Sunday, April 30, 2017

20 Movies to Watch - Jayant and Suhita Dharmadhikari's Lists

Jayant Dharmadhikari knows his movies having won a National Award for his movie 'Ankahee' in the 1980s and having been involved in many other cult movies and juries.
His list includes the following

1) The Kid
2) Grapes of Wrath
3) It happened one night
4) Judgment at Nuremberg
5) Pyaasa
6) Mughal-e-azam
7) Bicycle thief
8) Promised Land
9) Madhumati
10) Bandini
11) The Cranes are flying
12) Electra
13) Rashomon
14) Citizen Kane
15) Battleship Potemkin
16) Sound of Music
17) My Fair Lady
18) Pather Panchali
19) Bhakt Tukaram
20) Mother India
21) Phaedra
22) Miracle in Milan

I've watched 12. Need to watch 8 and rewatch the entire lot almost to see it through new eyes.

Suhita is a well known movie and TV artiste with a Filmfare award to her name. Her list is as follows (not quite 20 yet)

1) Chalti ka naam gaadi
2) Fedora
3) Madhumati
4) Lamhe
5) You got mail
6) Children of heaven
7) Colors of Paradise
8) Separation
9) Bicycle thief
10) Roman Holiday
11) Pather Panchali
12) Jewel thief

Fedora is missing in my list. 

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre - V.N. Dutta and S. Settar

This book contains a collection of articles on the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre edited by the two above named gentlemen. The events that led to the massacre of 397 (official) people inside the Jallianwala Bagh are discussed from many angles. The story begins sometime with the Rowlatt Satyagraha and how the nation felt cheated by the British after having fought for the British in the World War I. Gandhi had called for Rowlatt Satyagraha. One other article also places on record how prices had doubled and life was tough for the Indian citizen. To cap it all Punjab was under the governance of Lt. Gen. Michael O'Dwyer whose strong arm tactics had pushed everyone to the limit. Dwyer, considered dictatorial in his governance, was instrumental in recruiting 110000 recruits from Punjab alone out of 192000 Indians who fought the WWI on behalf of the British. The resentment caused by the Rowlatt Acts and the Khilafat movement added to the boil.

Closer to the event, the story starts around March 29, 1919, when an order was passed allegedly by the British restricting any public gathering (they say it was a back dated order to implicate local leaders like Dr. Satyapal and Dr. Kichlew) to counter Gandhiji's call for a hartal on March 30 which was later postponed to April 6, Dr. Satyapal's speech which was attended by 45000 on March 30, 1919, the spiriting away of Dr. Satyapal and Dr. Kichlew without public knowledge to Shimla, firing on an unarmed crowd which protested the treatment given to its leaders that left a few dead and growing anger at the British for not letting them attend to the wounded. This broke the patience and an angry mob rioted on April 10 leading to killing of Englishmen at the banks and assault on Miss. Sherwood. On 11th O'Dwyer handed over control of Amritsar to General Dyer, a weak proclamation prohibiting meetings and then the firing at the Jallianwala Bagh on complete innocents who had gathered peacefully and even naively as it was baisakhi season.

There are several personalities that are key here. Michael O'Dwyer, Lt. Governor of Punjab (later shot dead by Udham Singh in London) was a dictator who was disliked by the people. Hans Raj considered a British spy and an agent provocateur who set it up so the British could teach the rebellious Indians a lesson. Hansraj is an inconsequential player who suddenly proclaims himself Secretary of Satyagraha Sabha, a body probably floated by him, instigates people to take revenge for the arrest of Satyapal and Kichlew and called for the meeting at Jallianwala Bagh without any formal authority saying that everyone is a leader and one must be prepared to kill or be killed. Hans Raj is missing since, his house burned down and they say the British whisked him away to Mesapotamia. Miss Sherwood incident and the murders of Englishmen at the bank and other places were the result of Hans Raj's provocation to the crowd to avenge Dr. Satyapal's and Dr. Kichlew's quiet arrest and sending away into hiding. This is followed by the arrival of the butcher of Amritsar Gen Dyer himself, remorseless till his death of his deed. Dyer it would appear set it up in a fashion that would give him the flimsiest of grounds to inflict harsh punishment on the locals and he succeeded in not just inflicting punishment but in taking the freedom struggle to another level altogether. Tagore renounced his knighthood after the event, Gandhi and other leaders stopped looking for any positive developments from the British and hardened their stands. Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Indians united as never before at this atrocity as the British felicitated Dyer and tried to cover up for the event.

Dyer takes his soldiers around the city announcing at a couple of places that meetings were prohibited. The massacre itself on April 13, 1919 begins with Dyer walking up with 90 of his soldiers to the Jallianwala Bagh, ordering 50 of them to take positions and fire on a defenceless, peaceful crowd of over 1600 people, without any warning to disperse whatsoever. The orders were to shoot to kill and were given within 30 seconds of his reaching there. The soldiers fired and fired 1650 shots in abut 6-10 minutes of firing until they ran out of ammunition. And then Dyer turned back and went back without even providing any assistance to the wounded and dying and simply said that was not his job. The wounded dragged themselves into the streets and lay dead in their own pools of blood - men and boys and one three month old baby. Dwyer and Dyer kept saying there was a conspiracy to destabilise the British which is why they fired, but the truth is that almost 20% of the crowd inside Jallianwala Bagh were outsiders, those who had come to town on account of Baisakhi and who wandered into the Bagh. For this butchery Dyer was merely transferred back to England, felicitated for the good work done as 'Savior of India', 30000 pounds raised for him, and upon the outrage, cut his pension by half which was overturned by a Court of Justice.

After the incident the administration imposed Martial Law and blocked out the press. Dyer got himself conferred a Sikh by the manager of the Golden Temple. The street where Ms. Sherwood was assaulted was one where all Indians had to crawl, where public floggings were conducted and a new rule about salaams to the sahibs was introduced as a crime.  

The role of the Akalis, the Hindu Muslim unity on Ram Navami day (which so scared the administration that many felt that the massacre was planned in such a way that the Muslim casualties were low and thereby sow seeds of discord between them again), the heroes and the villains all show up clearly in retrospect. Undoubtedly the Jallianwala massacre was an event of great import in the history of mankind and how it shaped up the last few centuries. For all the ways in which the Empire tried to justify his firing, there are enough who felt that this was unpardonable and forever broke whatever little thread of hope and restraint that existed between Indians and the British.

The book deals with many aspects of the massacre - imperial terrorism, impact on national consciousness, impact on Sikhs and other parts of the country, how women came out of their homes after this incident and so on. I learned far more about the incident through the book and by any standards Dyer's work was most cruel and symptomatic of British thinking in those days.

Khullam Khulla - Rishi Kapoor with Meena Iyer

There are certain illusions we carry of people and many times it is better to leave them alone. One must be wary of the same when one writes a biography - do we enhance the illusion or do we shatter it and to what purpose. I got the same feeling when I read Naseeruddin Shah's biography and I feel exactly the same way now. There is an impression I have of Rishi Kapoor - of a happy go lucky, smiling, mischievous, fun loving and harmless person which overrides everything else that we mortals are afflicted with. But now after I read the biography I find the movie slightly disappointing because I have gone with an expectation of a happy romcom and find myself dealing with resentment, insecurity and depression. Even in small parts I do not want to see that in Rishi Kapoor's life - he symbolises that part of my life and I don't want that messed with.

The good news is that there was an attempt at being honest. The bad news is that the effort is perhaps half hearted. Or that is the feeling one gets. So if one is comfortable mentioning private moments involving others that one has been privy to, one should also give away one's own. So when Rishi Kapoor says he has never had an affair in his life and has been faithful since marriage and in the same book Neetu Singh says in the afterword that she had her suspicions about it - one is more likely to believe her. Not that it matter - just that it makes the effort a little less credible.

First up, I think the family tree helped sort out many of my confusions. So to start where we all know there was Prithviraj Kapoor who had six children, three of them boys - Randhir Raj (Raj Kapoor), Shamsher Raj (Shammi) and Balbir Raj (Shashi). Raj Kapoor then had five children with three boys - Randhir Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor and Rajeev Kapoor. Shammi had non-filmi children except that his daughter married Ketan Desai. Shashi had three children all of whom dabbled in movies - Karan, Kunal and Sanjana. Randhir's daughters with actress Babita, Karishma and Kareena, seem to be the first daughters of the family to enter the industry. Rishi's son Ranbir is a huge star already. Rajeev is unmarried it looks like. There are filmy connections on the mothers side as well with Premnath, Rajendranath being uncles. Amitabh Bachchan's daughter is married into Rishi Kapoor's sister's family and so on. Between them, the family and their relatives have taken up a lot of my time and energy and money (since I spent it on them) and wonder what this relationship is that I share with them.

