Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Movies

75 movies so far which is an improvement over last year. Yoo hooo again!

January (3)
Gangs of Wasseypur II, Offside, Midnight in Paris

February (2)
Life of Pi, Midnight Children

March  (4)
The Bucket List, Silverlinings Playbook, To Rome with Love, Revolutionary Road

April (17)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Bicycle Thief, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, No one knows about Persian Cats, Play it again Sam, Nautanki Saala, Tsotsi, Requiem of a dream, Fire in babylon, A Midsummer Nights Dream, Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola, Chasme Baddoor, Before Sunrise, Saheb, Biwi aur Gangster Returns, Ghost Protocol, Talaash, Special 26

May (12)
Just another love story, Epic, Chota Bheem and the throne of Bali, The Great Gatsby, It's Complicated, Lincoln, Bombay Talkies, Crazy Stupid Love, Argo, Before Sunset, A Clockwork Orange, The 40 year old Virgin,

June (7)
Pyaasa, Rendition, The Good Shepherd, The Bank Job, Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Midhunam

July (9)
Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Tora Tora Tora, Bridges of Madison County, Swamy Ra Ra, Come September, From Paris with Love, Aura, 12 monkeys, Martha Marcy May Marlene,

August (5)
Office Space, Chennai Express, Love in the time of cholera, Blood Simple, Django Unchained

September (6)
Syriana, On the waterfront, Fukrey, Casablanca, Antaka Mundu Aa Taravatha, In Bruges

October (7)
Mere Dad ki Maruti, The First Great Train Robbery, Grapes of Wrath, Just like a Woman, The Gods Must be Crazy, Lunch box, The Roman Holiday

November (6)
Sweet and lowdown, Bananas, Matchpoint, September, Bullets over Broadway, Shanghai, Despicable Me, You will meet a tall dark stranger, Kai Po Che, Life is Beautiful, Letters from Iwo Jima

December (8)
Wuthering Heights, Stardust Memonies, Side Effects, Husbands and Wives, Papillon, Scoop, Vertigo Sleepers

2013 in Books

51 books so far which is better than the 43 of last year. Yoo hooo!
Check that one sticking out!
'The Men Within' at Crossword, Pune on December 30, 2013
(looks like the poor guy didn't sell any!)

January (6)
Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide by Dave Barry, Vague Woman's Handbook by Devapriya Roy, The Average Indian Male by Cyrus Broacha, 7 Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, God Explained in a Taxi Ride, Peter Pan

February (3)
Of Mice and Men by , 7 Years of Highly Defective People by Scott Adams, A Prearranged Love by Anusha Vishnampet

March  (4)
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, Who let the Dork Out by Sidin Vadicut, The Snow Leopard by Peter Mathiessen, Satyr of the Subway by Anita Nair

April (6)
The Foreigner by Arun Joshi, Between Clay and Dust by Mohammed Farooqui,  The Incredulity of Father Brown, Faster Fenay at Fort Paratapgad, Lost Diaries of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend, A Portrait of the artist as a Young man by James Joyce

May (2)
Empire of the Moghul by Alex Rutherford, The Passion test, The Better Man by Anita Nair

June (4)
The Garbage Beat, Intimate Relations by Sudhir Kakar, 50 shades of Grey, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

July (2)
Word is  a 4 letter word by Jug Suraiya, Sadhguru - More Than a Life by Arndhati Subramnian

August (5)
Best Kept Secret by Jeffrey Archer, Best of O'Henry by O'Henry, Leela by Jerry Pinto, Jeeves in the Offing by P.G. Wodehouse, The Big Leap

September (3)
Jump Cut by Krishna Shastri Devulapalli, Macaulay, The Best of Maupassant by Maupassant

October (6)
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Triumph in Bombay by Vaibhav Vats, Manuscript form Accra by Paulo Coelho, Think like a champion by Rudi Webster, Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain, My Experiments with Truth by MK. Gandhi

November (6)
Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam, City of Djinns by William Darlymple, Eckart Tolle at Findhorn Retreat, Oleander girl by Chitra Divakurani Vanerjee, Warpaint of the Gods, Bollywood Nation by Vamsi Juluri

December (3)
The Age of Kali by William Darlymple, How to be a good PR Manager, With my body by Gemmel

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Bravery and Selflessness of 14 Year Old Gunjan Sarma

I saw this news item on the web and felt a curious mixture of feelings - from great warmth and happiness, to awe and finally to hope. To see such bravery and courage, clarity of thought and conviction, selflessness and concern for others, in one so young gives me so much hope that I can forgive all the crimes that the older and more powerful people in our world are doing. With people like young Gunjan around, the world is always in a safe place.
Gunjan Sarma - Braveheart and an inspiration

Gunjan Sarma is a Class VIII th student of Nazira School in Shivsagar district, Assam. On December 4th their school bus was taken hostage by a fleeing gunman. However the bus driver ran the bus into a ditch and stopped it. The desperate gunman got off and took a child as hostage and started to make his way into the jungles nearby. The child began to cry.

It was then that Gunjan volunteered to go as hostage instead of the other child, thereby ensuring the safety of the 12 other children on board the bus. The gunman took her into the nearby jungles where she remained his hostage through the night. As the security forces surrounded the jungles, the gunman panicked and left Gunjan in the middle of the jungle and fled. This was around midnight (imagine a 14 year old girl, all alone in the dark of a jungle, not knowing where to go and how to handle the creatures of the wild!). Tired, alone and hungry, young Gunjan stumbled along in the pitch dark until she came to a tea estate next morning by dawn. The workers there informed the police.

The Assam government has now instituted a bravery award, the first of which goes to Gunjan on New Year's Day. It is a matter of immense joy and hope to find such qualities and one can only hope and wish that Gunjan has been able to inspire many more youngsters on the path of courage, bravery, nobility, selflessness and sacrifice. Exemplary stuff and a salute to the young lady!

Sleepers - Movie Review

I saw this movie long ago on TV and did not realize it until I was 15 minutes into the  video. But it seemed to make more sense now so I continued watching it. The story of four high spirited boys from Hell's Kitchen who get into a juvenile home for an accidental death and who get abused by the sadistic prison guards. They grow up scarred and go different ways until two of them see the one guard who abused them the most and shoot him in cold blood. The other two team up and in time they get these two off the hook by fighting the case legally and also demolish the other three guards in different ways. It's a revenge story and one of the kids loves reading 'The Count of Monte Cristo'.

The star cast is to die for. Brad Pitt, Robert Di Nero, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Patric, Kevin Bacon, Minnie Driver are the names that come to mind. Gripping. Its based on a novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra by the same name. The author claims that it is a true story and that names and places have been changed, which has been challenged by many. What is it with these books and movies - first I saw Papillon and now this. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Vertigo - Movie Review

Ah...the good old top 100 movies. Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 movie  'Vertigo' is at the top of the pile having been voted as the best film of all time, and I revisited it again. The movie starts with a rooftop chase where a policeman Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) almost dies as he slips off a rooftop, and watches a colleague die attempting to save him. Scottie is badly shaken and is affected by acrophobia (fear of heights) and vertigo. He leaves the police force.
Scottie is approached by an old friend, a rich man who asks him to trail his wife whom he suspects of being possessed. A reluctant Scottie takes on the job and finds the wife Madeline behave strangely and showing suicidal instincts - once almost drowning in the San Francisco, once jumping off a cliff almost. Scottie finds himself drawn to her while protecting her and he tries to understand her 'dreams'. He takes her to the site of her recurring dreams, an old Spanish church, and before he realizes she climbs up to the top of the bell tower rapidly and all a vertigo-ridden Scottie sees is a body falling. Madeleine dies and Scottie could not save her due to his condition. A shattered Scottie goes into depression until he finds a look alike of Madeleine. He finds out more about her, is convinced that perhaps it was all a conspiracy to cover up the murder of the real wife by having him as a witness. The ending is poetic justice in a limited fashion and one can only assume that his friend would also be booked for murder after the accidental death of the fake Madeleine. And once can also hope that Scottie, after having given up detective work for good will return to his old love.

