Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cal - Bernard Mac Laverty

Pick a time in Ireland when it's burning. The Catholics and the Protestants are fighting one another and killing each other. Put a love story in the crucible - and it simmers with drama and conflict.

Cal is a Catholic. He lives with his father who works in an abattoir. Cal was working there too but couldn't stand the place. So he is out on dole, bumming cigarettes from his father. Their house is under threat from the Protestant gang. Cal's pals from school, Crilly and gang, are up in arms against the Protestants and their means are not pretty. They draft Cal as a driver on their missions - Cal is a reluctant team member. Arson, murder, bombings. And Cal falls in love with the widow of a man he has helped to kill, Marcella, who works in a library and lives with her in laws with her little daughter.

Cal's house is finally burned down. Cal's father goes insane. Cal tries to go away from the violence and into love - he finds a cottage in Marcella's property. He finds love and peace briefly. But before he can tell Marcella about his role, his intent, he is drawn by Crilly and gang again. This time however they are caught and Cal's dreams come crashing around him.

Intense - and driven by this sense of hopelessness that you know will never let him live happily. But he finds the peace if for a moment and hopefully Marcella will understand. Cal was made into an award winning movie with Helen Mirren and John Lynch. Thanks Vinod bhai for giving me the book and urging me to read it. From one hopeless romantic to another.

Meeting Shri Y.B. Satyanaranaya - Author of 'My Father Balaiah'

I loved reading the book 'My Father Balaiah' and reviewed it on my blog. The book has made waves for many reasons - all the right ones - including making a guest appearance with Rajnikanth in his movie 'Kabali' (he is seen reading it in one of the early scenes in the movie. Imagine my surprise when I received a mail from the author Mr. Y.B. Satyanarayana, telling me that he enjoyed reading the blog. We connected over phone and made plans to meet and finally I met him a couple of days ago at his office 'Centre for Dalit Studies' in Tarnaka.
Shri Y.B. Satyanarayana and me
Mr. Satyanarayana has a genial manner and laughs easily. He spoke about his journey, the book, the avenues it opened. He spoke of how they could finally get more funds for the backward castes, how he gave a lecture at the Tata Trust, which was attended by 47 Directors from Tata group of companies including Cyrus Mistry and how Tata Trust has offered a grant to his projects. He told me about the work done at the Centre for Dalit Studies, where he is serving in the capacity of Secretary, the many camps they conduct. One such camp is the 'Summer Samurai Young Journalist's Camp' where several known media people and academics spoke to young children from residential schools. I offered my availability and asked him to count me in for any kind of work he thought fit for me.

CDS primarily tries to provide employable skills to Dalit students and sometimes place them too. Some of the work done by the CDS includes conducting courses on automotive servicing, electronic repair, laptop repair, hardware and networking, mobile servicing, DTP work, website designing, Electrician, carpentry, bar bending, painting, welding, building, plumbing, fashion designing, garments, beauticians - the idea is to target the communities that have no voice and give them employable skills.

(To know more about CDS please visit www.cdsindia.org
Address: 12-5-149/6/B1, MNR Plaza, Vijayapuri Colony, Tarnaka, Secunderabad - 500017 
Email: cdshyd99@gmail.com
For free training programs contact - D. Dinesh Kumar, Hyderabad - 9550450067, Mangesh (Nalgonda) - 9908065328, 9848904008 and P. Shankar (Medak) - 944113181)

We spoke for almost two hours and I had to finally leave because I had another engagement. I could not leave without buying two copies of the book from this remarkable person, one for myself and one for my brother, both signed by him.

I promised to meet him again before he embarked on a trip to the US to visit his daughters but also to speak at some Universities including Harvard and Yale. I am happy for him - its a tale that deserves to be told. I am also looking forward to associate with him and speak to the participants of his camps and share my thoughts. Mostly I am looking forward to enjoying another fine chat about his experiences and his plans and to hear him laugh in that child-like manner of his.

Thought for the Day - Celebrate the Moment

Our lives are filled with moments that come in randomly, by choice, and we experience them. There are different ways to deal with the moment at hand - run away from it, get bored, wish it were better, wish you were someplace else, or plain stay stuck in the future or the past. The common wisdom of the day tells us to be present - because being in the now will ease much of the ache of living, and relieves us of the burdens of the past and the future.

Having come to the now, what do we do with the moment at hand. We could still be indifferent to the moment and wait for it to get up and dance. It was while pondering over this moment in an otherwise average setting that I realised that I could add to the moment. I could approach the moment with this idea - to celebrate the moment - whatever it be.

'Celebrate the moment' then. Accept what it brings to you. Enjoy it. Feel it. Celebrate it. The word celebrate works well because it gently suffuses into the space, does not place any extra burden and allows it to soak in.

A celebration of life in small moments.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Sunday Cricket Lessons - First Defend, Then Attack

Once again I decided to put myself under fire to learn. I braved the fast bowlers and walked in to bat without the helmet that so restricted me last time. I trusted myself despite my fuzzy eyesight. The bowlers were good - Kartik, Sukhen, Abdulla.

I was seeing the ball well enough because I committed myself to watch the ball early and on to the bat. But I noticed that I was making the odd error once in while and was getting out. Upon a quick analysis I realised I was planning to hit the ball and was therefore committing myself to hit first and only at the last moment defend the good ball - by which time it was too late.

I decided to change strategy.

Instead of looking to hit as the first approach, I decided to defend. These were good bowlers after all. And while defending if I found a delivery that begged to be hit I would. Now that change in approach suddenly made my game that much more tighter. I was more secure, got out lesser number of times and my shots were coming from a more stable base.

It works well, this approach and all my big innings have been based on this principle - look to defend first and from a stable position where security if first assured, look to attack the loose ball. Less chancy. More effective. More secure and stable.

It's not a bad idea to take to life - instead of being chancy and hoping, you could first secure yourself and punish the delivery that erred. 

The Art of Creative Thinking - Rod Judkins

I liked those little books - "The Art of Thinking Clearly" and "The Little Decision Book" and picked this up along with them. It looked interesting with several concepts put together. There are many stories and examples which came in quite handy.
Create without restriction like Salvador Dali did - who was a writer, painter, movie maker, performer, designer, jeweller, architect and many things together. You could create anything with a creative mind.
Think like a beginner - a group of people were asked to swap their functions and come up with ideas and how being inexperienced helped them in looking at the solutions differently.
Get inspired by Michelangelo who was brought up by quarrymen and worked on stone from six years of age and sculpted - he accumulated 1000s of hours of practice by the time he was twelve.
Convey the idea well - else you could end up like the ineffective PowerPoint that failed to highlight the lacunae in the Spaceship Columbia and completely lost the point.
Be yourself as represented by Coco Chanel who viewed fashion differently.
Robert De Niro's great commitment to making Raging bull (apart from convincing everyone else, he put on 65 kilos for the role) or the student who produced his own Shakespearean plays and played all parts until his production became a hit.
Commitment exemplified by the Beatles who played 1200 hours during a four year period in Hamburg playing 8 hours a day to live audiences up to 2 in the morning and bettering themselves with feedback each day. Creativity came out of work and work and work.
Create positive art out of negatives by looking at it deeply - the fact that it creates strong reactions is good enough to continue that path.
Create stuff that is completely useless but create for the heck of it - like the lemon juicer that does not work.
The story of Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar who taught astrophysics to a class of two - and was laughed at because he had to travel 80 miles to that rather insignificant class - but all three in that class got Nobel prizes later.
Doubt everything all the time as Richard Feynman did.
How a deep sense of inadequacy fueled greater work like David Bowie's who felt pretty inadequate at the height of his work. Or John Lennon who wrote Help in a bout of inadequacy.
Be inspired by nature - the Bird's nest stadium, Opera House (inspired by a orange), Bullet Train inspired by a kingfisher.
Instead of being an expert try to work it out together in the classroom - stand at the back, make the audience stand, ask their perspectives.
Paulo Coelho was committed to the mental asylum thrice by his parents for his desire to write and how he prevailed despite electric shocks.
Be counter intuitive like Paul Samuelson who suggested counter intuitive measures after the World War II.
Be Inside Out - the story of dressing up ad agency people like old people to understand what they face and then design the advertisement for old people based on that experience.
Francis Ford Coppola who shot 230 hours of footage in 16 months (from the original six weeks) for Apocalypse Now and took 3 years to edit the same - creating more material and picking the masterpiece from that. Picasso produced thousands of art works but only exhibited 5%.

