Monday, December 31, 2018

The Year in Books - 2018

66 books.
Thanks are owed to so many who gifted or recommended books to me - Sagar, Vinod, Sunil Jyoti, Shobhs, Anjali, Abhinay, Mythily, Chitra Viraraghavan, Rajesh Janwadkar, Rajendra Nargundkar, Satish Nargundkar, Gauri Dange, Krishna Gubili, Krishna Prasad Nukala

1) Wonder - R.J. Palacio
2) The Autobiography of an Unknown Indian - Nirad C Choudary
3) The Magic of Thinking Big - David Scwarzpf
4) Democracy's XI - Rajdeep Sardesai
5) The Way of the Screenwriter - Amnon Buchbinder
6) The Inner Game of Work - Timothy Galloway
7) Work - Thich Nhat Hanh
8) Don't Get Me Started - Mitchell Symons
9) The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand
10) The Magic of Moonlight and Other Stories - Sudha Murthy
11) A Feast of Vultures - Josy Joseph
12) Principles - Ray Dalio
13) An Era of Darkness - Shashi Tharoor
14)How to Win Freinds and Influence People - Dale Carnegie
15) 50 Greatest Short Stories
16) Mossad - Michael Bar-Zohar
17) The Best Writing on writing -Jak Heffron
18) Notes from the House of Dead - Fyodor Dostoevsky
19) House of Cards - Sudha Murthy
20) Knot for Keeps - Sathya Saran
21) Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari
22) The Magic of the Lost Temple - Sudha Murthy
23) How to become a Buddha in 5 weeks - Giulio Cesare
24) Darkness at Noon - Arthur Koestler
25) Bang on the door - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
26) You are a badass at making money - Jen Sincero
27) Botham, An autobiography - IT Botham
28) Wise and Otherwise - Sudha Murthy
29) The Habit of winning - Prakash Iyer
30) Measure what matters - John Doer
31) The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown
32) Into the Great Heart - Kamla Kapur
33) in the sanctuary of a poem - Salil Chaturvedi
34) The Dhoni Touch - Bharat Sundaresan
35) Delhi Thaatha - Chitra Viraraghavan
36) Only the Paranoid Survive - Andrew Grove
37) The Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying - Sogyal Rinpoche
38) Sun Mere Bandhu Re, S.D. Burman - Sathya Saran
39) Dave Barry is not taking this sitting down - Dave Barry
40) Anything to look hot - Jas Kohli
41) TED Talks - Chris Anderson
42) The Dark Room - RK Narayan
43) India Cried that Night - Supratim Sarkar
44) High Output Management - Andrew Grove
45) Arabian Nights
46) Classic Short stories
47) Black Friday - Hussain Zaidi
48) Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow - Daniel Kahneman
49) The 39 Steps - John Buchan
50) 281 and beyond - VVS Laxman and Kaushik
51) The Boy in Striped Pajamas - John Boyne
52) Always a Parent - Gauri Dange
53) Sita -Devadutt Pattnaik
54) Passion Quotient - Virender Kapoor
55) Comedy Writing Secrets - Melvin Helitzer
56) Revenge of the Gaia - James Lovelock
57) I am not a crook - Art Buchwald
58) Half Lion - Vinay Sitapati
59) Guide - RK Narayan
60) I am a Troll - Swati Chaturvedi
61) On the Road to Tarascon - Arnab Nandy
62) The Fire Burns Blue - Karunya Kesavan and Sidhanta Patnaik
63) Viriah - Krishna Gubili
64) Flow - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
65) The Great Railway Bazaar - Paul Theroux
66) Kwaidan - Lafcadio Hearn

In fiction, I ticked off The Fountainhead finally, 39 Steps, Darkness at noon, Wonder, Guide. In non-fiction, I enjoyed reding Flow, Sapiens, Measure What Matters, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Viriah, High output Management, How to be a Buddha in 5 weeks, Thnking Fast and Thinking Slow. Biographies included VVS Laxman's book, Half Lion and Botham's bio. I was very impressed by 'The Fire Burns Blue' a debut book by Sidhanta Patnailk and Karunya Kesavan. Comedy writing by Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Mitchell Symons made life so bearable.

The Dictator - Movie

Funny. Complete slapstick comedy but serious political satire as he says it like it is.

The Year in Action - 2018

The year has been different. It started with a month-long detox from the blog. After which I got back to it. Some new stuff - like two biographies that came my way, an improved consciousness (read as comfortable in letting go).

Books (67)
Some good ones - most impacted by 'Measure what matters', 'The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying' among others.

Movies (101)
Again, one better than last year. Watched some classics like Julius Caesar, Amarcord, Il Bidone, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Pather Panchali, Unishe April. Loved most.