It is those small details, that rounding off of characters and stories, the depth to the characters and their fears and foibles that makes the older movies so much more real and relatable. Scottie is deeply flawed and is a loser in today's terms but he is real. He fights his condition bravely and sees that the truth does come out. He falls in love with his subject  hopelessly and even she falls genuinely in love with him. It is a love story that is doomed and there we see more human drama. All in all, splendid piece of work. 

Super reviews for Uyyala Jampala - Great job Ram and Team

And now its time to let the moment sink in. After almost two years of slogging with the script and a bunch of new and untested artistes and technicians, Ram (my brother) can finally put up his feet and smile. I just read a lovely review in The Hindu by Sangeeta Devi Dundoo - its just perfect. Not a word too much, not a word too little, got all the right things and I am so glad she said it like it is.


Phrases like 'return to innocence..' or '..a thin line divides a small, beautiful film from a boring one..' and 'director Virinchi Varma walks the line well...'...'we warm up to the two...' and '...Raj Tarun (the hero) makes us root for him..' are stuff that I'd gladly take any day in a review.

I am even more over the moon at the concluding line that goes '...Uyyala Jampala is an example of what happens when a small film is backed by good producers. The director is able to narrate his story well and get capable actors and technicians on board. and you’re bound to leave with a smile.'

and then '...Uyyala Jampala is a good way to end the year.'

A few more reviews I saw on the net are available at these links.



Wonderful stuff. It's tough for a producer to work with a completely new set of actors and technicians and I know how much energy goes into mentoring them and getting it right. Sometimes I feel that Ram, is better off not taking the strain of mentoring so many youngsters just because its easier to go with the established and known ones. But see what his effort has brought in for the audiences - from Nani to Srinivas Avasarala who are almost veterans now in the span of five years (I'll leave Swati out because she was already in a league of her own), the young kids of Golconda High School who are all raring to go with the powerhouse of talent they have and now this talented, unassuming, bunch of kids that starts with the director Virinchi Varma and goes down to the immensely talented Raj Tarun and Avika Gor and the many new faces and talents! Fantastic stuff.

A word about Virinchi. I am amazed at how this soft spoken, unassuming young man gets a whole team to work. More so on such subtle themes as the ones he has worked on in this movie 'Uyyala Jampala'. To me it is one of the subtlest love stories ever told and its so difficult to maintain the balance, to get the intensity right at the right moment, and when I see how well its been crafted, I am convinced that this boy has some really fine sensibility, a subtle and rare art of story telling. He will do well to retain that aspect of him. Good work Virinchi and you deserve all praise young man. I loved the way you dealt with such a subtle subject.

Raj Tarun must be seen to appreciate what everyone says of his performances. What starts out in the negative rises as if on a current and soars over the thermals in a performance that belies his age, his experience and his maturity. And I've said it once and will say it again - its all in those eyes of his that seem to make him capable of anything - the ultimate hero quality. The love, the pain, the violence, the mischief. Good job young man. If Nani deserved a huge round of applause for pulling off the rather difficult Rambabu character in 'Ashta Chamma', Raj Tarun follows up brilliantly with a convincing, credible and confident performance and making Suri come alive larger than life.

Great job Ram and team! And all those connected with the movie. I know how many midnight hours have been spent on making this one. After this lovely review, you can all let it soak in and enjoy the moment.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Bank Experience

There was this NRI account to be opened. The bank nearby, one of India's leading private sector banks, was all eager. Just like their ads. They made it sound as if it was a simple matter and that all was under control. Yes maam, will be done maam, this document is enough maam, we'll be right over etc. The whole thing done inside of an hour. We are all wondering at the new efficiency in the system and how things have changed. Feet were put up.

Not so fast.

The young man comes home. Needs more documents. You see the document there says that, but that is not fully supported in this document, so we need another document to connect these two. So it went on and on for sometime. Once again the young man jumped onto his bike, said it was all under control now and it was all done. Okay, good effort, though all this coming back every now and then was getting tiresome. And oh, this time he also took away the money required, hard cash, with no receipt or acknowledgement. All under control maam, we are as efficient as the ad says. You can trust us.

Unfortunately, his boss got more doubts. Here is where Shobhs lost it and told the guy what she thought of the way they were handling it. Why cannot you get it right the first time? Or even the second time? Why don't you just email me what you want so its on record. Why are you now saying you said this and I said that. And what happens with the money now?

The boy got offended. I will return it instantly he says. Here I am trying to help you and you doubt me? My integrity? Arre baba, this is not some family relationship is it that we all trust one another. You are not helping me, you are doing business and your job. All one asks is to do it well. How come you took cash and gave no receipt?

Now, he is miffed. His superior the operations manager, calls up and takes off on the prospective customer. What is all this? Why are you being so difficult when we are trying to help you? It's just not done. Do you want us to help or not? Now, its a little different. The tone was that of a disapproving headmistress who is dealing with an errant student. What the...? Shobhs is now livid. Why is everyone acting like they are doing me a favour when in fact they are messing it up each step? She asks the boy - do you guys know what you are doing? Have you handled such account before? No, he confessed. But we are learning on the fly.

A new executive lands up. Sorry. We now only need this. And I am sorry. That executive should not have taken money. But sorry again, I forgot to get you the receipt though I know its important! What? How casual can you all get? How many times will you do the same things again and again? How many times will you run around us like this? How many times will you call with all this emotional hogwash? It was as bad as a television serial.

Can't you do the job professionally?

And so on and on. As on date, five days since, there is no progress in terms of the account. In process you see.

This is yet another thing we see much of. The complete lack of professionalism or professional pride. Or even the learning mindset. When you are running against a deadline, it is imperative that all communication is clear and in writing. The list of documents in this case was best given in writing - on mail or sms even. But few take that responsibility. They'd rather keep that area grey. Secondly you help because it is business for you, a new customer for you. You don't do it as if you are doing that person a favour. Thirdly, when you have made a mistake, accept it. It is far better than lying or trying to cover yourself with untruths. Most importantly, never get personal or emotional - it is never about belief, trust and sympathy between the client and the business - it is always about doing the job thoroughly, professionally and efficiently. All these come in after. Lastly, one needs to follow a set of standard procedures, checklists, documents, signatures etc and if there is doubt, no promises must be made. It is better off losing a customer by being honest than losing a customer by being dishonest.

We lack so much in the delivery aspect. How we treat our customers is a lesson in how not to treat them. If there is one thing we need to understand it is this - it is all about delivery. The promised quantity and quality within the promised time. If it does not happen as promised, one must learn not to make false promises. Be honest. Accept he limitation. Agree that a mistake has been made. It is far easier.

If there are any management institutions and big corporations listening in, get a quick course done in what defines a true professional. I am serious. Don't assume they know. They don't. They can always learn what you teach them if they have the right attitude. Otherwise however fancy the name, the packaging, we'll never get anywhere with such appallingly low delivery standards.

Scoop - Movie Review

A 2006 film set in London again! This time we have an amateur journalist Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson) who is chosen by the ghost of a senior journalist to leak a terrific story - a young business tycoon Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) who is involved in serial killings called the Tarot Card Killings. The ghost keeps popping in and out and uses a small time magician Splendini's (Woody Allen) stage to reveal clues. Why the  girl and the magician work together is a mystery because I saw no reason for them to hang around but they do and that thankfully provides some entertainment in an otherwise very weak plot.

