Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thought for the Day - Finding the Guru

From Alexander who went to Aristotle, to Karna who sought Parasurama, Arjuna who sought Mahadev - it is a well known and commonly understood practice that the genuine student seeks out his guru wherever he is. I have seen some great cricketers like Rahul Dravid come all the way to Hyderabad to meet a coach like Rehmat Baig even at the peak of his career. The genuine student is never too big or too old to go back to his or her coach.
Light at the end of the tunnel, Pic by Satish

To first find that guru - the genuine student tries to find out what he or she is. What he or she is capable of doing and not doing. You must know what you need. You must know who can teach you that. And you must be ready to get that knowledge, whatever the cost.

Just as Karna did or Arjuna did. Go and seek that guru out. Ask him for guidance. Be grateful for the knowledge he imparts. In gurudakshina, Ekalavya, gave away all that he learnt in his life gratefully to his guru Drona. Such is the devotion of the genuine student. Such is the gratitude he has for the value his guru has added to him.

The genuine student is constantly ready to improve, to seek more, to learn more. Only when you do that will you be ready for the greater knowledge you are about to receive.

It is true - the teacher appears when the student is ready.

What it means is that when the student is not ready, he will not even recognise the teacher if the teacher is standing next to him.

Thought for the Day - Why Positive Emotions Have More Power

Looks pretty simple to me. All positive emotions more or less come to the same thing finally. Honesty, courage, patience, joy, hope, love and other such emotions deal primarily with being true to that one single emotion. It is clear and honest. It flows out as simply as that. It enriches you from the inside.
Abundance - Pic by Satish

Negative emotions however are caught in doubt. They are the ones that are always dealing with doubt and fear. Most times it is about the gap between what one is and what one is not able to be that brings on much of the negative emotions. Caught in this no man's land without any hope, one starts corroding from the inside.

But let's say you are what you are and you accept that fact and are honest about it - you will find the courage to face it, have the patience to deal with it, revel in the joy of it, look at the future with hope, suffuse in the love of just being what you are - and it just adds so much to your existence.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Man's Search for Meaning - Viktor E. Frankl

I had been searching high and low for this book and found it on one of the online stores. Its a slim book, 154 pages in all, but packed with the kind of content that makes you think, chew on it and come back. Being that, it was a rather slow read but a highly impactful one for me. Viktor Frankl, a concentration camp survivor from the World War II, was a Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School and was considered the founder of what has come to be called as the Third Viennese school of Psychotherapy. His writing has been considered the most important since Freud, Adler and Jung. He published 30 books in all, translated into 23 languages, with the first being published in 1924. This book has sold over 12 million copies.

Frankl's book and his thoughts on the meaning of life bear great significance since he spent three years of his life at the concentration camps in Aushwitz, Dachau and others and survived. He rewrote the book that he had been working on, the manuscript of which he was carrying when he was herded into the concentration camp, and which was seized and destroyed by the Nazis.

'Man's Search for Meaning' is in two parts mainly - one about his experiences in a concentration camp and two about logotherapy. Logotherapy (logos is meaning in Greek) is a meaning-centred psychotherapy, that focuses on the meanings to be fulfilled by the patient in the future. It is about man's search for meaning which is according to Frankl, the purpose of his existence (as opposed to Freud's pleasure principle and Adler's power principle).

The chapter about Frankl's concentration camp experiences deals with all the human emotions that we all deal with, and in extreme conditions. But his insights still work for us. We can take those lessons to a life that is not as hopeless and meaningless as that of a concentration camp inmate and find meaning in it as Frankl did. Viktor Frankl narrates the concentration camp stories as a dispassionate witness, without dramatising any of them, through the illness, loss of dignity, starvation, death and decay, cruelty, injury, hopelessness, trauma, tragedy. Through all this Frankl stays focused on the job of understanding why certain inmates died and why certain survived. Frankl's book is about the attitude you can choose to carry while dealing with the taking away of your identity, your dignity, with injustice and unfairness and the sheer hopelessness of living.

Some lines and quotes in the book that impacted me.

On our attitude when things go wrong
'You cannot control what happens to you in life but you can always control what you will feel and do, and what happens to you.'

'He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how." - Nietzsche

On success
'Don't aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are gong to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued - it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as a by product of one's surrender to a person other than himself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success. You have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run - in the long run, I say - success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.' - Frankl to his students in Europe and America

'There is only one thing that I dread, not to be worthy of my sufferings.' - Dostoevsky

Importance of a goal, of something in the future to add meaning to life
'A man who let himself decline because he could not see any future goal found himself occupied with retrospective thoughts. In a different connection, we have already spoken of the tendency there was to look into the past, to help make the present with all its horrors less real. But in robbing the present of its reality, there lay a certain danger. It became easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of  camp life, opportunities which really did exist.'
'...everything in a way became pointless. Such people forgot that often it is just such an exceptionally difficult external situation which gives man the opportunity to grow spiritually beyond himself. Instead of taking the camp's difficulties as a test of their inner strength, they did not take their life seriously and despised it as something of no consequence. They preferred to close their eyes and live in the past. Life for such people became meaningless.'

Frankl quotes Bismark while at the above thought - 'Life is like being at the dentist. You always think that the worst is still to come, and yet it is over already.'

Using difficulty to grow
'...we could say  that most men in the concentration camp believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. yet in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners.'

'It is the peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking at the future.'

Being the witness - rising above stress and suffering
',,,disgusted with the state of affairs which compelled me, daily and hourly to think of only such trivial things (like bread and ration). I forced myself to turn to another subject. Suddenly I saw myself standing on  platform of a well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room. In front of me sat an attentive audience on comfortable upholstered seats. I was giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp! All that oppressed me became objective, seen and described from a remote viewpoint of science. By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them a if they were already of the past.'

Importance of faith in surviving
'..who had lost faith in the future, his future was doomed.'

Thoughts and human immunity
'Those who know how close the connection is between the state of mind of a man - his courage and hope, or lack of them - and the state of immunity of his body will understand that the sudden loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect.'

Inner strength and its connection to Future goal
'..any attempt to restore a man's inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him a future goal.'

'...did not matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.'

On doing the tasks assigned to us
'Life does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete, just as life's tasks are also very real and concrete. They form man's destiny, which is different and unique for each individual.'

Uniqueness of every moment
'No situation ever repeats itself, and each situation calls for a different response.'

'That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.' - Nietzsche

'What you have experienced, no power on earth can take away from you.' - Anon poet

Right action, right conduct, right answer  
What we needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We needed to stop thinking about the meaning of life and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and right conduct. Life ultimately means taking responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.'

Of the key to mental health
'..mental health is based on a certain degree of tension, the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish, or the gap between what one is and what one should become.'

Of responsibility

'..each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Thus logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence.'

3 ways to discover the meaning of life
'..we can discover the meaning of life in three different ways; 1) by creating a work or deed 2) by experiencing something or encountering someone and 3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.'

Viktor Frankl's work is wonderful and I completely identify with his views. Some of them give me greater courage and focus and the assurance that by listening to your conscience and doing the best you can indeed adds meaning to your life and brings success along with it. Also the fact that life is after all about being responsible for what we do with the questions and situations life presents us with. A must-read.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

In Conversation with Anita Nair

Novelist Anita Nair was in town for a TED Talk on Sunday at the Taj Krishna and she also launched her new book 'Cut Like Wound' at Hyderabad at Oxford Bookstore last evening. After the release of the book by author Dilip D'Souza, who is also in town to deliver a TED talk, Anita and I discussed the book and a few other things.

To begin with I asked her how a new genre came about for her, she who is always experimenting with her writing anyway (she has written literary fiction, children's fiction, poetry, translation, screenplay etc). Anita said that the idea of a murder mystery revolving around a transvestite occurred to her when she saw one in Rome. She wrote out the scene, she said, and it grew from there. Then she placed this mystery novel in Bangalore's Shivaji Nagar where she remembers seeing a male prostitute, several years ago. And once the main character Borei Gowda fell in place, the book took off.

