Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Inscrutable Vernon Paul

I first met Vernon Paul way back in the 1980s - when I was studying Engineering at Osmania University. My senior and good friend Krishna introduced me to two youngsters at the Arts College canteen - I now forget who the other one was - but one was Vernon Paul. They were all Sainikpuri boys. Krishna said Vernon was a fine cricketer and he looked the part. Athletic, sprightly and strong of build, Paul, was the quintessential city boy with his faded jeans, T short, sneakers kind of casual wear (which he carried all his life). Round it off with a head of curly hair hair, a rugged and handsome face and a perpetually charming smile and that's Vernon for you. One that most boys respected and that I am sure many girls loved.

After that short meeting I met Vernon again when he joined the Law College at the University to do his LLM. I was past my prime as a cricketer and had little interest in playing for the University. That year there was much mischief in the selections. The selectors dropped players of the calibre of CV Anand and Mahesh Raje, who had both proven their worth in earlier years (soft targets) and included a couple of their own - names which we can safely omit. Vernon was picked to represent the University for the first time.

But we could not see this injustice happen. I spoke to the 'selected' team and said that though everyone deserves their place, some injustices have been done and we knew it as cricketers. The fact that the selectors disappeared after signing the paper and were untraceable was proof enough of mischief. Anyway I said that as a team we should ask for re-selection - all those who were confident of making it would still be selected anyway - so should have no problem. We signed a petition and took it to the Physical education department. The Director, Mr. Ranga Rao was not amused and said he could do nothing - the team was selected. I asked where the selectors were and why they had made such glaring omissions and selections. He said nothing - the petition was signed by all 15.

But next day he called me again and said he was not going to do anything about it. I was surprised. I asked why. He said he had got a letter saying that I had coerced the team into signing - one of the members was quite happy if there was no re-selection. No guesses - it was Vernon - who did not want to miss his chance of being a University player. I was upset with him. I told the Director that in such an event I would not play at least. The newspapers carried the story that senior players were not playing the big Inter Varsity tournament. But then our good Prof. Shamraj called me and told me that he understood my position but the University could not afford a bad name. Play the game and we will do something next game. We lost the match and that ended that story. I told my friend Srinivas Babu who was also hoping for a spot in the squad that I did not want to meet Vernon Paul ever again.

Nothing could not be further from the truth. Vernon kept popping up all my life after that.

In my first job at Kolkata after my MBA, I went to a movie with my crazy friend David from the YMCA. Guess who I meet wearing a jeans and that famous white t shirt - Vernon Paul. Hi Hari, he says and chats and we split. Of all the places.

Soon after Shobha joined a finance company in Begumpet and guess who the Law Officer was, Vernon Paul. Of course much water had flown by then and no grudges were carried. Vernon was polite and courteous as always and I always made it a point to say hello to him.

That season we needed good players to play for MCC. I asked Vernon if he wanted to play. He was more than ready. By now we knew that Vernon loved his Old Monk rum and loved it  bit too much. he had an old Bajaj scooter which was well equipped. Those days there were no drunken driving checks so we all partied late, drank till we passed out and still rode our bikes back home. The team had many party boys - Chandra, Paul, Ram, Suri, Pavan, Subbu, on occasion the Jaisimha brothers, Raj, Sanjay, Sai. The idea was simple. Try and win the championship and have fun while doing it. We celebrated after each game, some place or another. The third game, our championship plan was in threat. We were chasing 118 at Gymkhana and were 96 for 8. In walks Paul, who joined us after lunch, his left handers gait all over the place, ice and Old Monk in his veins. It was a grassy field and the ball would not go - 22 runs were like 80 runs in another field. Two hoicks by Paul over mid wicket for sixes and we won! Easy as that! A true match wining performance. That entire season Paul's scooter carried the booze for victory celebrations, from his army quota. There were times when Paul would come fully sloshed and we did not know how he would get back. He'd go back even at 3 in the morning and wake up with no memory of what happened at all.

That year we had a famous celebration for New Years at Paul's place. He offered us his place as no one was home. Music was set up, booze, food. The boys and girls were dancing (also known famously for the famous quip when one of the girls asked what the plan was - well we party till morning, wake up, put on our clothes and go home!. The lady was shocked and we had to convince her that no such business was on the cards. All dancing was happening under the kindly eye of a Jesus photograph. At 12 sharp as celebrations erupted, the pelmet of one of the windows crashed on Ram's head. There was some bleeding but what a start to the New Year. I don't think many of us would forget the day.

We won the championship that year! Paul missed the victory celebrations. He had moved to Mumbai as Branch head. So he is missing in the pictures.

Then I moved to Mumbai to work. I called Paul (landline, no mobiles then.) Generous as he always was he invited me to stay with him. He was a PG in the RBI Quarters at Worli. I somehow made it to his place and realised that he had a room for himself but he shared the place illegally with one smart aleck RBI staffer who sublet the place. Anyway the RBI chap was not too happy with my coming and I was not pleased with his morning throat clearing noises so I moved out the same day and joined the dormitory. Paul however stayed in touch. He was branch manager for a finance company, with one pretty assistant. Soon he came to me with an issue - what to do with her - its delicate. Anyway, the issue was handled well. Paul disappeared from my life once again. But now I knew he was addicted to booze - he always had a bottle with him. But he still looked handsome and fit, happy and joyful. As was in evidence the women still loved him.

For my bachelor's party, the usual suspects showed up in Mumbai. Ram, Koni, Ranjan and Don showed up and we first hit Mondegar's to prime ourselves up for the night. Guess who's drinking next table alone? Vernon Paul. Vernon decided we should have a good time and took us to some pubs downtown and we finally split at 3 in the morning. I called Paul next day and asked how he had gone back home. He said he did not - he just found some car in a compound and slept on its bonnet! I thought Paul was more or less done.

I got married and moved into a flat in Nerul - a three bedroom condominium of which we occupied one room. I got a call from Vernon one fine day. 'Hari I am in Mumbai, can you put me up? I am married.' Congrats I said. Where are you? Oh, we are waiting below your office. I went down. What the hell was this. There I see the prettiest girl I ever saw in my life - his wife - she was really pretty and gentle and a completely devout young woman from MP. And there was one other lady who did not look innocent at all. Turns out he comes with his old friend from college (the other girl) who now has a job in Mumbai and his wife and he wants to stay with me. I called Shobhs and told her. As we walk towards the taxi Paul pulls out his quarter and takes a swig. The poor bride is mortified. She does not know where to look All Paul does the  next three days he stayed with us was drink and sleep. The friend went away thankfully after a day. Then Paul left too.

When we returned home to Hyderabad his mother called. His wife left. We met Paul and tried to talk some sense. He was hopeless - did not understand what we were saying. Like a child he would not figure out what might have gone in the poor girl's mind. But I did not misbehave with her. I only drank he'd say. I never gave any money - what will she do? We realised Paul was more out of touch with reality than we thought. For him life was a good time - a drink, some work, some more drink, a walk, live one day to another. That's all. Be happy in the moment. We planned to go to her house in MP. We even went to the railway station. But we came back.

The divorce shook him.

I did not see Paul for another five years. One day he landed up at my office. Still looking the same but now a little worn. I took him out of the office, he was smelling of rum. He said he had been to Nepal. He was distressed after the divorce and he lost his job. He found another and lost his pain in work. But he had suffered a huge heart attack he said. He had almost died. Now he needed a job. He also had some money - could I keep it? And some house papers? I told Paul that I would not.

He did not look like he was in great shape. But then I had to do my bit. Our teammate Rajan was working with Tata Tele. I asked him if there was a job for Paul. There was. Paul not only got a job but in a superior position to Rajan's. Rajan never forgave him for that. Paul settled down in his job, went back to drinking and settled down in peace. He still stayed with his mother who would worry about him every time we met her. But one way or another there was peace.

Then one day I get an emergency call. Paul had gone to Vijayawada on office work and came down with immense pain in his calf. There was a blood clot in the veins and he was brought under observation. At the hospital he looked cheerful with all the tubes and machines beeping and running in the ICU. His mother was close to tears. Paul was happy as usual. Luckily nothing dangerous happened and Paul was in good spirits. He survived.

During those days Paul would call and drop in suddenly at home. He came home after my first novel got published. He bought a copy and read it. He said he liked it. Then he quit his job. And wonder of wonders found another. But by now he was losing it a bit. Drinking was too much. He was not his usual natty self. But the cheer remained. The Bajaj gave way to a Kinetic.

