Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year That Was For Me - 2012

Recap of some of the stuff I did in 2012.

Saw snow for the first time in my life at Auli. Enjoyed the all-boy trip with Vasu, Ranjan, Koni, Kiran and Vasu's son Aditya. We assembled in Dehradun and drove into the hills. On the way back from Auli we stayed overnight on the banks of the Ganga at Rishikesh.Other places I visited this year were an interesting hillock near Jadcherla and a Hanuman teple in Hayathnagar which were both Koni's discoveries, Bangalore, Mysore, Chandigarh, Pune and Shivthargal (near Pune). One short visit to Delhi and to Ghaziabad with Raja to visit IMT. One nice visit to Taramati Baradari with Shobhs and Anjali. Travel was bleak last year save the Auli trip!

Met Vijay Lokapally the well-known cricket and sports journalist, Krishna Shastry Devulapalli the humour novelist, Huma Kidwai the novelist, and Saeed Mirza the famous film maker and now, novelist.

Wrote 373 blog posts which is a sharp decrease from last year. But I love writing the blog and it has made me a better person in many ways because it forces me to do things that I might not have - new experiences, new people, new thoughts. The decrease was during the second half of the year when I was busy with the cricket selection assignment.

Read and reviewed 47 books. I enjoyed reading the Mahabharatha (in three versions), Freedom at Midnight, The Last Nizam and they helped me understand my context better in terms of where I come from. Several new books, many by new authors, some old classics as well but overall I think there is some improvement required in the kind of stuff I read.

Watched and reviewed 54 or so movies, most of them thanks to Koni this time. Once again the Irani movies completely blew me off my feet, some of the new Hindi movies were good. But then again, like the books, I feel there is much scope to improve what I see. I have my sights set on some which are in my possession but which have been languishing for want of attention. The Classics for instance, and the ones I missed out from last year.

Went to music concert  - again alone - and enjoyed the 'Guns and Roses' experience. Plan to go to at least one music concert a year by myself.

Went to a play by myself - 'Hamari Potti ki Shaadi' at Lamakaan and enjoyed myself thoroughly. 

Conducted a Creative Writing workshop for school children of the age of 10-15 at Oakridge High School and enjoyed the experience. Taught me much about how writing itself.

Interviewed some interesting people - Anupama Raghvan my friend who is also a kidney donor on the process of organ donation, Anita Rajnarayan the tarot reader and hypnotherapist and also a good friend of mine, Vijay Lokapally on sports journalism and two interviews with Anjali who gave me the perspective of life as seen by a four and a half and a five year old.

Have begun a walking and exercise routine which is nice and allows me to play with my thoughts while keeping my physical side active. Worked on health and am glad to have kept it in good shape. I think I am better of now than last year.

Attended the Hyderabad Literary Festival on all three days and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I even participated in a panel discussion!

There were talks at TRR College of Engineering, Triveni Group of Companies, SMILDA, Gap Miners and others,  workshops at University of Hyderabad, Mars and Sorokasoft, and one 'In conversation' with Anita Nair which was a first and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Took up a new assignment which has been a great learning experience in many ways.

Most of all, enjoyed all the time I could spend with Anjali and looking at the world through her perspective.

Overall it was a year that pulled me in many directions and put me in several situations that were new. Certain things that I wanted to happen did not work out such as publishing 'The Misfit' and the 'Champion's Mindset', workshops and lectures, some travel plans. But it was a year of tremendous growth in several other ways.

Much thanks is owed to Shobha for all that she puts up with and more for being a wonderful companion through the days. Anjali for being a constant source of joy. My family for keeping me grounded and keeping me going with their unconditional love and support. My friends for making me laugh and making life fun and exciting. Raja, Prarthana and Vinod for the books they shared with me. Sagar and Koni for the movies. Gap and HCA for the assignments as with all other clients of mine. Amar for the workshops and the discussions. Vinod for the coffee and bajji rendezvous.

More as I remember through the day.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in Movies

Here are movies that I watched at home or in the theatres and reviewed. I watched 53 this year, liked some and did not like some.

In January (10)  I watched - 'Color of Paradise', 'My Friend Pinto', 'The Peaceful Warrior', 'Shagird', 'Dhobi Ghat', 'Memento', 'Ra One', 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' and 'Chillar Party'.

In February (11) I saw - 'Dirty Picture', 'Money Ball', 'Rhapsody in August', 'The Way', 'The Smurfs', 'Throne of Blood', 'Reincarnation of Peter Proud', 'V for Vendetta', 'Ghost Writer', 'Rabbit Proof Fence' and 'Zelig'.

In March (6) I saw - 'Kahaani', 'Manhattan', 'Kashmakash', 'Citizen Kane', 'Good Night Good Luck', 'The Descendants'.

In April (2) it was - 'Pan Singh Tomar', 'Ides of March'.

In May (4) it was - 'Chhota Bheem', 'The Great Dictator', 'Johny English Reborn' and 'The Silent Movie'.

In June (2) - 'The Devil Wears Prada' and 'Vicky Donor'.

In July (1) - '12 Angry Men'.

In August (2) - 'Unstoppable' and 'Hugo'.

In September (6)  - 'Barfi', 'We Bought a Zoo', 'A Separation', 'Doghi', 'Young Frankenstein' and 'Ferrari ki Sawari'.

In October (6) - 'Student of the Year', 'Cocktail', 'Taken 2', 'Zorba the Greek', 'Faltu' and 'Blazing Saddles'.

In November (1) - 'Borat'.

In December (3) it was - 'English Vinglish', 'Tourist' and 'Offside'.

The best of the lot - 'A Separation', 'Color of Paradise', 'Memento', 'Rabbit Proof Fence', 'Zelig', 'Kahaani', '12 Angry Men', 'Pan Singh Tomar', 'Chillar Party', 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' and 'English Vinglish'. The big disappointments were 'Student of the Year', 'Borat', 'Faltu', 'Cocktail', 'My Friend Pinto', 'Ra One'.
At 53, its a sharp drop in movies from the 80 odd last year!

Animal Farm - George Orwell

Reread this old classic to check for the change in perspective, if any. What George Orwell's classic showed me when I read it this time was that things are frighteningly the same - in 1945 (when he first wrote it) as in 1985 (when I first read it) and in 2012 today.

Sample this. Manor Farm is a farm run by Jones the farm owner. All the farm animals are made to work hard in return for very little. One of them, Old Major, a boar, tells the animals in the beginning of a dream he had where he saw humans being overthrown and the farm belonging to those who actually worked - the animals. A rebellion, he says, and the farm animals listen. In a few days Old Major dies. His rebellion happens soon after his death, when farmer Jones forgets to feed the animals in his drunken stupor, and is attacked by the hungry animals. Led by two young pigs Snowball and Napolean, who have the sharper brains of the lot, the animals drive Farmer Jones away and take over the farm, rename it the Animal Farm, and declare war on all that walks on two legs. Snowball is an articulate, hardworking, progressive pig while Napolean is an inarticulate, mischievous and power hungry pig. Over a period of time the two pigs fight for leadership over the farm until Napolean unleashes his army of dogs (that he raises in secret) and drives Snowball away. Now as the supreme commander, he used false propaganda, ill treats the animals, puts down any form of rebellion and makes for himself a luxurious life in Farmer Jones farmhouse, eating the best food and drinking whisky even. In time he actually starts meeting other humans (which is against their first principles) and starts making deals with them. The saddest day is when he sells off the loyal and hardworking horse Boxer to a slaughter house.

But pay attention here. The way he and other pigs in the Management do not appear when the loyal and hardworking Boxer falls due to exhaustion, whisk the old horse away without any intimation to other animals allegedly for better treatment, spread false stories about how the brave horse was given the best treatment and make unconvincing speeches of sympathy when Boxer dies ring all too familiar with the behavior f the Government in the recent incident that shook the nation - the horrific Delhi gang rape case. It's bone chilling really to know that nothing has changed since 1945, that Orwell could actually write down this formula for society and that we are all living it exactly as he'd written it down even now. The last scene where the fattened and power-hungry pigs start walking on two legs imitating humans, making deals with humans over dinner where they all get drunk and fight - a scene witnessed by all the animals of the farm from the window - ends with another chilling line - that at that table the pigs and the men look alike with their many chins and the greed in their eyes.

