Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Camera Buff - Movie Review

This is a 1979 Polish film by Kieslowski, about an amateur camera buff. Filip Mosz, a worker in the purchasing department of a factory in a small town in Poland, buys a camera to film his new born daughter. His life seems happy now with his wife, the daughter and his hobby of making videos and films. But when his boss asks him to shoot the celebration of the company's anniversary, Mosz finds that his films now offer bigger possibilities. The short film, 'Anniversary', wins third prize at a festival and Mosz is inspired to make more movies and give expression to his new found hobby.

He however fails to see the distress his wife goes through at his obsession with his camera work and films, the new people he meets including some attractive cinephiles, his touring and she leaves. His boss is not happy with a picture he makes about the oldest factory worker, while the worker himself is moved by what he sees. Even as his work starts getting recognition, Mosz realises that his friends are getting sacked because of a film he made that exposed the corruption in the system, his family has left and his creative expression really has no voice in that space. He exposes his third, passionately made film without showing it to the judges and symbolically turns the camera on himself at the end, perhaps introspectively.

Mosz desire for creative expression is captured brilliantly and the insecurities of those around him as he starts loving his camera as well. How an individual's right to expression can be stifled in societies cannot be shown better I felt as Mosz if made answerable to everything he shoots. With no support at home nor outside, Mosz would have given up his camera pretty soon after. I recommend watching it, if one gets a chance.

Story Idea - Dead Man Live Man

This is a story of two people who land up to find some solace, maybe at a sanitorium of sorts. One is a young man who wants to commit suicide and the other is an old man who is terminally ill but desperately wants to live. The young man finds that the old man desperately wants to live to ensure that his wife and kids are taken care of, his things settled, and would do anything to live. The old man finds out that the young man has almost nothing wrong with his life and is committing suicide simply because he failed his exams and his girlfriend has ditched him. They spend a night together where they talk.

The old man tells the young man how he would do anything to get the young man's life, the one he was willingly throwing away, without knowing its value. The young man is interested and wants to know what the value of his life is. That starts the old man on his story of love and hate, of longing and parting, of beginnings and ends, of passion and deceit. He tells the youngster he will fund his family if he could find a way for the old man to live. (Here I am thinking we could have an angel of death joining them who has the power to switch their life spans if they wanted.) But as they tell each other their stories, would they really want to switch?

By day break, the old man understands that his life is over and he must move on, and the young man understands that he must face his life with more optimism. Dustin Hoffman as the old man and someone appropriate as the young man!

Thought for the Day - The Meaning of Success

'Success' - is the standard answer for what one is searching for in life. Especially when one is out of college, or still young, this one word seems like magic. 'Success' depicts to us a frequency where we can tune into wealth, fame, power, endless travel, beautiful people, the high life. Pretty much all the things we see in movies and glossies and ads are accessible with this one word 'success'. When I speak to students sometimes I ask them this question about what they would like to get out of their MBAs and other degrees and most give me this magic word 'success'.

But 'success' is a loosely defined word. It becomes what you think it is. It could be the multi storey building or a small plot of farmland with cattle. It becomes imperative to think of what it means to us, honestly. Surprisingly most do not seem to have very hard opinions of 'success'. Some money, a reasonably good job, starting a business, travel across the world, some cars, maybe a private jet...and somewhere here the steam runs out. So I make it mandatory to define what success means to each one and then it becomes clear that our concepts of 'success' have been borrowed from all else. So what do we want really?

Not for everyone enjoys earning and piling up money. Not everyone likes the spotlight. Not everyone likes endless travel. Not everyone is comfortable with high end stuff. Not everyone likes jobs that are highly demanding and responsible. Not everyone wants houses all over the place. Most in fact have modest dreams, of small houses close to nature, of starting a school, of spending time with family, of small family trips and gatherings, of friends, of small business ideas doing well and offering sustenance and a form of expression. They would like a happy family, a healthy life, a hobby they enjoy, a job or business that pays well enough, a house at some point etc. Few have ambitious plans and the energy to drive them.

To me success is about using all you have, your time and energy, to express yourselves the best. That would seem vague, but what I am saying is that if you pursued a particular skill that you have chosen to develop, academic or artistic, have figured out that your spirit seems to merge somehow when you do that, when you 'know you are good at it', then, by giving your best shot at it, you would most often find all that 'success' means coming to you. To say it simply, as an accountant or a salesman or an IT pro or a businessman or a musician or a player or a coach or whatever, if you keep at it because you love it for long enough, constantly seeking improvement in small measures, you are bound to travel the world, to make your money, to earn your fame and improve your self-esteem as an expert in your area of choice. It gives an identity, one that you are proud of. That to me is success, doing what you love, for a long enough time to be the expert at it and leveraging it to gain all else you wish materially.

The big question often is how does one find what one enjoys doing for such a long period of time, for the rest of your life. Look back into your life and find out what you loved doing, what you got praised for, what you spent most of your time doing, and then you will see that nothing has gone waste. It is easy to see. If it is not, close your eyes, ask yourselves what you would love to do the most for the rest of your life, and then do it with all your heart and mind, devoting time and energy to it, with awareness and without fear of consequences. People have built amazingly successful careers out of fried chicken, retailing, fashion, shoes, education....whatever. The only thing is that they have been passionate about being the best. It was never about following what others did, it was always about doing what you think is best, even if it means taking the foot off the gas pedal and slowing down, going to small towns, taking time of, but doing things out of choice.

Being passionate does bring you accolades. Being the best can give you deep satisfaction and the admiration of peers. That is ruled by the heart. On the other side is the mind. The one that urges a balance between immense awareness and flights of creation - the one that can ground you really when it comes to signing the contracts. This is the key. You must be able to put a worth on yourself, to market yourself in the terms of exchange, money. You must see ways of marrying commerce to your talent. It is the job of the mind. And anyone can do it. It is merely telling yourself to knock out the ego, the sham of being 'good' and 'gracious'. Like Ray Charles, one of the best blues musicians ever and an astute businessman would say, 'use the country bumpkin innocence' to get what he wants. He'd play the fool but he'd always ask for the moon. No one will take the responsibility to market your skill so find your way to do it.

'Success' then comes in two parts and one must take responsibility for both. To do what one wants really requires passion and that is a function of the heart, and to use it as a means of exchange one must be aware to opportunity, and that is a function of the mind. When they both come together, 'success' brings true contentment and becomes meaningful not just to the individual, but to society at large too. Teachers who can think of schools, thinkers who can take ideas out, artists who can showcase and protect culture, leaders who can make a difference, anything is possible if our idea of 'success' gets clearer in our head.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Inox Experience

Went to view a movie at the Inox theatre in GVK One today with my four year old. She has just got the basic story of Ramayana and was keen to watch 'Srirama Rajyam'. So we both went to see the movie.

The ticket counter is outside the mall, but we could not park there for the ticket as the hundred or so security guys waved us away towards the parking. I could not do any stunt like hopping out and buying the ticket in a tick either. Anyway we passed by two sleepy bomb checkers who somehow let us through and then having realised their blunder came charging behind our car, banging on the dicky et al. I stopped and realised that they had forgotten to do their check at the appropriate time and wished to do so. We then went round and round in a circular ramp to a well organised parking lot. They have three levels so it is important that one remembers which level you are on else you may have to search all three!

From the parking to the lobby we took one lift. From the lobby we walked out to the front of the building, bought the tickets, got frisked and searched again, and returned into the building. We took another set of elevators and went up to level 3. From there we had to walk around to one side and after another thorough frisk and check we were let into the movie watching area. The screens were spread all over and we went searching for ours. Since there was some time we bought the most expensive french fries ad pop corn we'd ever bought - Rs. 65 for 100 gms he said!

All excited we got into the theatre and found our seats. Anjali could not sit in hers because the seat was so wound up that it would not settle down under her 4 year olds weight. She preferred to sit on me. And then began the show. First they played the trailer of a gory, violent movie which must have scared all the children to death. The sound was extremely loud, the visuals bloody. Thankfully it got over and then the movie started. For some reason the Inox guys could not get the sound right. It was way too loud even for me. Anjali sat through most of the time with her ears covered with her hands. The entire spectacle was intimidating and I was glad when Anjali started making her escape pleas 45 minutes into the show. Come on guys, get your act right. You charge 150 bucks a ticket and promise a great movie experience and then you assault our senses till the senses scream to run away, or get numbed, or scare little kids so they go away. Can't you guys get it right, basic things at least, like the audio?

We exited soon enough and encountered another child who was being coaxed back into the theatre. As we went out, we found a chap who held on to a chain to stop people from exiting early. I told him we would like to leave. He confirmed that I would not return and then insisted on collecting my tickets. I asked him why - I had paid 150 bucks and at least deserved a receipt, my part of the ticket, a souvenir. He told me that in the world of Inox, if you decide to leave the premises, you can never return, for that show. Once you exit, you are banished until you get another ticket and enter their portals again! So you give up your proof of having been at that show, your receipt and go away. 'Rules sir,' he said. Fair enough.

We walked around the periphery and got back to the elevator somehow. It took us to the lobby where we had to get off and then we walked to another elevator that took us to the parking. At the parking we shelled out 20 bucks and exited.

