Monday, August 27, 2012

Unstoppable - Movie Review

The thing with these movies is that they hook you and drag you into it. I was watching something else on television and switched on the Movies channel and hit 'Unstoppable' sometime after it had started. I saw Denzel Washington as a train driver and his conductor in a train. In seconds the story wrapped itself around me. Tough similar to 'Speed' and the 'Runaway Train' and the 'Die Hard' type movies, it still gripped me until the end as two trains rush into one another on a collision course - one unmanned and with deadly chemicals (why was it unmanned?) and the other with Denzel Washington and the other young man.

The collision is averted but that's only half the story. So Denzel Washington reverses and follows the runaway train and the duo finally stop it. Great action but the end was a huge let down. The conductor actually jumps into a car which races the train and gets him back on the train again and he brakes it down. I mean, if that was so simple why did they not do it before? Just chase the train in a car and get on it.

But anyway, not to ask such questions after such a hectic chase and heroics. I enjoyed it all. Only wish they had a better ending. Watch it if you are in the mood for some total time pass action. Guaranteed time pass. Loved even those corny shots of people clapping for the two 'railroad employees' who are risking their lives to save this disaster and other such contrived scenes! (And I also just came to know that it was directed by Tony Scott who committed suicide recently. It was his last finished film. I loved Scott's 'Top Gun' immensely and for years (still do) get a high when I listen to Kenny Loggins 'Danger Zone' from that movie. We'll miss you Scott.)

An Exciting Cricket Match

In a simulated version of the game that was used on a corporate team in a workshop on team building (for associates of Mars), I witnessed a classic match last week. The rules were modified to a shortened and simulated version (akin to indoor cricket rules) and teams were chosen completely randomly and the process of electing captains left to the teams.

After losing 4 matches in a row in two days (all ten over games), the Gladiators which was slightly weaker side altogether, beat the Challengers in a thrilling final. But the match was to watch and the growth of the players was to be seen. One could not have hoped for a better result and certainly it would not have been possible if the players had not been honest and given their best.

Coming off four wins the Challengers approached the final confidently. The Gladiators had a do or die attitude as they had nothing to lose anyway. But they were also smarting under the defeats, and were also  secretly gearing themselves up for the big final to redeem themselves. The final was a two inning - a fifteen over and a ten over affair.

Challengers captain Saurav Bhatia won the toss and decided to chase. The Gladiators started their innings confidently, lost their way in the middle and ended in the positive with a +7. The Challengers in reply ended up with a score of +16, giving them a lead of 8 runs. The Gladiators went in and batted and got themselves a lead of +8 which was not too easy. In a game that fluctuated wildly the Challengers got the match in control, lost it again and looked fully under control when perhaps the weaker bowler bowled the last over to their best batsman. With a lead of 4, the Challengers had all but won when their last batsman got out thereby levelling the scores. On the basis of lesser number of dismissals the Gladiators won the final.

Some fantastic takeaways for everyone through the game.
1) Saurav Sharma for leading a down and out team to victory. Critical contributions under pressure, leading from the front and getting the best out of his players through a never say die and a well sorted out approach. 
2) Sarma for fighting his inner ghosts and scoring under pressure. As a key player he let his team down by dropping some important catches. Coming into the final he fought all the ghosts of his failures and played a match winning innings.
3) Melwyn for accepting the new team and making critical contributions with the bat and with his support. Always giving his 100%, giving frank and straight forward advise, doing his job to the best he can and most of all, embracing his team to the point of taking even their past failures as his own. Fantastic stuff.
4) Ravi, the most transformed who decided to pitch in fully and made a huge difference. As a non-player, he probably felt hugely disadvantaged. But there are more ways to pitch in once you decide to and he was all charged up psychologically attacking the Challengers, refusing to buckle down to their parleys and making critical contributions in terms of field placements. All this showed up in his game which picked up some 25%. More importantly his team got a boost from one who was considered a weak link, and also set the opponents thinking. Huge growth as to what one can do when one makes up his mind to.
5) Jitin who did the best he could and ended up an unlikely hero by getting the last batsman out. Started contributing from putting his body in line of the ball. Little ball sense as a non-player but did all and more. Bowled the critical last over to the best batsman of the opponents and kept his head enough to keep the last ball tantalisingly out of reach causing a mishit and a tie. Never lost his cool, always relaxed.
6) Surendra for putting his failures with the bat behind and picking up some stunning catches. For a volleyball player of repute who never played cricket Surendra's sporting instincts were stinging when Melwyn and Saurav chided him for losing his wicket pointlessly but he quickly came into his own and picked up some fantastic catches that put the Challengers back.
7) Suresh for contributing as a batsman, a runner and as a fielder and always in the thick of things. Ever the team man he always ran for the injured Pankaj, kept well and did his part exceedingly well. Good team man.
8) Pankaj for batting on one leg and bowling some decisive overs.Played a couple of brilliant knocks and got some crucial boundaries even with a badly hurt knee. Also came on and bowled a fantastic over in the first innings that set the opponents back. Great show under pressure.
9) Ambarish for keeping his calm and contributing all through the game. Again a non-player who kept his cool, did not carry any baggage from the previous games and stuck it out till the end, Good temperament and great team work.
10) Sandesh for keeping his cool and performing under pressure. One of the key players of the side he was also under pressure to raise his game but all he needed was to do what he could and he did that well.