Rishi Kapoor comes across as the young, spoilt brat  who indulged himself thanks to the family he was born in. He seems to have had a normal, rich kid upbringing which is in tune with the characters he played in most movies too - smoking and drinking early. An early break in movies and recognition for his role in 'Mear Naam Joker' got him hooked. But the phases after the flop of 'Mera Naam Joker' when he says he would fear the arrival of his father at home late in the night, drunk and abusive give us a peep into the lives of the rich and famous. He does not mention the lady in question but he mentions that his father was in a relation with someone (Nargis, I am presuming, though he also mentions Vijayanthimala some other place). For me it was enough that 'Mera Naam Joker' was a well known movie and considered a great - but for the ones in the industry it is the financial or relative success that makes or breaks them. The insecurity started seeping in from there itself. Then Raj Kapoor made 'Bobby' to recover from the disaster and Rishi Kapoor the star was launched at around the same time that Amitabh was rising.

He confesses to having 'bought' one award egged on by his assistant. His affair and marriage with Neetu Singh - in his favour however he does come across as being totally smitten by her and Neetu for her part as being the one who would make any adjustment for him including coming home at 830 pm whatever else was happening at her shoots - is written in detail. He talks about how he and his family always had a weight issue considering their fondness for all things nice. Among his close friends he counts Rahul Rawail, Jeetendra, Rakesh Roshan. He speaks of an uneasy relationship with Amitabh and how he feels Amitabh should give more credit to the other actors for his success. He also did not like Rajesh Khanna, maybe he felt because he snatched away Dimple after Bobby and how he made sure Rajesh Khanna did not get the Satyam Shivam Sundaram role. He gives away little tidbits like how Pancham once approached him seeking work in his later years, not for money, but to keep himself busy, how once Yash Chopra in a financial mess wrote pages and pages of 'God help me please', his fight with Sanjay Khan who threw a glass at him and his face got a cut, how Shammi Kapoor and Feroze Khan once got into a fight and were thrown out and they both ended up drinking at some other spot in town. One incident when the hotel they were staying in was attacked and almost gutted. A couple of fan incidents. An incident when he met Dawood Ibrahim, who he found to be quite nice and who offered him help, including money which Rishi refused. What was the point of dragging the names through this? How will it enhance his story?

Apart from all these tidbits what interested me was that he confessed to never having paid much attention to the craft until his second innings now. He would just go and do whatever he knew and he would pass because the audiences were so forgiving. How he tried hard to get out of Kabhie Kabhie and how it somehow became one of the best movies he had done to date. What hits you most apart from the commonplace pettiness and resentment and stuff is the hard core stuff - the depression he sank into after Karz did not do as well as he thought it should. So bad was his depression that he would not turn up for shooting and instead drank himself away. The insecurity of stars is something we never can understand because we think a movie has been made, like it or not and that's over for us. But they carry it deeply and think they have been rejected.

A whole chapter is dedicated to his heroines and there is a whole list of them - some 30 odd I guess staring from Dimple, Kajaj Kiran, Jayaprada, . He launched many new faces and most of them did well. He seems quite pleased with that fact. One chapter dedicated to his wife, one to his children. One to music and melody and here he talks of how he sometimes failed to recognise great music and was quite abusive with the music composers only to be corrected later.

For a book that could have had far more impact for the sheer content available, the biography I felt is not well presented. It is a series of incidents that are related as he perhaps told it to the writer with no attempt to uncover the why, the real person beneath what we know. And that is what makes what could have been a far more interesting book, fall short. Was it shortage of time, was he not available and was it just lack of effort one does not know but the book suffered, A small example is the way the photos are presented. They are just dumped together at one lot that one gets tired after a few pages and skips all those beautiful people we know and have watched for years. In contrast, when I read Mehboob's biography by Bunny Reuben, the pictures comes every few pages at relevant places and add to the entire experience. For this, just this lack of effort, one gets irritated. Call it arrogance or just lack of caring for the reader, but it put me off like nothing else. In fact a nine year old like Anjali said the same thing - why are these pictures just dumped here like this? I take away his depression, his insecurity, his coming of age now as he feels blessed and is experimenting with roles as parts that left an impact on me. There was an effort to be 'Khullam Khulla' but it is one of those things where he was better off being chupke chupke and one would have laughed along with him even if he was not khullam khulla. That would have been more honest. But if one promises Khullam Khulla one should deliver and if one does not, the audience feels let down. Anyway who knows better than Rishi Kapoor that the audience will switch off the moment they experience something not right.

Mehboob, India's DeMille - Bunny Reuben

Mehboob Khan of Mehboob Studios, maker of 'Mother India', 'Aan', 'Aurat', 'Andaz' and many other huge hits, was a towering personality in the Indian film industry from the 1930s to 60s. How big, I could not fathom until I read the biography written by Bunny Reuben. 'Mother India' was India's first nomination to the Oscars and Cecil De Mille himself had words of praise for Mehboob Khan's work.

Now who is this talented young man? He was a nobody, who came to Mumbai from a small village near Baroda with three rupees in his pocket, worked for free doing all sorts of menial jobs at the studio, seized opportunity when he got a chance to play an extra and got into direction. His quick grasp of things, his business sense saw the poor, uneducated boy from Gujarat scale the kind of heights rarely seen in Hindi cinema. Extremely hard working and highly religious, he would not stop his namaz for anything in the world - be it a meeting in Hollywood or in London. The maker of grand spectacular movies, the master of emotions, rose to dizzying heights and was perhaps the only superstar director India had. The loudest cheers came on when his name appeared in the titles.

Mehboob Khan's first film was a script he wrote himself 'Judgement of Allah' where he showed his flair for direction. 'Aurat' was the original 'Mother India' and it was while making this movie that he married Sardar Akhthar, the heroine of the movie, as his second wife. He first cast Nargis in his movie 'Taqdeer' (did he also give Nimmi and Saira Banu breaks?). In fact he also gave Raaj Kumar, Rajendra Kumar and Sunil Dutt a huge lease of life with Mother India. He promoted Dilip Kumar before he struck out on his own. His legendary friendships, numerous affairs and an equal number of soured relationships made him an enigma, But he made classics like 'Humayun', 'Andaz', 'Aan', and topped it all off with 'Mother India'. The roller coaster life of all the people involved in his life, the heroes, the heroines, the music directors is well depicted. If one things comes across clearly it is the insecurity of the industry.

Mehboob Khan discovered Nargis who was a school girl when he first saw her. He also gave stars like Surendranath and several others a break. With his limited English and education he had friends at all levels - Nehru was a friend of his. Eccentric, temperamental, creative, ambitious, workaholic Mehboob Khan finally left his studio in Bandra to the medium he loved - films. Mehboob Khan's weakness for women and his temperamental behavior with his close associates, his unforgiving nature which kept his flock together - those who leave are forgotten - compromised him. At the same time he also had a generous heart and a highly creative mind.

The 'Mother India' story was fascinating. How the idea developed from 'The Good Earth' and how the movie survived the many attempts to change its name, cast and even its script is in itself a wonderful story. How Mehboob zeroed down to Nargis, went to Raj Kapoor to ask him to let Nargis (who was by then in the RK camp and in a full blown relationship with RK) act in the movie was another great twist. How Nargis uses the movie to purge herself of her uncertainty in the fire scene where she almost died and was saved by Sunil Dutt, whom she eventually married is another. Fabulous stuff. Another haunting image is that of Mehboob asking Ashok Kumar who played 'Humayun' to get off his horse and kneel down in prayer because it is namaz time even as horses and elephants were advancing towards him. I'd love to see that scene.

The 386 page is a fine, easy and well organised read and that's what good writing is about. The story unfolds  logically and enough care has been taken to enhance the experience for the reader by appropriate placing of photographs. Not a word deviates from the main topic and we understand layer upon layer of this complex character, the complex and cut throat world of cinema, the deep insecurities that drive the people in the industry. I could finish reading the book in 4-5 hours, that's how well it is written.

