Friday, October 31, 2014

On The Road Diary - Day 2, Badami at sunrise

October 24, 2014, Badami
Woke up and hit the caves parking space by 640. The parking attendant was there already. Good work ethic. We walked through the gate that leads to the other side of the Badami town, and into the slum. Small lanes, pigs, children, people with mugs heading out into the hills. But there is some quiet dignity about this survival of the pigs, the filth, lack of space. Its theirs you know, and that feeling seeps through. They are not occupying someone else's space. Anyway we walked through the slum full of women washing clothes, utensils and through soapy water until we hit the other side of the horseshoe. The walk is about 10 minutes from the caves.
Sunrise over the Agasthya lake

First up comes the museum. This is below the Badami fort on the Northern side (the Southern side fort called Ranamandalkote is on the rock cut caves side which looks more daunting). This fort is called Bavanabandekote or the 52 rock fort.
The museum is shut on Friday
It was shut because it was a Friday and anyway it opens only at 9 am. But they say its worth a watch if you have the time. We didn't.
Beautiful banyan witnessing much beauty
Then we walk onto the ghat by the side of the Agasthya lake. Tranquil. At the bottom end of the Agastyateertha lake are the Bhuthanatha temples. They are spectacular standing in the lake as they are. Pic below.
Fine temple beside the ghat
They are not live. After a few minutes rest at the ghat steps we headed back. To the right was the 52 rock fort and the temples atop it. Temples on the Northern fort include Upper Shivalaya temple, Lower Shivalaya temple and Malegitti Shivalaya temple. Get it - these kings were more into Shaivism in their later stages.
The Bhuthanatha temple in the lake 
The walk would have taken an hour. And consumed much of my energy. I needed to see Patadakkal and Aihole and then speed off to Amboli in the western ghats for the evening rendezvous.
Entrance (and exit) to this part of Badami's cave temples
We chose to save our energies and come back some other day.

We headed back to Mayura and ate a hearty breakfast. Toast and omelette. Idly and vada. Never tasted so good. Is it to do with expectations? Or just good service? Checked out of the hotel and bade warm good bys to Mr. Sankh and headed straight towards Patadakkal. On the way we stopped at the Mahakuta temple for 15 minutes. Its 16 kms from Badami.
Nicely decked up vehicles for Diwali
It’s a live temple but most unusual. There are almost no restrictions. People walked in with chappals right up to the sanctum sanctorium. The temple is famous for its Mahakuteshwara temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Courtyard outside the temple, really ancient stuff

Diwali crowds landed up in colourfully decked up vehicles.
Steps leading into the temple
We went in saw a fine Nandi and the shiv linga which everyone was praying to.
The imposing temple chariot
I stayed outside. It’s a beautiful temple, tranquil and non commercial. Just like how temples ought to be.

Don't take that road to Patadakallu!
We had the sense to check with a rickshaw guy about the best route to Patadakkal though there was a road with a sign that said Pataddakal 17 kms. The driver told me not to take that road which was in really bad condition. He told me to take a less bad road some distance ahead. It was pretty bad mind you and took a longish while to cover the 10 kms. After 45 minutes or so we entered the Patadakkal village and headed straight to the main temples.

But that is another story.

On The Road Diary - Day 1

October 23, 2014. Diwali day. Hyderabad to Badami

Started out in the faithful Carlos. No relative of the assassin in the Day of the Jackal. This Carlos happens to be my faithful Santro, so christened after many years of being with me, by the kind hearted Anjali. Poor car should have an identity right.
Carlos - Still and ready
There was a bit of drama before all this. One Innova came into the picture (you can see it in the corner). Koni offered me the Innova, lying quietly in his control. All plans were made – sadly important documents went missing in the end and plans had to be shelved.
Anyway I was glad to get going on Carlos who has been on many such journeys with me. In fact Carlos did this very route thrice in the past six years. Goa all three times. Today we were targeting Badami, where I had booked myself into the friendly KSTDC Hotel, Mayura Chalukya online. My strategy was to drive at a friendly 70-80 kmph and enjoy the scenery.
Fog at Shamshabad
Off we went then at 6 in the morning. Hit Shamshabad and proceeded at a gentle pace towards Jadcherla when a thick fog enveloped us. Never have I seen anything like this fog in these parts. Last time I experienced something like this was when we drove from Dehradun to Delhi with Ranjan. That was worse of course but this was bad too. Visibility at times came down to five meters. Hazard lights were on, head lights were on and we gingerly moved along. Even in this fog we had several maniacs wanting to overtake, honking for the fog to move etc. We need more psychiatrists in our country.

Thankfully the fog cleared in some 20 minutes or so. We ran into the toll. The toll chap seems to have increased fares. From 49 bucks to 60 bucks. What's that for? Increase in fuel prices? Come on guys. Its like the airport user charges. These guys sit with essential services, monopolise the service and increase prices ad hoc. It’s a non-recourse for the customer too it appears.

From Jadcherla we turned off the NH towards Mahbubnagar and the road was not a problem at all. At Mahbubnagar bus stand we stopped for chai. There were early morning dosas being made so we had one along with chai. Nice. The route from Mahbubnagar to Raichur was not too good with some crater like potholes appearing once too often. Luckily I was not going beyond 70 kmph so I could react quickly and avoid big bumps.
Highway straight out of a song sequence from the 60s
A Raichur the potholes grew bigger. I made a strategic error and missed the bypass. It sneaks up quite unexpectedly and points to Belgaum as an option. No indication if it’s a bypass or a long cut to Belgaum that goes via Hyderabad. Now Raichur is the last decent stop for food and stuff – the rest of the route you are at the mercy of fruits (nice stuff but) and really small joints. Anyway we were well stocked so we passed through Raichur and headed towards Lingsugur.
Diwali shopping in a village
Today was Diwali day. I was keeping an eye out for festivities. Not much. Travelling at 70 kmph is a totally different experience from traveling at 80 or 100 kmph. You can really look around and imbibe whats going on around you. I had the time to catch stuff I’d have liked to keep forever in my mind. I’ll do the next best and write about it. 