Dharamshala, Indore, Mandu, Ujjain, Bangalore, Pune

Tenzin, Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, Rajdeep Sardesai, N. Venkat Rao, Krishna Gubili, Sidhanta Patnaik

Satish Nargundkar, Anjali, Venkata Rao

Talks (9)
ECS Consultants Annual Get together, UoH- DoD Orientation Lecture, Aurora - Orientation lecture, Hooper Labs- Anniversary talk, Amar's Pensieve - Cricket and Team Building, Anita's Attic - Writing, Reliance Retail - Learning Mindset, Sultan Ul Loom - Learning Mindset, MDP for SCR - Inspirational Leadership

Workshops (7)
Construction Specialities (Leadership training), Gap Miners (Time Management), PES (Communication and Leadership), UoH (Excellence), Mental Conditioning (Cricket), Infiniti Tech Labs (Win by Design -Cricket Workshop)

Arts Management - Department of Dance, University of Hyderabad

Events Attended
HLF - Moderating discussion with Rajdeep Sardesai
Stages - A Play - thanks Naresh

Knot for Keeps (contribution to a marriage anthology edited by Sathya saran for Harper Collins)
Blogs (329)
HANS India Columns (25)

Book Launches
HLF- Rajdeep Sardesai
Book Fair - Vasudev Prasad
Krishna Gubili - Viriah
Movie Premiere - Premaku Raincheck

Panel Discussions
Trailblazers - IMT, Shamshabad (Dev Prasad, Rajesh Kamath)

New Things
Off writing the blog for 40 days
Pulling off a nice surprise birthday for Shobhs with Anjali
Discovering Isha Life
Writing two biographies

Gifts I Got
Several books - Abhinay, Sagar, Raja, Satish, Shobha, Anjali, Ram

Gifts I Gave
Books mainly

Somewhere there.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Hungry - Movie

A 2017 adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Titus Andronicus', it is as macabre as any movie you would see in an Indian setting. Directed by Bornila Chatterjee, N. Shah, Tisca Chopra and others, it captures two rich families and their power games. Not for those with a weak stomach - especially the meal N. Shah prepares in the end. (He makes a meal of his enemies, literally.)

Baby Driver - Movie

Satish wanted us to take a look at some parts of Atlanta where this movie was shot so we watched it. It's about a young teenage driver called - you guessed it "Baby - who has a hearing problem but who can drive a getaway car very fast. The movie by itself was no great shakes but we got to see Satish's University in the background. Avoid if you don't want to watch Atlanta in the background.

My Musical Notes 20 - Rocky III

Rummaging through the tapes, I found this old one of Sylvester Stallone's 'Rocky'. I first heard of the 'Eye of the Tiger' from Naresh who told me about this fabulous song by a new group called Survivor which he heard at a New Year's Party. I had not yet heard about 'Rocky' series or even if I did, was not a big fan.

So when Mani (aka Satyanath) my neighbour showed me his cassette and gave it to me, I took it home and listened to it over and over again. 'Eye of the Tiger' was brilliant but so were 'Take you back' and 'Pushin' and the overall theme music. Now when I opened it I found Mani's signature on it. So I caught him the other day when he was walking the dog, showed him his old tape and took a picture of us with it.

'Eye of the Tiger' gave us many hours of pleasure in parties. My friends who were also boxers - Madhav, Vardha, Ranjan, Choudary (the last three only rained with them) - were big fans and they would imitate Stallone and his stuff. And of course show off their budding or non-existent biceps. 'Eye of the Tiger' certainly inspired many in the gym those days. Survivor however never had another big hit if i remember right.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Kwaidan - Lafcadio Hearn

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn was a writer and journalist who went to Japan in 1890 from the USA as a Japanese correspondent and settled down there. His books about Japanese legends and ghost stories are his most popular works. His memorial in Matsue town is a popular tourist attraction. The book was a thoughtful gift by someone to Anjali and I could not resist reading the Japanese ghost stories (with an intro by Ruskin Bond who loves a ghost story as much as anyone else!)

An old man gives up his life for blossoms on a cherry tree, a man meets a faceless woman, a priest is turned into a corpse eater until he is redeemed for his sins, a duck haunts the hunter who shot her companion, a ghost makes a man promise her that he will never reveal her existence and when he does, she disappears, a man is reborn as a small child who recollects exactly enough to reveal his identity and then goes back to his new life and so on.