Would I be rushing back to see movies here? I doubt it.

Norwegian Wood - Movie Review

This is a movie based on Haruki Murakami's novel of the same name (and one that I have gifted to Parth but I have not read yet myself). My experience with Murakami so far is that it is difficult to capture his imagination in ours; so only a brave director must have attempted this. Murakami goes into spaces we can never imagine and it was definitely interesting to see a movie based on his novel. Another interesting thing is Murakami's love for western music, of the 60s to the 80s, which comes across in his novels and here he is, with a novel based on the famous song by the Beatles 'Norwegian Wood' which incidentally has sitar as a major instrument in it.

The movie is about Vatanabe, whose good friend Kidzuki, has a girl friend Naoko. Now Kidzuki and Naoko have grown up since they were three, and Vatanabe knows Kidzuki for a long time too. They grow up to be teens when Kidzuki for some reason commits suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning. Vatanabe goes off to Tokyo to study and work, more as an escape. One day he meets Naoko and they end up celebrating her 20th birthday by sleeping together. Vatanabe discovers she is a virgin and is surprised that she and Kidzuki never had sex. Naoko then disappears. Vatanabe meets her in her sanitorium, a place for the disturbed, and meets her cigarette smoking friend Reiko, the one who plays 'Norwegian Wood' and sings it in English. In Tokyo he meets Midori, a girl who seems to like him. He also has a friend Nagasawa who has many girlfriends and who has no real commitments to anyone except himself - someone Vatanabe cannot understand. Naoko goes deeper into her depression and commits suicide. Midori leaves Vatanabe because she feels Naoko's shadow in Vatanabe. And to top it all, Reiko comes to meet Vatanabe and ends up sleeping with him. In a parting line Nagasawa tells Vatanabe never to waste time feeling sorry for himself - a fine piece of advise I thouhgt. Midori makes up with Vatanabe in the end.

The cinematography of the film was stunning. Each frame was like some masterpiece, a visual treat for me. The cast did a fine job. The movie itself had a haunting quality to it, which is wonderful since Murakami's novels bring that same feeling. To capture the angst of twenty-somethings caught in questions such as love, sex, relationships, friendships in an honest manner was something that I found interesting. Most times youngsters are shown as idiots in movies or rather one-dimensional characters, and it is wonderful to see a real side to people who dare to explore themselves deeper. This movie belongs to the 60s or the 70s, I felt. But I would love to see a Hindi or regional movie that explores these questions deeper, that confusion that youth have honestly. For once please show some intelligence in the youth as well. As for 'Norwegian Wood' watch it. It borders on the depressive but it is like no movie you'd have seen before.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

TV Shows And Us

Watched a few television shows on and off recently. One that I liked because it amazed me that a cookery competition could be interesting was Masterchef Australia. I liked the way the judges were, they way they handled the contestants and the respect they gave each one as an individual even when they flouted rules etc. It was an interestingly packaged contest and I enjoyed it. I also find and appreciate the way food is made and served these days.

But the Indian Masterchef gave me a lot of stress. The judges were like headmasters and were constantly threatening the contestants by their superior position and knowledge. In fact one episode when I watched a rather elderly contestant get all hassled with their constant goading and severe reprimands was quite stressful to watch and I walked off before I got a heart attack (that contestant looked like he was having one surely). I am not a big fan of this show. The judges need to tone down, treat the contestants more respectfully and be less in the face.

What I do watch with a sense of amazement is the Big Boss which houses all the dysfunctional people in the world. From rapists, to dacoits, to murderers, to the most ill behaved and ill brought up people in the world, we get to see the worst sides of everyone there. And I pity them, the audience, the makers of this show for making this show and for parading human nature at its possible worst emanating from a bunch of ill equipped people to handle that. I wonder where it will go, this show and the thought behind it.

But one channel that I doff my hat off (if I had one that is) is Ceebeebies, the kids channel of BBC which makes such wonderfully educative and participative content for kids that it has just taken over the mindspace of Anjali my 4 year old from the Cartoon networks and Pogos. Instead of the kiddy violence and cartoon stories which add nothing, Ceebeebies, has them learn, dance, move, do things and I wonder how they can do that. How does this channel make kids so interested in watching an educative program at the cost of cartoons like Tom and Jerry. Definitely kids know what is best for them, a lot more than adults. Maybe Ceebeebies should have some programs for adults too!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Other Man - Movie review

'The Other Man' is a movie that deals with a husband (Liam Neeson as Peter) who finds out that his wife (Laura Linney as Lisa) has had an affair during their 25 year marriage of which he knew nothing about. The Cambridge based couple, he a software engineer and she a shoe designer, are successful but do not seem to have too much time for each other. They have a daughter Abigail who is now moving in with her impoverished musician boy friend, George. Obviously Peter has certain inflexible ideas about life, about people which are not shared by his wife and daughter.

But Peter gets little clues of his wife's infidelity after her death and he tracks down the person to Milan, a place where she went often on her business. He finds the person Rafe (Antonio Banderas) and knows him well enough to play chess with him and for Rafe to tell him all about the most beautiful woman in the world and how much he loved her and how much she did. Peter keeps his anger under control and his vengeance and plays the lover by getting access to his wife's emails, her phone (daughter does that). Peter also discovers that Rafe is not the refined, cosmopolitan businessman as he projects himself, but a janitor with no money. Peter sets up Rafe through emails, funds his trip to a place where Rafe thinks Lisa is coming. There Peter breaks the truth about Lisa to Rafe who tells Peter how his own coldness drove Lisa to Rafe. Rafe is disgusted with Peter.

Peter does however go to a party thrown by Rafe in London in honour of Lisa. And one finds that perhaps Lisa has succeeded in changing her inflexible husband's views to life by leaking her secret to him after her death. Peter accepts people easier, Rafe and George for starters, as people and one can only guess that his life would have been a lot easier.

It is a nice, layered movie and one that I enjoyed thoroughly. Sensitive and subtly made with wonderful performances from all of the cast specially Neeson, Banderas, Linney and the daughter, Romola Garai. It would probably interest a mature audience and I suspect youngsters might lose the subtly made point of the wife's torment at seeing her beloved husband be in a self trapped prison and how she finds her escape, and how she plots his escape as well.

Story Idea - The Person Who Has Many Deadlines

Okay this is a half baked story as ususal but the general theme runs like this. Mr. Hero is rushing to catch a deadline he has, half way across the world. After much hardship he meets the object of his deadline - a beautiful, ex-celebrity he always admired - but one who has fallen into a lonely and sad life. He tells her of his love for her and they both have a good time and he movies on. And then to another deadline and so on and on. He meets some, he does not meet some, (the insecurities of the stars), some are non-celebrities, some are relatives, some are old friends, some old enemies, but he makes an attempt to meet everyone (One strain could be if he met all the people he hated or hurt - man that would bring on the drama).

Why is her meeting everyone? Because he has been diagnosed with a terminal disease and he realises that the only ay to survive is to forgive. But the race gets hotter as he gets worse and realises that the hardest ones to forgive are those closest to him, his family and himself!

Of course he gets well miraculously (doctor's drop jaws and he makes a call to his superior and says 'this is unbelievable') and so does everyone of the people whom he meets. And I hope so does everyone who sees the movie and reads the story as well. Alls well and that ends well after all the hectic running around and meeting strangers and people you hate!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Keerti Ramachandra - An Editor's Pointers to Indian Writers

My good friend and editor of both my books 'The Men Within' and 'If You Love Someone...' (and currently 'The Misfit'), Keerti Ramachandra has many years of editing, writing, translating English fiction and non-fiction (and teaching English) behind her. Keerti is a thorough professional and I like her way of editing where she looks at the story as a whole and then brings up issues right from structural to characters to smaller errors that are consistently repeated by individuals. From editing and translating a number of books for all the top publishing houses in India, a long association with Katha and Indialog, Keerti now does editing and translating work on a freelance basis and also conducts creative writing workshops for aspiring writers.

I quickly seized the chance to get her views n some of the most common mistakes that new (sometimes even experienced) writers make before submitting their manuscripts to editors and publishers. Keerti just took off from where I started and covered the entire gamut of issues in a few minutes, something that showed to me how passionately she takes her job and how clear she was about it all.

I asked her first, what the typical problems are, that she faces when she edits new writers or rather amateurs?
Keerti said that typically first time writers are not sure of what they want to say, for whom and why. They are not clear about the purpose of writing whether it is for entertainment or information. This lack of clarity can mess up the point of view and add an element of vagueness to the story. In such cases sustaining energy in a novel becomes the problem.

Many times writers have enough content for a short story but blow it up into a novel and sometimes a short story has enough energy to make a full length novel. To illustrate Keerti said that it is like a slice of cake when all the ingredients are there, but its only a piece of the cake. It will only give you a crunch when you bite into it. A whole cake will make it complete. The slice is a short story, a keyhole view. The novel is a whole cake, which has elbow room and offers a panaromic view.

What would you like writers to do to overcome these problems, I asked.
Keerti says, read. Most have not read enough. Not everyone needs to have the technical knowledge of understanding plot, characters, setting, tone, dialogue, point of view, structure - which are some of the important things. These you absorb when you read. So read a lot. Also the range of expression is limited. Just because we speak well does not mean that one can write well. Mastery over the tools is important.