One was a moment when two six or seven year olds were crossing the road and the older one held the younger one back, at the sight of my car. Something in her eyes, the responsibility, the care, the protective nature despite all the odds of a highway pitted against her. I cannot forget that look in that kids eyes. she must be as old as Anjali. I started looking for such moments in peoples eyes and found most in children’s eyes. I found another child, this one much smaller than her sibling, and she spotted the car and she held the older ones hand. It was a spontaneous gesture, one of fear for the older one who might not have seen the car and another of just wanting to hold on in the face of danger. Such innocence. And then one young boy, cannot be older than eleven or twelve, manfully riding his bicycle, fitted with four pots of drinking water in colourful plastic pots. Big task. I was surprised that one so young was entrusted with this man’s job. But one look at the boy and you know he has accepted the responsibility. His hair oiled and combed in a 60s style, his brow high, his gaze strong and steady – he would go to school and would do this job well too.
Water collection, washing clothes
Many women, young girls carrying the same plastic pots towards the water source, queues at the water pump. Women washing clothes at the stream, all peaceful stuff. They laugh, they smile and they work. I saw two women carrying water a long way towards their hamlet, and I knew they had a long day ahead for them. Cooking, puja, clothes, keep her husband and in laws happy. And then we had the young man filling water in the pots at the canal. Strong, able bodied, confident.

Many small traders were riding their mopeds, carrying outsized loads of plastic pots of all colors. Obviously there were water problems here.

As we went through villages we could gauge the mood. The well off localities, the Ambedkar Nagars on the outskirts, the brash new breed in their cheap jeans and t shirts and funky hair cuts. The few Muslims, the many temples. Many furrowed brows. Satellite dishes on huts in the middle of nowhere. A kid no more than eight, t shirt, red shirt, shorts, taking a goat out to graze. The lone walk of a housewife headed to town to buy stuff perhaps. I wondered how long she’d walk and then I noticed that she had footwear thankfully. All of their eyes spoke of their fears, responsibilities, resignation, struggle and courage.

And then we have one Toyota Fortuner stopping in the middle of a small town. Gaudy in its opulence. A sticker over the number plates proclaiming the powerful position (AICC Member, Chairman of XYZ) showing off like cheap lipstick on a prostitute. And the prostitute himself, clad in pristine white, before the show begins. I must take that back – its not a prostitute, it’s a pimp. One dishonest soul among many honest men. Prostitutes are honest people.

We passed through Sirwar and then Lingsugur. Quietly made our way into Mudgal (is Shubha Mudgal from here?) and then onwards towards Hungund. It’s a bit tricky the road here – just before Mudgal the road splits – one to Gangavathy and another to Mudgal. (You must choose the Mudgal direction if you wish to go to Mudgal. Correct answer!).
Mudgal fort
At Mudgal the entire town was in the market place which was highly crowded. Fruits of all sorts were being sold, and so were many kinds of flowers. New clothes, little girls in red. Then again, the state highway hits the National Highway just before Hungund. Enter carefully, and then turn right towards the Humnabad signs. A kilometre down you find an innocuous sign pointing at Hungund, i.e. get off the highway and go left into Hungund. Don't get attached to the highway because it looks nice. Follow Bagalkot or Belgaum signs.

Not many eating options at Hungund. I like the look of the Lingayat Khanavalis there. Sometime I must stop and eat that food. Hungund is also teeming with people, shops, carts, market activity. I saw three brothers wearing shirts made from the same cloth. We used to do that when we were young. Further down the road we enter a village called Aminagad, famous for the Kardant sweet which is only made there. Some chikky type thing. Nice. Buy some. We passed along, saw boards that invited us to visit Pattadakkal and Aihole, ignored the same and went right up to the turn towards Badami. The State Highway continued towards Bagalkot on the right. We turned left to Badami. Badami is 32 kms away but it’s a single road in every sense of the road. So the 32 kms take almost an hour. We reach Badami by 3 pm.
Rocks before Badami town
Badami appears in a cloud of red dust. The roads are terrible. The town is messy, cramped, roads disorganised, dusty. Its something out of Sholay. We drove on till the Ramdurg turn and turned right after a couple of enquiries from our live GPSs i.e. helpful pedestrians and shopkeepers etc. Located the Mayura Chalukya which is a nice property, pink buildings, lots of parking and plenty of monkeys. The manager Mr. Sankh (Mobile - 8970650024) is a fine gentleman and the sort you want to meet on holidays – ever willing to help and provide information, ever smiling and always treating you like a customer which is a rare thing in India. Most places treat you like a tramp who lost his way. We checked in helped by Manju the man – there was a rare rush at Badami this being the Diwali weekend. Many small cars joined our Carlos in our modest dreams and modest vacations. I love the middle class.

The Mayura Chalukya rooms are very functional. Everything works and is in place. TV, ac, running water, bell. Great. The dining hall is downstairs. Good food (available till 11 in the night). The thali and stuff was really nice, just right. Service was off key but I guess they were stressed for staff. Mr. Sankh directed me to see the Badami caves that very day. Its just a kilometer away. We set out after lunch – close to 4 pm and headed to the caves in the car. 
Gumbaz - built by Adil Shah
We had to drive through some small slums that crawled up the hills, really small houses. A common sight there is the number of pigs (apparently varaha was the symbol of the Chalukyas but I don’t know if there is any connection to that and these pigs), an abundant number of monkeys (aggressive), cattle, and so on and so forth. Everyone and every creature coexists. I did not see anyone shoo off a single animal.