Lovely short stories each with their own wisdom about life and death. I enjoyed reading the tales and legends that do not seem very different from our own.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Cricket Workshop 'Win by Design' - Infiniti Tech Labs LLC

We did a half-day workshop for Infiniti Tech Labs LLC on Team Building titled 'Winning By Design'. It's an experiential workshop where participants learn through the game, how teams come together, win by design and form champion teams.
Infiniti Tech Labs Team 
There were about 15 participants, including 3 women participants, and they participated enthusiastically. Participants were - Team A - Santosh (C), Gautami, Ajay, Inder, Santosh, Murli, Ramesh, Shrikant and Team B -  Basheer, Suresh,Sumir, Raghu, Sujit, Neelima and Poornima.
Game on!
Two games were played, eight overs a team. The first game dealt with the importance of common purpose, or something that is common to every member of the team, something that binds the team together.
'It is our common purpose that binds us together - the common purpose that we are here to do great work and grow as individuals and as a team, to create great results. Together we can all do so much more!' 

Quote on Purpose From "50 Not Out" 
"Teams are bound by a clear and common purpose. The common purpose binds the team together. It challenges the entire team and lifts it to a higher plane. Team energies come together to fulfill the purpose. It gives a sense of worth, of togetherness. A team with a clear purpose turns up like a well-trained army as one unit and performs better."

"He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how" - Nietzsche
A team without a common purpose - a team divided
It was also about choosing the leader, choosing our roles and attitudes to take into the game because as part of the team, we also get a share of the blame and the credit. Also, when the team wins, we win as individuals, and not the other way around.
Penning their thoughts
'When the team wins, I win. The team can achieve far more than I can achieve individually. As part of a winning team, I will always be known as a winner. I will do my best in all capacities to make my team win.'

Quote on Team Spirit from '50 Not Out'
"The team is always bigger than the individual. The team comes first. Sign up now. Participate wholeheartedly and help your team's progress. Give 100 percent without expecting anything in return. Even if you are a lowly employee or a reserve player, take your team's progress personally and help your team win. Your good will come about in ways that you cannot imagine when you team wins. You get more opportunities at the bigger stages. 

"Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships" - Michael Jordan

Team B scored 60 and Team A scored 38.
Planning and strategising - or rather organising effort!

Some learnings after the first game from the participants
-  better teamwork, better coordination, more ownership, plan and strategise beforehand, hang on with grit, ask and give help with other team members, communicate with team and leader, plan after every over, choose right leader, plan on how to improve individual performance, motivate others, support team in all matters, see that task is completed, keep morale high, give 100%, be strong mentally, effort, take more responsibility, psych yourself up, take help, . 
Team A planning
Quote of Strategy from '50 Not Out'
"Identify your strengths and play to them. it is your easiest route to success. When you put your energies behind your strengths, you leverage maximum advantage for yourself. Work 80% on honing your strengths and 20% on improving your weaknesses. As your strengthsgrow, your weaknesses will naturally diminish."  

Before the second game, we discussed the various ways that champion teams are built. We needed a common purpose and we found that (the team must win). We also discussed that for the team to win it is evident that the team must perform to potential. To perform to potential all individuals must perform to their potential. So we discussed how the best could be brought out of each individual and then, how the team must, in its own interests, come together to perform to its potential.
'First help yourself give your best performances, help others give their best performances and ask for help to better your own performance. Commit to your role and delivery fully.'

Quote on Preparation from '50 Not Out'
"Your performances reflect your preparation. The only way to perform well is to be fully prepared for every job. Put in hours to develop skills and leave nothing to chance. As your preparation gets better, appropriate opportunities present themselves. The kind of opportunities that open up indicate your level of preparation."

"Preparation isn't about hoping for the best; it's about having a strategy to cope with the worst, whatever that takes.' - Tom Phillips 
Warming up before the final 
Goal clarity, roles, targets, commitment, team culture, feedback, planning and strategy, communication, how to bring out the best potential of resources, how to empower and motivate the weak and unburden the strong players, and other issues were discussed by the teams. The importance of the team to come together as a FIST was discussed. When all fingers in the FIST fall in sync and do their roles, the FIST is at its most powerful.
'It is important to know our role and submit to the team's greater purpose because that gives the team greater power. Be a binding force in the team and not a disruptive one. Bring disagreements to the table to be discussed constructively instead of engaging in disruptive actions.'

Quote on Equality from 50 Not Out
"Everyone is equal in the team. When all members of the team are equal, the team comes together powerfully like a fist. When teams come together, they are most effective. No one is greater or lesser, everyone is equally important. As teams bond, everyone stands up for one another and greater synergies are achieved.'