Woody Allen as the magician is good in the manner that he normally is - though not at his crackling best. Hugh Jackman looks good and looks the part. Scarlett Johansson is very comfortable in the way she slips in and out of beds with the rich and famous. The two pose as daughter and father to fool Hugh Jackman and his society but its obvious they cannot fool anyone. Now why did this not strike me as funny as the hopeless disguise that Woody chooses in 'Bananas'? Point to think about really. Perhaps the fact that 'Bananas' was an out and out comedy made it funnier. Or perhaps the sheer earnestness of the character to fool the Americans. Here Woody looks like he is having fun - sort of a self conscious fun for the audience - never looks like he is attempting to fool anyone in the film earnestly - and that is perhaps the difference. So it falls short of a full fledged comedy that makes you laugh aloud, and falls short of a murder mystery.

Anyway 'Scoop' is all about the newspaper stories. The most sensational story since Jack the Ripper. Is he the one or is he not? Wait until you find out. Not that you'll be terribly surprised when you find out who did it? Hugh Jackman of course!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Be Patient With The Aam Aadmi Party

Now that the phenomenal story of the Aam Aadmi Party (I did like Kalpana Sharma's adding another A - the Aam Aadmi Aurat Party) has come true with Arvind Kejriwal holding the reins, it's time now for a quick reality check. The people must be patient with this AAP, because they will make mistakes. Make no mistake about that - it is a naïve and young party led by ideals which is the best kind, but what they need from the people is a reasonable amount of time, patience and most importantly, people participation in helping it achieve its goals.

Be Patient
AAP will be forced to make mistakes by the mischievous old campaigners they have to face day in and day out - the two main parties that suffered because of it. They will make life difficult surely. But that's okay. Instead of playing the game as dictated by the others, Arvind Kejriwal and team must remain focused on the end outcome, what they actually came to power for and stick to the bare facts. Ideally they should not get swayed nor lose focus. Keep it simple and straight.

If I were Arvind Kejriwal I'd reassess my priorities quickly and this is what I'd do.

1) Focus on the 10 biggest issues that will make a qualitative difference to the people's lives
2) Refrain from falling for symbolic issues that yield nothing for the common man
3) Stay in touch with the grass roots
4) Keep focus on the outcomes, not get swayed by distractions
5) Save energies on work instead of getting into a war of words with the opposition
6) Take a weekly check on the progress, no more, no less - in the end its not about intentions, its about results
7) Don't fight all battles, pick and choose the battles that impact society the most, let the others go
8) Don't engage in needless vendetta, its pointless
9) Don't try and change the world, make the changes you'd like to see the most to begin with
10) You have the power, now use it

and most importantly


Arvind Kejriwal and his team needs to smile a lot more if he wants to make a difference to people. In fact leaders must understand that their pictures effect the state of the nation - if they look serious and burdened it makes the people wary and worried too. It is important for the leaders to smile and say - we can handle that and a lot more as well. So please start smiling, start doing and start using those brooms of yours to good effect.

People Participation Is a Must
As for the people of Delhi they must now get more involved and participate more since they have brought their own party to power. They must ensure that their success does not go in waste. Already we hear Sheila Dixit foreseeing dark futures for the AAP. Don't let that happen. Don't wait and watch as you did all this time - get that broom stick out and do what you wanted to. If nothing, this government should not stop you from cleaning our the stables.

Papillon - Movie Review

Watched this old classic again.  Based on a true life story (contested again) of Henri Charriere who wrote the best selling novel of the same name after having lived the same life supposedly, Papillon stars the king of escape movies Steve Mc Queen who teams up with the embezzling accountant Lousi Dega (Dustin Hoffman). The jail in the penal colony at French Guiana and its conditions are shown rather starkly and its not a nice place to go. However McQueen has other ideas and he is constantly in some solitary confinement or another until he gets caught and sent to another. In the meantime he meets a lot of interesting characters.

Papillon (butterfly in French) attempts to fly away, is incarcerated, loses his mind, eats insects, regains health (not by eating insects though, makes friends in a leper colony and smokes their cigar with them, escapes to a distant island with Hoffman and another chap, ends up in a tribe, marries a tribal girl, is captured again and sent back to jail where he bumps into Hoffman again. All this takes about thirty years or so and he is a tired and old man physically but his heart is that of a butterfly - always looking to fly. And once again, he finds an escape route at that ripe old age, decoding a pattern in the waves, and riding off on the seventh wave on a sack of coconuts to freedom.

McQueen is great as Papillon, unpredictable and full of energy, and there are times when he looked physically very strong and times when you think he'll die in a moment. Hoffman is his usual stiff and bumbling self. Told over a long period there are times when we lose track of what and where but you never lose track of the free spirit of the man called Papillon. Without any doubt it would have looked phenomenal on the big screen.

With My Body - Nikki Gemmell

I used to think that most publishers have some secret eye that can discern great works and have the ability to see things that the ordinary eye cannot. Consequently I suffered many 'incredible' books, prize winning books etc that have not stayed with me for more than a day. For the life of me I cannot recall the stories of many of those prize winning books nor their characters. But now having reached an age when it is clearer that it was merely a case of the emperor's new clothes - we all lived and supported that illusion and paid for it too - I can freely express my opinion that the king is wearing no clothes at all.

Luckily I didn't pay (the money at least) for this book - though the time that went into reading it and the feelings it left me with is certainly payment enough. Nikki Gemmel's book 'With My Body, published by Fourth Estate is touted as the sensational follow up to 'The Bride Stripped Bare' which was described as 'wonderfully sensuous', 'simply too beautiful...' and a 'sexual awakening...' by leading publications. If the follow up is anything like the original it makes me think really hard about these guys and what they are really up to.

Girl. Fourteen. Sad family background. Step mother. Father. Lonely. Grows up without love. Meets priapic arts teacher who cannot hide an erection in a girl's school (but really?). Has affair with arts teacher. Does not get pregnant!! Back home. Stumbles upon a lonely creative sorts by mistake. Begins affair. Starts on fifty shades path but stops short for want of guts. Fellow disappears from her life. Does not get pregnant again!! Grows up. Meets some chap in England. Has three boys, Settles in humdrum life. Remembers old love.. Goes back to Australia. Finds that her teacher (not the arts teacher) has been kicked by her Dad. But he loved her. Wanted to empower her. Make her beautiful. Anyway while making her beautiful his writer's block shifts. God knows what else happens. She's happy. He's dead. Perhaps. Who cares?

What the f...? What kind of trash is this? Never in the books 480 pages do you feel like reading an entire sentence - buy hey, there are no entire sentences almost - its all like the above para. To top is all each chapter is titled as a lesson and comes with a quote by the author herself, and through each lesson comes further quotes from classics handed over generously by Mr. Creative who cannot create a single quote worth remembering. Never does the girl rise above anything but a dry and dreary adolescent lacking energy and mischief, one who is stuck in self pity if anything, not your most seductive Lolita unless your hero is another self-pitying kind which he is. No other man would have the kind of a sensibility than to take advantage of a 14 year old in the depths of woods and urging her on to keep it quiet while he 'empowers her'. I cannot stand such creepy, slimy characters especially when they are palmed off as some noble chaps who are dying in some pain themselves. The one good thing in the book is that the father thrashes the daylights out of the guy but why did he not file a complaint against him?