What tools would they need to develop to start with, I asked.

Read, read, and read again she said and you would absorb the tools. Find a sense of pattern, descriptions, adjectives, verbs. Very few people read aloud what they have written. Everyone should do that. Research is most important. Background, characters, hobbies. Anything should be backed by facts. You really don't need to use it all - but it shows.

How do we go about with writing a story, I asked.
Your theme must be clearly defined in your head. Love, revenge, greed, emotion - though they are basic themes, you must have your own unique perspective. One must know the path the story is going to traverse. The stops at every step must be relevant and not rambling off. One should be able to connect the dots and lead the story to its destination.

Your characters must be real people, have life. Not merely cardboard cut outs. They must have many dimensions and must be clearly defined. The writer should empathise with the characters. For their predicament. You write things which mean something to you because you care. Because you are passionate about it.

The story must certainly have honesty. Integrity. Complete. Don't try to impress. Don't write about yourself. The novel comes from the heart. The seed, structure comes from the head.

There should be integrity of the text. Everything in that world - what are you doing. Always prefer 'Probable impossible' to 'impossible probable'. (for eg. Maam can i go to the washroom? You can but you may not!) Most times when the integrity is there, articulating it, could be the issue. That can be handled.

You must feel. The story must have soul. It must move you.

Dialogue is one area when I have lots of problems. Not natural. If we wrote in our mother tongue we'd be much more natural. Phrases etc looks unnatural.

Use strong verbs, strong adjectives to convey because speech has supra linguistic factors. When you don't have access to that use verbs and adjectives.

What are the common mistakes that we could watch out for?
Keerti counted a few out for me.
1) Use of too many adjectives.
2) Watch out for passive construction. Watch out for two sentences which flow into one another when they are not connected.
3) Watch out for '' forms of words.
4) In dialogue be colloquial

Before we submit a manuscript to the editor or publishing house what should the writer take care of, I asked.
1) Typos - clean up the manuscript. This is a must.
2) Be convinced that you can answer any question any editor may raise on the manuscript
3) Writing short stories or novels is hard work. It is not a 2 month or deadline driven project. The 1st draft has to be your mother. Revise it several times. Keep filling in gaps. But also be aware that over revision can kill spontaneity.
4) Don't be afraid of rejection slips
5) Be open to criticism, suggestions, other people's ideas and suggestions

That then is Keerti's advise in a nut shell to aspiring writers looking for publishing their works. All this took about 20-25 minutes which was one of the quickest I ever did an interview. For those who wish to contact Keerti you could email her at And thanks Keerti for the interview which I am sure would be useful to all of us who wish to write.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Book Writing - Pointers on the Misfit

A couple of things stood out while discussing the Misfit with Keerti Ramachandra my editor. Things that every writer who is writing a novel could keep in mind. This is what came up for me.

1) 'Show' and not 'tell': I tend to describe the situation and 'tell' the reader what happened instead of showing the reader through 'acts' of the characters.

2) Cut down on adjectives, adverbs: I tend to use too many adjectives - a malady that afflicts most Indian writers Keerti says - and I have used up to five in a sentence in one place. One appropriate one would do or none at all.

3) Like in screenplays use 'action': Verbs are best to sustain interest because everyone wants to know what the characters are 'doing' and then understand them from that perspective. Again that showing instead of telling.

4) Consistent Point of View: There are times when the POV slips from the central character to others and one must be careful to keep it consistent. Even if the POV moves to others it had better be deliberate and not confusing.

5) Building background stories for each character: The importance of this cannot be undermined. In my earlier draft I had the characters in place but they were too one dimensional. But this time I wrote down their family backgrounds, their origins, caste, community, jobs, ages, likes and dislikes and then I could see how easy it was to write about their conflicts in day to day life. These stories are a must before one starts writing to add depth and flavour to the characters.

6) Driving around the central point: However wonderful the writing may be, it must drive to a central point. Why and where the characters are headed is most important. This cannot be left loose just because we like certain things about them, certain descriptions or jokes or stuff like that. If in the end analysis it appears that it is drawing attention away from the central idea, snip it off ruthlessly.

These came up. I actually did a small interview with Keerti which I will put up soon which has some basic advise for any writer to take care of before approaching a publishers or an editor.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Business of Money

I remember reading in Colin Tipping’s wonderful book ‘Radical Manifestation’ that people get more worked up when asked about their money issues than when asked about their sex lives. Money is a subject that most people are extremely uncomfortable with – perhaps because it can instantly measure us up in terms of our worth. (Somehow we all like to think we are too smart and too rich and that no one knows what we are really worth!) Numbers surrounding money are always taboo, handling money is stressful and everyone lives in a state of denial, almost acting as if it did not matter at all!

Our attitude to money
Also people do all kinds of weird things with money – store it, eat it, stuff it, hide it, stack it - do everything but enjoy it. Most people die because of the stress they bring upon themselves by handling all that money. Others lose it as fast as they can get their hands on it. Only a few know the art of making money and enjoying it. These few are the ones who are comfortable with money. It is important therefore to know how comfortable one is with money and what our primary relationship with it is. Is it one of fear, resentment, guilt, love, respect? It is worth finding out.

Money and the successful businessman
Money is primarily associated with business. But not all businessmen make money. Most go bust because they lose lots of money in their business. Obviously the successful businessman is the one who understands money, who respects money and most importantly who is comfortable with money. They understand money for what it is – and the quantum does not really bother them. They use it well, as a dynamic living thing. The money of a successful businessman never lies idle – it is always alive and kicking, earning more money for him. He keeps money active and energetic, never hiding it or burying it. He is also not too bothered when it flows out – he knows it will flow in again as long as he does not panic.

The key metric
I was talking to a businessman friend of mine and we were wondering about the one thing about business that would get all things under control - the one factor that drives everything about business, or rather successful businesses. We figured it must be money because if you have this overwhelming love for money then you are driven to do most other things in a business right. From the product to the marketing to the finances to the people the businessman who loves money and wants it to grow more and more will certainly take care of all these aspects and well. They are the reason why his money grows and he knows that.

One could say that one could love the product and it will do well anyway, or that one loves people but nothing builds empires, big empires, as much as the love for money does. And it is a difficult thing to love money mainly because money scares most people – at least beyond a point it does. There is only so much money that each one can handle, mentally.

How much can you handle now?
How many of us can say we can handle infinite amounts of money? Very few. It would be so scary that it would kill us. But there are a few who can handle money – and they are the ones who are somehow comfortable with it.. they know they can let it go because they are also sure it will come back, that they can earn it again any time. Most others don’t have this confidence and hence hide and cling on to it.

Money and Business School training
The one reason why business schools produce managers who may not be good enough to handle business is that the students are never exposed to money. There is no talk of money, of how much they can handle, what they would do with money, how they would raise money, what money means to them, what their capacity and comfort level is with money, what their attitude is to money. If they cannot ever figure out what their relationship is with money and if they cannot get comfortable with the prospect of having and handling money, they can never understand or run a business successfully. I would love to see them take a few hundred or thousand and try to make that money work for them during the course itself – in two years they would have learnt much about handling money, handling themselves and learning all the wonderful things that money can teach them. I would love to see them do a course titled 'Money management' or something simpler like 'My relationship with money!'

What would you ask?
I also remember a television show before Diwali when the anchor was asking random people on the road what they would ask for if Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth appeared before them and asked them what they wanted. Most businessmen (small businesses) said that they would be happy with something like Rs. 50000 and even that they were apologetic. The anchor kept telling them that it is the Goddess of wealth and they can ask for more but they were all uncomfortable with it. Then she asked a kid of six or eight years old and she instantly spread her hands wide and said 'Soooo much.'

We'd do better to first unlearn our negative attitudes to money (those of us who need to). We'd do better to understand our relationship with money and rectify it and bring it to one of trust and respect and love instead of distrust and resentment and fear. We'd also do better to give it space and letting it flow and grow instead of locking it up and killing it. And mostly we'd do better not to pass on these negative beliefs to children who seem to have a fine attitude with money before we spoil it all for them.

A Wonderful Halloween Party at Adarsh Vista

This is rather old news but I could not put this post up because I did not have the pics which is what this whole post is about. I was at Adarsh Vista, a fine little gated community in Bangalore on Halloween Day, visiting our good friends Vandana and Ramesh. Now Adarsh Vista is inhabited by several expats and many more Indians who have returned from the USA and most celebrate Halloween with a lot of enthusiasm.

Frankly I was not particularly enthused by all that was happening and tried to keep on the fringe while Anjali and Shehan dressed up as a witch and a Ninja fighter respectively and went trick or treating. I stayed at home and handed out some candy and stuff to children who landed up at the door and rang the bell and probably got more scared than I was at their costumes. Not having been exposed to the Halloween concept I was wondering why it was such a big thing these days. Even schools have it.

But it was only later when Vandana took us across to the house of an expat neighbour when I saw the thought, preparation and fun that goes into this festival. I truly admired the spirit in which they prepared for the party and all the little thoughtful things they did to make it a lovely time for all who visited them. There were two live ghosts or ghouls (later revealed that one ghost was the host and the other the driver who sportingly wore the ghoulish dress).