Paul lost the next job too. Then things became more and more murkier. He would call me from different numbers and say he was being followed. He feared being killed. He wanted me to keep his money and papers. He would not tell me where he lived. He said he had been attacked in a train. His flat was rented to some Nigerians. He liked the girl. I hoped he was not into drugs. But he'd talk in a hallucinatory manner. Once he said he was kidnapped and chained at home. He luckily escaped after seven days he said. Could I save him?

He came two times after that. Once with his mother and brother. They looked well off. He looked shabby, drunk. His hands would shake when he spoke. But he still smiled as usual. If he never lost one thing it was that same smile from the first day I met him - 25 years ago. He saw Anjali and got her a Cadbury chocolate. How are you Hari he'd say with genuine warmth that made your heart crack. You could see he was going down. I am sure his mother could see it too. He just never understood the world.

Paul came one last time, a year ago. He came on that Kinetic which was in bad shape. He was in his shorts and t shirts, still rakishly handsome. Stinking of rum. Rugged, strong Paul looked a bit weak finally. But he still smiled, the same innocent, guileless smile, as if the world will take care of him anyway. He again told me of his danger, how I must visit him near his new place in Mehdipatnam. He remembered Anjali and before I could stop him went on his Kinetic to get her a chocolate again. And then he left, smiling big as usual.

That was the last I saw him. He called from different numbers and told me his stories. Of threats, of danger. He would still ask me to keep all his money and papers. I don't trust anyone, he'd say. What if I take away your money I asked. Take it, he'd say. Who better than you. I knew that I might not see him ever again. Paul was already half a step  gone and there was nothing I could do about him. I told Suri that Paul told me of these threats and asked him to check if there was any truth. Suri said that the information was that Paul was mistaken. His people were not out to get him.

The other day our team mate from MCC called. Paul had died he had heard. I was not surprised. But I was not sure. Surely he'd turn up at home one more time before he left. He'd been popping up all my life in the most unexpected spaces. But then Ram came home yesterday. He said he saw the obituary. Vernon was no more. It's confirmed.

Vernon never really understood the mechanics of this world. Of money, of relationships, of jobs, of living. it was like a huge holiday, like something out of a book. A life of white t shirts and faded jeans, sneakers and curly hair, music and booze. I wish he'd continued like that fully - wonder why he got into the money and house issue. But I'll miss the smile, that guileless smile, that genuine warmth and child-like demeanour. And I'll miss his sudden calls, his sudden appearances, his gentleness. I wish he had had more peace in this world in the end. He never asked for more really.

We, his old team mates, planned to visit his house this week. Perhaps we should aptly raise a toast to our bar man - of Old Mon k and Thums Up - one last time. Well played Paul. You were a champ. And the next time I drink beer in Cafe Mondegar, I will certainly look over my shoulder for you my friend.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fargo - Movie Review

On the list of must-watches for long. Once again I wonder at the ingenuity of the Coen brothers. The story leaves you so uncertain about its future, not because of the situation, but because the characters have been built that way. Crazy fellows.

A Minneapolis car salesman trying to get over some requirement for money (played brilliantly by William Macy), hiring two crazy criminals to kidnap his wife so he can extort money from his tough father in law sounds like a crazy enough premise. But the superbly built characters take over after that. One of the two criminals is a garrulous and edgy type, while the other is quiet to a fault and swift in action. The kidnap done smoothly, they are going back to the hideout when a police car stops them. The weird, small one messes up - and the quiet big one blows off the cops head. That's when you realise you're set for a crazy ride. Within a couple more minutes the big guy bumps off two other passing witnesses and we are now left with three murders on our hands and not too convincing a reason for them. You're feeling pretty uncertain already.

Frances McDormund is seven months pregnant  and the police chief of the town and she is one smart cookie as she pursues her leads in a logical manner. Meanwhile the car salesman tries to double cross the kidnappers whom he promised 80k and asks for a ransom of 1 million. Too smart for his own good! Murders, bodies in wood chippers, this and that, and finally one of the killers (guess who) and the car salesman are caught. The wife is killed, father in law in killed, and the salesman's young son is left alone while he goes to jail.

Interestingly the movie opens with the lines - based on a real story. It's not. It's a collection of real incidents claim the writers, made into one story. The story is inspired by a real life wood chipper incident where a philandering airline pilot murdered his wife and cut her up into small pieces using a wood chipper. The case apparently was the first to be tried where no body was found. (In the movie the strong, big criminal feeds the weird, small criminal into the wood chipper when he is caught by the police chief. Pretty stuff.)

The idea behind saying that it is based on a real life story was interesting - that people are more prone to accept a weird story when it is claimed to be based on a real story. Interesting thought - that we accept a lot more nonsense if we are told that it's based on real life stuff.

But Fargo, very nice. Bit gory but nice. Now, the Godfather trilogy!

Link - 17 Movies Based On Real Life

Nice list - more so because I got 13 of them and all 17 seem eminently possible sooner than later.

Monday, July 27, 2015

House of the Flying Daggers - Movie Review

Its one of the most visually stunning movies I have ever seen. The story starts innocuously enough, in 859 CE in China, with two policemen discussing how they have been asked to capture the leader of the rebel group called the House of Flying Daggers. Catching the old leader was tough and took them three months but they need to capture the new leader in ten days.

The captain Leo tells his man Jin to go to the local whorehouse for some leads. The young man is an accomplished fighter and a charmer with the ladies. He falls for a new girl, a blind one, who they believe, is the daughter of the old leader. She is an accomplished dancer and equally good with her martial arts. The police capture her and the madam and haul them off to the police station.

Here captain Leo changes the plan and tells his man Jin to make the girl believe he is on her side so they can follow the girl to the House of Flying Daggers. The charming Jin does what he does best - wins her confidence - but fatally so. She falls in love with him and he with her. The two are hunted by the soldiers, now with an intent to kill and Jin does not understand why. The stunts in the forests, flying soldiers taking off from one bamboo tree top to another, almost as if they are swimming in air, the scenes with the flying daggers, arrows, bamboo wedges are breathtaking.

Couple of twists. The girl is not blind. The captain Leo is a Daggers man who has infiltrated the army. The two were in love but now she loves Jin who is on the other side. When she is ordered to kill Jin the girl does not and asks him to leave. But Jin comes back and there's a face off with the captain. A big fight. There's the girl between them. Sacrifice time all over. One fatal error in judgment and the girl commits suicide.

It's a love story after all. But some of the most breathtaking visuals I ever saw. Watch it if only for that. House of Flying Daggers was released in 2004.

The 20 Stages of Being an Indian Writer - Krishna Shastri Devulapalli

This is one of those pieces I had to save for future reading. One of the funniest. KSD you outdid yourself.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Those In Peril - Wilbur Smith

Wilbur Smith is my friends Vardha's and Madhav's favorite author from his school days. I have somehow never read any of his novels though I have heard much about them. So when Wilbur Smith himself came to India to launch his latest - Those in Peril - in December 2011 I called Vardha and told him. Vardha of course made it a point to travel 30 kms to meet his favorite author (it's always nice to meet old friends said Mr. Smith). I got myself a signed copy and came home. However it took me a while (3 and a half years!) to actually read it.

Here's a link to that day! Interesting stuff.

The book takes off like a gunshot and stays at that pace. An oil tycoon's young and beautiful widow, an ex-tennis champion, is now heading the company Bannock Oil. On the company payroll is a security agency headed by battle scarred Hector Cross, supported by a band of merry men. The daughter of the tycoon is kidnapped by a ruthless tribal chief who also heads pirate operations. A large ransom is sought. Hazel Bannock has only Hector to turn to in a moment when even the US Government is helpless. Hector is the man for the season with his witty one liners, encyclopedic knowledge and hard-to-beat action.

The action scenes in the book are brilliant. (In the same breath the romance is weak and rather misplaced.) As a thriller with tons of action, the book is among the best. Wilbur Smith is a master story teller, so he chooses well plotted places to twist the story on its head. He dispenses with his characters ruthlessly and hikes up the stakes so we as readers are panting for more. (I wondered if I could be so ruthless with any character of mine. It does take something.) He is at his very best with the men, the weapons, their camaraderie. Overall one of the fastest paced books I have read in a long time - one where you are skipping pages feverishly to know what's going to happen (even when you know it already!)