Dilip D'Souza releasing the book

To the question on how the characters came alive so well, were they real people etc, she said they were completely fictitious and not based on real life people. On the extensive research involved in the making of this book she explained how she watched a post mortem being performed, how she constructed the ingenious murder weapon and tried it on a pumpkin, how she visited police stations and met police men, how she visited Shivaji Nagar at  eleven in the night during Ramadan time (and how horrified her driver was when she did that) in detail. On the difficulty or ease of stepping into the mind of the killer who to me appeared completely unhinged and dangerous, Anita said that it was easy for her. She said that writers do that, except that unlike psychopaths who follow the impulse to really carry out the act, writers write about it and get done with it. On the new weapon used by the killer, one I have not encountered so far,  Anita said she wanted something new and interesting and not just a flick knife.  
Book released

Anita said she did not hold back at any stage in the novel, except perhaps the slightly restrained romance between Urmila and Borei, which she felt may develop in the sequel. When asked how she gets into the skin of her characters and expresses their needs so well, especially the darker emotions, she said she does not hold back once she starts writing, and does not think about being identified with she wrote. I said that this book has a larger scale than just being confined to a category called detective fiction. It is after all about homosexuality, eunuchs, corruption, the darkness that exists in our cities. Her next book is a historical fiction based in Kerala and she said she was enjoying writing it.
In conversation - me and Anita Nair

Several known and well known personalities were present, chiefly, Mohana Krishna Indraganti, the director of 'Golconda High School' and 'Ashta Chamma' among other films, Shankar Melkote of Little Theatre, mentor, guide, friend and much more, Dilip D' Souza, writer and speaker, Srinivas Avasarala, the hugely popular actor from 'Ashta Chamma' and other movies and an immensely talented screenplay writer now directing a film, my friends, CEOs, Suresh of Ybrant Digital, A.P. Srinivas and his lovely wife, Ramaraju of Gap Miners, Sanjay Reddy of Deep Sea Technologies, Achyut Menon of Options and his lovely daughter Vandana, Ranjani, writer and pharma expert and her talented writer daughter Aparna, Monica, CEO Xceptions, Geeta, architect, designer and entrepreneur, Vinod, humour writer, blogger and friend, Kiran, entrepreneur and friend, Bharadwaj from my MBA days and now with HDFC, Shanti, Sagar, Suryaprakash, Vandana from Bangalore, and from the family, Shobha and  Anjali. Thanks all for making it a fine evening.

Anita signed books, chatted with the audience for a while, and we ended the show.
Some more conversation
As always I do wonder at how casually such events are conducted by reputed bookstores. If they cannot market an event for an established author like Anita Nair, they have to think twice about their marketing set up. On one hand we talk of the retail revolution and professionalism and the desperation for footfalls and on the other, we see easily marketable events being let down duo to a shoddy job somewhere. A little more thought and effort and planning could make events like these far more effective for all concerned, could have more of book readers meet their favorite authors, better press, and make it a truly meaningful event instead. Instead it appears that everyone is going through the chores, sometimes not even that, and seem utterly unaffected by the appalling results they get. A decent job of marketing an event by someone like Anita Nair should fetch at least an audience of 50 to 100 walk ins. Add to that shoddy MCing, lack of the presence of press, and a completely clueless manner in which to go about with the event makes one wonder what everyone is upto. Come one guys, pull up your socks and get more professional.

Small details like ensuring regular readers are invited, ensuring that the information is spread around, that the  PR Agency has contacted the press, posting on social networking sites, having a professional MC, taking care of the small things would make such events far more enjoyable and add value for all parties concerned.

But despite all that I enjoyed myself, enjoyed talking to Anita who spoke so clearly, boldly and honestly about her book, her writing and her views. I also enjoyed meeting up with all my good friends and acquaintances at the launch and catching up with them. I also hope (and am reasonably certain) that Anita had a fairly good time at the event.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Thought for the Day - Why Are There Irresponsible People Around You?

I have often found myself wondering how irresponsible certain team members, family members, public figures and others can be. 'How can they be so irresponsible?' - is the indignant, self-righteous question.
Pic courtesy: Satish

I was talking to a CEO friend of mine and he said the same thing. I spoke to a cricket captain and he was distressed by the same thing. Why can't they be more responsible?

The unsaid part of this question really is - how can they be that way when I am this way. We, who are responsible (which is a good thing mind you) somehow seem to attract the kind of people who are totally irresponsible.

Now, when we compare this with many other successful people who are equally or even more responsible than we are, and who somehow seem to make their team members behave more responsibly, we must pause and wonder what it is that is different between the way they handle their team and the way we handle our team.

To me the answer lies somewhere here. Are you taking up so much responsibility for the others and by doing that - making them behave in an irresponsible way? Are you trying to think for them, do for them, talk for them? Are you not giving them any space to express themselves as individuals? If you are, though your intentions are well-meaning, they are self-defeating. They are the actions of an immature, possessive and perhaps dictatorial parent, leader, mentor, guide, teacher.

And as a leader, teacher, you are responsible for others, more in their growth aspect and not for doing their work. They will never be able to do their work if you keep getting in their way. Also, their growth means that you support them through their mistakes and guide them.

So the next time you find your team members behaving irresponsibly, ask yourself these questions.    

Friday, October 26, 2012

Cut Like Wound - Anita Nair

'Cut Like Wound', Anita Nair's latest novel, is listed under the not-too-deeply-explored category of detective fiction in India. Anita Nair has written in all genres already - literary fiction, poetry, children's fiction, historical fiction, translation and some more - so its not surprising that she chose to experiment with yet another genre, and a difficult one at that. (I am seriously waiting for the day when she turns to comedy - she will be a riot with her honest, in-your-face, irreverent style which I think is the hallmark of great writers of comedy.) I loved her 'Ladies Coupe' which I read many years ago and several of her other books and was looking out eagerly for this one. And for sure, this one is a winner.

One thing that 'Cut like wound' does to the reader (it did to me) is that the characters seep directly into your life. Inspector Borei Gowda will remain with me for long just as Assyrian does or Atticus does or Byomkesh Bakshi does - but where Anita Nair has gone further than detective fiction is in making the characters bigger than being just super detectives who somehow dazzle you with their super deductive skills. Borei is a good detective, nothing extraordinary or dramatic about the way he goes about things, and he generally goes on a hunch. No great mannerisms, no cute theatrics - he is just another guy who could have been something else if he believed in himself a bit more  and that is precisely the kind of a thing that makes you want to take the night bus to Bangalore and meet Borei and drink rum and coke with him.

The story moves on both levels though, detective and real life next-door, expanding and bringing us closer to a life we know but choose to ignore, a life that we are scared to explore or even acknowledge - and this is where Anita Nair is at her best in this book. She explores and lays bare that side fearlessly and with all the honesty she is capable of - and I as a reader was amazed at what she is capable of when going into such uncomfortable territory. I am of course talking of a world of eunuchs, of rituals, of male prostitutes, of homosexuality, of police stations and inspectors with dying ideals, of serial murders, of love and lust, of a professionalism one can bring even to murder, of sex, legitimate and illegitimate that creeps and drips through each one of us. Anita Nair makes the characters so true and gets under their skin so well that you identify and sympathise with all of them, including the serial killer.

Briefly then, 'Cut Like Wound' is set in Bangalore, in a 38 day period between Ramzan and St. Mary's Day, in the Shivaji Nagar area (I want to go and visit that now). Random killings happen, all with a cut like wound and a blow to the head. Most of the victims seem to have had sex before they died and have not put up a fight. Anita paralelly lets you into the world of a young cross-dresser, so good looking that most men fall for 'her', out snaring his victims, falling in love with some of them, having unrestrained, no-holds-barred, shameless sex with them before killing them off one by one with a cut like wound around their neck.

Though there appears to be no connection between the random murders of the apparent low life, Inspector Borei Gowda, a late forty something, ex-basketball champion, ex-idealistic and super cop who has the super sakaath sense that not many detectives have and who is now currently in oblivion career-wise, is in-charge of the investigation. Borei's life with his rum and coke, his shiny Bullet motorbike, his new tattoo tat he hides, his rebellious teenage son studying Medicine in Hassan with whom there is little communication, his wife Mamtha with whom he has little in common, appears doomed for this life until the first murder gives him a new lease of life. He gets a new assistant, Santosh Gowda, idealistic as Borei was when he was young and full of enthusiasm, and the two team up well.