The pics are enough to say more than words can ever do and I must say, I truly fell in love with the entire experience. I congratulated the owners and asked if I could share the experience on my blog and she (the host was not willing to come out of the ghost character) was more than gracious and agreed, and Vandana shared the pics. So here they are.

I returned home and quickly looked up the net on what this Halloween was all about. Apparently its short for 'All Hallows’ Evening' or 'All Hallows' Eve' and is observed every year on October 31 (before All Saints' Day). It appears that they seem to be honouring the dead by dressing up as dead people or ghosts but having fun while doing it.

So the kids go trick-or-treating dressed up in cute costumes, jack-o'-lanterns are carved from pumpkins, bonfires are lit, and scaring people in one way or another including telling scary stories and watching horror films.

The kids were scared enough and did not enter this house though all adults loved it. And the next year I shall certainly view this festival differently and also share this experience with others too. But if you are in the vicinity of Adarsh Vista next October 31, it might be worth dropping in to see this wonderful couple and their magnificent Halloween party!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thought for the Day - Danger and Being Alive

One of my favorite stories I have read is from the internet - a thoughtful forward that I received. It is about how a popular Japanese seafood restaurant located on the sea front in Japan which served some great fish. Its clientele was very happy and voted it to be the best fish making restaurant in Japan. As business grew the restaurant decided to move to a larger place and also increased the order for fish from their fishermen. But soon, their clientele complained that the fish was somehow not just the same. Concerned, the management checked every step of the fish recipe and figured that the only area where the problem could be was with the fish themselves. They asked the fishermen about the fish and the fishermen conceded that since the quantities were so large they had to go deep into the sea in their boat to catch the fish. Perhaps the fish died and became stale by the time they got back despite the ice?

They decided to think of another way and came up with a plan. They decided to install a huge tank on the boat and dump all the fish there so they could be alive when they came to the shore. The customers still complained and it was back to the drawing board. How do we keep the fish fresh and tasty?

After much thought they came upon the solution to the problem. They introduced a small shark in the tank. That's it. You see, the shark ate a few fish but the others swam around in complete awareness, completely alive, in face of the danger of being eaten. They were at the edge of their skin, all faculties open as they looked to survive this clear and present danger in their life. Needles to say, the customers never had a problem after that.

I always subscribed to the thought behind this story. You are never more alive than when pushed to the wall, when you are stretched to the limit. And I realised this when I drive on the highway as well. When you drive on these new swanky, wonderful four, eight laned highways, expressways, where the road is like a carpet, there are huge dividers, loud boards instructing you about what is coming ahead and all you have to worry normally is to keep the car on the road (and you are feeling like you are still slow at 100 kmph), I realised that I feel tired even after a four or five hours. The sheer monotony and lack of danger tires you, make you go dull and I seriously believe the chances of an accident increase drastically. You feel too secure. And I am talking of a journey like say Hyderabad to Bangalore, a distance of 550 or so kms which would take me 7 hours in the new roads.

The same distance on the traffic intensive Hyderabad-Pune road takes almost 12 hours, with heavy traffic, lots of accidents on the way, no dividers, no boards, cattle and people crossing the highway all the time, a two laned road at best. But believe me, I am never as tired or fatigued as I am when I drive on these smooth, seemingly danger-free roads. In fact after the 12 hour Hyderabad-Pune journey I am pretty fresh! But the three hour journey from Pune to Mumbai on the expressway tires me and bores me.

There is a case to add that element of uncertainty to life. To do the different. To push boundaries. To tread in the danger zone just that little bit and always expect the unexpected. It is the danger to our lives, to what we hold dear, that keeps us alive. And alive means growth, or vice versa. In fact the only mantra of my workshop on the Champion's Mindset is this (here I am giving this away as well) - do one thing out of your comfort zone everyday. You will grow comfortable with growth, with the sense of danger. You will be more alive. There are no two ways about this. To get alive, get a foot into the danger zone!

On a more practical level what it means is that you could start doing all the things you have put off. Stop thinking about it and do it. The people who earn our respect and admiration do it, small babies do it. Try it and see the difference it makes to your life, this shark.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Story Idea - The Missing Link

The silent bus travels on through stark country. Inside the bus is a motley crew - a young man who is losing his fiancee to some mystery disease, a man going to sort out a situation that is threatening the life of his brother, a woman trying to fix the broken marriage of her daughter unsuccessfully, a young man who has no money to pay his debt and is contemplating suicide (get the idea...all drama...perhaps I could make it more contemporary and address certain social issues). But the idea is that the ten-twelve people in the bus lurch and sway with the bus burdened by their own troubles. As the bus moves on, something or someone, a sight, a dialogue, a voice, a song, a face, a perfume, triggers a flashback in each of its inhabitants.

People are getting in and out as well until it suddenly becomes obvious to us that there is one person on the bus who can solve the other guys problem - like say one of them being a doctor with exclusive expertise in treating the dying fiancee etc etc. But no one is talking, sharing their problems and are merely sitting down in the silent bus. Help is next to them but they do not know, do not open their mouths and ask or share.

Into the silent ghostly and trouble ridden bus enters a happy chatter box (not sure if he is to be young, old but a chatter box nevertheless who is thick skinned to boot). He soon chats up one after another and loudly shares the information. The young lad figures out that the person who can save his fiancee appears to have got off at the last stop. Going in search of the one man who can save his fiancee the young man finds the doctor and his peculiar problem - and also that he can help the doctor. And so on and on, as the entire bus changes its route and goes about solving each others problems. All problems have solutions on board. And some problems as well (the villains).

And how about a twist in the end when the chatterbox exposes everybody's stories and helps them but he has a story that he has not revealed - one that reveals itself only when the last story is told!

Its a bit heavy but I see scope in the stories for sex, violence, romance, comedy and drama. Some women, a couple of villains in the group. Ah delicious possibilities!

Infernal Affairs - Movie review

Watched 'Infernal Affairs' a Hong Kong movie on which 'The Departed' was made in Hollywood. I put the DVD which has been lying with me for a long time on the back burner knowing that I had seen 'The Departed' and somehow thinking that 'Infernal Affairs' can never match the Hollywood version. How wrong was I - this movie was far more engrossing even without the big screen and the big names. It is incredibly taut, packed with fantastic drama and action and mostly an astounding and audacious script that blows your breath away.

It is the idea that takes the cake - and the way it is wound. The danger of a criminal who has infiltrated the police force as a mole can only be matched by a policeman who has infiltrated the dangerous mafia as a mole. The game between the good and the bad continues, with the moles playing their part simultaneously in helping their respective sides from the inside. But they are slowly feeling the pressure of the new world they have inhabited, the criminal who is now a cop wants to turn over a new leaf and the cop who is now a criminal is not sure if he can ever be a cop anymore. The war of wits between the police and the mafia, the good and the bad, the razor sharp pace and a completely unexpected end make 'Infernal Affairs' a story no one will ever forget.

The acting is of top quality - apparently, it is a star-studded cast with Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong and others. I loved this ending much more than the English movie ending and in fact pretty much everything about his movie scores over the Departed. Find it hard to believe that I rate this over a movie that has a cast that includes Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson, mark Walberg and directed by Martin Scorcese? You must watch it to know what I am talking about.

They are deeply disturbing movies these movies about moles. I remember Govind Nihalani's 'Droh Kaal' (Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Milind Gunaji as the mole), which came much before 'Infernal Affairs' and 'The Departed' and has almost the same theme in an Indian context which was a deeply disturbing movie as well. The only place where 'Droh Kaal' lost out was the pace and the setting. Imagine if Nihalani had traded terrorism in Kashmir for the mafia Mumbai? The one movie maker who can make something like this in Mumbai is RGV but I wonder if he has the depth left in him to come up with a movie idea like this and do justice to it. One can only hope he does come up with one breathtaking idea like this.

Anjali - Interview with a 4 year old

I decided to interview Anjali a couple of days ago and asked her if I could. She instantly agreed and suggested that it might be a good idea if we sat on the sofa in the living room where it would be more comfortable than my room. Once there, we started.
Me: What do you like the most?
Anjali: (After some doubt whether it included all sorts of things) Banana.

Me: What do you like doing the most?
Anjali: Jumping from high places. (Her favorite pastime is jumping from the sofa these days).

Me: Who do you like playing with the most?
Anjali: Manasi. (Her best friend from school whom she loves soooo much)

Me: What do you play with her?
Anjali: Who will eat fast.

Me: What games do you like?
Anjali: We love opening buttons and shutting buttons fast.

Me: Do you like books?
Anjali: Yeah.

Me: Which ones?
Anjali: Pepper.

Me: Who are your favourite cartoon characters?
Anjali: Nomita (from Doraemon)

Me: Why?
Anjali: Because he always does things on his . So funny.

Me: Do you like laughing?
Anjali (nodding): Also everyone smiles and they also laugh.

Me: Crying?
Anjali: Then everyone starts crying. I don't feel good when they cry.