What did not work for me was the romance. For a hardcore professional engaged for a specific job, it was perhaps unprofessional at the least to quickly get into a romantic relationship with someone, his client and boss, who was already low on morale and emotional strength. For the woman to get into a relationship when so much is happening to her own daughter is another odd situation. For them to just walk off after securing the daughter and not expect a retaliation, or for that matter, not wanting to eliminate that threat or compromise with it did not make sense. What did they expect? That the pirates would keep quiet and let them go to college and go about their lives as normal?

Anyways those minor issues of mine aside, Mr. Smith is by far one of the best action thriller writers in the trade. For its small flaws, its a much recommended book by me and one you will enjoy if you enjoy the masala of Bollywood films. And hey, there is a TATA truck that plays an admirable role in helping the hero rescue the girl! Well done TATA!

Brilliant 3 Minute Video - VVS Laxman On Batting Skills

Why It's Important to Respond to Emails and Calls

There is a slight problem these days. People don't respond to calls, emails and smss. They will only respond if they have some work else they ignore.
Just bad etiquette.

Here's a real life story.

I usually send out Eid festival messages to a bunch of friends, say 30 of them. 20 do not respond. 5 respond cautiously after a few days (after the important ones are taken care of). 3 respond later in the evening that same day. One responds in an hour.

But only one responds within a minute.

Now comes the interesting part. The one who responds instantly is the busiest and most important of the lot. He is the head of a large political party. The order of importance in that list and their responses goes that same way. The more important people respond faster and the least important do not respond at all.
It shows clearly how the successful people think.

They look at closure. At instantly acknowledging and closing the loop. They do not weigh who is important and who is not. They are equally grateful to all for wishing them. The ones who are not successful are so because of their thought patterns. They respond only to those who are of some use to them. In most cases they are probably just plain lazy and do not understand the importance of closure.

I have been guilty of the same thing for many years - not looking beyond my nose. But now I know its a behavior pattern that is not good for anyone. It's best to close everything. There was a time when I used to pride myself on having the last word in any exchange - letters, emails. I lost the edge when it came to smss and whatsapp messages. But I am regaining some form there these days.

Yesterday morning I called a friend to wish him on his birthday. He does not answer. I send him a message wishing him. He does not acknowledge. The whole day. Pity. I am sure he would say he was busy but aren't we all? Where have we lost this elementary etiquette? Why are we so involved with ourselves that we do not have time to even acknowledge with the slightest 'thanks' or 'later' or a similar word? When have we started ranking people as important and not important? And then we are all so upset when people do the same thing to us. When they do not return our compliments, when they do not close things.

If the universal principles of 'you get what you give' holds, this does not bode well. It does not bode well for me either because I am at the receiving end too and its an effect of something I did. Anyway I am into self-correction mode now. I made a list of all the open-ended businesses in my life and have promised myself to close them. I made up my mind not to make promises I cannot honour - most of which I do to those nearest to me. I made up my mind to have the last word in every conversation -big or small, worthy or worthless.

Closure is important. Delivery is important. Keeping our promise is important. Most importantly acknowledging others and their presence and actions is important. If we cannot, the richness of life peels away layer by layer until our tree is bare again.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Auto Driver Guitarist - I Don't Know Why But Worth a Watch

I am sure that most may have seen this on fb. But I would still like to share it (and keep it).

I don't know why. Perhaps it reminds me of stuff we were, stuff we could have become, stuff we still are. I must confess there was a time after my engineering days that I wanted to become a taxi driver. In fact there is a character in my first book who is like that.

When you watch the gentleman play the guitar you realise that nothing's wrong with life. It's not that we all need to be Jimmy Hendricks or Rehman. It's enough to be us.

It's enough that we can pick up the guitar and play it when we want to. It's perfect exactly as it is.

Anything else in that setting will taint that spirit.

And it might help to remember that everyone we meet carries this magic!

One more thing - what the gentleman says about the guitar will probably hold good for anything - "don't give up on the guitar and the guitar won't give up on you".

Anjali - Make Someone Happy Game

While going to school Anjali saw a couple of school buses pass by with school children peering out of the windows and remembered something.
'You know,' she said animatedly. 'Last year when Samaira and I were together in the bus we used to play a game.'
'What game?' I asked.
'How to make people happy,' she said.

Sounded interesting.
'How?' I asked.
'We wave at uncles and aunties who are on the road. They will be all serious till then and when they see us waving they smile. Whoever makes more people happy wins.'

Nice game. May I could try it too.

I pulled her leg.
'Why don't you make me happy?' I asked all serious.
She smiled shyly and did not know what to say.

'No I was just joking,' I said. 'You make me the happiest person in the world.'
She smiled. I smiled.

The world is a happy place.

Anjali - Soft Drinks and Strength

Anjali's school has been rather clear about 'good food' and 'bad food' from the beginning. So for Anjali, soft drinks etc are categorised into 'bad food' along with the usual suspects. When she was perhaps three or four we used to hear a lot about 'bad food' when she saw chocolates and chips etc (which didn't really stop her from eating them). These days we don't hear much about them.

Today we were watching a TV commercial. A Bollywood superstar was driving a jeep along with his friends and they are picking up courage to do something really brave. Like driving through an approaching sandstorm. Then one of them produces the magic potion for courage and strength in a green bottle and they drink it and the next moment they go through the sand storm and arrive safely on the other side.
There was a moment's silence.

'As if soft drinks will give them strength,' said she.
I nodded.
'They actually take away your strength,' she added.
I nodded again.
'Just imagine how many children must be seeing this and thinking they will get strength,' she pondered.
I nodded.
'They do anything,' she said, disgusted with the whole idea.

Yeah. Wonder why we put up with this stuff when even a child can see through this. I think I should ask her what she thinks of some other ads.

A Poem - Slow Down Mummy

This is something I picked right out of a facebook share. 
Nice enough to share some more.

I love this - 

Slow down mummy, there is no need to rush,
slow down mummy, what is all the fuss?
Slow down mummy, make yourself a cup tea.
Slow down mummy, come and spend some time with me.
Slow down mummy, let's put our boots on and go out for a walk,
let's kick at piles of leaves, and smile and laugh and talk.
Slow down mummy, you look ever so tired,
come sit and snuggle under the duvet and rest with me a while.
Slow down mummy, those dirty dishes can wait,
slow down mummy, let's have some fun, let's bake a cake!
Slow down mummy I know you work a lot,
but sometimes mummy, its nice when you just stop.
Sit with us a minute,
& listen to our day,
spend a cherished moment,
because our childhood is not here to stay!
Rebekah.Knight (c)2011

Thursday, July 23, 2015

GoodFellas - Movie Review

Got back to watching GoodFellas again. Nothing good about these fellows really. And guess what - it's made from a book called the 'Wiseguy' written by Nicholas Pilleggi. How many great films are made from books is what amazes me.

'Wiseguy' chronicles the real life story of gangster Henry Hill. Hill's initiation in the gangster life as an 11 year old ('As far as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster') till the end when he has no option but to be a state witness who helps secure convictions of all his old associates and bosses (who now want him killed). The rapidly unfolding story is shown superbly in Martin Scorsese's film.

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, Robert De Niro as Jimmy Burke, Joe Pesci as Tommy are gangsters connected to the Lucchesse family. Jimmy is known for his heists, robbing highway trucks and big tipping, Tommy is a psychopathic robber who is trigger happy and Henry is someone who loves being with the gangsters. It all builds up nicely until Jimmy pulls off the Air France heist, the largest till then. Then he starts bumping off his team mates one by one in his insecurity. Tommy is killed by the mafia in retaliation for an indiscriminate killing he does. Henry is stuck in a drug habit and a mistress. Henry finally ends up being a witness and gets his former pals arrested.

In real life Henry died of natural causes as a free man. Jimmy and Paul died in prison and Tommy was shot by the mafia. Made in 1990 by Martin Scorsese 'Goodfellas' is acknowledged as one of the greatest films of all time. It got Joe Pesci an Academy Award for best supporting actor.

There's a couple more gangster movies on the list to revisit. Fargo and the Godfather series.

Lagaan - Movie Review

When I was young I had a journal in which I made many secret entries. Stuff from Reader's Digest that I found interesting (when I grew up I didn't know why some people looked down on RD), about movies that I saw, who with, where etc and stuff like. Losing that diary was one of the greatest tragedies of mine because it had so many wonderful quotes and thoughts - I am still searching for one quote - written by an army general about the qualities of a leader. Anyway my friend Koni still ribs me about my movie reviews from then.