"All men are created equal, it is only men themselves who place themselves above equality.' - David Allan Coe
Intense match!
The second game was a thrilling game with Team A scoring 62 (Inder 21, Ramesh 14, Gautami 12. Team B which looked totally out of sorts after four overs but the skipper of the team and his able partner batted with great restraint and commitment and took the score close to a winning total. In the end, Purnima, who played cricket for the first time, raised her hand and took the responsibility of taking her team over across the line and did it in style. Team B scored 70 (Sunil 18, Basheer 19, Surjeeet 10). I enjoyed the matches thoroughly. There was so much commitment, passion, desire to give one's best - this was all of them in their real and true avatars. It was heartwarming.
We're all in it together!
After the game, in the debrief we discussed how we do not take our best to the work because we are not sure. But this is an individual choice and it makes a difference to the team. We should make out choice to give our best every day, to encourage our team, to help our team win, because that way, we also win.

Quote on Attitude from '50 Not Out'
"Play to win. To win, be honest and clear that you want to win. Make your intentions clear. It will give you a competitive edge. You will win more than you lose with that attitude. Do not be afraid to lose. When you fear losing you become defensive. Commit yourself fully to the purpose." 

"I play to win, whether during practice or during a real game. And I will not let anything get in the wy of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win.' Michael Jordan

A team that stands together, holds each other
Some learnings after the second game
Harness team potential, enhance team spirit, grow leaders in the team, team effort is important, working in teams leads to success, deliver what's expected from you, contribution of individual is required when working in a team so participate, motivate everyone, play to strengths, expect the unexpected, break vision into actionable objectives, never lose hope, get everyone on the same page, have fun and enjoy what you do, plan well before executing, put extra effort, revisit your strategy set goals to achieve, common purpose is important, support your team, anything can happen, we need to keep cool and play the game, believe you are going to win and do not let down till the end,
have a backup plan to change according to changing situations

It was a good half day of learning and fun. Thanks Infiniti Tech Labs, Gautami and Ajay. Thanks also to the Jaisimha Cricket Academy, Santosh, Anuj and Mallaiah for assisting.

Viriah - Krishna Gubili

Krishna Gubili's debut book 'Viriah' is exactly the sort of a book I would love to see Indian writers write more of. It's a real story and does not shy away from the hard facts of our history. And simply it is real, it will always be better than any amount of flowery and self-deceptive fiction one can write. It is the true story of Krishna's search for his great grandfather's past, faraway in the sugar plantations of South Africa. Krishna's great-grandfather was one among the 1.3 million Indians who were shipped to sugarcane plantations in British colonies as indentured labour and stayed there for over three decades, most of which was not by choice.

Indentured labour is the way that British colonies invented to circumvent the abolition of slavery, but it was pretty much the same. The famines in India in the late 1800s forced many young men and families to fall to the lure of good money across the seas. Once they signed the papers they were pretty much in the power of their owners and worked in inhuman conditions in the sugar plantations in South Africa.

Krishna begins his story at a time when he was completely unaware of his history - s a child. However, through conversations with his paternal grandmother Nancharamma, he hears about his grandfather Nagoor, an educated sales officer in a paper company based in Vijayawada. (How many of us know of our grandfathers or of our great grandfathers and their histories really?) Through her, he hears of his great-grandfather Veerayya, who lived in Durban, South Africa and returned to India with wealth enough "to build a house with walls of gold". When asked what he did in South Africa she only told him that he was called 'Boiler Sirdar'. Krishna did not know what that was. A letter in the old trunk at home with a South African address, which was more of interest to Krishna for the African stamps for his philately collection than anything else, restarted the story.

That was when his grandmother told him that his grandfather had a sister in South Africa. Krishna's interest is rekindled as he tries to draw a family tree. He wrote to the address in the old South African letter he had found and wonder of wonders, he actually got a reply from his cousin Daniel Naidoo. Pictures, information - and then Daniel stopped writing. Meanwhile, Krishna went to the USA to work.

When he pursued the matter of his great-grandfather with the South African Embassy, he was directed to researchers. One of the researchers said he could not help locate Veerayya because locating records of indentured labour was difficult. That was the first time Krishna heard the term. When he researched what indentured labour Krishna realised that his grandfather had lived in slave-like conditions in South Africa working for British masters in sugarcane plantations. As he read more and more about indentured labour, he was moved by his grand father's plight. For years after that Krishna tried to find some link to his great grand-father. He got ship lists that were released by the South African government and pored through them. But what helped him finally was Facebook (through which my contact with Krishna was renewed too!) through which he located his niece Danae. She replied to a casual enquiry he made and the connection was made.