In course of the investigation Borei meets his old classmate from college - Michael Hunt - who tells Borei about the return of Lady Urmila, Borei's college sweetheart to Bangalore. And before we realise we enter the world of police stations with tea and cakes, third degree torture, red tapism and bureacracy, the shadowy world of the prostitutes, the eunuchs, the gays, the corporator who was once a caddy and who now has a Scorpio, and a huge mansion with tall gates. Most things make you uncomfortable as you read the story - the young killer's flaming desire for homosexual sex, an all encompassing thing that consumes him and also gives him an identity, Borei's extra marital dalliance, the ruthless murders and mostly the fact that it is all just one shade removed from your world - scratch it and you are in there - as simply as you enter the station that take you to Hogwarts. Through Ramzan, the St. Mary's Day, we zip through 353 pages of razor sharp story telling combined with some fine research (from the making of manja for kites in Hyderabad, to the way the cross dresser dresses, the perfumes, the Bullet, the stuff that cleans shower holes) sitting on the shoulders of some of the most interesting characters one has ever met in Indian fiction.

Borei Gowda is a winner. Santosh is brilliant as his under study. Urmila, Mamtha and Roshan (check how I got Urmila before the family, but that's what the book does to you), ACP Vidyasagar, and more importantly a Bangalore that one knows which is a definite character in the book with the bars and pubs on Brigade Road, the Hennur Road, well - it all stays with you. I cannot remember a single book in the last many years where I remember so many characters by their names and where scenes come to mind very visually. I loved the way Anita Nair got into the serial killer's head, the wild fluctuation between the killer's fragile and delicate female side and the ruthlessly brutal male side, his bare and raw want for sex - and that is where he scares you and becomes the villain who is capable of challenging the immensely talented Borei's sakaath sense, and his formidable reputation. The villain's unpredictability hangs comfortably over his devious scheming mind.

Anita Nair has penned a winner here. I think, she has also found that sweet spot in her writing, the one where she is completely honest, brutal and out there. If one has to nitpick, it is in wanting to know the explanations of how the murders happened, the tie up between each murder, the design and so on, for which I am sure she has her answers but like all good things, the overall effect was good enough for me even if she has no answers. One cannot get enough of Borei and his highly normal ways. His weaknesses and his principles. His being a hero is a paradox but that is the kind of stuff Anita Nair presents - a world of paradoxes where normal is abnormal and abnormal is normal, where the mediocre are heroes and the heroes are the scum.

To me it 'Cut Like Wound' is much larger in scale than I can express at this point because Anita Nair chose to go into areas that exist in our society that not many would want to venture in and she deserves much applause for going even where not many men writers have not ventured. That thread of giving a f..k to the world runs through the book in all characters - including the fact that the mistress or the other woman is confidently promoted over the wife. Now who is fooling who boss, if you want it go and get it - is the tone! And that is the kind of an irreverence that excites me, that makes life seem more alive than long, boring descriptions of the skies, the lakes and kitchens and stuff like that. Give me raw and honest emotion anyday and believe me, Anita Nair packs enough to knock off the steadiest ones with this book. Great job Anita and keep at it. I simply love this thing and cannot wait to see Borei get himself into more situations.

On another level, I must confess that I would not classify this as detective fiction. It occupies a new space for me, something I have not been exposed to before where the hero is a bit of a villain and the villain and bit of a victim, and you sympathise with both, where you are rooting for the mistress and perhaps wishing that the lovers just let it all go and had a ball together when they got a second chance. A bit like what Murakami  does to me and in a more identifiable and enjoyable way, in a setting I am familiar with. Also must confess that the book left me disturbed after a day of setting it aside - and that is a big compliment for any book, or any creative work for that matter. Go for it - you will certainly enjoy Indian English Writing's confident entry into detective fiction. And more.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Student of the Year - Movie Review

Karan Johar's 'Student of the Year' was a huge let down. Not that I expected more but it was a bigger let down than I thought because he had some fine raw material in his actors, to work with. The three young actors did a good job and could have carried off a better story and made it much better - if Johar had more faith in them and not stuck to his comic-book fantasies, his gay themes, his wink-wink private jokes and an obsession with superfluous drama that does not penetrate an inch emotion-wise. Drama does not work, romance does not work, slick production values do not work. (But having said that, this is a forty five year old's review of a youth flick, so discount it that much.)

So we have St. Theresa's school that looks like a European public school and school children that look like they are out of western comics (say Archie...). Only thing is that these kids are not looking like kids (save Alia Bhatt). The two schoolboys Rohan Nanda (Varun Dhawan) and Abhimanyu Singh (Siddharth Malhotra) are full grown hunks with rippling muscles that no school kid can ever grow. They travel in their Ferraris, designer clothes, kiss and hug bikini clad schoolgirls - well life's like what it is in every school like it is. Add a gay Dean Vashist (Rishi Kapoor) who has the hots for his football coach (Ronit Roy), who secretly lusts after John Abraham's pics hidden in his draws (funnily Rishi Kapoor also makes faces just like Archana Puran Singh does in 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai'), the fat and sensitive Parsi boy, the fan boy who pretty much carries all the stuff for the rich boy, the heroines chasme wali and Ayn Rand-reading chamchi and other stereotypes and you know that the cast is complete.

Anyway the school kids gather around in the first scenes to see the Dean who is ill, ten years after they all left school, obviously with a bad taste in their mouth. As they all speak into the camera and try to convince us that a lot of drama happened since they left which is very unconvincing we realise that the bad taste is the 'Student of the Year' competition conceived by the gay Dean. In this competition all the students are pitted against one another in the most amazingly stupid  competition ever conceived - a treasure hunt, a dance competition and a triathlon. Of course all students get competitive and fight against one another. In the end at the prize giving ceremony the fat Parsi boy gets drunk and shouts at the Dean publicly (you fatty...) for coming up with such a hare brained scheme that mucked up their strong friendships. Anyway less said about it the better. The only thing that we want to know is who gets the girl perhaps - but even that is not our concern anymore because no one seems really keen to get her. In fact the scenes between the two boys are more hot and romantic and caring than they are with the girl. I am willing to wager a bet that there are more scenes where the two guys hug each other than they hug the girl! Things like showing off Rohan's butt cleavage, jokes of guys telling each other 'kiss karoge kya', of 'Dean highway type ka nahi lagta hai..', of a coach not being able to smell a urine sample from ganga jal (what happened to our culture protectionists?) and actually sprinkling it all over his wife and son - and passing it all off as good humour shows a steady decline in Johar's sensibilities.

All in all, this movie is not worth a review this long. Johar strikes one as intelligent and one does not expect this sort of pandering for skin deep flicks from him that are so irresponsible and so lacking a central theme. What are you trying to say? What is the central conflict about? I can even understand a feel-good film far removed from reality which is what Johar is good at but here he fails miserably as he tries to cloak all sorts of far fetched ideas and behaviors in a movie targeted at the youth. Typically the youth does take a lot of inspiration from its role models (and Karan Johar is one) and it disappoints me to see that this is all he could come up with considering the resources he has at his disposal. Commerce is fine, and I believe that if you make an honest film for the audience it would still work. The problem comes when you think you know everything and you can pass off all kinds of  half baked, inchoate ideas in slick packages and take the audience for granted. The movie to me is best described in one of the dialogues in the movie - the fat Parsi man (he can never pass off for a schoolboy) says to his deeply venerated gay Dean in a public function at the end of the movie - 'Student of the Year, my a...'


Sunday, October 21, 2012

And let there be light - Great pic by Satish

Just found this pic while rummaging through some old pics. Great shot Satish.

Pic courtesy Satish

The pot is on the wall and the morning sunlight is streaming through a small gap on the first floor balcony.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cocktail - Movie Review

I watched this movie by Homi Adjania sometime ago on video. Since the story is by Imtiaz Ali (and Sajid Ali) it added some more interest to the movie. But what I saw fell short of my expectations and 'Cocktail' ended up being another movie that half-tried an interesting theme. Imtiaz Ali did the same with 'Rockstar' and I do wish he'd go all the way with his themes instead of pulling back and playing it safe. The theme for Cocktail - what if 'real' love really happens to those who do not know it? So we have Reggie, Veronica and Betty in a love triangle.