I did not restart the journaling process until the blog happened. But by then many experiences had gone by and many movies too. So when I see an old movie I liked it and review it, I feel like I am back at those journal days. Lagaan was one such movie that choked me with its emotional roller coaster (sports dramas do that to me all the time) and I remember watching the movie swinging wildly from one high to another. No one was happier than me when Bhuvan whacked that six off the last ball.

Watching these movies with Anjali is fun. She is an avid watcher. She gets up to dance when songs play and imitates the actors on screen.

This time Lagaan was different for me - as all books and movies are. I am always amazed at how much our perceptions show us only what we want, how we remember only what we want. I can see where the story teller chose to hold back and where he let go. Bhuvan's belief in the greater cause, his clarity and belief in taking the risk. his motivational techniques to draw the others into his enterprise, how an honest effort draws help from unexpected sources, how principles of equality and justice form the basis of their effort and so much more. It's such a complex story, of an India we still can't decipher, with all its undercurrents of caste, community, rich and poor, that I wonder what anyone who does not understand these equations makes of it.

But watching Lagaan again was nice. We wondered what happened to Gracy Singh - two huge hits and then she disappeared. Its a funny life. Also when Lagaan was first launched there was nothing in its promotions about cricket so when we did find out that the entire second half was a cricket match it blew my mind. How could anyone conceive such a long cricket match and get away with it. But you show stuff honestly, people do get drawn into the story and watching this game was as good as watching any cricketing thriller.

Superb stuff. Ashutosh Gowariker, take a bow.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Link - 20 Best Netflix Films

The ones that got away - Chef, A Most Wanted Man, Kill Bill and Mean Girls. But it can be set right soon.

The Leader Who Had No Title - Robin Sharma

Robin Sharma's latest 'The leader Who Had No Title' could not have come at a more appropriate time for this world. He addresses many issues that plague current society - and though the setting is the USA, it fits the Indian scenario perfectly too. We have too many people waiting for things to happen, for guarantees and insurances etc. before they turn in good work. Work that really defines us and grows us. Whatever happened to the Zorba like approach to work? The book is written in his loosely fictionalised self-help manner.
Jaico Books, 196 p, Rs. 199

Blake is a war veteran who is low on energy and purpose. He gets a job in a bookshop and is not doing very well. One day he bumps into a weirdly dressed old man Tommy who claims to be Blake's father's friend. Tommy, for his eccentricities, is much accomplished. Apart from  being financially well off, he is the best salesman of the same bookstore chain for the past five years. Tommy is only interested in doing best work. He chooses not to get promoted and instead do his job well. For that he moves to places where there are bigger challenges so he can make a bigger difference. Tommy assures  Blake that whatever happened so far in his life has only been preparation - adversities included - so get set for greatness. He tells Blake that his life could change too if he followed the LWT principles. LWT is of course Lead Without a Title. The principles would be revealed by four teachers and it would take a day.

Tom tells Blake that growing and developing leadership talent of every single person throughout the organisation faster than their competition is the only way forward. The idea is that you don't need authority - you already have the power to do the best you can in your area of work. It requires one to be excellent at their role - a conscious choice to lead their role.

Leadership is for everyone. 

Leadership isn't something we need to practice only at work. We need to practice leadership within every arena we play.

The big day begins by a visit to two graves in a cemetery freshly dug by Tom. The graves contain two tablets (one has 10 human regrets and the other has 10 rewards of LWT) on how one could live a life full of purpose and power.

They go to meet the first teacher Anna, a beautiful housekeeper in a hotel who is the first teacher. She tells Blake that You Don't Need a Title to Be a Leader. She gives nothing less than her very best to her work. She says that success is not about luck, its consciously created. Anna believes she has one of the best jobs in the world. She also asks him to follow the principles of the acronym IMAGE (Innovation, Mastery, Authenticity, Guts, Ethics). One practice she advocates is to follow the Daily 5 - 5 small acts a day towards your most important goals.

They move on to meet Ty Boyd an ex skiing champion who teaches Blake thatTurbulent Times Build Great Leaders. He says lean into the change that you are resisting. The fear you move through when you go to the edge of the limits actually causes your limits to expand. He teaches the principles of living as SPARK (Speak with Candor, Prioritise, Adversity Breeds Opportunity, Respond versus React, Kudos for everyone).

From there they go to the gardener CEO Jackson Chan who teaches Blake that The Deeper Your Relationships, the Stronger the Leadership. Its about people and how to make them contribute. His acronym is HUMAN (Helpfulness, Understanding, Mingle, Amuse, Nurture).

Lastly they meet a massage therapist Jet Brisley who teaches him that To Be a Great Leader First Become a Great Person. His acronym is SHINE (See Clearly, Health is Wealth, Inspiration Matters, Neglect Not Your Family, Elevate Your Lifestyle). He also gives 7 fundamentals of Personal Leadership - Learning, Affirmations, Visualisation, Journaling,  Goal Setting, Exercise, Nutrition)

Some lines from the book
Success is created through performance of a few small daily disciplines that stack up over time to produce achievements far beyond anything you could have ever planned for.

The real key is to bring some emotion, energy and passion into the equation.

Daily ripples of superior performance will add up to outrageous success over time.

Change is always the messiest in the middle. 

An organisation that has a culture where everyone is afraid to speak candidly is a place where people live amid delusion and fantasy.

All that we really want we already have.

Greatness is an inner event with outer consequences. Once you awaken your inner leader, worldly success is the guaranteed result.

The key ideas are that you don't need a position or permission to do your best work, work defines you, going out of your comfort zone should be the main aim for constant growth, believe you're doing great work, be human and help others. I am all for the idea of personal leadership because its the path to secure leadership. The four characters start well but soon its as if he lost interest in them - the last one hurries through his stuff. the acronyms did not work for me because I'd never remember what they stood for - too complicated. I'd have liked it to stick to the core idea much more and engage in it completely. But that said, its main idea of Personal Leadership is very relevant and it has a lot of great content that any layman can identify with

Carlito's Way - Movie Review

Brian De Palma (Scarface, Untouchables, Mission: Impossible) directs Al Pacino who plays Carlito Brigante, a hardened NY gangster and Sean Penn  who plays Dave Kleinfeld, his lawyer friend, in this gangster movie. Why am I watching so many gangster movies? But as the movie unfolds in Hindi film style, I felt it was more a love story than anything else. And Brian De Palma handles the love scenes very well indeed.

A hardened New York gangster involved in drug dealing and other offences, Carlito Brigante escapes a sentence of 30 years and comes out after having served only five years due to some technical fault that his lawyer friend finds in the investigation. He wants to go straight, save up money and head off to the Bahamas to live a peaceful life renting cars. But things are not so easy as he gets drawn into one situation or another - first with his cousin and then with his lawyer friend who gets him into deep trouble with the Italian mafia by bumping off one of the dons.

But the real story is this. Carlito meets his ex-love Gail after five years. He has ditched her when he went for the 30 year sentence. She is unhappy at being dumped by him. He says he did that because he knew she would have waited for him. Whoa! What's that if it's not a love story my friend. (The small scene at the restaurant - not many scenes have shown that longing, that feeling of coming home. Al Pacino surprises you with his ability to step into such contrasting roles.) The two lovers reconcile and plan a life together. The mafia is gunning for his life as are other enemies on the inside and the outside as Carlito plans his escape. The climax has a train station scene where Gail is waiting for Carlito to get away. The Grand Central station reminds you of the scene in 'The Untouchables' and De Palma leads us through it by the hand.

I loved the scene when Carlito and Gail meet in the restaurant. It is very sensitively shown - the embrace - and the feeling the two lovers have for one another. Their love scene also is beautifully shown and that's when I realised that its not a gangster story - its a love story after all. How much will Carlito now risk for his love? Al Pacino, Sean Penn are brilliant as usual.

Now for the next gangster movie. Good fellas?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Pulp Fiction - Movie Review

I still need to get my head around this one even after having watched it and having read about it. The movie, nicely titled into parts - The Gold Watch, The Bonnie Episode etc as Quentin Tarantino normally does - unfolds in its own ways and you enjoy each separately but I struggled to put it all together. The sequences are not chronological. It took me a while to understand what really happened and when did Vince really die and why and what was Butch's role in the story and why he behaves the way he does. Quentin Tarantino completely messes with your head as he plays out long sequences with his characters, as they casually discuss stuff from cheese burgers to god's miracles and what not and suddenly the scene moves into a tense situation  where guns are being flashed or people are being shot and stabbed. Tarantino stretches those moments with great relish. All the time there is some nice music playing in the background.

