Friday, September 30, 2011

Dog Day Afternoon - Movie Review

Watched this 1975 Sidney Lumet film based on a real story. Starring a very young Al Pacino who does a brilliant job as Sonny, the mastermind of the bank robbery, and a few others who look vaguely familiar, 'Dog Day Afternoon' takes you through all the emotions that real life does stating with "Is this for real?"

If the movie did not begin with a slide that said that it is based on a true story you'd be forgiven if you thought this was a Woody Allenesque take off on a bank heist. On a sleepy afternoon in New York in 1972, three men alight a car and walk into a bank, separately. Just as the bank manager is shown the business end of the gun, the youngest bank robber, resigns from his job. He does not want to do it! Sonny (Al Pacino) accepts his apologies, lets him go and returns to his other associate, the dour faced, edgy, Sal. Sonny soon finds that there is no money in the vault as it had all been picked up a few hours ago. He collects the 1100 dollars, some travellers cheques and burns the register. The smoke catches the attention of the passersby. Seeing the two inexperienced bank robbers at work the bank staff start asking them if they really had a plan to start with. At this stage you do not know if you want to laugh or what.

Soon the bank is surrounded by policemen. The bank manager is not impressed. He tells the duo that they should have left when he told them to. Now there are cops, hostages etc. Enter police inspector Morretti who tries to smooth talk and scare Sonny into giving up. But Sonny is not. He plays the crowd by shouting 'Attica. Attica' reminding them of the prison breakout in Attica which cost 39 lives. He and Sal are Vietnam war veterans. They are on television, live. The FBI steps in. The bank employees start falling sick. First the watchman collapses and is let out. Then the diabetic bank manager has an attack. Sonny gets them some food, and even offers to pay for the pizza from the bank notes! That is how naive he is.

Sonny wants to talk to his wife who turns out to be a man, under treatment for some nervous disorder in a hospital. They are a gay couple that got married. Sonny's 'wife' reveals that he has another wife and two kids! And that Sonny threatened and scared him so much that he has a break down. But the money Sonny was stealing was for his 'sex change operation'! Sonny speaks to his 'wife' after he makes his demands known to the police. He wants a helicopter to take him to a jet which can fly him anywhere in the world. Would his 'wife' join him? No, says the wife.

Sonny's mother appears and tries to persuade him to give up. Sonny tells her to go away. He speaks to his real wife, makes his will in case he dies and writes out how his life insurance money of 10,000 dollars must be used up - 2700 dollars to his 'wife' for the operation, 5000 for his real wife and so on. He holds the hostages in place and gets them on a limousine that takes them to the airport. Just as the jet is arriving, the FBI overpowers them, shoots Sal in the head and releases the hostages. Sonny breaks down as he sees Sal, who is scared of flying and who has never flown before, being taken away. He sees the bank employees with whom he was so friendly a while ago celebrating and then he is hauled off to jail for twenty years.

'Dog Day Afternoon' leaves you in a state of shock because it is so real. This is how many things are played out in real life. With fear, comedy, tragedy all thrown in and less of heroics. It was also made at a time when public sentiment against the Vietnam war was high. Sonny and Sal were both Vietnam war veterans who never recovered. Al Pacino is brilliant as he plays Sonny and you cannot take your eyes off him for a second as he handles the pressure of leading the botched up operation with his limited abilities and knowledge. (It is amazing to hear the conversations as the bank employees try to help these two - what will you tell the pilot? where do you wnat to go? Algiers?)

It is disturbing to say the least. Apparently the real Sonny went to jail and was released in 1992 probably, lived till 2006, when he died of cancer. His 'wife' had her sex change operation and continues to live in New York. Sal, though portrayed as an older man, was only 19 when he died. The real Sonny wrote a letter to newspapers later to set right a few facts, and that the movie was only 30% true. He however had good words for Al Pacino's performance! DDA won an Academy Award and deservedly so. Fantastic!

Mundgod - Beautiful Tibetan Settlement Near Hubli

I was visiting a dear old friend of mine, one who never ceases to make me laugh so much that I sometimes think I just might not be handle it, (many times just a step away from rolling on the floor), and one whom I always love to meet for this one wonderful quality among many others. The handsome, debonair, extremely charming, energetic and funny, Sunil Kumar Jyoti and I have known each other for almost three decades now, since our Engineering College days where we, along with a bunch of other friends tried to balance many things – academics, sports, growing up - with varying amounts of success. And had great fun doing it!

Sunil was a national level badminton player and was far more passionate and committed to the sport than the rest of us were and was always away on tours or in practice camps. Between his busy schedules he would make it as often as he could to the college, always immaculately dressed as he is till date, his bike in perfect condition, every bit about him in seemingly perfect order. We shared much in common including the sports quota we both got our admission from – he from badminton and me from cricket. We loved listening to music and spent many hours discussing and exchanging music. He introduced new music to me, stuff which I would not have listened to much otherwise – Cat Stevens, Super Tramp, Fleetwood Mac and others. Sometime during that phase we also discovered a shared sense of humour, one that not many others seem to enjoy because we go off into uncontrollable bursts of laughter at the weirdest things and the rest of the people in the room are looking on thinking – what’s so funny? I love those times.

Anyway we visited him at Hubli, Shobha, Anjali and I, where he is now stationed with his wife Poornima and older daughter Tanvi. Badminton has now been replaced by golf, his new passion, which takes up many of his waking hours. He is a senior officer with the Railways and enjoys his life. And when we visited him he decided to show us the Tibetan settlement in Mundgod, which is close by. I had been to the settlement in Dehradun, the home of the Mindrolling Monastery, but it was nothing like this.

Mundgod is about 45 kms from Hubli, a picturesque drive through some of the quaintest villages that seem to have been frozen in time. As we reached the entry to the Tibetan settlement I found a change in atmosphere, in the setting. Tibetan monks in their maroon outfits walk along, little huts with Tibetan snacks and tea sprouted about, and acres and acres of rolling fields. The Mundgod settlement is spread over 4000 acres, has 11 villages, each headed by an elected head, has 7 monasteries and houses about 18000 Tibetans making it the largest Tibetan settlement in India. From the slight disorder that we pass by in the Indian villages, we see a sense of order and discipline, nothing much, but ever so slightly you sense the peace, the order in this land. Even in the fields, the neat houses, the intricate monasteries, you sense that order and peace.

This settlement is known as the Doeguling Tibetan Settlement. The villages of Drepung and Ganden in this settlement are reserved exclusively for monasteries. The seven monasteries are Ganden Jangtse, Ganden Shartse, Nyingma, Drepung Loseling, Drepung Gomang, Ratoe and the Kargue Monastry. The Doeguling Monastic University is a replica of Tibet’s 500-year-old Doeguling Monastic University (destroyed by the Chinese in 1959) and trains monks in Mahayana-Buddhist education. The settlement also has schools, colleges, hospitals, homes, co-operative societies and is self sufficient. Most of their ancient cultural traditions seem to be alive in these settlements.

We drove past a few villages and entered the monastery of Drepung Loseling. It is huge ornate, highly impressive structure set amidst rolling fields all around. This is apparently the new assembly hall of Drepung Loseling monastery, a place that can hold more than five thousand monks. It had been inaugurated by the Dalai Lama in January 2008. The study hall here is very large, with paintings of all the Buddhas, a gold throne and a life size replica of the Dalai Lama. There was an examination going on for the monks so we sneaked past the monks and had a quiet look around. The place teems with young monks, all in the age group of 20s and 30s and their lifestyle and commitment to their education impresses you. It makes you wonder and makes you want to learn so much about the Tibetan way of life. Their monasteries, their monks, their teaching, their learnings, their lifestyles, their hopes and aspirations. What is their future? Do they still dream of a life back in independent Tibet? How long do they wish to live in this suspended fashion? What is their future? Once cannot help but feel for the peaceful monks.

What happens in these settlements? The Tibetans have been careful not to let their learning, culture and tradition go waste. Their monasteries serve as universities and several subjects like Buddhism, Tibetan medicine, English, Mathematics and Science are taught. Students go through sessions of debates, discourses and recitation and have an elaborate amount of Tibetan knowledge to imbibe. Even reading about it on the website is mind boggling. Apart from the education of the monks and preservation of their culture, it is obvious that the community thrives on agriculture as is witnessed by the green fields all around. Why do these fields seem greener than the fields outside the settlement? There are handicrafts, shops that sell some Tibetan stuff, small hotels etc where one can try momos, tea etc.

They are quite friendly. You smile at them and they will give you a peaceful, big smile. You can walk, drive through. We missed the Gaden Jangtse Monastery for want of time. Maybe the next time when I have a day or more to spend there. It certainly deserves more than a day.

The colorful flags, the sparse lifestyle, the peace that pervades these places cannot hide the discontent and sense of disorientation that the Tibetans might be feeling. It is more than half a century since Tibet has been occupied by China, which is growing stronger in the world order, making their claims for a free Tibet feebler and feebler. We saw pictures of the two Tibetan students who immolated themselves to free Tibet recently. The Tibetans have a campaign of thumb impressions - in blood - that speaks for their cause. It seems like a faraway dream, free Tibet, growing further away in the wake of an aggressive and ambitious China we see today. I have no idea what the international community has to say about it but the reverence that the Dalai Lama gets speaks of what the world feels about it. But nothing concrete seems to have been done about it.