I am now fully enthused and want to watch the movies mentioned above. I am also glad I now know of this wonderful and talented character, Mehboob, about whom I knew little before this 1985 book.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Good, Bad and Ugly - Movie Review

Three mercenaries, one good, one bad and one ugly. A gold chest. They each have one piece of information and do not trust one another one bit. But they need each other, especially good (Clint Eastwood) and Ugly (Eli Wallach). Bad (Lee Van Cleef) is expendable.

The setting or backdrop is the Civil War and the three mercenaries ride from one side of the war into the other. The gold belongs to the Confederates who are losing the battle. The two (good and ugly) do their bit to help the cause and also traverse through many other social issues of the day.

The gold is found. Good wins. But he shares the booty with Ugly.

Grand spectacle. Lovely music. Powerful characters. Fabulous setting.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thought for the Day - Love is Treating Humans (Life) With Dignity

Be it is emperor or the sweeper, the one quality that sets apart true greatness is the one quality that makes them treat all humans, all life, with dignity. If this one quality is missing, I feel that the person does not belong to the highest order, however high an office he may hold, however great an achievement he has achieved.

The one idea that brings dignity to humans (life) is the one that becomes a billion dollar idea, many times unknowingly. The government that cherishes dignity and ensures that all its people are treated with dignity will remain in the hearts of the people for long. The person who treats all he meets with dignity, need not utter a word about love or pride or courage or equality. It is the one who manipulates, who coerces and who straitjackets that cannot earn pure, heartfelt love from the people, the audience.

If we can treat a person with dignity, as a whole, with his beliefs, ideas, wants, desires, thoughts, acts, color, size etc intact, we have done our bit for the world. We have treated one of our own with respect. And when we do, we treat ourselves with respect and love. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Wonderful Dance Performance - Campus Concert Series

I got a call on the afternoon of the 19th of April. I heard Abanti's voice at the other end. Abanti is my student from the Department of Dance where I teach 'Arts Management' as guest faculty. She was excited and justifiably so because she and her colleagues - Saranya, Anju and Priyanka - were performing at the Campus Concert Series in a program titled 'An Evening of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi' at the School of Humanities, University of Hyderabad. Could I come? 'This is our gift to you sir,' she said (dramatically, as Abanti is wont to, but with all sincerity) and I know they meant it. I was glad they called to invite me and even gladder to hear the joy in their voice at the chance to perform. I was doubtful about going though because the program was on that very evening and I had a possible meeting scheduled that could clash with it. The four performers were invited to perform Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi.
Anju Aravind, Abanti Banerjee, Priyanka and Saranya Murali at the Campus Concert Series 
I do not understand much of classical dance but I can feel their joy and experience their effort and pleasure of performing on stage. I go if I get half a chance. But this one looked difficult especially after Suresh confirmed that we would be meeting at 430 pm. The performance was at 615 pm. But as luck would have it I actually had an interested partner in Suresh who was game to watch the performance. We made it slightly late to the venue thanks to the traffic.

As we walked into a fully packed auditorium of the School of Humanities in the University of Hyderabad, we could see the ending part of a performance where all four performed. Suresh and I grabbed two seats in the last row and viewed the next performance. Saranya and Priyanka started the show and though Priyanka had to step out midway, Saranya carried on the good work that they had both started and went on and on and on. It was beautiful just to watch her expressions, effort and the elegance. She deservedly got a rousing applause for the performance - it lasted all of 20 minutes or more. No less was Anju's performance that came up next and she essayed the expressions and movements of a child, Krishna, I suspect, beautifully with lithe, quicksilver movements. Then Abanti and Anju came back for a performance of the Ardhanareeswara but sadly we had to leave then. I briefly met Saranya and Priyanka who were off stage then and told them how much we loved the performances. I was glad I saw all of them perform.

It's the joy they get while performing that is the most palpable. Then comes the wonder - what happens to them when they step on the stage? They look so different, so confident and it's as if some divine spirit has entered them. The stamina, strength, effort and mostly the desire to perform well and please the audience comes across so much that one hopes they get more and more opportunities to perform and share the beauty of their art with so many others.
Anju, Abanti, Saranya and Priyanka with their memntoes
'It's so good,' said Suresh. ' I think I should invite the students to perform at our corporate events. Very impressive.' I nodded. I hope he does.

Thanks Anju, Abanti, Sranya and Priyanka. Wonderful performance. How I wish I could see the others perform too - Laxmi Tejaswitha, Jhansi, Praveen, Sharath, Parijatha. Hopefully I will get a chance to see them perform live. In the past couple of years I had the opportunity of watching the performances of most of my students and sharing their joy in performances big and small. Nowhere have I experienced the joy of expression as I have with students from the Department of Dance and I hope and pray they carry this joy in their heart as long as they live. 

Anjali - I Like Giving, And Receiving

I really admire those who have enough love in their hearts to be thoughtful enough to buy gifts (the right ones) for others. I was pretty surprised to see a long list drawn up by Anjali for all the people we would be visiting during our trip to Pune and Mumbai (there are 10 so far). There were things for everyone - bottle, journal, joke book, book, table mats etc etc.

I asked her why she was making this big list of gifts.
'It feels nice to hear their voice  saying Thank You' so sweetly,' she said. 'Everyone likes receiving gifts right? That's why I like giving gifts. To see their reaction.'
I nodded.

'I like receiving gifts too,' she added in case I was getting the wrong notion.
I looked at her,
'When someone gives you a gift it means they are thinking about you right?' she said.
So it does. Someone is thinking about you.

Giving. And receiving.

Both in equal parts. Both thoughtful. Nice.

Ghachar Ghochar - Vivek Shanbhag (translated by Srinath Perur)

The title 'Ghachar Ghochar' is a fictional word made up by the protagonist's wife Anita and her family - father, mother and brother - coined when she was a child. The fifth person in the world to know of this secret word is the protagonist to whom she reveals it in an intimate moment on her honeymoon. (I am reminded of a hilarious account of Ghachar Ghochar by Dave Barry in one of his  books). "Ghachar Ghochar" is a twisted, sordid mess as in how we make a ghachar ghochar of things big and small. And Vivek Shanbhag masterfully twists a simple family's tale of survival into a sinister Ghachar Ghochar is certainly worth a read.
Harper Perennial, 115 p, Rs. 399

The protagonist is a regular at the Coffee House in middle class, conservative Bangalore and spends long hours there fleeing from  a world that he cannot handle. His quiet and now irrelevant father (since his forced retirement from his job as a coffee salesman years ago), his mother (who holds the strings at home and does all the work) and his married and separated sister (who bosses everyone at home and does not bother about anybody or anyone else and how they feel) are one part and the other part is the protagonist's uncle, the king pin, the one who has worked hard at his business and made money and pulled the family out of possible financial ruin. To this unmarried man, the family owes everything, and everything in the house works towards keeping him happy. The author describes beautifully how everything centres around the uncle when he is home. The protagonist, who has never had an inclination to work, and who is paid enough money to go to the office and while away his time, marries one fine day, and then, all hell breaks loose in this family arrangement. His new, principled and educated wife Anita (NGO type) does not hesitate to talk about the cracks that are evident in the family - of the uncle's need for romance and love and even marriage and how the family was standing in the way of his happiness, of the sister and her uncompromising ways and mostly of the protagonist's acceptance of taking money from his uncle without any compunction.

This is a family that saw poverty and lived in a small-ant infested house that ran on the honest and meagre earnings of the principled father. It is the same family that saw a lot of money earned by the unscrupulous uncle who did not think twice of finding twisted ways to run his business including employing goons for recovery (they help recover the sister's gold as well). In a house dominated by an uncle who would not think twice about doing something illegal to get rid of anything that disturbed the peace and the two women who are now used to the comforts of wealth, the sensitive protagonist, driven to the Coffee House to escape the pressure caused by the closing gap between his family and his principled wife, finds one fine day that the wife he loved so much had crossed a line. He also realises that the family was capable of doing anything to prevent her from breaking the status quo. The wise waiter at the Coffee House tells the protagonist that there is blood on his hands and he must wipe it - and it is as chilling a line to end a story as any. As big a Ghachar Ghochar as any.