The movie revolves around Gautam (Saif) the flirt, Veronica (Deepika) the good time girl and Meera (Diana Penty) the salwar-kameez, namaste-aunty girl. Considering that I saw this movie only about 2 weeks ago there is no excuse for me to forget why Meera goes to London to meet her abusive fake husband (no love) Randeep Hooda (forget his screen name and don't want to find out either). I also forgot how Gautam and Veronica meet and how Veronica and Meera meet. But this much is for sure - Gautam the flirt who flirts with everyone, meets and flirts with a the fresh-in-London airport Meera too. Another scene - Veronica finds Meera in a ladies loo, all depressed after a break up with her fake husband from a hoax marriage for a visa to UK, and takes her home. Veronica the big-hearted also has pots of money to spend which she spends on booze and having a good time.

Once while walking on the road with V, Meera sees Gautam in a restaurant and tells Veronica of the incident at the airport. Veronica decides to have some fun and in a  totally unimaginative manner walks into a serious business meeting and acts the jilted lover. Anyway to cut a long story short the flirt and the partyg girl end up in bed. But the flirt likes the desi girl. Soon the desi girl likes the flirt. With all this liking going on even the party girl starts liking the flirt. Enter some unnecessary parents who are looking for desi bahus and some corNy twists there and finally Meera decides that she cannot like Gautam because Veronica is sleeping with him. Veronica feels that its ok since she has no real feelings for him. But soon she discovers her feelings and then its a free for everyone's feelings. It's a real cocktail this one.

But no fizz really. I felt that if that mother angle was avoided and if the characters had stayed true to themselves and let the feelings come by more naturally, it would have made a much better story. Somehow it never descended to that level of intensity and everyone works at a superficial level. The one scene where Veronica yells at Meera for taking her boyfriend away shows up like its real. But otherwise Gautam and Meera never worked for me as if they were sharing any serious magic between them. It appeared more like the flirt was looking for another conquest and the poor girl was looking for another shoulder. A marriage of short-term want than one of long-term intensity, of real love, which would have elevated the movie. Anyway, they never claimed much as the title says. Probably works for those who love mushy triangles - but did not work for me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Taken 2 - Movie Review

Watched 'Taken 2', the sequel to Liam Neeson's action packed thriller 'Taken', at Prasad's today and it certainly was worth it for me. Kony is a great fan of 'Taken' and it was at his insistence that we quickly made it to the movie and settled down, popcorn and all.

Simply put, the relatives of the sordid chaps that Neeson kills in the first movie while saving his daughter from a prostitution ring in Europe that kidnapped her, vow to take revenge on him in the very first scene. Rather too dramatic those dialogues, about getting his back to that village and making his blood flow in those graves etc, but well, they set the tone! The revenge gang, a serious bunch that loves its football, sets out from Albania and finally zero down on Neeson (after stabbing a guy in the thigh). Neeson is in Istanbul on a security mission with an Arab sheikh. Even as the revenge driven Albanians come for him, he finds that his ex-wife, for whom he still feels, and his daughter, have also arrived in Istanbul as a surprise visit. Wife gets kidnapped, daughter escapes bad guys and the rest of the movie is about how Neeson tries to get them both safely out of danger and also handle a blood thirsty gang. I liked the way he goes with this dialogue - the one thing you should not do when a dog has found a bone is to try and take it away from it (referring to the gang trying to take his family away from him).

'Taken 2' as with the first, relies on slick and fast paced action sequences and Neeson looks brilliant in those. I thought the first one had a couple of sequences that were better (this one had one sequence of an SUV flying off and exploding and another emerging behind it just like a Telugu movie action sequence). Overall good value for your money and even though its all rather predictable, the director still manages to make it worth your while. If you're the action movie kinds you'll love it. If you're looking for good entertainment you'll love it. But if you're looking for deep engagement, you may not find it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thought for the Day - Am I fully here?

It was while walking in the park (a place where I get most of these thoughts) that I caught myself asking this question - how much of me is in the walk? I was not fully there obviously, as my thoughts kept flitting here and there, and only with great difficulty was I able to get my focus on the act I was in. (I was at best 20% in the walk and had no awareness of my breath, my body until I drew my focus on it.)

The question then is this - if we engage superficially in every act, we may not get the greatest results - because our focus and concentration and involvement is just not there wholly. Only when we learn to be fully in the act can we expect ourselves to merge with the act, to flow with it. That is the state that makes the act most interesting and productive. That is also the state that makes the act most natural and unique.We can ask this question of ourselves in whatever we are doing - writing, painting, accounting, playing.

To get the best out of whichever job you are handling, or more specifically to find that 'you' in that job, you must ask yourself this question as you do it. How much of me is right now in this job? And if it is not fully there, try and practice getting your focus on it fully. If we merge with the act, immerse ourselves fully, then we are creating what we were meant to.

Zorba The Greek - Movie Review

Saw the movie adaptation of the classic book by Nikos Kazantzakis. It was apparently made in 1964. One remembers the many stories that one has read about the way Anthony Quinn portrayed the role of Zorba the Greek over all these ears and finally I got to see that performance. He fully deserves all accolades and if there was someone perfectly made to play Zorba, it was Anthony Quinn.

The movie made me appreciate the book so much more - it's a classic in every way. (No wonder Osho keeps referring to Zorba so often in his books and discourses.) As the movie unfolded I could see myself remembering small incidents in the book, the small sequences, the little idiosyncracies of Zorba and the way he comes across with his crazy but wonderful philosophies. Alan Bates plays the soft Basil, the introverted English writer who has returned to Greece to run a mine he inherited. He is joined by Zorba who walks into his life and changes it - and with it ours too. Zorba's approach to people, to women, to love, to work, to passion, to music, to dance is all too original and it will only make us wonder at the Zorba we could all have been, we could all be, if we were more truthful to ourselves.

If you have read the book, the movie is a fair representation of it and Quinn pours life into Zorba and makes him walk and talk and dance. However the book had more depth and content. But having said that it was not an easy book to read - but the movie is lovely to watch. Pleasing on the eye, an easy flow to it and a smooth, feel good ending. It's in black and white and certainly one to watch.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Art of Captaincy - Mike Brearley

I searched high and low for this book for a long time and finally found it on Infibeam. 'The Art of Captaincy' (Channel 4 Books, 279 pages, Rs. 399) comes with high recommendations and from one of the players who was acknowledged by one and all as a great captain. In fact they say that Brearley, a practising psychoanalyst, did not really find a place in the English XI at times on his batting alone but played for England because of his captaincy skills. I do believe that the captain can make a 30-40% difference to the team's outcome and wanted to know what Brearley had to say.

Written in a nice, very English way, with several anecdotes that provide insights into how the cricketing world and players function at the highest level, Brearley's book is a thought provoking book with great content. It is not an easy read mind you, and for the non-cricketer may appear confusing because he deals with several technical issues such as pitches, rules, weather, field placements etc. But for the aspiring cricket captain it is simply superb stuff. Though much has changed in the game from the time that Brearley wrote the book, it has enough to take away.

Broadly Brearley mulls over captaincy in action, choosing a captain, picking ends, selection issues, pitches and other conditions to understand on the morning of the match, batting order, field placements, strategies and tactics, aggression and team work. There are many references to the England team which he captained with distinction - players like Botham, Willis, Greig, Chappell, Lillee, Thomson and other contemporaries - and several other Middlesex players that included Gatting, Roland Butcher, Wayne Daniel and others.

I will quote some lines that I found highly interesting in the book.

On the leader - "A leader has to be able and willing to take in and think about the anxiety of those who work in the team. Sometimes it is a mater of getting to the bottom of the anxiety that has already been covered over. It has then to be conveyed often subtly, to those in the team that their predicament and anxieties are bearable.'

A Captain and his players - 'The captain....should be interested in what makes people tick.' 

And '...It's up to the captain and the coach to help players with self-defeating attitudes that arise individually or collectively as a result of their anxieties..should respond to a player.'

Take the pressure - 'The captain has to take on the pressures of the team collectively or individually, be shrewd, be tenacious and have tactical flexibility'

Common task or goal orientation  - '...must have the capacity to bring people together in a common task so people come to take pleasure in their joint and individual work.'