The beauty of the broken Venus de Milo or how Starbucks launches stuff that is still not perfect is a lesson to not aim to achieve perfection - there's beauty in the undone stuff.
The 90-10 principle - 10% is what happens to you and 90% is your response to it. The key difference to successful creative people is their reaction to negative events.
Edison and Tesla fallout and the war over AC and DC current.
The brilliant story of Adolf and Rudolf Dassler who created Adidas and Puma in their small town in Germany and competed to make the best trainers. The contrasting style s of Constable and Turner who egged each other on with their rivalry. The study by Tim Rees where students performed better after being criticised by rivals.

Note down stuff that touches you so you can use it somewhere else - like how Yale graduate Maya Lin designed the Vietnam War Memorial with 60000 names on the shiny marble inspired by the memorial in Yale fr the World War II veterans.
How Steve Jobs made a huge difference with a small amount of design knowledge. He did only what interested him and realised that for good design you need less.
Richard Branson who created  an empire of 400 companies and 60000 employees without knowing the difference between net and gross profit. He did not need to know that to create what he did.
How to be childish to create something interesting - draw the picture of the person next to you. The study on value of play by using fun activities and breaking them into 30 minute slots at work.

How not to lose momentum in creative work as exemplified by Scott Fitzgerald who maintained momentum by doing nothing but write and rewrite until his one idea was done with great energy.
Have no goals like William Burroughs who sometimes put sentences at random and broke the restraint imposed by goals.
Be in the moment and not judging each moment. "Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake."
Andy Warhol's open studio with no privacy where anyone could go and create.
Plan to have more accidents - the problem is not the accident its you. Be more receptive to the unexpected. X Rays/ current, immunology, radio activity, penicillin were all discovered thanks to accidents.
Or like Ed Woods be really bad and stick to it - he was voted the Worst Director of all Time. Auction Bay - ebay and the story of the person who collected broken printers. There are markets for everything including the broken and the bad.
Get inspired by the past.
Work different hours and discover different beats like the guy who worked on chaos by working 26 hours a day. Or Charles Dickens who walked at night to meet interesting characters.

Be willing to look stupid - total freedom is ignorance.
Truman Capote's story of his interest in a farmers murder - how he travelled 1700 miles to interview people and establish facts and made 8000 pages of notes before writing the bestselling book "Cold Blood". Opportunities exist under our nose.

Microsoft changes departments for its employees just to see if they can produce different ideas. Lucian Freud who kept his studio bare and free of distractions worked long hours, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and eliminated all distractions.
Starbucks was created because Howard Schultz wanted to create a company with health insurance, something his father never had.
Chuck Close who was a photorealist artist who lost mobility and then became an excellent miniature artist. Or Django Reinhardt who became a great guitarist with a unique style because he had lost two finger in one hand.
Or simply - tell the truth.

Suspend judgment. The soundless performance in Royal Albert Hall is as good as the greatest symphony.
How James Joyce wrote the way he wanted without worrying about selling, audiences etc.
Kurt Cobain who loved his obscurity, slept under a bridge in his most creative years, and later would go sleep in a motel  when he lost the comfort of obscurity.
Robert Zimmerman who moved to NY and became Bob Dylan - he had to find people who understood his wavelength and share his values. Shared knowledge creates energy.
Create from your innermost demons. Our most worth while works come from our innermost demons. Find what you stand for - write a manifesto, a statement of principles, a call to action. How Apple says no to 1000s of projects so they can work on the few that are important.
How Raymond Chandler consciously sets four hours a day for doing nothing.
The janitor in Pixar who became an animator taking an after work programming course and worked on Toy Story, Finding Nemo etc. Contributions can come from anybody. Let them express their ideas.

Get into credit - make money. Creativity and money go together.
Look forward to disappointment- how Beethoven lost hearing but produced great work after that. Think with your feelings and not mere thoughts.
How to bring chaos to order.
Take what you need - writing out a great work word by word to find inspiration.
"Merrily we roll along" was a failure when it first released but he reworked and reworked until it became a hit.
Eric Blair dressed in rags to understand poverty- he was to be George Orwell later.
Be anonymous - the screen writer who could only write anonymously.
Achieving work life balance like the writer who only wrote so much - he did not make much nor did he find much fame but he was .
Giles Brindley - and the 1983 Urologist convention where he proved his discovery that led to Viagra. First he explained, then showed images and then the real thing.
Use opportunity like Woody Allen did when he wrote out Warren Beatty from the movie 'What's new pussycat?' They hired Woody Allen to write jokes for USD 30000+cameo and Woody wrote himself in and wrote Beatty out.
Contradict yourself more. Think contradictorily.
Take jokes seriously. Have fun. Humor switches pattern.
Or discover life like the Inuit who came to America and just wandered all over until he spent all his money and then settled down in that place for the rest of his life.
Immerse yourself in what you love - Tarantino who worked at a video rental and discussed films with his customers.

Reject acceptances, accept rejections - Jonathan Livingston Seagull was famously rejected 140 times. Be as annoying as possible - eat the poor children - said Jonathan Swift and even provided recipes to do so.
Start playful - the idea of Simpsons that came in a last minute presentation. Play should be fun, purposeless.

And on and

on. Creativity is then about creating for the purpose of creating. Being committed, Having fun. Bringing deep concentration and intense focus. Putting in the hours. Knowing how to present it. Seeking inspiration from everywhere - including your rivals. I love the 'immerse yourself' bit and the James Joyce bit of 'writing as he pleased'. Creating art for art's sake and nothing functional. Brave stuff but then all creation is pushing a boundary - one thought at a time. Lots of nice little stories.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Odessa File - Movie Review

I read the Frederick Forsyth novel when in school and still remember much of the story and the impact it had on me about the SS, its horrific methods. As with all his novels the research astounds you. So to watch the 1974 movie was a privilege - and it did not let me down one bit.

Peter Miller (a young Jon Voight) is a freelance journalist and a footloose and happy bachelor. He is heading home in Hamburg when news of John F Kennedy's assassination is confirmed on the radio. He pulls by to the side of the road, sees an ambulance flash by and follows it on instinct. It leads him to a suicide case - an old Jew who gassed himself. The police officer who is his friend calls him later and gives him the old man's writings - he survived the concentration camp at Riga while his wife did not and he is unhappy that the SS Officers who were in charge of the termination of many Jews at Riga were going about scotfree. In fact the Butcher of Riga, one SS Commandant called Roschmann was alive and spotted by him in Hamburg just a few days ago. The old man complains to the police but they tell him that there is no evidence and he kills himself - dejected.