1) Saurav Bhatia, for his larger than life presence and inspirational leadership. Also full marks for going for it even on the last ball when he could have actually played it out with his pad and ensured a win. Kept the spirit of the game intact and showed a large heart. If anything, he took the foot off the pedal slightly against the Challengers. Never give hope to the opposition - always kill them.
2) Shashank, for catching almost 25 catches and giving his best in all departments. He was under pressure too for having been switched around from the Gladiators to the Challengers but performed admirably well and bagged the award for most number of catches. Adapted quickly and
3) Gajendra, for accepting his role in the new team and contributing his best. He mingled easily with the new team, gave his 100% in all departments and fought fully. Thoughtful and watchful, deliberate and calculated, he was a big asset to his team.
4) Shaji for catching and batting well and doing all that was required of him. His batting and secure catching were definite pluses for his team.
5) Makarand for his batting and solid presence at the line as he saved several boundaries. A constant source of strength to his team with his combative attitude and skill.
6) Gokul for his wicket keeping and bowling and a never say die attitude. One of the players who hates to lose and goes to great lengths to ensure a win. Terrific involvement and constantly thinking and improvising.
7) Rahul for sticking through in a team and contributing his best on the line and with the bat. Also a strong presence on the field as he goes at the opponents and keeps the pressure on through a psychological verbal warfare.
8)  Ganga for doing his best all through as a batsman, bowler an fielder. One of the few who realised his role early on in the games and stuck to it. Learned much from his study of the game
9) Amartya for contributing with the ball and the bat and all round ability. He pulled off several great catches, bowled very well with his left arm and contributed his everything for the team. Superb work as a team man. Highly competitive.
10) Dazel, who stepped on for Charan who did not land up for the final was a blessing in disguise for the Challengers as he brought some superior cricketing skills. A decent bat, bowl and fielder, he did his bit.

Overall the workshop was aimed at understanding the mechanics of team building and team work. From understanding the importance of a common purpose (its all important) and the need to communicate it, to assuming or articulating roles, using strengths, investing and getting fringe players to contribute, the all important leadership angle, synergy of a team that is desperate and hungry to win, the transformation of individuals when seized with a common goal bigger than their own goals ... and more..the games did it all. The amount of self-belief one would have got from those situations, the amount of learning that one can get by analysing the performance of both sides is wonderful.

Some great takeaways that I would stress on for individuals working in teams are:
1) The importance of investing confidence in fringe players and getting them to perform an extra 20% makes a huge difference to the bottom line
2) Leadership is a huge thing and can have a telling impact. However in the long run the leader must empower the team to handle itself even in his absence. (the team must think they did it themselves.)
3) It is for the better players to contribute what they normally do without taking on too much responsibility which can actually set their performance down. Just do what you normally do and do not assume too much responsibility that may tell negatively on your performance. The team needs you to do what you do.
4) When you make a mistake, learn from it and get over it. If you dwell on it you will make more and more mistakes. Cut your losses and cut your drama and get on to the next ball. Its a new ball game.
5) When down on performance and faced with a huge challenge, slow it down, break it up into small bites. One ball at a time.
6) Keep the faith in your players and never let it sag. Even when it all seems dark and the best batsman is batting and the team is in the lead, there is still hope. Hang in there and miracles can happen. But hang in with hope, and give it your all until the last ball.

And much more. I will revisit this page again. But guys, fantastic work. Such results come only from intense, honest work.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thought for the Day - Just Do What's In Your Control Well

I think I have finally found the mantra to success - in my head I mean. After years and years of trying to figure it out, I have finally come to the conclusion that the secret to doing anything well, the secret to feeling good and happy, the secret to success and health, lies in only one thing - knowing what is in your control and doing it well. That is all.
Stop worrying about the rain, keep at it
Know what you need to do. Do all the things that you need to do - that are within your control - until there is nothing else left to do in your control. And then look up to see where you have reached. My bet is that you would have certainly progressed much further on your journey than you would have otherwise.

Most times we expend all our energy on worrying about things we cannot control, things that are not related to what have set out to achieve, and spread our energy thin. In fact this keeps all our energies diffused and keeps us worrying about all the things that could happen (that are out of our control anyway) and we never get to start on the one thing we should be working at - what is in our control. What it also does is that it keeps us from working so this is also the mantra for lazy and shoddy and bad work.