Written as a brilliant satire deriding Communism in Russia, which Orwell, a confirmed socialist, believed was in cahoots with Western Capitalists, 'Animal Farm' is frighteningly alive even in this age. We see pigs like Napolean ruling us even now, their sycophants like Squealer spreading lies and falsehood, their goons like Napolean's dogs attacking the weak and unarmed, the stupid and uneducated public which believes in any propaganda that the state feeds them. We also see how the system, or those in power, use their people, how they sell off their own loyal employees, how they do not hesitate to make a profit even when one of their own is dying or dead (or raped). Nothing has really changed. Not in Manor Farm. Not in our world.

George Orwell's brief at the back of the book is interesting. He was born in 1903 in Bengal, where his father worked for the Opium Department of the Government of India. Orwell wrote six novels, mostly with political hues and with sharp criticism of prevailing systems. He died when he was 47.

'Animal Farm' is one of the books that you wish you could write - so simple, so powerful. Characters like the pigs - Napolean, Squealer and Snowball, Boxer the valiant and hardworking horse who represents the working class (believing that their only job is to work harder and that the Master is always right), the stupid sheep who come in numbers and disrupt any meaningful dialogue by their loud, meaningless bleating, are all unforgettable. Even if you'd read it before, read it again - it's only 118 pages long. 'Animal Farm' remains an even bigger inspiration for me to aspire to write something as simple and as timeless and as powerful.

The Year In Books -2012

This year (2012), I've read 47 books so far. Much of history has been read and appreciated, much of non-fiction too and some wonderful fiction as well. Next year is the year of the classics for me.

In January (6) I read 'Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You' by Marcus Chown first. Then, 'The Monk, the Moor and Moses Ben Jalloun' by well known film maker and now writer Saeed Akhthar Mirza, 'Iceboys in Bellbottoms' a debut novel by by Krishna Shastry Devulapalli, 'A Calendar too Crowded' a book of short stories by Sagarika Chakraborty, 'Creators' a non-fiction book on some of the world's greatest creators by Paul Johnson and 'Between Tears and Laughter' by Mulkraj Anand.

In February (4) I read 'After Dark' by Haruki Murakami, 'The Eighteenth Parallel' by Ashokamitran, 'The Last Nizam' by John Zubrycki and 'Freedom at Midnight' by Dominic Lapierre and Larry Collins.

In March (6) I read an old classic 'Kidnapped' by Robert Louis Stevenson, 'The Struggle and Betrayal of Telengana' by K. V. Ranga Reddy, 'The Mahabharatha' by Kamala Subramaniam, 'The Children's Mahabharatha' by Shanta Rameshwar Rao, 'Istanbul' by Orhan Pamuk and a hilarious 'God Save the Dork' by Sidin Vadukut.

April (4) brought 'Anatomy of an Illness' by Norman Cousins, 'Nampally Road' by Meena Alexander, a re-read of 'You Can Heal Your Life' by Louise Hay and a fine piece of historical fiction 'Empire of the Moghuls, Raiders From the North' by Alex Rutherford.

In May (4) I read 'The Power of your Subconscious Mind' by Dr. Joseph Murphy, 'Nine lives' by William Dalrymple, 'Write it down and make it happen' by Henriette Anne Klauser and 'How to write a damn good novel' by James N. Frey.

In June (7) there was Ram's 'The Happiness Hypothesis' by John Haidt and Rajesh's wonderful collection of books that included 'Alexander the Great, The Art of Strategy' by Partha Bose, 'A Whole New Mind' by Daniel H. Pink, 'Mindset, A New Psychology of Success' by Dr. Carol S. Dweck, 'Legs on Everest' by Mark Englis, 'RAFA My Story' by Rafael Nadal with John Carlin and 'Bob Woolmer's Art and Science of Cricket' by Bob Woolmer, Prof. Tim Noake and Dr. Helen Moffet.

July was the month I could not complete a single book.

In August (1) I managed to read Osho's 'Osho - Book of Man'.

In September (3) read 'Beyond the blues' and Out of the blue' by 'Aakash Chopra' and 'Ha ha therapy' by Dr. G. Lakshmipathy.

October (4) brought 'Man's Search for Meaning' by Viktor E. Frankl, 'Cut like wound' by Anita Nair, 'The Art of Captaincy' by Mike Brearley and 'The Mahabharatha' by Shiv K. Kumar.

In November (5) I read 'Just Married, Please Excuse' by Yashodhara Lal, 'The Hussaini Alam House' by Huma Kidwai, 'The Prince' by Nicollo Machiavelli, 'The Sky is crazy' by Yvonne Lee, 'Niccolo Machiavelli's Prince - 52 ideas Interpreted' by Tim Phillips and 'The Magic' by Rhonda Byrne.

December (3) brought to me 'The Secret of the Nagas' by Amish, and rereads of 'Without Feathers' by Woody Allen and 'Animal Farm' by George Orwell.

This is a longer list than last year's which is good. I would have liked to do a few more classics but I am pleased with the history and non-fiction book I read. I read three versions of the Mahabharatha and thoroughly enjoyed all of them, enjoyed reading historical writing - 'Freedom at Midnight', 'The Last Nizam', 'The Empire of the Moghuls', loved the non-fiction writing 'Mindset', 'RAFA My Story', 'Legs on Everest' 'The Happiness hypothesis', 'The Magic', 'You Can Heal Your Life' and 'Nine Lives'. In fiction I enjoyed Anita Nair's 'Cut Like Wound', Huma Kidwai's 'The Hussaini Alam House', Yashodhara Lal's 'Just Married, Please Excuse', 'Krishna Shastry's 'Ice Boys in Bell Bottoms', Sidin Vadukut's 'God Save the Dork'. 

Met with authors Saeed Mirza, Krishna Devulapally, Meena Alexander, Sagarika Chakraborty, Anita Nair, Shiv K. Kumar and Huma Kidwai this year.

Much thanks is owed to Raja , Ram, Vinod, Prarthana, Shobhs, Mythily, Harsha, Dr. Krishnan, Rajesh and Sagarika Chakraborty for lending and recommending their books to me. I have had the most wonderful time reading.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Things we Grew Up With - Inland Letters and Aerogrammes

Till late eighties or even till the PCO (Public Call Office) boxes appeared all over the place, the only way of communicating privately with one another was either to travel and meet them in person or to write to them. Here is where the postal department came into use big time. The post offices were amazing for the simplicity with which they worked and till today, I find that it is one of the most underrated and undervalued departments we have. Through the postal department you could reach anyone, anywhere in India. And the world. 

The modern day youngster finds it very easy to get in touch with friends and family. Pick up the mobile and call. Or get online and skype. But imagine if the mobile and the computer were not around. Then? That was our situation. We would go to the post office, buy those postal cards (if the news could be read by anyone and did not need any privacy settings), or buy an inland letter or an envelope which gave you some privacy or if you needed to write to someone abroad, buy an aerogramme. Once we got these letters and cards you needed to know the addresses, pin codes etc and then you needed to sit down and write. We'd fill in letters with tonnes of news, stories, and sometimes even pictures drawn by us. We'd fill up the margins to fit in some more precious words, scent them sometimes, young women would kiss the letters and leave traces of lipstick (which would stay with the young man forever). The receiver would receive the same with unbridled joy and read and reread them in private places and preserve them (I still have some old ones) for posterity. The joy of waiting for the postman (remember the song Dakwala aaya) was next to nothing. People would grab their letters, settle down in corners, smile and laugh and be in state of joy so everyone would know that he or she got a letter that day. Ah, sheer bliss.