Vivek Shanbhag's story is beautifully told and has a facet to it that is quietly dangerous - the angle that deals with desires and secrets, as simple as maintaining the status quo, and how far people can go to deal with anything that threatened their identity. It is an incestuous bunch, the family, holding itself together, and only the inmates know what they are and how it came about and what was important for their survival. Any outsider would not understand, and any imposition of normal principles in that complex Ghochar Ghochar house could have serious consequences. It is a sleeping energy, of rules and of the need for survival, that keeps the house going. Those who actively participate do so, and those who do not, like the protagonist and his father, are welcome to find their solace in the fringe, like the Coffee House or any other place. Fantastic insights into human nature, into the way money can transform and seep deep into people, and control them. I loved the story by Vivek Shanbhag and much thanks to Srinath Perur for translating it so well into a language I can understand and thus, enjoy this story. Thanks Raja for lending it to me. Where's the Coffee House?

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Noble Queen, A Romance of Indian History - Meadows Taylor

This book was first published in 1896, reprinted in 1986. Meadows Taylor was an Englishman who wrote about his experiences in India. Much of his life and times were spent in the Deccan - Golconda, Bijapur, Ahmednagar etc. I read another book by him 'The Confessions of a Thug' which is a chilling account of a thug who may have murdered some 700 travellers in his days. This book however is about Chand Bibi, the Queen of Bijapur, who also ruled over Ahmednagar during 1550-1595. She was the daughter of the Sultan of Ahmednagar and was married into the Bijapur Sultanate. However her husband Ali Adil Shah, the Bijapur sultan, died early leaving Chand Bibi to deal with the Mughals, warring factions within and without, and she does an admirable job. One of her finest hours was the way she held out against Akbar's Mughals at Ahmednagar.

This book however traces the lives of a Portuguese missionary Francis Almeida and his sister Maria who are evicted unjustly by a local missionary Dom Diego. Since the story is set in the time of the Bijapur sultanate's weaker moments, we meet young Abbas Khan, a faithful of Chand Bibi. Abbas Khan is injured in battle and is treated by a muslim dervish and nursed by his beautiful grand daughter Zora. The love story of Zora and Abbas Khan holds the main thread through the book while we see bravery, loyalty, injustice and nobility playing out in the background. The villains of the piece, Osman Beg,governor of Jaldurg who has eyes on Zora, Dom Diego who eyes Maria, the faith of the old dervish which makes him a venerated saint with healing powers, the loyalty of the Beydurs, Runga Naik and Burma Naik, all add up to a fascinating tale hat runs into 470 pages. Chand Bibi is generally in the background mostly until the final battle when she is betrayed by her own men, Hamid Khan and a eunuch, who tell their soldiers that she has betrayed them to the Moghuls.Chand Bibi, who had by then dispensed justice to the dervish, the Portuguese siblings, Abbas Khan and others, is slain by her own soldiers.

The settings are in places we have been to and driven through - Mudgal, Bijapur, Naldurg, Ahmednagar, Gulbarga, Raichur and so many towns and even villages and forts we have seen and passed through so it is easy to relate to the descriptions and imagine the stories. Having read this book I now feel that Chand Bibi's tomb in Ahmednagar might be a place to visit just as the stepwell in Bijapur which is named after her as Chand ki bawdi. Once again I am impressed with the writing ability of Meadows Taylor who captures the times and the events with great clarity and authenticity and  tells the tale with great conviction and energy. He knew the place, the people, the customs well and captured it all well. Thanks Ramesh for lending it to me and being patient.

Ben-Hur - Movie Review

This 1959 classic was almost four hours long so we watched it over two days. I finally got why it was such a classic - the setting of the tale, the background and the tale itself were so beautifully woven in the original 1880 novel by Lew Wallace (Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ) that it just needed to be made honestly.

It was as much a tale of Christ, who is shown to be born around the same period, as that of a Jewish prince in the land of Judea. The land is then occupied by the Romans, and the Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) is wrongly sentenced to the galley ships by his own friend, a Roman tribune, Messala. Judah Ben-Hur vows revenge as as he loses his fortune, his friendship, his mother and sister and even his love. For three years  on the galley ships he survives on this hate. As fate would have it, meets a powerful Roman Consul Arrius, out to counter a Macedonian fleet. Arrius sees a fire in the young man, offers him a position as his slave, does him a favour by not chaining him to the ship, and thereby does himself a favour because Judah saves him from death. Arrius takes him to Rome, gets a pardon from the Senate, adopts Judah and makes him a champion charioteer. Judah returns as promised to Judea, meets Messala, and tells him that he has returned to seek the vengeance as he promised. Now with a superior Roman seal on him, he orders Messala to find his mother and sister.

Judah's mother and sister have become lepers and are sent to a leper colony. This fact is hidden from Judah by Esther, a girl he loves and who loves him. Esther tells Judah that she has seen them both dead. Judah meanwhile races the horses of an Arab Sheikh and defeats the reigning champion Messala in a chariot race. Messala dies but before dying he tells Judah that his mother and sister are now lepers, more out of hate than any love. Judah finds them with Esther's help and they seek the man from Nazareth, Jesus, who preaches love and forgiveness. The family witnesses the crucifixion and in the rain that follows the mother and daughter are healed. And so is Ben-Hur, now healed of all the vengeance in his heart.

It is easily the kind of a movie that would have done more to influence people in matters of faith and does that subtly. To keep the life of Christ as the background and the setting for a battle between the Jews and Romans, and within that put two young warriors who were once friends and who turn enemies, is the work of a master. There are enemies within friends, and friends within enemies, there is war and forgiveness, love and despair. In the end it is love that conquers all and despite its length, holds interest even for a nine year old. Anjali finally said she did not like it, but she does not like too much violence and drama (but she watched it all). I did not like it too much when I was young too, but now it makes so much sense. The story and its scale, the settings and the performances. Again, one feels the need to see these spectacles on the 70 mm screens to fully gain from them. 

Something to Learn From Apache

Apache is Divya's eight month old dachshund. We could hear him barking while at the gate but once he had access to us, he was unstoppable. It was the longest production of a welcome scene filled with overflowing enthusiasm, high energy and love that I have ever seen. It lasted through the half an hour we spent there but the first fifteen were all Apache's.
Apache on the lookout to spread some love
He licked, pawed, climbed over and even held on to me while I was going away in a fashion that little children do. He somehow managed to get his little paws around my leg as if saying - 'Don't go'. All the while that we were there he was running between us, jumping on the bed and off, making his affections known to us in a way that one cannot ignore. Only after fifteen minutes did he shift his attentions to the chewy bone he had. But he had us in his sights all along.
Apache spreading love to the pillow
Divya said that this is how he is always and it takes a long while to get him under control. We wondered if this is how we should all be - full of enthusiasm and energy. That welcome that he gives might be something to emulate for us - making others seem like they are so special, like they were the centre of the world. We laughed about how Apache was probably trying to teach us a lesson there. Shobha said that perhaps if we welcomed people who came home like that, our lives would be different maybe.

Not a bad thing to be aware of and practice. A no-holds barred welcome, a way to make others feel like the world is all about them. Hmmm.

Thanks Apache.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Thought for the Day - Maybe It's Been Working All This While

For the past three months my car stereo has been quiet. It's been the longest quiet in the car. For some reason or the other I kept putting its repair off. Perhaps the thought of the expense, the time involved, the stress of changing the system perhaps, all played on my mind.

Yesterday I swung into the lane near Rasoolpura and pulled into one shop in the row of car accessory shops. The mechanic came. I told him that the system has been off for three months. No power I said.

He reached in and touched a button.
'Kaam kar raha hai na saab,' he said. The system was on, lights flashing.
He continued fiddling with the stereo till he adjusted all the stations and equaliser and then nodded.

'What did you do?' I asked in disbelief.
 'Nothing,' he said.

For three months my stereo was working and I thought it was not. Wonder what else is working in my life and I am thinking is not?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Mackenna's Gold - Movie Review

I convinced Anjali to watch this old classic with me to see how if it would hold her interest. We put it on, in the toughest part of the day, post-lunch, heat outside lulling you to sleep, and well, 'Mackenna's Gold' passed the acid test easily. We were up and awake right through.