From jobs to games, health to relationships, this is the secret of preparation. Just know what is in your control and do them fully, and well. When we do that (the little things normally) we find that we have learnt something that makes us expand our area of interest and expertise. And we grow. And by doing that well, we grow some more and on and on. But its always about doing what is in our control well.

For example a cricketer who wants to play higher grade cricket can always sit and worry about competition, about lack of opportunities, about bad selections, bad coaches, bad umpires and so on and on, but how does that help? He could instead be spending his time working out, finding a good coach, practising hard, developing his skill, his mental and physical ability and become more and more match prepared. Similarly young professionals in jobs also blame the entire environment for not doing their jobs well instead of just getting the things in their control done. When we reach the 100% of what's in our control, we normally find things changing for our own good. We are already well down the road.

This keeps focus off unnecessary stuff and on what is important. Real work gets done, however small, and energy is not wasted in blaming and worrying and cribbing. And we grow and we are happy with our growth and action and progress, and we are healthy and wealthy, and it spreads all around. Simple huh?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Cricket Series - Spin Advise from Shivlal Yadav

While chatting with Shivlal Yadav, an exponent of off spin and one who has done well for India, some gems came up yesterday. I asked him how a spinner who seems to have lost the art of getting wickets gets more penetration.

On being more penetrative:
'Slow it down in the air. Then you get more revolutions on the ball. When you get more revolutions on the ball you get more bite, and then you are difficult to play.'

On practice.
'All spinners need to practice at least three hours a day. For them that is the only way to bowl consistently. And that is important to bowl six balls consistently. Three hours of bowling on the spot. But for fast bowlers, they should only focus on getting their rhythm right in practice and not go full out.'

On thinking batsmen out.
'The approach needs to start right from the pavilion when you notice where the batsman is wearing the thigh guard - is he right or left handed. When he comes to bat see his grip and check whether he is top or bottom handed - that shows you whether he is good at the drive or the cut. Then you can bowl accordingly.'

On setting fields:
'I'd rather bowl without a cover fielder or a point. I'd go with a silly point. short leg and backward. Let the batsmen convert and drive to the offside. I always have a chance of getting a caught and bowled or a bat pad against him.'

V.V.S. Laxman - Indian Cricket's Mr. Rescue

If there is one thing V.V.S.Laxman will be remembered for, it will be for his rising up to the occasion whenever the challenge got tougher. Some people are made that way, they give their best when the going gets tough. And Laxman did it so many times in his long and illustrious career and one always knew that when a rescue act was needed, he would always be there.
Very Very Simple Laxman at the book launch of 'The Men Within' in 2007, with Mr. Melkote

There are players who play the same way in every situation as they have prepared so much and so well that the game is merely an extension of that practice. Dravid was like that. There are those who improvise and challenge the game and the technique and try to constantly rise above it. Tendulkar is that way. And then there are those who are content to lay in their lair and let the boys have fun when the going is normal, and wait for those times when the other boys have no answer. In those times they come out of their seemingly complacent environs and take on the mantle of setting things right. It requires immense confidence, a great sense of responsibility and drips with all the things that competitive games and sports are about - a big heart, steely nerves and a resolute and determined mind that gives everything for the team. Laxman falls in the third category for me. He rose only when the call was worthy and when it was done, he retired into his lair. A bit like Achilles did - when he went to fight the war against the Troy - rising for the battle he believed he was born for.
Laxman with Anil Kak and Ifti at the book launch, Bro. Joseph in the background

Tough competitors like the Aussies quickly realised that here was one of those players who was above them - he not only had the game but the heart - and they respected him immensely for that. They knew that with this Hyderabadi there would be no half measures if they threw the challenge (and they being Aussies could not resist throwing it) - and to their distress - Laxman picked it up each time and made their life miserable so many times.

It's a bit of an enigma really that his career had to have so much doubt and mystery around it. One would think that his talent, his record and his sheer contribution to the game would have automatically conferred on him a status of the legends. But though he earned immense respect all over the world from players and critics alike, he never found the complete acceptance from the system somehow. He was always just short of that legend status in the establishment when in fact all that he did proved otherwise. An irony that he never played a single World Cup game! I thought much about that and my only answer to that is that perhaps the unassuming Laxman himself was uncomfortable with such adulation. He probably believed he was doing his job - never threw starry tantrums nor did he create an air of the star around him. He was just that - simple and straightforward as he was the day you first met him. Quite unlike several others I must add. And to me that is truly the hallmark of a great man - to be humble and true to himself - secure and confident in what he really is and was.
One for the album - Me, Vidyuth, Baig saab, Anil Kumble, Noel David and Laxman at the MLJ Cricket Academy, 2009-10

I first heard of Laxman when he was really young - in his Under 13s perhaps - and I was a college student who was just then playing Ranji Trophy, two decades ago. Much talk was heard about this youngster but when I finally got to bowl to him a couple of years later (I had lost all the skill and interest in bowling by then). But I was amazed at the young 15 year old's soundness of defence - his bat appeared to be like a wall - and I felt a sense of hopelessness as I ran in to bowl to him. A feeling that I felt only against Sanjay Manjrekar earlier. Laxman rose higher and higher and played great knocks for Hyderabad and then for India and is perhaps one of the best sportsperson to have come from the city which is fast becoming a hub for some premier sportspersons.