The upside or downside to this whole thing was that it was a long drawn process. First you needed to go to the post office and buy those letters. Then you'd think well before writing, sometimes you had to plan financially as I had to when I would write to friends on those expensive aerogrammes, and pretty much communicate what you want to in a limited space. No room for follow up sms's or late night calls or fb posts. Once written and posted, the letter would reach in its own time, ranging from three days locally to a week or 10 days abroad. And after the recipient receives it, he or she would write back in his or her own time. The earliest would be the same amount of time surely.

Love stories were made, pen friends were made, long standing relationships were formed through letters. Several people still take great solace in letters of love and affection written by well meaning friends and relatives and remember a time when the heart yearned for these good words from faraway. The entire package was pretty much, a labour of love - from the effort needed to buy the letter and write - there was truly much investment and engagement. If we looked for comparisons, a letter to an email or an sms would compare like this - a life long love story to a one night stand. That is how the intensity would be. And perhaps the respect and dignity that the other person was accorded.

As with many things, like letters and even printed photographs, the physical element of getting them out and looking at them transports you away to another place. The email on screen or the sms in your mobile can never replicate that feeling ever. Those who wrote and received letters would understand the pleasure of anticipation,of quiet and patience, of knowing. For all its slowness, the snail mail truly was the champion of feelings and emotions, of clarity and sensitivity, of love and courage (in cases where letters fell in the wrong hands).

Let me get some pics of these items which are all still available in Post Offices. It's a good indicator of inflation to know that an inland letter now costs almost as much as an aerogramme did those days. Of course no one receives letters from people they know anymore. All we get is bills and marketing information. In fact it must be almost embarrassing if one receives a letter. But it might not be a bad idea to write a few once in a while. To the post office ahoy!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Hamari Potti ki Shaadi - A Hilarious Play

I must mention that I did one of those out-of-comfort-zone things and went to watch a play all by myself a few days ago. What's the big deal you may ask. The big deal is this - firstly, I don't watch too may plays and secondly, not alone. (My style for watching a play is that I must be led to it dragging and kicking which is not possible if I go alone.) But this play sounded interesting and the poster that Huma forwarded through the email looked promising - 'Khichdi Khatta Kheema Productions invites you to Hamari Potti ki Shaadi'.  The place was Lamakaan which is familiar territory and one where one could lose oneself comfortably especially in the back rows. And the timing, just perfect for me.

Any play with Hyderabadi humour is bound to be funny and I went with my hopes up. Also, the producers and actors were Huma's nieces and nephews so I figured they'd bring in the Hyderabadi humour with a touch of class and some old world charm. They did not let me down and put up a fine show with a funny and well written script that had lots of Hyderabadi humour interspersed with much Dakhani dialogue. The artistes backed their script with strong and confident performances and in my view, they have a good thing going. They are talented without doubt, they worked hard at the details, they gave out a message and they had fun. Can't ask for more really. The future of Hyderabadi humour, (and several other things Hyderabadi in fact, what with Huma writing a brilliant novel with 'The Hussaini Alam House') seems to be in safe hands.

Anyway on to the play itself. It is set in a household in the old city (Moghulpura if I am not mistaken) where three women reside. The potti who is well-educated and working and twenty four and now seemingly too far advanced in age for marriage, her mother who is in panic mode about her daughter's single status and a cranky, capricious and positively wicked granny who lusts after Salman Khan and cares for little else except her own comforts. The father is away in Saudi, working. How the women try to fix the marriage of the girl and how they meet a bunch of 'namune' or aspiring grooms (and their double standards about the bahus they want despite being rather good-for-nothing themselves) is the general gist of the play.

Written and directed by Anjum Jaffery and Danish Zubairy, who also star in key roles as the 'potti' in question and the 'potti's' cranky and unpredictable nani who lusts after Salman Khan, the play has Neha Deshpande playing the potti's mother, completing the triangle. I loved the way the irreverent granny (Danish) improvised on the fly and pulled off impromptu punch lines with the ease of a magician and cannot but help admire the mother (Neha) who did a fantastic job what with the volume of dialogue and the central presence that she had. Anjum was perfect in her role as the educated young girl caught between these wildly fluctuating standards. Abu, Mujeeb and Fazaaz Zubairy play the three extreme suitors who come to see the twenty four year old potti (Danish doubles up as another suitor) and drive everyone up the wall. There is a voice of one other cranky matchfixer who sends these suitors to the potti's house and that dialogue between her and the mother was hilarious.

Good show Khichdi Khatta Kheema Productions and keep going. You have some serious talent.

And while at that, good show for me too for doing one of those out-of-comfort-zone things!

Thought for the Day - Do you play to win or do you play not to lose?

Worth thinking about. Do you play to win. Or do you play not to lose. Or, let me put it another way, a more general way.

Do you want something. Or do you not want something and hence pick whatever is left.
Clarity - Pic Satish Nargundkar

The first thought of wanting something shows clarity of thought and thereby, purposeful and well-directed action. The second thought leaves you slightly indecisive and unsure in your thought and action because you have still no particular goal that draws your action.

The first thought is one of courage, of brutal clarity and also of honesty. It would therefore help if while deciding, you sit with yourself and ask yourself what you want as the clear outcome. If you can get yourself to see it clearly, your thought, word and action will be clear and purposeful. But if you are at a stage when you still say 'I only know I don't want this. But I don't know what I really want out of this' - then there is still some way to go. You will be on the path but with far less conviction and clarity.

Be clear about the outcome. All else will fall into place with amazing precision.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Things We Grew Up With - The Radio and the Transistor

The Radio and its smaller sibling, the pretty little Transistor, were the prime source of all real-time connection with the outer world in those growing up days. That was how important they were! To look for a suitable example, perhaps these two instruments were as important as the mobile phones are these days - they not only provided news but also entertainment of various forms such as music, poetry and I remember, once hearing only the dialogues of films. Imagine your life without a mobile phone these days!

The one source for all this audio content was the All India Radio which was our life line. Radio announcers were superstars those days as they spun us along with the magic of their words and their deep or sweet voice as the case may be. Amin Sayani is still a super star!

All households listened to the morning and evening news with a grave silence, or listened to the music or whatever. One could hear radios blaring from all houses with trademark music, jingles etc. The radio was seated in a high place normally, and we'd crowd around it sitting on the floor and catching the words and music as it dripped. As technological masterpieces which cost a large part of the salary radios would be operated only by the elder males of the family. Children were told not to touch it - lest something happened to them (the radios, not the children!). There were more children than radios anyway!

Radios came in several sizes and shapes and looked quite imposing to us rustics - we'd gaze like idiots at anything mechanical or electrical. Naturally we were scared of radios which looked like small spaceships with their switches, lights, knobs and crackling sounds. They were normally covered respectfully with embroidered cloth or something like that.

The radios were respected and dignified and were the symbol of the older generations. Similarly transistors, which were not really anyone's sisters, were the symbols of youth and freedom for the simple reason that they were portable. They allowed the owner to flaunt it and get away from home. A transistor in the ear was a sign of coolness those days and the equivalent of the youth we see with their ears plugged with head phones these days. Most times transistors were used to listen to live commentary of cricket or hockey or some such sport. People would carry transistors to offices and disrupted office productivity greatly.

Most of today's youngsters may wonder why anyone would have a radio the size of a large sized television at home. Or for that matter even have a transistor stuck in their ears to listen to cricket commentary. But back then the big radio was the one source of entertainment and information for us. It played songs, gave us news of war or politics or of holidays or important deaths. In fact we'd be excused if we actually built our houses around the radio. Or even a temple.

I must remember ours - a huge spaceship type - from Phillips. The transistor was a Murphy perhaps.

20 Things From the 80s That We Grew Up With

The past thirty years have moved on so fast technologically that several things that were essential for us to lead our lives back in the 80s are now objects that will make no sense to today's kids. Let me try and capture some of these essentials here and see if I can make a comprehensive list for posterity. If one can find these items, or some reminiscences of them, perhaps even a museum!