The movie made so much sense now - its story and its history. The gold rush in the early nineteenth century, the Apache gold legend and human greed mesh to create a fine story. We have an ex-gold prospector turned Marshal Mackenna (Gregory Peck at his handsomest best) and we have the fabulous character of the joke-cracking Colorado (Omar Sharif) who is as slippery as an eel and at the same time as ruthless as they come. Mackenna's has the map in his head and is the only one who knows where the gold is and Colorado takes him hostage - with his band of Red Indian outlaws. They are joined by another band of gold prospectors, and chased by a cavalry. If that's not enough conflict you have romance between a girl hostage and Mackenna and a Red Indian girl who is possessive about Peck. It's adventure telling at its best, the vicissitudes of human nature exposed and a huge, thundering climax.

For once I wished I was back in the theatre watching this spectacle. Not for a moment did Anjali get distracted as the story plunges right in and stays there. Something about the theme music reminded me of Sholay's music, perhaps even the sense of adventure and mercenaries and danger reminded me of it. Quincy Jones composed music. The scale, the grandeur and the vastness of the plains and the desert are captured beautifully.

And once again the villain stands out for his quicksilver change of mind, his commitment to himself at any cost and for being so completely likeable for his honest dishonesty. Omar Sharif steals the show entirely. And interestingly is let off free at the end. No poetic justice for the crimes he committed - just a mild warning to keep out of Peck's way and that Peck will be coming after him. I for sure did not want to see Colorado die - he is too much of a character to kill just like that. 

A Conspiracy of Faith - Movie Review

The third of the Department Qs trilogy and is probably the best in terms of keeping you on  the edge of the seat, your hands to your mouth or at your ears. It gets into your mind, under your skin and for that, the director and crew must be complimented.

A twenty year old message written in blood lands up on the sea shore and finds its way to Department Q. A chance report of kidnapped children, a case of no missing children report, a religious sect - and we stumble upon the vile villain who pathologically goes after children-siblings especially. The belief that the devil helped him to be strong when he needed it most, that the idea of faith in God is misplaced and how he devotes himself with the devil inside him to bring out this misplaced faith, drives the story on the energy of such naked evil. Once again the negative character is so powerful and so evil that you wonder how bad he can get, and once again he has his reasons and it takes all of Detective Carl's mad obsession to bring justice and Assad's patience and emotional balance to bring justice - to some, if not to all.

There are no real happy endings here. Both sides suffer losses and bad ones too, and the good wins, by a whisker. The beauty is that it wins. Again, not for the squeamish unless you enjoy watching people's guts being ripped out with scissors.

The Keeper of Lost Causes - Movie Review

This is the first of the Danish trilogy of Department Q, a series of intense crime stories (I saw the second one first - The Absent One). Anyway the crime solving duo of Carl and Assad, meet in the infamous Department Q, a cold case closing department, where their only job is to close old cases. But you cannot keep good men down and so the duo picks one interesting case of a missing woman and finds that it was hurriedly shut off as a suicide case without a body or any evidence.

These movies work because I felt the writer was able to conceive such strong negative characters. For long you wonder how evil the villain must be to do things he does. He is so depraved that you also wonder what it is that must make him like this. But he has his reasons and strong ones too and well the two heroes do what they have to do in the nick of time.

Intense and memorable stuff in the crime genre. Great characters - Carl the intense and socially inept and Assad the other was, perfectly complementing each other. And as crimes go, its no holds barred. Not for the squeamish.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Thought of the Day - The Art of Wasting Time

Watch IPL
Discuss IPL
Discuss how bad IPL is
Wonder about Lalith Modi
Wonder about Vijay Mallya
Wonder about Narendra Modi
Wonder about Ambani
Wonder about Crime and Punishment
Discuss Conspiracy theories
Discuss scandals
Discuss falling morals
Wonder about CoA and BCCI
Discuss Demonetisation
Shut up about Demonetisation
Discuss politics
Watch videos of WhatsApp
Forward videos of WhastApp
Delete videos on WhatsApp
Say Good Morning
Say Good Night
Watch mobile phone for any signs of life
Watch health videos and get scared
Delete messages and videos
Think how boring life is
Wonder if it will always be like this
Wonder if we will ever get the right people who will entertain us
Worry about health of nation
Worry about financial health
Worry about health
Look at Facebook
Wonder how everyone is going on vacations
Wonder how the others got such fine jobs
Wonder why others are so happy
Wonder what's wrong with you
Look at Facebook friends and wonder who they are
Wonder how they are all going on such fancy vacations
Wonder when you can go on the vacation you have been planning for years now
Shut Facebook
Get depressed
Switch on TV
Get depressed
Wonder how Kapil Sharma seems so happy
Hear about Kapil Sharma's row with his pals
Discuss how Kapil Sharma should behave
Discuss how the government should run the system
Discuss how environment should be saved
Discuss why the world is so stupid and wastes so much time
Try to help others by telling them what they should do
Do not listen to others who are trying to help you just as you are trying to help them
Wonder why people are so pig headed
Wonder why people don't support you
Wonder why the world does not recognise your latent talents
Wonder what your talents are
Fall into deep and disturbed sleep
Wonder why life is so boring

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thought for the Day - We Do a Lot of Unnecessary Stuff

It struck me yesterday while chatting with a young corporate start up team, that in our insecurity, we actually end up doing a lot of unnecessary stuff, instead of doing what we need to do. I suppose that happens in all spaces where there is no honesty and there are somethings said and something else done.

For example, the young team was busy doing a lot of activities that were merely being done to prove to the boss that they were working. The effort was wasted because the metrics there did not add any real value. When asked to come up with a way to increase value, the team came up with two simple and brilliant solutions that could potentially increase volume by 4-5 times, if not more.(So far, at 2,5 x).

We must be doing so many unnecessary things in our lives in an effort to keep the peace or to keep the boss or the other person happy. One wonders how much efficiency is lost thanks to one insecure boss or person who cannot let the team take their call and allow them to go ahead. If in a team of 12, all 12 have to listen and follow the one idea that the boss gives, then we are wasting all the 12 resources at our disposal. How about asking all 12 to give their suggestion to arrive at the outcome? But few bosses or people can give up control. Their identity is based on their ability to control. Even if they fail, they will not give up control. In fact, they fail because they cannot give up control.

When we threw the question at the group of 12 to come up with an idea each, one of the star performers came up with one idea that would straightaway increase volumes. The suggestion was greeted with a ton of cynicism by the boss who pointed out that this is what they should have been doing all along, and how they should also justify how it will help with the required numbers etc. It was a full tirade of 10 minutes and the poor guy who gave the suggestion did not know where to look. Now if I was the next guy I would not give an idea even if I had one if this was the reaction I was going to get. Fine, the boss has a point if the team was to perform this task; but then what was the boss doing instead of getting the team to do their job all these days?

Anyway, as expected we did not get many suggestions after that. This one idea was opened up some and everyone decided to work on that angle. But the whole experience left me wondering how in an atmosphere like this, the team would only do enough not to get shouted at and keep their ideas to themselves. Who's listening anyway?

So we have a fearful and stressed out team that is at the receiving end from an insecure boss. It is no way to increase productivity. Like they saw great work comes when people feel good. The boss should find ways to make the team feel good. Like appreciating good ideas, the good they have done, encouraging them to speak etc.

It's an amazing amount of unnecessary work that happens in our lives. Perhaps if we are aware we could do less, and achieve more. Perhaps if we let go our belief that only we are right, we could be happy and productive.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Thought for the Day - The World Works "For" Me

It struck me today that the world is actively 'working' for me (triggered from a line that said that x was not working 'against' you but working 'for' you). When I thought about it, looked around at all those people (and things) who are actually working 'for' me, it put the concept of gratitude and even forgiveness in the right context. I also wondered how a phrase like 'working for me' which could be perceived as arrogant, can have such a soft, grateful tone if looked at differently.

 The list of people and things working 'for' me consists of all that sustains this concept of me. Family, friends, colleagues, clients, employees, students, teachers, service providers, government, gadgets, education, nature, elements and everything else that sustains this concept of me that lives and breathes and acts and thinks. Almost every person we interact with - for example the chap who designed this blog - has worked 'for me' and brought this into existence so I could use it. Or a plant that works 'for' me and gives me oxygen to breathe. What a wonderful world this is that everything has been 'worked' at by someone to the best of their ability to sustain this reality of me, to make me as comfortable as they could.

To imagine that at this very moment the whole world is working hard to sustain this concept of me is mind boggling - I can so easily see everyone doing the best they can to make this happen. The thought fills my mind with gratitude. It is far easier for me to feel gratitude this way rather than making a gratitude list, because for some reason a gratitude list to me appears like one is doing another  a favour whereas in this situation it appears as if everyone out there, the entire world in fact is working for me. Of course all I do is also sustaining life, and all that I somehow interact with - sometimes without even knowing it.