There is ample parking space at the bottom of the hills. The tickets are some 2 or 5 rupees for Indians and some 250 rupees for foreigners. You see the caves rising up on the right, the first one, then the second and so on, cut into the sandstone mountain. The sandstone hills are surreal and shine red in the evening sun. We found that all English and Hindi guides have been taken already – vacation time, On offer was the lone Muthu Chalukya, Kannada guide par excellence, who knew little English and Hindi. I know no Kannada. But I asked him to come along. 400 bucks was agreed upon. One hour he said. 
The entry point to the four rock cut caves, the first one in pic
He was meticulous and went on manfully in Kannada. He’d get upset when we did not get it. He’d call Anjali, Kutti.
Let me share some bits of real information from the brochure here. Badami was the one-time capital of the Chalukyas. King Pulakesin I (I remember this guy) mad it his capital in 540 AD. The town is situated in the mouth of a ravine between two rocky sandstone hills. Badami was known as Vatapi Adishthana earlier. Legend is that two demons, Vatapi and Ilvala, who were famously making a living by tricking and killing mendicants were killed by Sage Agastya at Badami.
Muthu striking a dance pose, he's good
The rock cut cave temples are on the Southern cliff. There are four caves on this tall sandstone rock, one above the other. Muthu led us to the first cave – the Nataraja Cave. Then comes the Vaishnava cave above it, then the Mahavaishnava cave and lastly the Jain cave. The Nataraja image has eighteen hands, striking 81 dance poses, intricate, imaginative stuff that will take a few days to figure out and understand. Muthu strikes one above. An unusually trim an slim Ganesha stands close to the Nataraja. Inside the sanctum (not live) is a Shiva linga. Other sculptures (all beautiful) are of Mahishasuramardhini, Kartikeya, Harhara, Ardhanareeswara etc. Being rock cut, one can imagine that the sculptors chiseled their way into the rock and cut out these beautiful scultures and caves as in Ellora.
Cave three
Exquisite sculptures, amazing work. Cave two is of the Vishnu avatars. You have to climb a few steps. Exquisite sculptures of Lord Vishnu seated on Garuda, Varaha, Trivikrama can be seen here. The ceiling has many sculptures too.
One of the many wonderful sculptures, this is of Vishnu
The third cave is that of Paravasudeva, the finest and the largest of the cave temples. The magnificent sculpture of Paravasudeva seated on a coiled serpent is breathtaking. There is an inscription here, stating that the cave was wrought in 578 AD by Mangaleesha, second son of Pulakesin I, in the days of Kirthivarman I. 

The fourth cave, highest among all caves is a Jain Tirthankara cave, dedicated to the Jain faith. Tirthankara images like Parshwa, Suparshwa, Yakshas, Yakshis, Bahubali etc and a large sculpture of Mahavira are found here. This cave leads to the fort at he top of the hill.
All around Badami we find our ancestors
One has to be wary of the monkeys. Don’t carry food, or bags that are loosely held – they assume the bags may carry food and snatch it away. Don’t let kids carry food and walk about. Also don't panic. The monkeys normally do their own thing. But its clear who is the boss there.
Agastya lake to the left of the caves
As we go to the second cave we see an astounding sight to the left. You realise that you are on the right end of the horseshoe shaped hills which was the Chalukyan capital in the 6th century.
The 52 rock fort on the other side of the lake with a few temples atop
In the middle of this magnificent ravine is a lake that looks so beautiful and serene that you wonder if it Is real. It is called the Agastya lake and it is like nothing I have seen. Standing in the water at one end of the lake is a beautiful temple, part of the Bhutanatha group of temples.
Bhutanatha temple in Agastya lake
To the left of the lake rises a hill – the 52 boulder hill or fort – with more temples on it. The horse shoe you realise, is cut off on its mouth by the town, or the slums that occupy the land in between. To the left, behind the parking lot is a beautiful gumbaz constructed by Adil Shah of Bijapur. 
The gumbaz from the top of the caves
The climb to the third and fourth caves offer even more scenic views of the sky, the caves, the lake and the temples on the other side of the hill.
That hole is the entry to the upper caves
The climb itself is beautiful - we enter though a door that opens into a flat floor. If ever one could use the word enchanting, it is here. It is almost not of this world you’d think.

A better view of the 52 rock fort, the lake and the town of Badami to the left
After the fourth cave was done to satisfaction, Muthu and another Hindi speaking guide conferred to offer me the best way about.
Badami at sunset
See the Banashankari temple now, they said, check out the lake, the Bhuthanatha temple and the museum tomorrow at 6 am. That’s wonderful isn’t it? They open at 6, the temples at 8. Here we cannot see the Golconda fort until 930 am. Why?

We drove to the Banashankari temple, old as the town. Its 6 kms away. It is famous for the shrine dedicated to Goddess Banashankari, a form of Parvati. It has an annual temple festival in January - February every year.
Banashankari temple
Very clean and well kept.  It appears as if the priests stay on the premises. We saw some puja services and prayed and came out.
The tank outside the temple
A huge tank with old structures stands outside. All belonging to some other time. Some other place. Drank some coconut water and came away. It feels good. 
An age old structure near the tank, outside the temple
A nice dinner at Mayura Chalukya and we were tired enough to sleep off for the night. Tomorrow we plan on a quick walk around the lake at 630, check out the Bhootnath temple, come back to hotel, check out and leave for Pattadakkal.

I slept like a log. Anjali watched cartoons till late at night. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nice Link to Finding Your Purpose

Know your purpose? Sean Stephenson says emphatically that his purpose in life is to rid the world of its insecurity. I remember attending a workshop many years ago and we were asked to write down our purpose and this dear friend of mine broke down. She somehow felt that her life has no purpose. After that initial panic she settled down and found her purpose. Now she is a life coach and is helping people find their purpose.

Anyway what I mean to say is that its important to know the purpose of anything (I think). Most times we don't. Most of us know that too.

Here is a nice way to look at our purpose. Hope it helps.