Each one separately has to be written about because each in its own way deserves an explanation lest their importance in our lives back then is not fully understood.The list goes somewhat like this and I invite everyone to add to it (before we all forget about them).

1) Radio / transistor
2) TVs / TV stands / TV boxes with shutters / TV antennae
3) Telephones /Trunk calls and PP numbers /Telephone Directories / Phonograms
4) PCOs / CTOs
5) LPs / EPs / Gramaphones
6) Inland letters / Aerogrammes / Cards /Telegrams
7) Birthday cards / Greeting cards
8) Bicycles with dynamos (even license plates)
9) Cassette players / cassettes
10) 5 1/2 inch and 3 1/2 inch floppies / Early computers
11) Ink blotters / ink fillers / fountain pens
12) Carbon copies / ammonia prints
13) Negatives / Camera rolls / Prints / Albums
14) Cars with crankshafts to start
15) Encyclopedias
16) Water boilers
17) Milk bottles on the doorstep / Milk booths
18) Video players / Video cassettes
19) Cycle rickshaws / Trailer buses / Double decker buses
20) Alarm clocks

More surely?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

20 Celebrities Who Influenced Me

I tried to put together a list of celebrities and heroes who influenced me and perhaps made me the person I am today by making me want to be like them or do things like they do or did.The list is in random order.

1) Socrates, the Brazilian soccer skipper for his sheer coolness quotient and oodles of charisma. Ever since I saw the Soccer World Cup in 1986 I have been hooked to that event and nothing impressed me more than the manner in which a supremely confident Socrates wrong footed the goal keeper in a penalty kick that he took off two paces. Of course he missed another similar one but for that penalty-taking style, his dark and mysterious looks, the well-read Socrates added some magic into my life.

2) Amitabh Bachchan, was probably the single most personality that affected our generation and made us all surly, unromantic and perhaps angry (or sullen) males with long hair over our ears, bell bottoms on our trousers, anger in our eyes, a deepness in our voice and an aloofness from females. In fact my friend Vardha rates Amitabh as the one factor that meddled with our love lives - he reckons we'd been better off if we had Rajesh Khanna as our idol he feels! But Amitabh induced a madness into us that pervaded through the 70s, 80s and even the 90s and left an impact that was too deep for that generation. For me.

3) ABBA, the pop group from Sweden introduced western pop music in a manner that shook my life up. Even since I watched the movie 'ABBA the movie', I pretty much bought all their albums, listened to them, learnt to sing them, listened to other contemporary groups, and slowly and steadily got hooked on to music so bad that it never left me. Did I want to be like them when I saw the movie? Oh yes.

4) Wodehouse, for the unbelievable way in which he wrote his books. Where does he get that crazy turn of phrase that makes you unable to control your laughter and laugh out loud, to roll in the aisles. I loved to dwell on his books on long summer vacations and to this day I wish that I'd be able to write one book that made readers laugh like his books did. To this day I can make out the sound of the laughter from someone who is reading a Wodehouse in a public place. It is unmistakable, uncontrollable laughter.

5) Bjorn Borg, or Ice Borg as they called him, was an inspiration for the way he played his tennis in a manner that was completely devoid of emotion. His icy calmness, his numerous wins under pressure and the air of mystery around a man who never was much in the public eye made Borg on of our big heroes. Oh, to be a Borg and play the way he did under pressure.

6) Mother Teresa, was someone who I could not help but admire for the work she has done. Nothing to say about her but just a deep admiration for carrying on the work of God without much ado. It all seems beyond you when you see what one person can do if she makes up her mind to do anything.

7) James Bond, represented to me by Sean Connery first, and later Roger Moore, epitomised all that was slick, western and  Hollywood, the alpha male of our dreams dreams. Cars, fights, dialogues, women ...Mr. Bond was probably the one male we all least fantasised about being in our wildest fantasies. He could do everything except dance around trees.

8) Bruce Lee, provided us all much needed inspiration in the field of fighting for ourselves, of strength for which we need not look outside. It was a crazy experience watching Enter the Dragon and walking out with tight fists ready to bash up anyone. It was breathtaking to watch those stunts and that intense movie, but Bruce Lee and his karate stoked the imagination of a whole generation of our people. Karate became popular too and the fact that one could fight back barehanded.

9) Kapil Dev, for bringing fight into the Indian side and with it a great spirit that anything was possible if we showed some courage. The way he came back and bowled with a strain in the Sydney test that we won against Greg Chappell's team was incredible. Those were the days of the radio and we listened to that commentary early in the morning and boy was it magical. Kapil went on to give us more magic, 175 not out against Zimbabwe, the World Cup win and so much more. For the first time we felt like we had men representing our team and I felt that it would not be a bad thing to be like him.

10) Gavaskar, for being the first sports superstar we ever had. He took his boundaries with the game higher and higher and fought a lone battle almost against most quality sides. It's amazing to see so much excellence being devoted by one man for so little return in terms of wins but he went on and on. Wonderful stuff.

11) Meryl Streep, was someone I fell instantly in love with when I first saw her in a movie - Falling in Love perhaps or was it Out of Africa. I have seen most of her movies since and am more deeply in love with her than ever. As an artiste she is way up there and now after so many years I still wonder at how she goes on and on and churns out so much quality in her work. And I fall more and more in love with her.

12) Mohammed Ali, For bringing a passion to excel and win in sports to such a high level. He raised his entire skill to another level - first by raising his skill and training in a manner that was not conventional and then by playing psychological games on his opponents and ensuring that he won fights that were sometimes above his weight almost.

13) Pink Floyd, for their iconic album The Wall. I cannot imagine even now how they composed their music and thought they'd get away with it. Its completely crazy to make stuff all for yourself and then in some weird way it connects. No time, no context - just a feeling. And Roger Waters for that concert in Bangalore that just blew my mind and made me wonder what passion was about and how one could carry it with them all their lives. It was again a work of love that transcended time and place.

14) Gandhi, for the sheer madness of the ideas and convictions he stood by and lived by. How can anyone think like that and live like that and get a whole word to believe and follow those high principles that he believed in. What was he thinking when he set out to fight for freedom, for rights with the most audacious idea of non-violence, of satyagraha, of non-cooperation. How did he ask others to do what he did, how did he do what he believed was right when he walked into the homes of untouchables. He is the one person who is beyond comprehension for me, so big, so powerful and so courageous, that I am sure no one would ever have been able to conceive such a character even in fiction. If I had the smallest amount of faith and conviction in my thought and act as he did, I would be more than content.

15) Che Guevara, for bringing some weird kind of romance into our lives and keeping alive that rebel in us. We knew of him, heard of him and adored the air of mystery he brought into our lives.

16) Hrishikesh Mukherjee,for making me want to live the simple life, for following certain principles, for the simple pleasures that middle class life offers. Romance was sipping coffee in road side bandis, in Kamat hotels, humour was found in everyday situations, principles were fought for and passions lived by. I have been deeply inspired by his work and movies like Anand, Namak Haraam, Chupke Chupke, Satyakam and others will always remain with me and have perhaps guided many choices i have already made in my life.

17) Kishore Kumar, for singing such wonderfully uplifting songs that make life so much more bearable and fun yesterday, today and certainly tomorrow. Nothing bonds the many people I know than listening to Kishore Kumar songs like Kehana Hai, Yeh laal rang, Chingari koi bhadke, Nadiya se dariya, Main shaayar badnaam and so many more and we all collectively step back into a time when life was different, when friendships were forever, when love was about sacrifice. He sang some of the most uplifting and romantic numbers I have ever heard including Koi roko na, Musafir hoon yaaron,Pyaar manga hai tum hi se, Rim jhim gire saawan and so many more.

18) Steve Waugh, for bringing a certain kind of mad focus to win to the game. He was another of those who could do anything to scrap his way out of a tough situation in cricket and during his time there was probably none more mentally tougher. One could never take anything away from him and I always wondered how wonderful to carry so much pride and so much fight.