I will write down the story - more for myself. A couple of contract killers, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winnfield (Samuel Jackson), working for a gangster Marsellus Wallace are given the job of bringing back a briefcase. They go and get it - in the process killing off a few people who double crossed the boss. On the way back Winnfield and Vega have a disagreement - that their surviving a close range shooting at the murder scene was a miracle. Vega turns to ask the informer in the back seat and accidentally shoots him, blowing his brains all over them and the car. They head to their friend Jimmy (Tarantino) who has a problem keeping the body and the car as his wife won't like it and they get a mob cleaner to clean it up.

The two gangsters are given Jimmy's T shirts and shorts to wear and they head for breakfast at a diner. At the diner they bump into a hold up staged by two robbers, a man called Ringo and a woman called Honeybunny, and manage to save the briefcase. They then meet their boss who is busy fixing a boxing match with boxer Butch Coolidge. Having given the briefcase to the boss Vega goes to entertain Wallace's wife Mia who is a drug addict. She almost kills herself by overdose at the end of the evening. Vega panics and goes back to the guy who sold him the heroin and they retrieve her by stabbing her in the heart with an adrenaline shot.

Meanwhile Butch Coolidge does not honour Marsellus Wallace's agreement to throw the match and instead wins it - he kills his opponent in the ring. Butch plans to run away with his girlfriend before the gangsters get him but he discovers she has not packed the gold watch given to him by his father, an ex-army man. He returns to his apartment knowing that the gangsters would be waiting for him, and lets himself in, finds the watch and is about to make himself a snack when he notices a gun on the counter. He hears a sound and finds Vincent Vega emerging from the bathroom. He shoots Vincent and makes good his escape.

As luck would have it, Marsellus Wallace spots him at a traffic signal. Butch drives his car into Wallace. The car is hit by another car and a badly hurt Butch is chased by a badly hurt Wallace who keeps firing his gun wildly shooting passersby. They fall into a shop owned by a homosexual deviant who captures the wounded men, ties them up and calls his homosexual friend who starts with raping Wallace. Butch unties himself and escapes, kills the shop owner and frees Wallace from being further raped. Wallace fires his rapist in his privates and slowly watches him suffer and also lets Butch go for rescuing him. Butch takes the rapist's bike and runs away with his girlfriend. Meanwhile Jules is in all likelihood walking the earth, seeking divine direction.

The film got 7 nominations at the Oscars and won the one for screenplay. Travolta's dying career was given a shot in the arm with this film they say. Many of Tarantino's old favorites show up. Uma Thurman is perfect in her role as Mia, Samuel Jackson is in one of his best roles as Jules, Bruce Willis as the neurotic Butch Coolidge, Pulp Fiction is just too much movie for one viewing. Got to watch it again. But now I get it - why Pulp Fiction is considered up there. One also wonders why genius has that arrogance - like a Rushdie has or a Tarantino - as they mock at you and play with the medium. And you, despite knowing that you are being mocked at, cannot but admire them for their sheer brilliance and ingenuity.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Two Lovely Books Full of Cartoons - Sudhir Dar

Recently read two fine books full of cartoons by Sudhir Dar - 'The Mad, Mad World of Elections' and 'The Best of Sudhir Dar'. I don't know if we can call cartoons as read or enjoyed but I read and enjoyed the many cartoons by Sudhir Dar immensely. He is highly accomplished and one wonders why I have not registered his name before. The cartoons were collections drawn over 40 years for different newspapers and magazines including Pioneer, Hindustan Times, Delhi Times and Outlook. And they are really good.

Born in 1932 in Allahabad with a Masters in Geography, he worked for the AIR and then Air India (sales promotion). From 1960s he went into cartooning seriously for The Statesman and later on for the Hindustan Times with a cartoon called 'This is it'. He won awards nationally and internationally - the International CLIO awards in the USA is one - and he represented India in the International Cartoonists Conference in London etc.

Sudhir Dar has a keen eye for politics and he makes some bold statements on the criminalisation of politics, money in elections, party hopping candidates. I like his teenager cartoons with their irreverent looks and responses, his Delhi cartoons - buses and pollution being main issues.

These days I realise I am enjoying reading cartoons as much as I did when I was a kid. The newspaper is serving me that purpose only. Plan to get myself more cartoon books.

Leadership@Infosys - (Edited by) Matt Barney

This book compiles leadership thoughts from Infosys Ltd. from inception till it became a huge success. It is a collection of thoughts and essays by the Infosys leaders and edited by Matt Barney, VP and Director of Infosys Leadership Institute.
Portfolio, Penguin, 225 p, Rs. 699

The book starts at the beginning - in 1981 when 7 promoters started the company with a capital of Rs. 10000. How did the founding promoters lead the company through those early and uncertain days? Interestingly the first thing the promoters focused on was to be the "most respected company". They specifically took the focus off revenue and profits. They wanted to do the right thing, however tough the path and never took a short cut.

The initial challenge as always was to attract smart people. The smart people also need to have a value system to work with. Hence the company developed the C - LIFE value system of core values. C - LIFE stands for C- Customer delight, L - Leadership by example, I - Integrity and transparency, F - Fairness, E - Excellence.
A key core value has always been - team above self. (This is something leaders understand the most.)

The value system is defined by Mr. Narayana Murthy - as having the ability to accept deferred gratification, working as per team rules, keeping interest of the team ahead of self and accepting leadership. It's important to subordinate your ego and celebrate the success of others. Wise words indeed. If we can let go of the ego we can go a long way!

The key attributes thus became - Sacrifice, Deferred gratification, Team work, Following accepted protocols, Enjoying others success, Subordinate ego, Accept leadership. The core team's way of working was to start from a zero base every time, agree to disagree and to make decisions based on data. This in turn led to a culture of - Openness, Meritocracy, Speed, Imagination and Excellence in execution.

Measuring Leaders Objectively
The company uses the Rausch family of psychometric tests including the 360 degree Multi Facet Rausch Model.
Leaders were measured by the Infosys Leadership Institute's leadership dimensions which are -

  • Strategic leadership (unique positioning, differentiation) 
  • Change/Transition/Adversity Leadership (anticipating and leading through resistance, managing crises and integrating new lines of business)
  • Operational leadership (flawless execution)
  • Talent leadership (individual and team performance)
  • Relationship and networking Leadership (social capital asset management)
  • Content leadership (triumphing as a thought leader) 
  • Entrepreneurial leadership (launching new businesses and innovative offerings).

Strategic leadership
Leaders must - create strategies ahead of competition, adapt vision in advance and devise approaches to create unique values.

Change leadership
The main causes of change are - External / Leadership / Mission and strategy / Culture / Management practices / Structure / Systems / Climate
The only data point to be considered for change was - what's good for Infosys.
(One contributor shared his thoughts on how he approached change.
Why the need to change, why and what needs to change, how to change and how to make it work.)

Operational leadership
The key themes to achieve Operational Leadership are - Attention to detail, Empowerment, Lead by example and Humility

Talent leadership
First recognise that building blocks are people (it's amazing how we miss this point). How people are managed is the competitive advantage any company gets. Disengaged employees are a sign that the leader has to change something. (A leader is defined as one who has followers.)
In this context, its worth watching this TED talk.

Talent leadership includes the following - Selection, Induction, Goal setting, Feedback, Developing people, Employee engagement.

1) Selection of people was on cognitive ability and work sample
2) Induction included stuff on company values, work culture, buddy and environment bonding
3) Employee engagement (defined as how well the employee feels connected to the organisation mission) includes making employees feel some amount of control over their destiny, empowering them and believing in them.

(Commitment comes from shared values. He mentions the Frey story of commitment - Frey looked for answers from his team and built the policies on their support - a good case for employee engagement.)

Lack of self confidence was seen as an outcome of - lack of knowing the big picture, lack of skills, not involved in goal setting, lack of resources, no culture of allowing for mistakes, reluctance coming from being punished for initiative earlier.