Me: What is your favorite food?
Anjali: Chicken biryani, rice and chips. Ice creams, but I am afraid I'll get a cold.

Me: Do you like your school?
Anjali: Yes.

Me: Why?
Anjali: Because they put all happy designs and all that. That's why I love the school. I love playing in my school with my friends.

Me: What songs do you like?
Anjali: 'Gardner plants a seed.' Maybe, 'there's a rainbow in the sky' as well.

Me: Your favorite movies?
Anjali: Nemo, Lion King, Pooh.

Me: Why?
Anjali: Because they are so funny. Nemo is not listening to his father.

Me: What do you like doing at home?
Anjali: Pretending to be a fairy with my Mom and Dad. Playing with my Mom and Dad.

Me: What is your favorite toy?
Anjali: Chikky.

Me: Any thing else that you would like to have?
Anjali (confirming): What we don't have at home? Maybe a Barbie doll (she has some six). Or maybe playing cards.

Me: What do you think of your nanna?
Anjali: I think I love my Daddy. Because he does not shout at me. He gives me everything.

Me: What do you think of amma?
Anjali: She gives me all whatever I want for breakfast and lunch. She cooks whatever I ask her. And whatever I want she gives it to me. I love my Mom too.

Me: What do you think your Dad does?
Anjali: Work. On the computer. Typing.

Me: And what do you think your Mom does?
Anjali: Work. With her aunties.

Me: Your best friend?
Anjali: Manasi.

Me: Who loves you most in class?
Anjali: Manasi. We both love each other.

Me: What do you think of life?
Anjali: Life? I don't know.

Anjali's interview of me
Now that she had the hang of things Anjali asked me a question.
Anjali: If you are scared, what do you do?
Me: (not knowing what to answer) Perhaps I will see what is it that is scaring me a bit more closely. Maybe it is is not so scary at all. But if it still scary, I get scared.

She nodded and ended the rather short interview.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Roots - Alex Haley

Just finished reading Alex Haley's magnificent work 'Roots'. It took me more than a month of reading the 899 page tome. Everyday I'd read and assimilate the small and easily digestible chapters in the book, each describing in detail the account of Kairaba Junta Kinte, the proud African young man from Juffure village in the Gambia in Africa, and his life. So tautly written and filled with content and detail is the book that one cannot even think of missing a line for fear of missing out on an emotion, an act, a thought.

'Roots' traces the childhood and adolescence of the African Kinta Kunte as he grows up in his village, with a detailed account of their customs in the 1700s, his manhood training, his reveling in his youth until he is captured by slave traders and taken to the USA in inhuman conditions. Kinta Kunte survives the journey and a life of hardship as he comes to terms with being a slave to the white man who treat the blacks inhumanly and like livestock. Attempting to escape he gets his foot chopped off in half by his master and only then does he give up running away. His marriage to Bell, his daughter Kizzy whom he loves so much and with whom he shares his African stories, Kizzy being sold out to another white 'massa' and then bearing the child of her massa's rape, the birth of the colourful Chicken George, the story goes into how the blacks were treated worse than cattle. Haley traces the story up to himself, seven generations from Kinta Kunte, as his ancestors get sold over and over again, have no hope of getting freed, suffer enormous atrocities until they are finally 'freed' from bondage.

Slavery meant being whipped, tortured, even killed if one raised a hand against the master, castrated or maimed if one tried to run away. Blacks were not allowed to talk or keep things African, not allowed out of the plantation without a travelling pass (they could be shot for not having a pass), the women were frequently raped by their white masters, families split up as they were sold and resold for money or for sheer whim or disobedience. Blacks were put on the job as soon as they were six and they all bore the name of their master. They were not allowed to read or write and if they were found out, were sold out. Typically the blacks were seen as a commodity as to how much they would earn individually, men, women and even children. Women who were pregnant had their still-in-the-womb children sold off by their masters. And it was work, work and work for the black slaves as they tried to keep the masters in good humour and as they built America.

It was interesting to see how Alex Haley uses the informal network that blacks had to share the news of the outside world and the way that he leads us through the happenings of that time through their discussions. More interesting is how their language developed, from being absolutely clueless to learning to speak small words and phrases and the way he developed it. It must have been difficult to evolve and maintain that language all through, from the few phrases that Junta speaks until it got refined. (I found the same quality of language in 'The Grapes of Wrath' where he uses the exact language of the people as they speak and it is difficult to understand it sometimes - must be something to do with great books. Also the language in both books is amazingly simple!). But the years of research, the experiences he underwent to feel in part what Kunta felt shows in the book. It is certainly a book that will change one's perspective to life.

Roots makes one wonder at how people and cultures can be when they sense an advantage. They will resort to any level to satisfy what appears to be an insatiable, cruel and sadistic greed - and nothing in the world can make them think or behave otherwise - certainly not education, technological or cultural advancement. Even in these times, we see people using child labour, taking advantage of the poor and backward in rural and urban India. To believe that any country or people who have an advantage over the others will do good for those people even in these days is to be foolish. The larger countries are waiting like predators to take over resources of smaller countries and satisfy their greed, their agendas using flimsy excuses. It is a basic human nature and nothing will ever stop it. At the same time life is a great leveler and one sees the sweeping changes that happened in the past century - from the abolition of slavery to anti-racism laws and a level playing field (at least in law). To think that the USA, a young nation if any, and one that is mired in such terrible controversies and human right violations as any not too long ago, now preaches to the rest of the world about the high moral ground is amusing to say the least. Not to mention its desire to stake out American lives, economy as it meddles in everyone else's affairs under the guise of bringing democratic and fair rule.

'Roots', despite its controversies, is the kind of a book that puts life in perspective. I am glad I read it now and not when I was younger when maybe I would not have appreciated it that much. In fact I am now enjoying reading all the fat books that I always skipped. Next on my list are two fat volumes that lie invitingly in my sister's bookshelf 'Gone with the wind' and 'Freedom at midnight'.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rockstar - Movie Review

Watched 'Rockstar' at the Cinemax theatre today. The movie is about Janardhan Jakhar (Ranbir Kapoor) from Pithampura in Delhi who loves music and goes to any extremes to play music. He has an idol in Jim Morrison though I don't see him listening to any Doors kind of stuff. JJ does not get too much support for his music but gets a lot of unnecessary advise including one that gets his attention - you need to have experienced pain to become a great singer. JJ does a backcheck on his life, realises that there has been no pain and goes in search of pain. He finds the heartbreaker of the college Heer Kaul (Nargis Fakhri) and throws himself at her so she can reject him.

Good so far. But then he stops the quest for heartbreak, nor does he fall in love with her. He is happy behaving like she does not affect him at all and they seem to share a relationship like two guy friends who hit it off well! They get to be good pals and then she gets married and goes off to Prague. JJ becomes a rising star in the music scene, goes to Prague for a music concert, meets, adds to his pain and makes fine music and so on.

Its certainly different form most Hindi movies. Ranbir Kapoor is fantastic as he lives and breathes the role of the tormented JJ. He remains true to his character doggedly and carries the film on his shoulders pretty much. Nargis makes a fine debut and steps into the mould of the Katrina kind of ethereal beauty. All else fade in the background. His love for her is very convincing but I could not get a grip on her character really. Is she a heartbreaker or a naive young lady looking for Prince Charming in small town JJ whom she can control?

I would have loved a little tightening of the screenplay to fill in some gaps that I felt were left unaddressed. Is JJ for music or for the love of the girl finally? Where does the pain begin for him really because he acts so naive all through to the end about all matters concerning love? Is he a superstar or a Casanova or not because he is cancelling more shows than doing them, sending more women away than getting them and getting beaten up by cops? Does he want the pain or the music finally? What is her husband about and her family? More than anything, why does he have Jim Morrison as his idol when he does not appear to be the rock music listening types? And all the Prague and back and forth in the movie in time kind of left me dazed about what is now and what is in the past.

But where 'Rockstar' succeeds is in capturing the torment and pain that the young JJ undergoes as he tries to come to grips with music, love, fame, money. He is seized by something much bigger than what he bargains for and seems set to be consumed by it as Morrison was. In my story JJ would have perished, alcohol, drugs, and any kind of pain that he fights with, that is on par with the pain of separation. He is the gambler who gambles for the love of music and he finds the stakes too big - both music and love are much bigger than he can control. It would have been the other way around in the end. But I liked the premise of pain and his search for it - it is a subtle theme and difficult to control when one is balancing a lot. But all in all I think Imtiaz Ali does a decent job of it. Worth a watch certainly because it is like no other you'd have seen. And the music is good and cinematography is a visual treat.

Words of Wisdom From Jayaprada

I was reading the 'Proust Questionnaire' in The Hindu yesterday, something I don't normally understand - the questions and even more so, the answers. Jayaprada's interview was on the same lines until I hit some fine words of wisdom from her to a question where she was asked about the words or phrases she most overuses.

The amazingly beautiful, talented, resilient and highly successful actor, politician and celebrity, someone regarded as 'the most beautiful actress on the Indian screen' by Satyajit Ray (and by any more of us who saw her movies in the 1980's and were stunned by the sublime grace she brought to the screen in 'Anthuleni Katha', 'Sagara Sangamam', 'Siri Siri Muvva' and other movies of that time) responded in this fashion.

"Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life. Think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other thought. That is the way to success."

I completely subscribe to her idea. For anyone who is in doubt as to how, this should put all thoughts at rest. Pick one idea, any idea, and give it your best shot.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thought for the Day - The Power Principle

It is said that to know a man's true character you must give him power and see what he does with it. People change instantly. Our latent cruelties come out when we feel absolute power. When we feel that we are not answerable to anyone we do anything.

Little children kill ants and flies because they sense their power over them. Bullies at school do the same when they beat dogs and cats, clip butterfly wings, bully younger and weaker children. People who employ servant maids etc show their cruelty by torturing them, to this day. Society ridicules the lonely woman, the differently abled, the colored, the low castes. There are many who still believe that they belong to an era of masters and slaves and treat people accordingly.

At a more personal and urban level, people are amazingly cruel in relationships when they sense that they have some power over the other, a side that seems to come out almost as if they cannot help it. The same kind of power comes with position as one sees in offices, and people use the power to vent out their innate frustrations on the ones who can take it. At a higher level, politicians, superstars and sportsmen, also start believing that they are invincible and take everyone for granted and abuse their power.

In all cases where there is an abuse of power, there is a strong feeling by the powerful that at that moment, he or she is invincible. That he can gt away. That nothing will happen. This feeling is magnified by the victim, who somehow seems to appear helpless in that moment - in appearance, strength, will - and who seems to invite the abuse almost. In almost all cases, the victim, unfortunately, almost invites the attention of the perpetrator by the sheer helplessness one feels. And the perpetrator enjoys pushing the abuse just to see how much the victim can take. There are those that get used to it - the Stockholm syndrome if you please.

It is a game, one where energy flows so subtly that it invites abuse from both the perpetrator and the victim. At times it almost appears that the victim himself is crying out to be abused. And the irony is that the perpetrator is himself a victim. He has not ever been in a position where he has been able to realise his real power, the innate one. And he is like a person who is so happy find it for the first time. Using it like a beggar who goes galloping on a horse he is riding for the first time. Somewhere along the way he has missed the critical part of his education, his evolution that real power is about being responsible, about compassion, about how you would treat the others when they are totally naked, devoid of any power, energy. How you would expect them to treat yo if you were in their shoes.

Through the years the progress of humanity has seen the unspeakable atrocities committed under the banner of slavery, untouchability, racism and gender bias flowing from the so called progressive cultures. It is not about culture, it is about power. From the lowest form of power at play, as we notice in our day to day relationships in our family, work areas, to the highest where peoples, communities, races, genders abuse the lesser, it is always about power. And as long a person cannot respect another human being, cannot respect individual choices, cannot respect and love the weak and the aged and the disabled, he has not business to be in power. That is the only criteria in a democracy, in a civilised world.

But then power is always a double edged sword. For someone to take it, another must give it. The one that is bearing the brunt, the ones who are disadvantaged must group together, must protect themselves, must not let any energy flow loose so the predators can attack. It is their responsibility to not give in, to be free, to fight, evade, escape - do anything but give in. And the way to do it is to individually hold strong at the thought level and not be dependent and trust oneself and their ability, and secondly as a group by organising themselves better and seek an equal life. From families to politics, villages to countries the story is the same. And at this point in time of our evolution it is completely unacceptable that people in power show no responsibility and instead behave like young boys who have caught butterflies. They are young no more. And if we tolerate it, we are only allowing the power to be abused. Today, the butterfly, tomorrow it could be you.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The XSEED Conference on the Future of School Education

Invited to be part of a panel discussion in the XSEED Conferenceon the future of school education by Himanshu of XSEED, who went to IIM'A, several years junior to my brother Ram. XSEED is a academic solution for schools that aims to increase student performance by improving classroom teaching methodologies. Currently XSEED's proprietary curriculum is taught in over 700 schools and reaches 3 lakh students and is vouched for highly by the schools that use it.

XSEED is part of iDisccoveri, an education company that focuses on learning, leadership and outdoor education. iDiscoveri is led by alumni of Harvard, Cambridge, IITs and IIMs. At the forefront of the organisation is Ashish Rajpal and Anustup Nayak, both Harvard alumni.

The material that XSEED has produced has certainly impacted the performance in schools that are following their carefully researched and developed curriculum going by the reports I have seen. XSEED follows a 5 step experiential learning method of Aim (learning objective), Activity (Experiment), Analyse (Questions and concept), Apply (Real life situation) and Assess (Measurement and feedback) Their figures and feedback are impressive and so is the work they have done to develop the curriculum, to get all stakeholders in education on board, to get thought leaders in the field to talk to school owners and managements and having XSEED conferences annually and bringing together over 1500 school principals and owners together across India through these conferences. I subscribe to their method as I believe there is no better teacher than experience - experiential learning is the best.

The conference took off at the Convention Hall in Hotel Marriott at 230 p.m. with a lamp lighting ceremony by Dileep Ranjekar, CEO, Azim Premji Foundation followed by a couple of well sung songs - one sanskrit hymn invoking Saraswati and an English song by children from a school in Kukatpally. A fine opening address by Dileep Ranjekar who shared many of his learnings in the field of school education in government schools with several wonderful examples was followed by our panel discussion on - What Matters for School Quality - Better Resources or Improved Methods. The panelists were Ms. Adilakshmi C, Principal, Oakridge International School, Anoop Rao, COO, Naandi Foundation, Vijay Prakash from Sri Prakash Educational Institutions and me. Preeti Singh, Principal Correspondent, CNN IBN, Hyderabad was the moderator - and did an excellent job. The discussion focused on several issues such as the quality expected from schools, importance of infrastructure and resource utilization, the urban and rural, rich and poor divide, government and private school differentiators, purpose of education, challenges faced and how to meet the same. The discussion was followed by a Q&A session.

It was a well organised event with almost 300 participants from schools and educators registering for the event. I met the Principal of Sanghamitra school in Kukatpally where my nephew Sashank studied. The program was MC'd very energetically by Himanshu himself and was scheduled to go on till 9 in the evening with case studies from a couple of schools, address by Ashish Rajpal, Founder and CEO of iDiscoveri, and the prime attraction of the event - the keynote address by Prof. Alison Gopnik, University of California, Berkely. I met several interesting personalities, heard some wonderful views and about some great work in the field of education and excused myself early to catch up with a prior commitment. Good luck iDiscoveri, XSEED and your entire team - Anustup, Himanshu, Shravani - whom I have met and all others and may you make a big difference in the way children benefit from education through better methods.

Schools of Tomorrow

When you are invited to a panel discussion on the 'Schools of Tomorrow' you stop by and scratch your head. What do we expect and envision for the schools of tomorrow? Education is an area where most people express tremendous dissatisfaction and at school level even more so. The problems are many - lack of good teachers, lack of proper methodologies, skewed curriculum, marks oriented approach, imbalanced growth and a rampant commercialisation of the system. Commercialisation or not, public schools or private schools, the issue is that the balance has not been found yet. As in most things in India, where the purpose the exercise is always sidelined, the student is not the centre of the education system. In fact everybody else is. If we take the focus back to the student many of these issues may be solved.

What do we look for in the schools of tomorrow? We look at them to have developed a robust education system which imparts education to the students in the best way possible so we have students with sound character, good self-esteem and thorough conceptual knowledge of whatever they have undertaken to study. Unless all three aspects are in balance, the student will not be able to express himself or herself. The onus to do this lies with the schools of tomorrow.

In the present scenario, marks rule the roost. Marks are one way of obtaining feedback. They may not always be able to measure creative thought, new thought. they are certainly no measure of character and self-esteem, ability to lead, to show responsibility, of good values, integrity and honesty. Marks must be relegated to their rightful place as they do not measure any of the qualities that one would like to see developing in the student - character, self esteem and conceptual knowledge. In fact marks as the sole indicator kill creativity, stunt and enquiring mind and diminishes risk taking. In effect, we will develop a clerk mentality of no risk, no creative approach.

One need not change the existing framework radically to build the schools of tomorrow I feel. One only needs to bring an element of action into the students life so they can corelate theory with practical life, in a simulated way if need be.

1) To build conceptually strong fundamentals among all students is the most basic thing one looks for in the schools of tomorrow. What we lack is skill, application of theory, creative approaches to problems and this must be inculcated by getting a good mix of practice into theory i.e. learn concept, apply and assimilate. It is essential to make changes to the mode of instruction so that every child gets both space and time to imbibe and discuss the concepts clearly and not just the few who always put up their hand. Children must be encouraged to compete with themselves, at their time and space, and not against one another. For eg. showing the bright student as an example of greatness thus relegating the rest to the dark.

2) To build self esteem is to allow the student develop the confidence that he or she can handle life with whatever one is equipped with. It is about having the student discover some sense of purpose of what he or she brings with innately to develop and contribute to the best for the individual and the society. The schools of tomorrow must certainly allow students to express themselves in every way, in as many ways as they can. In the present scenario they are not allowed to express which leads to a gradual killing of their spirit. As they grow older they lose all their self esteem and very few put up their hands to ask, to try, to participate in life.