19) Michael Jackson, undoubtedly the biggest phenomenon we saw in our lifetime and one who took music performances to another level. I could never figure out what made him what he was - his music, his performances, his life, everything was so different. He was out of the ordinary and out of the league.

20) Woody Allen, for his absolutely amazing body of work and the craziest ideas that he seems to dig out right out of everybodys head. Just the kind of stuff we don't want to talk about but he puts it across so wonderfully. He is someone you'd like to be but also know you can never be.

I guess I will add some as I go along but for now these are the people who have influenced me and who I owe much to.

Without Feathers - Woody Allen

Re read this old Woody Allen classic looking for some laughs. Of course there are laughs aplenty as you wonder at Woody’s zany sense of humour. But honestly, there are also times when you wonder how this stuff got published! But Woody is a favorite of mine and I will stick to the parts I liked.

For example in his articles he ponders about ‘love’ in this fashion – "Is it better to be the lover or the loved one? Neither, if your cholesterol is over six hundred." And there are several such gems. Two plays, several articles, stories with the amazing Inspector Ford who solves murder mysteries as easily as snapping his fingers, a story of guys who need whores with high IQs to excite them and whores who charge for discussing Melville and other literary heavyweights (The Whore of Mensa),  If the Impressionists had been Dentists, and many more such impossible situations and solutions make up this book. Did I laugh out loud? Yes, several times and none more than when he ponders over whether Shakespeare was Marlowe or vice versa. Sample this - "Marlowe’s young wife took up the pen and continued to write the plays and sonnets we all know and avoid today."

Woody’s neurotic, hypochondriacal and completely absurd view of the world, or rather his world, cannot but make you laugh and look at life with far less stress and tension. Life cannot be too bad when we have people like this around. I mean, Woody seems to have so many more issues and problems than we have and seems to be dealing with them well so there is hope! As he says gravely “How wrong Emily Dickenson was! Hope is not ‘the thing with feathers’. The thing with Feathers turned out to be my nephew. I must take him to a specialist in Zurich."

I love Woody Allen. He is one of those guys I’d want to think like, be like, write like, make movies like, and make up stories like.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Days of the Beasts

Men are insecure. And are growing more and more insecure by the day. Whether in the guise of being 'religiously offended' or 'angered by immorality' or 'having their culture demeaned' or even 'being sexually stimulated' there are more insecure male beasts out there today in India (and abroad) than ever. Everyday the masks keep falling off from the faces of more of these who cannot operate alone, who do not have the guts to handle a confident woman, (forget it, they cannot even handle themselves) and need a mob, deadly firearms or weapons or the safety of the night to approach a girl, a school child or even more defenceless targets if they can find them. They use all the force they can get to handle any of these small targets - including the backing of the ever willing system - lest these defenceless people fight back.

What does it mean? That these men represent manhood? That they are our heroes who make lewd remarks, who make physical contact, who molest, ill treat? These mobs, these people who get together and rape innocent children, women? No. It only means that our society has an increasing number of these men who cannot handle themselves, their own shadows. They cannot even handle a school child without covering their faces, without firearms. They cannot engage in a discussion and get their viewpoint across to anyone - even a fourteen year old like Malala Yousufzai of Swat - and need  weapons to silence her. They cannot engage with confident women unless they are in gangs of six or ten and are armed with iron bars. They cannot reply to a facebook comment and express their 'angry viewpoint' and would rather seek to mob, maim, get the system to back them to arrest two girls who voiced their opinion on facebook. They cannot vent their anger at adults so they shoot kindergarten school children with firearms. They cannot get normal sex so they rape their own daughters, grnadchildren and the young children of their friends and neighbours. They are sick, and people who shield them are sicker, and for just being like this and doing such stuff they should all be institutionalised for mental ill health. These are not normal people. Its not capital punishment that they need - they need admission to the Mental Health Institutes

But where have they come from? Where did they get this disease from? From the rest of our society of which we are all part of of course. We have grown them. We have nurtured them. Because we are scared of bullies. We elect them. We pander to them. We are scared of abuse. We are scared of putting our viewpoint across. We are scared of complaining. We will do anything, even sell our souls, as long as they do not bother us. Let the system handle it and if it cannot, too bad.

The ones who can, the people with authority in the system, are the ones who should be the first casualties. From the very top right down to the bottom - the criminals themselves. Where are the resignations? Where is the outrage from the system? From our moral police? From the self appointed guardians of our culture?  From elected representatives? They are too busy trying to say the right things, trying to look righteous, indignant, and hoping that things will become normal again. Considering that public memory is so short, we might just move on. How many such incidents have we forgotten about, lit candles for and moved on? Countless.

But this time, instead of moving on until another incident I suggest we do something else as well. After all we are part of the larger society that elects these leaders of ours, that these public servants of ours are supposed to serve and protect, that these law breakers take for granted. We have a role too. Because we might be next in line.

I'd say every member of society who has felt the pain of the Delhi incident and of the many such incidents resolve today, individually, to merely stand up and complain to the authorities each time they see an injustice. Each time there is something wrong going on. Complain, whine and get some action. Get ready to visit the police station, the courts. Does not matter. Its a small price to pay for setting a society right. Get ready to assist victims when small crimes start on the road. To collar the eve teasers and hand them over. To walk up and tell the drunks and louts to get out of the locality. To tell young children who start these drinking, smoking ways in dark alleys to go home and do it in front of their parents and not near your house. Does not matter if they abuse you. Or even beat you.

Get beaten once, get arrested even if it means you suffer a bit. It is okay. We must learn to suffer a bit of pain. We must sacrifice our time, our false dignity even, perhaps even some money. We must get used to this - this standing up for someone else. It's important not for them - but for our own sake. For our children. For the future.

If we do not stand up for another, now, no one will stand for you too. If we do not share their concern, we can as well stop shouting ourselves hoarse against injustice. It is not just the candles and the faceless comments on social networking sites. We need to get down to concrete action. What is the worst that can happen? At least you might not see something as ghastly as what happened to the young lady in Delhi. She deserves her peace. This is one way to tell her that what she went through was not for nothing. That she at least pricked our conscience enough to make a whole bunch of educated, easily offended,sensitive middle class realise their basic duty as citizens. 

To stand up against injustice. To not look the other way and hope it won't happen to you. It just might be you, if you do not start gathering your courage now.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Secret of the Nagas - Amish

The sequel to the 'Immortals of Meluha' did not not match up fully to the first. It picks up where the first part of the trilogy left off and goes into a tale of vengeance where Shiva is now hunting for the villain who killed his friend Brahaspati. Now married to Sati, Shiva moves to Kashi where Sati delivers their child Kartik. All the while there is a Naga warrior who is stalking Sati and it appears that he loves her and is protecting her. Then there is a new category of people that gets added to the Meluhans, the Nagas, the Suryavanshis and the Chandravanshis - the Brangas. It is decided that the Nagas are the evil ones and they have a pact with the rich and unpredictable Brangas - and that the Nagas must be killed for evil to end. Of course the Nagas also have access to some medicine that has some supreme healing powers. Now where does that leave the Meluhan somras?

To add to this drama we have man eating lions, a bandit named Parshuram who has a battleaxe and who joins the Neelkanth and his band, several twists in the tale, the introduction of Ganesh (can he be left behind with Kartik already there?) and a steady stream of characters. After a while I lost track of who is what and who belongs where really but it did not matter. Shiva is searching for the evil but where the story did not grip me was that there was no real evil that could be felt by me. This in turn makes Shiva that much weaker and normal and not the the saviour he is made out to be. I was being told by the characters that something big was going to happen, that Neelkanth would deliver us all from the mess, but nothing really seems to be happening. The part where the man eating lions attack a village was one of the interesting parts of the story but that looked like an aside, something that was not really relevant to the story save the appearance and discovery of Ganesh.