The Chinese army first invaded Tibet in 1949. In 1959 the Dalai Lama’s palace was attacked and he travelled incognito on foot for 13 days in hostile environment to escape the Chinese army. Ever since, the Tibetans have been in exile. In 1959, the Dalai Lama set up the Tibetan Government in Exile, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), now housed in Dharamshala. The Government of India gave land to set up settlements in various parts of India. Karnataka has five such settlements of which the Mundgod settlement, the Doeguling Tibetan Settlement, set up in 1966 is the largest. Today India has almost a lakh of Tibetan refugees living in these settlements.

It is a tragedy that people have to be dispossessed of their land. No people should be allowed to live in such conditions in this world that has seemingly come so far ahead in terms of technology and knowledge. Obviously we are losing sight of humanity in this process and love for other humans. No one has the right to take away what belongs rightfully to another, the real owners of the land. No one should ever live a life, feeling that they have never been a part of their land. It is a good thing that Mother Earth does not discriminate and accepts everyone of her children and nurtures them. It is when we ponder over these issues that we feel proud to be born in a country like India that has the patience, the understanding and maturity to welcome these friendly people, to let them live peacefully until they find their destination. Until then they will remain with us, among us, as part of the same human family that the good God made us. But whatever they choose to do, the Tibetans are a wonderful people and one must not let go a chance to meet them and see them in these little 'Tibets' they have created in the midst of all the pain and suffering they must be undergoing living in alien lands and not knowing if they will ever have a home to go to. A visit to their settlement in Mundgod is well worth it for many reasons!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Telangana bandhs - Hyderabad in Disarray

The RTC is off the roads for almost two weeks now. Schools are shut till the 10th. Government officials are on strike. Industries are shut. Trains are shut every once in a while. Petrol bunks go off without warning. All kinds of unions join the strike every second day. The general administration has come to a stand still.

There are a few questions still. The other day I heard a n auto rickshaw driver crib about how the frequent bandhs are completely making life miserable for him The porter at the railway station said he has no option but sit at home during those 49 hours that the rail roko was on. The bus stops are full of people carrying suitcases and bags trying to get some mode of transport to go away.

If the capital city is under siege for so many days how will it recover?
Economically it is a huge set back. Branding wise it is a hug set back. Who's going to pay the bills for the loss in production? Who is going to make up for the loss of work? Will the RTC ever recover from its losses here. Or Singareni? As the rest of the world zooms ahead, as we hear of the focused progress China is making, we wonder where we are heading. It will take many years to recover from the damage that has been done already, and there is surely more disruption to follow. I hope that someone is thinking in that direction as well! Work is something we cannot avoid forever, and it must be done. How much and how efficiently is what defines where we stand in the order.

It is true of the nation as well. Few states are showing the drive, the vision and sense of purpose that is required. I am afraid that at this rate we will only have a large population with no real skill, no inclination to work and no discipline - qualities which I reckon are important for growth. If we take ourselves seriously as contenders for a leading position by 2020, we need to pull up our socks. A thought must be spared om that direction as well!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ideas Beget Ideas, Action begets Action

It appears that whatever you do, begets more of that. I write an idea and it becomes many more ideas. At one time there are so many ideas that it feels good to be in such an abundance of ideas. The more you think, the more ideas you generate, you feel that at one time, they start coming at you with great ease. There is an abundance of ideas. In the beginning, it may seem to be a difficult thing to generate ideas, to just write on something unrelated other than the masterpiece. But when you do, you find that the masterpiece also happens!

It is therefore important to be with the thing you wish to beget. That thing you want an abundance of. If it is relationships, money, career or health or any of the main areas in your life that you feel you are lacking in, it is important to start working on it with the right earnest even if it does not appear to be heading anywhere, without any purpose. Work on earning money, recovering money, investments, earning opportunities, meeting people, checking out alternatives, using and spending money so it has an intention of earning more, then after a while, the flow will start and you will certainly notice the abundance around you. So with health, jobs, relationships etc. Do something, be with it, on the path you want to tread...and you will be flooded with abundance.

It is almost as if the Universe wants you to take those steps, to commit yourself fully to want what you say you want, and once you are on the path of 'doing things' or 'generating things' in as many ways as possible with what you want, you see it coming into your life from some completely unrelated areas. But what the process does to you is make you aware that all you have to be is in a state of receiving from any source, and not limit your source. That is what committing yourself does, what trying out all possibilities does. Opens your mind to the many possibilities that are available. If only you try.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Telangana bandh - Intensified

Hyderabad has no RTC buses running. With the rail roko (stop the trains) movement on today and tomorrow there will be much inconvenience for travellers. The highways are being stopped periodically. The airport has been spared though a move was made to lay siege to it unsuccessfully. People travelling six to eight in a shared auto pay almost six times what they would have paid on normal days. The few private buses that ply and packed to the hilt. It is a tough time if you are in an emergency and have no vehicle

The lack of coal production apparently has hit the power situation and there is a two hour power cut announced in the city and more in the rural areas. Educational institutions have closed down for a couple of weeks or more. Students have not had schools and classes starting last week. The general prices are bound to go up as rumours such as the strike by petrol bunks the other day sparked jams all over the city as vehicle owners filled in fuel to the full. For the past two months I have been filling up my fuel tank at every opportunity because we don't know what will happen when. The moment it comes to half, its time to start filling up! Everyone must be hoarding not just on fuel but even on food and other items as well.

The municipal workers have refused to clear the garbage in greater Hyderabad area. The piles of garbage grew alarmingly large and only last nigh they have relented to clear it. Teachers have stopped working. Lawyers as well if the news is true. Todays news says that the doctors are also not available.

Hyderabad is in a war like situation with scarcity, power cuts, high prices and lack of transport. Hyderabad is under siege.

There is no doubt that the movement is now riding high on public sentiment with the common man completely involved. There are many conspiracy theories of how people from the coastal Andhra population have conspired to make the Telangana region backward. The overriding belief appears that once Telangana is formed, once the conspiring Andhras are evicted from all the key positions they have occupied, thngs will be set right. But sometimes the rumours go too far. Some are that the Andhra Professors are conspiring to fail Telangana students, and even that the prices of gold and silver will also reduce once Telangana is formed! On the plus side tehre is much talk of a greener Telangana with water being made available once Telangana is formed, better farm produce, jobs and promotions and entrepreneurial opportunities. But whatever it is, public sentiment is strong. Almost irreversible I feel, unless the pinch of this paralysing strike hurts them in the next few days. The movement has now reached a critical mass where I believe it cannot be denied with many common people joining the strike by employees that has been a complete success, unless as I said, the people feel the pinch of rising prices, students losing time and other day to day things. After all the common man hurts the most in such situations.

Certain things bother me about the Telangana movement still. I still do not see student leaders except Professor Kodandaram. Maybe there is a reason for that. I still do not see a clear agenda on what is promised to the people once Telangana is formed. I also would like to see less of the conspiracy theories and more of what can be done for Telangana in terms of progress, in clearer terms. The strikes and war like situation has already set the city, the region back by much, both in terms of actual work, production, commerce, trade and brand image. It will be hard work to rebuild all that has been lost because there are many states close by that reap the benefits of such situations - Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra share borders with us.

That apart the leaders should also be careful not to divide the people for political ends. It would do no good for the fabric of society to sow seeds of doubt and conspiracy among people who have lived as one for all these years. The making of any separate state within the country, if and when they are done, should not affect the fabric of society. The division among regional and communal lines for political benefit can not augur well neither for the leaders nor for the people. Meanwhile Telangana hangs in balance but now it appears to be a question of 'when' and not a question of 'if'!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Anjali - Snakes and Ladders

It was quite an experience playing Snakes and Ladders with Anjali yesterday. For one thing she was in no hurry to get ahead, and was quite happy to plod along at her own pace, sometimes, miscalculating the number of moves she has to do. For her, the joy of playing seemed paramount. I was of course getting all worked up about getting ahead - seeing the snakes as my enemies and the ladders as my friends. And my happy-go-lucky opponent as my foe.

We were on even pace initially and then I surged ahead until I was just one move away from finishing the game. Pretty quickly. The last time we played the game I remember, many months ago, Anjali had beaten me soundly. Looks like things have changed now. But wait a minute, she seemed to be enjoying herself more!

Anjali encountered a series of snakes, almost every single one of them. 'Wheee' she screamed happily. 'I am going down'. She was treating the big bad snakes like they were a gigantic slide and she rode them down happily. Once she went down from some 90 to 3 and she was happiest to get a double ride on two big snakes! I could not understand that. Every time I got a snake I was feeling all victimised. I was all 'why me?' But for her snakes and ladders were the same thing - great fun to climb or slide down.

As luck would have it I slipped at the last snake on 98, 2 points away from my famous win, and came down. Anjali meanwhile slipped and slid so many times that I thought she would never ever come back into the game. But she was not bothered about me, only occasionally telling me with great enthusiasm that I just needed one or two moves to finish. And so after some more of her 'whees' and 'wows' which livened up her side of the board as if some party was going on, I noticed that she had quickly progressed up the scale. In two moves of mine, I slid down to 3. 'I need a 3,' she announced, threw the dice, got a 3, finished the game and smiled. 'It's ok nannna,' she said with her now customary advise to me. 'Keep on trying.' It was more like a 'Keep on crying' for me.