No one page engages you longer than five seconds what with the depth of prose not going beyond the superficial in both emotion and experience, characters that have nothing to offer except a need to engage their lust. No more is required to describe this book - the second of its kind I have read this year - the first being 'Fifty Shades of Grey' which appears like a classic in comparison. But believe me, both are avoidable. They don't turn you on, they don't give you nothing.

I remember I wrote my first novel when I saw a bad piece of writing that got published as a novel - I am now seriously wondering if there is a bigger market for the shallow and superficial types now than the serious reader. Maybe that's where one should head to.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Husbands and Wives - Movie Review

Could not sleep last night and started watching this Woody Allen movie. Husbands and wives is a 1992 film and was apparently made around the time his relationship with Mia Farrow ended (over his relationship with Mia's step daughter Soo Yi Previn, now Woody's wife). Funnily the movie seems to be focusing on the issues the couple would have faced.

A couple (Pollack and Judy Davis), on a dinner date with another pair (Woody and Mia), announce their decision to split, evoking extreme reactions from the other couple. While discussing their marriages both couples realize that all couple want to be alone for a while and all people who want to be alone sometimes decide to get back into their relationship again. So the first pair splits up, finds that life outside marriage is not so great and hook up again. The second pair, Allen and Mia split up by the end of the movie. Allen's character has an affair or at least he kisses his young student. In the end they all live their lives as drab and boring as ever.

It's ok. Nothing about it that made me go Wow! Scenes of confrontations between the lover and the ex-husband brought back vague memories. Have I seen this before? Would I watch this again? No. Would you want to watch it? By all means do, it might make more sense if you're having marriage issues.

Side Effects - Movie Review

I mistakenly assumed that this would be comedy going by the title. All such notions are dispelled in the first shot itself - a gory murder. The film then goes back into flashback and explains what happens that led to the murder and then moves on to unravel the murder.

Young couple has everything they want until the husband gets arrested for insider trading and does 4 years in jail. Distraught wife starts taking anti-depressant pills. After two or three suicide attempts including driving her car into a wall she is referred to a new psychiatrist to John Banks (Jude Law). Banks checks with her  earlier psychiatrist Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta Jones) and she suggests a particular new drug etc. Now this drug is to have side effects that Banks does not know of and it is assumed that under the effects of this drug, prescribed by Dr. Banks without understanding the full ramifications of it, the lady committed a murder while sleep walking. Banks finds his career going into a quick spiral downwards, his personal life shattered and his professional competence questioned. Determined to find out what did not fit in this jigsaw, Banks uncovers some rather startling truths involving pharm companies as well and he needs all his wits around him to get the real culprits behind bars.

It is an interesting premise but it did not hold much water for me. The idea that pharma majors would let their products get shot down by one case without going behind the case in detail is not digestible. That Banks has to do all the firefighting in a case that has ramifications running into millions of dollars is also not sticking. Overall, interesting because it unravels new aspects slowly, bringing into play a lot of suspense. But once you watch it, there are questions left unanswered, or left with no convincing answers. Good performances all round though with Jude Law and Rooney Mara excelling. But why does Dr. Siebert hit Banks on the head? Why was the murder such a messy and convoluted affair with so many possibilities that could have gone wrong? For example the physically stronger husband could have escaped the attack - unless he was asleep when attacked. And so on and so on. But swallow the pill and watch on - it's better than most.

Another Exciting Cricketing Workshop - 1 Day Team Building Exercise For Vitesse

It was the first time I tried a three match format in a single day. Normally I do this workshop  over two or three days. But then this was an indoor game and there were 25 participants in a smaller area so I decided to pack in as much as I could in one day.

Game 1 in progress
This was also the first time I did the workshop at ML Jaisimha Indoor Academy for corporate clients and personally, I liked the experience, cricketing wise. The other facilities can be improved but the management cannot be faulted for not trying.
Thinking caps on

Anyway 25 young executives, from Vitesse joined us at the 'venue to participate in the 'Win By Design' program on team building. Leadership also flows in a bit into the program because one cannot isolate that from the aspect of team building. What was heartening to see was that the six ladies - Uma, Vasudha, Sandhya, Monika, Alekhya and Sailaja, reported before time - they were all at the venue at 845 a.m. which was brilliant.

Game 2
Sagar, who assisted me for the day, and I, joined the participants at the venue. My sore throat had gone from bad to worse and I was going against the doctor's advise to give it rest - need to keep it low though. Thankfully Varun stepped in and helped with umpiring and took a huge load off me, Sagar did the square leg umpiring and scoring. I did the sessions in between.

Session between games
 I was stressed out though because the mike did not work and I was handicapped by my throat. But in this format, the learnings are mostly from the games anyway if one is aware and participating. And mostly even post-game.
Constant support and advise from team mates, Sagar scoring

Team A (Mobeen Syed (captain), Sailaja Akkey, Monika Chandrakar, Alekhya, Murali, Venkat, Hemambar, Sivakranth, Sivaiah, Srinivas, Prashanth, Mohan and Pavan) and Team B (Suresh Varanasi (captain), Shoban - V. Captain, Pavan Virodhulu, Satish B, Mahesh J,  Vikram, Nagarjuna, Prakash, Uma, Sandhya and Vasudha) were formed. A short game was played followed by a questionnaire and a debrief on the purpose. the attitudes we carry as individuals into team games, the mindset we need to adopt and so on. A simple framework that stresses the need to articulate a common purpose. Good participation, great energy. Team A won the first game at a canter.
Expert advise from captain of Team B, Suresh

After some planning and strategising, and bringing in a few more rules like introducing mentors etc, and having the team play with a handicap, game 2 began. Team A which was considered stronger, found the heat too hot to handle this time and lost the game.

A debriefing session in progress - gurukul style
Team B did very well under pressure to come back under a new captain and I could see a marked improvement in the energy, focus and growth in both the teams. This was also accompanied by the whittling down of a few egos as it normally happens, the coming of age of new heroes, the resilience of the non players. The growth and fixed mindset were on display. We split for lunch with the delicious prospect of a tie breaker and two extremely competitive sides from which it was difficult to pick a winner.
Game 3, Umpire Varun heading off, huffing and puffing away

Post lunch we strategised some more and dived into the third game - a two inning affair split between seven pairs each side. This was an all or nothing game and the intensity and earnestness was in full flow. I could see the girls practising in all seriousness by themselves, taking catches etc which was fantastic, I could see the odd player giving practice to the lesser player, could see the focus on all team strategies - all indications of how serious the team effort can get.

The girls practising by themselves before Game 3 - great show of commitment
Team A won the toss and asked Team B to bat. Team B put up 41 on board, a below par performance especially coming off their near flawless semi final game. They committed a few more errors on the field and let Team A secure a lead of 15 runs which was sizeable, after the first innings. In the second innings only three pairs were to bat and it was here that Team B came into their own, using the rule of playing an extra player (because of the odd number of participants) and secured a huge score of 65. Coming from a team that was under so much pressure it was a brilliant, match winning effort and they went back into the field defending a net of 43 or so. Team B did it handsomely as Team A suddenly lost the plot owing to the pressure that Team B piled on relentlessly.