The warriors and their group move on but where and why was not clear to me. Perhaps I did not pay too much attention as I read it over a period of time but the worrying factor was that it did not draw me too much into it to be concerned. (As one of the characters says - the opposite of love is apathy and that is a dangerous place to be in.) There was just no real and present danger to anyone, no major passions, so things kept moving from one mediocre event to another without much involvement. The love story between Parvateshwar and Anandmayi was rather stretched and unconvincing and perhaps even needless unless it was used as a device to add some romance to the story. But then the sensual Anadmayi is wasted as the romance falls rather lamely once Parvateshwar falls for her. What happened to the passions? The overt sensuality?

If there is one thing I realised after reading the 'Secret of the Nagas', it is that when you have sequels, you must somehow get the plot together mush more tightly than the first. The reader is coming with a set of expectations (which they did not have for the first) and hence it has to be less predictable and more tighter and crisper. Amish plots well and it's an interesting story but we need something more tangible than a man's personal passion to make the Shiva that Amish crafted more credible. There is talk of saving India but that particular thread does not come across urgently nor even convincingly. That could have been an interesting cause and a worthy one for Shiva but I felt that it got lost in his personal vengeance which makes Shiva as normal as anyone else. One other area I would have liked Amish to go deeper as he writes more, is the feeling and emotional part. There are many dramatic moments that he leaves unexplored, which could have been squeezed for more impact on the reader. Overall the 'Secret f the Nagas' was more like a transition between the first part and the last of the trilogy. By itself it did not work for me but as the link in the whole it fits in. The pluses as I mentioned were Amish's plotting, the twists and turns, the many interesting facts he throws about, be it about lions, martial arts, ships and certainly the nuggets of sound philosophy he drops by throughout the book. The minuses were that there was no real villain to match Shiva's carefully built stature, no great cause yet, and it was rather two dimensional for me. But Amish is a fine writer and he could well spring a surprise in the last of the trilogy and I believe, in all that he writes as he moves along on this journey.

Anjali - Interview with a five year old

Continuing my series of interviews with Anjali, now a six monthly affair, we sat down today after many missed appointments in the last one month, owing mainly to a rather busy schedule of Anjali. It was only when I was close to tears today that she agreed to do this. We stuck to most of the standard questions.

What do you like most these days?
Watching the movie 'Chicken Little'. Days we spent with no Mamma (when Shobhs was away for 10 days in Mumbai attending a workshop). Doing my skit. Dancing. Trying to go to school first.

Who do you like the most?
My parents. My friends. All my classmates.

Why classmates?
Because they are my friends.

What do you do with your friends?
We play at the sandpit. All the time. One time you should come late.

What food do you like?
Chicken biryani. Fried rice at school. Crispy friend chicken. Noodles. Liver. Barbecue.

What don't you like?
Vegetables. They don't taste nice. Only carrot and kakdi I like.
I also don't like putting too much energy into my skit. I don't like that. I don't like skating. So much time I have to do it. I'll be sweating.

What movies and tv shows do you like?
Alvin and the Chipmunks. Barbie and the Nutcracker. Winnie the Pooh. Dora. Doraemon. Chhota Bheem. But that movie was scary!

What makes you happy?
Getting birthday toys. Getting toys from Santa. Playing with my friends. Helping Mamma.

How can we be happy?
Anyway. We just have to enjoy. We have to find a way to enjoy. Just as if you are getting bored in skating. Think of it as if you're playing a race. That makes it exciting.

What do you think of life?

(After some thought)
I don't know.

(After some more thinking she continued)
It's happy. It's sad. It's whatever we think. When we are very happy we are all laughing. That's all about life.

What do you think of your school?
School is fun. Playing in the sandpit. All the bestest. We love school.

What are the things you'd like Santa to get you?
I'd like it if he got me another wonderful gift. Soft toys. Nice little...I don't know. Bubbles jigsaw puzzle.

What are the things that scare you?
Someone dressed like a skeleton scares me. Scary dreams scare me. I get a dream. I am going on a platform which ends suddenly. I jump from the end to the road below. It's very high.

Then what happens?
I get up in my bed. What else?

(I laughed.)
Not funny. Very scary.

What do you do when you are scared?
Nothing. I just feel scared. I feel scared to do skipping. I'll fall or what. I'm very scared.

What makes you laugh the most?
Jokes. Yours.

Who makes you laugh a lot?
Choudary mama. Ranjan mama. Mamma. Mythily atta.

What makes you cry?
Mamma shouting at me. Once I felt sad in school.

What's your favourite story?
Three Billy Goats Gruff. Beauty and the Beast. Cinderella.

You like music?

Which one?
Que la. Diego song.

If you want to ask God for one thing what would you ask?
I want a nice garden with flowers. Butterflies. With nectar in them.

What do you think of adults?
They take care of us. They help us. They teach us.

They're good people?

And children?
They're naughty.

Who do you like playing with?

What do you play with her?
I don't want to tell.

Do you like books?
Clifford. Pepper. Bruno. Bubbles.

Who are your favorite cartoon characters?
Dora. Team Umy Zoomie.

They make me happy.

What are they teaching you in school?
Maths. English.. Hindi. In Hindi they are teaching pa for 'patang'.

Is it good for you?

Because otherwise when I become big I won't know anything.

What did you learn so far?
I learnt to read even big words like 'continue'.

What are your favorite games?
Wii. Kinnect. X Box. Football. Cricket. Try to play shuttle.

What do you think of money?
Money helps us get some clothes. It helps us get some food to eat. Toys. CDs. Everything we need. Mamma brought this tree with money only.

So it's a good thing?
Yeah. It's a good thing.

Did you like the interview?

What was the happiest thing that you remember? When was the time you felt happiest?
Getting two toys - one where the two dogs climb up a staircase and another of Doraemon.

And that ended the interview with a rather restless Anjali going off hopping and skipping to watch some cartoon on television.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thought for the Day - Clarity and Acceptance, the same thing?

Clarity at its highest level, and acceptance, would be the same thing perhaps.

Pic courtesy Satish Nargundkar

And they'd probably converge with honesty, love, courage and trust, peace and joy, gratitude and compassion.

Somewhere up there, at the higher ends of the spectrum, they are all probably the same. In fact, at that level probably thought and action would be almost simultaneous.

And perhaps, thought and manifestation would be instantaneous too. All it requires is for us to take the plunge with courage and faith.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Thought for the Day - How To Be The Best You Can Be

What comes between you and your best part? As I see it it's probably the ego. The I.
Pic courtesy. Satish Nargundkar

We are what we are.  And there is a creative energy that is continuously expressing itself through us. If we let it express itself without getting in the way - we are at our best. Simple as that.

When restrict ourselves by getting in the way with our doubts and fears. These doubts and fears are nothing but our ego wanting to create some importance for itself. Some drama. Am I good enough? What will people think of me? Will I impress people? It is all a series of 'I' and 'Me' and 'Myself'.

But let us say you do it without the ego. Just the work itself. Do it dispassionately. Or even passionately for a higher purpose. For God even. Let the breath of God flow through you as it is meant to.

It might not be inappropriate to remember what Zorba  the Greek said. Zorba believed that there are three types of men and they are distinguished by what they do with the food they eat - whether they waste it in sloth, or convert it into work and good humour or the best kinds of all, who do the work of god.

Get yourself out of the way. You'll find yourself as you were meant to be.

Your best, your magnificent self.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

English Vinglish - Movie Review

This one is a must watch. 'English Vinglish' marks a solid and promising debut by Gauri Shinde who is a wonderful story teller who takes her story telling very seriously. She does not lose her focus on her story nor her characters, displays full faith in both (and does not seek to provide any unnecessary thrills by the side), she really cares for her characters and all this shows in the fine details that go into the film. If there were two things to pick - 'English Vinglish' stands out for that loving care that Gauri has taken in crafting this film and the superb performance by Sridevi who shows the stuff she is capable of and grows on you moment by moment as Shashi Godbole, the middle class Maharashtrian housewife who suffers from a lack of self-respect because her knowledge of English is 'weak'. Ah, how many of us would identify with her straightaway.