Paradoxical Qualities of the ideal captain - '...ingenious, energetic, careful, full of stamina and presence of mind...loving and tough, straightforward and crafty, ready to gamble everything and willing to have everything, generous and greedy, trusting and suspicious...'

On getting the best out of people  - '...Must know how to deploy whatever skills the players have at their disposal... must enable them to widen their range, to have the confidence  to experiment...in short he must get the best out of his team by helping them play together without suppressing flair...'

On believing his players - 'A captain is more likely to bring the best out of a player if he believes in that player.'

The team and the captain - '...team members are entitled to expect from the captain a respect for their ability, and even more, a respect and consideration for them as people.'

'Never ask of another what the captain is not prepared to do himself.'

Getting the best out of Bowlers - 'To remind and teach bowlers that they have more resources than they give themselves credit for.'

'...can never please all his bowlers all the time.Must know his bowlers. Bowler should feel he will dictate to the batsmen and not vice versa.'

On the field - 'Constantly keep thinking of alternatives. Must encourage all the team to think about the game from a tactical point of view.'

Team work - '...insist that each member of his side plays a part in encouraging and motivating others.'

Willis would ask if his hand was behind the ball in delivery, whether he was falling away, and whether he was moving in too fast or too slow.

On strategy - Brearley starts with a fine story of a lion keeper in England who never lost a lion. When asked how he said - no two are alike.
On strategy - 'Captains must have a strategy in place but approach each situation afresh. Needs a plan.'

On tactics for bowlers and fields - 'Be flexible about pitches. Bowl all bowlers on unpredictable wickets. Field placings depending on bounce on wicket.'

On tactics against batsmen - 'Pressurise the batsman. deny runs, get into their minds.The captain should continuously try to figure out what the batsman would least like of the available possibilities.'

For example Dennis Lillee said he '...bowls bouncers to hit the batsmen and thus intimidate them. Make the batsmen apprehensive and less confident.' Roberts bowled two bouncers in succession - one slower and the second faster.

More interestingly Brearley says how the English batsmen were '...secretly unnerved by the image of Australian toughness.'

Fight till the end - 'The team and the captain in particular, must never give up.'

On intuition - 'Do not mistrust your intuition.'

Captain to express - 'Certain amount of heat is required from the captain. Aloofness is not a quality that goes down well with the average cricket team.'

Player mentalities and fear of success - 'Some players are afraid of prominent success.If one sets one's standards high, one has to live up to it.' 

Brearley himself found it difficult to motivate himself and constantly undervalued himself.

On ruthlessness - 'Don't let the opposition off the hook. Don't take pity on the bowlers.'

Dealing with different players - 'The most crucial part of captaincy is in treating individuals differently.' - K. Fletcher

'Different players need different treatment. Some rise to the big occasion. Some wrap up the tail. Some need needling. Some need carrots and encouraging words.'

Team and the individual - 'Team success is indeed the product of personal successes.'

Discipline and humour - 'Discipline and creativity. Take it easy a little. Don't be too anxious.'

'A cricket captain is engaged in a co-op physical endeavour with the rest of the players and he is likely to get the best out of them by being to a considerable degree spontaneous and direct himself.'

Set high standards - 'A good captain will set high standards for everyone. A captain who settles for too little - the team subsides into mediocrity.'

Hallmark of good teams - 'Good teams have very few sessions where everything falls apart and they are resolute in putting the situation back together at the next opportunity.'

It is a book that must be read again and again and revisited every now and then to grasp it fully. Wonderfully written and with lots of content that makes for great man-management and leadership insights. For all cricketing minds, a must read. But even for those looking to get the best out of the team it has tonnes of value. Definitely recommended.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mental Toughness - Some Attitudinal Pointers That May Help

Much of what sportsmen or professionals do, revolves around three aspects - the skill aspect, the physical fitness aspect required to perform that skill well and the mental toughness aspect to sustain high performance in ups and downs.

Much of so called 'talent' ends with skill - a slightly higher level of skill takes you some distance initially.  A moderate level of physical fitness can push you some more. But what really separates the boys from the men, the champions from the also-rans is the mental toughness part of it. As the going gets tough, the tough have to get going. Or go home.

Mental toughness can be practised
Few are blessed with the clarity and courage to have mental toughness ingrained in them naturally. These blessed ones make the best use of their skill and push themselves physically because of this ability. But for the others who probably are not naturally equipped or trained on mental toughness there is no need to feel disadvantaged. Mental toughness can be practiced and  ingrained so that it becomes a habit, an attitude. One needs to be conscious of how to train the mind - so that it is aware in times of stress. Here are a few attitudinal pointers that may help.

The Preparation of the Mind
1) Knowing your strengths: Start with knowing your strengths at the very beginning. You can analyse these strengths from your own best experiences in the past (do a careful analysis of your top ten performances and it shows up). More importantly, take feedback from your peers, coaches and mentors and even opposition about your strengths. Many times you miss out your own strengths and hence this feedback helps immensely. Note down and analyse for yourself or with a coach how you can use all your strengths well and work on improving them. Pick the ones that will take you the farthest and focus on them.

2) Know your weaknesses: Anlyse your weaknesses from your performances. A chat with colleagues who can contribute positively, coaches and mentors can also help in being aware of weaknesses to plug. Just focus on two main weaknesses that contribute negatively to your performances and work on them. 

3) 1 or 2 Areas that bother you most: This could be one or two areas that you may be bothering yourself about. A good bowlers may still be worrying about his fielding, or his lack of physical strength. It may be in unrelated areas but it is necessary that the person is honest about those bothersome areas and puts in enough work to get that thought out of his mind, This could be the one big factor that can drag down the player's performance. Be honest here and work with the coach.

4) Run through the positives: Capture visuals, paper clippings, photos, videos of your top performances that inspire and keep visiting and revisiting them. Stick them up on the wall, on the board so you see what you are capable of and are constantly reminded of the positives.

5) Plan your strategy: Plan your strategy before the tour and before the match by writing it down. Some even think about it until it all falls in place. I advocate writing it down because it gives more clarity. Plan what you would do from the first moment - the first ball onwards if you are planning for the match - and plan for an alternative plan as well in case things don't work out that way. Here a bit of information about all the factors that contribute to your performance helps - the wicket, the pitch, the opposition and so on. So do your homework and have a chat with your captain and coach.

6) Visualise: Once your overall plan is in place, sit in a quiet place and visualise how it is going to unfold. Visualise the environment, the rhythm, the feeling of performing to your peak capacity easily. Visualise the outcome happening the way you want it, right down to the smallest detail. See it all clearly until you are satisfied fully and feel confident and comfortable.

7) The Equipment: Be bang on with your equipment so there is no last minute glitch. Get everything in order and prepare for being there and doing what you planned. You should feel good with your equipment so plan that well and get it fully in order. Set yourself up for success even in what you wear and use.

8) Set a mental target: Before each tour, each game, each session in a match - set a mental target for yourself. You could tell someone about it or you could keep it yourself (telling someone is better as it challenges you) - but whatever happens - do set your own targets. You will be amazed at how wonderfully this simple technique works.Note down the results in a journal.

9) Use all support systems to bolster belief: If certain things strengthen your belief, use them. Superstitions, people, prayer, God, music, talking to positive people - use any of the above and keep your mind high on belief. For some, certain refrains of good music helps focus better.

10) Train your mind to stay positive - use symbols, motifs: Don't let any negative thoughts enter your mind, especially if its a crunch game for you. The key to this is to have something to keep remembering when thoughts turn negative. You can for example keep a strong positive visualisation in your mind to think of when your thoughts are turning negative (pictures, videos, quotes, role models). You can use positive affirmations constantly to keep your mind from slipping into negative. (For example, I am batting extremely well now or I am bowling so well that the ball is doing exactly what I want). The third is to keep using a piece of music or looking at your bit of superstition that will help you switch the thought to positive.

11) Use all negative feedback as a goal, not criticism: Use everything, even the negative as a goal. When you use the negative as a goal, everytime you get criticised, that aspect of your game gets honed when you take it up as a goal! Whatever happens, don't let negative feedback dishearten you. Come back harder.
If you take everything as a positive and work at it, nothing can stop you.