Thrilled to bits with the idea I asked Anjali and Mansi who were busy playing a pen-fight, to list all those who were working 'for' them. Surprisingly there were no questions and before I knew it they were listing stuff away and came up with about  100 people or categories working 'for' them.

Does not leave much to complain about does it? Step back, bask in the love of the world and count your blessings.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Working With Emotional Intelligence - Daniel Goleman

This is a sequel to the original work 'Emotional Intelligence' by Daniel Goleman. It has many anecdotes and stuff (too many to register). Apart from the Emotional Competence framework and the Emotional Competence Training framework, I picked a few lines here and there.

To succeed in the new  age one needs stuff like Initiative, Empathy, Adaptability and Persuasiveness. It's not just expertise but the need to make a connection that's important. Leaders need to build teams and get results when required to adapt to change. Employers want employees who have self discipline, who can take criticism and who have communication skills, inter personal skills and initiative.

Goleman establishes that of the three major competencies of IQ, Expertise and EQ, it is Emotional Quotient, that is the deciding factor for success. Expertise he says is a baseline competence. In a study done on the competencies required for success, he finds a staggering two thirds were in the realm of Emotional Intelligence. The best, collaborate.

The Emotional Competence Framework
1) Personal Competence 2) Social Competence

1) Personal Competence (determineS how we manage ourselves)
a) Self awareness - Knowing one's internal states, preferenceS, resources and intuitions
Emotional awareness - Recognising one's emotions and their effects
Accurate self assessment - knowing one's strengths
Self confidence - A strong sense of one's self-worth and capabilities

b) Self regulation - Managing one's internal states, impulses and resources
Self control - Keeping disruptive emotions and impulses in check
Trustworthiness - Maintaining standards of honesty and integrity
Conscientiousness - Taking responsibility for personal performance
Adaptability - Flexibility in handling change

c) Motivation - Emotional tendencies that guide or facilitate reaching goals
Achievement drive - Striving to improve or meet a standard of excellence
Commitment - Aligning with the goals of the group or organisation
Initiative - Readiness to act on opportunities
Optimism - Persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks

2) Social Competence (determines how we handle relationships)
a) Empathy - Awareness of others feelings, needs and concerns
Understanding others - Sensing others feelings and perspectives, and taking an active interest in their concerns
Developing others - Sensing others development needs and bolstering their abilities
Service orientation - Anticipating, recognising and meeting customer's needs
Leveraging diversity - Cultivating opportunities through different kinds of people
Political awareness - Reading a group's emotional currents and power relationships

b) Social skill - Adeptness at inducing desirable responses in others
Influence - Wielding effective tactics for persuasion
Communication - Listening openly and sending convincing messages
Conflict Management - Negotiating and resolving disagreements
Leadership - Inspiring and guiding individuals and groups
Change catalyst - Initiating or managing change
Building bonds - Nurturing instrumental relationships
Collaboration and cooperation - Working with others towards shared goals
Team capability - Creating group synergy in pursuing collective goals

The top 3 factors for success were seen as

  • Initiative, Achievement Drive and Adaptability
  • Influence, Team leadership and Political awareness
  • Empathy, self confidence and Developing others

"Attention is the most precious resource. Cost of impulsivity and distraction is a hampered ability to learn or adapt."

"Accuracy in self assessment is the hallmark of a superior performer. The achievers bring all the information they have, set a time table and act."

"Self confidence is being efficacious, able to take charge and master new jobs and skills.
If one monitors emotional upsets one can recover sooner from distress."

"One competence that stands out is adaptability."

"Great work starts with great feelings. Be fully present. Be in the flow."

"Once you know what you want ad see that it is feasible, you can figure out the steps to take you there. Then persist."

"Sensing what others feel without their saying is empathy. People who seem easy to talk to are those who listen more. Active listening is the art of asking questions and restating one's words."

"To develop others one needs to know how to give feedback and also to expect their best."

"Art of influence entails handling emotions effectively in other people. Emotions are contagious."

"Artful leaders tune into the emotions of the group."

"Groups that comes together, who enjoy being in each others company, who can share jokes and good times together have the emotional capital not to just excel in the good times but to get through hard times as a well."

The 5 Secrets of team building are -Rapport, Empathy, Persuasion, Cooperation and Consensus building.

The Emotional Competence Training Framework

  • Assess the job: Focus training on competencies most needed to excel in the job. Design training based on a systematic needs assessment.
  • Assess the individual: Stress clearly the individual's profile of strengths and weaknesses to identify what needs improving. Tailor training to individual needs.
  • Deliver assessments with care: Since feedback on a person carries an emotional charge deliver assessment sensitively.
  • Gauge readiness: Since people are at different levels of readiness, see if they are ready for the training. For those not ready, cultivate.
  • Motivate: People learn faster if they are motivated by the benefits of adding competencies, so make it clear how it will pay off.
  • Make change self-directed: Let them direct the learning program, tailored to their needs, have them choose their own goals. One size fits all does not work.
  • Focus on clear, manageable goals: People need clarity on what the competence is and the steps needed to improve it. Spell out the specifics and offer  a workable plan to get there.
  • Prevent relapse: Habits change slowly, and relapses need not signal defeat. Help them prepare themselves better for the next time.
  • Give performance feedback: Ongoing feedback helps immensely. Get clear feedback from a lot of people.
  • Encourage practice: Since sustained practice is required on and off the job, try over  a period of of time, not just a one or two day program.
  • Arrange support: Like minded people trying to make similar changes can offer support, so build a network of support. Friends and coaches help.
  • Provide models: High status and highly effective people who embody the competence can be models to inspire change. Supervisors can display the behaviors.
  • Encourage: Organisational support should be encouraging and offer a safe atmosphere for experimentation. Encourage change that fits the values of the organisation. Show that competence matters for placement, promotion etc
  • Reinforce: People need recognition to feel the effort mattered. Give praise or a raise.
  • Evaluate: Establish ways to evaluate the development effort to see if it has lasting effects.
The book is about the practice of Emotional Intelligence. It's pretty insightful. However I feel I will get a clearer idea if I read the first book 'Emotional Intelligence'.

The Absent One - Movie Review

A Scandinavian trilogy with two police detectives from the famous Department Q - the Drunk and the Arab. A heavily burdened Dept Q gets a request from a retired police officer to reopen the murders and rape of teenage twins, his children, a couple of decades ago. When refused he kills himself by slitting his wrists in an X pattern in a bathtub (all irrelevant stuff). He leaves a box with clues.

The team finds many murders, rapes and other such stuff committed by school kids, one rich boy and his sidekick. They are helped by a crazy girl who is the rich boy's girlfriend until she becomes pregnant and finds that rich boy has no ideas of accepting fatherhood. She disappears from the scene. The detectives now have to find her to know more. They find that the rich man and his sidekick and now respectable men in society but are still at their old tricks. The girl is now fully crazy and dangerous.

A nice end to the movie with all the villains killed and disposed off in an efficient manner. Now to see the other two. In fact, this one was the middle one. I think the title refers to the girl.

Books I'd Recommend To Shreya

Kiran asked me my list of books that I'd recommend for Shreya, his eighteen year old. Here's my partial list which I propose to keep expanding (includes a couple I need to read yet). It is one regret of mine (there is a growing list of those now), it is that I did not read enough of the stuff I should have read when I was eighteen.