6 keys in finding your purpose

Diwali Mela at Daksha School to Raise Funds for the Cyclone Hudhud Victims

What a fun idea! The team at Daksha came up with this brilliant idea of having a Diwali mela full of fun, games, shopping and food, all at the school premises, and handled by children, all below eight years of age! The cause - to raise money to contribute to the cyclone affected of the Huhhud. The Diwali mela was to start at 3 in the afternoon and all parents and friends and family were invited to participate, have fun and contribute their bit.
Anjali and the 'Solve the Puzzle' stall - Dharini, Brahmani and Vamshi
When I entered the school premises at 340 pm, I found a rather subdued Venkat Sai manning the welcome committee, He is Anjali's exuberant and energetic friend from Class 2 and he was wishing me in a polite manner and welcoming me, quite unlike the Venkat Sai I know who is full of mischief. He was taking his rolr very seriously indeed. Then there was Achi Reddy who was in charge of the contributions box. The ground floor stalls were full of Diwali merchandise -wall hangings, greeting cards, painted diyas hand painted by the children themselves and so much more. I believe there were some wonderful greeting cards painted by Pavani, Mansi's mother. I could not wait to get to Anjali's stall.

I picked up some tokens and went to the 2nd floor where Anjali had a 'Solve the puzzle' stall which she manned with Dharani Sai, Brahmani and Vamshi. I gave them a token fro 20 rupees and she asked me 2 questions, One was about how many months in the year have 28 days and the other was something to do with Nehru and Indira Gandhi. I said February to the first question and they said I was wrong. All months have 28 days you see. Sorry no gift! Shobhs was asked another question like - there are two coins and their sum is 75 paise. One of them is not a fifty paise coin. How is it possible? The answer of course is that though one of the coins is not a fifty paise coin, the other coin is a fifty paise coin. It was the best way to lose 20 bucks I tell you. I could have played that game forever and lost everyone of them happily. The kids were thrilled at our ignorance and laughed loudly at our answers.
The first stall is the 'Hit the ball' one and then Harsh with his 'Solve in a minute' puzzle
I enrolled for a hit the ball contest. The boys pressed a pedal and the ball was to fly in the air for me to hit it. The contraption fell apart. The ball rolled softly on the ground. The boys went into a tizzy. I tapped the ball with my bat and moved on. Harsh sat with some puzzle that one had to solve in a minute. I did not go there. Abhishek went though. I was instead invited to enter the haunted house which was a very impressive dark room full of moaning skeletons and even a live ghost. 'Hi uncle,' said the little ghost in the most friendly manner. I hung on for a while with the friendly ghost with a white mask and then came out.

The food court had all the promise of pani puri, bhel puri, pop corn, puffs, sweet corn, mrchi bajjis and lemonade (told to me many many times by Anjali). I was bent on spending most money on the food court but I realised I was running out of time. Nalini and Abhishek were having a great time playing many games and so di Shobhs. I met Shreya and Anita and of course Chandana Aunty and most others.
Nalini and Abhishek figuring out the next stall to go to

What energy? And what a lovely way to get the children involved in something so creative and fun? They were all fully involved, though diffident, but stuck manfully to their tasks. I always think that there can be no better therapy than to watch children and interact with them. So many parents and relatives and friends came to participate and one could see them all having a great time. I ate a bit of a cake that they got from the food court and its the best cake I ever ate in my life. The cause is brilliant. The way to raise money is so creative and educative and fun and so many more things. The proceeds of the mela were to be given to representatives of CARE who would then hand it all over. Fantastic idea Anita and team and wonderfully executed. Well done Daksha, once again.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Whoa! What an employer!

If you were looking for a story that made you go Wow! here is one. Savjibhai Dholakhia, Chairman of Hari-Krishna Exports, a diamond merchant from Surat, decided to give his employees a nice Diwali gift.

So he gifted 491 brand new Fiat Puntos to those of his employees who did not have a car, gifted away 200 flats to employees who did not have a house and gifted gold and diamond jewellery to 525 employees. The budget he'd set aside for this gesture to his employees was Rs. 50 crore.

Nice to be working in Hari-Krishna Exports I'd think. The employees were apparently speechless and shell shocked and stuff like that when they heard this story.

Forget the employees, I was too. Nice story. You can always expect miracles.

And Savjibhai, brilliant stuff. Check this link out for the story and picture.

Anjali - I Don't Mind Getting Out, I Just Want to Hit The Ball

We were playing cricket. Anjali was hitting the ball hard and high. Once in a while she was getting out too, caught or something.

'I don't mind getting out,' she told me solemnly. 'I like to hit the ball. So I will hit the ball even if I get out.'
Nice. Makes sense.

She went after the ball happily.

After a few hits, she stopped and asked me.
'I like to run. Can I run?' she asked.

'Of course you can run,' I said. 'Every time you hit the ball, you can run. Just don't get run out.'
She changed her batting style a bit, now that she had a new tool to add to her fun.

She started focusing on getting bat to ball and running. And pushing me to get her run out. Pretty good batsmanship.

Like to hit, so I will hit. Like to run, so I will run. Don't think about getting out.
Go for it. Go with the positive. Go with what empowers and energises you.
Don't hold yourself back with the negatives.

You'll score more than you would if you stopped yourself.
And mostly you'll have great fun. What's the point otherwise.

Thanks Anjali. Go girl.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

If God Was A Banker - Ravi Subramanian

AP gave me all these books with his comments. I am glad I read 'God Is a Gamer' first. Might have gone into it with a prejudiced eye if I had read Ravi's first novel (this one) before that.

'If God Was a Banker' is a first novel and it shows. Its all telling and little showing. So its reads like a report - everything is there organically told, all justifications in place, all reasons explained, some opinions thrust on the reader. A little too much care taken to tell the reader that its all been thought out, which compromises the action. I'd excuse that though - first novels are about such stuff. But having said that, Ravi's latest is far superior in its tone, treatment and even pace.

In short, 'If God Was a Banker' is a story of two young IIM graduates who make it into a new MNC bank. They, Swami, the conservative Tam Bram (explained what, where, how and why) and Sundeep Shrivastava (risk taking, priapic chap), report to Aditya Rao, their boss. Instantly the boss and everyone else is impressed by these two. They get to start some impressive sounding divisions. As they grow Sundeep is making some impressive conquests on the side like getting caught making out in the loo with his boss's secretary, while Swami marries another stunning looking colleague of theirs. Meanwhile Aditya quits. The two young bankers lose their conscience.