From the first shot of a middle class Maharahstrian household in Pune waking up to morning coffee, Gauri has you hooked. The  main cast of characters include Satish Godbole (Adil Hussain) as the flamboyant corporate executive married to Shashi (Sridevi), a conservative Maharashtrian girl who does not know much English and is constantly poked fun of by her teenaged daughter Sapna and her husband who share their private jokes about her English, and their cute little son (great find). Shashi is a good cook who prides her culinary talents and keeps herself busy with making and selling laddoos on order for her clients. Her cooking and her laddoos become her identity - though of course, she is much more than that and no one seems to recognise that. A grandmother at home completes the Pune cast. The story gets going when Shashi is invited to the USA by her sister who has settled down there for her elder niece's wedding and she is asked to go three weeks ahead. With her faltering English Shashi manages somehow and decides to do something about it by joining a 'Learn English in 4 weeks' course secretly. She meets a great cast of characters at the English class including her gay English teacher, a Pakistani, a Tamilian, a Mexican, an African and a Chinese. But sadly her final test coincides with the wedding and she has to make a few difficult choices  which it turns out are not so difficult after all.

Watching the movie and the attitudes of an India we grew up in towards English speaking and non-English speaking people, I'd say that this movie has far more searching questions to ask of us and our identities. It is not merely a funny social drama of a middle aged woman struggling to find acceptance and respect due to her not knowing English but a layered question. It is a subtle commentary on how knowledge of English is certainly not our identity nor a giver of wisdom or even of intellectual superiority (that is assumed by a rude 'whatever' these days), how communication can transcend mere mechanics of language and how we Indians (and many others who live in other countries perhaps) need to shed many more masks that we have acquired to cover our feelings of 'not feeling good about ourselves' as Shashi Godbole says. And this difference between the rooted ones and the ones who are not is never as clear as the time when Sridevi romps home shining like a star, confident in her roots, her values and her own space in the world as she decides that laddoo making is more important than her final test and that a Hindi newspaper to which she is used to is more comfortable than reading the NYT because everyone else is. Gauri Shinde's biggest achievement in this film is the way she tears up our hypocricy about English speaking (and with that little pin she opens up a can of worms on our double standards on things like our attitude to sexuality, to money, to our so-called middle class values, to religion and so much more). She does this so subtly and yet tells a fine story in such a smooth manner that it hardly jerks,  that there is hardly a ripple as she cuts and weaves through some delicate relationships, some deep wounds, some harsh decisions. Fantastic stuff.

Sridevi is unbelievably good. I have never been a fan of hers really in her earlier avatar considering the kind of movies that were made then but then you see her enter the role of Shashi Godbole and lead us all into her own world so beautifully, you cannot but agree that she fully deserved the 10 minute standing ovation she (and Gauri) got at the Toronto Film Festival and her comparisons to Meryl Streep and Audrey Hepburn, and more. The support cast is brilliant too with everyone fitting the part perfectly and doing a great job at it too. All in all it leaves you with a fine taste in your mouth and you are like on of those people who cannot but rave after eating one of Shashi Godbole's laddoos and reach out for more. Wah bhai wah.

Thought for the Day - Who Says You Have No Talent? You Have the Capacity to Love Don't You?

Who says you have no talent?

You have the capacity to love which is all the talent in the world you need.

Pic courtesy. Satish N

We have all been blessed with that magic potion called love that can change all things, our very lives, and transform them into pure gold. Open it up and pour it into whatever you are doing and it becomes an alchemical process. It changes the entire reaction and lifts it to a higher state.

And the more you pour of your love, the more you get of it. If you are stingy with it and do not use it, your quota of the magic potion remains small. And you are forever left wondering why everyone else is  happy, is more talented, is more lucky.

Get that magic potion out and use it. You don't need any other talent. Just add a bit of love to whatever you are doing.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Paradoxes of Our Lives - To Express Yourself Fully, Seek Not to Impress

It is our s desire to express ourselves to the fullest. Our constant cravings for 'being free', 'for being ourselves' etc indicate our desire to express ourselves more. But what is stopping us from expressing ourselves fully?
Pic courtesy Satish Nargundkar

Others obviously. We'd say that people 'do not understand us' etc. Hence we cannot express (look at what happened to the cartoonist, the painter, the writer, the dancer, the actor...)

What we want really is to impress people first and get their buy-in. After they assure us that whatever we say or do will be fine with them (however mediocre) - we will 'express'. But why will they do that if we do not have the conviction to express ourselves first? All experience shows that we cannot first 'impress' them without 'expressing' ourselves fully.

To express ourselves - to be 'free' - we need to first take that leap of faith (as little birds do when they first learn to fly) and discover for ourselves what we are capable of. We need to first impress ourselves with our ideas, acts, convictions and continue to express ourselves in the manner we know best. Write, create, paint, speak, make money, stitch, make shoes, make food.  Spread love. Smile.

There is much we can do if we wish to 'express' ourselves to 'impress' ourselves. There is little we actually will do if we seek to impress others.

The day you find you are honest enough, 'free' enough, 'yourself' enough, the day when people's opinions cease to matter to you - you will find that people are 'impressed' with your 'expression'.

To 'express' fully, give up the need to 'impress' others.

In fact to express fully, you need only to impress yourself. When you impress yourself, you lose sight of others, of society. And by losing yourself in the act, you free yourself.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

10 Brands From My Childhood That Faded Away

10 brands I grew up with that faded away (10 that come to mind now - sure there are more!)

1) Thril: Cannot forget this Thums Up equivalent, a cola drink manufactured by God knows which company. It had a nice logo and maybe a nice ad too then in the early eighties. But I remember drinking it at the Bhagyalaxmi store near ESI hospital many times - in its rather short life.

2) Apsa: This was a mango soft drink that the AP Beverages Corporation manufactured and marketed. i remember how they used the double decker buses that the APSRTC used to ply those days to advertise this drink. It was a slightly sweeter and perhaps a tad less tastier than Maaza but it was an option.

3) Dyanora: The television boom was begun with the reliable and solid EC television perhaps but Dyanora was soon to take over a large part of the market share. At least as a brand it was more noisier with ads etc and some new features.

4) Cavenders: Loved seeing the ads in the movie theatres of a green mountainside and a model shooting clay pigeons. The ad had a fine sense of adventure and something nice and relaxing about it. Perhaps one of the better cigarette ads I saw. As a brand I remember it well, though I never saw anyone smoke it.

5) Binaca: I'll never forget Binaca because there was a sales campaign that they did which had a small plastic animal toy in each Binaca toothpaste box. I bought so many Binaca toothpastes even after they discontinued the campaign. I loved the few animals I got and will forever be grateful to Binaca for that little magic they added in my life. As for the toothpaste, I don't remember much except people saying 'Binaca smile' and later 'Binaca Geetmala'.

6) Forhans: Another toothpaste brand. I don't know if it is still around but it had a slightly clinical and formidable air about it. Anyway my parents seemed to be convinced about it so Forhans it was for us.

7) Signal: Another toothpaste brand and one I won't forget because the Signal chaps did a quiz and free dental check up campaign at our All Saints School. I was surprised I did not win the quiz because I was sure I did well. But I remember that they gave us all one small toothpaste box. Signal was unique with its red stripes on white - I never figured out how the stripes cam on the toothpaste.

8) Luna: I don't know if it's still around but I remember that it seemed like a Bullet to my twelve year old mind. It was the first motorised two wheeler I ever rode too and one that I almost crashed.

9) Cheetah Fight: This was an interesting brand of matches that had a picture of a man fighting with a cheetah if I remember right. Another match brand was Three mangoes which was simple enough - three mangoes. Life was rather boring until Ship came along in this market. But I remember people would collect match box covers.