Zorba the Greek
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
Love in the times of Cholera
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
The Great Gatsby
Animal Farm - George Orwell
Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
The Stranger - Camus
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Haroun and the sea of stories  - Salman Rushdie
Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
One Flew over the cuckoo's nest
Of Mice and Men -Steinbeck
A Confederacy of Dunces
The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
Siddhartha - Herman Hesse
Atlas Shrugged/Fountainhead - Ayn Rand
Any book by Wodehouse - preferably a Jeeves or a Ukridge one
Malgudi Days - R.K. Narayan
The Untouchable - Mulkraj Anand
The Mahabharatha
Tao of Pooh - A. A. Milne

The Prophet - Kahlil Gibran
Freedom at Midnight
The Last Nizam
The Mindset - A New Psychology of Success - Carol Dweck
The Richest Man in Babylon
Start with why - Simon Sinek
Tuesdays with Morrie
7 habits of highly successful people - Steven Covey
The Checklist Manifesto - Atul Gawande
Autobiography of a Yogi
Art of War - Sun Tzu
Man's Search of Meaning - Victor Frankl
Tao te Ching - Lao Tzu
In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf
A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking
A Short History of Nearly Everything - Bill Bryson
The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins
The Republic - Plato
The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank
My Experiments with Truth - Gandhi
Thus Spoke Zarathustra -Friedrich Nietzsche
Everybody loves a drought - P. Sainath
Nine Lives - William Dalrymple
The Story of Philosophy - Will Durant
The Music Room - Namita Devidayal

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Nice Link - Dad's Are Always There

Thought for the Day - If We Don't Interfere With Life, It Comes Up With the Best Solutions

I bought some groceries at the supermarket this morning and stood in line, my shopping cart lined up behind the guy in front. After a few minutes a young man came up with some stuff he purchased and dumped it on the counter beside the guy in front. His predicament was this - he had bought some stuff, put it on the counter, went to buy more and since he put some stuff on the counter, automatically felt he deserved a place in the queue.

He stood there next to my cart, not looking at me, but certainly intending to cut into the line once the guy in front was done with. I decided to wait and see what he would do because he would physically have to push the cart aside to cut into the line. I wondered whether he would ask me or not, more so since there was no one else behind me. The moment the guy in front moved to the billing counter, the young man pushed the cart aside without looking at me and stepped into the line.

I normally might have asked a question or two but this time I decided to wait and watch.
And then this happened.

A young girl appeared out of nowhere and pushed my cart to the next billing counter. 'Come here sir,' she said. She worked at a frenetic pace, unloading my stuff and billing me so fast that I was done even before the guy at the next counter had moved.

As I sat in the car park waiting to reverse I saw this young man walk past me, not looking me in the eye, carrying the few items he had. I realised that I had way more than he had and the irony was clear to both of us.

I was left wondering how life has a way of making things right perhaps, if we do not interfere with its process. The key I felt, was to be non-judgmental, non self-righteous (I tried hard to be that today) and certainly to trust the process and let it unfold.  

Monday, April 10, 2017

Nice Link - Beautiful Sigiriya!

Nice Link - Pics That Make You Think

Anjali - IPL 2017, Her First IPL Experience

I promised Anjali, the die-hard Sunrisers Hyderabad and David Warner fan, that I would take her to the opening match of the 2017 version. I had decided to buy tickets, considering the uncertainty over the passes that HCA gives to first class cricketers (they gave one). To my surprise I found that the tickets to the opening game were all sold. Amidst great emotional upheavals I finally booked tickets for the second game on the 9th.
Opening match from the boring lounge
However it so happened that I managed to get two passes for the opening game and Shobha and Anjali, both die hard Bollywood, reality show, cricket and sports fans, decided to see the match and the opening ceremony. So I dropped them at the venue and made off to Don's house to watch it on TV.
With Mustafizur and Kane Williams (2d versions)
I checked once to find out if they were bored with the match and if they wanted to come away at half time. I got an emphatic No (from Anjali). I picked them up at the end of the game which was well past 12 in the night and well there was a whole new excitement about the game. The passes were of the HCA lounge where they are in some sort of an enclosed air conditioned space and though the comforts and food are nothing to complain about the complete insulation from the sound and lack of a TV in the room left them perplexed. There was no way they could know what was happening outside other than their own senses and the big screen at the ground. But the first experience is always a big one so Anjali was happy.

Now, we still had the tickets I booked. This was for some stand I don't know which and it looked fine on the computer screen. We started off in the hot sun at 2 in the afternoon and barely made it to the ground at 330 - the traffic near the ground takes up 45 minutes at least. We could park, squeeze our way through and found ourselves at ground level but exactly perpendicular to the pitch which is the worst position to watch a match. Anyway Anjali, all dressed in her Sunrisers t shirt and waving her Sunrisers flag, was super happy to be in with the crowd. We were next to a huge stage where they played music from and exhorted us to shout and whistle and dance etc. So the crowd was dancing all the time and jumping about and Anjali seemed to identify with this kind of a thing. She was on her feet almost all the time waving her flag, those balloons and cards. We had an enterprising chap selling burgers and he would go 'Burgerrr, Burgerrr' in the same manner as one goes 'Sixerrr, Sixerrr' or 'Sachinnn, Sachinnn' and the crowd joined him in his chant. Lots of food - water melon, french fries, burgers, pizzas, soft drinks.

The match was the most boring one I ever watched. For starters they could not read Rashid Khan at all and soon got themselves into a tangle. Then they opened with Raina who pretty much settled the issue by giving away three sixes in his first two overs. And then he came back to say that the' Afghani bowler' bowled well (he could well say that Australian bowler or that South Indian bowler bowled well)  and they did not play him before so they got out (give me a break) and that their bowling was bad and the batting could do better. I think they should change their captain and get McCullum on if they need any life. Why waste two good swing bowlers like Dhawal Kulkarni and Praveen Kumar and bowl himself with the new ball? For just that one decision I'd sack Raina.

Anyway it took a long time to extricate ourselves from the stadium parking and we were home, tired and happy. Anjali lost her flag but got back two cards with that 4 and 6 printed on them. Overall she was thrilled with the experience and now hopefully will find other people more enthusiastic and closer to her age to watch the games with - like her cousins. Hopefully I have seen the last of these games from the stands. I realised after a while I was the oldest person in these stands - the girl next to me would dance from her seat with new moves every time a song was played. All oldies I think head for the air conditioned lounges and I should get there too if I want to watch at the ground. Or do what I did all these years - watch at home.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Wisdom of Gibran - Edited by Joseph Sheban

Joseph Sheban brings a collection of Kahlil Gibran's words from 'Secrets of the Heart', 'Spirits Rebellious' and 'Broken Wings'. Some of the thoughts that stayed with me.

'A little knowledge that acts is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle'.

'He who doe snot seek advice is a fool. His folly blinds him to Truth and make him evil, stubborn and a danger to fellow man.'

'Bravery is a volcano, the seed of wavering doe snot grow on its crater.'

'I abstain from those who consider insolence, bravery and tenderness, cowardice. And I abstain from those who consider chatter wisdom and silence ignorance.'

'The things which the child loves remain int e domain of the heart until old age. The most beautiful thing is that our souls remain hovering over the places where we once enjoyed ourselves.'

'Conceal your troubles, then, should the seas roar and the skies fall you will be safe.'

'Contradiction is a lower degree of intelligence.'

'When we turn to one another for counsel we reduce the number of enemies.'

'Man is like the foam of the sea that floats upon the surface of the water. When the wind blows, it vanishes, as if it had never been. Thus our lives are blown away by death.'

'Despair weakens our sight and closes our ears. We can see nothing but the spectre of doom and can hear only the beating of our agitated hearts.'

'One hour devoted to mourning and lamenting the stolen equality of the weak is nobler than a century filled with greed ad usurpation.'

'Friendship with the ignorant is as foolish as arguing with a drunkard.' 

'Braving obstacles and hardships is nobler than retreat to tranquility. The butterfly that hovers around the lamp until it dies is more admirable than the mole that lives in a dark tunnel.'

 'I use hate as a weapon to defend myself. Had I been strong, I would never have needed that kind of a weapon.'

'Hell is not in torture; hell is in an empty heart.'

'The learned man who has not judgment is like an unarmed soldier proceeding into battle.'

'The gifts that derive from justice are greater than those that spring from charity.'

'He who understands you is greater kin than your own brother. For even your own kindred may neither understand you nor know your true worth.'  

'The true worth is a nation lies not in its gold or silver but in the learning, wisdom and in the uprightness of its soul.'

'In the will of man there is power of longing which turns the mist in ourselves into the sun.'

'Madness is the first step to unselfishness.'

'Do not be merciful, but be just, for mercy is bestowed upon the guilty criminal, while justice is all that an innocent man requires.'

'To be modest in speaking the truth is hypocrisy.'

'Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge.'

'Greatness is not an exalted position.
Greatness is for he who refuses position.'

'Prayer is the song of the heart.'

'Riches are not in money alone. How many wanderers are the richest of men.'

'Know your own true worth and you shall not perish.'

'Sex is always beautiful, and it is always shy.'

'In every winter's heart there is a quivering spring, and behind the veil of  every night there is a smiling dawn.'