Sundeep goes from bad to worse once he meets a new  horny boss who puts him in touch with a pimp-vendor. The pimp-vendor has everyone in the bank by their you-know-whats thanks to some hot receptionists who know their business and Sundeep is soon riding high, rising over Swami, conquering all the women he fancies, married and unmarried. Swami is making progress, slowly and steadily but he is left behind. Will the bad boy Sundeep get caught? Is God watching? But then we find in the end that God is also a banker who rescues Sundeep and all is not lost.

Hey, these three characters make a comeback in 'If God Was a Gamer' did they not? Are they around in Ravi's other novels too? I don't know, is the honest answer I can give because I did not read his other novels. Why Ravi put in everything into this book including threesomes, to sex on the beach to risque private dances to stuff like that but did not put any drugs is what I did not understand. Why he also chose to call Thums Up as Thumbs Up is something else I could not get. Also why he chose to head the audit team as Ravi Subramanian in the book I did not get. Thankfully he does not play a small role like that in the other book.

But too much telling happens to make it interesting enough. Action drags. We flash past superficially. Any girl who reads this book might not want to join MNC banks. They appear to be full of sex starved bosses.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Anjali - I am Grateful for the Hard Chapathi

Our cook makes hard chapathis. Some days they are harder than most days. Chapathis are definitely not one of her strong points as a cook. It is also not a feature that we are overly kicked about when it comes to her cooking.

Anjali surprised me yesterday when we were driving to school.
'Nana,' she said. 'I am so grateful for the hard chapathis I ate yesterday.'
She made a namasthe with her palms to show the extent of her gratitude. She was almost bent at the waist. Lots of gratitude it looked like. Wow!

I made a face.
'Thankful to hard chapathis? For what? To use as a weapon? A tool?'

'No nana,'s she explained. 'When I tried to bite into it yesterday I felt my front tooth move. Yeah, now my second tooth will fall off.'

Ah, that explains it. (I am not sure her granny will share the same enthusiasm if a similar thing happens to her tooth.)

Anyway I was thinking of what I would have thought if something like that happened to me. I would have thought perhaps that my eternal bad luck is continuing. That the cook was an ass. She can't make chapathis. That she heads the conspiracy to remove my teeth one by one. Basically, I'd have made it out like the whole world is against me. I'd never have thanked the hard chapathi nor seen the hidden gift it was giving me.

Only a child can see that I guess. Thanks Anjali. Soft or hard, there is always something good that's happening. That is the lesson I take from this. All I need to be is grateful that something is happening in my life and its for my good. Even if my front tooth is falling off I can bend over and be grateful.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Half Girl Friend - Chetan Bhagat

I was curious to find out what a half girl friend could be. Honestly, I am still not too sure about that after having read the book.

Back to the book everyone's talking about. Start. A sports quota types comes from a village in Bihar to join St. Stephens in Delhi. He cannot speak English (myself Madhav Jha). But he can play basket ball well (wonder how?). He falls in love with a tall basket ball type girl on the first day at the selection trials, say, someone like Deepika Padukone. (I am guessing she is also sports quota else why would she be playing in trials? And what was this about trials - its not an open selection right, its sports quota which means certificates are the criteria right? Someone help me here.) But she is Delhi wali so she knows English. But get this NOW. Both are sports quota types, so lower your expectations guys, they are not really smart. Having been a sports quota guy I know.

Anyways our stud is completely blown over by her. He has a one point agenda in his life which is to kiss her. This is a common theme in his love life almost till the end. To kiss her in various positions - Spiderman, Batman etc. Her one point agenda is not to let him kiss her. He has a bunch of friends who tell him to keep up the pride of Bihar i.e. progress well beyond the kiss and into more intimate activities. Come on yaar, you know what.

Upon which our Bihari basketball player decides to use a line which could be one of the most powerful lines ever used to bed a lady.
"Dena hai to de, varna kat le.' He thunders.

The girl is not sure what he wants from her. She decides to marry her rakhi brother and vanish. Kat le, is the option she takes. She leaves college. Bye.

In all the years that this sports quota chap spends at St. Stephens, he unfortunately does not pick up enough English to get past his 'myself Madhav Jha'. He is not playing basket ball either it looks like, He has no love life. Nothing really. What was he doing there?

Anyway Deepika disappeared. He gets a job in HSBC. I can imagine the interview.
'What's your name?'
'Myself Madhav Jha.'
'Ok, you got the job.'
Our man however lectures the highly disappointed recruiters from HSBC on how they were selling their soul by working for money and goes back to his village. They all stand up and clap. (Not really, but that should be added in the movie.)

In billage Madhav bhaiyya joins family school. Sorry, I was getting influenced. He has no money. I suspect he is still a virgin too. Good news. Bill Gates is coming over to Bihar. All that stands between Gates Foundation and money for their school is a speech in English from Madhav bhaiyya. If speech good, get funds. Nahin to, kat le. Or something to that effect. Enter King's Speech with a twist.

To learn English to give a 5 minute speech, this graduate from St. Stephens, this guy who rejected a HSBC offer, joins an English speaking course in Patna. This is a sad commentary of the state of affairs in St. Stephens. Anyway he notices that Deepika Padukone ...oops sorry, Riya, is also in Patna selling Nestle products while driving around in an Innova. And I thought she left her degree half way...what the hell is going on man. Does she own Nestle or is she working for them?

Anyway the basket ball girl and boy get together again - no more extreme dialogues from him. She helps with a memorable speech to Mr. Gates. His Mom does not like her - oops, I forgot - she is a divorcee. Riya waits till Gates Foundation announces the grant and she disappears. Lung carcinoma. Don't find me.

All she leaves behind are her journals.

Unable to do anything with those journals Madhav Jha somehow traces famous writer Chetan Bhagat who is in Patna (for some famous research work on half girl friends perhaps) and hands him over the journals. 'I can't read them. You read them.' He walks away after handing over the unexpected gift.