Yes. It's an attitude I'd do anything to get. I would want to keep on trying until my mind can look at the game as a game, and enjoy it. Until I can see both snakes and ladders as my friends. Until I can stop feeling the victim at every small fall. Until I can just enjoy each moment, even the downs as a 'whee' moment. What can anyone say to such attitudes when you slide big time and enjoy the fall as if it's a gigantic slide. That's happy-go-lucky for me. When you are happy, you automatically court luck. Your consciousness makes it almost impossible for you to lose. But who is bothered about all that anyway!

I played a game called 'satori' as part of a workshop I had done a few year ago. Something about the game and most of the workshop, reflects back to you your consciousness, in a hard hitting manner. Most games, life, does reflect our consciousness and this I realised after many years of trying to understand the art of winning on the cricket grounds. And to improve our consciousness, it is best not to get in the way, to trust the process as it takes over, to do the things you are expected to do only, and to be open. Trust is a key word. Snakes and ladders is a wonderful example of the state of your consciousness too. Try it.

The big lessons from yesterday's game. 'Whee' on the slide down with a big smile, the snakes are as important as the ladders so love them all, enjoy the process, don't get attached to the outcome and you'd just be at the finish line before others even in the most improbable circumstances. Thanks Anjali. Wheeeee!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Action - And Its Wonderful Consequences

Many times I get stuck for want of an idea. I can do two things when it happens. One is wait for the grand idea. Two, write on something and hope that it takes me somewhere. I was earlier part of the club that supported the former idea. But I am now an unabashed fan of the club number two. The 'Action Club' or rather 'The Action When You Don't Know What Else To Do' club.

Typically when I write, even without any particular direction, I find that one sliver of a thought, one slow or sluggish phrase, suddenly brings a new perspective, a new colour to the whole thing. That itself can lead to something else and more and more. Ideas beget ideas, words beget words, action begets action, thought begets thought, inaction begets inaction. I may not use it for the same purpose as I started out with sometimes but it gives me another new angle to explore. A whole new article, a new book, a story! It is the thought that is the action here, almost. Not pausing though is action.

I see myself and my thoughts and I notice how they fly - sometimes they cringe, sometimes they are aggressive, sometimes scared, sometimes just stunned. I see how they block my action towards things that are obviously the stuff I need to do topmost, for my own good. I can see how they make me procrastinate. And it is then that I need to start doing the one small thing that is needed. Sit at the table, take out the file, make that call, write the line, make that appointment.

The first step is all I need to take. The rest takes care of itself. It is almost as if God is saying, taking one step to show your intention, I will handle the rest.
Just as it happens with the writing. The first word, the first sentence is all I need to take.

Narendra Modi and Responsibility

I saw an interesting headline yesterday saying that Narendra Modi, the Gujarat Chief Minister who is currently on a fast, does not take responsibility for the post-Godhra Gujarat riots during his regime, in one of the newspapers (Deccan Chronicle, I suspect). Fair enough. But by the same yardstick, he should not take the credit for the development in Gujarat as well.

To me any leader worth his salt should take responsibility for what has happened during his regime irrespective of his part in it. It is not as if Ministers who used to resign (there was a breed like that who stood on high moral ground and who used to resign taking what was called 'moral responsibility' - now an archaic word) because of failures in the system were directly responsible for railway accidents, corruption or some other failure. But as the leader one needs to take responsibility if not apologise for not being able to prevent what happened. If you do not wish to take responsibility for the blots on your regime, you must, by the same yardstick, not take credit for the good as well. For the simple reason that it is after all not you, but the people, who have taken the state ahead, or resorted to carnage.

Modi is an enigma. Few can understand this man who has become the icon of development in Gujarat. All who go to Gujarat cannot help but stop singing praises of his good governance. Just as they cannot stop singing praises of Nitish Kumar in Bihar. It reminds me of days gone by when Andhra Pradesh, under the leadership of Chandrababu Naidu, was in the zone, leading the pack in development, good governance and in those days, even introduced new words such as e-governance. I heard some fine stories of this e-governance.

One friend of mine who had returned from the USA in those Naidu and e-governance days, had a complaint against the number of dogs and dog bites in his colony in Red Hills, Hyderabad. He shot off a mail to the then email of the Chief Minister, being a techie, and probably did not expect any action. Lo behold, the next day the MCH people came and rounded of the strays, the veterinary doctor called on the complainant to check for any cases of dog bites and I remember how amazed my friend was. I also saw one of those video conferenced meetings with district officials where all officials from the collector downwards were present and accounted for their projections, plans and actual work done on live television, squirming under the intense scrutiny of the Chief Minister. Naidu could not do a step wrong those days and all that he did was productive and paid the path for what Hyderabad and much of Andhra Pradesh is today.

Leaders have their periods when they seem to have bouts of great clarity, energy and opportunity. The Naidu's, Modi's and Nitish Kumar's to name some have been driven by this period to do good for their respective states. These leaders do not rely on mere populist movements or sentiments such as freebies, reservations and narrow communal or regional angles. They promote enterprise, they reward enterprise, they recognise efficiency and urge people to join the path of their own good through good, old fashioned work. They try to make their states self sustainable, draw investments, improve infrastructure, provide genuine value for the rupee collected through effective policing, health and education initiatives and empower the weak, the backward through opportunity and not so much freebies which are as good as poison to the real growth of the backward. Most of these programs and initiatives have a long lasting effect and subsequent governments that come to power reap the benefits of these decisions from many years, just as the people do. Most leaders, given a long tenure, seem to be able to do this, after a period of initial uncertainty. Naidu and Modi both came off false starts, and were infamous for certain blots on their history, until they did the development trick.

But the good that one does is to be expected from leaders. We expect nothing less. And as Naidu found out that the electorate has its own reasons, its own ways of looking at development - dumped him after a long successful reign during which all he touched seemed to turn into gold, Modi might just find that some people do not want development at all, one fine election day. That is the irony for the politicians. And just as one expects the good from good leaders, one does not expect the bad. That is the burden of being good. On the other hand, with the bad leaders, bad is expected, good is not. So any good is seen as wonderful stuff. The prodigal son has returned.

However the good must be seen separately. One must be congratulated for the good things certainly. But one must also not forget the bad and completely forget or wash over those parts of history as if the good had compensated for it. If the leader stakes credit for the victory, he must also take the blame for the loss. Or he must credit both to the people.

This apart, we are increasingly witnessing have leaders taking credit not only for the good that has happened (sometimes in spite of them, sometimes by their predecessors, sometimes by totally different reasons and people) and publishing it all in all newspapers and television channels at the tax payer's cost. One can only sigh in response and hope that good sense prevails. For all that talk when everyone started wondering who funded Anna Hazare's campaign, one must also ask these questions of the people in power - why waste our public money on ads to glorify yourself? Anna Hazare must have got the money from his friends, but this is the tax payer's money and I am sure there are better ways to use it than issue expensive ads.

In these times I will take good, strong leaders as against weak, inefficient ones who do nothing. This would appear to be a period for action, the period of inaction is over and we need leaders who can do that. Leaders who have high morals are an extinct breed. However, one must draw a line and discern - that good leadership is a position that comes with only one word - responsibility.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Drop Things - Feel Relieved, Feel Alive

One way to feel less burdened, rather relieved, is to drop things that are increasingly adding a weight on your mind. Typically this 'dropping' is in the head far more than the physical 'dropping' in most times. Once the mind drops, most times a physical dropping follows. But the effect is phenomenal and freeing. It is a brilliant feeling that you are no more responsible for carrying the burdens of someone else unnecessarily.

End something and it frees you instantly. Ending is only in the mind. Tie it up, throw it away. You have dropped it. Over. Ahhhhh! Relationships you hate, toxic stuff, things you hate doing, people you hate dealing with - any of the many things on your mind that are bothering you, drop it now. You can have a life without these burdens - a much better life.

The key is to realise what to drop. We must discern carefully - keep what empowers us, is good for us and drop what is not good for us. All useless stuff that draws away your time and energy, makes you feel angry, frustrated, irritated, and is leading you away from your true, happy self are to be dropped NOW. Ask yourself and you will know how much of a compromise you are making. These are toxic stuff that will eat away your spirit. They can kill you. Drop them instantly. They are no good for you nor for the others. Bad relationships, friends who pull you down, work you do that you hate doing, bad habits, work you take on for others that you don't need to - all these and more fall into this category.

On the other hand all the things that make you feel good, you are looking forward to, make you happy (I heard a line in a movie yesterday starring Hugh Grant when someone says 'There is a lot left in a relationship when couples still laugh together'), energise you, help your growth - retain them. Cultivate them. They will build back your health. Your self esteem. Empowering and supportive relationships, people who make you laugh, things that make you go WOW, work that makes you feel all energised, saying NO to most useless stuff that is asked of you, falls in this.

Just as the body automatically filters the toxins and throws them away, so do we need to mentally filter the toxic stuff and throw them away. This function remains our responsibility. Throw away the bad stuff instantly so it does not pollute your system. Remember how it felt when a bad relationship ended, when you quit a toxic job, when you threw away lots of stored baggage, or even when you visit the loo - it is relief with a capital R. The longer you hold on, the more uncomfortable, toxic it can get.

I read somewhere at any moment we are carrying more than 100 things on us that are unnecessary burdens, 'shoulds'. The moment you drop them you can see the difference. The smiles come back on your face. You laugh easily. You are alive. Drop it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Falling In Love - Movie Revisited

I remember watching 'Falling in Love' in 1989 in Sangeet theatre in Hyderabad. I also remember completely falling in love with the movie that has two artistes who are my favorites - Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. Also the late 1980s was a good time for the romantics.