Krishna went to South Africa to meet his family. After meeting his family he embarked on the search for his great-grandfather again. The description of how he tried to locate details of his great-grandfather from the records in the archives at Pietermaritzburg, on Christmas Eve is wonderful. He finds that the archives are miraculously open till noon that day, rushes through all the records he can, pleads for time, past closing time with people waiting to go for their Christmas vacation, seeks divine intervention, asks the receptionist to hand him anyone last record, finds one which is out of his estimated timeline and guess what, finds Viriah Gubili. It is as breathtaking a moment as any. He has another wonderful experience finding and meeting his aunt Charmaine in an airport for a short while. It's a lovely, heartwarming journey and you feel every bit of the high and low of it as if you were there.

With enough information now, Krishna reconstructs the life of Viriah Gubili (spelt that way in the records - it should have been Veerayya). Viriah's childhood at Korlapadu in Krishna district, his sisters, father Ramaiah and mother Papamma. The dramatic circumstances in which Veerayya leaves home and is recruited by arkatis for indentured labour with tall promises. The terrible conditions at the warehouses as they wait for the ships, the ship journey to South Africa, friends, life and death, disappointment and hard work, romance and marriage, it goes on and on. Over a period of more than a decade at the sugar plantations, Viriah rises to be a boiler sirdar in the sugar mill, has a family of six sons and one daughter. One fine day he decides to leave it all and come back to India. It is a decision that haunts him all his life. One of Viriah's sons is Nagoor, Krishna's grandfather. Based in Hyderabad in India temporarily, Viriah's daughter Chengamma, leaves her family home in dramatic conditions and returns to Africa with her husband. The Boiler Sirdar faces a few more hurdles, buys a farm with his son Nagoor and in the end loses it all. One feels for the man, and for Krishna as he writes passionately and with great feeling about his past.

It is a story that must be read simply because we all are bound to it one way or another. This is our story - an Indian story. The kind of a story that must be told - while we try to hide our histories. And that is Krishna's greatest victory here - he tells the story without any feelings of shame or embarrassment (which most of us do with our histories) and tells it with great love and compassion. Even in the end he talks about the pain of these people, the conditions of workers from India who work in the Middle East in similar conditions, and expresses his helplessness at their lives. I looked the way he ended the story with a poem by Sahir Ludhianvi on the Taj Mahal where he urges his beloved that they should meet elsewhere and not the Taj because it mocks the love of the poor (from a translation of the poem by Ali Hussain Mir, Raza Mir).

The book is similar to 'Roots' and has as much passion and deserves as much attention and love. The other book I read about indentured labour was Amitav Ghosh's 'Sea of Poppies' and  I can categorically say that Krishna's account told me more about the lives of indentured labour, and moved me much more. I could fully identify with every character and visualise every scene. Krishna wrote the story simply and brilliantly and took me on an emotional journey with him. His desire to share the story, to find his past, and through that the past of many of us as well. It is one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time and one of the most impactful. I feel it is a great story to be adapted into a film - rarely do we get such stories where everything is perfectly set. I hope some producer picks it up. Also, this is a book that so deserves greater readership so I hope some literary agent or a large publisher picks it up as well.

It is a thorough and meticulous job, a labour of love and I can only compliment Krishna on this fine debut effort. And though Krishna says writing is tiring work, which I know it must have been after a journey of almost three decades, Krishna, you must write more. For all those who love great passionate stories, buy it and read it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Fire Burns Blue - Karunya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik

'The Fire Burns Blue' is easily one of the better cricket books I have read from Indian cricket writers. It is well researched, addresses an interesting, current and important topic and pretty much covers a part of Indian cricket history about which not much had been written. The one other cricket book of this kind which traced the history of Indian cricket comprehensively was 'The Covers are Off' by the late Rajan Bala which was about the BCCI and Men's cricket in India. The two young authors of 'The Fire Burns Blue' are in good company.

Indian Women's cricket has had a few names that we could remember from as far back as the 80s when we would buy the Sportstar. One remembers Shantha Rangaswamy and Diana Edulji, then we remembered Rajini Venugopal and then the Mithali Raj and Jhulan Goswami, until the World Cup last year when we saw Harmanpreet and the entire team. It was delightful to watch them and their brand of cricket which was so much more cultured than the way the men play. There was a touch of innocence, an amateurishness to the whole affair. The cricket itself was pure, correct and intense.