To empower people - get them to see the big picture, create ownership, provide resources, enable skills / knowledge and support mistakes

Shared objectives are a prerequisite for empowerment. Performance management - clearly defined expectations and variance with measures

Pitfalls of why leaders don't engage - pain versus gain, belief in people, fear of redundancy, fear of mistakes, win-win, walk the talk

4) Goal setting
The team sets goals that are difficult but achievable.
Feedback - listen and provide feedback that is positive and negative

Relationship and networking leadership
Ethical influence - Reciprocity, Liking, Authority, Consensus, Consistency and Scarcity

Web of influence - extends to Employees, Peers, Customers and Partners

Content leadership
Thought leadership - it is all about preparation, character, principles, personality, performance, experience, expression and influence

Entrepreneurial leadership
The Carpe diem 'seize the day' types and Intrapreneurs. Intrapreneurs are business executives who start their own business ventures within the corporate entity.

10 commandments of Intrapreneurs 1) Build your team 2) Share credit widely 3) Ask for advise before you ask for resources 4) Under promise and over deliver 5) Do all jobs needed to get things done regardless of job description 6) its easier to ask for forgiveness than permission 7) keep best interests of the company and its customers in mind 8) come to work each day willing to be fired 9) b true to your goals, be realistic about how to achieve them 10) Honor and educate your sponsors

Entrepreneurial aptitudes - neuroticism (self confidence, calm headed), extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

This book contains a lot of work that's been done and captured in in the leadership aspect in Indfosys and documents plenty of good thoughts and experiences. It is nicely compiled. If there is one problem, it is a bit too academic in tone but that must be deliberate - it is meant for serous reading anyway. That said, its a nice, easy read with much takeaway for aspiring leaders. Thanks Milind for sharing!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My Experiments With Compliments

So I fixed myself a target of complimenting five people yesterday. I managed only two and they were easy targets. The other three never appeared. What I mean is that the people appeared but I had no compliments to give.

No wait! I did compliment three people yesterday. No wait, I did four!!
This tree that shed lovely pink flowers

(I suddenly realised that I left myself out. Correction to be carried out to day.)

Of course it made me feel good when I complimented people. They also felt good.
Shifts energy. It's growth stuff - outside the comfort zone. More importantly, hug the ego stuff.

But it also made me aware of how difficult it is to let go of the ego and wholeheartedly compliment. Like I was telling a friend 'I don't mind pushing the envelope with outright flattery because I do want to be there - even being outrageously insincere. On the edge of little lies.' Who knows little lies may
be what the world needs. What's to say that a poet is not a little liar, pushing the envelope with his grand notions, broad sweeps and bold interpretations? All that makes us feel good.

Target 5
Today I hope to achieve my target of complimenting five people and at this rate slowly get into the habit of complimenting people.

Stuck space and energy
I understand what this means though - my current inability or reluctance to compliment (even when i want to). It only means that I can see no good within, no fun within. To correct that mindset is the main aim now, so the space inside is flowing and clean, fun and flexible. Inside out is best, but then outside in also works (fake it till you make it!) hence the experiment of complimenting others while complimenting myself. Go, go.

Exercise material
I always encourage friends and family to  do things outside their comfort zone as a growth exercise. One thing I suggest to students is the compliment exercise. But now I realise that even if they all did one compliment a day for the next 21 days, its still a great growth exercise.

Possible outcomes
Two possible results of the shift in yesterday's energy. I got two unexpected, inbound calls that were good for my self-worth. Energy shifts towards the positive are always good.

More tomorrow. While at this complimenting business, I cannot but compliment you for your patience and your support as you read this blog through seasons lean and fat, moods on and off. I would also like to compliment you on your fine taste (but then I would be complimenting myself!)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Old People

Yesterday Koni and I were driving and saw an old man pulling a rickshaw. The man could hardly drag the empty rickshaw over the slightest bump. But he has to work I guess, to keep his life going and that of his families. Sad.

Then we saw another old man who was carrying boxes of fruit and he could not hold them and it fell and he fell too in the middle of the road. He slowly picked himself up and his boxes and was trying to go wherever he was going.

Then we saw an old driver, really old, in an old Qualis. The guy was totally fagged out and slumped over the wheel. He would not be less than 75 or 80 years and very very tired.

Lastly we saw the watchman near Ranjan's house. He seemed to have had a stroke and walked and spoke funny. Again not a day less then 75 and he was still working for his salary surely.

All this in a distance of 3 kms. Why are these old people who can barely stand working? Surely they have homes, demands at home, hungry mouths, dead dreams, dying hopes, no respite. The only thing that drives them to work is that little extra they make which they hope will pay off some loan, some bill, and hope that somehow life will turn for the better.

And on the other hand we see the fat, overweight middle and rich class people, having more than they can consume. Somewhere this inequality must be bridged. This nonsense corrected.

Two Jakes - Movie Review

It's a sequel to Chinatown so I made no connections whatsoever. However the detective played by Jack Nicholson seemed a bit of a character so it came as no surprise that they made a sequel and shelved the third one because this (Two Jakes) did not do very well. No surprises because they probably needed to give out small story books explaining the story after the movie is done.

The story is as complicated as it can get. Jake (Nicholson) is hired by another Jake, a rich businessman, to spy on his wife. Jake (the detective) finds evidence and lets Jake the b catch his wife red handed. The entire conversation is taped. Only Jake the b shoots the offending lover - who turns out to be his business partner Bodine. He does not shoot the wife though. In the conversations Jake the d finds evidence of some links to his old lover, now dead, and her daughter. He also finds a rich oil tycoon digging for oil. He also thinks Jake murdered the partner to get complete rights over the land under which they believe is oil. One thing leads to another and in the end we find everyone is kind of nice and happy and there's oil that the philandering wife of Jake the b is likely to inherit.  Meanwhile Jake the d has had an affair with the dead man's wife (for no reason really) and finds that the adulteress is actually his ex-lover's daughter.

You know what. Give this one a miss by a wide range. Since this one is missable, I'd like to think Chinatown is missable too. Not even Jack Nicholson can save this because he directed himself. Why did I get into this I don't know.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Thought for the Day - Flattery, Little Lies and Ego

Trouble complimenting someone? Looking for perfection before you say something nice to someone? Does the moment have to surpass all previous moments to qualify for a compliment?

Chances are you are like most (at least like me) if you are like that. Critical observer. Guardian of the truth (and only the truth). The self-righteous. (The truth could also be that you are stuck in a critical world where you cannot see good in anything. Or in many things.)
Oh what a beautiful world! 
Such critical thinking can pretty much result in one sort of reality - an unhappy world that falls short of expectation always (i.e. no fun, no celebration). A world that's not aligned to your exacting standards. People, behavior, rules, reality, laws - everything is not up to your standards.

A change of perspective could change the energy fellows.

Let's loosen our exacting standards a bit. Let's keep our egos aside and compliment even those that are below par for us. Let us flatter people for a lark. Let us tell little lies (like Fleetwood Mac once encouraged us to). What happens.

People feel good. At least temporarily. Then they come back. They want to come back to places where they feel good right? They will come back to you! They cannot get enough of you!!

The condition? We only have to keep our ego aside for a while and playact. (But who wants people to feel good? It will make me feel bad won't it?)

Look at people around you. Look at the flatterers, the little liars, these are the ones who have no egos. They are faring better than the others with the money, the women, the fame, the success. They are having fun. They are flexible, creative mischievous. On the other hand, the guardians of truth, the stiff upper lip, the big ego guys are alone. No fun in their space. Its all about being right.

Let go of the ego boss. It's ok. Flatter someone just for the heck of it. Remember your ego is the one that's stopping you from doing it. Start with the first five people you meet - one little compliment. Go on - do it. Go on. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Donnie Brasco - Movie Review

Some movies are so riveting that you cannot keep away from them for too long. Donnie Brasco falls into that category. I casually started to watch it and got sucked in completely. When I had to take a break I could not wait to get back to it. Terrific drama and human conflict. As always, nothing better than real life to provide the most incredible stories - DB is a real story.

Some time in the 1970s (the real story), an undercover FBI cop Joe Pistone infiltrated the powerful Bonnano family under the name Donnie Brasco. Donnie poses as a jeweller and befriends an aging hit man Lefty, who vouches for him and introduces him to the gang. Based on the Pistone revelations over a period of time the FBI makes many convictions. DB gets an award and a cheque fro 500 dollars. The mafia has an open hit on Donnie Brasco worth some USD 500000 and he currently lives in an undisclosed location with his wife. The movie is an adaptation of his book.