It is a simple story, so simple and straightforward that I now wonder how it actually got made. Frank (Rober De Niro) is an architect or an engineer, who works in a big city, possibly New York. Molly (Meryl Streep) also works in the big city (a job that consists mostly walking about the streets to and from the station). Both have certain similarities which are important to know. Both take the same train to New York from wherever they live. Both have friends with dysfunctional relationships - Frank's friend is on the verge of divorce and Molly's friend has short term lover boys with whom she pushes off on vacations. Oh, and both are married. Frank has two children and a wife. Molly has a husband and a dying father.

The two meet in a book store on Christmas Eve, shopping for gifts. While checking out, their gifts get mixed up as they try to clear the way, thanks to the mess that Frank's massive shopping creates. They realise the mistake when the gifts are opened at home, bump into one another on the train, remind one another of the funny incident. They feel drawn towards one another, Frank conjures up a couple of meetings, asks Molly out for coffee, meet a few times, talk about their families, kids, ailing fathers, coffee, meals etc. Once they find a place to themselves but Molly does not sleep with Frank, possibly because of the guilt. Molly's father dies that same evening and she probably assigns his death to her guilt and stops meeting Frank.

He takes up a job in distant Houston. But not before both spouses find out that their spouses seem to be happier without them and accuse them of being happy and in love (not really, but they get angry, Frank's wife slaps him as well!). Just before leaving for Houston Frank calls Molly one last time and asks her to come to meet him. Molly throws all caution to winds, tells her husband she has to meet him, and almost gets killed while trying to speed past a railway crossing. The car, scared out of its wits refuses to start ever again until the movie is done. Frank goes away. Molly goes home probably in a taxi.

The story moves on to another Christmas eve when Frank is in town to sell his house. His wife has left him and gone to Denver to stay with her parents. His friend is now getting married again, God alone knows why. Molly is alone, her husband having left her. Her disapproving friend who never wanted Molly to be happy and in love, also had found a husband - hopefully Frank's friend.

And again in the same bookstore the two meet, Frank and Molly, have a short and awkward conversation where both seem to realise that the other is alone. They go away. Molly takes the train. Suddenly she finds Frank, an expert on catching trains just before the doors shut, also on the train, presumably looking for her and they end up hugging one another and kissing one another. One can only hope that Frank does not get slapped again when he meets his wife.

I am amazed at how simple the story was. My two heroes were perfect, though I felt De Niro has a suspect kissing technique and was not a good kisser at all. But they were both brilliant in showing their love for one another - passion is another thing altogether - and I ended up smiling happily many times. I loved a few things Meryl Streep says. Once when she meets her friend after breaking off from Frank she tells her - 'Maybe I should have slept with him and it would have been easier.' And another thing she says is - 'It was the one thing that feels so right. Everything else seems so wrong.' I'd watch it again for these two and nothing else though I sincerely hope they (Frank and Molly) find someone else for the passion angle. They are great at the coffee and walking around scenes and showing an almost teenage angst to a love that happens to them.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Anjali - And the Flowers

So what does one do when one has three day old roses in a vase that are slowly on their way out and one big, red rose, all fresh from the garden? I thought that maybe the old ones would go straight to the bin where they now belong having given us the pleasure of their beauty and fragrance, the old water changed and the new prima donna given all scope to show off its glory all by itself and not be bogged down by fading, dying, old flowers. But apparently there are other considerations as I found out.

I gave Anjali the new red rose and left her to admire it and do whatever she wants to do with it. After a while I heard her calling out to me to see what she had done to her red rose. The red rose had joined the fading, dying flowers in the vase.

'So she won't feel lonely. Now they can all be together and be friends,' she said.

Yes, of course. The young and the beautiful can also be friends with the old and the dying. Maybe, instead of thinking that the old ones would diminish the beauty of the new one, one may see it from another perspective - the new one may increase the beauty and life of the old ones by being with them. Perhaps that is the beauty of friendship, of sharing, of living together. That one need not be at the cost of another, each one can do their part and live happily together. Thanks Anjali.

Marooned In Iraq - Irani Movie

Watched the 2002 Irani movie 'Marooned in Iraq' recently. It is most unlike all the other Irani movies - it is funny. However we realise that Director Bahman Ghobadi used the medium of a bickering family of musicians to show the ravages of war between Iran and Iraq and the bordering Kurdistan, which is not funny at all as we progress into the movie. In what appears to be a simple tale, Bahman Ghobadi, like many of his ilk in Iran, shows a lot.

The film begins with a tractor trailer carrying passengers in Iran, across the border from Iraq. One of the passengers is a famous Kurdish musician Barat, the son of a legendary musician among Kurds, Mirza. Barat is wearing his trademark shades and sitting atop his motorcycle which is kept on the tractor trailer. He is scared of thieves and that is why he is not riding his motorcycle on the road! He meets a quack who makes tons of money treating people with fake medicines on the border. the quack loves war because he can make money. And Saddam.

Barat gets off the tractor and heads off to a place where his older brother Audeh, an Obelix-like character, lives on a brick kiln with his seven wives and eleven daughters, all who work diligently on his kiln. Audeh has promised not to leave women alone until he finds a wife who can give him a son. Their father Mirza is teaching young children music in an old container. Now Mirza has called his sons for a mission - they must go and rescue Hanareh, Mirza's ex-wife and the love of his life. Hanareh was a beautiful woman, a brilliant musician and singer, who married Mirza's former band mate and close friend Sayed and went back to Iraq occupied Kurdistan. Mirza's band disbanded after that and he moves to Iran. Now he wants to find Hanareh who has sent word to him that she wants to meet him - after twenty years - in an almost impossible mission. Audeh is not happy at leaving his seven wives alone and reluctantly moves on but he promises his wives he will get an eighth wife. All the wives want is a Kurdish wife.

On the motorcycle which has a side car, the family goes on in search of the famous Hanareh. Mirza is recognised by everyone on the road and most people also know that he is searching for Hanareh. Travelling through many villages, following many leads, getting robbed by thieves, losing their motorcycle and all their belongings they move on meeting people who guide them to Hanareh. The Kurdish people are unhappy that Mirza is not making music anymore for them. The group plays whenever they can and entertains the crowds in refugee camps.

The unmarried Barat finds a girl and proposes to her but she rejects him when he says that she cannot learn music. Audeh is close to proposing to his eighth wife in another refugee camp until he is told by her that he need not marry to get a son - he could get two if he adopts any of the hundreds of boys in the camp. Audeh is amazed and he does. Finally they are told that Hanareh is in the Iraqi side, and it was best that Mirza travel alone. Any young man is made to join the army.

Leaving his two sons behind Mirza braves the cold and the terrain to find Hanaraeh. He finally finds where she lives, in a refugee camp for only women, but she refuses to meet him as she is affected by chemical weapons. Then we hear of the chemical weapons, the mass graves, the thousands of casualties and the horrors that Saddam Hussein unleashed on these people. Mirza buries his old friend Sayed who had died some times ago but had wanted only Mirza to bury him. Then he is given possession of Hanareh's daughter and is asked to take her with him. As he leaves, we see Hanareh's eyes following him from a tent and other women telling Hanareh to meet Mirza because he came all this distance to see her. She says she would not meet him without her voice that got affected by the chemicals and her diseased body. Mirza takes his love's daughter with him.

'Marooned in Iraq' is a wonderful love story to me. Of the great love between Mirza and Hanareh, of Mirza and his friend Sayed, of the sons and their father, of the husband and his seven wives, of the man and his motorcycle, of the people and their country, of the musicians and their music. Mirza's love stands tall just as his friendship with his band mates Sayed and Hanareh who seem to share something else between them, something divine. All else fades in the background of this love of an old man and his old friends - not even the chemical war between Iran and Iraq can stop that. If there is a message for me from this movie it is that love conquers all. If ever you get a chance to watch this delightful movie, don't miss it. I recommend it highly.

Anjali - And a New Way to Play Chess

Recently Anjali pestered me to buy her a chess board and I did. Soon as we got it she pestered me to teach her the game and I did my best to teach her. She was a good, nay an eager student, and always came to me to learn her chess with great interest. She learnt most of the basic stuff pretty soon - how to place the pieces, what they do and how they move etc. Of course the knights caused a bit of a problem with their unpredictable moves but she kept her interest going and played a few games with me. Whenever she played with me or someone else, she did look a bit amazed at the planning, the deceit that could go on. For an almost-four-year-old, life must be pretty simple and straightforward and not all this.

I did not realise how much she differed with all the capture-the-king-to-win moves until I noticed her playing with her Chitra maushi one day. 'Look Daddy,' said Anjali happily. 'No killing in this chess. They are all friends here.' I saw the game. All the pieces were happily moving around, mingling with one another. Most importantly the white king was riding a black rook which was taking the king for a ride. I am sure the white knights must be taking the black queen out for a saunter too and the bishops counselling the pawns.

There was no doubt as to which game she preferred. She was much more happier with this version of the game, her entire face glowed. When we had played earlier, I could sense the distress in her when her pieces got 'killed'. Now that she found a nice way to handle chess, she was really happy.