Miller takes up the case, little realising that the old Nazi SS structure was still alive and the SS officers were meeting in secret in a group called the Odessa that was trying to keep the Nazi spirit alive. In fact they had a plan to exterminate Israel through rocket bombings - chemical, bacterial and nuclear - in collusion with Egypt. Israel is aware of the plan and sends a team to Germany to find the Odessa and stop them. They find Miller by mistake and realise they could join forces and help one another. Meanwhile the Odessa and its sympathisers in the government try to eliminate Miller and his girlfriend. Miller uses the Israeli agents help, disguises himself as a Nazi soldier, enters the Odessa and tracks down Roschmann. It's another story that Roschmann has also killed his father so justice is done finally.

Taut and full of action, the movie has some other names that make you sit up. Andrew Lloyd Webber for instance provided the movie score. Am glad I watched it. I could pretty much imagine myself watching it in Sterling or Sangeet in the 80s.  

Melbourne - Movie Review

An Irani classic. Amirali and Sara, a young, childless couple, are leaving Teheran and relocating to Melbourne for a three year period. It's their last day in Teheran and they are doing many things - packing, doing last minute stuff, handing over the apartment, dealing with family etc. In the midst of this chaos, their neighbour's nanny drops in and asks Sara if she could look after the newly born baby for an hour because she has some important work to do.

As they go about their work the baby is asleep. The nanny does not turn up. Sometime during the day Amirali discovers that the baby is not moving - and soon after, that she is dead. The nanny has disappeared, her phone is not working, the father of the child appears and demands the baby but Amirali thwarts him off with a lie, only to discover soon that the baby is in the middle of a separation between the father and the mother. As the couple do not understand why and what happened, as they come to terms with their guilt and confusion, they realise that the nanny was missing. Perhaps the baby was already dead when she gave it to them? The videos shot earlier in the day confirm that the baby was not dead then - she moved. Perhaps it died because of SIDS - Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? Even as the couple decides to go to the police because the nanny seems to be the culprit, she arrives. The couple somehow tell the nanny to come back later, leave the baby with an unsuspecting neighbour and head off to Melbourne.

As Irani movies go it's as brilliant as any other I have seen. With just two main characters, a small house, the drama is taut, the range of human emotion and fallibility is at its extreme. Superb. 

Patton - Movie Review

The film was made in 1970. It is a biopic of US General George Patton (1885-1945), a tough combat man, with clear ideas about combat, a foul mouth, a brave heart and an undiplomatic soul. Consequently the soldier, who hails from a family that served in several wars, loses out a bit in the numbers race but on achievements and respect earned, few match George Patton. Story and screenplay are by Francis Ford Coppola and George C. Scott turns in an Oscar winning performance as Patton which he did not accept.

The movie starts with an iconic scene. Patton walks on stage behind which is a huge US flag and delivers an address to his army, the Third Army before D Day in World War II. It's a scene worth watching. "You don't win wars by dying for your country," he says, "you win by making the enemy soldiers die for their country". It's a superb speech, filled with foul, uncompromising and tough language. Patton leads his highly disciplined army swiftly across France to deliver a critical blow to Germany in the Battle of Bulge. That pretty much puts the German resistance to an end. Patton's understanding of history (he frequently refers to historical wars and believes he fought those battles too), his uncanny judgment, clear strategy and tactics, an incurable need to battle and to go forward in attack, (we are not holding our position ever, attack), a disdain for soldiers who give up and suffer from battle fatigue, and much more - makes him a much liked and much hated person. He is much respected by his opponents the Germans who finally succumb to their nemesis. Patton was also involved in design of armored vehicles, a sabre and other such military equipment. Enough said - he was an old soldier's soul.

The movie brings to life the spirit of Patton who seems born to battle, to live and die like a soldier, and covers his life from his time spent in Morocco, to being called upon to discipline a ragged US unit that was beaten badly by Rommel's German army, his rampage across Sicily where he beats UK General Montgomery to reach Messina first and then finally reaching the pinnacle of his glory as commander of the Third Army in the decisive Battle of the Bulge.

One of my favorite leadership quotes comes from him - 'Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."

George Scott is brilliant as Patton. What was equally interesting is the fact that he refused to accept the Oscar on principle - that all art is equal and one cannot be compared to another. Heroes everywhere. But that's one iconic movie struck off the list. I wonder, the 1970s seem to be a great period for creative work - in films specially, both Hollywood and Hindi cinema.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Adult Question Series - But You're So Short

I visited Anjali's school 'Daksha' today on the occasion of their annual Academic Fair. It was a grand affair with all  the children displaying projects ranging from English riddles, Math problems, Science concepts and explaining their models earnestly. 'Good morning Uncle, Happy Republic Day' they'd begin and perhaps shake your hand before launching into the explanation of their project. Some would have a challenge and if you succeeded (most times helped by the unsuspecting kids) you were given stars. I gathered many stars in the English section. Anjali and Mansi made a complex drip irrigation model which worked rather well.

While in the science section I heard a young boy explain an impressive project he had prepared on forestation and deforestation. It was a lovely piece of work with trees, soil and grass -  all beautifully depicted. He had prepared well and spoke with a lovely, infectious smile and with lots of enthusiasm and energy.

I finished with him and moved on to the next stall when I heard a loud voice.
'You're in 4th class?' said the voice accusingly. It appeared that perhaps the man with the voice knew the boy in question.
'Yes,' said the boy.
'Really? You're in 4th class?' came the stupid question again loudly - perhaps hoping that the boy might demote himself voluntarily.
'Yes uncle,' said the boy.

'Arre but you're so short,' said the man with great sensitivity. I cringed inside wondering how the young kid must be feeling. All the fun of having made a beautiful project, preparing and explaining would fade now with this totally irrelevant factor of how tall he was. Of course there will be some helpful suggestion on what to eat and how much, whether the parents were feeding the right food, and maybe even a flashback of how well they used to eat when they were young. Obviously they have not eaten the right stuff going by their impaired brain development.

It's not the first time I have seen this happen. So many times adults revel in this - he is so short, so dark, so fat etc - talk right in the child's face. It's clearly not a fault - they are perfect as they are. Why feel superior by picking on little kids and messing with their life. Why make them feel less than, like something is wrong with them. Having said it the adults move on, content that they have messed someone up the kid and hopefully feeling better for it.

If you cannot say something encouraging, shut up. Take your insecurities, your failures some place else. But long as you are there, listen, let them speak, appreciate and smile. Make them feel good because then you will have secure people in the world who will become secure adults and leaders.

The more I see these stupid adult questions the more I feel that we should all be given one slap that is allowed - to slap an adult who does stupid things like these - and awaken them. Could be as helpful to them as they think their advise to the kids is. 

You'll See It When You Believe It - Dr. Wayne Dyer

The bestselling author of 'Your Erroneous Zones', therapist, writer and speaker says it all in the title - 'You Will See It When You Believe It'. I have experienced it much to my amazement - how much we see and do not - simply because of our training, beliefs and prejudices. Wayne urges us to see clearly, see the best possible scenario using the powerful weapon we have - our thoughts.

One of the first things that struck me was this excerpt from Peace Pilgrim as quoted in the book.