So unassuming is he that he agreed to read the manuscript of my first novel 'The Men Within' when I met him at Gymkhana some six years ago. No starry airs even though he was one of the premier batsmen of India then. He was known along with Dravid and Kumble as one of the few cricketers who reads! And then when I really had the book published, he walked into the crowded Akshara Bookshop just like any other cricketer did that day with no airs again. Unassuming to the core. Unfortunately the copies got exhausted and I could not gift him a copy then. But I was so impressed with his humility and his down-to-earth manner that day. When I met him later at Vidyuth's Academy I gifted him a copy of the book. We bumped into one another many times later, the last time being when we met at Bro. Joseph's farewell in All Saints High School, a few months ago.
Older and wiser - Laxman and me and the All Saints Rector and Principal, June 2012

When I spoke to him after my appointment in the Selection Committee, the first thing he told me after congratulating me, was that he saw 'Golconda High School' the movie made on 'The Men Within' on the flight to America. He dwelt for a while on the movie and how he really liked it and how it made him reminisce his own days as a school cricketer in his Little Flower days and how it actually made him emotional. He had  just come back from the NCA, preparing for the season ahead, played a league game and got a hundred, played a state game and got a hundred and when he was all set for the Test match against New Zealand, he announced his retirement. There is more than what meets the eye there and the man who was simplicity, humility and politeness personified had to probably put up with some shabby treatment from the cricketing system for one last time. And believe me, the cricketing system is full of mediocre and shabby people who lack grace and heart - something that many associate with sportsmen ironically. But his big heart showed even in the way he took the decision - with the swiftness and decisiveness that would have shocked many for its aggressiveness and finality when such a big decision is involved - and in the way he bowed out gracefully and quietly. But Laxman, for all those who really love the game, who are real sportsmen, you will always remain high on the pedestal with your unquestionable credentials.

I was also immensely glad to hear Laxman state that his dream was to win the Ranji Trophy for Hyderabad and it fits in perfectly with our campaign to win the Ranji Trophy this year. He adds 50% or more to the team as he induces a hopelessness in opposition bowlers and fielders by his sheer presence, gets his leadership abilities and is perfectly placed to achieve his ambition.I have a good feeling about it and I am sure Laxman will achieve that feather for Hyderabad too. But all that apart, thanks for the great memories Laxman and for proving with that 281 that anything can happen if one hangs in there, and for leaving the game and the world around you richer by your presence. Here's wishing you great peace, joy and satisfaction in all you choose to do with your life.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Sad Sad North East Story

It is something that we as a nation should hang our heads in shame for. That thousands of our own countrymen have to flee for fear of injury and death thanks to or jingoistic few. We can hold no one responsible but the administration for being so ham handed and slow in its reaction and for not being able to give enough confidence and security to these citizens. Across the country we have seen the administration wring its hands or say empty words after our countrymen from the North East left. Too little too late and too shallow - we can all see the sham behind it all.

For the past few years it was nice to see so many of these youngsters come so far away from home and study and work in these parts of the country. Their numbers grew and they retained their identity, mingled well with the locals, caused no trouble, and won many hearts with their hardworking ethic. In fact I found the young men and women from the North East far more affable and polite in their behavior and demeanour than those youth from other parts of the country. I did hear that they worked for wages that were less than normal and they lived on a tight string, but they never let it show and always put their best foot forward. And their best smiles too. Its sad to see them all return to their hometowns for no fault of theirs.

I do hope these young men and women from the North East come back and stay back and fight for what is their right - the country is as much theirs as it is ours - and they must weather these storms. I also hope that the Centre passes certain laws which make such targeting of 'outsiders' on whatever grounds strictly punishable and not let a few political outfits get away with such petty agendas. It is time some one showed some spine. It is time we also realised that the King is wearing no clothes. Let us not delude ourselves with our silence - we are as much party to this as everyone else who was involved.

Drive to Shivthar Ghal

On our recent visit to Pune Malay and Kalpak landed up at Kothrud and we proceeded to Shivthar Ghal in their Maruti Swift as per plans. Apart from knowing that there was a waterfall and a cave, I had no clue what this place was about. Anjali decided to join us at the last moment and we started the drive of over a 100 kms. Fifty kms were on the Pune-Bangalore highway and we turned at the Bhor phata and hit the state roads which were not too great. We drove on and on, past the Neera Davghar dam, up into the hills, the Varandha ghat, and through miles and miles of rich greenery.
Elephant's back

The first sight that makes you catch your breath is the hill that is shaped like en elephant's back. It is a lovely sight, more so on monsoon. We stopped and clicked some pics there.
View from the top

Across the hill ranges one can see several waterfalls pouring down the hill ranges.And then sometime after about 3 and a half hours from Pune, we started descending down into the valley where the waterfall was. We parked in the small parking place and joined other tourists as they made their way to the waterfall.