I guess that is how God made us all when we came to this earth, seeking harmony, fun and helping one another along. And then we had to grow up and invent deceit, cunning, killing, conquest. Thanks Anjali for yet another perspective at looking at life.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Circle - Irani Movie

Watched Jafar Panahi's 'The Circle'. It was made in 2000 and won accolades and awards for its portrayal of the challenges faced by women in Iran. The movie has been banned in Iran though. Jafar Panahi is also behind bars right now for 'unspecified charges'. I am however a great fan of his work and have seen 'The Mirror', 'The White Balloon' and now 'The Circle' and loved each one of them.

The movie begins in a hospital. We hear the screams of a mother in labour. Soon after, the doctor informs the new mother's mother that her daughter has given birth to a girl. The mother is unhappy - the ultrasound has indicated a boy and her daughter's in-laws may reject her girl child. She tells her niece to call her uncles. At the phone booth the niece bumps into three women prisoners, rebels perhaps, who have escaped prison and are looking to escape the police.

The prisoners try to raise money by selling a gold chain but one of them is caught. The other two then run away - Arezou, the older one raises money and tells the younger one Nargess to make the journey by herself. Nargess gets a ticket with great difficulty - women passengers must be accompanied by men or must have a student ID or they do not get tickets. She persuades the ticket counter boy, get a ticket and goes to buy a shirt for someone she loves. On her return she finds that her bus is being searched by the police and runs away. She goes back to find Arezou, cannot find her and then looks to find another girl Pari who has broken out of prison that day. Pari's father tells her to get lost.

Shortly after Pari is thrown out by her family and she goes about seeking a nurse friend of hers. She needs to abort her child, her husband has been executed. But to abort she needs either the husband's consent, or both the parents' consent. Her friends says she cannot help her. Pari has no ID so she cannot stay in a hotel either. As she walks the road she finds a little girl abandoned by her mother on the road. She sees the mother hiding behind a car she wants some rich family to adopt the pretty young girl. Pari runs away as she sees police approaching.

The young mother also runs away, is picked up by a passing car, which she gets into as she has no ID herself, for some respite. She is detained as a prostitute and is almost arrested. She takes advantage of another road block by the police and slips away, hopefully to go to her girl. At the road block we see a prostitute who is caught with a man.

The man is let off but the girl is sent to prison. In prison we see everyone - the three women prisoners. A guard comes and asks for the girl who gave birth to a baby girl in the first shot indicating that the mother who tried to sell her child was also arrested.

It is interesting to see how the movie goes from one story to another. The old woman at the hospital, the niece, the women prisoners, Pari, the mother and the child, the prostitute. All characters meet or come close to meeting in a connecting scene and the story goes off chasing he other woman. It is very interesting to see the story develop like that in six different stories, each telling the story of women. The need for IDs, the need for men to accompany them to hotels or on travel, the need for chadors, the different treatment given to men over women is quite apparent.

Ban or no ban, certain facts cannot be hidden and what Panahi has shown is only what happens in Iran. World over, few societies respect women. Most, including India, suppress, oppress and subjugate women through societal norms, religion and male domination. The world cannot progress if women are treated forever in such inhuman conditions. The abuse they take even in progressive societies is worse than what is meted out to the backward classes and sections. Truly Panahi has shown that the women of the world are the real backward, oppressed classes, the real 'Dalits' of the world with few rights and few comforts and a life of constant persecution and scrutiny.

Hamoun - Irani Movie

'Hamoun' is a 1990 Irani movie directed by Darisuh Mehrjui. The first review that says 'Daring...Fellini-esque' drew my attention and though I never watched a Fellini movie in my life, have heard so much about him that I watched it. 'Hamoun' reminded me so much of an Indian movie made in the 1980s. The protagonist actually has a hairstyle that is similar to Amitabh Bachchan's and he looks a bit like him as well. Among all Irani films I have sen this one seemed like it could have been in any country, especially in India.

The movie opens with a dream sequence when many people have gathered at a function - a funeral perhaps. We see the hero Hamoun among the crowd and many of the characters we meet later including his wife Mashida. Hamoun, we understand later is an executive selling some equipment to hospitals and who has secret yearnings to be a writer. He is also working on his thesis. Hamoun, at this stage in life is having a tough life with the love of his life Mashida, now his wife and mother of their children, seeking to separate from him. She is a rich girl, a painter, who falls for the intellectual discussions of Hamoun, the aspiring writer, when they were young. But as they grow older she realises that Hamoun is not able to make any headway with his writing nor his thesis and takes out his frustrations on her - once even beating her up.

Seeing her life caught at a bottleneck she seeks to separate which Hamoun opposes. But she goes away and Hamoun cannot handle it. He becomes a nervous wreck, does badly at his job, blames his wife for everything, goes to meet his master Ali whom he fails to meet and goes to visit his grandmother at their ancestral house and gets a gun that his grandfather had. He tries to shoot his wife who is now living comfortably in another place and is seemingly happy, misses and runs away. The movie ends with us entering the dream sequence again, as Hamoun tries to drown himself by walking into the sea. He wakes up from the dream, rescued by his Master Ali.

'Hamoun' could be anybody's story and could be set anywhere. More than anything else it was this familiarity to India that caught my mind and those unforgettable dream sequences which are what make this film Fellini-esque. I wonder if my attaching similarities to India has anything to do with my watching a spate of Irani movies these days. In which case, do we as we grow more familiar, see things as what we have experienced? Interesting thought. Interesting movie.

All We Need Is To Live This Moment

There is a humongous burden we take upon ourselves. A burden for all the myriad possibilities that could occur in our endless future. This huge burden can weigh us down really bad, can make us give up on things before even attempting them, can make us blind to opportunities. Mostly this burden can make us live compromised lives for fear of the future. For some it could mean pressing an early exit form life because th burden is too big. Most allow life in small doses, in only that space that we can imagine, and reject all other wonderful possibilities because of this needless burden we carry in our minds. No wonder our brows are creased, our shoulders are sagging and our hearts weary.

But no one has given us this burden. It is what we chose to carry for whatever reasons. Our only job is to play the current moment fully. To live it fully. To expand it fully. To breathe into it fully. To give it all you have. The moment you do it suddenly life takes on a different hue. This present moment makes you want to laugh. It gets a mischievous glint in your eye. It makes you focussed on it. Things happen as the moment comes alive. And that is all there is. This moment. No past. No future. Be there fully and play life as it comes.

The best batsmen do the same thing. They only play the ball as it comes. They do not play the last ball, or the next ball, or the reputation of the bowler, or the situation they are in. They only play it one ball at a time. And each ball leads to another and another and another until a whole world of possibilities opens up out of complete hopelessness.

Imagine this - your responsibility begins and ends with this moment. Which is pretty much the closest to reality. Freeing is it not. So now, just let the moment take you over. Enter the present moment and be there fully. That is all there is to your life. No more. This moment.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fascinating Retro Night - ABBA

In Pune a couple of weeks ago, we celebrated a retro night dedicated to only ABBA numbers at Parth's house. The major participants were all the 40s gang so everyone knew the songs or at least recognised them as most of us grew up with them. ABBA made a big impression on us in the late 1970s when the group started making some wonderful music. But what differentiated the group was that they were also experts at marketing it. For example a movie called 'ABBA the Movie' sparked off in me an everlasting love for the group, for western music and it is because of that movie that ABBA remained bigger than any other contemporary group in my mind after that. The movie has Peter Fonda (since corrected by Anon below, it is Robert Hughes, and Aussie actor) as a journalist trying to get an interview with the pop group as they travel Australia and perhaps other places. The crowd hysteria, the songs, the glamour of the group and of the lead singers, the catchy numbers, the presentation, the live shows were incredible and left an indelible mark on me.

I remember most songs from the movie - Tiger, Eagle, Ring Ring, Mama Mia, Thank you for the music, I do I do, Fernando and so many more. The visuals during 'Eagle' stayed with me during my school days and the song haunted me for many years. When I was first commissioned by my family members to buy western music for our turntable the first LP I bought was an ABBA's Greatest Hits. The first cassette I bought when we bought a tape player was also an ABBA Greatest Hits. We all knew the songs by heart, picked up new songs from our friends, listened to ABBA on the radio. I remember my good friend Mohan's elder sister Asha playing ABBA's 'Ring Ring' on the radio in a program called 'My Choice'.

So we played as many ABBA numbers as we could that night in Pune and I remembered how enamoured I was with Frida, how I found Agnetha unbearably sexy as she danced in her spandex bottoms, Bjorn prancing with his guitar and Benny on his keyboards. We played all the songs again - Fernando, Take a chance on me, I do I do, Waterloo, Gimme gimme a man after midnight, Ring Ring, Mama Mia, Hasta Manana, Eagle, Rock Me, Honey Honey, Money Money Money, SOS, Nine Pretty Ballerina, People Need Love, Bang a Boomerang, and sang along with all of them getting the lyrics mixed up and having a lovely time.

The next day I was pretty moved by the whole experience and saw a few more videos on youtube including my old favourite 'Tiger'. As I watched more and more songs this time I started falling in love with Agnetha and not so much Frida. There was something in Agnetha's eyes that made her look so different. I read up their history on the net and how they were all individual performers. How Benny and Bjorn met together and tried out singing together. How Agnetha who was already married to Bjorn, and Frida who was with Benny, joined the group as support players and became the lead singers. The story of ABBA was simply fascinating to read and I was wondering and looking at these four people like normal humans for the first time in my life, with their own aspirations, their fears and tragedies. Both couples split up later in their career. It was great fun watching the pictures of the group with Meryl Streep when the movie 'Mama Mia' was released, they all still look fit and fine.