3) To build character is to allow the student enough space to distinguish between right and wrong, to build values such as honesty, integrity and compassion to all - something that is easily built by exposing the children to group activities and sports and games. It must form an essential part of every curriculum because sports and games and other such activities form a microcosm of life and can teach the student far more about team work, hard work, focus, goal setting, leadership, integrity, honesty and compassion through experience than any teacher can in the classroom using the most sophisticated equipment. Nothing teaches better than experience and thus action should be the by word for our education. The movie 'Golconda High School' made on my novel 'The Men Within' dwells on the importance of games and sports on character building. To me what sustains me today are the lessons I learnt on the sports fields, which gave me the strength really to choose writing as a career, something which I feel I can best contribute through. As a Civil engineer and MBA I might not have explored the thought that I did through my cricket and writing.

We hope that the schools of tomorrow reach out to every single student who sets foot on campus through various means, technologies and methodologies and ensure that they benefit from various methods of instruction, modes of instruction. We hope that these schools provide the space, the time and the tools to grow - if nothing else, the space. As we all know, space is an important factor of growth. The other factor is where the student is located in terms of receiving the instruction - like plants that are further away from the sunlight are stunted as opposed to plants that are basking in it - students also wither and wilt if they do not get an equal opportunity in the classroom.

To me our life is our quest to express ourselves fully. And an education system that allows me to find ways to express myself is what I look for in the schools of tomorrow. In today's scenario expression is curtailed and at the end of education, the student is dumbfounded, silenced, unable to take risks and completely unable to express himself having passed through years and years of naysayers, snubbed creativity and risk averse systems. A classic case of this is the movie 'Stanley ka dabba' which shows how the child's creativity is not recognised and snubbed. At the end of the education the student should be able to fully express himself, to have some purpose, to feel empowered to change the world, to have scientific tools that can be applied for the betterment of society and mankind. And it is this quest for expression, for full expression, that takes the man through towards his potential.

To do this the schools of tomorrow need not do much. All they need to do is to support, to merely allow the inherent curiosity and intelligence to flower. They do not need to get in the way. All the student needs to feel is supported and he or she will soon find the way to express themselves best.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Misfit - Ready to Go

And so one almost year after the long chat I had with my good friend and editor Keerti Ramachandra on whether 'The Misfit' has a story worth publishing, getting a positive response from her, noting down the changes that Keerti said might improve the presentation and getting back to Hyderabad and pondering over the same as it meddled with my mind, I finally got the Misfit to a shape where I feel it is under control. It is probably in the best shape I have seen over the last 12 years and believe me, I saw it many hundreds of times, tinkered with it and wrote and rewrote it. There could be another 10% improvement (or more) but it is now a manageable animal and I know it now.

Having started writing it with no structure and just a whim, as an amateur wannabe novelis,t and having started writing also about nothing more than a feeling, of discomfort, 'The Misfit' is easily the toughest for me to change, write or rewrite because I feel trapped in it. It has an unconventional structure, an unconventional story and the one thing going for it is the honest effort I put into it. And it is the only thing that will sustain it.

In its earlier avatar it appealed to youngsters for it is about four young men and the ones who read it liked it. In the current avatar I hope it may still appeal to them and perhaps more. But first the rounds of publishers and all that before we get anywhere close to all that.

But for now, after innumerable edits, versions, the manuscript now stands at 212 pages, 84, 330 words. Tomorrow it should be off to Keerti again and I shall get her feedback on this before I pitch it forward. The last few days have been crazy as I tried to get it done to satisfaction and I finally have. It is a fine feeling and I think I will now relax with a cup of well deserved chai, my feet off the ground. Nothing is more satisfying than a job completed to satisfaction. And with the Misfit, it is more so as it is my first.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How Many Times Have Others Inpired My World View

I have found this happening often. Our worldview or our truth is heavily borrowed from others thoughts, writings, movies etc. Many times unconsciously of course. We find the same expressions, the same language, the mixing up of events and achievements, people fighting to death over a perception that they feel is true and original when all else indicates otherwise - it is fantastic to see how clouded we can get with our perceptions of the truth.

For example you relate an idea or an incident to someone and he or she might at some point use the same to build an incident himself and completely forget the source. So deeply does he believes that it is his own thought. Storylines, works of art, ideas all have a way of getting into people's minds and at some point the truth gets clouded. It can happen on a small level or it could happen at a big level. And I am referring here to the ones that happen unitentionally (the intentional ones are straight plagiarism for which I have no respect anyway).

As a case in point, I have had many people tell me with great authority of certain things I did, certain achievements of mine (some very fine ones too) and regaling many listeners with the stories about what 'we all did'. I know for true that many of them are not true - like getting a century in a game I did not bat in, getting eight wickets, beating up someone, impressing some beautiful woman or some stuff like that. When I protest the narrator of these stories tells me to shut up. I might have forgotten the truth but he has not. And he proceeds. What chance do I have here.

With great stories, movies, music and ideas that resonate at some deeper level it is therefore easier to believe that what we create sometime might appear original. But in truth it has been inspired by something somewhere. Most thought out there is mediocre. Some rise above the level of mediocrity because of honesty. Rarely we find the creative genius who completely trashes structures and creates new rules. What chance do we, those in the middle, have of creating anything new unless we are in the realm of genius? We can only relate parts of our life that we can remember and at best we can do an honest job of reporting it. To come up with pure fiction, a pure piece of imagination, it would need amazing concentration and clarity of an idea.

It makes sense as the great quote goes - We create nothing. We merely plagiarise nature.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Great Indian Paradox - Rushing to Get out of Planes

Why do people snap out of their seat belts the moment the plane touches the runway? The sound of a million clicks of belts coming off resounds as the plane is still steadying itself from its landing. Its as if the belts are scalding hot or have transformed into some live snakes and these people have to get out of them to save their lives. I'd think practically everyone knows that its still a while before the plane stops and the doors open and then the others disembark and then you get off but no. Seats belts are ripped off, people are jumping up quickly as if its a race, opening baggage cabins and are ready to go, switching on their blackberrys and calling their drivers who in all likelihood are sleeping off faraway and saving on the parking fees and announcing to everyone who cares to listen that they have arrived!

And then as the plane taxis carefully and the announcement goes on that you can now take off the seat belts but remain seated still for your own safety - and about 90% of the passengers are ready to get off, bag on shoulder, phones at ears and leaning on the seats impatiently as if the plane is on fire. And most of them are educated, responsible people. What is it people?

I wonder what could be the root cause for this completely irrational behavior. Even if you do get off first you still have to get the bus, pick your luggage, why this ungodly hurry? Do they do the same thing when their car slows down? Rip off the belt, get the bags and wait for the car to slow down so they can jump off?

What is it with us that we do not queue where we are asked to. We do not hurry when we are asked to. We do not shut down the cell phones when we are asked to (and glare at the air hostess for telling you to switch off). And we hurry up when we are asked not to. To top it all we feel offended at the state of the world and how people are getting these days. Its simply amazing.

Story Idea - The Murderous Air Hostesses

Thought of a story idea while flying the other day. A plane is highjacked and taken to a remote location with some high profile people on board. There are no demands forthcoming and it is obvious that the hijackers are playing for time. The chief air hostess negotiates on behalf of the airline and the government.

Until it is revealed (before the interval) that the entire drama is orchestrated by the murderous crew, each for his or her own gain. One for money, one for love, one for fame and so on. It is the movie star on board who has a huge fan in one of the air hostesses who shows up as the real villain but the stuntsman does the job and falls in love with the pretty lass and rescues the lot. Looks like a racy plot what with air hostesses, movie stars, politicians, hijacks and beautiful islands. Many fine options crop up.

Thought for the Day - The Biggest Motivators Are Insults, Jibes and Barbs

The more I think of it, the more I am convinced that most people are motivated to big achievements, expertise, success etc - thanks to some well chosen unkind words, barbs and jibes. People who would have told them that they are no good at this or that, that they can never do certain things etc are sometimes the biggest causes for people to want to prove it wrong, even if it is the last thing in the world. Sometimes they become world leaders because of these barbs.

Movie stars who have been trashed, students who have been told they are worth nothing, poor people told that they are nothing but slaves, racism faced by those who live abroad - you read any biography of a famous person and you see that they are inspired by the sheer hopelessness and the sheer dismissal of their capabilities by someone who himself is not a great model. And from that humiliation, from that utter lack of respect, from that show of complete disregard for another human arises the biggest motivator of all - pride. And once that is stirred mountains move.

No one thing drives anyone to madness, to prove himself than this factor - pride. Trample on it fully, drive him enough to get back and he will come back and prove to you - 'you thought I was worthless, I proved it'. Of course many people choose the easy way out and die when others prick their ego but here lies the key if insult has to be used as a motivator. It should be stinging enough to prick their pride but you must leave enough room for them to want to get back. To prove to you they can do it. It should challenge them, hurt them, lash at their souls day and night that their pride has been violated. Much good can come out of that.

Many use barbs and insults thoughtlessly (they are insensitive by nature) and hurt people - but they actually do them good if the same people gear up and work for it. Some are too harsh that they leave no scope for them to get up and show what they can be really and they can crush the spirit. But most, do just enough to wound the sleeping spirit and that can work wonders. Those are the sweetest hurts that one never forgets. 'I remember someone telling me I was no good at.... I'd like to see his face now.'

