Sunday, July 31, 2011

England's Obsession With Vaseline - VVS Laxman's Edge

Michael Vaughan's tweet that perhaps VVS Laxman had applied Vaseline to his bat to escape being detected by the 'hotspot' technology confirms England's longlasting obsession with Vaseline. Why are the English cricketers so fond of Vaseline that they keep bringing it into all controversies? The Vaseline brand never got so much publicity anywhere else other than from the Brits. The most famous incident that introduced new uses for Vaseline was by John Lever who allegedly applied it to the ball on a tour to India. Now, after probably finding many other uses for the product, Vaseline makes a come back as the product to use to escape DRS. Many youngsters would now I am sure be inspired by Vaughan's inspirational comments.

As far as the incident is concerned, young Stuart Broad has not added in great measure to his fine performance in the Test, by his rather mischievous, subjective and insipid remarks on the issue. To say that he found no Vaseline or liquid on Laxman's bat, an insinuation that clearly says that the Indians can go to any lengths to beat the great English, is as good as one of the Indian players wondering how he suddenly made inroads into the Indian tail after looking rather flat till then! If the hotspot system could not detect a nick, why should we assume that the English players can detect those nicks? Are they better than the hotspot technology? And since only they could detect the nick, maybe they should offer their services as umpires, superiors beings at detecting nicks that they are?

But typical of them, they assume that the opposition always thinks like them. A classic case of 'If you spot it, you got it'. Wonder how many times, the English have used this to escape the 'hotspot' technology? But all in all, from Vaughan to Broad, the English have suddenly lost any support they have had from me, with such nonsense, such childish and irresponsible reactions.

VVS Laxman is a godfearing, upright, gentlemanly cricketer who always lets his bat do the talking. I have known him since he was a lad of 14, as a polite, soft and spiritual young man who if at all, seeks only the help of the Almighty in expressing his talent. He has in many ways, in many games already proven that his style of preparation to play cricket does not include application of Vaseline to the bat to escape nicks. It is my conviction that no one in the Indian team prepares to escape nicks being detected by the 'hotspot' system, least of all Laxman, whose bat would have got the least number of nicks anyway.

There are certain stages in life, in games, that desperate measures are used by desperate men to get under the skin of opponents. Unfortunately certain moves made in the wrong context, can serve to really rally a team that is until then struggling. Vaughan and Broad Co., has precisely done that with their rather ill timed comments. By accusing a clean cricketer like Laxman who is highly respected in the team, they have practically given the Indian team a strong case to get together. A common cause. The tipping point that will galvanise it. Remember what happened to Ponting's Aussies in Perth not so long ago? At Calcutta? And in so many other games in the past - Indians play more on pride and it is dangerous to tread that area.

My prediction now is that the English will lose this series. I was not too sure yesterday at stumps but now I am convinced. The hundred that eluded Laxman will come in this series, the second innings perhaps, and it will be a big one. It would also spur some more performances by the others. At full capacity, England is no match for India, they know that. Having started this scheme, it is time for the English to really find some other uses for Vaseline, a technology they seem to know best about, to escape from this sticky situation. As for Broad and Vaughan, you have just proved what brand of the game you play.

Chanakya's Chant - Ashwin Sanghi

Ashwin Sanghi's 'Chanakya's Chant' (Westland, Rs. 195, 441 pages) reaffirms what I always felt about Indian writing - that once we scratch the surface, we have so many wonderful stories to tell. This story for example is a work of fiction that tells the story of Chanakya and his famous vengeance, while parallelly telling the story of a present day Chanakya, Gangasagar Mishra, whose political machinations make a slum girl from Uttar Paradesh, the Prime Minister of India. It is a well-researched, well-told story that offers a peek into the minds of politicians, into economics and into all that drives men in power.

More importantly to me it is the third book that I have read, works of fiction based on Indian mythology - 'Palace of Illusions' (the Mahabharata told from Draupadi's viewpoint in Chitra Divakaruni's racy style), 'The Immortals of Meluha' (Amish Tripathi's fictionalised tale around a tribal chieftain Shiva based on the Hindu God Shiva) and this novel based on Chanakya, the author of Arthasastra, India's greatest treatise on the Science of Wealth. Each one of these books is wonderful and should inspire many to go back and read the actual texts or works around the rich Indian mythology.

'At the heart of this novel lies a chant, a Shakti mantra that appears several times in the story' says the book blurb - the Chankaya's chant. It is this chant that the ambitious son of a poor school teacher in Uttar Pradesh, Gangasagar Mishra keeps reciting. When his father dies he is only fifteen, and has a mother and two unmarried sisters to take care of and Gangasagar joins Agrawalji, the businessman of the town, known to his father, to take care of accounts. He learns fast, all of Agrawalji's business tricks and also wins his mentor's confidence through several sharp deals. Soon he quits Agrawalji's business, though not his friendship and tells him that they will need one another - politics and business go together. Gangasagar promotes Ikram, a local mafia don in politics, uses his muscle power, Agrawalji's money power and the innocence and beauty of the daughter of a panwala Chandini Gupta to enter the state politics and later, the Parliament. How the wily and ruthless kingmaker manipulates and maneuvers his wards through the sleazy world of Indian politics to gain his objectives of making Chandini the Prime Minister, is what Gangasagar's story all about. Gangasagar's key to success is that he is always four steps ahead of the others in the political chess. There is murder, manipulation, sex, deceit, treachery, powerbrokering of all sorts.

Parallely Ashwin Sanghi tells us the story of how Chanakya, the young son of the learned Chanak who is brutally killed by King Dhanananda, a power hungry, vicious king of Magadha. Chanakya vows revenge, that until he dethrones the King of Magadha he will not tie his hair. And so the learned Chanakya plots and awaits his time to overthrow the powerful Dhanananda while preparing his wards Senapati Maurya, his son Chandragupta Maurya and several others whom he promotes and controls from Takshila University. 'I am a teacher of arthasastra - the science of wealth. The source of livelihood of men is wealth, and the science and the means of attaining ii and protecting it is politics,' says Chanakya. He has to deal with Alexander and his vassals in his final quest, uses vishakanyas, women, herbs, drugs, money, fear as he slowly but surely gains control of the board. At the end of the story is revealed the secret of Chankaya's chant, a curse by Suvasini, a woman he loved but one he does not free, for she is also the only one who controls Rakshas the demonic Prime Minister of Magadha - that if one chants the Chanakya's chant for a prescribed number of times, he will have access to all of Chanakya's powers which can be used to install a woman as a leader to unite Bharath. Gangasagar accesses that very power to unify Bharath just as Chanakya did.

It is a fascinating tale and amazingly well-researched. Ashwin Sanghi writes with an authentic voice, the confidence of having known whatever it is he is writing about - be it vishkanyas, herbs and drugs, weapons, sex, politics, sleaze, Oxford boat races and what not - he is constantly surprising the reader with little tidbits. His style is easy to read, a racy, smooth style of an extremely good storyteller. Full marks to Ashwin Sanghi on taking on such an ambitious project and pulling it off. It is easily the most complicated of the three books I mentioned, based on mythology, because not only does he need to have some idea of the story, he needs to understand the mind of Chanakya, his friends, his enemies, his motives, economics, human psychology, the art of war, the art of administration, the art of creating and protecting wealth. It is here that he scores with his deep insight into business (he is an entrepreneur and a Yale graduate to boot).

But having said that I felt that this book deserves to be some 900 pages if it has to do full justice to the scale conceived. The characters and their ambitions, the sheer numbers and content cannot be contained in 440 pages, especially when someone has the capacity to research as Ashwin does. It would have worked separately also for me, Gangasagar Mishra's story by itself (with Chanakya's background in a fleeting manner) or Chanakya's story by itself - both would have been equally rivetting. Maybe Ashwin could have considered a trilogy as well, to do more justice to this fantastic idea.

One other reason why, despite probably having the best plot, the best research and the best idea, and to a large extent the better voice among the three books, 'Chankaya's Chant' comes third to me in the above list, is that both Chanakya and Gangasagar go through almost unchallenged. None of the others who are affected by them seem to have any plans, any motives and do not seem to think these two Chanakyas are any threat until too late in the book. There is ample scope because all the people in power in Magadha and eve UP and Bihar are poliical Machiavellis themselves and easily resort to violence. It is that lack of danger to the Chanakyas and their wards, the lack of the 'villain', that makes the story rather linear - you know where you are headed - the win. Chandini Gupta's motives and her qualities to become Prime Minister are not brought out, other than she is beautiful and that Hangasagar has chosen her. And why Gangasagar treads this lonely path, what happened to his family, etc are all sacrificed.

I am certain that it has been sacrificed not because Ashwin did not realise that - he is too good a storyteller to miss that - but more due to length constraints and the amount of content he had to fit into it. If Ashwin had chosen to tell only Gangasagar's story it would have been fantastic and would have elevated the story far higher because then he would have planned out more detailed coups, moves and counter moves, and infused more drama into the book. 'The Immortals' scores here because he kept it simple and broke it up into a trilogy. 'Palace of Illusions' is a simple, racy narrative of the greatest story ever told.

But still, despite all that I am picking at, 'Chanakya's Chant' could not have been written by anyone else but Ashwin Sanghi. Not many can claim to have even some of the several skills and talents that are required to write about so many subjects with such authority, clarity and conviction - Ashwin Sanghi has that. To write a simple love story, a good versus evil story is another, but to write on how to use all facilities, knowledge and power to create wealth and to protect it through politics, requires rare intelligence. One can expect many more such books of such wonderful calibre from this young author and once again I feel reassured, Indian Writing in English will only hit the high currents with such talent around. Well done Ashwin Sanghi - take a bow. It is a wonderful, rare novel that you have written!