But most of all I remember how this group from Sweden took over my world and introduced me to a world of happy music where people just went from happy to insane as their magic took over. From ABBA I moved on to Beegees, Boney M and then the floodgates to western music really opened, opening up a new page, a new culture; of free love, of rebelliousness, of no rules, of no norms, of a different, irreverent way of looking at and dealing with life. Of perhaps just being happy reacting to life instead of behaving as if one carried the burdens of all mankind on our shoulders. When my friend and fellow music aficionado Naresh Raghavan told me that ABBA had come with a new album sometime in 1983-84 I went all the way to his house in Padmarao Nagar and we solemnly listened to 'Super Trouper' and its foot tapping numbers which sounded sharper and better.

ABBA faded away after that. Despite hundreds of groups coming into my life and thousands of songs, ABBA's records and cassettes and CDs and the digital versions in my ipod remain with me, reminding me always of the wonderful times that this group has given me. It is amazing how music and literature and all things pertaining to culture can pervade countries, continents and make themselves a part of a reality for people far far away. Reading Haruki Murakami's books always is interesting as he keeps peppering them with songs from his era, or rather, my era.

And finally a big thank you to ABBA for all those lovely moments they gave and will continue to give!

Monday, September 12, 2011

20 Things That Were Different In the 1980s in Hyderabad

Here is a list of things that were different in the early 1990s.

1) You were only reachable on landline. People who did not have a landline had a PP number which meant that some poor neighbour had to call you. If you had nothing, people had to write you a letter or just take the bus and meet you. (THERE WERE NO CELL PHONES!)

2) Much communication took place through handwritten letters. There was something called an inland letter or you could write in an envelope both of which were available in the post office.

3) Letters were used (especially in matters related to love and romance) which needed some privacy. Unlike the cell phones today the landlines of yesterday did not allow you to go off to some obscure place and apeak. They were pretty much public phones where everyone could hear what happened. No wonder love and romance did not evolve much those days.

4) To make an STD call i.e. to call anyone in any other city or town other than where you lived, we used what was called trunk booking service. (This was the era before the STD booths were set up.) You called a number from the telephone directory and told the operator that you wanted to speak to x person at y number. The operator would call that person, then call you back, and then put you two together and probably listened to all that was being spoken.

5) If you did not have a phone from where to make a call you needed to go to the GPO or the CTO. Here some official looking birds sat with a couple of phones. People were given tokens. You gave them your numbers to call. They called and called people by their tokens. Everyone got three tries and then the next token. If you got through great, speak on. If you did not, wait back in line. Normally the lines were pretty long especially as they went deeper into the night. The telephones had a system where rates dropped sharply after 10 - it was a quarter. So all long calls were to be made at that time. People would wait till past mid night to get their calls through even in major cities. Some people had budgets - Rs. 100 for today's call and they would not let go of the receiver until the display showed 100. And everything in full public view and hearing - no separate cubicles.

6) To call ISD, you probably needed clearance and a license but no one really called ISD those days. We merely wrote in what were called aerograms sold by the postal guys and these aerograms normally took about 10 days to get where they were supposed to.

7) There were places called Super Bazaars which were the grandparents of today's shopping malls. They of course stocked all necessary items like rice, grains, toiletries etc and not chocolates, condoms and other frivolous stuff like malls do.

8) The prime form of entertainment was movies. In movies people loved watching the advertisements which were sometimes even more attractive than the movies themselves. Watching ads was like a short quick dose of happiness.

9) All movies began with a compulsory version of the Indian News Review or the INR which normally showed what happened in India some five years ago. The INR was in black and white and probably shot on equipment that was manufactured in the last century. It was patchy, voice was cracked, had awful music and everyone waited with bated breath to end that torture. The INR was one of the biggest villains of the movie going experience though it showed some sports etc.

10) Most movie posters were hand painted. It was really interesting as some of the movie hoardings had stars that we could barely recognise and we would be guessing who was what. Sometimes the painters got carried away and added some extra inches to the cleavage or hips and made them far more interesting.

11) There were no charges for parking.

12) In fact there was not much parking required because not many people had cars or even bikes. A typical houseful movie would have about 4-5 cars at best and people who came in cars were the rich ones. Bikes and scooters took up some space but the majority space went to the cycles class. Lots of people travelled by cycles and cycle riskshaws.

13) Movie theatres had distinct classes. Boxes for VVIPs, small rectangular stuff that are seen in single theatres even today. The balcony for the rich, the upper class for the middle class, another class which had some not so comfortable chairs for the lower middle and maybe some really regular tables or chairs for the bottom class. Rural theatres had tickets for sitting on the floor up front. (Most single theatres still have this unlike the multiplexes.)

14) People dressed up to go to the movies. No one was seen going to movies in shorts and chappals. They were social events.

15) There were no corporate hospitals. Appollo had probably just begun. Just a few private hospitals. All major hospital work was done in the government hospitals or in private clinics run by doctors. We did not need to run to hospitals often. I think people just died quietly then.

16) Traffic was easily controlled by a traffic constable who stood in the middle of the road on a raised platform and dealt with most things by a whistle and his hands.

17) People still wore hand stitched clothes. Readymade stuff had not yet come into vogue in a big way. There were no big brands save Flying Machine and Chermas for Hyderabadis those days.

18) People got shoes (Nike, Adidas, Reebok etc), jeans (Levis, Jordache), t shirts (La Coste, Lee etc) from abroad and pestered their cousins and relatives for that stuff. Our options here were limited to Bata in shoes, Flying Machine in jeans etc. Many actually got stuff from Bombay and Bangalore (as Mumbai and Bengaluru were then called)

19) One of the biggest adventures was to go to the lonely and desolate Secret Lake in Jubilee Hills and climb atop the rocks and look out at the fields and horizon. Now the lake is known famously as Durgam Cheruvu and its difficult to find any rocks left to climb.

20) The roads were full of Fiats, Ambassadors, Jeeps which were the main private vehicles. For many after Maruti 800 made an appearance, it was the hippest car on the road and was one of the premium cars. Other big cars included Contessa, some old cars like Chevrolet etc.

More later.

The White Balloon - Movie Review

'The White Balloon' is a highly acclaimed 1995 movie, the feature film debut of Iranian director Jafar Panahi who later made 'The Mirror', 'The Circle' and 'Crimson Gold' - films that won him critical acclaim. Panahi is seen as one of the architects of the New Wave movement in Irani movie making. He has been arrested by the Iranian government in 2010 for propaganda and remains in imprisonment till date.

The movie begins in Teheran with a few hours left for the Iranian New Year to begin. The first scene shows a market place where a young mother looks worried and is probably searching for her little child. She finally finds her daughter, a seven year old girl, standing with a balloon in a place away from the crowds. As they head home the little girl sees a gold fish and wants to buy it - it looks so pretty and healthy compared to the thin goldfish they have at home. She nags her mother and even bribes her with all the gifts she would get for new Year's to buy the goldfish. They pass a couple of snake charmers on their way home who are showing off their wares, telling stories and making money from an idle bunch of watchers.

At home the girl continues nagging her mother. Then her brother. Her father is apparently not holding a job, so there is not enough money. Tired of the girl's nagging the mother gives her the last 500 tomans note that she has and asks her to get back the change after buying the gold fish which costs 100 tomans.

The girl goes with a fishbowl and the 500 tomans in it. She first stops at the snake charmers who in their money making scheme take her 500 tomans as donation. When she starts crying they return it to her. She then goes to the shopkeeper who tells her that the big gold fish cost 200 tomans and the small ones cost 100 tomans. But now she realises that she has lost her 500 tomans - it is not in her fish bowl. She starts crying, leaves her fish bowl there and goes back to find her note. An old lady who is a customer at the fish shop helps her retrace her path to find the note. Finally they find the note fallen into a dry sewer in front of a closed shop with an iron grill in the way. The old lady tells a known shop keeper next to that shop to help the girl and goes away.

The girl finds no help from the shop keeper. The fish shop owner tells her she can take the fish free of cost but she does not agree - she will pay and take it and she tells him to keep that fish for her. Her brother joins her and together they try to get the note out of the sewer. Many people come - some help, some don't. Finally the brother goes to find the shopkeeper who owns the shop and tells him to come to the shop. In his absence a soldier meets the girl and tells her how he also has two young sisters like her but he cannot go to meet them for New year's because he has no money to travel nor to buy them gifts. He needs 400 tomans. The brother comes and tells her not to talk to strangers.

Just as the skies threaten to rain they find a young Afghan balloon seller who has a stick on which the balloons are displayed. They think they can use the stick to get the note out. Only they need something sticky. The brother goes to get some chewing gum. But the balloon seller goes away to sell the three remaining balloons he has left. The brother comes back and finds the balloon seller gone. As the brother and sister wonder what to do, the balloon seller returns with only one balloon left, a white one, and offers to help. The three kids eat the chewing gum, laughing at their escapade, stick the sticky gum to the end of the stick and retrieve the note just as the shopkeeper comes to the shop. The brother and sister go home with the note and the gold fish. The balloon seller, sits in front of the shop, his white balloon still with him.