Some Signs and Symptoms of Inner Peace

A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on facts based on past experiences
An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment
A loss of interest in judging other people
A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others
A loss of interest in conflict
A loss of ability to worry
Frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation
Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature
Frequent attacks of smiling
An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it

Very nice.

Wayne Dyer talks of inner peace, about connectedness and oneness. About knowing that all is there. The book is divided into seven parts Transformation, Thought, Oneness, Abundance, Detachment, Synchronicity and Forgiveness.

To begin the process of personal transformation he suggests practicing the following - think of yourself and others as formless and as mere thoughts and feelings, be the observer (with yourself and others), go beyond your comfort zone, rip off the labels you have given yourself, clear yourself of negativity and judgment. Watch how your mind controls the body, meditate and be kind and understanding to yourself. Don't stagnate, don't take yourself too seriously, don't take others too seriously, flow easily, formlessly, don't be rigid.

He gives four principles to help your visualization - your thoughts come from your images so work on the images, all that you visualize is already here so feel the proximity, be willing and that's better than being determined, and realize that there is no such thing as failure.

Wayne urges you to be an awake dreamer. The underlying principles are - that time does not exist (so don't worry about how long it will take), there is no cause and effect (you don't have to do anything to get something), there is no beginning and no end (it can just happen), obstacles are opportunities (always), you create everything you need for the dream (you are the creator), reactions are real while characters are an illusion (take the emotion and drop the person) and the only way to know you are dreaming is to awaken. Seek to improve on a daily basis. In your mind see the possibility several times a day. Work on your thoughts than on your behavior, and remember, your circumstances do not make you, they reveal you.

To practice the principle of oneness - suspend thoughts of separateness for one hour and think you are connected to everything. Examine labels you give yourself. Realize that the journey and the goal are the same. When striking out verbally at those you love watch yourself, think of enemies as one with you. See everyone who comes into your life as  teacher.

On abundance he asks us to practice - whatever you place your focus on expands so be aware what you are thinking about. Transcend scarcity thinking. You are it all already just realize it. You own nothing so don't get too possessive. To fine tune into abundance he says - think of what you think you are worth, what do you think you deserve and what do you think is available for you,
To bring abundance into your life - be against nothing, say yes to everything. Make an effort to be thankful for what you have and who you are. Observe your mind and focus on what you want to expand. Do what you love and love what you do. Whatever you enjoy receiving in your life say 'I deserve this', Whenever you are tempted to give less, try giving a little extra instead.

On practicing detachment he says  - flow is one way of being detached. Since we are all energy we must allow energy to flow freely.  Networking helps to detach. A net worker finds it easier to give. to practice detachment. Flow with what you encounter rather than being inwardly critical. Try replacing competition with cooperation. Keep things circulating in your life, talk to yourself about your attitude of ownership Work each day at simply allowing loved ones to be without any attachments. Accept your form lovingly. Don't make people wrong.

"Money will come to you in sufficient amounts to take care of your need only when you stop needing more of it. the more you give away without any expectations, the more you will receive back."

To practice Synchronicity - remember everything in in sync. There are no mistakes, its all perfect. Take responsibility for your role within the larger drama at all times. Stop worrying. Quiet your mind and experience the perfect rhythm of the universe.  Review the three stages of enlightenment and ask yourself where you are. Trust your intuition. He says analysis is a violent act that breaks up the universe. Synthesis is the opposite of analysis.

And lastly practice Forgiveness - rid yourself of blame, revenge and judgment.

We are all one, we are energy, we are our feelings and thoughts. All we want is already there so stop worrying and practice being in the flow. Know that you are taken care of and you will be. Do your best and stay detached to the outcome. Enjoy life without attachment. Think in images, focus on outcomes and hold those images. Stop doubting. Start feeling the emotion of already having received. All good. I like the part of giving more when you feel like giving less. And flowing with what comes your way instead of being critical. To be more intuitive. And of course, to stop worrying.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

La La Land - Movie Review

The title did not enthuse me but Sagar was insistent that I watch this romantic musical. That it was directed by the young and talented Damien Chazelle of 'Whiplash' fame was good enough for me. And intriguing considering how intense 'Whiplash' was - to shift genres so easily.

But going by the 14 Oscar nominations, a record, the young man knows what he is doing. The movie is a fine one to watch though I won't place it among my all time great love stories or romances yet (maybe because it lacked some fun element?). Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) are - aspiring actress/ barista and musician/wants to save jazz person. Both talented, passionate but stuck for the right break from life. They meet, fall in love, help each other's dream along - he tells her to write a play with a single actor and perform and she nudges him towards his dream of opening his own jazz bar. Balancing reality with dreams is a tough place unless you believe that you are living your dream so the two have some tough times, make some compromises and split. Not before Sebastian gets a call from an agent who saw Mia's one act play and who has the perfect part for her. Mia lands it, her career takes off and all is well. The last part is when some years later Mia and her husband and child walk into a jazz bar Seb's and she realises Sebastian has also opened his dream jazz bar. Seb plays their signature tune and she leaves - not before one last look.

'City of Stars' stays in your mind. The other songs are nice. The movie is light and honest. There's still hope for simple, honest romances.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Angst (Fear) - Movie Review

1983. Angst is an Austrian film. It follows a psychopath who has been just released from jail. The first thing he does is after his release is go to drink espresso where he watches two flirty girls at the coffee shop. He barely controls an urge to do nasty things to them but the way he chews on his sausage is enough evidence on what he plans to do. The cinematography is brilliant. You want him to stop chewing on that sausage - there's so much violence in that act.

Next he gets into a taxi and finds the driver resembling his first girl friend. Once again he removes his shoe lace to strangle her but she senses it and gets away. Our man is constantly talking to himself in his mind and telling us what he is thinking all the time. He then finds a home, empty, and breaks in. He finds a grown man, an invalid who is also mentally challenged. Soon come an elderly lady and her good looking daughter. When they find out about the broken window our chap becomes uncontrollably excited at the prospect of killing them. He drowns the man first, smothers the old lady, stabs the young lady and then rapes her in the sticky drying blood. Then he takes all their bodies and dumps them in the car and heads back to the coffee shop again thrilled at the idea that he could scare his next victims with the sight of the bodies in the car boot. He gets caught by the cops while there owing to a small accident he gets into in his excitement.

What's brilliant about the movie is the pace at which it takes us along with the psychopath. The entire duration might not have been longer than the actual time - 90 minutes perhaps - so you are with him all the time almost. It's sickeningly crazy, the close ups, the background talk, the music and riveting. Erwin Leder in the lead role is chilling as the psychopath. Obviously not one to watch if you don't have a stomach for this kind of stuff but once it gets going it grips you - the guy is so crazy you just don't know what he will do next and why.

A Reverse Interview - Abhinay Interviews Me

While I interviewed Abhinay sometime ago, he decided to interview me. This is the link to his blog. He is a good interviewer - I found myself revealing far more of myself than I normally do.


Talk at the The Nephrologist's Convention "Batting on Two Wickets"

Dr. Krishnan kindly invited me to talk at the monthly Nephrologist's Convention on the 20th of January at Leonia Resorts. I was more than happy to oblige because he is one of my favorite doctors and people. The talk was to center around the two main themes of my life - cricket and writing and was part of a new initiative - to introduce topics beyond Nephrology.
Me and Dr. Krishnan

The talk flowed on these lines.