There is a helpful timeline given at the very beginning of the book that helps us trace how women's cricket grew and I will use a part of it here. In 1971-72 the first women's clubs were set up in Mumbai (Albees. where Diana Eduljee trained, and Indian Gymkhana), Pune (Challengers Club) and Madras (Sky Larks, where Sudha Shah, Fowzieh Khalili and Susan Itticheria played) so one can assume that was the first organised attempt at women's cricket. Sometime after that the WCAI (Women's Cricket Association of India) was set up at Lucknow by Mahender Kumar Shama, who originally organised softball and handball tournaments. The first women's cricket nationals were held in Pune in 1973 where two and a half teams played. Meanwhile, Bangalore had its Falcons Cricket Club (Shanta) and Calcutta had Kalighat Club. The second Nationals were held in Varanasi in December 1973 where Bengal and Tamil Nadu made it to the final. (some interesting stories there!). In 1973 the WCAI also worked to get affiliation to the International Women's Cricket Council in England (through a 19-year-old player, Neeta Telang, who managed it!). This affiliation is what gave WCAI legitimacy over other such bodies. The first Indian women's team was formed to play against Australia Under 25 on their tour of India - the first International. In 1974 the Rani Jahnsi interzonal tournament was begun and in 1975 the first Inter University tournament began in Rajkot, named after Gunamathi Nayudu, wife of CK. Under 15 and Under 19 tournaments were also organised. In 1976 Shantha Rangaswamy scored the first century in an unofficial test against New Zealand. In 1976 Indian women won their first Test match against West Indies at Patna (huge crowds watched that match). 1976-77 the team had its first overseas tour to New Zealand and Shantha scored the first official century (again!). In 1978 India hosted the second edition of the women's World Cup and played ODIs for the first time. In 1986 the team traveled to England, Sandhya Agarwal scored 190. The team missed the 1988 World Cup due to administrative apathy.

In 1993  the team finished fourth in the World Cup in England and in 1995 the team won the Tri-Nation Cup in New Zealand under Purnima Rau. Neetu David took 8 for 53. In 1997 the World Cup held in India, and the team lost in semis. Mithali scored a century on debut in 1999 and in 2002 Mithali made 214 against England. The team made it to final of World Cup and lose to Australia in 2005. In 2006, BCCI took over women's cricket. India made it to the semis of the 2009 World Cup and the semis of the T20 World Cup. In 2015 central contracts are awarded to female cricketers. In 2017 Indians ended up runners up to England in World Cup final. That's te outline of the story.

But the journey started with the WCAI being started by Mahendra Kumar Sharma who supported the cause of women's cricket from the early seventies. With great difficulty, the cash-strapped women's cricket teams managed to play a few games. There were few state games and fewer International games. Travel, safety, money, family, career, marriage all had a role to play in whether the girls pursued the game or not. So from the early days of Shantha Rangaswamy and Diana the WCAI struggled. There were times when there were no matches for years. Rajini Venugopal was one such who lost out for lack of International games for a gap of six years in her prime. Even the records of Shantha etc were reduced because some games were not considered international.

However, the team of Shantha, Diana, Shubhangi Kulkarni, Sudha Shah, Fowzieh Khalili, Arundhati Gosh and others managed to beat West Indies in Patna before a huge crowd. The grounds were bad, hotels shady, funds non-existent and many a time the Secretaries had to shell out from their pockets. Credit to them that no untoward incidents were reported then as they are now. The girls braved it all and did well to stamp their names. When administrators were not doing enough the girls formed a players association and contested and took over and improved their lot. There was an unofficial rebel tour to the USA as well in those days.

The contribution of Indian Railways in promoting the game by offering the girls jobs is massive. All the best players were lapped up the Railways. Then Air India came on the scene and recruited girls. Some amount of security was available for the girl cricketers.

The WCAI approached the BCCI several times to seek a merger but were rejected. when the ICC decided to take women's cricket under its wing, BCCI had to fall in line though it dragged its feet on it and was last to comply. (Srinivasan was quoted as saying that if he had his way there would be no women's cricket at all.) When BCCI finally merged the women's cricket into it, it was the first time the girls saw some comfort. From living in Railway coaches or shady hotels they started flying, living in star hotels, getting contracts it was a huge shift. Today girl cricketers are also offered central annual contracts just as men are. The A grade contracts are 50 lakhs, B grade 20 lakhs and C grade 10 lakhs. Finally, there is some money and recognition for the girls.
Sidhanta and me - At his Wisden Office in Bangalore before 'The Fire Burns Blue' was published

The authors met as many cricketers as they could - a long list that includes Shantha Rangaswamy, Diana Edulji, Purnima Rau, Sudha Shah, Shubangi Kulkarni, Mithali, Jhulan and so many more. It delves into selection issues, politics, the recent issues on the coach and so on. I was glad to see the names of Jyoti Prasad (though it is mentioned as Jyoti Prakash), Sampath Kumar, Jyoti Joshi and Pillay from Hyderabad being mentioned. Sampath sir coached us when we were part of the Ranji team and he was fully devoted to the game. In fact, I named the lead character in my novel 'The Men Within' after him.