Dustin Hoffman and Gene Hackman were voted the least likely to succeed in their acting class. Gene Hackman actually met his tutor from the class when he was working as a doorman in New York as he awaited his big break and the turor said 'See I told you you'd never come to anything.' Muralitharan was called for chucking early in his career and insulted repeatedly and he went on to become the highest wicket taker in the world. There are tons of example here.

It is a cause of anguish no doubt to do it but it is sometimes necessary to wake people up from stupor with some bad medicine if you are a good coach. Normally their current performances are bad enough to accept for them. Make them own it, that you think they cannot do better and they will show that they can.

The key is to do it right. I am reminded of Machiavelli's line which went something like - if you have to insult a person, do it such that it is too light so he ignores it, or that it is too harsh that he is crushed by it. Anything in between, and he will get back at you.

To use this line as a motivator, one must do the middle thing, do just enough so he gets back and shows you his fist and say 'I did it'. You can always smile and say 'Is that all?' and push him further. Then you have done your job as a coach, a motivator. And he or she will always remember in their twilight years how you had goaded them on - with love wrapped in some sharp medicine.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thought for the Day - How To Go Through Fear

We hear this many times - that the best way to deal with fear is to go through it. Easier said than done. How does one actually do it? Should one close one's eyes and go through it blindly and hope for the best? Should one get it over with quickly by clenching one's teeth? Should one take it step by step, fearing every bit of the way? Should one hold on to something external? This is something that always bothered me. Everyone fears something or the other and our growth lies in overcoming the fears we have. But how does one actually do it.

I have a theory. Fear is something one must go into with eyes open wide. Any other way is harmful and detrimental to the cause and might even set you back. It must be a deliberate and careful, look-fear-in-the-eye act for the best results. That is the first part out of the way.

The actual doing could be this way. While starting the fear ridden job think that you are writing a journal or a diary or a book or a blog. Anything written as a step-by-step guide (the 'How I did It') will require extreme concentration. The book could be for yourself or for anyone else, for someone you love who might go through that experience again like your children. All the points of fear, which actually cause you to close your eyes and numb your mind, will open your mind up because these are the uncertain details you want to know more about to write or recount your experience. You will capture your true feelings about it, your reactions will be careful and deliberate, and you will normally let the experience sink in well. Go through each detail with your mind, you can even talk to yourself, or even talk to the person next to you about the details. It is after all the details, that scare you. Once you get down to seeing them, its easy.

Writing becomes a great tool then to know of so any things. People, places, ideas. Interviews done with your own family will yield so much information about them to you that you can never find even after a lifetime. Try doing interviews with your family members and put it on your blog or your diary. Its a great bonding experience. Or do an interview with someone who troubles you, or makes you uncomfortable. You will see him or her in a totally different light after the interview.

To go through fear is a great thing. Make a list of all things that frighten you and decide to do an article or a blog on each experience. Easy. Now it has a totally different flavour - you are the seeker, not the supposedly 'learned' one who can make mistakes or be like a fool. The seeker can make as many mistakes, ask as many foolish questions as he wants. To be the seeker then, is the best way to be. Like they say - stay foolish, stay hungry. And to win, you must learn to let go.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Srini Alluri - The Man Who Cycled 11,350 kms in 109 days for Humanity

I met Srini Alluri when Sinivas Bulusu, an old acquaintance of mine, called me one day and asked if I would be interested in helping in the writing of a book on a cycling expedition. The person who had undertaken this expedition from London to Srinagar, a distance of 11,350 kms in 109 days, covering 14 countries along the way, was Srini Alluri, the 38 year old CEO of a software company and a friend of Srinivas. The stats he reeled off shook me up and I wondered why anyone would do such a thing. I can understand cycling long distances over a long period of time as an exploratory trip but 11,350 kms in 109 days is almost 100 kms a day! It was when saw the 'cycling for humanity' site and blog ( that it struck me that this incredibly demanding and dangerous adventure had a purpose. But I had to know more because this was not just about cycling nor about the awareness - there seemed to be much more. It all seemed to centre around Srini's NGO' which is Telugu for 'Humanity'.

So I coaxed the highly efficient and competent Gowri Bhavadas who does a wonderful job of writing to take up the project of helping with the writing and promised to help her to the extent that I can. I was pretty keen on knowing more about Srini which is one reason why I went along with Gowri for the first meeting - one to assess the job and two to learn more. In a sparse, low key office that works out of a residential building sat Srini, who at first sight looks like a cyclist, because of his thin frame, certainly showing the after effects of the arduous journey he had undertaken not too long ago. But he is incredibly alert, almost hawk-like, very healthy and energetic. He is also very polite, has a boyish smile and is of an indeterminate age. As his office, so is Srini, as he dresses in spartan clothes, serves water in steel glasses, does not use electricity any more than required and so on. He cycles to work.

For someone who comes from Lolla, a small village in East Godavari district, and born to parents who were farmers, Srini has come a long way. And if one hears him, one knows that he has a long way to go too - such are his ambitions, ideals and goals. Brought up on the ideals and wisdom of his parents, books like the Gita, Mahabaharata and Ramayana, young Srini learnt yoga, the right way of living and decided to put his life to good use. His purpose - to serve others, to make people live the 3H way (healthy, happy and harmonious), to make people aware of living in harmony with one another and with nature. He helped his parents, studied, served others and did all his duties to the best he could from a young age, not accepting any limitations. Not for him time wasting activities such as movies and loitering around - he was fully focused on making this a better world. At a tender age of 16 he started his organization 'Chaitanya Bharathi Youth Association' in his village and took up social work like building a bus shelter, getting hand pumps for water and so on. The activities carried on into other areas. Srini completed his B.Sc. Electronics and MCA from Ramachandrapuram and came to Hyderabad where he became an expert programmer. Jobs, setting up his own firm Advanced Computer Solutions (ACS) now managed by his younger brother Prakash, more jobs, exposure and then his second firm, which is based in the UK as well, travel round the world professionally - nothing swayed him from the original passion - to serve others. So continued his NGO which now boasts of 7000 members in 11 countries, spreading awareness about the 3H way of life.

The journey had a few small precedents or trial runs. Srini did smaller cycling expeditions - Bangalore-Hyderabad, Udaipur-Mumbai and other smaller ones (he alwasy cycled to school college and to work and still does) but he decided to do something that would touch almost 2.5 million people (based on the thought that one takes 2.5 million breaths in 100 days!). So the big one. 500 volunteers got involved, arranged 500 events along the way, as Srini started from London on June 25, 2011 and traversed through a route that was to originally go through UK, France, Germany, Serbia, Slovakia, Belgium, Luxemburg, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan before entering India. He hoped to create awareness and bring a positive change in the attitude of the common man, to integrate like-minded people for a humanitarian cause and to motivate youth towards social responsibility. Apart from cycling there were charity events, health &environmental awareness, medical camps, planting of at least 1,00,000 saplings, personality development sessions in universities and volunteering with regional charities.

Before the journey Srini spoke to many experts who had undertaken such long journeys before and that included Mark Beaumont (author of ‘The Man Who cycled the world), John & Selly, Jon Slade who had cycled Alaska to Mexico last year. The bike he chose was a Daws Galaxy touring cycle with 27 gears. It is a fascinating experience as one can read in his blog cyclingforhumanity - lonely rides, unfriendly terrain, harsh weather, hilly terrain and so many more issues. And tales of humanity reaching out for him, the warmth of people, strangers, cyclist whom he met travelling the world like him, animals, hosility - its wonderful stuff. But driven by his burning need to make a difference to humanity (you must meet him to understand how deeply he believes in his cause and purpose, I have not seen anyone who has such high standards for himself), Srini pushed through the journey on time. Unfortunately due to Pakistan not giving the VISA he had to stop at Iran, fly to Thiruvanantapuram and take up the second leg of cycling from Kanya Kumari to Srinagar. Total distance covered - 11,350 in 109 days.

It is probably typical of Srini that this event did not get the publicity it could have got but I am amazed at what a man can do if he believes in a higher purpose. I am amazed and inspired at his single minded focus to serve humanity. 'Cycling is not a passion,' he says simply. 'It is just a means of transport that I use to spread awareness.' His day starts at 430 a.a. with yoga and meditation, his NGO runs three ashrams with orphans and the disabled, he conducts Personality Development Programs regularly, plans to plant 10,000 saplings, adopt 500 villages, conducts blood donation camps and oh so many more. Whatever he does in his life, and I think Srini has aready done a lot, will make a big impact as he works in rural areas a lot, Srini Alluri, you are doing a magnificent job and I wish you the very best in this long journey and hard route you have chosen. If anything, you have inspired me to adopt the 3H lifestyle, perhaps cycle more often and live within my means. Mostly, to serve humanity and live in peace with nature. I will certainly mention your wonderful effort in my talks and of the path you have chosen that we could all emulate. Wonderful work Srini and you can always count on my support for your activities.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. I am sure there is more to Srini than I have mentioned. I will follow this blog up with more information later.