Chetan Bhagat reads them at night. In the morning he calls the basket ball player and tells him to come to the hotel again. He has cancelled his flight ticket. Please tell me your story he says. Madhav ji tells everything from beginning. (All that I told so far.) Then Chetan Bhagat reveals select portions of the journal that has clue to Riya's secrets. should have learned to read English my friend.

Alright, let's leave it there folks. Is she alive? Or dead? Did he cut her in half? Find out by reading all about the half girl friend.

Apart from the famous dialogue mentioned above (Dena hai to de, varna kat le), there is one moment of honesty that come sup. It's a line from the end of the girl's letter where she finally bares her soul. 'I love you.'. In the entire book that one line touched me. It sounded honest. I wish there were more such moments.

The novel does not tax your mind. It did not involve or engage me too much either. I was wondering at how flat and one dimensional the characters were. There is no attempt to even build another layer to the characters. Very filmy too. What else do you expect when a good looking well built, sporty, virgin Bihari bhaiya joins St. Stephens yaar? Anyway, it should probably go down as sports drama. Its about sports quota walas yaar.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Thought for the Day - Energy Management, Relationship Management and The Flow

I once got this visual (and wrote about it too). It was of me not being a container with rigid boundaries. Rather I was like a loose collection of small molecule like particles which floated about formlessly. If you hit this loose formless thing, it adjusts itself like water. There is no hurt. It goes around it and reforms elsewhere. I thought it was a superb visual to carry in my mind when I was dealing with people. If I have no rigid form, I will be loose, open, willing, adaptable, receptive and all those wonderful things that we cannot be when we have a boundary, a role, an expectation.

Then the other day I read about this energy management somewhere and the visual became an even more empowering one. I was thinking of how we can see one another as energy bodies in any given point and then act. No role. No expectation. One energy body to another. Some are needy. Some give energy. Now the choice you have is how you can increase the energy in this interaction. Are you a taker or are you a giver? Can you sense the energy and play it like a conductor? Recede, expand, envelope, cower, slide back, overpower.

In a rigid form you are already limited. You cannot expand. You are limited by your expectations. But in an energy form you are flexible like water. You can grow small, can change shape, can work yourself around. You can increase your energy, you can choose to exit if there is too much negative energy. It suddenly makes it all so doable, so easy to adapt, to go with the flow, to roll with the punches. I love this visual.

In a team also you can feel the energy. You can see where it needs energy, how to raise the energy levels. You can manage the energy once you have this visual in your mind.

I got an even more empowering idea today. Fine, we can manage our energy with one other person and handle it. We can probably even manage it with a team. But since I have no boundaries, what if I expand my energy to cover a larger space? How about if I grow bigger and envelope a larger space with my loving, peaceful, joyous energy? My house, my colony, my city, my world - what if this energy can get bigger than this small thing I have limited it to? What if I have this energy going out as I sit here typing away?

Its very empowering. Its probably a great way to be in the flow. 

Vanishing Point - Movie Review

Unusual as hell. There is a car delivery man who has just dropped off one car in some small place in the USA. Instead of resting, he wants to get back on the road and speed his blues away. He makes a small bet with a dealer that he will be in San Francisco next day by 3 in the new car he has to deliver. No hurry, just a need to push himself to the edge. Off he goes, at a great speed, and that strikes you visually, as his white car surfs the US countryside like lightning.

Along the way he pushes two insistent highway policemen on their bikes off the highway when they try to stop him. By now we know this man is an expert behind the wheel. A flash, and we know he has been a successful motorbike rider. More chases, by cops and he avoids them all. It looks like no one can catch this man. Another flash, he was a race car driver when he was younger. A man in a faster car challenges him to a race and he beats him off the road. Another flash, he is a US war veteran, an ex-traffic cop who busted his senior who was trying to rape a girl in the car. His name is now out as policemen across many states are out to catch him. He is a celebrity - the spirit of freedom. Kowalski. A radio jockey tunes into the police frequency and urges Kowalski onwards, telling him how not to get caught, that he is the last free spirit on the earth. Kowalski zooms on, helped by strangers, misfits, a nude girl on a bike and her biker boyfriend.

A road block is set up with heavy dumpers. Police all over the place. The only crime, Kowalksi, is speeding and not heeding to law. Another flash, he is a hero. And his girlfriend died in a drowning accident. Kowalski does not give a damn.

The swift white care races into the small gap between the dumpers, that little vanishing point. Can Kowalski find his peace?

I don't think I will see another like this movie. It has that whole Woodstock, hippie, mood. Freedom was big. Heroism was big.

God is a Gamer - Ravi Subramanian

This book is racy and is every bit the kind of thrillers written by the best western authors I used to read when I was young. I mean the well-researched, direct, action-packed thrillers that I read from the Forsyths, Archers, Haileys kind of quality. For sheer writing prowess - taut, fast-paced, action writing - that straddles the slippery worlds of banks, software, games, politics, bitcoins, drugs, sex, violence, power and perhaps, even love, I feel no one else could have written this book but Ravi Subramanian. He stands alone in this space in Indian writing in English.
Ravi is also amazingly prolific. For someone who wrote his first book in 2008, he has already written five novels and a non-fiction book. Superb stuff.

'God is a gamer' starts someplace in the USA, moves to Goa, Mumbai, Delhi and so many other places. The story sucks characters who are dealing with high security banking systems, companies that are supplying software to banks and are also into developing games, people who are in the corridors of power but who are also into formulating policy for bitcoins, ATM heists, hookers who are revealing their client details, young people who fall in love, old people also who fall in love, murders, killings, robberies, affairs, betrayal, and swirls like a whirlwind towards its end. What Ravi does so well is that he never loses a half-moment of energy or pace. Everything is so credible, so believable - whether its the White House, the FBI, the banking system in India, the gaming companies, youngsters working in gaming companies, the finance ministry - he makes it all believable.