But really, it could have been anyone's game and I have not enjoyed a cricket match, indoor and mock notwithstanding, so much. The honesty of the effort, the energy, the battle of wills, the rise of the weaker players, the consolidation of the stronger players, the participation of the growth mindset people, the slow fading away of the fixed mindsets, the unconditional support, the desire to win at any cost, the ice cool leadership, the holding of nerves and the failing of nerves - learnings all over for everyone. Like I said, if one was aware and open that day, there was an ocean of learning from one's own behavior, from others' behavior, from the team behavior. Oh, fantastic stuff.
Presentation of award to Team B

A quick recap and debrief, presentations by both teams on their big learnings during the day that they can take back to work, a presentation ceremony where we presented a miniature cricket bat to the winners Team B, a gift to the Man of the Match Pavan from me in the form of my novel The Men Within, and a gift to all players of the biography of Mr. M.L. Jaisimha 'My Way'.
Presentation of Man of the Final Award to Pavan (in blue T shirt next to me)

Though my voice was stretched to the limit and I could hardly speak by the end, I was satisfied with the way it went. From common purpose at level 1, to putting the team first at Level 2 (goal and role clarity, target setting, communication, empowerment and appraisal), to Level 3 where the effort was to bring the team energies together (each player to be identified and given space to grow, developing processes and codes for the entire team, the importance of trust, belief and appreciation etc). The learnings at levels 1 to 3 will sink in more subtly in my opinion because while playing the game one is fully focussed on the tactics and strategies of the game.These aspects sink in later.
Winners All, Well done everyone - Tired, but managing a smile at the end of the day

Feedback, tea and biscuits and we all left after a hard days work - or rather, play. Thank you all participants for doing such a wonderful job. all the support staff. Vitesse and MLJaisimha indoor academy. Especial appreciation for the ladies for bearing the extra burden placed on them and giving their all.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Paradoxes of Our Lives - To Be Different, Be Yourself

This is the biggest paradox of our lives perhaps - that all our lives we seek to be different from others by aping someone else. When all the time god up there is having a laugh at us and saying, you have already been made different, just be yourself!

It perhaps takes a lifetime to understand that. But the sooner we realize that we are made different and all we have to be is ourselves, we have cracked the code. To happiness, to joy, to a stress free life, to success, to peace.

Ah, the simplicity of it all!

Thought for the Day - To The One That Dares To Be Different

It is so easy to want to mingle with the majority. It's safe and its comforting. But there come the madmen, the misfits, the ones who somehow look different, be different, think different - and by just not being with the crowd they inspire a new thought, a new way of life.

I saw one of those misfits in the park the other day. In a sea of green leaves, shone this golden leaf, all alone. It was as if the Sun had singled it out for special attention as well and it stood out amid all the green ones, proud and straight.

That scene would not have looked half as pretty without that leaf. Like a crown without the big rock. And you wonder what it takes to be that rock, that leaf. The loneliness, the envy, the spotlight - it can get tiring if you think like the other green leaves. But if you accept your role in life and be grateful for it, shine on, because you have been given that part, or because you have chosen that part, you can create that ethereal beauty in a sea of ordinariness. The kind that makes us stop. And think.

To the misfits of the world, the ones who had the courage to be themselves.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Thought For The Day - The Downs Teach You Even More Than The Highs

I read somewhere how a particular champion team selects its players. It picks those who have seen a down in their career, life, a failure. I agree with their thought process - I think it is important for us to learn from the downs.

Not just that, I think we need to be grateful for the downs because they are our best teachers. They improve us, give feedback toughen us up, makes us better. They are the one who take us to the next level by testing us objectively.
The highs on the other hand are not about good luck as most seem to believe. Success is a result of several things coming together - mostly your own mindset. In every good luck moment if you analyse, you will find certain factors that came together. Understand that, apply it again and voila, you may find Ms. Good Luck again. Analyse your good lucks and highs because they have a wonderful lesson.

In both circumstances many forget to understand the process behind it all. In the downs or failures, instead of deconstructing the failure to see what went wrong and where one was lacking, many choose the easy route of blaming, finding excuses and not learning. They refuse to budge from the position that they are perfect - the rest of the environment is at fault. Obviously the results are clearly indicating otherwise. The way to deal with failure is to be honest, accept failure, learn from it, deconstruct it, figure out the areas to work at, work on them with purpose and focus and come back an improved person. Then there is hope. Else the road ends.

In success also one tends to lose focus. Many times people believe they are lucky and do not give importance to their preparation, their earnestness, their need to learn, to excel, the quality of people who taught them. As long as they feel that it is merely luck, they are also susceptible to danger because they do not know the process either. The day it all unravels due to one aspect not being understood, the person will not know how to self-correct before it is too late. Hence even in success one needs to know what they are going right, by maintaining journals etc.

It is easier to learn from failure because the failure hurts. One knows clearly that one is not good enough. The problem is with success. Here the problems creep in slowly so it is difficult to find them out before it is too late, unless one is very aware and looking out for signs.

In both cases, however, a growth and learning oriented mindset is the key to sustain an improved and high level of performance. One who is in that mindset will be grateful to the failures. And the successes. They are after all, your best teachers.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Park Experience

I was walking into the neighbourhood park with Satish early in the morning. He'd got his camera to click some sights around - it's a fancy camera that looks like a friendly machine gun.

The normally sober security guard started from his place even before we reached the gate 'what what what?' he spluttered. 'Where are you going with that? It's not allowed.' It was as if he was under mortal threat.
I could not understand this extreme reaction. By now we were closer to him.
Pic courtesy: Satish Nargundkar

'What is the matter?', I asked.
'Not allowed.' he said.
'Why not?' I asked.
'What will you shoot?', he asked in return. 'And what will you do with what you shoot?'
'Flowers, trees, the sky, birds, water. We'll show it others at home,' I said.
Pics at the park by Satish

The other security guy piped in.
'What's the purpose?' he asked officially.
'Personal,' I replied equally officially .
'Oh, then its okay,' he said officially. 'We don't allow press people here.'
Another lovely pic at the park

They gave us a ticket. Nothing printed on it about photography being prohibited. I looked around. No boards prohibiting shooting pictures. I asked them how come they made up this rule themselves when it says nothing anywhere.
'No, we don't allow,' they replied. 'It will not be written anywhere.'
A quiet order

I explained to him that if its not written anywhere they have no right to stop us. How can they stop anyone of the hundreds of walkers inside from shooting pictures with their mobile phones? What is anyone going to shoot here anyway except flowers and trees? Why are they so aggressive and impolite?
They backed off a bit.
On the way out I explained to them that people come to parks for a good experience, not to get yelled at. Most people would have gone back after the first yelling. If there were no rules and they were instructed to do certain things, they were better off asking us politely. They looked a bit sheepish at being lectured.

I see this sort of a thing happening too often. I guess one can only point out things to them and explain the right way to do things, the purpose of their being there and the importance of being polite and courteous. It's something we could all do well to learn.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

How To Be A Good PR Manager - Dr. C.V. Narasimha Reddi

I listened to Mr. Reddi's talk. He is a highly erudite and accomplished man. I found his small 50 page booklet very helpful in terms of pointers to doing a good Public Relations job.

I liked the way he started his booklet focusing on what made a good manager, citing from a study by Rosemary Stewart on the common characteristics of successful managers. These characteristics include - willingness to work hard, perseverance and determination, willingness to take risks, ability to inspire enthusiasm, toughness, management skill, interpersonal skill and technical skills. 85% of what makes a good manager is attributed to interpersonal (read attitudinal) and 15% to technical knowledge.

Coming to PR he lists the top 10 things that PR people do. These include planning, managing, relationship management, organizing, writing, editing, publishing, speaking, researching and training. He addresses these in detail which is interesting reading in itself.

H again springs 5 characteristics of a professional as listed by J.E. Grunig and Hunt in their book 'Managing Public Relations' which are - a set of professional values, membership in a strong organization, adherence to professional norms, established body of knowledge and technical skills.
This could apply to any professional I guess and all young managers could take these seriously.

The 10 commandments of PR campaigns are listed as - research, identification of problem, setting objectives, identifying the target audience, action plans, PR programs, media strategy, budgeting, communication or implementation and evaluation.