The Joke
I heard this joke when I was young and never used it. This is the perfect place to tell this joke. Three inpatients of a psychiatric ward are due for their review. The first one goes for his review and is asked to show where his feet are. He points to his hands and is rejected. The second is asked about his hands and he points to his feet and is rejected. The third is asked the same questions and he surprisingly points to the right parts. When he goes out the other two ask him how he did it when they failed. He points to his brains and says proudly – kidneys.
Batting on two wickets

I cannot speak at a Nephrologist's convention and not tell a kidney joke. But I love my kidneys and I am sure everyone here loves their kidneys as well – wherever they are.

Cricket and Similar Organ Transplants
There is a reason why I began this talk with that joke. Because in cricket we suffer from similar ailments where the wrong organs end up in the wrong place.. For instance, we fast bowlers are also referred to in ways that neurosurgeons and orthopedicians might find interesting. The general saying is that fast bowlers have their brains in their knees. Or in Hyderabadi "Dimag ghutnon mein hai".

Fast Bowling and Writing
Now fast bowlers are considered dumb by sportsmen standards. Sportsmen are considered dumb by normal standards. If society were sitting in a lecture hall like this, the smarter ones would be sitting up front, like the writers etc. The sportsmen would be occupying the last benches. And if the hall was to be filled exclusively with sportsmen, fast bowlers would still be among the last benches of the last benches. That’s how far we are from writing. Why a fast bowler become a writer.

The Curiosity Factor - How Can A Fast Bowler Also Be A Writer
I think the curiosity factor is how does a cricketer chooses a career like writing. And not just for a hobby. I gave up a nice paying job to write. Proves what they say about fast bowlers again. And again.

The Cricket Story
In the first part of my life, my interests lay with cricket. However I played with no creativity. I'd show up and hope things would happen. But things did not happen by themselves and we lost many times. It was a painful experience. After many such losses I decided one day to create.

Creativity in Cricket - Created a Win
That incident changed my life. I relate it everywhere – on talks on ownership, on process, on 10 x performances, on quality control. This was a match played between Osmania University and VST in 1986.

I had just been dropped from the Ranji Trophy side. I was desperate to get back in. The first match after being dropped I got six wickets. A five wicket haul would help my case further.  VST was a good side. I bowled my heart out 28 overs 2 maidens 128 runs and 2 wickets. VST got 350 in 90 overs. I was distraught. Something went in my mind. I decided to get the 128 runs I had given away. I told my captain I will open. He said yes. I went straight home to minimize distractions. I planned on playing all 90 overs. I planned on how not to get out - straight bat, no improvisations, no airy shots, no playing at balls outside my stumps, no letting ball hit pads, no cheeky runs. Every single way in which I could get out I tried to negate in my head. I did that until I got the picture clear in my head. Once the template was clear I slept. It took me six hours to get each detail in place - mentally.
Next morning I woke up early, picked my most comfortable clothes, my cap and headed to the ground. I warmed up, picked my kit and set out to bat.
I made one mistake when I was 28 - I poked at a delivery outside the off stump. The next mistake I made was in the 66th over. I tried to improvise a straight ball to the onside and was bowled. I got 158 not out by then in a score of 266. we won the match.

I had created the win. I designed, planned and executed it to perfection. I felt I could do anything after that.

A few things happened that day.

  • I felt I seized control from god. It looked like god also gave me the power to change circumstance if I willed it and if I prepared for it. I realized I had this formula to pretty much pull off anything. An impossible, seemingly impossible thing.
  • I can pull off 10x performances with no further preparation, no further skill, just a reorganization of my thought. 
  • If I take full responsibility, I get full freedom
  • I realised that if I needed to find a solution I needed to look deeper into the problem - however complicated it may look

It did not sink in immediately otherwise I would have done better at cricket. It sank in slowly that I could decide and pretty much pull off anything.

So after about two decades, I decided to bid my well paying, finance job good bye and jumped into the world of writing. Where I’d left cricket midway I decided I would not abandon my love story with writing. I am prepared to write for life.

The Writing Story
Writing is also a bit like the fast bowler's story. I work hard at it. I am not trained - have minimal skill. My first novel was written almost two decades ago. It had 1 lakh words. I wrote and rewrote it for five years, approached and got rejected by all the publishers in the world. Its still not published.But unlike cricket I had decided not to give up writing after one (hundred) rejections. So I wrote another which was also rejected, then another which was also rejected and then came the fourth which got published. 'The Men Within- A Cricketing Tale' was also made into a Telugu movie called Golconda High School.
Two more books after that and another one on the way.

You may ask, but what about the fine thoughts. How about creativity? Writer's block?
I work at writing as I should have worked at cricket. Very hard. I do not get my best thoughts upfront. Its only after several drafts, almost at the final drafts that I get the finest thoughts. That I can get the idea together. Writer's block or not, we write those three thousand words every day .

I do not believe creativity is a flash of inspiration. It’s that thought I get after I have explored the entire field of possibilities. As we write more, we get more honest and we get better as we work at it with an attitude to grow. The same thing happened to me in cricket - after many losses I got that urge to create that win.

Creativity and Responsibility
To me creativity is responsibility. It is ownership. Not 50%, not 90% but 100% ownership. That is when you understand the relationship between ownership and freedom, and creativity.

The Process Grows You - Betters You
From feeling no control at all over the process, we realize we can create something if we take ownership and go after it. After some experience of going hard at creating what we want we know we can do it simply, without struggle. With love. We can do more with less - as cricketers do with timing. We can say more without saying anything - as the greatest writers do.

What Helps me In Writing That I Learned from Cricket
Optimism, resilience, persistence. I am here for good. I will do what is required to learn the craft of writing. I will explore various mediums of expression for writing. I gave up in cricket when I was rejected once, here I will not. we will see it to the end of its line.

The Two Wickets Are The Same
That’s how the two wickets are not really different. I don’t think any two crafts can be different. The more I study the aspect of expertise, the more I realize they talk of putting in the number of hours to learn and get better, a learning mindset, a scientific approach that can replicate the process in the lab, concrete results.  Cricket, writing, nephrology are all the same. We can use the process to produce 10x performances.

Why Am I Here?
You seek out people who vibe on your wave length. A few years ago, almost seven years ago, when I had a kidney issue I was looking around for nephrologists. After meeting two doctors I chanced upon Dr. Krishnan. Even before I met him I saw this note on his door. It was something I read in a Readers Digest when I was young and had written it down. When I lost that diary I felt absolutely shattered.  When I saw the note printed and pasted on Dr. Krishnan's door I knew I found who I was searching for. Let me read it out to you.

To remember me
At a certain moment a doctor will determine that my brain has ceased to function and that, for all intents and purposes, my life has stopped.
When that happens don't call this my 'DEATHBED', call it my 'BED OF LIFE' and let my body be used by others to lead fuller lives.

Give my eyes to a man who has never seen a sunrise,
a baby's face or love in the eyes of a woman,

Give my heart to a person whose heart has caused nothing but endless days of pain,

Give my blood to a teenager who has been pulled from the wreckage of his car,

Give my kidneys to one who depended on a machine to exist from week to week,

Take my bone, my muscle, every nerve from my body to find a way to make a crippled child walk,

Explore every corner of my brain, take my cells and let them grow
so that someday a speechless boy will shout at the crack of a bat and a deaf girl will hear the sound of rain against her window

Burn what is left of me and scatter the ashes to the winds to help the flowers grow,

If you must bury something, let it be my faults and weakness and all my prejudices against my fellowmen,

Give my sins to the devil and my soul to God,

If you do what I asked, then I will live forever.