And all who want to listen to the Chankya's chant please visit
It is great to listen to. You can download the same.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Bribe Giver and the Bribe Taker

It is a common thing these days. If you raise your voice against anything, you will be first questioned, all your details and sordid past dug out, a party spokesman will voice out all these completely irrelevant charges and maye link you to the rightwing or leftwing, and you may be quickly jailed for an offence that no one cared about for all these years. It is almost as if the system is waiting for you to show up and then you are fired upon. The Baba Ramdev brigade got a dose of it, most whistleblowers get blown off, honest government officers get shot and burnt alive (as a Deputy District Magistrate was in Maharashtra not too long ago by the kerosene mafia). The moment you raise your voice, the threat of transfers, postings to unknown and useless positions, enquiries, IT raids, the works.

The ones who share the loot have a way of closing ranks very quickly. The complainant, whistleblower, informer has no one - not even the police. Most likely the police will ask questions like, so what do you want us to do, what is the jurisdiction of the crime, go to that PS, that department, why are you bothering us, what is your background, why do you want to complain, should I lock you up first etc. If they send the guy home without a couple of kicks or some massive blow to his dignity and other parts, he should be lucky.

Making bribe giving and bribe taking equal crimes is probably the key problem area.

In most cases the person in power is the one who is using his power to not process work. To do the work he has to do in normal course he will ask a bribe. To get work done and thereby save time and energy, most people willingly part with the bribe. Because otherwise, they will have to spend a large amount of money and time and energy to get the work done. The entire system closes in. Most cases the bribe giver in such cases is forced to either forego what is due to him or pay. This can be really cruel. I know of government officials who pay large bribes to the government clerks to release their own salary arrears! It is unbelievable how much they pay to get what is rightfully theirs cleared by a clerk! It is all known and acceptable to everyone.

Now these are the kind of bribes the common man faces. Since he is already squeezed by all kinds of taxes, inflation, consumerism he really has no money to pay the bribe, and he does something to cut losses. Most anger of the common man is against this corruption because it makes bigger dents in his already strained pocket. Every single government department where you have work is lined with these bribes, with humiliation, with indignity, suffering. It is unbelievable how callous it is. Hospitals, police stations, passport offices, pension offices. We know what happens to all the welfare schemes, what happens to the poor, the backward in their schools, hostels where the children have no money and have to pay by other means.

On the other hand there are bribes that are prompted by the giver and not the receiver. He does that because there is a big cake that he wants and he is willing to give a big part of it back to the people who let him get at the cake. Win, win. Here the people in power actively collude with the chap who brings the best bribe proposal and hands it over as soon as the kickbacks are brought in. Money, women, travel, cars, watches, jewellery...the good life. These are the bribes that really hurt the nation because they are done in humongous proportions, with complete disregard to the people. It is organised loot where everyone gets their share. The whole system is set up to protect this racket and that is why the whistleblowers stand no chance. In fact since these rackets send money at regular intervals for merely looking the other way, or for actively pointing out the loopholes, it is far better for the people in power to spend time on these cases than in sorting out problems of the poor or the middle class. That is a class that can be kicked around and they will still be around, begging, because they can go nowhere.

It is time to empower the whistleblowers. Make their bribes not offences if they have been done under coercion as in the first case when they are harassed. In the second case, the whistleblower should ideally get some lenience for bringing it to out in the open. The only problem is what to do when a billion people start complaining!

Santhosh Hegde's Team - Hold Your Heads High

The words of Justice Santhosh Hegde, Lokayukta in Karnataka,who indicted almost everyone in power and opposition in the massive, illegal mining scam which is pegged at around Rs. 1800 crores, show up the irony of the situation. Chief Minister Yeddyyurappa, four Ministers, former Chief Minister Kumaraswamy, are all named in the report. Yeddyyurappa has famously declined to resign since after he has joined the legion of corrupt Chief Ministers in India.

'I fear for the lives and careers of my team,' said Justice Santhosh Hegde. 'There was a time when they would have been rewarded and promoted for doing their job so well.' Now, we all know, they will be persecuted. Surprisingly by the government itself, by all the guys who wear white.

If anyone remembers the photograph of Justice Hegde and his team as they present the report, they look defiant. Some look apologetic, tired, almost as if they were already waiting for the attack to commence. None but Justice Hegde looks at the camera, and even he looks a bit defiant. That photograph says it all.

This team should actually be proud of what they did. They should be smiling. They should be thumping their chests. They should be carried on the shoulders in the streets, something we do to all common thugs when they return from jail, to cricketers and sportspersons. They have gone beyond the line of duty and risked much to bring out this damning report. They should be looking into the camera and saying, we did it proudly.

This is what we, all of us who went to town over corruption, should be celebrating, congratulating all over the net, the media. The stories of these men and the humongous work that they put in. But what do we - the nation that celebrates World Cup victories like when just got independence do - we step back and wait for the drama to follow so we can comment on that. What now? What will the system do to these guys? We the incorruptible, the ones who light candles against corruption. We ought to be thumping the back of these guys - Hedge and his team. We should be making them feel proud of what they have done. We should tell them that if anyone persecutes them, it will be at their own peril.

Justice Santhosh Hegde and your team, many congratulations on a job well done. You have set a fine example of how to go about such inquiries. You have raised the bar and showed that all inquiries are not duds and a waste of time. You have in many ways shown how excellence works against all odds. Your report has done hopefully begun many such impartial and fearless probes. It could well be the start of our real march against corruption. These are the kind of inquiries, reports we look for if we want to be delivered from this cycle of corruption. It is work like this that shows hope - a dangerously infectious thing. And things might well change.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Sari Khushiyan Hai - Mohd Rafi

This song completely killed me when I first heard it. I remember hearing it many years ago on a record player at home that was barely working. Probably for the last time it ever worked for a long run of time. This player was kept alive for many years because my father, a music aficionado, had a large collection of records or discs - EPs, LPs and another type. The EPs went by really quick at 78 rpm, the LPs at 33 rpm. All kinds of stuff - Hindi, Telugu, English, Instrumental.

Anyway it was a day when I had nothing else to do but play some records and I happened upon this song. Twenty odd years ago. I played and replayed it again and again until I got most of the words - something I do normally when I like any song - much to everyone else's annoyance. Anyway, for all practical purposes I forgot the name of the movie, the record, the song. All I remembered were the lyrics, and they stayed with me. It was the only song I could sing almost fully. And I sand it passionately whenever anyone asked me to sing too.

The other day while browsing through YouTube I thought I'd check with these words - I did not even know if they were the title of the song. And as luck would have it there was Shashi Kapoor singing the song passionately in Kashmir or some such heavenly place, with Sharmila Tagore listening in. Ah, what a feeling to find it. I heard it over and over again appreciating the way Mohd. Rafi sang this song - so passionately, so peacefully - living and breathing each word as he sang it.

The link for those who would like to hear a slow, romantic ballad:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Deepika Padukone for Foreign Minister

I strongly propose a vote for Deepika Padukone as Foreign Minister. As on date Pakistan looks much better than India as far as Foreign Ministers are concerned. The beautiful, suave and stylish, 34 year old Ms. Hina Rabbani Khar, will certainly sway many policies in Pakistan's favour. The dice is unfavourably loaded with this master move by Pakistan, one that and must be checked and counter checked at the earliest before we lose further ground.

Among the foremost candidates that come to my mind is Ms. Deepika Padukone who can match Ms. Rabbani on every count. She is young, popular, known world wide, is intelligent, suave, stylish and someone who will be around for many years to come. The Foreign Ministry will make many more inroads with her at the helm. (Mr. Krishna also may not grudge her too much as she comes from his own state - Karnataka.) Youngsters will take more interest in politics. Hopefully many models and actresses will also get inspired to get into politics after that making the politics section more interesting and awakening India to its politics. Watching Parliamentary Affairs will be wonderful and it will be numero uno among channels in terms of TRPs. Movies and cricket will be relegated to the backburner for a while. Bills will get passed quicker, there will be less of beating up, throwing chairs and gaalis in the Parliament.

My fledgling theory is that the economy will boom, if, for example Ms. Priyanka Chopra as the Finance Minister appeals for more productivity and efficiency, tightening of belts etc. And if Ms. Katrina Kaif appeals for peace and harmony as the Home Minister, I am certain there will be no further cause of unrest among the people. Now even if nothing else changes with the appointment of the ladies, it would still be a pleasure to see beautiful ladies take home the loot than ugly and insipid leaders. Oh, and certainly, they can act better!

MPs and Dementia

It came as no surprise when one of our revered MPs had to be scanned for possible dementia. The scans showed signs of atrophy in the brain which is a possible factor contributing to dementia. This condition is a known fact of course to most of us, true of most of the lot in the nest.

It will be interesting to see how many of our leaders would clear basic neuro and psycho tests. As more and more scams come out of the cupboard, I can see more and more cases being admitted to the atrophy and dementia ward. No wonder the parliament and some of the recent decisions, comments and counter comments we hear remind us of a cuckoos nest - raucous, senseless and self-serving.

But there are more cuckoos outside the Parliament than there are inside of course. These cuckoos are the ones who have voted the other cuckoos in power. Sometimes the only sane ones in our country seem to be safely held within institutions.

Mr. Good Versus Mr. Bad - Mr. Bad Wins

It is far more likely that we will do more good by being ourselves at the risk of being perceived as bad, than by projecting ourselves as good, and not doing anything good at all!

In this case, you are doing more bad than good by being 'good' for the world, when you are better off being 'bad' for the world, but doing more good.

Being perceived as 'bad' actually gives you more freedom to do good while being perceived as 'good' stops you for fear that anything may be considered bad.

It also helps keep things simple as there is only one you to deal with - good and bad in private and public. You have to deal with only one you - take it or leave it!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Two Interesting Initiaitives

SASU, Malkajgiri
Sarma is a young man with many fine ideas. He is one of those who are perpetually trying to use his knowledge and experience to make better people out of others. He is a trainer, coach and trains young college undergraduates, corporates and such. I met him a while ago and we talked about this and that. Yesterday he asked me to visit his training institute SASU at Malkajgiri and interact with his students.