Another fine illustration is the multi-media umbrella model of PR campaigns, Action plan messages and Media mix. These include Newspapers (press releases, features, rejoinders, letters to the editor, press conferences, press tours, press kit, specialised news), Corporate publications (books, pamphlets, folders, handbooks, house magazine, annual reports, calendars, greeting cards, pictorial publications, direct mail, posters), Photographs (news photos, features, product photos, photos for tv, publications, exhibitions ads), TV and Radio (News documentaries, feature commercial spots, interviews, panel discussions, talks, specialised audiences, public service announcements), Film (Documentaries, PR films, Ad films, News magazines, Film strips, Tele films, Cinema slides, cinema houses, video), IT Mass Media (Internet, mail, websites, weblogs, news releases, DVDs), Advertising (press ads, radio ads, TV ads, corporate ads, institutional ads, public service ads, outdoor hoardings, electronic ads), Exhibitions (trade fairs, exhibitions - rural, industrial, bulletin boards), Traditional media (songs, dances, drama, street plays, puppet shows) and Interpersonal media (public meetings, group discussions, round table, panel discussions, conferences, seminars, open house)

The booklet ends with a profile of some of the great PR professionals in India and the US -

Obviously there is much to be done if you are in PR. Tonnes of good information in a 50 page booklet. If you are a PR manager or someone looking to promote a product, take a look and get going.

Dr. Reddi has over four decades of experience in PR practice and teaching. The book has been published by CVN Public Relations Foundation, House of Public Relations, Hyderabad. Dr. Reddi may be reached through the publication house number 040-2374 5549.

Uyyala Jampala - Audio Launch

I attended the audio launch of my brother Ram's new movie 'Uyyala Jampala' on Sunday, the fifteenth of December 2013. The posters are out, looking happy and joyful with two young and fresh faces, all enthusiasm and mischief, smiles that pale the sunlight even, a name that catches on quick and fast and its a good start. A closer look at the poster reveals that behind this venture are some of the biggest names in Telugu industry, Annapurna Studios with Nagarjuna and D. Suresh Babu of Suresh productions, coming together to part produce this small, cute looking film by Ram's new production venture, Sunshine Cinemas. That makes one curious enough to go wonder what this movie is all about which augurs well.
Prasad Nimmakayala, Suresh Babu, Vishwa, Virinchi, Sumanth, Amala Akkineni, Ram Mohan, Raj Tarun, Anandi

Though the young actors Raj Tarun and Anandi a.k.a Avika Gor look like freshers in college and probably are aged appropriately too, they come with loads of talent and preparation and a decent body of work. Avika Gor is the very popular actor in the popular television serial Balika Vadhu which is now being shown in Andhra Pradesh as a Telugu serial. She is a well known and well recognized face in India. Raj Tarun comes with a different kind of a background having made some phenomenal amount of short films and is some kind of a superstar on youtube in the Telugu short film circuit from what I have heard. They are highly reliable actors and bring the right mount of freshness, professionalism and intensity for this story.

The director Virinchi Varma is a debutant as well and one who has a very subtle style of story telling and film making. I like his sensibility and I think he is one who can find a niche if he sticks to his 'voice' or 'style'. In fact I think Uyyala Jampala is a subtle love story with many wonderful shades of the emotion brought out with all its vulnerability, mischief and fragility. The music director is Sunny Singh and the camera work has been roundly applauded. Many more talented and enthusiastic newcomers, a string of big names and two well received films behind him, 'Ashta Chamma and 'Golconda High School' behind him, Ram's team at Sunshine Cinema gave a preview of what's to come on December 25, 2013 (movie release date) at the audio function.

Shilpa Kala Vedika is a huge auditorium at High Tech City Madhapur and the venue was packed with fans and well wishers. Once inside the show went on smoothly, well compered by two young comperes, Ravi and Lasya. The songs were released one after another by actor Nani, directors Mohan Krishna Indraganti and Ganga Raju Gunnam, actor Sumanth, director Nandini Reddy and Amala Akkineni. There were avs about the people behind the project and in the project, messages, songs sung by the singers, skits and then the curtains drew on a well attended and well organized program.

I liked the first song 'Nijanga...' which is very peppy and has a breezy and feel good feel to it most. Then comes the slow number 'Uyyalaina Jampalaina..' and then 'Mana Bandham' and then the mischievous and rather unusual number 'Lapak Lapak'.

Some more about the movie, some pictures and its producers at this link as well as links to the songs. You can listen to the songs here.
They grow on you and I did find the sound new and interesting. I also enjoyed the lyrics by Vasu Valaboju.

The good vibes were there, support from the fraternity and friends, and a good job of compering that kept things lively. This is the third movie from Ram and all of them have been the kind that family audiences can watch, smile and go back feeling warm and fuzzy about life. Much like the chicken soup series, good for the soul, for the health and the heart. The sort I like and endorse, the sort that makes you want to go in and feel good about yourself (and not inadequate and angry). I went with Satish who landed here from Atlanta and got a taste of the Telugu film industry and Ramaraju. Suresh hooked up with me at the venue and we all had a good time before we headed out. Now for the movie release.

T Shirt Captions

I saw a caption that said, 'I lost my teddy bear. Will you sleep with me?'

Considering that this was worn by a well built young man, it was even more sickening. What was the loser doing sleeping with a teddy bear anyway.

Just as I was cursing the tastelessness of these captions I saw one that said

'Be the change you want to be in the world."

Nice. Good message to share.

And then today I saw another one that was even better - original too.

'You cannot scare me. I have kids.'

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Passport Experience

It was an experience quite unlike any I have ever had with passport offices earlier in my life. I remember the fading yellow building in Vijaynagar colony which was a virtual fortress and you never knew what to do and who to meet to get anything done. And the thousands of agents who were required to get anything done. I once had the job of trying to trace a document there and well, it was not the most pleasant of experiences. (But I do remember meeting a fine passport officer by the unusual name of Rommel, who was quick and decisive, and perhaps helped me then.)

Then the one in Secunderabad where I had a few more crazy experiences - all making me feel completely helpless and powerless in the total absence of processes, procedures and accountability. Once your file goes in there is no guarantee that it can be traced - it was thanks to the personal searches conducted by a rather expensive consultant that my passport which was dumped under some other files, was traced. Why did my passport end up there? Because they made a mistake with my ECNR status despite all documents staring them in the face. Not the best experience again.

So when it did come to getting Anjali's passport reissued, I checked out the online version warily, and got all the required documents done, paid the money and got the appointment which comes in really quick - next morning. Anjali and I landed up there just before noon and waited in the queue before the boys at the counter who checked our documents displayed good sense and sent the six year old in a token that probably gave her faster access - well done boys - it was almost lunch time and one does not need a cranky child waiting in queues for too long.

Once inside it all went on like clockwork. The counters, the procedures, the checks were all done in a smooth manner and we quickly moved on from the A counters to the B counters and finally the C counters where the old gentleman actually gave Anjali some candy. It was all done in about 45 minutes.

And that ended a really sweet experience at the Passport Seva Kendra, Ameerpet. What could top it? Receiving the passport of course. Anjali received it within a week - 5 days to be more precise. Good job MEA and good job all you young professionals at the counter.

Gone were those scowls, frowns, hungry and greedy looks, supercilious, rude and downright unacceptable behavior to applicants many of whom were simply ignorant and needed help. These kids worked with focus, were polite and patient and as I mentioned, even showed good discretion.

There is hope. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

People and Songs I Associate Them With

There are some songs that remind me of some people.

1) Yeh raatein, yeh mausam: Milind's song all the way. From the time I first heard him sing this 15 years ago till date. A 'farmaaish' every get together.