Superb effort. Rare to see an Indian writer generate something like this. On the down side, the pace was so hot that I lost the motives of the main characters and reasons why they do what they do. But its so slick that you forgive that.

Is it a good read? Yes. Is it slick? Yes. Is it new? Yes. Is it entertaining? Yes. Is it smart and appeals to your intellect? Yes.
Enough reasons to go read it. What more do you want? 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sean Stephenson - The Prison of Your Mind

A powerful 10 minute TED talk. Gets over in two, or so it seems. Watch it.

The highlights.
 1) Lesson no 1 - Never believe a prediction that does not empower you
I cannot tell you how powerful this statement is. How many labels, predictions have we endured and got scared about when people threw bad stuff our way. Sean speaks of how doctors predicted he would die in 24 hours after he was born - now he says all those doctors are dead. (Even more relevant is a story that I heard on a TED X talk of three sisters who died one day before their midwife predicted they would die - the first at 16, the second at 22, and the third at 23 - of no known reasons. They just believed that prediction.)
He has a powerful belief that everyone is rooting for him to win, even if they don't know it yet.
He has chosen a life of strength. He knows one thing - that is being himself - and he does it well.

2) Lesson 2 - You are not your condition
Get out of whatever condition by adapting. Being stuck is refusal to adapt. When you adapt, life is a celebration. Everyone wants to be with the people who celebrate.
He feels his purpose on this planet is to rid this world of insecurity.
The key - everyone just wants to be loved.

3) Lesson 3 - The real prison is up here - in your mind.
Get out of that limiting, chattering mind. Choose to adapt, to be strong, to be empowered.

The Great Race - Movie Review

It is unlikely I will ever see a movie like this ever. A most unusual plot, setting and mix of characters combined with some of the most outlandish scenes makes 'The Great Race' an unforgettable movie. Made on a budget of 12 million in 1965, it was the most expensive comedy of its time.

The two main characters, Leslie the Great (Tony Curtis) and his opponent and losing contender Professor Fate (Jack Lemmon) are daredevils. Leslie wins hands down each time, is handsome, courteous, articulate and the perfect man. Fate is the opposite of all that and is jealous of Leslie. He constantly challenges Leslie to some feat or another and loses all of them, mostly by his own stupidity (or that of his man Friday, Max). Anyway he challenges Leslie to a race from New York to Paris. Leslie has a new car and Fate builds a Bondesque one for himself, complete with a built in cannon and a smoke screen. To add to the fun is a beautiful, feisty suffragette Ms. Maggie Dubois who is driving her newspaper's car. Incidents include getting caught in an elaborate bar fight, sleeping in a snow storm with a polar bear taking over one car, floating around the Arctic seas on an ice floe with their two cars parked precariously on it, ending up in a country that has an idiotic crown prince who looks exactly like Fate, thereby triggering a conspiracy and finally love between Leslie and Dubois. Leslie stops his car inches from the finish line to prove his love for her and lets Fate win. Fate feels cheated that he has not won on his terms and challenges Leslie to a return race on the way back. At the very beginning he tries to blow Leslie's car off and blows up the Eiffel tower instead.

Absolutely nutty. Jack Lemmon is incredibly versatile and never ceases to amaze. He is unforgettable as the instable and insecure Professor Fate. Natalie Wood is brilliant as Maggie Dubois and reminded me of the heroine in Come September. Tony Curtis is a revelation. But how did they ever conceive so many scenes and stunts and idiotic capers I cannot imagine. Fantastic stuff. You can never forget it. And oh, the pie fight, its the greatest ever. Watch it.

Mary Kom - Movie Review

Sports drama moves me like nothing else. For that choky, teary feeling put on any classic sports drama and I fall for it.. Its almost karmic, the connection. Something wells deep inside me and I react physiologically, almost without control to the drama. Sports has a truth, a nobility, an honesty to the effort that I cannot but help feel that way. If I remember being moved to tears most, its in movies like Cool Runnings, Lagaan, Chariots of Fire, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Ghulam, Golconda High School. Mary Kom joins the list of movies that moved me, choked me.

The movie is taut and has no slack. Mary Kom's life has enough content and more to keep the viewer pegged in his seat all through - forget the popcorn. From the dramatic first scene where a pregnant Mary Kom and her husband are somehow trying to make it to the hospital, the movie does not let go its grip. Nothing gets me like the honest admiration of a heroes peers and in the movie the dacoit asks his men to let the police convoy and the pregnant Mary Kom go - she is a fighter he says, and will always be. Respect. You got to earn it.

Mary Kom's life in a poor farmer's family in Manipur, her aggressive and persistent demeanour, her stomach for a fight are all depicted well. How she shifts to boxing, shows her commitment to her dedicated and wise coach, and slowly starts scaling up the ranks of boxers in the world follows seamlessly. A budding romance, world championships, fights with the boxing association, marriage - nothing deters the woman. Magnificent Mary picks up five golds in the world amateur boxing championships. no mean feat, a bronze in the 2012 Olympics and now a gold in Asian Games Incheon. Mary is legendary stuff and one where all girls can take great inspiration from. Whether it is harassment, fighting it out in a man's world, balancing her professional and personal life, Mary has done wonderful stuff with her life and continues to do so.

Priyanka Chopra excels as Mary Kom in a performance that rivals Farhan Akhthar's in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. She lives her role and never lets her guard down, angry, restless, hardworking and committed to the core. A fighter, and she looks, talks and walks that role. Omung Kumar does a great job as director. Did I like it? Of course I did. Wonderfully made. Sports dramas and biopics seem to have more real life heroes for us than anyone else. Am I glad for that. Watch it if you have not. You will be better off for it.

Sean Stephenson - How To Create Powerful Connections With Anyone

This talk could change the way you connect with people. Really.

Sean Stephenson is not your average motivational speaker. He is a giant among this sect of high energy, highly motivated, intelligent people who can transform lives. At three feet tall, confined to a wheel chair, Sean was diagnosed early with a brittle bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta and was expected to die early. But Sean survived, began giving motivational speeches when he was 17, worked with President Bill Clinton, got a degree in political science, wrote two books thus far, became a certified therapist. Currently he works as a therapist, motivational speaker and writes books. And he is such a delight.