These 13 students are part of a group who have joined a 40 day course. They have passed their Intermediate and have secured admission in Engineering colleges. Sarma says that only 19% students pass in their 1st and 2nd year in Engineering colleges based on a study he had done. He has devised this 40 day program to keep the students focussed on the job to do, and how to do better. Apart from teaching them communication skills, techniques to fare better at academics and various interactions with several people, Sarma also provides them constant support even after the course is completed.

Interacting with 13 students was wonderful. They are so full of ideals and innocence and really want to do great things which I am really confident they will achieve. Their inspirations range from Swami Vivekananda to Abdul Kalam, their dreams of inventions that will change the world, of public service, of creative art. They are so convinced about their thoughts that all the world has to do is protect that and not feed them with doubt and fear. It was a fine interaction and one I will cherish. Here's wishing everyone of them, including Sarma, who are all on a journey that needs all the support they can get.

'Spreading Light'-100 Days Book Lectures, Rhapsody, Srinagar Colony
Another initiative I have seen is 'Spreading Light' - started at Rhapsody, the food court in Srinagar colony. A part of the food court has been converted into a room where they have planned an ambitious series of 100 talks in 100 days, one per every day, by various people. Each talk lasting for one hour (4 p.m. to 5 p.m. every day) would be about any book that influenced the speaker greatly in their lives. A week has gone by I think, and it is slowly picking up steam. I hope to be able to speak about a book as well, if I get a chance.

There is another initiative on similar lines called 'Share a Dream' where one person can share a dream each day. This is at 5 p.m. onwards

The initiative is organised by an NGO, Life-Health Reinforcement Group that has been working in this area since 1999, which was started by a group of social scientists and medical doctors to seek answers about hunger and making a difference loally. It is also into two other initiatives. One is an experimental idea called 'Andari Illu' or 'Open House' that addresses hunger locally. They have a house (in an area I forget the name of) where one can walk in and cook food and eat. The ingredients will be available as will be the utensils, one only has to go and cook and eat at no cost. If you google 'Hyderabad's Open House serves Hungry People' you can see a video. For those who wish to get more information please call their coordinator Ms. Vijayalakshmi on 92467 52528.

Rhapsody is in a place where there are many people, especially students, who otherwise merely while away their time in idle talk and smoking and stuff like that. This is fine stuff to expose them to because all they have to do, anyone has to do, is merely walk in and attend and interact.

I am amazed at both initiatives. Both aiming high, very positive stuff and seeking a positive change. There is an energy to both places that one could feel that overpowers all negative stuff. Both initiatives look at making small changes in their area of control so the ideas can grow big - step by step. And both have such wonderful intentions that I wish them all success.

Book Launch - Amitav Ghosh and the River of Smoke

I attended the book launch of Amitav Ghosh's new book 'The River of Smoke' last evening held at the Park Somajiguda. He is one of the truly big Indian literary heavyweights and it was but natural that a large crowd had gathered to see the celebrated author speak and get his autograph.

The event was scheduled to begin at 6 sharp at the Oxford Book Store which has a huge space inside the Park. It is a well-hidden piece of work - no one will ever suspect that a bookstore exists there, and such a well stacked one at that with a small coffee shop as well - and only people who have been there may whisper about it to others. (much like the Park itself which is not easy to find!). But it is a fine place and one worth visiting. Amitav Ghosh was there on time, even before some sections of the Press could get there, clad in his trademark waistcoat, looking dapper, healthy and cheerful. He had some one-on-one meetings with the Press at the Bookstore which was too small to conduct a launch for someone of his stature, and after signing a few books there, (I got my copy signed too), we headed to the Ball Room for the actual event.

The Ball Room was packed with people, all the seats got taken and more had to be arranged. Some 200 people or more I'd guess with some well known names from Hyderabad. Jyotirmaya Sharma, well-known academic, writer and commentator on political science, began the proceedings by quoting from Gopal Krishna Gandhi's speech at the Chennai launch, which was hilarious. Amitav Ghosh then spoke about the book and read a passage from it, laced with his trademark humour. It was about a ship load of passengers heading to England who wanted to meet Napolean Bonaparte who was held captive on the island of St. Helena - an actual happening apparently!

And then there was a bit of a discussion between Jyotirmaya Sharma and Amitav Ghosh - how do you feel after all the good reviews the book generated, will this trilogy turn into a quartet, what is your writing schedule like and some other questions - before the field was thrown open for questions.

Questions, for which Jyotirmaya Sharma set the ground rules rather elaborately, they should be sharp, pointed, and short, were by and large sensible, unlike some of the crazy ones I have heard at Book Launches where everyone suddenly is possessed by an urge to ask intellectual questions. There were those on writer's block (yes I paint myself into a corner sometimes, a walk normally clears my head if I get stuck), writing schedules (start writing from 9 in the morning for 7-8 hours), research (I do all research myself), details (journals filled with details, points etc), do characters pull you along when you are stuck (yes they do, Diti did in the Sea of Poppies), languages you know (English, Bengali, Hindi, Arabic, French and a working knowledge of some others), why fiction and not history (fiction is what I have a talent for and like writing),why the name, what message does it have (none explicitly), what is your favourite book among the ones you have written (pass), who are your favourite historians (Gibbon, Ranajit Guha etc), do you create the language for some characters (difficult to create any language), how can you make your books which are so physical connect with the youth which seems to live in a virtual world (I think I am a dinosaur), do you visit the places you write about (yes) and such and such.

One question I liked was from a lady who asked how the passage he read served the plot and whether he sometimes gets tempted to keep certain parts because he liked them even if they did not serve the plot. Amitav Ghosh replied that his readers normally do not get from A to B in a hurry: for such readers they have other kinds of writers, and that the section served a purpose in the book. I thought that the lady wanted to know how he structured that, in his mind, and how he saw it progressing his story. Everyone wants to understand the mind of a genius! But maybe Amitav Ghosh's answer left it to her to figure it out herself! One guy said that the books could have done with more humour - much like the film critics who want a bit more of this and that and not what is placed before them - like Hyderabadis want biryani wherever they go or Madrasis want idli sambar. Jyotirmaya Sharma drew the curtains of the event soon after that.

I read the 'Calcutta Chromosome' many years ago when Indian writing in English was in an exciting phase and loved it. Upamanyu Chatterji, Amitav Ghosh really impressed me and I was amazed at how they wrote - Upamanyu somehow never capitalised on his wonderful start. I missed reading most of Amitav Ghosh's other books (an error I will soon rectify) until I read the 'Hungry Tide' and was astounded at the research and the writing. Amitav Ghosh's reputation grew bigger and bigger after that and he seems almost to fly off into another orbit now and it was wonderful to see him in person, someone who in my opinion could well be taking home the Nobel for literature someday for creating such an extraordinary body of work. He is very approachable, soft spoken, speaks with great clarity, has a fine sense of humour, somehow balances sophistication with an earthiness that is rare in people at the top.

To a question by Jyotirmaya, whether he created characters who were happy despite their obvious troubles, Amitav Ghosh, said that he had met, lived with people who lived in abject poverty, like the Sunderbans for example, and he always found them to be happier than most others. He quoted someone that 'the slaves were found to be laughing a lot more than the slave owners!' Much traveled, much experienced, much researched, someone who calls himself empirical, Amitav Ghosh was truly a delight to witness and meet. And now to the big, fat book he has written, made fatter by the hard cover and the big price, that awaits like a delicious meal to be savoured.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Things I Would Not Do by Myself

There are many things I would not do by myself. These I do now because they encourage social activity. I think its a pretty long list. Some things I would probably not do by myself are:

1) Drink chai so regularly - I would not even make myself a morning cup, I'd drink water

2) Eat so much, and so unhealthy - I eat little when alone, stuff myself in company

3) Take useless pictures - I would click rarely, observe more

4) Watch movies - I'd prefer looking at a lake, trees,

5) Read bad books - I'd be outside watching the sky

6) Have pointless conversations - Obviously cannot, saves loads of time, energy

7) Drink - Don't think I'd ever be able to drink alone

8) Get into unnecessary dramas - Communication is the mother, so I'd avoid dramas

9) Crack jokes, laugh - I'd be smiling at best

10) Spend, save - But why?

11) Bother about the kind of clothes to wear - How does it matter?

12) Browse tv, internet endlessly - Saves loads of time that I normally 'kill'

13) Second guess myself about everything - No one to impress so I'd just go with the flow

14) Stick to 'established timings' - Sleep, work, eat, wake etc when you want

15) Feel sad - I'd probably appreciate life a lot more than to feel sad

I guess I need to make a 'Things I would do by myself' list too - to get things in perspective.

The Great Indian Conundrum

What makes India so interesting, is its sincere, hypocritical, self-righteous nature. Some of the things that makes one wonder, some great paradoxes that are unique to India as I know it, perhaps many other places too I am sure.

1) Most public servants behave like feudal lords when it comes to dealing with the aam public. Why are they called public servants? (Who serves whom?)

2) The most feared places in India are police stations, the most feared people are the cops. Why are they called the protectors of law? (For justice people go to the mafia!)

3) The biggest crimes against society are by those in power and most of these crimes are by commission, not be default or omission. Why are these people in power making laws for us/them? (They make and amend the laws that allow them to escape with murder, still we elect them).

4) The most heinous crimes are against the weakest - women, children, poor. Why do we claim that our scriptures urge us to treat women, children like gods?

5) The most sexually repressed society, where sex crimes are dime a dozen, where men are perpetually ogling away at women of all sizes, ages in the back of their minds. Why is it that we get so easily offended by nudity, kisses, western clothes, Valentine's Day celebrations? (Rape is justified by saying that 'she' asked for it, while going to a park calls for stringent measures by political parties)

6) The most insensitive as far as crimes that are committed in the name of religion, community. Why are we so easily offended, so sensitive to paintings, books, statements, movies, stories, music, poetry that mention certain cultures in their context? (We are offended by gaalis in 'Delhi Belly' and sue the filmmakers for offending us when the fact is that we use the same gaalis everyday in traffic).