Once the little girl and her lost note story is established, you are hooked to find out how she would retrieve it. All else is a simple for and against. Panahi is an expert at showing the world through the eyes of children, the kind of dangers that they seem to survive so nonchalantly, something he shows in the 'Mirror' again. The scene when she retrieves her money from the snake charmers where for a while you wonder if the snake charmers are going to fool her, makes you want to step in and get it for her. But the snake charmers give it back to her and tell her that they do not want to see a little angel like her cry. Then the fish shop owner, after starting off negotiating hard, also gives her the fish free. Only she does not take it. Or the soldier who chats her up while waiting for his transport sounds like a mad man but turns out nice. It is a world that anyone who has been a kid can understand. A world that gives us hope in the way that it ensures the child gets what she wants finally.

What also impressed me is the single minded approach that children take when they want something. To me the movie was also a wonderful case study of how to get what you want. Her desire to get it at any cost, her bribing her brother, her mother, using every tactic in her repertoire, negotiating with the shop keeper, spending most of the day trying to retrieve her note, finally getting it shows amazing focus, persistence and courage. And for a moment when she hears the soldier's story she looks like she will let him have her 500 toman. And that is the difference between being a child and a grown up - they will do everything in their power to get what they want and just as easily, give it up. They do not get attached to it and move on. Grown ups do the opposite - they put half hearted efforts to get what they say they want and get too attached to that. Enough to take all the fun out of living.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's an Ad, Mad World - The Ball Bouncing Buyers and Sellers

Quickr has this slightly unbelievable ad where people are bouncing balls or throwing them over their shoulder and by the time the balls get back to them, they have completed their transactions. The ads do get the story of speed across, gets the brand name reinforced in the viewer's mind which is two out of three for it. As for the idea of bouncing and throwing balls I am not too convinced but it seems to get the major story in so I'd have no problem with it if I was Quickr.

The Story as I See It - Buy and Sell Those Who Do Not Want to Think
We have a competition of sorts for people who are in a hurry to buy or sell things online. The entire idea seems to be to sell or buy before the balls bounce back for reasons best known to them. Presumably they are really keen to get rid of the stuff or buy that stuff or whatever. The focus does not seem to be on the value one gets - just of getting rid of stuff or getting stuff quickly without spending any thought. For those who want to buy and sell without giving any thought to the process, this is the perfect site.

Apart from the bouncing ball business which probably serves to assist brand recall, I don't have too much of a problem with this ad. Qucikr actually registers better than the other site which goes like OWL or OMG or something - a site that seems to have better ads but lower brand recall. If only they had worked someway of getting the speed and brand in without compromising too much on the value angle of the buying and selling.

It's an Ad, Mad World - The Super Man with Wings

The Volkswagon Jetta ad caught my ad instantly. To me one of the better ads of the season in many ways - says just enough, gets the message across and most importantly has enough to make you remember which brand it is all about. It is uniquely made, catches the eye and makes you think.

The Story as I saw it
Here's the young little lad who has wings but who realises that these wings are not something that make him different in a bad way, but something that makes him different in a super human way. He is flying, kicking in goals, saving people and enjoying the stardom of the man with the wings until her sees the Jetta - and decides to trade the wings in for the car. The look on his face as he drives off, looking at the place his wings had been is fantastic.

I have no complaints with this ad. Completely thinks differently, gets your attention with some weird visuals, a different looking model and tells a story in a fashion that makes you wonder why this superman is driving away in this car. Full marks to the creative team for coming up with this ad. Tops the list of ads this season for me.

Thought for the Day - The Illusion of Control

As we push ourselves to do better and to achieve our potential, there comes a time when we lose balance, the sight of reality. This time typically comes in our ascending period when we try to control everything - beyond even what matters to us. We somehow tend to think that we, as we were earlier, are not fully equipped to handle this new reality, this challenge of being in control of everything. And so we change ourselves bit by bit. Smiles disappear, miles get added on, frowns appear, information is not shared, spontaneity is lost.

As we change ourselves to be that person in total control we lose control entirely, and we try to be more of the person we are not. We fail to understand that the person we were, we are really, is what brought us to this stage, what gave us this whiff of control. And in a classic paradox, we lose that very person who got us here and become someone else. We seek and seek to find that balance then, to find that sweet happiness, to find that ease we had with the world, not knowing that it is within us, that we just have to let go of this mask. We don't need to be anything more or anything different.

Control, the perfect balance, excellence, in the universe, is like water in the palm. You grab at it, you lose it. You let it be, it stays. It is you that you meed to control, not the water, or everything else and everyone else. And control of you is just letting your true self be as it is. Don't grab it, don't force it, don't change it and don't mould it. It is perfect just the way it is. It will evolve just as it has been, without your additional help.

To be the best you, just get out of the way and just be. Just flow as you were made to flow.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Gap Between Planning and Doing - How to Bridge It?

This is inspired by a question one student K. Siva Prasad Raju asked of me today. 'I plan, but I find it difficult to implement. Any suggestions?' I sent him off a mail on what I thought were things to watch out for and do. And then I thought it might be well worth sharing here as well. Do feel free to add your valuable nuggets to my thoughts!

Some reasons and things to be do or not do when implementing your plan:

1) First ensure that the plan has a time limit. Every broken down stage of the plan should also have time limits. Only when there is a deadline do we work, so set your time limits and stick to them. Put those deadlines in someplace where you can see it and feel the urgency.

2) Make sure that the plan is not too tough to implement in the initial stages. Make the transition gentle. Eg. If you are currently working for 2 hours everyday, the plan should make it 2.5 hours for a week, and then 3 hours the next week. (If you suddenly go up to 5 hours it will be difficult.) Make all plans grow incrementally, in small bites, so you can digest it easy. Just ensure that what you set for yourself is not too easy or too difficult. It should be just the right balance and make you stretch enough.

3) Don't give up for a long stretch of time if you really need to break from the routine. Many times we feel like giving up especially if something bigger comes up - illness, travel, exams etc. In such times make up for the lost time through extra hours later, or by slightly adjusting and reviewing your plan. But don't shift your end deadline! Do this within the smaller goals. If you planned 21 hours a week, make up the lost 10 hours in the other days by additional hours.

4) Normally starting trouble is a problem. Some days 3 hours will seem too big. On such days tell yourself to work for only 5 minutes (lazy days sepcial). On days that you feel like doing nothing - tell yourself "its okay if I dont do 3 hours today. I will do 10 minutes". Normally once you start, you will do much longer and feel much better. Slow down, but don't stop. Even 5 or 10 minutes everyday - one concept, one idea is good enough.

5) Get yourself a support group. Get yourself a group that has similar goals so each one pushes the other. This is a powerful and important step and can make you achieve more than you set out to. Initially everyone needs a group or some coach or mentor to keep pushing you. Find a supportive group that adds to your energy, motivates you when down and pushes you just that bit more.

6) Tell people who care about you about your plan. It helps because you now put more responsibility on yourself by telling them. These should also be people who support your ideas not people who do not support them. People who will encourage your ideas even in thought. They add to you.

7) Avoid people, things that take up too much of your time away from your goal - they draw away your energy. Do things that energise you and put you in a positive frame of mind. Be careful of things and people that make you feel less than, low and dull. They take away from you.

8) Take 100% responsibility for your plans and dreams and motivate yourself each day with positive talk and affirmations. It helps to see your plans, your little tags, quotes in your face. It is hard work and needs great mental strength. All this adds to your mental strength, just like going to a gym builds muscle.

9) Make a daily progress workbook and write down your everyday progress in that. When you look at the progress everyday, it shows what you did well and what you did not. Don't brood over it, do it.

10) Appreciate and give yourself a reward after each small victory or achievement. Celebrate with something nice for yourself. Put that up on your fb account and say YES, I did it!

Friday, September 9, 2011

90% Believe That Success Can be Achieved Ethically

It was a wonderful change from a very different and alarming statistic I got a few weeks ago. 90% of the freshers in the MBA class I spoke to yesterday at VJIM, Hyderabad, spontaneously raised their hands in support of their belief that success can be achieved and businesses could be run successfully by ethical means. This was probably the best response I got to this question in the past three years that I have been interacting with MBA students in colleges in terms of numbers.Fantastic and truly heart warming.

The very few hands that were sceptical of the idea also listened carefully when I expressed my opinions of how their inchoate beliefs could set the tone for their real experiences later. And that they could perhaps hold and nurture a different belief if they wanted to experience a different reality.

I think that up to their mid-teens most children are highly idealistic. Almost painfully idealistic - that you fear for their illusions almost. In the next few years their opinions change and harden - mainly reinforced by what is happening in the world around them.

I do wish these students had more debates on ethics and values so they can hear viewpoints from both sides because I do believe that these youth innately believe in goodness, in good values and ethics, but fear that it may set them back. Maybe the right examples, interactions with people who can speak with conviction, that it is perfectly fine to live a life of integrity and honesty and still achieve what they want. They are at an age when they make choices for the rest of their life and it could certainly help a bit to hear more successful people speak from personal experience.

But whatever it is that brought out this reaction, it was wonderful. I do hope and pray that they all nurture these beliefs and grow them. It ensures an ethical and fine world for all of us.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Driving On Indian Highways - A Bit Like Cricket

The Indian highways are always seen as the territory of the big boys. When the city driver first gets on to the highway you can instantly make out from the diffident way the vehicle approaches the traffic, the polite manner in which it shies away from the big boys and cautiously keeps away from the mainstream. After a while it realises that one has to assert oneself, know one's places in the scheme of things and more importantly understand the others' place. There is give and take, the small ones taking care of the big ones, the big ones looking out for the small ones, compassionate ones, rogue drivers, irresponsible ones, youthful ones, fearful ones and so on. It is a bit like cricket in many ways, batting more so, specially when one makes the transition from school cricket to the bigger boys.