Al Pacino as Lefty Ruggiero, the aging hit man is a complete natural and his chemistry with the young Donnie Brasco played by Johnny Depp is unbelievably good. The bond the two share, knowing that both their lives are at stake if their trust goes wrong, the undercurrent of danger they live in, the uncertain and not so glamorous world of the gangsters, their vulnerable human side is shown only too well. The scene at the hospital where  Al Pacino's son is admitted for drug overdose shows the heart of a father bleeding for his errant son. And the scene when Pacino is 'sent for' after the news that Donnie Brasco is an FBI agent is revealed - he steps back into the house after kissing his wife goodnight and telling her not to stay up for him, and slowly takes off all his belongings from his body and places them in a drawer - the tragic consequences of a mafia gangster's life. Or the temperamental, violent and vulnerable Sonny Black trying to hold his own as the chief of a not-too-efficient unit. Pacino and Depp are razor sharp, so good that you cannot but admire such good craftsmanship.

Donnie Brasco haunts you with strong emotions you would not believe capable of being produced by a gang of hardened gangsters.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

The story behind this fascinating first book is as tragic as the book is comical and entertaining. John Kennedy Toole (1937-1969) wrote 'A Confederacy of Dunces' in the early sixties, in his twenties, tried to get it published, could not handle the depression of rejection and killed himself at the age of 32. His mother who believed in the manuscript pursued it and eventually got it published in 1980, 11 years after Toole's death. Ironically, it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981. 'A Confederacy of Dunces' is a racy, fun book full of exotic characters from New Orleans.

Meet Ignatius J. Reilly, college educated, homebody who has his own ideas about changing the world through demonstrations and political protests. He has a supercilious attitude to life, thinks he is above everything and everyone, does not work and lives off his alcoholic, arthritic and indulgent mother. Ignatius is a hypochondriac, and constantly complains of his ill health, chiefly, of his pyloric valve which he fears immensely and uses as an excuse not to work. Ignatius is overweight, flatulent, unhygienic, loud mouthed (though extremely articulate and eloquent), arrogant and an inveterate liar with no qualms about sacrificing anyone for his needs. Ignatius's passions get activated when he is trying to outdo his lady love from college, the rebellious Myrna Minkoff, a political activist.

The book takes off on a small scene at a railway station where the oddly dressed Ignatius attracts the attention of a new patrolman to the beat, the thin, easily-intimidated Mancuso. Ignatius and his mother are rescued from being arrested by an old man who interferes and gets himself arrested. On the way home the mother and son duo stops by a seedy bar run by the infamous Lana Lee, ably assisted by Darlene and Burma Jones. The cast consists of an amazing bunch of characters including - Santa Battaglia, Claude. Mr. Levy, Mrs. Levy, Gonsalves, Miss Trixie, Prof Talc, George, Claude, Clyde - and the story unfolds deliciously and leads one through the streets of New Orleans through demonstrations, clothes factories, hot dog carts, movies, porn magazines, live shows and what not.

The beauty of the work hits you when you hit the last 100 pages. It all settles in seamlessly, every motive is clear and resolved, all justice done. Best of all, the last scene when Myrna comes to rescue the seemingly repulsive Ignatius, it lifts itself in just a couple of scenes to a great love story. What brilliant writing and what a waste of such prodigious talent. To write such an accomplished novel in his twenties is really astounding and I am so glad I read it. In many ways it reminded me of Adrian Mole's tragi-comic existence and his lady love Pandora, who is also a politician. Thanks Sanjay Reddy for recommending the book and my good friend and owner of all the good books in the world, Vinod Ekbote, for lending it to me.  

Link - 34 Books By Indian Authors That Everyone Must Read

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

'Oi' Campaign Against Using Phones While Driving

I happened to see the 'Oi' campaign someplace on the net and lost the link. But the 'Oi' stuck to my head. It conveyed what a lot of other communication did not. No excuse for being on the phone while driving.

The first ad, is the 'Oi' campaign.

The second is something I found while searching for it. More intense.

Worth a look if you drive.

Anjali - But That's also a Word Na

We were discussing a singing reality show that Anjali loves watching.
"I love N", she declared. "She does not know Hindi but she sings the whole song. Now she is learning Gujrathi and Bengali also."
'Wow!' I said. 'Who is teaching her?'

'There's this boy in the competition who taught her some Bengali,' she said excitedly. ' And you know. He taught her some words and she did not know the meaning of those words. They meant 'I hate you'.
She giggled.

I instantly took the right side.
'Very bad. All bad words he taught her.'
Her voice came back instantly. Softly.
'But they are also words na.'

Yeah. Why judge? Why can't you see the fun part of it? Ok, ok.

Link - Sam Berns TED Talk "My Philosophy for a Happy Life"

He is good 17 year old Mr. Sam Berns (October 1996 - January 2014)

His three principles for being happy
1) Be ok with the things you can't do because there are so many things you can do
2) Surround myself with people I want to be with
3) Keep moving forward (but keep moving)
4) Never miss a party if you can help it

A Tale of Two Young Kids

This is a story in progress but its fascinating to watch it unfold. It's a tale of two young kids that I have seen growing for the past ten years or more - right from their primary school days. One is the son of the maid and the other is the son of the chap who cleans the car.

Now the son of the chap who cleans the car. He is a serious, hardy fellow who seemed pretty focused on all that he did. He'd come around to help his father even when he was small and I'd always make him sit beside. He was respectful but had an air of dignity around him - no unnecessary subservient behavior. His father is a weak, ill looking chap and I always wonder how he manages so much work - I also know he has to work his frail frame longer hours to educate his children - the son and the daughter. The son showed promise and his father would tell me how he was doing well in his studies etc. One day I saw the son's picture on the huge vinyl posters outside his school - he scored the highest marks in the school. Wow! Then Intermediate and wonder of wonders - he cracked the engineering exam and got himself a seat in NIT, Trichy which is a great achievement. He met me before he went and I gave him some books to read including 'The Men Within' for some inspiration.

That's not his story though. His story is this. Every time he comes back for vacation, this boy who studies Engineering in a college higher ranked than the one I went to, has no qualms in picking up the wash rag and standing in for his father almost every day. He shows the same dedication to work, carries the same dignity and nothing seems out of place as he does a diligent job of washing the car. I am amazed at the values this kid has. Every time I talk to him he has the same self assurance and self awareness, the same smile. Fantastic.

Then the son of the maid. She lost her husband when the children were small, ten years ago. She worked her way and educated them. She has a spirit you can see of wanting to make her life better, to make her children enjoy a good life. You could see it in the way she dressed them up, the way she herself dressed or carried herself, with pride. Both her children, again a boy and a girl, studied through school and have now come to Intermediate.

And this is where the stories take different turns. She promised the kid a motorcycle for clearing his exams perhaps and the boy is seen at odd hours with three or four of his friends (all looking like they are up to no good if you ask me) riding that poor bike, dressed in flashy clothes, a cocky air to them. I asked the maid's father, who also works here, how the boy was faring. He said the boy had become very surly and rude and is out of control. There is no way he will lift a finger to help his mother, forget about studying well.

I do not know much about the second kid and I hope he has the sense to pull back and focus on his studies. It may be difficult I can see. But they have this shining example right before their eyes - this kid who comes to clean this car every morning - and the bright future that lies ahead of him. A future that can equalise all that his father had not experienced. In a few years this kid can buy himself houses and cars bigger than the ones his father and mother worked at.

In all likelihood the maid's kid is not heading in that direction. I cannot foresee a great future for him - not in the conventional path (he might become a great leader, who knows). The same backgrounds, same opportunities. The only difference seems to be the discipline and values that the kids imbibed. The difference between tough love and indulgent love shows clearly and its such a pity because this other kid could have (hopefully might still) gone the same way.

I watch their stories unfold with great fascination. But whatever happens to the story, I cannot ever forget the sight of the boy, second year Mechanical Engineering  at NIT, Trichy, stolidly stepping forward to clean the car. It's wonderful.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Escape to Victory - Movie Review

This was a movie we missed during those school days and man was it one big regret. We'd hear endlessly from those who saw it about Pele's bicycle kick and kick ourselves in various ways (including the bicycle one) for missing out. Sylvester Stallone, Pele, football stars and mostly an escape film. We loved escape films. How did this one escape us? And then, a time when we did not know that technology would bring everything into our control, we thought we'd missed that film forever. It was tragic beyond words. We had to gulp our sorrow down.