During the Performance
11) Strong and positive body language: Whatever happens keep your body language strong and positive. Walk and talk with confidence. Shoulders back, chin up, spring in step - smile if it warrants a smile. It sends a big signal to the opposition and to your own colleagues. You must learn to fake it well even if you are feeling low and not confident. It is all about keeping that illusion that you are in control until the opposition breaks or shows a chink. Never let this body language down.

12) When things don't go well find a positive in every act: Whatever happens find a positive in every act. Especially when things don't go well look for what you did right.

13) Be flexible: When on the field, be flexible and see how the wind is blowing, how the tide is flowing and adapt accordingly. There is a greater danger in being rigid because then you are stuck with one plan. Prepare, and then, be flexible to adapt to best course.

14) If Plan A doesn't work, switch to Plan B: If Plan A does not work, switch to Plan B. Ask for feedback from others so you get more information on how you are doing and how it could be bettered.

15) If you get one breakthrough, capitalise: One breakthrough should be quickly converted into a couple more, so work on increasing effort immediately after one breakthrough or one good session. A batsman who gets 30 should look for 50, a 50 for a 100, a 100 for a 1550, a 150 for a 200 and so on. Similarly one wicket should become 3, 3 should be come 5 and 5 should become 7 wickets. Don't be easily satisfied. Push for more.

16) If you make a mistake, bounce back hard:  In the game it is likely that you may make a mistake. Don't dwell on it. Figure out what went wrong and make a mental note to correct it and bounce back hard into the game instantly. You can make amends as long as you are positive. But if you let that one odd mistake affect you, you will go down in a downward spiral and you will let it affect your performance hugely when it really need not. Everyone makes mistakes but the ones who bounce back quickly are the champs. Make up your mind to bounce back quickly.

17) Never show your disappointment: It is most important to never show your disappointment, your fear, your pain even if you are in the direst situation. You must never let the opposition or even your own colleagues know what is going on in your mind. As long as you keep a straight and brave face everyone thinks you are still in with a chance, another opportunity or perhaps even an ace up your sleeve. Never ever show that you are beaten or that you are disappointed or dejected or depressed. Keep smiling, chin up and shoulders straight and things might just change.

18) Use success formulas repeatedly: If a particular move worked, use it again. And again. Look for patterns and stick to those if they are working for you.

19) Don't get over excited when things favour you: Keep your head when things favour you and stick to plan so you maximise effect. Many times the advantage is squandered away by over doing things in an over excited manner. For example fast bowlers when they see a green and helpful wicket tend to overdo things and do not take as many wickets as they could have if they stuck to basics.

20) When things don't work, go back to basics: When all else fails, quickly go back to basics and minimise damage. Once you get some rhythm going, you can come back strongly but until then stick to the basics and keep doing them well.

21) When playing better players, focus on giving your best:  When you play against better players and better teams, focus on giving your best. Don’t overdo things because you may give them an easy opening to settle down. Do things well in your control – a balanced aggression where nothing is given easy and where you are slowly increasing your dominance or holding your own. There will be times when they may get an upperhand - but you must believe in your capability and raise your game and performance. Firstly make it as difficult for them as you can and do not give anything away easily and then keep going and trying your best throughout until you get a breakthrough. Always get back into the game and keep at it.

Post performance
22) Check with coach: Check with coach if performance was on par. Look for improvements. Look for areas to work on.

23) Look for what went off plan: Check your thoughts, your preparation and check for what went right and what went wrong and make mental notes.

24) If you had a bad game, learn and move on quickly: Don't wallow in self-pity even if you had a bad game. One game can change it all. You cannot get better if you constantly keep kicking yourself or putting yourself down. Analyse. Work on the areas that need improvement and bounce back stronger.

25) It is all about belief: Belief in one's capability to do well in all circumstances, however tough they may be, is the biggest strength of any sportsperson. Do everything to strengthen that belief. Belief is just a thought and it is best that you keep thinking thoughts that help you believe in yourself, your game and your ability. Put everything behind that thought.

26) Make a new target to achieve something bigger next: Now that this game is done, set yourself a anew target to achieve something even bigger next game and start preparing for it. Grow with each game, each session.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Faltu - Movie Review

Watched Faltu on video and was wondering how this movie became a hit. Its about a bunch of college kids who have low scores in colleges and who find no admission in any college. They are joined by many more students who have not got enough marks and find no admission.This continues almost till half time when the college kids find Google, Arshad Warsi, who can fix anything. Google finds them a fake college and a fake college Principal (Riteish Deshmukh) who loves alternative styles of teaching, so they can fool their parents. (It's quite obvious by this time that Remo realised that he cannot carry off this movie with just the kids and needed some starry props.) The college is named FALTU which is an acronym for Fakirchand Lakirchand etc etc.

But this fake college becomes a hit. Many more students with no admissions join the fake college and they are all partying like crazy. The gang suddenly realises that they could actually do something with their lives and decides to follow their passions which turn out to be web designing, choreography, DJing and such other stuff. They make digital classes with Google's help and it all works out in the end because the college has no recognition but then the Minister for Education recognises the brilliant concept of FALTU shown through a well choreographed song and that is it.

Get the idea. Totally Faltu. But it did seem to appeal to some. God save the world.

Blazing Saddles - Movie Review

Another Mel Brooks movie with Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks himself. This one is a take off on the Wild West stories and other take offs on racism, Hollywood and others. A black sheriff in a racist white town which is falling on the course of a new rail road makes things complicated enough but unfortunately for the villains, the town's new black sheriff finds unlikely support and spoils their plans. Waco the Kid (Gene Wilder) the fastest draw in the West, Mungo a strong man and the rail road workers support the black sheriff (who was originally a railroad worker sentenced to death by hanging).

The white townspeople now gather together and back the black sheriff to save themselves from a bunch of thugs hired by the State Attorney General, and guess what, they win. Typical Mel Brooks movie with enough fun and puns and irreverent humour. I watched it many moons ago when I found it a lot more funnier. This time, it was just about okay. The Mel Brooks scenes are as always hilarious.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Anupama Raghavan - On Being a Kidney Donor, Loving Daughter and the Contentment of Doing What is Right

I first met Anu, or Anupama, almost 27 years ago. Between the first time I met her, as a pretty young girl who carried this wonderfully human side to her (something not many pretty girls carry as we realised later), and the time she got married to my good friend Naresh Raghavan, both residents of Padmarao Nagar in Secunderabad, much had transpired that showed us and the rest of the world, the kind of mettle that Anu is made of. When Anu makes up her mind, nothing stands in the way of her will. And that clearly means something because when someone like Anu loves someone, she will move hell and high water for them. That much was crystal clear and I am always glad that on that count, my friend Naresh is certainly on a good wicket.

Years later, after moving from Hyderabad to the US , and settling down in Chicago (Raoul, their son is studying his UG course now), Anu, having dabbled, and in the process of becoming a certified yoga instructor, a substitute teacher, worked with the Theosophical Society in America, and an avid traveller on the spiritual journey, was called upon once again, as if to test these impeccable personality traits of hers. Has she mellowed and lost some of her single-minded decisiveness or was she the same? (If ever there is a story of life being one of divine providence, of preparation that came to this, I cannot get a better one than Anu's.) This is the story of the second part of her life - when Anu volunteered to donate one of her kidneys to her 63 year old mother Renuka - and did it quietly, decisively.

Anu and her Mom
My first reaction to the news
When I heard, after the surgery was completed, my first reaction was that you could not expect any less from Anu. I met her while she was recuperating and I asked her if she would tell me how she went about it so I could share it on my blog. No one that I knew had done something like this - I know recipients, not donors. Anu was more than enthusiastic and very keen to share her experiences so others who are looking for kidney transplants and any related information regarding the same, their families and support systems, so they get an idea of how the process goes. I wanted to know how it feels to give away a part of you.
"It all started with my mother Renuka, being a Type II diabetes patient from the age of 38," she started. "She was insulin dependent. At 48, father passed away in circumstances that were not expected to say the least. From a protected environment where everything was taken care of for her since a young age, Mom found herself suddenly independent as both of us (Anu and Niru Anu's sister) were already married and were abroad. Mom was on a rediscovery of herself - reading, travelling and going on pilgrimages all over India - from Badrinath to Kanya Kumari."