I wrote it on a piece of paper while I waited for Dr. Krishnan and when he came I told him how significant these lines were for me. I had been searching for them for 25 years. He gave it to me. And that began a fine relationship with one of the most compassionate men I have met.
And that’s why I am here as well.

Thank you

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Carnal Knowledge - Movie Review

Another 1971 classic. Much referred to in Robert Mckee's 'Story'. It follows the love lives of two friends from their days in college (a very young Jack Nicholson and surprise, Art Garfunkel of Simon and Garfunkel).

Art is a sensitive guy who falls in love with his women - sex is just a part of it - maybe not even an integral part. It's very cerebral and he almost idolises the women in his life. Jack on the other hand tries every trick in the book to bed them and moves from one conquest to another. For him women serve little purpose other than that. It starts brilliantly with Art falling for a woman and how his sensitivity provokes her into being sexually uninhibited. Jack can't stand this and secretly dates her and beds her - without Art knowing about it. He is consumed however that she will never love him like she does Art. Both men don't find the balance as they grow older - Art actually marries Susan (the same girl) and they separate. Jack goes from fling to fling until he finally runs out of steam. Extreme views to women, love and lust. Both suffer - one from a lack of physical pleasure and the other from the lack of a stabilising influence on his life.

Interesting movie.  The kind that make you think - hey I would have liked to write that. 

Leadership in Conflict

Another thing from the diary. How to take leadership position in a conflict and handle it best.

  • Decide to take leadership position i.e. do what it best for all concerned
  • Understand energy in the situation - where conflict is coming from and why 
  • In most cases it comes from a space where the other person is not heard
  • Change energy
  • Step back
  • Make other person feel more secure
  • Allow space for the other person to express
  • Listen 80%, talk 20% 
  • Seek participation
  • Allow them to feel control by seeking their participation
  • You express your fears honestly
  • See results

P.S. Don't use it to manipulate. Look win-win.

3 Steps to Abundance

I found it written in my old diary;

1. Recognise the inner and outer forces that conspire to make us believe in scarcity and thus free flow

2. Cultivate a spirit of abundance in our lives, celebrating the gift of life with joy and thanksgiving. Focus our thoughts and actions on things that bring a connection with all life.

3. Become a liberating and empowering force in the lives of those we interact with.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Telangana International Kite Festival 2017

I had heard of Kite Festivals in Hyderabad before but never went to attend one. Mainly because I am kite challenged. I could never tie up a kite or fly it with any great skill. I was certainly not as passionate as my friend Mohan who would go all the way to Gulzar House to buy the manja.
He would the proceed to cut a lot of unsuspecting kite flyers while losing to the big fish - the real predators who had good manja. For Mohan the process was always more interesting than the journey.
Kites in hand
I never got the hang of the kite fights and was happy to see my kite float happily in the blue skies and hoped no predator would come and cut my kite. But despite not being very passionate about it we did it as kids because all kids did it - but I never mastered the art. I still feel pretty foolish in the kite shop.
Anjali has to push the right buttons so every year she reminds me of kite flying. I buy her a kite and we try to fly it or go to some friend's house where her kite flying needs are met. This year also she reminded me of the kite flying business. Luckily Monica had heard of this Kite Festival - The Telangana International Kite Festival 2017  and asked us if we wanted to go with her. We could not go with her but we did make it in time to the Aga Khan International School, near the Shamshabad airport, on the Srisailam Road, which has a beautiful campus, to see some humongous kites flying in the grounds, along with many small ones.
Hundreds of people flying kites 
The road was packed with cars parked on either side and inside the school we saw beautiful grounds, shops selling kites and food and many volunteers to help.
The lovely Aga Khan School campus
There was stuff for kids - face painting etc so Anjali got her face painted.
Face painted
We watched some kites flying. We tried to fly our kites unsuccessfully and then ate some food before we returned - happy. A nice experience. Maybe next year we could go early and spend more time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My Mom Savithri

My mom, Kalabathula Savithri, eldest daughter of Kalabathula Venkayya, hailed from a tiny village called Padmanabha Cheruvu in West Godavari district. Her father was a respected government school teacher I was told. Her mother was the gentle and beautiful Sastrulamma. She had a sister too. Mom went to school and I always thought she discontinued after her 5th class. But I found a Teacher's Certificate certifying that she passed the Training School Leaving Certificate Exam in March 1948 (she was born on January 18, 1932) which means she was sixteen when she passed out as a teacher. She studied at the Government Secondary and Training School for Women, Narsapur and had passed out with 48%. G. Cattell was the Headmistress who signed the certificate with her beautiful handwriting. Mom signed in Telugu. 

The Headmistress's impression of her was "Very reliable, mild and pleasant. Takes corrections very well. Takes the initiative. A very fair teacher.' - signed on April 9, 1948. Pretty accurate.

This is how I remember her - happy with her coffee early in the morning

Turns out Mom and other trainees were tested in Physical Education (7 steps, 7 jumps, 7 hops, 7 skips, 7 rope skips, 7 ball throws, 50 yard run) in organised games and gymnastics - average. Then they were tested on handicrafts (very fair), character and conduct (v good). 

Mom scored higher than class average in Theory and Practice of Education (Principles of Education and School Administration), Methods of teaching school subjects (Language, Math, General Science, Home Science, History and Civics, Geography, Rural Social Problems).

 'Shows keen interest, very regular and improved, calm and cheerful, tries to do well' are other comments. She was pretty good with her attendance.  
Dad, Paruvu Venkanna, and Mom, Kalabathula Savithri (1970s)

Mom must have been pretty young when she married my father who was a full-fledged Engineer from the Guindy Engineering College, a voracious reader, with a finely acquired taste in music and a much wider world view than she could ever have. But from what I saw of her since the first memory of her, she never let her lack of education (I always thought she had studied only till her 5th until I found this certificate - how little we know of our own) get in the way. She always operated as an equal - be it with the Collector of the district, a Minster or even an actress. She had a presence, dignity and a strong character that made people of much higher status and standing respect her immensely.

Must have been early 50s - just after their marriage

For example, her best friends were all highly qualified doctors - Dr. Savithri, Dr. Satyabhama, Dr. Sita, Dr. Ranganayakulu - and they would come miles, travel between towns if she needed them. I spoke to Dr. Savithri recently when she came home for Anjali's birthday and asked her how they got along considering the disparity in their education and she said without batting an eye lid. 'She had common sense which we did not have. Imagine how she handled life after your Dad's death. No one could have done it but she.' True. I never felt the lack ever in the years after Dad passed away.
A typical smile - Me and Ram (Eluru, 1970s)

I don't think Mom lost a friend ever, lost a relationship ever. The vaguest people remember her. Two years ago (more than ten years after her death) when I went to register my gas connection (with the Aadhaar) the clerk in the HP office looked up when he saw our address. 'How is madam?' he asked. I was surprised. 'What madam?' I asked. "Your mother," he said, "I can never forget her voice over the phone. There was something warm, affectionate and kind. She'd call when you needed a gas. Always made me feel special." Wow. That was something. The butcher remembers her, the Binny retail shop fellow remembers her, the grocery shop wala remembers her, the vegetable vendor who pushes his cart remembers her - and not just normally - with true affection and respect. Mom I think had this wonderful way of making people feel special, feel cared for. They connected to her and stuck to her for life and even after. From peons to drivers, officials to highly qualified people, they all remained forever faithful to her. There was a shop in Eluru which would send her whatever sarees she wanted without her payment for years after we moved out.