The waterfall is not too big or imposing like the ones you see in Karnataka but there are several and thee is much water. There is a cave where Swami Samarth Ramdas, wrote the 'Das Bodh'. Shivaji Maharaj, the great Maratha king, also came to Shivthar Ghal to take Swami Samarth Ramdas's blessings. There are paintings that show the scenes, both inside and outside the cave.
The waterfall and Anjali

There is no fee to go in and if you are at lunch time, you get to eat some prasad. The place is maintained by Shri Samarth Seva Dal and Sundar Math Seva Samithi and they do a fine job of it.
Kalpak exiting the cave

Out in the open there are several vendors selling American corn, chai and some other stuff to eat. After a half hour spent at Shivthar ghal, we ate some bhutta and started our journey back.
The waterfall in the background

The road is not in great condition but the ride is worth it if you are in no hurry and if you get the right weather. Overall it was well worth the ride for me because the return journey had the mountain tops swathed in clouds that reduced visibility to about 10 meters and gave me the Mani Ratnam movie kind of an experience.
Bhutta by the stream

 I loved that - a first really. Back home to Pune for some hot wonderful lunch and another story to tell. Would I have ever been to Shivthar ghal on my own - I doubt it. So thanks a ton Malay for the ride and prompting the trip. I had a great time and I suspect so did Malay, Kalpak and Anjali as well.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Osho - The Book of Man

Osho'a 'Book of Man' took me many months to read for various reasons. Too muh has been happening and I was reading it and savoring it like any other Osho book makes me do, always springing something new and always making you laugh with his irreverent jokes. Osho takes on all that is fear and tradition based, cuts religion and priests and politicians to shreds and invites everyone to be one self an to find the truth themselves. He explores the many facets of the man - the father, the warrior, the new man, the Buddha and so many more roles and argues each case with his typical brilliance. Wonderful stuff.

I especially loved the bit about the warrior and how we are all losing the ability to be fearless and to live in the moment as the warrior does - risking everything so one can live really. And of course his take on Zorba, the fictional character who is really a masterpiece, one who is true to himself and his feelings, one who dances with his whole body and one who is completely  passionate about all he does in his life.

As with all Osho's books, a wonderful read.

Hugo - Movie Review

Martin Scorsese's Hugo was a disappointment to me. It came highly recommended by a couple of friends but I found the movie too slow and the plot too convoluted. Hugo is a young boy who lives in the railway station in Paris repairing clocks sometime in the early part of the last century. He has lost his father who was a master clock maker and his uncle, a drunk, puts him at the railway station. Hugo lives alone, stealing food and trying to repair an automaton that his father was trying to repair, one which he believes has a message to him from his father. Conflict appears in the form of the station inspector and his dog, who is looking to capture orphans and turn them over to the state. Also the toy store owner who is the source of many mechanical parts for Hugo's automaton. He catches Hugo and confiscates his diary full of drawings and sketches of the automaton and its workings.

Anyway Hugo befriends the toy store owner's adopted child, an orphan again, who promises Hugo she's save his book. She does, but toy store owner tells Hugo he will return the book only if he works for it. Hugo agrees. He also takes the young girl to the movies - something which her adopted parents deny her always. Hugo finds a heart shaped key - the missing link in his automaton - with the girl and asks her to lend it yo him. It is the final key in the automaton which then proceeds to write and draws a picture that makes no sense. Later  in the library they find that the picture is the poster of a movie of a movie called 'Voyage to the moon', a movie that Hugos' father loved watching. The movie was made by George Melies who incidentally is the toy store owner. And then the toy store owner turns out to be some one who made 500 movies and stopped when the war came. He lost all his films and his money and started the toy store. Finally they all end up with his films being restored and all ends well.