2) Zindagi ke safar mein: Raja's song,and he sung it especially well in his 50 year celebrations.

3) Piano man: Ram's signature song. Everyone in the group has fond memories of Ram singing this Billy Joel song full throatedly two decades ago.

4) Yaara O yaara: Ali Mumtaz, our friend from Port Blair, would sing this Narender Chanchal song beautifully. Also a ballad which I fail to recollect, which he sang for his girl then. She never heard it though. We did - many times.

5) Diye jalte hain: C. Sanjay would sing this song wonderfully. First heard this song in the OU hostels and loved the lyrics which, of course, Sanjay explained with great care. Now he is among my music buddies too - we once caught up at 11 in the night and played our favorite music till 4 in the morning before I left.

6) Those were the days my friend: Ajanta sang this song on a moonlit night out on the terrace in Pune some twenty years ago. Also Hasta Manana by Abba.

7) Joru meedunnivu tummeda (song from a Telugu movie): This song was one of those that my father loved. This among all the songs he'd listen to, was the one he loved most.

8) Guzra zamana bachpan ka: Koni's song for his anglicised version of this Mukesh classic - so soulfully off tune would Koni sing this song that he  earned the sobriquet 'Talat Michael' for this number.

9) Pukarta chala hoon main: Parth sang this song wonderfully well during Jui's sangeet. A perfect ten for this.

10) Rim jhim gire savan: Ramesh from the MBA college would sing this song wonderfully. Just as he would sing all Kishore hits well.

11) Main shayar badnaam: Satish Singh sings this soulfully - so intensely that you knew he was going through something intense. He sang it very well.

12) Ina meena deeka: Sanjay Reddy's trademark song all through. He still gets into an impromptu rendition of this song if given half a chance.

13) Saranga teri yaad mein: Ajay from OUCE would sing this song of Mukesh that I never heard of before. He'd sing it very well of course, but the original killed me.

14) Jalte hai jiske liye: My father loved this Talat Mahmood song from Sujata. I think I can do a decent version too.

15) Sunaina: My mom loved her music too and I remember her  being very fond of this song.

16) Aise na mujhe tum dekho: Shobhs loves this song and it is a bit of an anthem song for us. She loves a lot many songs as well but this is her signature song. The 'our' song.

17) Meri bheegi bheegi si: This song from Anamika is Ranjan's song and it appears he never tires of listening to it.

18) Breathless: When Vardha wanted to hear this song and could not recollect it, he did the best he could then - that English song! The Shankar Mahadevan song appears to be his favorite.

19) Forever in blue jeans: Madhav would be identified with this Neil Diamond surely. Kiri too perhaps. And Paul Anka seemed to do something to the HPS boys as well.

20) I just died in your arms: Naresh Raghavan, my music buddy, which is one of the closest shades of friendship in my opinion. Also Peter Cetera, Eye of the Tiger, Axel F and Pour some sugar on me ring a bell with him.

21) Summer wine: Reminds me of a girl at college who'd sing this divinely. I never heard this song before  that but have since got myself two versions of it.

22) Seene mein jalan: This boy who was Chanti's senior at REC, Warangal would apparently sing this song for one of her class mates, Monica. I first heard the full song many years later but was always impressed by what little I heard then.

23) Danger Zone: Vidyuth and I, music buddies at one time, because he introduced me to many new songs, listened to this song by Kenny Loggins some 20 times in a row (at my insistence) when we'd gone to Chennai on a cricket trip.

24) Bheegi bheegi raaton mein: Reminds me of the time Mom was ill. This song by Adnan Sami was part of a CD collection and a player that Ram bought for her and it would play on beautifully through those rainy days and nights.

25) Comfortably Numb: Kiri, because me and he went to the Roger Waters concert in Bangalore together and experienced the magic of this song, and Anil Menon, the greatest rock star of the Woodstock generation.

Not a bad 25 ka list. But I have a few more that make up this list and I will be back again to revisit this page.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thought For The Day - Recognising The Good that Happpens to Us

Recognising the good that happens to us is perhaps one of the best things that one can do. It seems so obvious but is very hard to practice.

It is hard top practice because we expect our good to happen in a certain way, and as we look only for that, we ignore all the other good that is continuously happening to us. In big or small measure.

When we do this i.e. ignore the good that is happening to us and instead focus on what is not there, we remain in a state of unhappiness or resentment even. The idea that we are not lucky seeps in as well.

On the other hand there are those lucky and evolved few who see the good that happens to them in every little thing. They are in a constant state of wonder, of gratitude and of happiness. All that happens to them, whether designed or by default, big or small, is welcomed with a big smile. It is an inclusive, all encompassing, wondrous attitude that sees good as it is.

In that state, we grow the good that happens to us. We can not always say that certain things happened because of certain causes - and it is in this understanding that we must thank all the good that comes our way, one way or another, big or small.

This is the difference to me between the happy and the unhappy, the contented and the unsatisfied, the lucky and the unlucky. Recognise and welcome all the good that happens to you and witness the difference in the quality of your life.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thought for the Day - Push Yourself To Understand the Mechanics of Your Mind

In many ways it does seem rather stupid to keep pushing oneself mindlessly and torturing oneself. Why push? Why not chill? Life ought to be easy my friend. It must flow like a river, like water.

I agree it must. But I guess we must also experience the intensity, the sheer physicality of effort once in a while if nothing but to understand the mechanics of the mind.

How does it start any process, what does it label it as, what are the limits it has set, what are the compromises it has made, what are the beliefs that guide it, how does it try to abort the process, how does it allow the process to happen, where does it convince itself that it has done enough, how and what helps it dig into deeper levels of strength to go on beyond the normal, where does it find the focus to rise above, to set new standards....

All this and more can be understood by watching the mind and its ways, its mechanics and its tantrums. And the best place to do it is when you push it beyond normal limits, beyond comfort zones. It will yell and squeal like a baby - but you must be firm, you must cajole, you must even fool it sometimes (just here, one second).

Once you know how to deal with it, one way or another, softly or harshly, you can go beyond it and reach deep down into great reserves of strength and focus, concentration and stillness. You will find tremendous clarity and conviction. You will find that you are capable of anything and everything.

The mind is not your master anymore, it is your pliant accomplice. instead of fighting you, it will now help you find greater treasures, bigger reserves.

Two Painting Jobs - The joy of being Children

An inspired piece of art by the two young artists one afternoon resulted in these two masterpieces. Presenting the two artists and their work.
Humble artists with their work behind them

Another wall - A more exuberant mood

It was all done in about half an hour's inspired work. By the time I looked in to check they were already exulting - and hungry. So I congratulated them, got them cleaned up and gave them something to eat.

A few days later we had to cover up the art owing to the arrival of some guests. One of the painters was at hand to help out with this second painting job too.

All's well and that ends well!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Anjali - How Can You Make the Best Better?

Can't beat this confidence. Shobhs was telling Anjali that we will try and look better by March i.e. lose weight, get fitter etc.

'But you're both fine,' said our one woman support staff incredulously.
Not wanting to disappoint her enthusiasm but also not wanting to ignore reality Shobhs said 'Yeah, but we'll try to get better.'

And that's when the young one stumped us with this -

'But how can you make the best even better.'

Ah, how I wish we had the same confidence in ourselves. But thanks Anjali, that helped a lot.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Age of Kali - William Dalrymple

The Observer might have found it stunning but I thought this was the weakest by Dalrymple I have read yet (totally Indian versus the Outsider view). Probably early years was this, because he does not have the distance from the stories he tells in this book as he did in the City of Djinns.