The best players respect the game. Similarly, the Indian highways are a dangerous proposition for those who do not respect the road. This is so because most of the highways are merely two laned - traffic zooms by in opposite directions without the comfort of a divider in between for most parts, and without much margin on the other side either. There is no comfort guaranteed for the champion either.

As batsmen deal with different pitches, different conditions, bowlers etc and look for an error free stint at the wicket so do the good drivers. There is a lot of pedestrian traffic, children from villages running about, wobbly cyclists, aggressive motorcyclists, sleepy truck drivers, careening buses, speedy small cars, cattle, dogs, goats, even mongooses, snakes etc. And then there are potholes, road construction activities which leave material hanging about, sudden diversions, narrow bridges, vehicles stopping in the middle of the road due to breakdowns, accidents that cause your eyes to widen etc. There is enough happening on the Indian highway that will keep you awake and alert as any reality show would.

Having driven on the comfort and luxury of some of the best Indian roads - Delhi-Jaipur, Mumbai-Pune, Belgaum-Pune, Vizag-Vijayawada, Hyderabad-Bangalore - the first thing that struck me was that driving on the expressways is boring in a way. Stick to your lane, stick to your speed and hang on to the steering. The biggest challenge on these six to eight laned highways is that of sleeping off. The two laned highway is any day far more interesting with its drama, danger. It keeps me alive and alert.

But there are certain rules that one can follow if one is not used to long distance highway driving for safety and comfort. I will try and list them down here.

1) Just as batsmen plan out the length of their stints and prepare accordingly so must you prepare for the length you can put in. In my opinion, on Indian roads one can drive 500-700 kms a day which could take up to 15 hours or so with a solo driver (provided the driver has enough rest the previous day) though 400-500 kms is probably the best (8-10 hours).

2) Preferably drive during the day unless absolutely necessary. Night driving has the hazards of drivers sleeping off which is the most common cause of accidents on the highways. Even if you do not sleep there are many overworked truck, bus and taxi drivers who have been driving non-stop for days and who fall asleep at the wheel at high speeds in the comfort of the night. They might head towards you in the dark of the night as if they are seduced by your vehicle and you may have big trouble warding them off.

3) Having good partners is important to keep you focused on your game and help you play longer innings. Similarly, is night driving, get some good company who will also stay awake with you, keep you alert, someone to talk, listen to music. If everyone else falls asleep roll down the window so the cold air keeps you awake - don't get too snug else you will nod off. And if you ever, even get a hint that your eyes are closing STOP IMMEDIATELY. Wash your face, walk around, get to the chai joint and ward off sleep right then with some physical exercise or go to sleep for a short nap. Don't even think of making it to the next 20 kms in that state because you could just nod off soon. Most cricketers call for gloves, make a change when they know they are tiring and are making mistakes.

4) Get to the ground early - so you are mentally and physically prepared when the game starts. Similarly start your journey early because you will save at least an hour in terms of the city traffic. I start at 5, some start at 430 even. By the time you get past the city limits it is about 30 minutes to an hour which would otherwise take almost two hours if regular city traffic starts from 7 a.m. on. The slow start saps you a bit.

5) They say Sachin Tendulkar checks every part of his kit bag every evening before the next day's game. Your gear must be in good shape. Always get your tyre pressure checked before you hit the highway, get the spare tyre looked at. If the front tyres (normally where the engine is) are worn out or bald, change them. Especially when on the expressway or on highways where you are likely to speed, bald tyres in the front are another common reason for accidents since they tend to burst at high speeds and there is nothing one can do if a tyre bursts at high speed on a highway. Except pray.

6) Most top players get a good night's rest before the big game for obvious reasons. It is best that the driver gets a good night's sleep and wakes up all fresh and refreshed. Many drivers work till 12 in the night or later and then report to work at 4 in the morning for another full day's work. Driving on the highway needs much concentration.

7) Get all protective gear in place - helmet, pads, abdomen guard, thigh guard, elbow guard. Use it when it is there. Similarly use the seat belts for all concerned, in the front seats, and if available in the back seats.

8) Good batting is all about keeping the head still and keeping the eye on the ball all the time. Refrain from too much activity in the driver area. Many times drivers themselves are doing too many things while driving eating, talking, looking back, picking up stuff, on the phone, and their co passengers are moving about and falling over - all things that could distract the driver. Keep the driver free. And keep children in the back seat and not hold them in the front for the view. They have no seat belts nor special seats here, so they are best at the back.

9) No good batsman slogs blindly because the percentage of getting out is high. On the road never overtake on curves or any place blindly. Many accidents occur because drivers tend to get chancy and overtake on curves blindly leaving no space for anyone if a heavy vehicle comes from the opposite side.

11) The best batsmen control their mind and don't give in to urges to play rash strokes. Similarly, never overtake unless there is a clear and comfortable gap between you and any opposite vehicle speeding towards you. Many small cars take chances thinking they can pull off the gap. It is not like city driving where you can squeeze in because this is all happening at high speeds and with heavy vehicles that cannot stop or maneuver themselves so easily and you may get into sticky situations i.e. sticking to the heavy vehicles bumpers or something like that.

12) Always look at the field, know the field before taking off for a run or playing a aerial shot. When overtaking also make sure that the road ahead is also clear and under control. Some of the trailers are extra long, some are in a convoy, so keep all that in mind before you start overtaking else you will be in for a nasty surprise.

13) Good batsmen always keep a sharp eye out to ensure they don't get any surprises - extra swing, spin or bounce - is taken into account by them. Similarly good drivers always keep a sharp eye out for people who could stray on the road especially near villages, settlements. Also for cattle, dogs that sashay across the roads. If the roads are narrow, specially more so because there is no space.

14) The best batsmen are extra careful when they face a part time bowler because they know that they will lose their wicket if they underestimate the bowler and relax. Slow down every time you reach a village or a town to as low as possible. It may look okay to course through at the 50 or 60 but one small scratch, one nudge and you are stuck there for the day or more sitting in the police station (if the locals don't send you to the hospital first).

13) Good batsmen are careful when dealing with maverick fielders who can pull of brilliant catches or run outs unpredictably. Watch out for youngsters on motorcycles who make U turns, sharp curves etc when near villages.

14) Keep comfortable distances from vehicles in front, at the side because you need time to react if they stop suddenly.

15) Keep comfortable margins on the side of the road as well. Keep track of the sides of the road in case you need to maneuver. Sometimes the sides disappear leaving you no space.

16) Good batsmen are wary of tiring and aggressive bowlers and fielders and keep out of their way. Similarly be aware of buses that carry passengers especially when they are closer to their destinations. Unlike the truckers, these guys have some deadlines and step on the gas and take some unnecessary risks. Don't be in their way as they overtake and take up all the space on the road. You may need to get off the road when they approach sometimes, so keep that space.

17) Don't assume anything about the wicket until and unless you have studied it well. Be specially careful of roads under construction because they cut off the sides of the road and leave gaping holes, drops of 10 feet or more with almost little or no protection. Any miscalculation and you could end up having a drop of 10 feet.

18) Good batsmen don't get distracted by sledging or any other side plays. Don't turn around and examine accidents because at 70 or 80 kmph you have little time too react to vehicles coming from the front. I find myself doing that every once in a while and realised how dangerous it can be. I should guess most accidents happen while stopping or looking at other accidents.

19) Good batsmen try to keep their eyes on the ball until it hits the bat - all the time. Keep your eyes on the road ALL THE TIME. It could be the difference between being alive or dead.

2O) Cricket is all about partnerships and when there are partners or team mates who share the load it is much easier. It helps if there are two drivers or if any other person also knows how to drive. Else take it nice and easy and don't push yourself beyond your limits.

21) A steady pace is always best and shows control to everyone including the team mates in the pavilion. A steady 80 kmph is best even on clear roads and covers for bad roads, quick changes and allows enough reaction time. Even on the expressway 80 kmph is recommended. With new cars it is easy to get carried away and I know drivers who do in excess of 140 kmph which leaves no room for getting out of sticky situations. Not only is it unsafe but all the others in the car feel unsafe and cannot relax.

22) The best batsmen stick to the old fashioned playing in the V because it is safer. Stick to the known roads, the bigger national highways, especially if you are with the family because you are likely to get some help there in terms of a breakdown. State highways have long stretches where you find no help.

23) The best batsmen play out the best bowlers and don't chance them. Similarly on the road, always respect the heavy traffic and give them way. It is always heartwarming to see truck drivers guiding you when you want to overtake - forbidding overtaking when there is opposite traffic or a curve ahead. Highways are about give and take. Same with the team.

24) The best batsmen know that they have to be at the wicket to score runs - safety comes first. So with drivers. Safety is most important so keep that top of priority. Speed and time comes later. Always be within yourself, keep the vehicle and the road under control. Never reach out or take chances, not even the smallest chance. It is like batting, one mistake is all it needs to send you back to the pavilion.

25) Enjoy the road, stop and enjoy the scenery. Go off the road. Smell the roses. Buy the village produce. Don't always look to go point A to B. Life is more than that especially if you are in your own car. The best cricketers also enjoy the game, the journey and do not see it as hard work.

Just as in cricket. As in life. One needs discipline, patience and control. With experience one realises when to give in, when to hold on and when to press forward the advantage. But mostly it is not about getting from A to B at the earliest only - it is about the journey as well and that is important to know. Happy driving.