Then I found this movie lying with a friend and got it home to open and savor it with care and love. Ah, this was the one that got away. So I sat down alone and watched the simple story of an Allies team of POWs take on a German team (second World War stuff) in an exhibition match. The Allies team is led by Michael Caine (his character Colby) who had been a professional footballer prior to getting mixed up in the war. He starts recruiting players, many of them great footballers. Meanwhile there is an escape plan too. Some training, some escaping by Hatch (Sly) who only knows American football, and some more intrigue before the heavily loaded game begins. Germany are quickly up 4-0. Pele is hurt, one key player injured out of the game. Bad referee. Allies play with 10 players hoping Pele will come back. Allies claw back, one goal, two goals, three. Pele comes in one hand incapacitated. Bicycle kick. Last minute penalty chance for Germans to go ahead. Super Sly makes a super save. Crowd charges in. Players escape in commotion. Escape to victory.

Mazaa aa gaya bhai. Worth waiting all these years. I can imagine how it must have been watching this movie in those fourteen year old minds. Escape. Freedom. Bicycle kicks. Fantastic.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Chak De! India - Movie Review

Watching 'Chak De! India' with Anjali was a new experience. If I liked the movie the first time, I liked it even more now. The first time I watched it with bias surely - one was the strong anti-Shahrukh bias (which I have now more or less reconciled to and can watch him non-judgmentally) and two the fact that the movie came close on the release of The Men Within. Still, the biases did not colour me so much because even back then I thought Shahrukh did a great job and I knew that the structure of the film cannot but be what was presented as in any sports drama.

I especially liked Shahrukh's intense and pained character this time. Shows in the poster. The scene where the girls understand that India was greater than its individual states always stood out. This time I liked one more thing - the line - Acche team babe ke liye taqat ki nahin neeyat ki zaroorat hai (I am sure my friend Tarun Chauhan will agree - he is a big one for neeyat). This line is all about the values that bind the team, the values that will form the pillars of the team culture. The match with the men's team was a nice stroke and the way the men acknowledge the women's team's efforts is another highlight. Anjali was beside herself - do they win or lose? Of course my issues with the coach not being able to tame the rebellious Bindiya Naik (nice line, marke aayenge lekin haarke nahin aayenge), or teach the others how to break the man to man marking, or even having to tell his goalie what to do in the final shot remain. But then I am nitpicking as usual.

The song 'Maula mere' is haunting. Have to get it back into the playlist. Lovely movie. It brought back memories of those times. Will watch again. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Inside Out - Movie Review

How can you make a movie about the play of emotions in a young child's mind? Well it seems you can and successfully too. All the pundits who keep saying - it's too much internal stuff and not enough external stuff - go take a hike fellows. Use some imagination.

So we get into the mind of a young eleven year old kid, Riley, and meet five of her major emotions - Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear. Joy assumes leadership and believes that Sadness might just be destabilising all the good work that she is doing to keep Riley happy. The five emotions live in Headquarters of course and control Riley through a console. Headquarters is connected to five personality islands - family, honesty, friendship, goofball and hockey(?) - and they are fueled by our emotions.

Riley has had a happy time in Minnesota playing ice hockey, having a fun time with friends etc etc. But her world gets derailed when the family moves to San Francisco. Joy is challenged in the process as Sadness touches a crucial moment on Riley's first day at school. Fear, Anger, Disgust get into the act. Riley gets isolated, disconnected from school and family. The five islands start falling apart - goofball, honesty, friendship. Terrible danger is ahead for Riley. It all seems to be Sadness's fault. But is it?

The way our emotions take over and how they create havoc is shown so well that even seven year old Anjali got it. ("It's about feeling all your emotions. It's ok to feel them" she said.) More importantly the idea that one must feel feelings, be it sadness or whatever, to return back to stability is shown so well. In the destabilised state Joy realises that only when Riley feels her sadness can she come out of her unhappiness. Now where's that console? We all need to feel all our emotions. This movie might just heal and connect people back to reality.

There are so many complex ideas that are shown so well too - there is a descent into the subconscious, an abstract thought comes up, a favorite childhood fantasy, deepest fears, forgotten memories in a memory dump, core memories, a dream production house, a train of thought. If it were a novel you'd think Salman Rushdie wrote it - it's so clever. Watch watch. I might want to watch it again and see if I can get another insight into the whole thing. Super stuff.

Thoughtfulness in Action - A Rare Attribute

It was the end of the semester (some two months ago). My first foray at teaching 'Arts Management and Digital Marketing' ended. It was a rich learning experience for me with an enthusiastic, growth-oriented class of students of the final semester of the Masters of Performing Arts course, Department of Dance, SN College, University of Hyderabad. My students, experts at Kuchipudi and Bharathanatyam, Niyanthri, Suchismita, Sneha G, Snehalatha, Jani Miya, Aparna, Aiswarya, Rohini and Ashwini were effusive and eloquent in expressing their gratitude to me and I could see it in their eyes that my efforts and ideas had made some impact. I don't know if I conveyed it but they taught me much too.

Last classes are all types. We move on. I remember one last class. Our Hindi teacher Mr. Tiwari from St. Alphonso's broke down and sobbed like a child during his last class when we were doing our Intermediate. I cannot even imagine that he was sorry at our going, some loss of some other part of his life must have triggered it. But it does make you wonder as a teacher when you see so much potential going out - with fear and trepidation, hope and courage - and you hope you did all to equip them.

Ashwini, whose boldness and sureness of action stands out, stepped up on this last class and gave me two gifts. One a fine poster she made (she is good with craft work and design) which said 'You are the creator of your destiny' and another a bookmark which said 'If you can dream it you can do it' on one side and on another 'You are never too old to set a new goal or to dream a new dream'. I can imagine the trouble she must have taken to make these gifts for me and the courage to show her appreciation of what she learned. There are times when it helps to look at that bookmark or the poster and nod. Yes, so it is.

And so I thank Ashwini for her thoughtfulness which is another rare attribute in people, and her action orientation, which resulted in these two gifts. Thoughtfulness is one thing, but thoughtfulness in action is rare. It's these little things that make our days - like a mail I received from an old client about how he benefited from our association that makes the effort seem worth it. I urge you, as I urge myself, put the thought into action.

And I wish Ashwini, and all others from the class, all the best. As I say, the class never ends. One always learns and teachers are always around to chip in. And thank you all for all that you taught. 

Link - Tribute to Michael Jackson's Moonwalk

A Love Story - How I Sorted Out My Relationship with my Printer

My HP Laserjet 1020 has been with me for some 10 years now I guess. She's sturdy, reliable and gives me little room for complaints. It's a big part of my life obviously as she prints out stuff that I write non-judgmentally, again and again. Rarely has she misbehaved or broken down or asked for anything. Naturally I treat her badly and with disdain.

Last week she started misbehaving. She just went quiet. I would give a print order and she would stare at me silently. No familiar, yes master, kind of sounds. Pure silence. I switched her on and off, opened the cartridge and shut it. Nothing. Then I looked at the power cable, the data cable. She printed one page and then went back into silence mode.

Some sort of a protest? What was wrong with her?

I called in expert help. Sagar checked control panel and troubleshoot, cables and stuff. Once again she printed a sheet and went back into silent mode. He gave up, called his cousin and fixed up a technician to help me. I was to meet him today and handover my loyal, silent 1020. I could not help overhearing Sagar's conversation with his cousin. He said that she's printing one page and was silent thereafter. The cousin said that the sensors may be the problem area. While leaving Sagar also told me that the fine dust that floats around could be an issue too.

After he left I looked at 1020. She looked back silently at me. I fiddled a bit and then gave up.

Somehow it struck me that 1020 needed some TLC. I wanted to give her that much TLC before I handed it over to the technicians. This morning I carefully took 1020 out from her dusty place near my feet. I took off the cables and put her right on the main table. Then I got some clean cotton and carefully cleaned all the insides. There was much dust and it came off slowly. I blew into the insides and some more dust flew out. I cleaned the outsides next, the nooks, dusty as ever. She looked much better. I cleared up her space where she resides. I fitted the cartridge back, plugged in the power and data cables, switched on the power. I gave a print command.

She responded as she did on her first day and delivered a first class printout.

I guess that is what many old relationships need. A bit of TLC. Some bringing back on to the table, giving the attention it deserves, clearing the dust and the cobwebs, showing that we still care. Just that twenty minutes of TLC, of attention and she's back. I could have complained, shook my head, taken it to the technicians. For one wild moment, Sagar also hinted at getting a replacement.

I could also choose to give it attention and love.

If a printer can respond, surely people can. Anyway, suffice to say, me and my HP Laserjet 1020 are back together in a loving, supporting relationship. Life is blissful. The love story is alive and kicking.