I wish there had been more stuff on Sandra Braganza of whom we heard a lot when we were young and even Rajini Venugopal. Hyderabad had a lot of cricket for women thanks to Mr. Pillay who Baig sir recalls as taking mats to Women's College Koti and the VPG in autos to make them play matches. Jyoti Joshi, games director of Women's College was equally important. Four colleges played - Women's College. Reddy's College, Vanitha College, Kasturba, and maybe a couple more. Shobha tells me she was in the team for Women's College then which was led by Purnima Rau and they would play matches at Women's College and at the Victoria Play Ground. Baig sir's name is not mentioned but he recalls coaching the girls in Victoria Play Ground and lauded the work done by Pillay and Jyoti Joshi.

The book covered issues like sexual harassment and did not balk form naming the parties involved. The good work done by Anurag Thakur of HPCA in constructing a residential hostel for girl cricketers of Himachal Pradesh and also the good work done by Andhra Cricket Association which encouraged women's cricket right from the days of Mr. Venkat Rao are listed.

It is a well researched and thorough job and the authors must be complimented on such a sincere effort. It is well written too, spicing up the narrative with references to literary works or sporting, movie or historical examples and does not bore you with statistical details. The way they began with the story of triple international Shireen Kiash who played for India in cricket, basketball and hockey set the tone perfectly - we would never have known of her but for this book. The authors take a position about women and their role in society across ages. They quote Virginia Woolf. The narrative flies and very early in the book you start rooting for the girls and want them to do well against all odds. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was a big supporter and helped the early teams. There is a picture of the women's team with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi as well.

I personally prefer watching the women's brand of cricket these days just for the fact that it does not have the 'arrogance' as some coaches put it, that the men have. There is a way cricket has to be played and they play it that way. So for me, the book could not have come at a better time.

Karunaya Keshav and Sidhanta Patnaik, great job. This is one book for the collection. Impressive debut and I hope to see many more from them.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Book Launch of 'Viriah' by Krishna Gubili

This is no ordinary book. It's the story of Krishna's search for his great-grandfather Veerayya who went to South Africa as part of the 1.5 lakh indentured labour to work in sugarcane fields. It is a tough story and I believe a story that must be told because not many know of this part of our history. From what i have glimpsed at of the book and what Krishna read out yesterday, he did a great job of it.
Krishna reading from his debut book 'Viriah'
Krishna heard about his great-grandfather from his grandmother who would tell him stories of his grandfather and his family. He understood vaguely that his grandfather's family seemed to have gone to Africa and come back to India. But he never imagined that his grandfather was among the indentured labour - read as bonded labour - who had gone to work in the sugarcane fields there. Krishna, with great difficulty, connected with the South African links to his family. 'Viriah' is his debut book that tells a story worth telling. It is no pop fiction - it is history, it is real people and it is real life. It cannot get better than that. It's India's 'Roots'.
The audience listening enraptured
Krishna's writing process has been as interesting as his search for his roots and I am glad he finally completed the project and so well at that. We spoke a couple of times during the writing of the book when he called me from the US, where he now lives, to clarify some doubts. So when he said he was going to be in Hyderabad and planned a soft launch of the first copy with a few friends, I was more than happy to share the moment with him.
A group pic
Krishna did a great job of setting the context and then reading well-chosen passages from the book with such feeling and emotion that I could have just sat and listened to him narrate the story all day. He did a far better job of many things - choosing or rather creating the story, writing it so well and now reading it like a pro. I have not seen accomplished writers do half as good a job as he did.
Krishna, Me and Suresh
Shourie hosted the get together at the Club House at Orion Villas and we were joined by Ashok, Radha, JP, Anu, Ramesh, Venu, Ramana, Suresh. I took Abhinay along with me so he could update me on his recent exploits which included an interview with the Azim Premji Foundation.

I started reading the book and it reads very well indeed. Far better than many published writers I have read. Good show Krishna. Congratulations and wishing you well. You have already completed the hardest part of the journey. Best wishes for the rest and hopefully there are more books to come from your pen.

My Column in the Sunday HANS - Wedding Bills

My column in today's Sunday HANS

Friday, December 21, 2018

On the Road to Tarascon - Arnab Nandy

A missing Van Gogh -'The Painter on the Road to Tarascon' - is suspected to have been burnt in a fire along with several other paintings (and the curator) after World War II. But has the painting really been destroyed?

Picking up the trail in 2012 is the granddaughter of the curator of the museum who knew the secret. She picks up the cue thanks to her grandmother who has had an affair with the guy who saved the painting, a Britisher. Copies are made, governments are involved, paintings are exchanged. In 2012 the scene shifts to Kolkata where a young man finds himself drawn to a young German girl. The German girl is the curator's grand daughter. A third angle comes in, which is also interested in the painting. There is a race to find out the painting and whether it really is the real one.