I found no logic in the film. Why is the automaton there? What is the connection between the automaton and the film maker and the toy store and the boy? Did Hugo find the message form his father? Is the story of Hugo or of the movie maker who became a toy store owner? Yes, there is a connection, but its all too far fetched and convoluted and bored the hell out me. If one had to make a film about a film maker I would want it to be like Harischandrachi Fcatory which was made in Marathi with its simple, linear and yet wonderful way of story telling. Here everyone's motives and actions are too complex and what they finally achieve I don't know. Hugo gets the automaton moving and then what happens? Is that it? Did his father want him to find George Melies and was that his growth and life purpose? What of all the clocks and the boring characters on the railway station? Save the technical brilliance perhaps, the story is one that never dragged me into it, and in fact, bored the hell out of me. I'd avoid it if I were you. Now, to find the guys who recommended it to me.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Anjali - Lessons from a soccer game

Not really a soccer game, but me and Anjali, kicked one plastic Mickey Mouse ball around yesterday afternoon. Nothing goes by without the deepest involvement with children her age and I watched the intense involvement that Anjali brought into the game - constantly changing rules, improvising her own techniques and most importantly, not forgetting to give me some gyan.
When you do something, give it everything you got

To begin with we had our own goals at either end and we were kicking at the other's goals. (I was warned that she was the one to win, so I made sure I stuck to her rules.) Noticing that she had more goals than me after a while and noticing my slightly wayward kicks, she stopped the game and told me the first. 'Nanna, you should aim and kick. Otherwise it will go here and there. Aim at the goal and then it will go there.' So true my dear and thanks for the 1st principle.

We were at the game for a while longer and she was scrapping hard with the ball and kicking it with lots of gusto. She finally got time to tell me what she was doing right (obviously she was even higher on points by now). 'Nanna, see why I am getting more points. I am kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking. You should also keep kicking'. Okay, never stop the action and keep at it in a scrap.
Remember to chill and pose for pics

In a while we got to the phase when she heard me appreciating a strong kick that she had executed. 'Stop cheering me Nanna,' she admonished me. 'Cheer yourself. Otherwise you will never win.' Oops. Keep the focus on yourself and keep motivating yourself instead of getting distracted by others.

But I could not resist saying that she really was putting a lot of effort in her kick and that was why I appreciated it and she nodded, thinking that perhaps I was now ready to imbibe the secret behind kicking the ball well. 'Just keep looking at the ball and kick at it. Look closely at the ball. Don't look here and there.' There was a bit of technical input of how I should take a small run up and kick the ball hard as well.

And then came this as I stood waiting for the ball to come my way. 'While waiting for the ball don't simply stand there,' she said. 'Keep moving.' Sound advise I thought.

And then she gave me, the willing listener and the eager learner the last of her words of wisdom from the football game. 'And think Nanna. It is a thinking game.'
Attack the opponent with all you have

And then she smiled and gave me credit for the last one. 'You told me remember, when I was crying when I lost in chess that it is all a thinking game! I am just telling you what you told me.'

I smiled at the teacher, happy that she gave me credit where due. And with that, we wound up after a hard game of football where I, as usual, ended up on the losing side in the game, but gained a lot of wisdom from a willing and spontaneous teacher. But enough there, for anyone who is competing for something, to get an extra advantage - aim at the goal, keep scrapping and don't be complacent, cheer yourself, look closely at the ball, keep moving and keep thinking.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Raju, the Dog - Learnings at Sorako Soft

Was at Sorako Soft yesterday doing a team building exercise with Amar, when our old friend Prem Chand their MD, showed me Raju, a handsome white mongrel. Apparently Raju had attached itself to the office and stays there with the team. It takes its watch dog role seriously and we could sense it, as it growled when we got close to it.

While explaining the concept of knowing our role and assuming our responsibility even if we are not told explicitly, I could think of no better example than Raju to tell the team. I told the gathering of 25 young and enthusiastic team members that Raju comes not with any conditions - he does not perform his duties only when offered a certain salary, a letter, a certain salary and perk. He has decided for himself that he enjoys being with Sorako Soft, has demonstrated his keenness and willingness in many ways already by performing his assumed duties - of being watch dog and loyal companion with zero conditions, and has made a place as a permanent member of the Sorako Soft family. He has already gone beyond the call of duty, in fact, when there was none, and provides comfort and security to the Sorako Soft family. There is an air of gratitude about him that is highly infectious and endearing and he is certainly one of their most loved members.

In a world where we see young employees (and old employees) show less and less gratitude and appreciation for their work, for their employer, and for their job and all they seek is to barter shortchange the organization by giving less than adequate work, Raju should serve as a shining example of how to go about one's job well. Thank you Raju for the wonderful lesson in gratitude, knowing one's purpose, discharging one's role and responsibility by being absolutely clear about it and taking ownership for it. Fantastic stuff.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thought of the Day - The Connection between Creativity and Ownership

There is a connection between creativity and complete ownership. To do any job well, to take complete ownership for a job, more or less indicates to me, that some seriously creative work would follow. While dealing with youngsters at work, or team members who are not pulling their weight, I hear their parents, teachers and managers despair about how their wards never push that much more.

It is an interesting issue because ownership really is about creativity. All creativity needs you to walk a rather lonely path, to put up your work for evaluation, and that could be rather scary. Fear, could certainly be a factor in a person not taking complete ownership.