7) The most intolerant in terms of understanding other cultures, people who look different, speak differently, people of certain birth. Why are we so upset about racism when we are the worst racists of all?

8) The most corrupt when we see an opportunity to bribe or get bribed get away without being caught, many times trying to bend the laws as a cartel to suit one's needs. Why are we so indignant about the 'corrupt system' as if we were not part of it?

9) Blind, deaf and mute to what is obvious - misuse, corruption, immorality, bribery, greed, lust - all around. Why are we so self-righteous, so judgmental, so cruel, so vicious when a petty, vulnerable target comes before us?

10) A society that is cheated and cheats day in and out, at every second transaction. Why are we so proud of being from the land of Gandhi?

11) The society from where everything began as they claim - yoga, ancient laws of science, philosophy etc etc. Why have we not been able to spread this knowledge among our own people for so many years while the west has been packaging it so well and selling it back to us?

(to be contd...)
On 26th July 2011

12) A society built on the premise that people elect their own, make considered choices about their leaders, their own laws - an ideal society, the largest democracy where the people govern themselves. Why then don't anyone of us understand how to live with dignity - why does one have to struggle to comprehend tax laws, traffic laws, basic rights one is eligible to as a much so that even the most educated have to bribe uneducated agents to do our work at the passport office, the police station, the tax man, the municipal man, the telephone man, the revenue man, the tax collector....?

13) We are anti-corruption, pro-poor, pro-progress, pro-secularism, pro-Indian. Why then is there such a hullaballoo about anyone who protests corruption? Why are the protestors being persecuted instead of being encouraged?

14) The clean, green country which encourages honesty, uprightness, initiative. Why then are honest officers harassed, transferred and sometimes murdered without protection? And why are the dishonest allowed to get away, protected by tax payers money and made to sit on our throats?

15) The society where leaders wear white to signify clean minds and initiatives. Why then are 90% of our leaders tainted with some scam or another? Why do we have ordinary thieves as leaders?

16) We do not want to pay bribes, we are anti-corruption. Why then is every single real estate transaction in two parts - block and white - every single one? Why do most doctors prefer to accept their remuneration by the side?

17) We are a great democracy, the world's largest. Why then do we have only one party in power all the time? Where is the opposition, what are the real alternatives? Where are the other parties?

18) We go to elections every five years, sometime sooner, and exercise our right to vote. Why do we do that when such a staggeringly high number of people vote for people they know nothing about? Not just in the villages, even the urban educated know next to nothing about the candidates they vote for. Why and who are we voting for?

Ruth Rendell - Shake Hands For Ever

It has been a long time since a heady murder mystery was read so I picked up this book from my shelf. It was my first Ruth Rendell book, naturally my first of her Wexford series which apparently are quite popular. It too me all of two days.

'Shake Hands for Ever'(Arrow Books, Rs. 325, 261 p) begins with a delicious description of the character of Mrs. Hathall, a resentful old lady living in Sussex. Her entire life seems to be to provoke and manipulate others into discomfort and irritation, sometimes obviously and sometimes not-so-obviously. She spares no one - not even her own son, his new wife, commuters on the train, the police inspector, none. She is visiting her son's new home for the first time since he has moved in with his second wife, one she does not approve of. Anyway, the daughter-in-law fails her first test by not coming to the station, and when they go home, they find her dead. Angela Hathall is dead, found by her mother-in-law.

Inspector Wexford, middle aged, (father of grown up daughters one of whom is an actress) but in good shape, arrives and takes up the case. The curious thing about the case is that there are no finger prints at all. Except for a couple of new ones, there are almost none belonging to the inhabitants of the house. Autopsy reveals strangling. The bereaved husband is the most boring character one would ever meet - much less in a book. He is more interested in how the police is faring with finger prints etc. Wexford plods on, finding something of interest in Hathall himself. The bright spark in the novel comes from a widow Nancy Lake who flirts outrageously with Wexford. Somewhere in the middle of the book Wexford is taken off the case for persecuting Mr. Hathall whom he suspects of murder. From then on he hires some other guy to spy on his subject in whom no one in the world is interested. He throws up the conclusions in the end which needs to be hidden from the non-serious readers.

This novel was a huge disappointment. It dragged on for too long in the manner in which British novels do as they talk of the weather, the food, flowers, fruits, gardens, and all things not really focused on the job at hand. Bit like the Miss Marple variety only with lesser content that engages. But what really does not work for this story is the lack of shape of the murderer. He is so uninteresting, the crime itself so uninteresting that it makes Wexford look obsessive as he goes about solving the case on his own.

The end has its twist but it is a case of too little, too late and serves only for academic interest - you have already flipped through many pages cursorily looking for any action, skipped through some others where there is clearly no action. Too many ends are left for guess work, the motives for many actions of all the main characters are too weak and in the resolution, Wexford actually confesses that he does not know why certain things happened. Compare that with Poirot who would dramatically haul up one or the other in the audience and pin point him with some evidence. 'Shake Hands For Ever' does not work for me at all. The premise that you have a house with no fingerprints at all, except one or two, is an interesting one, but in creating a villain one cannot see, the story falls flat. Off with murder mysteries for a while now!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Thought for the Day - It's Always Enough

This came to my mind when I was busy admonishing myself for not having spent a morning as productively as I would have liked. 'What a waste of time?' I muttered and kept on beating myself up when Shobhs told me to stop all that and get on with life. 'What do you mean waste? You did things you had to do anyway and did them quite well so what is this about?'

'This' was about doing low priority things - as my mind saw them of course - but not necessarily low priority. Filing tax returns, meeting the accountant, checking on an aunt in hospital are all certainly important things and things well worth the time spent on. What struck me was how often, in my hurry to push myself to do the 'productive' things, I beat myself up black and blue. It is not a good feeling obviously and the point went home instantly why my life has not been feeling good forever - nothing is enough for me! There always more and more - especially where I am concerned.

Once again the thin line needs to be drawn. One does not advocate complete inaction and feeling good about it! Nor should one kick oneself for not doing 'more' when life is being lived anyway. One can probably congratulate oneself on a job well done for everything that is in the past, learn anything worth learning from it and move on! It is enough to have lived, been there. Enjoy the moment and let it be without judging it for its quality. The past is done with, no point beating myself over it.

On the other hand if I had looked at the day as one that was well spent, it might have been so much better. It would have been a case of gratitude, in-the-moment, at play.

Not beating oneself over the past is number one. Realising that living graciously is a great thing is another. I remember a cricket manager we had when we were all part of an Under-15 South Zone squad on tour to Calcutta in 1982. He had this wonderful habit of congratulating us for everything - even crossing the road! And wishing us luck for all kinds of trivial things like going to bed! Good luck, good luck! As well as thanking us for showing up to go to the match. Now I realise why he was always smiling - life must have been one great wonder for him to see his players crossing the road, going to bed and turning up for matches!

Constant 'not-enough' is a good way to constantly feel frustrated with life - a feeling I am well acquainted with. When I bring in 'perfectly spent' for the past, it might change the entire frame I look at the world in and my future. More on this after I experience it later. Right now 'well done' and 'perfect' are the words! Thanks Shobhs!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Welcome New Age English - Bye Bye Old Age English

I just saw a headline on covering the England-India Test series. It read 'India off to a quite start'. The first line - James Anderson's first over was a maiden. They could have as well written 'India of 2 a quite start'! Language is getting rather confusing - it is not enough to know good language, one must know what is being used by the common man else one misses out on the actual communication. Remember how many people did not get what 'DKBose' stood for!

Words have become shorter thanks to SMSs which have brought a whole new language into our midst. Gr8, wid, u, v, chk, k are some of the words I have encountered! However many people are now under the impression that these shortened words are the real spellings.

Similarly 'facebook' also spawned several words which did not / do not make too much sense to me. Lol, ROFL were the two big ones that took a long time for me to figure out. (Haha, is another invention, not difficult to figure out, but I am surprised that one has to say that - hey its a joke!). I think 'D' also means something like that! 'Cum' (as in 'cum back soon') is another word that is really dicey but everyone keeps flinging it all over the place! I don't know what 'P' means yet but I will find out soon. But since most people spend all their time typing out smses and messages and stuff on facebook, I guess it is but natural that these words creep into other areas as well.

The same people grow up and become content and copy writers for magazines and web sites and newspapers. Naturally these kind of mistakes are bound to happen. I am only amazed at how fast it happened. Soon we may, if we have a young Prime Minister, who might respond to a live debate with a dashing 'k' (signifying that all is 'ok')

Time to sit and ponder over it 'quitely'. :D (or is it :P)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Telangana bandh - Another Day of Forced Closure

Another Telangana bandh called for by the TJAC, and supported by all parties concerned who are keen to get a separate state, today. The bandh was primarily to protest the government's 'fascist' attitude in invoking the ESMA against striking government workers (should the government let hem strike?) and also to protest against the lackadaisical attitude of the government in bringing the body of a Telangana supporter in Delhi, a suicide by hanging from a tree, to draw attention to the creation of a separate state, one young man called Yadhi Reddy.

I was taken unawares again as everything shut down systematically in the morning. I heard that some schools has sent messages yesterday that they were closed today. When I went out today all the petrol bunks were open but by 9 in the morning they were shutting down, probably after someone called them. Long lines, closed sign boards, children returning home, people waiting for buses and probably not getting them, empty roads, people packed auto rickshaws, closed business enterprises, the city was comprehensively shut. Bandh.

One feels for Yadhi Reddy. A full life snuffed out. Was is worth killing oneself for? At this stage? Would Yadhi Reddy have been more helpful to the cause of Telangana alive? Yes, he would have been. Especially when the TJAC statement talks of the ESMA first and Yadhi Reddy later.