Care to be taken by BP and Diabetic patients
"Perhaps those trips finally affected her health," feels Anu. "Untimely and perhaps unhealthy meals and the loss of that extra care that one normally gets to do at home could have started off the deterioration in Mom's health. What started as a viral fever on one of the pilgrimages in late March 2010, translated into nausea, giddiness on her return to Hyderabad. She was hospitalised in April 2010, for 15 days which was when she was diagnosed with hypertension and subsequently with chronic kidney disease (CKD)."

Know More about the Condition
Despite knowing the dangers of a diabetes patient having hypertension and the subsequent effects on the kidney function somehow we did not educate ourselves enough about the illness at that stage I feel,' says Anu thoughtfully in retrospect. "Also mother not mentioning her current health condition (a Type II Diabetic) and the medication she was on to that doctor who treated her for the viral fever could have deteriorated the kidney condition further." Anu's fervent wish is that everyone who is affected by CKD better not assume anything - it is a nebulous area - and they better educate themselves. There is enough information on the net or simply go ask a doctor. "One must certainly ask questions of the physician," she says emphatically and “above all always inform the Doctors, you consult, of your current health conditions and medications you are on without presuming they know it all-i.e diabetic, BP and/or heart patient etc. From the Doctors end, they should also always inquire before treating/prescribing medications if the patients are on any other medications and/or treatments without just prescribing especially antibiotics. I feel, had the Doctor prescribed a milder medication, mothers renal failure, maybe, could have been delayed by a few years at least. But who knows, it really doesn’t matter now since ‘All is Well’!

"Well anyway, the next thing was to get a good nephrologist for her future care and we were very lucky to find Dr. V. Suresh Babu of Yashoda Hospitals who gave her the forecast and what to expect." This was during June 2010 when Anu was in Hyderabad. The good doctor told them that if her Mom took care of herself well she could avoid dialysis for at least 2-3 years. Here Anu rues that some sort of a structured patient and doctor counseling sessions could have helped on what to expect when dialysis starts and the future for the patient henceforth. Not knowing what to expect they went about life, taking each day as it comes and hoping that things would get better.

Time to Look for Organ Transplants
"The ideal thing to do when a patient like my mother gets diagnosed with CKD and is given a couple of years before renal failure begins, will be to start inquiring about possible options for transplant, starting with volunteer live organ donors from the immediate family circles (spouse, adult children, siblings etc.) and/or gathering information (this is where the hospitals administration can put together a team to help educate and plan along with the patients and their families) on how to get onto the cadaver donor list. I believe the cadaver list has a minimum waiting period of 2-3 years. So the earlier you sign up the chances of you being a matched recipient is greater. When dialysis (process of purifying the blood artificially as the kidneys are not able to function and throw out the impurities from the blood) starts, patients and their families need to know that it is very exhausting, expensive, time consuming process, draining the patient mentally, physically and financially" says Anu. 

Costs involved in Kidney Transplant in India
"By this time the registration process for the organ and information gathering ought to have begun, unless the patient is struck by CKD without any warning whatsoever. There is a huge necessity to educate patients on organ transplantation, its benefits and risks as well. Some big issues that the patients and their families need to know are those of the legal aspects concerning kidney transplants especially from live donors, the financial aspect (8 - 12 lakhs) and the substantial post-operation cost (if the patient is also a diabetic like my mother, approximately between Rs.10-15,000 after the initial first six months for the rest of their lives) and general care, making sure they can lead as normal and healthy life as possible."

Choice between Dialysis and Transplant
Typically once the patient is on dialysis the choices are either to continue dialysis which could mean for as long as 5-10 years or more or go in for an organ transplant. Organ transplant can give the patient a better quality of life and save the patient and family a lot of trouble and trauma. But on the other hand there is a considerable financial burden attached to it. As mentioned before a transplant can be done either with a live donor or a cadaver match.

Idea of a Donor Within the Family
"May to Nov 2011 Mom was in the USA where she stayed with a doctor couple who did some tests on her to check her health,' says Anu. Going by the test results they felt that she needed to be on dialysis right then. So Dr. Lakshmipathy and Dr. Lakshmi Garepallli, suggested to Anu and the family that they ought to look at the transplant route ASAP instead of waiting on dialysis, something which Anu says she hadn’t thought about. Somehow with all the treatment etc the idea of a transplant, especially from their own family pool, never occurred to them. "I remember that call clearly," says Anu. "We were on a conference call, Niru and me, with Dr. Lakshmi. I was standing outside a Sears outlet where I had gone shopping for a cooking range vent cover and it hit me in an instant that I will, if I could, donate my kidney. I mentally signed up right then and there. I never told anyone about it (but that was the time I had decided) for I knew it was going to be a long process to know if I could do it at all".

In a living donor the best chance of a match is within the siblings or children. Anu's Mom had three sisters, one brother, a sister-in-law and the two daughters. In cadaver donors where there are low chances of matching, the age of the patient gets to be a big factor. More important is the 2-3 year waiting list in India with no guarantee of a match. If you register for a transplant then you have to have dialysis till you find a match. At that point Anu's Mom was given a one year window for a transplant as an option for her.
Once the decision to look for a donor in the family was taken, four people signed up to donate a kidney. Her mother's siblings mainly. Two were over 60 and one was 59 but all three diabetic and so were ruled out, another 52 with high BP and hence ruled out too. Anu was the obvious choice since her sister Niru had a platelet count issue which ruled her out as well. This, both Anu and her sister agree was the best option and are happy that it had come down to this eventually. So now the choice was clear. Anu would be the one. This, Anu says was a great blessing because it was done without any conflict with others.

The Decision and Family Support
In December 2011, Anu’s mom’s health deteriorated rapidly following her return to India. On March 5, 2012 she started her dialysis sessions, once every 48 hours, at Yashoda under the care of Dr. V. Suresh Babu, Nephrologist. Later when the decision to go ahead with the surgery was made, Dr. C. Mallikarjun - Urologist and Surgeon, Dr. Hari Kumar the Hospital Superintendent, and Dr. Sanjay Diwaker, RMO teamed up with Dr. V. Suresh Babu. Anu mentions that this team was wonderful. They worked with 'Head and Heart,' says Anu “as did the entire staff who cared for us during dialysis and after the surgery too.”
Soon after, Anu’s husband, my friend Naresh, visited India in January 2012 to take stock of the situation. I remember meeting him and he told me of the situation but I never understood the gravity of the situation. In February 2012, Anu told Naresh and Raoul of her decision to donate her kidney.
"Naresh was more than supportive and so was Raoul," says Anu. 'That was huge and I cannot thank them enough for their spontaneous and unflinching support which took a big burden off my mind. In fact both Naresh and Raoul offered to donate their kidneys too. I am so proud to be associated with them as a wife and mother especially.’

Tests Required
As a donor Anu did all the mandatory prelim tests in the US to check if she was a match. Blood group, CBP, Lipid profile, Urine analysis, Fasting /Post lunch for blood sugar levels, BP, vitamin deficiencies as well as the basic cardio tests were all done and the results were great, maybe a big thanks to consistent, striving Yoga practice in Mind, Body and Spirit?! Anu took a flight to India and landed on March 16.
"By then Mom was on her 5th cycle of dialysis,' recalls Anu. "When I met Dr. Suresh Babu he was reluctant to consider me a donor, as opposed to one of her siblings, because of my age. Only after he knew that Mom’s siblings were ruled out he agreed to consider me”. So the tests were repeated here in Hyderabad along with some others in detail (renal angio etc.) and were all successfully completed by the end of March".
"In the meanwhile Mom was continuing with dialysis which consumed much of our time and also took up a lot of her energy - and money,” says Anu. "It was traumatic to say the least as the dialysis was to be done every 48 hours. We would go to the hospital at 10:30 in the morning and were there in the hospital till 3:30p.m. We’d wrap up at 4 in the evening and come home and in two days we were back again. It was dreadful. It was no life at all for her or anyone there for that matter."