10) Allwyn Pushpak: One of the many brands that Allwyn launched - this was a scooter. It looked similar to the Vijay Super or a slimmer Lambretta and was manufactured and marketed by the AP Government's AP Scooters Ltd. I cannot forget it as my eldest brother-in-law owned one and this was the one where I learned to ride a geared two wheeler. It was stable as a house, but the gears were tough and sometimes needed two hands to operate it.

And some more that are on the fringe of the mind somewhere.

Anjali - On Making Friends

I found it interesting when Anjali told me that - 'Everything is my friend.' I asked her if she meant that everyone is her friend. 'No,' she said emphatically. 'Everything is my friend. The car, the cat, the dog, the cow, the school bag...they all love me.'
I nodded.
Smile, ask name, class and say 'dost' 
- Pic by Anjali

How does she know they love her, I asked?
'Because they all help me.'
Fair enough. How come I never thought of that.

I asked her how one gets to be friends with everything.
'Simple. You go near them, smile, ask their name and then ask which class they are in. And then we say 'dost'.
That was really simple. I should try that sometime. I could get some friends for myself.

What if someone does not tell their name and which class they are in, I asked.
'Oh, then its ok. It is their choice who they want to be friends with na. I cannot force them to be friends with me. It's ok.'

It is after all a matter of personal choice. It is a matter of respecting that boundary. How do we lose this perspective when we grow older? Thanks Anjali.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ian Chappell on Captaincy

Here are some excerpts from a fine article by Ian Chappell on captaincy that I found on the web. ( Chappell's article is exactly the way he speaks - blunt and to the point. Overall he feels that the good captain is one who gets the best out of his players, who earns his players respect, who knows and invests in his players individually and addresses their anxieties, who has a good knowledge of the game, good observation and memory, who thinks ahead, who acts first and aggressively, who hates losing and who is not afraid to make things happen, who always appears calm and who is open to ideas.

Earning respect   
Chappell stresses on this issue and rightly so. The captain needs to earn the respect of his team. No statement is truer than this."Respect is not something you ask for. It must be earned."

I agree that a captain needs to invest time in knowing his players. “Captaincy is not an 11 to six job. A skipper must be prepared to plant some seeds by spending time with his players after hours if he wants to reap rewards on the field and become a respected leader”.

I found this thought very interesting - that the captain must earn respect as a human being. It puts all the right values of integrity, fairness, clear headedness into place. - "Respect is vital to a captain. He must earn it in three categories: as a player, as a human being and finally as a leader."

In far too many places I have heard that a captain must be first prepared to do anything that he asks his team members to do for him - and it is right - else you'll never earn your team's respect."...weren't asking their team-mates to do anything they weren't prepared to tackle themselves and quickly earned respect as leaders." 

Knowledge of the game, common sense and daring 
Good captaincy is all about taking responsibility (even for delegating responsibility), being fully aware and not being scared - and it needs preparation in more ways than one.
"A good knowledge of the game which he applies with common sense and a dash of daring…on the way to a rating of excellent."

Be responsible for your decisions, lead the way you think is best
Chappell is pretty clear that since the captain is the one who is in charge, he is better off taking responsibility for his decisions himself. He cannot blame someone else for the result.
"The captain gets the pat on the back when it goes well and the kick in the backside when it unravels. Therefore, he should be responsible for his decisions, rather than captain by committee."

Any captain must remember this. Your team will always be referred to as "Your Team" so be careful with how you want people to remember your team.
"Ray Steele’s advice (the manager of the 1972 side in England) - 'Remember this team will be known as Ian Chappell's 1972 Australian team. Your name will always be attached.' Hence..captain the side the way you think best."

Get the best out of the team 
This is really interesting - on how to get the best out of your team.
"A good captain is someone who gets the best out of his team. There is one sure way for a skipper to get the best out of a team: make the cricket interesting."

On the importance of going all out for a win (as the one means of making the game interesting).
"A captain shouldn't fear losing, but he should hate losing. There's a big difference. The former will be a defensive captain, the latter aggressive. Why? Because in the first case the captain will do everything in his power to avoid defeat, including manoeuvring into a position from which he can't lose before he goes for the win. The second type will go flat out for victory from ball one and only opt for the draw when all hope of winning is lost. It's a captain's duty to make the game interesting for his players."

On two methods of going for a win and making the game interesting!
"Attacking captains Richie Benaud and South Australian skipper Les Favell had different ways of achieving the same result. Richie expected his team to bowl as many overs in a day as possible, working on the theory that the more balls delivered, the more opportunities to take wickets. Les, demanded that SA make 300 in a day's play. He reasoned that scoring quickly allowed the bowlers more time to take wickets and hence gave the team a better chance of winning. If we batted first and were 320 for 7 at stumps, 'Favelli' was as happy as a new parent, but if we were 280 for 2 then look out, he was like an Indian on the warpath."

Communicate roles and targets
To communicate roles clearly to players (and not assume that they will know what to do) is a big part of the captain's job. Tell them what is expected of them. 
"In addition to making the cricket interesting, a skipper would be well advised to inform his teammates exactly what part they are expected to play in the overall plan. This is best done by talking to the players individually."

Be ahead, plan ahead 
This is the hallmark of a thinking captain and is most important. Again it comes from endless thought, discussion, introspection and observation.
"On the field, a captain must be proactive rather than react to situations. Like a good snooker player, who is always a couple of shots ahead in his planning, a captain should be at least two overs in front of the game."

Get the initial advantage 
A bit of courage, a dash of aggression is most important to a winning record.
"Wherever possible a captain should make things happen, rather than sit back and wait for the opposition to make mistakes, particularly when the match is in its formative stage. Treat it like a boxing contest: you can shadow-box for the first few rounds, sizing up your opponent, or you can walk forward, land a big punch and see what effect it has on the opposition. I prefer the cricketing equivalent of the latter method."

Observe and file away
This will happen automatically when the captain is proactive and wants to win badly. He will observe and file away because he knows every little helps.
"A good captain must be observant and have a good memory. Listen, watch and file things away. You never know when they might bring about the downfall of an opponent."

Remain calm 
A calm demeanour gives a lot of strength to the team as everyone looks to the captain when the team is in distress. If the captain appears ruffled the team loses faith and gives up.
"A skipper can also help himself if he remains outwardly calm on the field at all times. There may well be moments when your guts are churning as the tension bites, but by maintaining composure, a captain helps keep his team focused on their task rather than worrying about the consequences if it all unravels. To help bring about a calmness on the field I preferred to create an atmosphere where the players feel comfortable coming to me with suggestions, rather than me seeking their advice."

Be Open to Ideas 
Being open to ideas gives space to everyone to express. Of course the captain must know which advise to take and to what extent and which advise not to.

"Remember, 11 heads are better than one  you never know where the next good idea will come from. Fast bowler Jeff 'Bomber' Hammond came to me in his debut Test and said, 'I think I can bounce Kalli ( Alvin Kallicharran) out.' I replied, 'Jeez, Bomber, Kalli's a good hooker and the Sabina Park pitch is pretty flat.' After a short discussion, I told Jeff he had two bouncers and if they didn't work we'd go back to the original plan. Hammond's first Test wicket reads: Kallicharran caught Marsh bowled Hammond 50. Bomber's first bouncer was well directed and Kalli gloved it."

Treat each player differently 
Wonderful stuff this and one which Mike Brearley also puts so well. Something I always found difficult to understand and practice because I'd wonder how to know each one ticks. The only way to find out how each one responds is only by investing time with each individual to know his personality.

"A captain must get to know his players; find out which ones react well to a pat on the back and which ones respond to a kick up the backside. Hence the need to spend time with the players after hours."

Invest time with players and address their anxieties
More on the above, but going a step further. If you can get here as a captain, you'll have your team dying for you.
"A captain demands 100 per cent from his players when they're out on the field, therefore he should return the compliment when it comes to the players' off-field needs. This can result in discussions on cricket technique, personal problems or even financial hassles."

Overall a wealth of information and some fine practical pointers to leaders and captains that could come in good use if practiced. And get great results for the team. Thanks Ian Chappell, for sharing your wisdom.