But when one takes the plunge and takes complete ownership for his work, one is no more worried about rejections (or even if he is, grits his teeth and goes on), is up for criticism and moves on and creates, irrespective of what is happening around him. He looks anew at the work, seeks to find ways to improvise, looks for new meanings and addresses it accordingly. Even if he did manage to do something like tallying his balance sheet (supposedly left brain and analytical stuff) through the ownership route, it is a creative process in my dictionary, mainly because he has explored a new area in his mind, seen a new pattern.

That then is about creativity and courage and ownership. And the key to good work. To address this issue as a teacher, mentor or coach, I feel one must work at the aspect of the fear that holds the ward back from exhibiting his creative work.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Day Out at Daksha School - The Olympic Day

These days all Anjali talks of is about the Olympics. Apparently much sporting work is happening at Daksha and they play some game everyday. Yesterday Anita invited me to chat with the children about sports and perhaps explain something about the game of cricket to them. The audience was daunting (really) - 60 kids of 1st class and PP II - the smallest I ever addressed.

As the ages of children go lower, it gets even more daunting to me. They find you out quicker than anyone else. You cannot pretend with them and you need to know exactly what you want to tell them. Also keep them involved. Huge challenge.

With much apprehension I walked into the school at 11. In a while the two classes came out and sat neatly in rows. I was introduced by Anita as Hari Uncle, a cricket player. They all nodded appreciatively. Two children, one of them being Anjali, came up and gave me a bouquet of roses and they said 'Welcome to our school'. I thanked them and they went off.

Next the children were to introduce themselves. They were very meek and we could hardly hear their voices. We decided to give them the mike. And then each one would shout his or her name at the top of their voice and the rest of the group would guffaw as loudly as they could. It was hilarious to see so much fun and energy. After they all finished yelling and laughing and holding their tummies and ears (Anjali), we moved on to the main issue - my talk.

I asked them if they all played games. Yesssss, said they and a jumble of games were shouted back. I asked them if they played cricket and once again a jumble of cricketing related words came back at me - batting, bowling Sachin umpire, Deccan Chargers and many more words. Then I asked them how they played the game. Bat, ball, pads they shouted back at me. I added umpires, two sides, wickets etc. By now it was getting too unruly as everyone wanted to tell me that they played, or had a bat or wanted a ball or something like that. Anita told them not to shout and to raise their hands if they wanted to ask anything. Mnay hands were raised - and they all wanted bats, balls or wanted to tell me that they had some. Some wanted to bat.

We decided to engage them in the game. Once again a roar of approval went up and there was much shouting of "I want to bat" and "bowl" and 'Uncle' and 'Hari uncle' going on. I split them into batsmen and bowlers and the others (very few) just strolled off to sit on the steps. One boy only wanted to field so we made him keep wickets. Every pair got two balls bowled by each bowler (one ball per head) and every time the batsmen hit the ball, they took a run. All the teachers helped and fielded as well and by the end of one hour, I was sweating like crazy, and everyone got a bat and a bowl. Anjali wanted to bowl again and batted too and it was all over in one hour.

One of the most hectic interactions I have ever had in a long time but all the kids were happy and it showed. They all came and shook hands with me, faces smiling and joy pouring out of their eyes. It was a morning well worth it and I have never had so much fun in a long time. Thanks Daksha and Anita and the children mainly for showing me how much fun life really can be.

Anajli - And the State of Being

I was talking to Anjali about something and the word 'happiness' cropped up. I asked her how one can be happy?
'Smile,' she said simply.
Oh, I said, and when we are sad, then how to be happy?

'Arre,' she said, rather exasperated with all this convoluted talk. 'Why do you have to learn anything? If you are happy, be happy, if you are sad, be sad. That's all. Why do you need to learn something else.'
That ended that particular conversation.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Durgam Cheruvu Boat Ride - APTDC pull up your socks

I went to Durgam Cheruvu this afternoon with Anjali and she wanted a boat ride. The pedal boats were all taken quickly by youngsters and I had no intention on going on one of them anyway with a four year old, so I waited for the minimum quorum on the motorboat which was eight. There were four of us and we waited patiently as a bunch of enthusiastic and noisy youngsters got on the pedal boats and quickly ran themselves aground. The operators started yelling at them telling them that they were not listening to them and not following their instructions. I was right next to them while all this was going on and I can assure you that no such instructions were given. The kids were left to themselves stuck in the middle for a while with no life jackets on, and its a miracle people just don't drown and die.

When our turn came the motorboat was packed with some 15 people, some almost standing. Certainly overloaded, no question of life jackets, and for someone who cannot swim like me, a real threat. I yelled at the boatman to stop piling on more tourists as the boat was already precariously loaded. Not a life jacket, not even a floating tyre, nothing to save you if the boat went under except a prayer. And it proudly had the APTDC brand printed on it.

Its a shame that they can get away with such carelessness and negligence in the middle of the capital city of Andhra Pradesh and that too under the aegis of the government body. I hope whoever is in charge does the needful and take the necessary steps. I know human life in India is not too expensive but such greed and carelessness bugs you. Its just a tragedy waiting to happen and for the want of basic stuff that is probably already purchased or if not, at least billed for.