Sometimes you wonder why it is that no leader is sitting down on an indefinite fast. A fast unto death by a leader would be far more forceful. But it requires conviction. Half the conviction that Yadhi Reddy had before he hung himself from the tree. Not a fast like what some of the leaders undertook and broke, weak attempts that were more known for the way they broke them up. What this movement needs is to show some real conviction. Any number of these poor people who give up their lives, students spoiling their careers and worse their attitude to civil society, losses incurred by business establishments, threats and vandalism, cannot force the issue. Only something like a fast unto death calls for prompt action from the Centre. And that of a big leader who has the conviction for that.

But which of the leaders would want to do that? Who would bell the cat and say I will do that and maybe die if need be in the cause because my region needs it. The rest of you guys do a good job after I sacrifice my life and give to our region what we promised it. I am waiting to see who among this lot of leaders who are regularly meeting, calling for bandhs, giving speeches will do that.

In fact it will be good if the search begins for the leader who is willing to go down, just as Potti Sriramulu did for the creation of a separate Andhra many years ago. The staunch Gandhian, (of whom Gandhi once famously remarked that if we had ten more stalwarts like Sriramulu, we will gain independence in one year) in his quest to create a separate cultural identity for the Telugu speaking people, fasted for 58 days, going into coma, coughing up blood, not able to drink water, yet not relenting from public pressure to give up the fast. Upon his death, thousands joined the funeral procession on Mount Road resorting to violence that spread all over Andhra, causing seven deaths in police firing. Three days after his death Nehru announced the formation of Andhra Pradesh.

It is time that the Telangana movement started to look for someone in that ilk. Otherwise much of this movement will be known for its big talk, hooliganism on Tank Bund and cooking on the roads. And little political conviction from its leaders.

Anjali - The State of Impermanence

One of the few things I can do to hold Anjali's attention is take her out to the park nearby where there is a large sand pit. I try to impress her with my versions of sand castles which are primarily square blocks of sand with deep moats on all four sides. To keep her occupied for the longest and also to delude myself that her first brush with engineering and architecture was thanks to me, I tell her how to embellish the castle with flags, twig bridges, shells and so on. So she goes on many forays for each of these items and sometimes comes up with some more stuff she finds.

This works out well for me as she goes off on long collection drives that take up much time, which is actually my primary objective -to keep her occupied doing safe things while in my view without taxing me too much. She obviously enjoys collecting all the stuff, putting it on the castle and making up really elaborate structures. After all that effort, as we sit admiring the work of art, she quietly slides her foot and crashes one part of the castle. Just like that. There is an impish smile. And then some more parts go down. When I ask her why she is knocking our masterpiece down she simply says 'We'll build it again.'

I guess this is something only kids can teach us. This non-attachment, this complete lack of a need for appreciation, this beating on the chest at every effort, this wonderful consciousness of knowing that you can throw it all away and rebuild it again, just as we did before. What a wonderful attitude to have of life, if we could just do something with all the care and love we have, then just tip it over and shrug and say, 'Oh. we can do that again'.

I believe the Tibetan monks do that with their exquisitely made mandalas. Wonderful thing!

The Immortals of Meluha - Amish

'The Immortals of Meluha' (Tara Press, rs. 295, 289 pages) is a debut book from Amish Trivedi, one among the lesser-hyped Indian authors, but of whom one hears highly of, these days. This book is exactly what I hoped Indian Writing in English can do. It can tell wonderful stories that not many others can conceive, stories that are steeped in mythology, history, philosophy. Stories that are fun to read, can take you on flights of fantasy and also provoke interest in all things Indian - history, culture, music, tradition. Ah, wonderful stuff! 'Immortals of Meluha' has a fantastic cover and I picked it up long ago. Wonder why it took me so long to get to it but once I got down to reading it, I was fascinated with the tale Amish told. Is telling.

The story, set sometime in 1800 BC or so, begins with a Tibetan tribal leader Shiva, who is under attack from his neighbouring barbaric tribes. There is constant strife for prime land between Shiva's tribe and the other tribes and after one such vicious attack, Shiva decides to move from this land to the neighbouring land of Meluha, on invitation of course. The barbaric tribe reaches Meluha, a well-developed, highly evolved society. Intially they are kept in camps on the outskirts where they learn of the Meluhans obsession with hygiene, are taught the ways of the land, quarantined for possible illnesses and administered medicines to cleanse them. The medicine 'somras' has its effect and brings high fevers to most and are taken care of by the efficient doctors. Shiva is told that the ‘somras’ will give them long, disease-free life, a life in which they will be able to live for long years with the vitality of their youth. But most importantly the ‘somras’ has some fine effects on Shiva that makes the doctors take him urgently to meet the King of Meluha, Daksha.

King Daksha sees Shiva's iridescent blue throat, the Neelkanth, which turns a luminous blue from the inside - a side effect of drinking the ‘somras’. Daksha explains to him why the Neelkanth is so important to him and Meluha. Meluha is a kingdom that follows the laws of Manu, Lord Ram. They are the Suryavanshis and have means to mass produce ‘somras’ which gives them an advantage over others. But their neighbours, the Chandravanshis, the less evolved, a free-flowing society that are always interfering with them have over the years been taking the help of the despicable Naga tribe, and causing severe damage to Meluha through several terrorist attacks. Legend has it that the Neelkanth would arrive and save the Suryavanshis.

Shiva has meanwhile fallen in love with Sati, Daksha's daughter. To understand the ways of Meluhans before committing to head their campaign against evil, Shiva goes around the country. He is given access to see how they manufacture ‘somras’. Shiva understands that this noble land, though dogged by dogma and stuck in laws that sometimes don't make sense to him, needs him. He agrees to be on their side, and shows considerable proof of his capabilities as a leader, a warrior and a strategist.

In skirmishes with the Chandrvanshis while Shiva is on tour of Meluha, Sati is attacked, near fatally. Shiva revives her with his love as much as a new application of ‘somras’ which until then was only perceived as a powerful anti-oxidant. He proposes marriage to her despite knowing that she is a vikarma, one with a bad fate. Vikarmas are almost treated as outcasts in Meluha. Daksha accepts the proposal of Shiva, and agrees to change the laws regarding vikarmas. The action hots up as the main centre for manufacture of ‘somras’ Mount Mandar is attacked and blown up by daivastras. In the attack Brahaspati, their chief scientist and one who is close to Shiva is missing and presumed killed. Enraged the Suryavanshis go to war against the Chandravanshis and rout them, capture their leader Dilipa. They go to the Chandravanshi capital, in their land of Swadeepa. Going by the Chandravanshi Kings reactions, Shiva is plagued by doubt - whether he had done the right thing in siding with the Suryavanshi's because the Chandrvanshi's do not appear to be the evil that he was told they were. The book ends at a place where Shiva notices that Sati is under attack and is moving to save her even as he comes to terms with his dilemma!

‘Immortals of Meluha’ is simply written, keeps you fully engrossed and makes you want to know more of what this wonderful character is up to. There is so much content and Amish has not tried to stylise it in anyway and kept his energies focused on the story telling. It is a fine story, and well told, one that is full of research into history and philosophy, leadership and administration, mythology and human nature. If this is Amish's first book I can well imagine what future books from him can bring. This is the kind of stuff I always wanted to read from Indian authors, where there is an Indianness that need not be apologetic or pandering to the West, something that many of our authors are guilty of. I hear great reviews of Ashwin Sanghi, the author of Chanakya's Chant, have experienced Namita Devidayal’s work, and I see wonderful times ahead for fiction in Indian writing. And we are just about scratching the surface. As we accept our Indianness more and more, get more honest with ourselves and our people and systems, wonderful stories will flow that bring out so many shades of us as a people.

Without trying too hard, Amish takes us through a journey of heroes, nobility, love, ambition, survival, courage, sacrifice, justice and makes your emotions rise and ebb as the young Shiva almost flippantly takes over the mantle of the legend of the mythical Mahadev, the all powerful passionate and reclusive Neelkanth. The detail with which he has stuck to history, weaving the Mohenjodaro, Harappan civilizations, the legend of Ram and Ayodhya, the societies that seem to be capitalistic and socialistic, sometimes reminding us of our history with our own Pakistan, makes great reading. From the architecture to the land, laws of Manu to economy, hygiene and medicine Amish explains the land of Meluha with great care. He ends the story at a place where it is necessary now to read the next of this trilogy. It was nice to see Gauri Dange's name in the acknowledgments; she is a fine writer, editor and wears many hats and well.

Great debut Amish! And may you write many more wonderful stories. This story has enough drama content to make a fine movie of course, and maybe once the trilogy is out, it will be.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Social Network - Movie Review

This was a movie I missed watching on screen and finally caught up with it on television yesterday. The tale of the making of 'Facebook' and all that went into it - the lawsuits, the youthful impetuousness, the way wealth creation has changed in the world and the makings of a new era of billionaires has all been captured so well in this movie. I loved it.

The movie begins with Mark Zuckenberg (Jesse Eisenberg), the founder of 'Facebook', then studying at Harvard University, being dumped by his girlfriend Erica Albright as they disagree over his obsession of getting into the final clubs. Young Mark shows signs of his intelligence, ambition, arrogance and crassness in that discussion. Angry and drunk he returns to his room and writes an angry blog about Erica in less than flattering terms, and simultaneously creates a website called 'Facemash' where he uploads hundreds of profiles of girls from colleges around the area with a facility to match girls and their attractiveness. He takes the help of his friend Eduardo Saverin and a couple of others to build website. In a few hours the site is a rage, with twenty two thousand hits, and brings part of the Harvard network crashing. Mark is suspended for six months for various misdemeanours in that episode.

Impressed by this story, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, identical twins and champion rowers on the Harvard team, and their friend Divya Narendra (born to doctors of Indian origin), offer Mark a job as a programmer with them to build a site called Harvard Connection. They think of the site as an elite site and wish to position it as one. Mark takes up the offer in return for sweat equity.