There was a small coterie of uncles and nephews who could kill for her. They'd be in a huddle, conspiring with her, on what was to be done and more often then not did the right thing. They would materialise overnight at our doorstep - all she had to do was summon them and they'd come without delay, without a question. Left to my father's planning we would have been homeless and probably educationless by now. It was she who realised that father's service was dwindling and there were five children, three of them daughters who had to be married and two young sons still in school and got him to build a home. A home that she oversaw personally while it was being built, incorporating designs she saw in Chandamama or some other magazines and coaxing the workers, masons, carpenters, to give her their best work. And they all would have died to do it for her. The same home gave me the comfort to take a decision to write.
Enjoying a bonfire - 2002

She remembered every little thing - birthdays, anniversaries and made appropriate gestures. Always something appropriate, big or small. Definitely a telegram would go if she could not attend. Money would go for those who needed it even if her own position was not the strongest. Clothes, gifts..somehow she knew what they needed and got exactly that. She'd be there physically for them when they needed her. All of which was amazing considering her background.

She had this amazing curiosity and willingness to learn. She hired a school teacher L.T. Ramasarma to teach her English when we were in Eluru (early 70s) and learned enough to sign and read and write. This when I was five, and I remember later reading the books she was learning to read - The Trojan Horse was one and some other fine books. She loved good cinema and I enjoyed watching 'Ankhiyon Ke Jharonkhen Se' with her. She enjoyed music, flowers, her little garden.

Mom had this tremendous clarity and strength. Once she decided on her course of action she would not think twice about doing it. There was apparently once an issue when my father was threatened by some supposed-naxals to pay them money. She chanced upon their note, called the Police Chief of that district and sorted it out overnight. My father had been struggling with the issue for a long time.

Mom and I planned on a trip to Kanyakumari and Varanasi which we never did. But I am glad I coaxed her to make the US trip to meet my cousins - all alone. She did, mustering all her courage and making a foreign trip by herself. I am so glad she went though at the last moment at the Bombay airport, she very cutely, asked me if we could cancel the trip and go home. I told her they would take care of her. She was nervous but nothing can stop Mom.
In Tirupati with Mom

Dad's great romantic idea - a huge card for Mom on her birthday on a wooden plan from all of us

A classic - all of us 
Mythily, Aswini, me, Dad, Ram, Mom, Nalini and Lakshmi 

When she finally fell sick with colon cancer in 2000-01, I was fortunate to be there to hold her through that period. We'd talk so much during those hospital visits and she'd tell me all the things that happened - my father's lack of financial prudence, how she was told there were things called banks when she was well into her forties and how she then planned her finances, We'd sit in the little canteen in St. Theresa's and I'd listen to her stories as she told me in that quiet, amused and measured manner. I once told her to write about her life and she wrote two paras - two paras of the most beautiful prose I have ever read in Telugu. She described the route to her school, the flowers, the little birds, the skies - just blew my heart away. I wish she'd written some more.

It was a tough period during her illness as she slowly sank and the pain increased and she lost her faculties. But it was time for the family to rally around and everyone came, siblings, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts. Ram came down from Bombay and he was a huge help in that situation which was fast threatening to go beyond my control. Mom finally passed away on January 13, 2002.
I loved the way she started her story with an Om Sai Ram and her wonderfully descriptive lilting language. 
She had this wonderful zest for life. I remember getting her this tandoori chicken when she was in her last days and the way she relished it. We loved our food - she and I and were fully carnivorous. I suspect Dad did not like her giving me a long rope, letting me play cricket etc. But when we went to buy groceries, she'd allow me a soft drink and if I gulped it down quick enough, she'd throw in a bonus, another one. I'd love that. For years she'd come with me and get my cricket whites stitched - I think I was the only guy in the Ranji team then who played with stitched whites. All else were wearing tracks.

Her conspirators - Leelamma and Sampath Rao mamayya

 On my birthday she's always give me a hug, a kiss and an apple. Maybe even a card and a chocolate sometimes, but this was a must. It was such a warm beginning to the day. Of course she worried about me and would wonder how I'd get by with my text book ideals about life and narrow inflexible boundaries. I'd laugh and then she'd laugh too. Never in her wildest dreams would she have imagined that I would turn into a writer and Ram into a film producer and director. But knowing her she would be pleased as punch to know we are doing things we love.

Mom's blessings after marriage

She gave us so much freedom and we never abused it. I'd come home at 2 or 3 in the morning during college days. She never said do this or that. She let us choose and we turned out ok. She'd consult all the right people though to help. She'd have her army of astrologers and pujaris (who still ask after her) and try to sort out my stars and that of the others.
In the US with her nephew Ratan Raj
For her background she knew enough about nutrition or figured it out. During my playing days I'd leave home at 6 in the bus, go to Gymkhana play till 930, go to Osmania and attend classes till 1, take a bus back to Gymkhana and eat a pastry or a puff before heading into a three hour practice. Once Chakkar caught me eating a pastry and he made such an issue of it - 'This is the diet of a Ranji Trophy player'. I never thought of carrying a dabba thanks to the long time gaps, but Mom set me up for the day with a double egg and a couple of solid chapathis. I can still taste them, feel the strength they provided me to get through those days.

Today is Mom's birthday.

I used to call my siblings and celebrate it earlier but today I felt like being alone with the thought. I remember buying her a remote controlled television as a birthday gift for her in her later years - smuggling it into the home after she slept (one of the few gifts I bought with some thought, one of the few surprises I planned in my life). She was so happy with it - else she had to walk up to it and change the channels. I somehow wonder what all I could have learned from her if she was around now, when I am a bit out of the fog and clearer. I could have had long discussions, taken her advise and surely profited from it. I could have learned how to invest, to plan, to deal with things. How to make friends and keep them for life. She would have loved having Anjali around and Anjali would have likewise. She had a conspiratorial relationship with Shobha too and I can easily see what they would have planned together to counter my bull headedness.

With Abhishek, her grandson, on his birthday

There's so much more of course and I will probably write again but for now Mom, Happy Birthday. Thanks for giving us a good life. And all those apples.

An Interview - Srini Avasarala

Srini is always a pleasure to talk with. He has a sharp mind, an opinion, great wit and loves a laugh. He is also very passionate about what he does which is cinema. The actor-writer-director of a ton of good movies in Telugu ('Oohalu Gusa Gusalade' and 'Jyo Achyutananda' are his directorial ventures and 'Ashta Chamma' and several other movies as an actor fill his page).
When we met recently I asked him a few questions about writing - screen writing in particular - over a hot cup of coffee.
Happy Together 
Q. How does your writing process start?
A. I start with the question 'what if...'. For it to work I need a strong character and a situation that is in conflict with the character. Every scene should go towards the core conflict. Not digress.

Q. Do you follow any structure or method?
A. I follow the established structure as told in Robert McKee's 'Story' or in any good book on screen writing. It's a well established process and being aware of the structure helps to not make errors.

Q. How does the story unfold after the 'what if'?
A. I believe films are about people. So I think - what's the worst that can happen to this person in this situation. That's pretty much the 2nd act ending. We are all unconsciously waiting for that to happen sometime.
But to set the ball rolling you need a good inciting incident. In a love story it would be the time when the boy meets girl. I need to think of interesting situations there.
At the end of the 1st act I need to change gears.

