting on the shoulders of the two loveable tailors, Rohinton Mistry, take a bow. I have not learnt as much of our country and what it has gone through in any other movie, documentary or book as I have in this.

I have always been a fan of Mistry despite not reading his books. He called off his book tour in the USA after the country became paranoid after 9/11 and harassed everyone at the airports. Mistry and his wife were stopped and searched at every airport until Mistry realised that his appearance, beard and all, was more the reason and not the 'random' check as the clerks told him. I loved that. His 'Such a long journey' (banned by the Shiv Sena scion Aditya Thackeray from the Mumbai University syllabus for being anti-Marathi not too long ago, as a helpless Mumbai University administration wilted and agreed to please him instantly) is on my list as is 'Family Matters'. Among the current lot of Indian writers Mistry stands in a unique place because of his layered style of telling a story, of telling us where we come from. A purposeful manner of telling the story. A way of taking you through the experience so it touches you. Even if you have preserved yourself and insulated yourself from it all these years, it will. You cannot avoid it.
If you can, and only if you can, pick it up and read this fantastic novel.

Two English Girls - Movie

I watched Francois Truffaut's 'Two English Girls', a movie based on a novel. The movie made in 1971 is set in the early 1900s and revolves around a French boy Claude, and two English girls Anne and Muriel. Claude is a stone faced young fellow aspiring to be a writer who meets Anne, an aspiring sculptor, in Paris when they are perhaps in their late teens. Anne invites him to stay with her and her sister Muriel and mother at their house in Wales for the vacation. Claude heads off to Wales, stone faced as ever, and has a great vacation playing games like tennis and some other games like pushing one another. The house of the Browns (the girls are Browns) is wonderful right by the sea side and the views itself were good enough reason to watch the movie.

Anne for some reason believes that Muriel and Claude, would like one other and pushes them on to one another. However, at the same time, the girls also call him their brother. But as the vacation draws to a close, Muriel, who seems more intense and also slightly on the edge, and also has some various eye problems to boot due to which she wears all kinds of glasses, seems to take a fancy to stone faced Claude. Muriel herself has a stone face so they do make a fine pair I thought. But just as things start getting warmer, the Mom detects the growing warmth and shifts the guest to another house close by. Muriel and Claude exchange letters vowing love to one another. The families decide that the couple must serve a trial of separation for an year.

The families turn out right as Claude breaks off from Muriel after he meets many more interesting women in France with whom he has several relationships. Muriel is heartbroken and does all kinds of weird stuff like writing letters she never posts. Anne meanwhile meets Claude on a foray to Paris and they end up having a relationship. Anne is a virgin at thirty! But she makes up fro lost time by getting herself two lovers simultaneously and takes off on an exciting trip to Persia. Claude feels left out until Muriel sends his her last confession - a diary full of her secrets, her guilt at her urge to masturbate etc. He thinks that it has the qualities of a bestseller and decides to publish it. Meanwhile Anne dies of tuberculosis, unmarried. Claude meets Muriel one last time in a hotel when she is on her way to some place to teach. They make love and discover that she is a virgin too. Muriel says she does not want to see him again, though Claude is pining to marry her now. The movie ends with Claude walking around sadly in Paris with a beard, getting startled whenever he hears the name Muriel, which is not often I'd think.

'Two English Girls' is a movie that is quaint for its old world charm. It would appear that people have the same confusion about love, intimacy and relationship in the 1900s as they do now. Nothing about the three suggests any great love for the other - they have enough problems and insecurities of their own to love another. Though critics seemed to have used words like masterpiece etc, I found it passable - not great stuff that moved me, nor boring enough to turn it off. but will i watch it again? Not likely.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Landmark Experience

I don't know if it is to do only with the Landmark at Somajiguda, Hyderabad where I frequently drop in but I do have these little experiences that have made me a bit wary of the place now. Most things are to do with DVDs under discounts - one was to do with DVDs that were announced as a pack of 3 for Rs.199, and another with a DVD at a discounted price.

First I picked up one of the Moser Baer world cinema classics, Francois Truffaut's 'The Woman Next Door' which came at  slightly discounted price a couple of months ago. It had 'winner', 'nominee' written all over and an interesting story so I picked it up, saving it for a nice rainy day. But when I opened it yesterday to watch the movie, peeling away plastic covers and then the paper/cardboard cover, I found that it actually contained the DVD of Francois Truffaut's 'Two English Girls' inside (no mention of winner or nominee on this "...underrated ...masterpiece..". Somebody has obviously been careless enough at some end - either at Moser Baer or at Landmark but I am sure I would not have bought 'Two English Girls' if I had known.
"Two English Girls" peeping out of "The Woman Next Door" cover

Last month we picked up DVDs in the 3 for 199 scheme which had a few good ones. A 'Sound of Music' was a find. A Tintin was another. Unfortunately the 'Sound of Music' would not play as it had region issues, something which the salesman had assured was not an issue and that the DVD could be exchanged if there was a problem. I returned it to Landmark. The sales people protested saying that things under the scheme (3 for 199) cannot be exchanged. I asked them what I was to do with a DVD that would not play. I also asked them how much a 'Sound of Music' DVD costs in their regular list. It was something like 400 bucks. I asked them why the difference? That unless someone had figured out that this DVD had a region issue they would not have passed it off under this scheme? They looked angrily at me, disappointed at my nitpicking, and after a longish delay, during which they contacted some higher up for sanction to exchange, they allowed me to exchange it. But I had to wait. You see, you are not a priority any longer. You are in fact someone who is causing a problem. Anyway I waited and picked up a Rocky V this time.

The Tintin in the same scheme is also maimed. It has only one part i.e.e it ends halfway through the story. But now  I don't have the patience to go back and ask and complain. I watched the DVDs and promised to be a bit more careful when it comes to stuff in the schemes.

With big retail chains like Landmark one expects a bit more care when it comes to certain things. The Landmark sales staff is very polite and helpful. But I do wish whoever is putting up the stock in these schemes does a better job of it.You don't need too many bad experiences to start visiting another retail shop.