Pull up your socks APTDC and take the safety aspects more seriously.  Sadly I have no pictures but I might just go and get a few next time I am there.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Creative Writing Workshop - Week 1 and 2

Week 1 and 2 of the 6 week Creative Writing workshop at Oakridge (Future Author's workshop) are done and for those who wish to look in and perhaps get a feel of what has happened, here's a snapshot.

Week 1
The rules were that there were no rules. Participants would write and express themselves without fearing about the correctness of grammar and spelling - one of the main reasons why people don't write or express themselves is because of the ridicule or the feeling of 'being wrong'. Secondly, the workshop would lead them through the process of constructing a short story, so they understand the  mechanics of the story writing process.
The outcomes I look at from the six sessions are that of making them understand and use structure, laws of construction, sharing the process, making them write more and more fearlessly so they enjoy writing.

The participants were asked to do a free writing exercise about anything that came to their mind as to why they were doing this workshop.

After that the participants shared about their writing process, their reading habits, favorite books and authors. They wrote down their expectations from the workshop and their dreams and aspirations and dreams with writing. 

The purpose of why one is writing.
We discussed the purpose of why we write. To express. But it can also help to write well when we want to inform. What do you like doing best? Career options. Writers. Novelists. Journalists. Script writers. Screenplay writers.
Also how writing is a form of communication and how good writing helps in good communication. Basic tenets of communication. 

Understanding the basic tools of writing. 
Language. Grammar. Spelling. Imagination.
Words. Sentences. Paragraphs. Chapters. Sections. Books.
Creative writing 
Creative writing is anything where one expresses thoughts, feelings and emotions rather than simply convey information.
Fiction. Poetry. Biography. Creative non-fiction. We decided to create stories here.

The participants wrote about the story that impressed them the most. They shared and then they wrote it down in a few paras. After they did that they were asked to write about it in two lines. The gist of the story came down to two lines. 

Can we all create?
We all can. We create all the time. We create better if we create more. Honesty, courage, imagination, passion required. Most importantly clarity. Good writing is all about the organization of your thoughts. Writing is hard work. But satisfying. It is challenging, but fun.
Have you created anything yet? Would you like to create something? How often do you write? Participants shared their journey.
A novel or short story has its own laws of construction that one can learn. Knowing the laws can help write a good story and easier. Start small. (Not trilogies). A short story. A novella. Just get going, without worrying about the quality of the work you produce.

Step 1. Organisation of thought.
The process of - Prewriting (Topic, Main idea, Order), Writing and Editing

Step 2: Generation of ideas.
What are you going to write about? What can you write about the best? Write down all the possible ideas you think you can write on.
Possible segments to explore: Your interests. Things you know well. Things you feel strongly about. Things that bother you. Things you want to express.
Sit and write about which one attracts you the most. Can you write easily, will your pen flow? Can you write credibly, convincingly? Do you feel like you know that story and characters well? Get going on that. Don’t try to impress. Be honest. Write about stuff that makes you happy. Or that bothers you. Create the life, the endings you want. Write about fun things, about funny things, about dramatic things, about daily stuff. Me and my experiences. Stuff I feel strongly about. Need to get it out of my system.
Once you identify the idea on which you wish to write about we now move into the sharpening of the core idea.
Understanding the importance of the hook – the core idea.
The hook or core idea: What is your story about?

Tips for writers:
  • Write every day for ten minutes at least.
  • Carry a small notebook for ideas, NEW WORDS. Conversations, visuals, people, situations etc.
  • Find the best time to write
  • Don’t worry about getting it right. (Write first, edit and polish next, ask fellow writers to give feedback.)
  • Keep writing - small and big.

Week 2
Expanding the hook. Structuring the work. Developing the plot. Understanding the beginning-middle-end. Making broad sections and breaking them down. Development of characters. Importance of research and background information.

Recap what we did last week. Evaluating the work. Break the class into age groups of 10-12 and 13-16. 

Core idea
We re examined the core idea and discussed in groups of 5 which kind of a story was best suited for the story. Ideally stories one knows well, coming from experience were suggested as they were simpler. The groups discussed their hooks and see they were clear about the ideas presented.
For more difficult ideas, the importance of research and background information on characters and setting was discussed.
The core ideas were sharpened some more.
Structuring the work. 
Making broad sections. (one para each)
Beginning. (introduce main characters, their goals, the setting and the conflict (or what happens to challenge them and their dreams)
Middle. (Events of complications that arise in the path, characters deal with the challenge and change and grow, head towards the big conflict etc)
End. (The big conflict is resolved, loose ends tied up, end resolves and the cycle is completed).
Assignment: To write everyday for 10 minutes. To start with writing about humour.