But it always boils down to this - character vs situation.

Q. What next?
A. Once the 'what if' is in place - you should have an objective. Audience should care, wonder if the character will be able to get his objective. The audience connects to the character's motivation to get his objective. You should know his motivation well and it should be strong. A weak motivation will not work.

Q. Do you sometimes cut out stuff you liked while writing but which may not help in the story telling?
A. Yes. It may sound very good to us but if it does not take the story forward, its best to remove it. I make enough material and if it is not fitting in a scene, or is dragging it down, I save it up and use it later.

Q. Do you always have an ending in mind when you write?
A. Not always. For my first film I did not have. But it's always easier if you have an ending in mind.

Q. How long do you spend on developing the story?
A. I normally let an idea develop in my mind for about 2-3 months.

Q. How do you correct it if you feel energy is dropping in a scene?
A. When there is a drop in energy I correct it - intuitively. But it's most likely due to a drop in conflict.When things are not working I go back to the basics.

Q. What are the important things to keep in mind?
A.Focus is important. The story should go towards what the story teller has promised to the audience.

As a writer - I must present a wide array of choices and throw them at the protagonist.

It helps to be clear about the story you want to tell. The entire structure should be like dominoes falling, scenes triggering scenes, towards the end.

Q. Any insights you uncovered in your journey?
A. The things that I wrote thinking it will work (second guessing the audience) did not work.
I am also a bit embarrassed about emotions. I feel I cannot tell another person how much to feel and how, what to do, so I don't explore some parts which the audience may want to see in more detail.

Divorce Italian Style - Movie Review

The 1961 Black and White classic brings all the madness of an Italian romance to the fore. The husband is a nobleman who dreams of getting rid of his ordinary wife who is totally in love with him. Schemes like sending her into orbit in space, drowning her in a vat of soap etc flash across his mind. It appears that divorce was frowned upon then in their society so he is imagining ways to get rid of her and marry his cousin, the lovely young Angela upon whom he spies from his bathroom window.

He gets an idea when he follows a case where a woman kills her philandering husband. So he tries to set up his wife with an old friend of hers. Unfortunately his plan does not work as well. Meanwhile his cousin reciprocates his love and he is convinced that he must act. Fortunately for him it turns out that the wife's supposed lover is married and has three children which he hid form everyone. The lover's wife comes and kills off the husband, our hero kills of his wife and goes to jail for a short term only to return as a man of honor. He marries his childhood sweetheart and they take off on a yacht.

What kind of a justice is that you may ask? As the new couple lie on the yacht, entwined in each other's arms, the shapely leg of Angela snakes past her husband's old leg and starts playing footsie with the young yacht owner's foot.

A gently engaging and quietly funny movie.  

An Interview - Lessons from Anjali's Ajji

Anjali's Ajji, Dr. Nalini Nargundkar visited us as she normally does this time of the year. She is 86 years old and in slightly frail health but full of that independent spirit that makes her want to stay alone in her house despite her health concerns. While she was home last fortnight I observed that she did not appear bored for a moment - she had a full schedule and was fully independent. She'd get up early, make her bed, do yoga, read a book, walk in the courtyard, read the newspaper, nap, watch serials...it went on and on like clockwork right up to the 12 O clock at midnight coffee and laddoo that she eats every day.
On the last day of her trip I could not resist asking her about her daily routine which looks like a good one to follow if you want a happy and long life.

Everyday she said she wakes up at 5 or 530 am. Her bed is perfectly made first. A glass of warm water, honey and lime juice (the lime quarter is cut and kept ready the night before) first thing in the morning. Then she goes into her room to do warm up exercises while sitting on the bed for 10 minutes. Then 4 sets of pranayama, yoga and then Kriya yoga. The entire routine takes and hour and a half. At 7 am sharp she heads to the TV and switches on DD News. After the full report is heard she heads to breakfast. There is a daily forecast on one Marathi channel that she is awfully fond of though she does not believe it at all. Then she takes the newspaper and pores over it with great concentration, dismantling it page by page, until it is all in separate pages. Once the newspaper is devoured, she gets back to watch any serial she may have missed or picks up the book she is currently reading.
Place for everything and everything in its place 
When she is in Pune or even her at home she goes for a small walk and picks up flowers in the garden. In Pune she has this Parijatha plant and she collects as many as she can and makes intricate patterns from the flowers. At around 1030 am or so she has a cup of coffee. Back to serials, books and then lunch at 1230 or so. After lunch she heads off for a nap and reads in the bed. Wakes up at 4 and makes coffee. In Pune she has a bridge club and they all troop in, an adorable bunch of old people, doddering along and fighting over the game. (Every year someone or the other dies in that group). Around 630 or so she walks around in the courtyard. At 7 pm the TV begins telecasting her favorite serials which she watches with rapt attention. the serials go through dinner, which is about 830, and continue till 930. From 930 till 11 pm she reads in bed again and drops off to sleep. At 1130 or 12 she wakes up and heads off to have a cup of coffee and a laddoo which she says is her favorite time of the day and her most awaited for food. 'The other meals I don't like anymore,' she says. 'But this midnight snack I love.'

Not one day does she miss this schedule when she is home. All else happens around her and she manages both at the same time. Never have I seen her bored or even a mite disinterested in life. There is so much for her to do, to look forward to, to talk about. Give her five minutes in a doctors appointment and out comes her book and she is at it. She loves the Agatha Christie and Perry Mason types of stuff, not to mention Mills and Boons. And of course any new challenge that she comes across.

I asked her about her other passions. She loves astronomy and every now and then points out to some constellation or the other. Every day she is out gazing at the stars. On the 1st of every month she said she checks out the position of the stars in the newspaper and follows them. She says her father taught her about the stars and the constellations. She watches the union and separation of planets, the rise and fall. After reading a book called the "The Passion Test' she decided she should follow her passions (this happened a few years ago) and took off on solo trips to Andaman, Rajasthan, Malaysia, Corbett Park etc with some tours. Her voracious appetite to learn things has led her to do a homeopathy course, conduct yoga classes, avidly follow film festivals and shows, watch theatre, drama and dance and basically not miss a single new thing that's happening around her.

I asked her a few questions.
Q. Do you get bored ever?
A. You have to entertain yourself. You must learn that principle. Walk. Read. Picnics. I used to wonder for a while how to attend the film festivals an now I get some company and go.

Q. What is the purpose of life?
A. Be happy. Be self sufficient. Keep others happy. Be healthy.

Q. How can one be happy?
A. Don't bother too much about other people's opinion. I keep myself happy by chit chatting. or playing rummy.

Q. What is the single most attribute to do well in life?
A. Whatever you decide to do, do it conscientiously irrespective of others' criticism. You do it to your satisfaction.

Q. Your thoughts on staying alone? Does it ever bother you?
A. I don't worry about it. Forget it and continue your routine. Be engaged in something, be active as far as possible, do something whenever you can do. Try to help others as much as possible.

Q. Any new insights in life?
A. I realised that the home is for me. I am not for the home. So I do what I can and leave it. I don't stress myself to keep it spic and span like I see some people do even if their backs and breaking.

Hmmm. Lovely advice. I like those routines, the fullness of her day, the never say die spirit and that spark in her eyes which is all ready to explore new things. If there is one thing I will adopt from Anjali's Ajji it will be this spirit of learning, of curiosity. It will ensure that I will never get bored. Ever.