Back in the room Mark tells Eduardo Saverin that he has an idea to build 'thefacebook' - a social networking site where Harvard students can network. Access would be consensual (unlike his first venture 'facemash'). They build the site and send it to all the members of Eduardo's connection in the prestigious Phoenix Club of which he is a member. When 'thefacebook' is launched and becomes an inevitable hit on campus, the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra, are angry. They feel that Mark has stolen their idea, gave them lame excuses for not meeting them for more than a month after their initial meeting, used that time to steal the idea and get ahead in the business. They want to sue Mark for IP theft. Cameron however says it would go against the code of ethics and would be unbecoming of the gentlemanly conduct of a Harvard student.

Mark gets Eduardo to register the company with himself as 65% holder, Eduardo as 30% holder and the CFO and business end, Chris Hughes as 5% holder. Saverin puts up an initial capital of 1000 USD. 'thefacebook' starts advancing and enjoys immense popularity among students. The Winklevoss twins try to stop Mark getting ahead with their idea - meet with the President of Harvard University who pooh-poohs their story, and later, through a cease and desist letter. Eduardo Saverin is in the dark about Mark's relationship with the Winklevoss twins and Divya Narendra until he chances to see a cease-and-desist letter from them to Mark.

Through Saverin's girlfriend Christy they meet Sean Parker the founder of Napster who does not impress Eduardo with his long personal stories and his list of indiscretions, but his vision for 'facebook' matches exactly what Mark has. That means not advertising the site (an idea that Eduardo is keen upon), holding their horses, getting funding from the angel investors etc. Sean tells Mark to move to California where the action is. Mark like Sean's vision. When Saverin is interning, Mark moves to California, meets Sean by chance, and starts handing him out powers to make business decisions. Sean sets up meetings with angel investors and gets Mark funding of half a million dollars, office space etc. Eduardo comes to California to find that Sean has got into a place where he was, the business end, was making all the decisions and Mark was actually thinking of ending it with him. Furious, he freezes the bank account and returns home. The friends however reconcile and sign up papers drawn by the investor's lawyers and receive the money.

Meanwhile the Winklevoss twins discover that Facebook is now a rage in Europe as well and decide to sue Mark. Eduardo Saverin is called in to California to sign some papers and he realises that his share has been diluted from 34% to 0.3% using a clause in the agreements he has signed while all others have the same stake and Sean has a stake of 7%. Also Saverin's name has been removed from the masthead of the company as co-founder of facebook. He tells Mark he will sue him for everything and leaves the Facebook offices. As the party to celebrate the millionth user of Facebook begins, Mark gets a call from Sean Parker - he and some underage interns have been caught with cocaine on them. Mark tells him to go home. As the movie cuts from one law suit to another, moves into flashback and present brilliantly, the movie closes with Mark agreeing to pay off the Winklevoss twins and Eduardo Saverin, reinstate Saverin's name on the masthead and get them all to sign off non disclosure agreements.

The facebook story is told wonderfully well. The story itself has much drama with betrayal, wealth and ruthless ambition playing big parts in its success. It is the story of how the new billionaires are made today on the back of a good idea that can catch the imagination of the market. But more importantly Facebook is the story of some brilliant youngsters, high achievers in their areas. The Winklevoss twins are, apart from conceiving the idea for Harvard Connection, Olympic rowers for the USA who rowed in the Beijing Olympics and got sixth place. Eduardo Saverin is known to have made 300,000 USD in one summer, investing in oil shares as an undergraduate. Apart from showing their brilliance these characters also display considerable amount of integrity all through as in the reluctance of Cameron Winklevoss to sue.

But Mark Zuckenberg shows what it takes to make things like facebook happen - a ruthless ambition, a clear head about what he wants and specialised skills that are the best in the business. His cocky and clear analysis, comes through as he answers questions in the lawsuits.

But then the irony of the whole story is too profound to miss. For the movie that advertised itself as 'You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies', Mark Zuckenberg's lonely and friendless life is a paradox. For the man who has 500 million virtual friends, he has not the capability to save even one relationship, losing his only friend Saverin as well in the process. In fact in the end, Mark is seen finding Erica Albright on facebook and sending her a request and waiting to see if she replied. My guess is that she might not have.

But the bigger story is how a man can make his biggest problem into a billion dollar idea. Being friendless was certainly Mark's problem in life. He craves acceptance in the final clubs and does not get in - while Edurdo Saverin gets in with his suave nature. Mark combines his biggest problem in life, something that he is obsessed with surely, with his specialised knowledge, and comes up with a billion dollar idea. That is the part that impresses me the most. It is not always through your big strengths but also through your biggest weaknesses, that you can generate opportunity.

Coming off the back of the many World War II movies and its stories, I cannot but admire how the two twenty something Jew boys created so much wealth. And even more, brought a whole bunch of people together through their social networking site. Ironical isn't it?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thought for the Day - Do The Things You Don't Like With Deep Love

The general attitude is to skim past the things one doesn't like. People who hate figures chuck balance sheets away after a cursory glance, the ones who do not like interacting with people avoid them, ones who hate looking at legal documents find something else to do, ones who hate writing letters and mails avoid that - and they all hope that it will all work out.

Unfortunately most times they don't work themselves out. In fact most times they come back twice their size and haunt you. You know why? Because that is exactly what the discomfort was telling your right at the beginning. That you need to slow down and take a good hard look at it!

Now this is what the experts do well. They know what the important things are because they sense that discomfort or wanting to skim past. And those they never wish away for someone else. If something in the numbers needs to be looked at, a design thought through, a copy or draft not quite right - they don't skim past it. They stop. They look at it slowly, carefully run it in their mind, ask the experts. They tell the mind that there is no escape, that it has to look carefully at it because it is bothering me. And only when they get the pattern in their mind right, only when it makes sense to their picture, do they go past it. That is the only way the story will flow and not get disjointed and superficial!

And that is the key to doing things well. Whether is business, or play, writing stories or making movies, painting or accountancy, sweeping the floor or leading a country - when something bothers you, hold it right there. Get it right. That discomfort you felt was a warning that you need to keep your eyes open wide. Not shut your eyes. Tomorrow that one clause, the one area, the one error that will bring the whole thing crashing around your ankles. Those who have experienced it know what I am talking about, those who have not will surely do sooner or later.
Hold everything at the first sign of discomfort and run through it carefully before clearing it or addressing it. Dive deep into them - don't escape them. Because as they say, what you resist, will persist. And the good job will show!

The Banana Mafia!

I remember the shock when I heard the price of bananas a few months ago. That was the time when they suddenly doubled and went from 20 bucks to 40. That was before the times petrol went from 50 odd bucks to 70 bucks a litre! In that shock (the banana shock) I did not buy bananas for many days. But then I slowly got over it and started buying bananas again. This time, really enjoying each bite of course.

Today while sitting in the dilapidated Qualis owned by my friend Koni and sipping chai at Sitara cafe early in the morning, discussing the news, we noticed an old man park his push cart loaded with bananas next to us. I was in an expansive mood and instantly ordered a dozen! Then, better sense kicked in, and I asked him the price and he said something like 30 bucks and we concluded the deal. As he was drawing away Koni asked him how much the old man bought the bananas for.

The old man looked at him and said 'I don't buy bananas. I merely sell them.'
We were perplexed. How did this guy sell bananas without buying them? The old man explained. 'You see all these carts here (there must be some 100 out there outside the Erragadda rythu bazaar)? No one owns the business. We are paid to sell. Rs. 200 per cart load. The price is also fixed by the bosses. If he says 40 per dozen, I have to sell at 40!'

Wow! And who were the seths? 'Oh there are some 10-15 of them around here,' said the old man. 'If we sell a cartload in a day we are good. If the movement is slow the seths cut the prices and tell us to sell at a lower rate.'

'Does it not make sense to sell on your own?' asked Koni.
'Sell where?' he asked. 'We are not allowed to sell here by the seths. We have to go into the gullies or go into the colonies. It does not work out. Rate of interest and all this organised competition is too much for a poor man like me to withstand. We are better off working like this for Rs. 200! Every single cart here is owned by the seths. We are only selling for them.'

We looked at one another. Koni thought that the seths must be paying off the corporator! That is the only way it works he thinks! Complicated!

Zindagi Milegi Na Dobara - Movie Review

I watched 'Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara' twice already. Mostly because I planned rather shabbily and ended up promising two groups of friends and could not (or rather did not) want to get out of both. But what I am getting at is that I found no reason to complain even as I watched it for the second time within 24 hours. I watched it with attention, laughed along and nodded appropriately as Zoya Akhthar took us along the roads of Spain and into the lives of three friends out celebrating the impending wedding of the first in the group to get married.

Imran (Farhan Akhthar) a copywriter from Delhi. Kabir (an architect from Mumbai) and Arjun (Hritik Roshan), a financial broker from London, are the three friends from school who are to meet to honour a pact they made some years ago. The pact - to go on a road trip to a place of their choice and do an adventure sport of each one's choice. The other two would have to comply. Anyway it turns out the Kabir's fiancee (Kalki) has just turned possessive of her fiance after hearing some sordid stories of bachelor parties and keeps bugging him from the time the engagement has been announced, Arjun is obsessed with making money and has no time to smell the roses and Imran, despite all his laughs, has sad eyes (as his Spanish girlfriend tells him in Spanish). They meet in Spain after four years and take a long time to get over the initial happiness and awkwardness, a petty hassle regarding an old girlfriend between Arjun and Imran who still have not got over that fully, and somehow get going.

The first sport is Kabir's choice - deep sea diving. Arjun has a phobia of water and cannot swim but when their beautiful instructor Laila (Katrina Kaif) lands up and holds his hand, he dives deep into the ocean and his soul and experiences something deep and divine. Laila becomes a part of the gang during that week and Arjun and Laila sense a bonding growing between them while Natasha (Kalki) senses something else altogether. From that place the friends go to a place where the tomatino festival of jumping over thousands of tomatoes is going on, an unscheduled visit, thanks to Laila who seems to have such things on her itenerary. Here Imran gets quickly in bed with the Spanish girlfriend of Katrina, Katrina and Arjun are discovering the philosophy of life while lying under the star and Natasha has arrived to make life more miserable for Kabir and the rest. The trio bids goodbye to their pretty instructor and the one-night-stand Spanish girl and head off to drop Natasha at the airport. But Katrina, the seize-the-day philosopher, chases them down, plants a thanda kiss on Hritik's lips and leaves. My only complaint in the movie was that kiss which did no justice to someone who shells out heavy duty philosophy and has just travelled miles chasing her love. More passion, more life needed Laila!