'A word of compassion to the weak criminal or prostitute is nobler than the long prayer which we repeat emptily every day in the temple.

'Whoever would be a teacher of men let him begin by teaching himself before teaching others; and let him teach by example before teaching by word.'

'If your knowledge teaches you not the value of things and frees you not from the bondage to matter, you shall never come near the throne of truth.'  

Disconnect - Movie Review

Put the Internet around people, give them access to all the good and the bad in the world and step back. Watch as people blindly trust the convenience, misuse it and cause misery to themselves and others. It's there to stay so it is better to know it some more.

Kids who fool others with fake ids and fall for the easiest punch - of love and approval. Kids who are offering love and approval and some kinky stuff on private cams and giving their customers an outlet. Lonely adults getting cheated on chat rooms, gambling and sex sites and losing their privacy, money. Online shaming nearly taking the life of one child and getting another into serious trouble. All that's one click away. All that shows how disconnected and faraway we are from reality and how much we are drifting away further.

I would have liked the movie to go on and end on a hard-hitting note instead of the safe and happy route with nice possibilities. It could have made more people a bit more aware.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Now You Can Pr-order 'This Way Is Easier Dad' on Amazon!

Here it is! My fourth book "This Way Is Easier Dad".

Now you can pre-order the book on Amazon and they deliver it when it is released (April 15, 2017).
Jaico, Rs. 350

So go ahead, clink on the link below and pre-order!

Marley and Me - Movie Review

Anjali and me watched Marley and Me, a long pending project. The dog and animal lover that she is Anjali somehow gathered courage to see a move that had a sad ending. The patience with which John handles Marley's capers and the tenderness with which John caresses Marley when Marley is dying pretty much puts the entire movie into context.

Based on a bestselling book of the same name by John Grogan, that is also based on a real life Marley and me is 'funny mostly and a little sad in the end' in Anjali's words. Thoroughly enjoyable!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Thought for the Day - When You're One With the Environment, You're In the Zone

This was a difficult concept to understand and I suppose I got a fleeting glimpse into it. (It is the central theme of my first attempt at fiction 'The Misfit' - as yet unpublished but simmering still.) The idea and the experience needs more work though. But its exciting enough to share.

While driving on the highway on a long drive recently, I was aware of the concentration and awareness required of me to drive safely. As a rule I never stretch beyond the comfort zone especially on the highway (I am sure even in other places) so I was pegging away at a safe and comfortable speed. I could still sense the uncertainty on the expressway as cars zipped by, moved in a zig-zag fashion and intruders on the highway. To increase my speed would be increasing my uncertainty - so I needed to find something that will make me more certain.

I decided to use one of exercises that I read and heard about (Sadhguru talks of it in his book 'Inner Engineering'. Pam Grout in 'Thank and Grow Rich', Patrick in a talk I heard and many more times) - to be one with the environment. So I started to feel one with the steering, then the car, then the road, then the vehicles on the road ahead of me - which seemed like aimless projectiles ready to careen off in any direction. Until then.

An interesting thing happened. As I sensed myself expanding into the steering, the car, the road and the other vehicles, I could sense a slowing down of the world around me. It became more deliberate, more in control. It seemed like I was in control because it was all a part of me now and not alien to me anymore nor hostile. I was not reacting to what was out there because it was now me. That other car was me, the road was me, the steering was me and so on. I almost felt like I could see it all in slow motion that I felt I could control it even if something went off like a missile.

A mere glimpse this. I could not sustain it for too long. But each time I tried it worked - fleetingly - but I could sense that change. It's the same feeling I got and can never forget - while batting and I knew I was in total control of the proceedings (got 158 that game), while bowling and I could 'make the ball talk' as they say (6 for 21 and an incredible performance), once in the later part of the TEDx speech when I felt I had everyone connected to me on a string. And some moresuch instances but these are what come to mind now. Glimpses of that elusive "zone" that I felt happened to me in some rare moment when the stars aligned.

Now I feel that perhaps I did become one with the environment then and that is what the elusive zone is about. It's a moment of stillness, a deep and rooted feeling to move from being the one who reacts to being the one who has total control, one who can slow it down and respond in his own time.

More on it as I experience it.    

Field of Dreams - Movie Review

Based on W.P. Kinsella's book 'Shoeless Joe' this one is as unusual a movie as they can get. It  has sports, fantasy, dreams, family, forgiveness, philosophy and ghosts merging seamlessly. How does Kinsella achieve the rare feat? Simply by making a young father/farmer, Ray Kinsella, who has bridges to mend with his dead father hear voices in his corn field.

'If you build it, he will come' says the voice in the corn field, persistently. Then the young farmer sees the vision of a baseball diamond on his corn field and realises that is what he must build. Against all common sense he invests all his money into building a baseball field at the cost of his crop. On comes the ghost of 'Shoeless Joe' - a baseball player of incredible skill who played a few decades ago and who was now dead and whom the farmer's father admired. Only the family can see Shoeless Joe. Joe brings his pals from the Chicago Red Sox to practice. Another incident at a PTA meeting and a dream about a famous author convinces Kinsella to take a trip to New York even as his farm is under threat of being taken over. The author's book was what inspired young Kinsella to rebel against his father.

Nothing seemingly comes out of the trip except that he and the author get the next lead - a news flash in the baseball game about a player 'Moonlight Graham' who played one match. Now these two head off to meet Dr. Graham, who they discover has been dead for twenty years. However Ray Kinsella goes back in time and meets Dr. Graham who says he is ok with a failed career in baseball because he managed to help so many people as a  doctor. He refuses Ray's offer to play with his ghost team and revive his old dream of being a successful baseball player.

Now the voices are back and they say 'Ease his pain'. Whose pain? What pain? Ray Kinsella and the old author now head back to the farm which is on the verge of being taken over - and on the way pick up a young Dr. Graham who is heading out to try his hand at professional baseball. In an accident where Rays daughter gets badly hurt, young Graham steps over the line, becomes old Dr. Graham, saves her and then heads out with Shoeless Hoe and the others into the fields. But not before all the greats acknowledge Graham as someone who had the goods to be a great baseball player as well. As everyone leaves, and most of their dreams are fulfilled it appears, there is one player left. Ray realises that its his father Kinsella senior in his youth and in his baseball clothes. Ray goes and plays baseball with his father, thereby easing the pain he caused his father all those years ago when he refused to play with him. As this last piece falls into place, Ray's daughters prediction that 'people will come to watch baseball' at their ground turns true and we see hundreds of cars lining up to see the baseball ground in the corn fields. Obviously Ray will be a rich man.

A more incredible story I have not heard. But it all seems perfectly possible. And even better, it kept us wanting to watch because we had no clue what was going to happen next. So, you can write stories like this too huh. Kevin Costner never looked better. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Unladylike - Radhika Vaz

The book lives up to its name and is certainly unladylike. I learned about vaginal farts (or something to that effect - I could not locate it when I tried to find it later) for the first time. The other ideas of being unladylike were more or less in line - breast and body parts humour, opposite sex humour, parents humour, booze/ cigarettes humour, toilet humour, wanting to be a prostitute but being middle-class humour, US humour etc. Radhika Vaz is a comedian, an ex-advertising professional and more.

Radhika is, like the blurb says - effortlessly funny (in parts). But the story went off track somewhere when she started her US plans. Until then it was fun and giddy-headed in a fun way but then it slowly assumed some serious dimension and one could sense a restraining hand on the narrative. At one point I wondered what happened to the main objective of going to the USA in the first pace until the main objective makes a sudden entry in one chapter. Only sometime towards the end does she take that restraint off and ease back a bit.

It left me feeling that Radhika has so much more to offer than what she did in this book. There is a feisty angle to her, a brazen honesty and a fine sense of humour which makes her extremely interesting as a person. But the is not all of her - she is more than that brand 'Unladylike' - and perhaps my grouse is that I have been shortchanged as a reader in not knowing the other aspects. The book would have been gentler, maybe even some 'ladylike' parts but it would have rounded off what could have been a far more interesting book. The first half is far more relatable and funny while the second half failed to grab me and I zipped through it without any feelings of guilt of having missed something.

Radhika has a distinct voice, is brutally honest and has an easy and effortless humour. All honest creative work is laudable and so is this. But this is not her best work and I am sure she will come back with a funnier book soon. Can't miss this - the cover is brilliant.