Check him out in this 45 minute long video - he is a captivating speaker so you won't feel the time. He is a powerful speaker, so good that I remember most stuff he said from one viewing.
This is the link.

For those who want a short cut, let me recap what he talks of in this video. One of the things Sean is big on is the difference between communication and connection. He believes communication is just transfer of data, there is no emotion, no feeling and no connection. The real difference in our lives comes when we make connections. Sean is a living example of how one can connect to people - absolute strangers to close friends and family. Watch the video and see how he has everyone eating out of his hand just by being himself, being authentic and being vulnerable. You know that he is a powerful man and it takes much wisdom and understanding to let go and be normal.

While talking of making connections, he gives the examples of three people he met in his life and who he thought were great at making connections. The first is Bill Clinton, then the Dalai Lama and then Richard Branson. Bill Clinton was so good at making connections with people because of four things - he'd remember every name and use it in a sentence back to you, he was a master at making eye contact and making the other person feel like he was the centre of the world, he would ask you your opinion and make you feel important and he would use the power of touch to acknowledge you as a person. All four - the names, eye contact, asking opinion and touch, make Bill Clinton so good with making connections.

The Dalai Lama is so wonderful because of the way he smiles - with his whole body. The second thing about him is the playfulness, one that comes out of deep wisdom. The third thing that the Dalai Lama does so well is to listen - with his whole body again.

Richard Branson, the third person on the list, is great at making genuine connections because of the way he uses his voice - voice modulation is an art he is great at, he asks questions of you and the third aspect is a humility that is disarming.

Sean feels that these people are what they are because they are not trying to prove. They are trying to improve. We can be that too if we stop trying to prove and look to improve.

Sean says that making a connection is about taking 50-50 responsibility. Its like a ping pong game where both have to play. Not one person. So you must be ready to share and you must request sharing too. Sean says nothing works like praise. And it does not harm your cause to be vulnerable.

For more from the person himself, click on the link.    

Team Building Through Cricket - Workshop for Jasper Industries Pvt Ltd

We conducted a team building through cricket workshop 'Winning By Design' at the ML Jaisimha Academy yesterday i.e. October 11, 2014. The one day workshop involves teams to fine tune all the factors of team building while playing short games of cricket in an indoor setting, so they win by design, and not by hope or luck. It involves strategy, team work, ownership, leadership and much more. The exercise was hugely satisfying for me, with a team of 22 really sharp managers and executives from sales, branch management, administration, HR from Jasper Industries. There was a tremendously high level of involvement, participation and commitment, not to forget the vital ingredient espirit de corps on display.
Group photo - All's well and that ends well

Two teams were formed randomly by drawing chits. Jasper Warriors consisted of Mohd. Pasha, Srujan, B. Ramakrishna, Raju, Bade Prasad, Sreenivasu Gaddam, Martin, Sishir, Satish, Rajendra and Santhanam.

Jasper XI consisted of Srikar, Ravindranath, Madhusudhan, Kishore, Ramprasad, Kranthi, Peter, Umamahesh, Anand, Venkatesh and Ramakrishna.
Intro session

Three games were played.

In the first game, Jasper XI batted first and scored 57. Jasper Warriors finished their innings with 52. A close game. The keys to the first game were to focus on team purpose, picking the right leaders, setting the framework right without any assumptions. If we can get everyone to look in the same direction by articulating our purpose and getting everyone to buy in, we could improve efficiencies by 15-20%.
Something about teams

In the slightly longer second game Jasper Warriors batted first and scored 64. Jasper XI wilted in their chase and scored 53, still a close game. This game was about playing like a team and not like a group of individuals. the team is greater and by playing for the team, that individuals benefit far more than by playing as individuals. Aspects like goal clarity, role clarity, target setting, process orientation, training inputs, tactics, planning to utilise resources effectively and communication were at play to get the team closer
Mr. Rao speaking 

The final was a two inning game. Jasper Warriors batted first and could put up only 9 in their first innings. Jasper XI did well to post 26 in their first. Jasper Warriors began well and scored 30 in their second outing. In a close finish Jasper XI held their nerve to score 25 and thereby win the final game. This game was about using all resources best to bring out the bets in the team. The team had to be like a FIST, with all members supporting one another and performing their given role fully and for the benefit of the team. Belief, trust, support, encouragement, empowering all players, giving space for individuals to grow, instilling pride, appreciating one another's efforts, were some of the concepts that were discussed and implemented.
At work - writing down their thoughts

The energy was high and so was the involvement. I really appreciated their commonness in purpose, camaraderie, commitment (many of them dived and ran in a manner that made my heart come up to my mouth) and mostly the enjoyment they derived from the exercise. Thank you Sumanth, Srikar, Kranthi for making this program happen. And a huge thank you for all participants for participating with such gusto and teaching me many more new facets of team building, followership and leadership.

Some of the feedback that caught my mind:
All attendees are concluding the session with high aspirations. 

Wonderful workshop on leadership, champion and team many things I learned form this workshop...enjoyed a lot. 

Excellent program which I have not experienced in my 16 years experience..will not hesitate to talk to each one for accomplishing goals. 

Learn many things as it is practical and not theoretical.

Learning along with fun. Thought provoking. Will start implementing.

So many new things like team work, spirit, dedication, sacrifice, amazing experience..will implement with my team members.

Don't feel shy or afraid to implement a winning strategy. Hold your team together, take them forward. Some may be weak, some may be strong. Everyone has their own contribution to the cause.

Would like to participate again.

Made us learn the concepts by ourselves.

The first interesting program I ever attended. I really enjoyed it.

Should be there every six months.

Process of the program is simple but superb. So good that all the colleagues were involved seriously 
in the game.

Quite a few takeaways...was easy to understand concepts of team building.

The connect of the team members is more due to the game.