Onward to sky diving (Imran has a fear of heightS) and greater bonding. Imran now after the exhilaration of diving off the plane meets his biological father Salman Habib (Naseeruddin Shah) who resides in that area in circumstances that are far from ideal - the three have landed in jail for some stupid prank they did and Salman bails them out. Anyway its a short meeting where Salman apologises superficially for being the father who never wanted to meet his son. Imran realises now what it means to apologise from his heart and he does that to Arjun for stealing his girlfriend in college. It is already too long without Katrina on the scene so she reappears on special invitation from Imran, joins Arjun in his room and bed. As they head for the third part, they realise that perhaps Kabir needs to rethink his marriage plans.

Now the third sport is running with the bulls which is obvious from the name of the town that Imran has chosen. Imran says that this is the final frontier - death. One must face it. After a night during which they all seem to arrive at some decisions regarding their lives, they head to race the deadly bulls. Just before the bulls come charging, and possible death stares them in the face, the three make fresh pacts - what do we do if we survive this bull run? Each of them comes with one thing they promise to their friends and themselves and then run for their lives as the bulls come charging.

I am fast turning into an admirer of Zoya Akhthar. She makes moves at her own pace, shows what she feels, has a pretty clear idea what she wants to convey and gets some really fine performances from her artists. Visually, the movie is a treat as it shows Spain in all its glory and makes you want to go there just as Mama Mia made me want to go to Italy. The three main characters are brilliant. Hritik as Arjun is very believable and understated, Farhan who brilliantly shows how to laugh all the time but have sad eyes and Abhay Deol who just walks into the skin of the character as easily as he always does. Kalki is fantastic as the possessive girlfriend, you want to strangle her, that's how good she was. Katrina had her moments. Naseer walks into the movie and towers over all else in those short scenes.

It is Zoya's sense of purpose, the eye for detail that impresses most. In a world that is struggling to make decent gang of boys movies here comes the answer from a woman director who gets it so right that it is uncanny. I had more laughs here than in Delhi Belly as the situational humour, the acting, timing and the dialogues prodded spontaneous laughs. The spaces she creates to heighten the moment when each of them faces their fears, the details she creates in etching out the characters - from the stuff they pack, to their bags, their gadgets, to the clothes they wear - Zoya Akhthar does a wonderful job in the mould of an artist, cutting and pasting, adding and deleting, getting it as right as she can. And she does, the honesty shows, and makes the movie highly believable and watchable. Zoya Akhthar's biggest assets are her clarity, her honesty, her eye for detail and perfection. And mostly her ability to say what she wants without trying to second guess the audience. Intelligent films are intelligent because they speak to you as an individual, and not try to force their intelligence upon you. And understanding that in itself shows the intelligence of the creator. Well done Zoya and team. Great work!

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Fine Story from Anita & Harsha Bhogle in 'The Winning Way'

I loved one example that Harsha quoted in his book that he coauthored with his wife Anita - 'The Winning Way'. It is about the kind of preparation that Sachin did (and he is a complete believer in preparation as I have heard) to play Warne in the 1999 series (excuse the approx timelines and a couple of factual glitches maybe, but I am writing from memory and am sacrificing accuracy for the gist of the story now). The first game, a side game was Australia versus Mumbai, the then Ranji champions. Sachin played Warne in that match. I am not sure but I think he got a double hundred in that game.

Now, noticing that Warne did not go and bowl around the wicket for a single delivery in that game against Mumbai Sachin realised that Warne was saving it up for the Chennai test as a surprise weapon. To prepare for this eventuality the Little Master went to Chennai four days in advance and practiced playing leg spinners who bowled round the wickets for long hours. He practiced all the angles he needed to against the wily leg spinner who was known to bowl the best batsmen around their legs and make them look like school cricketers. When Warne came on to bowl round the wicket to Sachin in the test, the first ball was dispatched over midwicket for a boundary.

Harsha points out that surely the world rose and clapped for the genius for being able to hit the best leg spinner, nay the best spinner, in the world with such audacity, but - he says, it comes from hard work and focussed and intelligent preparation. In that one story Harsha and Anita reveal what it takes to win. The passion, the preparation, the analysis of the opponent, the desire to be ready, to diligence to cover all angles and be mentally prepared, the persistence, the organised planning, the honing of a specialised skill - you can go on and on, but it has everything in that story. That one shot and all that happened later was all the result of that preparation. Excellence is a habit, is meticulous planning, is hard practice until the tuning sounds perfect. Excellence is a sound only you hear in your head.

Thanks Harsha and Anita for sharing a wonderful story!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What Can I do for 15 hours a day and still feel good?

A major turn in my career came when I asked myself many years ago what I should be doing for the rest of my life. The job I had was okay but I never saw jobs as 'mine', and though I think I did my jobs competently (and sometimes well enough to surprise my peers and bosses), I never had any ambitions of scaling the way to the top. So I flitted through.

When the above question came up I decided to do something I could drown myself in fully, passionately, in something that was 'mine'. So I decided to test my theory out if I was capable of drowning myself in things I thought I liked doing. Cricket was one thing, but I was past playing days to drown myself to the extent I liked. Writing was another, but I had no clue what to do and where to start. But I decided on writing, and in that one moment, graduated from writing long, rambling letters to anyone who cared to receive them and read them.

I went off from my job one day, gave myself four months, and started writing. Articles, small stories. Anything worth writing about. The only test for me was, would I be able to sustain my enjoyment even after working 12-15 hours a day for a month and more.

A small break, thanks to friends of mine who found this idea of writing interesting, and they found me a new newspaper that wanted long and rambling articles to fill space. I was perfect for the job - long and rambling articles were my forte. In a couple of weeks I was fortunate to see my name in print. That spurred me on. More articles, some for the paper and most for myself, mostly nonsensical and highly affected writing but the key was to write 12-15 hours. In four months I thought I found what I could do for the rest of my life. Writing 12 to 15 hour a day was no problem.

I loved the process. Capturing an idea as it flits past. Filing it away. Then writing the article or story based on the idea. Watching it take a life and shape of its own as I wrote, sometimes with no idea what was coming next. Most times many new ideas came inspired by some word or phrase and added substance to the skeleton, at times overshadowing the original idea itself. Sometimes serious articles became funny articles and funny articles became great tragedies.

But seeing the article get richer and finding the right words and lines as I edited and reedited gave great pleasure. Laughing at some of the lines, finding some flat. The stretching, cutting, adding, taking away, fitting the right piece, checking the flow, saving up the idea well and presenting it with a flourish was nice. I thought I could do it even if no one read those, just because the process was fun to me. Like some private workshop with words and ideas. I was no Shakespeare. Writing was hard work for me. Always has been. But I just loved the hard work. Articles, stories, series of them, poems too -that my boss Mr. Subaraman saw as too dark and depressing and advised me to keep away from.

The idea of writing a novel came much later. Until then the good writers intimidated me. Some bad ones came up and depressed me. But it was the really bad writing that Indian fiction churned up in the early years that started me off. If they could write such trash and get published, maybe so could I. Once that idea sat in my mind, the project took off with some definite purpose. Long lonely hours, ideas that started and fell flat, ideas that were too pretentious, ah it was fun those days of trying to find a story to write. It took me a long time to find a 'story' - my first was a vague collection of thoughts and events that I pieced together later.

It is the question that I think one should ask oneself. Would I do something for 12-15 hours a day and still enjoy the process of creation, of doing it, even if no one was watching and clapping and paying you me it? If the answer is yes, try it out for a definite period of time (like my four months). If the process draws you to it more than the fear of being stuck with the menhirs you have created, that is what you must do. Create the menhirs with great care for the rest of your life.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Inglourious Basterds - Movie Review

Watched this highly acclaimed movie by Quentin Tantantino on HBO. It started off very quaintly with Chapter I, a lovely shot of a farmhouse somewhere in France during World War II (why am I getting all these Word War II movies?). The farmhouse owner (and his young daughters) are paid a visit by the Germans who have already occupied France. Leading the visit is Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz, who to me was the star of the movie with a brilliant performance) popularly known as the 'Jew Hunter'. He quickly forces the farmer to show where the one Jew family in that area that is not accounted for is - they are hiding under the floorboards. Landa calls in his soldiers and makes them shoot through the floorboards killing all in the family except one - Shoshanna - a girl who manages to flee.

In Chapter II, a small group of US soldiers, jews all, led by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) a battle hardened American, is sent to France to infiltrate behind German lines and strike fear in German ranks. He makes his men pledge him a 100 German scalps each (he actually wants them to scalp them) to him. They go about their work in right earnest and earn a good name for bludgeoning German soldiers, knifing them and scalping them. For the ones who survive them, Aldo carves a swastika on their forehead as a mark of who they were. Their reputation goes far and wide, to Hitler's ears - they are known as the Basterds.

In subsequent chapters the Basterds head to Paris to carry out a strike at a cinema theatre where some of the top Nazi authorities including Goebbels are likely to be present for a premiere of a film glorifying the Nazis. The Americans and the British come up with a plan - a British actor playing a German officer is to meet a famous German actress who is also a spy, and finalise the details of the strike. The actress is to get the Basterds and the Englishman into the premiere. But in a shootout in the meeting place, where some German soldiers discover that the Englishman is an impostor and not a German officer, everyone is killed except the actress. Aldo Raine decides to go ahead with the actress to the theatre. Now there is a bonus - Hitler is attending the premiere.