Dealt with in 6 parts titled The North, In Rajasthan, The New India, The South, On the Indian Ocean and, Pakistan, the Age of Kali looks at an India, a Sri Lanka and a Pakistan from the view of someone who genuinely wants to look under the obvious. Which is good because Dalrymple has a knack for getting the right people, the persistence and the courage to follow up his stories despite the dangers of the tasks involved. If roaming the badlands of Bihar looked dangerous, wait until he walks into the Tamil Tigers den in Sri Lanka and traverses the lawless and trigger happy ammunition dumps in Pakistan. Dalrymple explores each story that interests him deeply and passionately and writes it down convincingly after having had a first hand experience. I envy him his journeys deep into India, parts that I have not been to and would love to, and admire him for bringing forth an India not many would bring to us Indians (our first reaction is to shove it under the carpet or color it). If anything the most dangerous aspect of his book appeared not the landmines or guns and terrorists but the ease with which he pulls down the rich and powerful and makes them into caricatures based on his experiences with them. Will they extend him the same affection and warmth the next time after reading his book I wonder, but maybe they might, for all we know because he has only reported what he experienced.

In the North he travels with Lalu Prasad Yadav and sketches the problems that besiege Bihar, meets student union leaders who are fully armed, travels into Vrindavan which is also called the city of widows where widows come to spend the rest of their lives in abysmal conditions and takes us on a rather cynical tour along with the Rajmata of Gwalior. In most cases he pokes fun at the leaders and is surprised at the extent of their knowledge or rather their ignorance, their insensitivity and their behaviors. He also writes of how the Indian middle class speaks (a manner reminiscent of the dialogues of Peter Sellers in The Party). I have heard Indians speak all my life - they do not speak like that. It does create a fun element but that is it to me. Don't expect the average Indian to talk or behave like that. (Unless perhaps, they reacted in a different manner to the gora sahib.)

In Rajasthan he covers stories of rape  victim and women empowerment agent Bahveri Devi by the local landlords, the caste wars and covers the death of Roop Kanwar, one of the last known incidents of Sati in modern India. In each incident he travels and meets the concerned people and gets some idea into why and what of the incident. That people thong the site of the Sati is a matter that shows the Indian rural psyche more than the horror of what the custom demanded of the women - to burn themselves on the pyre of their dead husbands alive. But then the focus in India today is on the amount of harassment women face, the way they are killed or forced to kill which we see everyday.

In Bombay we go to the swish set that he categorically slices through for its superficiality, choosing to go with one of its main patrons Shobhaa De, and exploring the upper crust. He shoots down Shobhaa De and her set with no difficulty - only I wonder at why one would do that when he is her guest. Nothing much to learn from this episode for me. In the next we travel to Bangalore and its KFCs and the anti-western agitations by farmers.

In Madurai we go to the Meenakshi temple and then come over to Hyderabad. I could not recognize the Hyderabad he painted through the eyes of his source despite having lived here for four decades though I fondly remembered the one palace that he touched upon - the Irram Manzil palace which is where my father worked as  Chief Engineer, National Highways a few decades ago. Gold, diamonds, wealth, Nizams, forgotten legacies, palaces etc flash through and a bleak look at the Hyderabad of today without its glamour and wealth. Further down south he goes to the temple of Parashakthi, the goddess who creates and destroys. All through he retains an air of skepticism that any rational mind may carry with beliefs in religion and ritual.

To Sri Lanka, Jaffna, meeting the Tamil Tigers and the Freedom sisters, giving us an understanding of what actually seemed to have happened, the countless deaths, the gore and violence, Dalrymple travels through landmine infested roads, meets Tamil generals, even the Freedom sisters and returns, having had enough of the violence. From there he moves on to some island in the Indian Ocean which was rather boring to me.

In Pakistan he meets Imran Khan and once again gives a rather disbelieving account of the cricketer, playboy and politician. He travels with Imran to shoot clay pigeons, meet some war lords, bump into police checkposts and discusses Pakistani politics from Imran's point of view but not fully - he keeps digressing into Imran's personal life and underlines a lack of credibility perhaps of a playboy-cricketer to do anything noble. From Imran he hops onto Benazir Bhutto and pulls her down even lower, expressing total disbelief that she should read Mills and Boons, or even find Freedom at Midnight an interesting read. Dalrymple says clearly that 'Freedom at Midnight' is total crap (or schlock) and must not be read by anyone who has any claims to be a leader or of anything to do with brainy activity. (While at that he also quotes someone who says that Imran is called Im the Dim with good reason). I cannot agree with this really - erudition is fine but leadership has nothing to do with that surely. It is good in the colleges and in discussions - leadership is not just that and in most cases may be hampered by such thought. So I am fine with the Mills and Boons and even Tom and Jerrys as long as one can lead.

There is a meeting with the people who were at Lahore during partition and well nothing that he has mentioned here disputes what the authors of Freedom at Midnight mentioned in their book. Killings aplenty in Lahore and Amritsar in what most people know is perhaps one of the world's biggest mass killing - thanks to whoever signed and decreed that there would be two nations made from one. Some more travels in the north west frontier and a meeting with Imran's Pir who tells Darlymple to focus on his Delhi book. We come to the end of the Age of Kali.

Dalrymple seeks to find the unsaid, the undiscovered and presents it well. The experiences he has chosen to have are not what many would want to, especially in India. I was also thinking that it perhaps is more difficult to do half the things that Dalrymple did in India as an Indian because suddenly all the biases come alive when an Indian shows up at the doorstep. Caste, creed, colour, community, region, language, sex and many more biases come up instantly. With the Indian obsession with fair skins and foreigners, it is much more easier to ask many questions and receive politically correct answers about honour and pride when it is pretty clear to all concerned that it is a crime that is being committed. Most westerners would find the book stunning and I am sure even I was impressed because Dalrymple presents a real story - its all true. But believe me, this runs deeper, through many more layers that it may not be easy to capture it in its entirety. The frame with which the  average Indian sees the world around him is colored by so many shades that it is impossible to take his or her behaviors or answers at face value. Rituals, dogmas, temples, gods, history all combine here and one can get a glance at best, from one angle.

Is this what exists in India today? It does. And it does not. I have heard of many of these incidents but are they common place? No. What is common place? That there is large scale looting by politicians. That there is lawlessness in some regions, some more than the others. That there are more bride burnings, suicides, honour killings that go on which cause concern and not the one Sati that happened. That there is violence that coexists comfortably a shade away from our lives just as ritual and faith healing does (in fact faith healing has many more interesting shades to it that the western mind cannot accept).

That most people barely sustain their lives but still get themselves a television and a satellite connection and a mobile phone. That the super rich and the super poor, the oppressors and the oppressed, share the same air and water, and find hope and laughter, puts the past behind them and go to the same temples, mosques, movies. uses the same transport ad so on and so forth. There are the odd pockets, the angles where the old mindsets may prevail, but by and large India and its present generation has its happy stories. Dalrymple chooses the bleak and hopeless stories that appeal more to an audience that perhaps sees it easier to get horrified, to judge, to wonder at this sort of a thing - but it cannot be very different in any society. Explore deep enough, scratch the oddball under the surface and lo, you will find all these characters and more in every society in the world. Whether they call it the Age of the Kali or something else we bother not. It is enough for me to see the little urchin on the road smile just as his mother does because they can find happiness in their existence and do not seek or need to find the horror in someone else's life to make their own seem good. For all those who are stunned, I would say, good for you chief. But hold that judgement. Its pretty much the same story everywhere - only the degree varies, the complexity varies.

But despite all that I feel, credit goes to Dalrymple for his work, for providing a view I could never have got. He still remains one of my favorite writers of history and of travel and I am waiting to get down to the next one by him.