Financial Aspect for Dialysis
If that is one aspect, the financial aspect is another. "Typically the dialysis bill would be Rs. 2500 per day and tubing etc would cost another Rs.2000 per week. The dialysis bill could be around Rs. 10000 per week and including medicines etc it all came to some 40000 a month" says Anu. “You know Hari, everytime I was in the waiting room while she was on dialysis, my life would be put back into perspective yet again. I would look around and consider ourselves so lucky because we found an option to help us out of there. So many of them waiting with me had none at all! There were patients ranging from 19 to 80 something from different strata’s in life who had very little or no options/choices like we did. I sent a prayer of great thanks everyday for blessing us with so much and an even greater prayer for help in any way for the rest in there. Sometimes they would be so grateful to just have someone talk to and who listened to their woes and understand without any preaching, justification or sermonizing, I guess.”

Convincing Mom
The next big aspect and challenge of the whole transplant procedure was convincing her Mom that the decision made was the most dignified one and the logical solution to the existing problem. Initially Anu's Mom was completely against the idea of Anu or anyone donating their kidney. But Dr. Lakshmi, their doctor friend from the US finally counseled and convinced Anu's mother and she eventually agreed. "The instances of children donating to parents are low, globally, because of several moral and ethical reasons. Many parents, like my Mom, feel that they are aged anyway but the children have a long life ahead, so why jeopardize it for them" says Anu. "But who are we to say who will live and for how long?"
Anu personally feels that even a few years of good quality, normal life for her Mom was well worth the risk. "So once convinced Mom gracefully accepted the decision and was totally involved and strong which helped us all go through the process very smoothly and easily,' recalls Anu.

Legal checks and counseling by the Medical Team
Now that all parties are okay the legal paperwork starts with affidavits from both recipient and donor and their kith and kin that there is no coercion and that the donation was voluntary and not for any pecuniary benefit. On April 5 there was a counseling session with the surgeon, anesthesiologist, nephrologists, patient, donor, kith and kin and the hospital superintendent. "Our friend and Dr. Sanjay Diwakar who was the RMO then, made it easier with all the help he rendered for the legal paperwork especially," recalls Anu. At this meeting the donor and the recipient were informed of the risks, and also given guidelines on how to maintain a healthy life with some minimal lifestyle changes towards diet and exercise to prevent the onset of diabetes for the donor which is the most important thing to watch for after. For the recipient, to help avoid contracting any infections, even a simple cold and cough, that can start compromising the quality of their health. After this the surgery was scheduled for April 16. The surgeon agreed to perform Anu’s surgery laparoscopically, as requested by her, while her mother’s was obviously going to be an open one. Laparoscopic surgeries generally help speed up the healing process and require much less recovery times, making it a good choice for donors to consider.

The transplant
As far as the transplant is concerned the new kidney is attached to the system without removing any of the existing kidneys (which naturally shrivel up once the new kidney starts its function)- so the recipient actually has an extra kidney inside while the donor has one. "The protocol in the Operation Theatre is, the donors kidney once taken out, is shown to the nephrologist who then approves it before handing it back to the surgeon" Anu recalls being informed. "This protocol is also followed to ensure that the same kidney reaches the intended patient."

Surgery and post-surgery costs
The other significant area is that one has to be aware before considering a kidney transplant, Anu says, are the high costs involved. She says the surgery costs were about Rs. 6 ½ lakhs for them. The donor was in the hospital for about 4 days and the recipient for 10 days. The 6 ½ lakhs included accommodation, the surgical and medical expense involved including an immuno suppressant injection for the recipient that costs Rs. 50,000 per shot. 2 such shots are given. Post surgery the medication for 3 months was in the range of Rs. 50000 per month and after three months it came down to about Rs.15000 per month.

Life after Transplant
For the donor, life after transplant is pretty much normal, bar the usual precautions one has to take after any surgery. All one has to be is a little careful and use some common sense to keep their remaining kidney healthy - stop smoking, consume alcohol moderately and eat healthy. After the surgery, tests are done initially once in 2 weeks, then once in a month and then once in 3 months. "The pain etc are as in a regular surgery - some post operative pain," said Anu nonchalantly. No phantom pains after the kidney is gone!

Post transplant tests
For the recipient, blood tests are done every 2 weeks for 6 months. After 6 months, once every month, and after a year once in 3 months. The medication includes immune suppressants, steroids, insulin for diabetics, ecospirin for heart health and a couple of others. Diet precautions include very less consumption of sodium, potassium, and meat protein. All diabetic diet continues. Weight control absolutely must. One has to be very careful in consuming processed foods, sugar, salt, maida/all purpose flour and oils. "You know," said Anu, "people can go in for multiple transplants, but what are the odds of finding an organ and that to one that matches and also have the age and resources to withstand them. So I feel, you may as well take great care of the one chance destiny gave you”!
Donor patients are good for normal life after 10 weeks, generally, but it could differ from person to person. One needs to keep a frequent check on the creatinine levels with the help of a good diet. That is it! Get back to life!

"How has it changed your life?" I asked.
“Most times it is embarrassing,” she says, “when people react effusively”. She feels that she has not done something great - just listened to her instinct/inner calling and did what she had to do. "I sometimes think we have forgotten the beauty of giving" says Anu reflectively. "So self-absorbed are we that we're so used to taking and taking, especially from parents. I also feel parents should, give children also, the chance when the need arises, to give back to them if they can and want to. ”
There is much contentment and inner peace she says. There is tremendous joy to see her Mom recovering. She also loved the way her Mom accepted the decision "gracefully and with quiet dignity". There is no excessive drama there, just a quiet understanding which somehow made it all so much easier.
How did Niru react to this whole organ donation, I asked. Did she ever feel that you and your Mom would somehow have a closer bond now?
Anu laughs. There was light banter between the sisters regarding that. Niru was much closer to her mother form her childhood and Anu laughs and recollects Niru telling her that this is a conspiracy by Anu to get closer to her Mom now. "But we're like twin souls born 5 years apart really," says Anu. "Always”. “There is a strong bond and connection between all three of us - me, Niru and Mom". One look at them and you could see that.
And then more pensively she says - "If there is another life (time) we'd pick the same parents again."
As for her perspective to life post kidney-donation, Anu hopes to live in the ‘Now’ a lot more. Feels more grounded.
"Somehow I understand and appreciate the current moment more," she says. "In fact after this experience I feel content and at peace. So much so that one of my main worries that used to be, in life, Raoul and his future, does not worry me anymore. I have let go of Raoul’s destiny, if I may say so, realizing I never owned it to begin with. I was just given the privilege to be a guardian for a while. It’s his lot, right, just like mine is just mine!? I don't feel like I own anything except this very moment. There is peace inside that I hope to continue to appreciate and ingrain as naturally as every breath I take. A deep awareness that all of life is well and taken care of".
"Not that I have become a saint or something," she adds. "I’m as normal as can be. Some things and people still do irritate, annoy and/or sadden me. But I am thankful and grateful to life and feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude within for the place I am in, for what has been and whatever shall come to be".

Anu's Mom (Aunty) sat down for lunch. Shobha and I excuse ourselves from lunch as we have to go. I cannot resist asking Aunty a question. What do you look forward to now, since you have a new lease of life I ask. Aunty smiles and says she is looking forward to really enjoying the rest of her life with her children and grand children. But there is more to that I know and that is for another day. But for now, from the perspective of the intrepid, clear headed, if-you-love-someone-show-it-and-to-hell-with-the-world-girl, Anu, we take away many words of caution and wisdom as to what one needs to look for while looking at kidney transplants. 

As we leave, I see Anu now, almost three decades after the first time I met her. She has gone through much and become a better person for that - through her own trials and tribulations, her tragedies and obstacles - and handles it all with a smile and an inherent maturity that one always senses about her. To me the act of organ donation, of a part of your body voluntarily, stands high up in the acts of selflessness, a few notches below the act of a soldier in war, in facing up to a real and inherent danger. I can only salute her for doing it and feel fortunate to know someone like her. This I know Naresh and Raoul and so many other friends and relatives must be feeling, because just knowing someone like Anu shows us how to go about life - in an unassuming, direct manner. It certainly makes it easier for us to handle life. Directly and head on as Anu always has.

Much has been the purpose for her life, her learning and all I can say is that I am highly inspired and happy to see her growth, her peace. And of all those around her. One act like this can inspire a whole village! Good show Anu and keep going. Here's wishing you and your Mom lots of health, happiness and joy. And I feel strongly that there is much more in store for you - in the ways you will contribute to make the world a better place.