The cinema theatre in Paris is now owned by the young Jew girl who ran away in Chapter I, now with a different name of course and legitimate papers. A German sniper, who acts in the film that is to be screened is smitten by her and gets Goebbels to host the premiere in this cinema. The girl decides to blow up the cinema by locking all the Germans inside and setting on fire all the film reels that are highly inflammable. She also cuts the movie reel and put in a small reel of her laughing at the audience and telling them how a Jew girl got her revenge.

Meanwhile the efficient Hans Landa quickly makes all the connections and kills off the actress inside the theatre just as the premiere is about to begin. He takes Aldo Raine hostage along with another Basterd and lets two others who are sitting in the theatre with bombs, alone. Landa strikes a deal for American citizenship, a house in Nantucket, pension etc in turn for letting the plan to bomb the theatre continue and end the war that very night.

At the theatre the girl is killed by the actor, the girl kills the actor, the girls lover blows up the reels, the two Basterds in the theatre fire and bomb away as Germans try to run out of the theatre but cannot as the doors are locked. The theatre is blown up and we assume that Hitler and Goebbels, Bormann and others perished in the fire. In the last scene as Landa takes the Americans to safety and what he thinks is freedom and a new life, Aldo carves a swastika on his forehead, his masterpiece, before they leave for America.

Christopher Waltz blew my mind away with a fantastic performance as Hans Landa. As he takes his role higher and higher one wonders how much better can he get. Exquisite. Pitt is perfect as the Southerner, Raine, the bloodthirsty, no nonsense, tough talking Apache. Tarantino takes the film through carefully and slowly and twisting all fact to make his own ending - where Jews in the form of 'Basterd' soldiers and the French girl take revenge on the Germans who tormented them in exactly the same fashion as they did - bombing, shooting, killing them in a locked chamber as they run defenselessly around. Hitler's end was not in a theatre nor was Goebbels so Tarantino pretty much used the film to create a fantasy and get back in some storybook way. To me the distortion of facts did not appeal so much. The violence was muted and the story moved along smoothly, almost like a cartoon book, with no adrenaline. Maybe that was the idea behind the chapter wise showing of the movie. Interesting effort, though not the greatest for me, since it is rather a pointless fantasy with grossly distorted facts of a not too long ago story. Tarantino squeezes the tense moments dry of tension - and builds that well in almost every situation and one can see why he is a master. But if there is one single reason for watching this movie it must be to watch the mercurial and unpredictable Hans Landa and the wonderful way Christoph Waltz played that character.
P.S. About why the film is called 'Inglourious Basterds' Mr. Tarantino apparently said that basterds is spelt that way because we say it that way. About the rest he revealed nothing!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thought for the Day - We Get Exactly What We Want

This is a thought that has been with me for many years - I do not remember when exactly. That we get exactly what we want. Our success, failure, fortune and misfortune, if we look at it very honestly, if we can really bare our souls and our thoughts and our hearts, we will know that whatever we got was exactly what we wanted. There is really no one else to blame!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fairy Tale - A True Story

Watched "Fairy Tale - A True Story" a 1997 film. It is based based on the 1917 incident famously known as the Cottingley Fairies incident in the UK where two young girls aged 10 and 16 took photographs of fairies. The young girls, cousins, took five photogrpahs near a stream they would play.

The film begins with the older cousin Frances coming to stay with her aunt Polly, cousin Elsie and Uncle Arthur, since her father is believed to be missing in action. While playing in the nearby stream they tell their Aunt Polly, who admonishes them for getting wet, that they see fairies near the stream and take a photograph of the fairies as proof. These photographs stir up the household as Polly believes in the supernatural as she is still grieving the loss of her ten year old son Joseph, and Arthur dismissing it as a trick. But the girls take another picture. This time Polly takes the fairy pictures and hands them over to the Theosophical Society which at that time was arguing for the case of angels being a reality. The photos are verified by photographic experts and said to be original and not tampered with.

The photos catch the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who was a known spiritualist and who argues for the case of the two girls and the fairies. Harry Houdini the magician and a good friend of Sir Arthur is also brought into the scenario though he is sceptical as he has always been of the supernatural. The girls take yet another photograph with the cameras that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle presents them, the fifth. Though the authorities do not accept the photos as proof Sir Conan Doyle uses them in his article with the Strand magazine. As news of the Cottingley Fairies spreads people come there in droves to see the fairies. The fairies are shown fleeing from the stream, entering the room where the girls are and then, Frances's father returns miraculously from the war.

It is based on a true story and is shown well. The real cousins however, confessed that the first four photographs were a hoax, but the fifth was not, at a ripe old age (they died in 1986 and 1988) though the movie does not dwell on that. If you believe in fairies, you see fairies. If you don't, you don't. It is a matter of faith and one should leave it at that. Surprising how so much is raised about the existence of fairies when the whole world believes in a God they have not seen. If God be seen in the wonders of creation all around, so too can fairies be seen in all the good that happens!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

10 Rainy Day Songs

It rained hard today in Hyderabad after a long time. Driving past Husainsagar lake in the afternoon rain I was reminded of the rainy day songs that I like hearing. Here is a list of 10 of those in no particular order.

1) Kabhi to nazar Milao: Adnan Sami's soulful song reminds me of an entire monsoon that we spent listening to the song. Soulful and lovely to play on the drive.

2) Downeaster Alexa: Billy Joel's number from Stormfront has been an all time favourite with me ever since a wonderful summer back in the early 199os when it rained and rained. How i loved listening to that song.

3) Rim Jhim Gire Sawan: Fantastic number by Kishore Kumar in Manzil. Sung as well as the original by my college mate Ramesh who excelled at the Kishore numbers. I remember a rainy evening being stranded at Paradise and borrowing Ramesh's bike. When I returned the bike I was drenched but there was some rum and Ramesh was singing this song and it was still raining outside. Heavenly.

4) Rain: Madonna's not too well-known number got to me in my Mumbai days. I would play this song and listen to it as the rain poured outside at my flat in Nerul. Or even at my desk at office or in the local on my walkman.

5) Everybody Hurts: REM's slow number has always been a great favourite ever since I heard it in Mumbai. Rainy evenings at Cafe Mondegar!

6) Words: Boyzone's take on the Beegees number is a must fantastic song and perfect to listen ton on a slow drive in rain.

7) Annie’s song: John Denver’s soulful ballad is another lovely slow number to listen to on a drive in the rain. Sets the mood perfectly.

8) Drive: A wonderful ballad by The Cars. Soothing and great to hear anytime quiet and tranquil. Night drives, rainy drives, rainy days at the window.

9) Father Figure: George Michael’s slow number. Another all time favourite of mine. Good for the drive in the rain.

10) Kiss From a Rose: Seal’s soulful number from Batman Returns makes up the first list.

More to join these later.

Police Story III - Enter Crime Branch

After the unhelpful and bullying methods of the Circle Inspector who refused to take complaints where the value and weight of the jewellery lost was mentioned, and where he was more inclined to believe that people should be more careful and make it difficult for robbers and also that people better not come to him for such affairs where they are to blame and not the police which has already put up notices on their Police Stations on how people should be careful and the police have thus discharged their duty and all this in a tone that appeared to insinuate that man, you guys got what you deserved and actually it looks slightly fishy how you have so much gold and money with you (when all you are talking of is a value of probably a 3-4 lakhs which my man servant had in his own little hut even) and maybe there is a case to investigate you but in the end with some call from someone he knew 'higher up' the reluctant CI finally became a little more helpful and agreed to file the FIR which prompted another gang of six members from the Crime Branch to come to the house and investigate but obviously four days had gone by now and the local PS had refused to take any fingerprints anyway saying that it was too difficult to get fingerprints off certain surfaces and so the Crime Branch went away wringing their hands and assuring the aggrieved and by now kind-of-bored party that unlike the police in movies they will do all they can and will ensure that the jewellery is recovered and we can all sing Jai Ho to these Crime Branch guys and only hope that the trail leads to where it should and all the guilty of commission and omission are brought to book especially after one has heard about a recent report in the Eenadu about a gang of jewellery thieves who have been reportedly caught in Secunderabad selling gold in the Regimental bazaar area in a case that was found to involve all the cops in that region from the constable upwards to the CI and even the ACP who were apparently getting 40% of the loot Jai Ho and now part IV of this story will come on when there is a breakthrough in this case and to the cynical me all suspicion is focussed on certain reluctant parties involved in this whole sordid affair with some quick help from someone close by who knew of the movements of the aggrieved party and so be it unless otherwise proved by the Crime Branch chaps who seem to be the probable saviours in this story!

Thought for the Day - Gratitude and Living the Moment

It suddenly struck me this morning that gratitude had several subtle shades to it. So many that it could well qualify to be the one key that opens many locks as the Masters say).

One of other keys that I truly believe unlocks all doors is the 'Power of Now' (as Eckhart Tolle puts it) or 'living the moment' as all other gurus put it. Tolle says, in the Now, there is no pain. In Vipassana too, the Buddhist meditation, the focus is on intense awareness which brings you in touch with the 'here and now'. A 'now' that dissolves pain.

There are days when I feel small sparks of gratitude and it is a blessed feeling. I had this wonderful experience today and with it came another Eureka moment. Was not this feeling of gratitude the same as being in the now? As being intensely in the now without feeling any stress of being in the now? Was it not one of the best ways to live and feel life deeply? Again to use a phrase I am more and more in love with, to kiss life deeply? Is not gratitude that liberating contentment that makes you feel a deep kind of love? The present moment. Just a deep, perfect moment.

I always thought that meditation helped to get to the state of being in the now. But meditation is hard work. It is easier to do something else you love with deep concentration and do it like it were a prayer. But still, both the above tasks, meditation and doing what you love with total concentration, may not always be possible. Gratitude is much easier to access - just step down into the moment as you experience it while eating, running studying, watching, playing etc and you suddenly find that wonderful peace, contentment, depth, tranquility and feeling of oneness.

Gratitude then, appears to be the master key that unlocks all these doors. Step down, sink into the moment and feel life enveloping you.