A complex plot. Lots of angles. Arnab Nandy makes a promising debut. However, I wish he had delved deeper and fleshed out the main characters some more even at the cost of increasing the length. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

My Musical Notes 19 - Alisha Chinai's Jaadoo

This is of 1985 vintage certainly. Really old. I also suspect it is from Mani's collection and stayed on with me. It's a Hindi tape with the songs from the movie Tarzan on one side and Alisha Chinai cooing 'Jaadoo mera chal gaya' on the other. Pretty saucy video too.

Alisha was a serious pop star in the Hindi private pop albums. Blessed with a unique, girly voice she did complete justice to these songs. After Jaadoo her other songs were 'Mon Cheri' (with Annu Malik), 'Rutho na hamse' and a couple more songs.

Tarzan the movie was famous for Hemant Birje who played Tarzan and did a good job of playing dumb and the sensuous Kimi Katkar who showed enough skin to draw the audiences in. The song 'Tarzan' was pretty popular and was sung by Alisha Chinai. There's a song by Sharon Prabhakar and one by Uttara Kelkar. Subhash Ghai was pretty adventurous.

I Am A Troll - Swati Chaturvedi

Swati Chaturvedi is a journalist. She has been at the receiving end of trolling by trolls who react to anything she may say against the BJP government or the nation. Trolling is extensively abusive and completely aimed at making the targets cringe and run away - hinting at sexual relations, describing sexual acts etc. Swati filed an FIR against one particular troll. Then she went ahead and found out more about these nationalistic trolls.

The first chapter makes things pretty clear. 'Blessed to be followed by PM Modi'. There are 26 accounts that regularly sexually harass, make death threats, abuse politicians from other parties, journalists and single out women, minorities and dalits. PM Modi follows them, has not responded to questions as to why he follows them, and goes one step ahead and invites 150 of the trolls for a digital sampark at his residence. The 150 yodhas were chosen by the BJP IT Cell Coordinator Arvind Gupta. When one of the troll twitter accounts was suspended, Minister Giriraj Singh led a campaign to reactivate it. Attacking journalists online, posting communal statements and images and videos are part of the agenda.

Swati examines the BJP connection and actually interviews a troll, Sadhavi Khosla, who was a die hard Modi fan and who joined the IT cell. She left it disillusioned by the hate against anyone perceived to be anti Modi. Khosla incidentally got a series of chain mails giving misleading information about the Gandhi family. She was disillusioned to see PM Modi sending birthday greetings to abusive trolls whom he follows and not taking up the drug menace in Punjab about which she tweeted and tagged him. When the trolls went after Aamir Khan and Shahrukh Khan and even made Snapdeal sever ties with Aamir who was their brand ambassador, it was the last straw for her. Khosla believes that the campaign that targeted Aamir had the blessings of Amit Shah and Modi.

Swati then interviews three trolls in anonymous interviews and they reveal how they work.

All in all what's been already written in these couple of paragraphs is enough to make a lot of people thinking. Why is the PM following and inviting abusive trolls to meet and greet at his home? The book is pretty thin and gives a glimpse at best into this world. But given the situation, it's pretty brave.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

My Musical Notes 18 - Tina Charles's 'Greatest' and Michael Jackson's 'Off the Wall'

The cassette was the first host to two albums - Meatloaf's classic 'Bat out of hell' and Toto's 'TV'. Both great albums but somehow they did not appeal to me then. So when I spotted Tina Charles's Greatest Hits and Michael Jackson's 'Off the wall', I happily traded the earlier two albums. Of course, in later years, as I grew up and lost sweetness for bitterness, I brought back rock music into my life and these two albums came back.

Tina Charles was regularly played by the RJ on Yuvavani and the song 'Dance little lady dance' was a big hit. Other numbers like 'You set my heart on fire,' 'Love bug', 'Love me like a Lover' were all big hits. Tina has this unique voice and was much liked by my sisters, Chanti in particular who used to do a nifty little step on 'Dance little lady dance'.

I played the tape over and over again perhaps while studying or reading some novel. (My favorite memory of a book associated with music was Donna Summers 'Bad Girls' and The Godfather - done in one sitting!)

I did enjoy Tina Charles but Michael Jackson's 'Off the wall' was sensational. 'Don't stop til you get enough', 'Rock with you' and 'Get on the floor' were superb numbers. I haven't heard many people listen to this album but I loved it. 

Guide - R.K. Narayan

This was one book I missed in a whole bunch of RKNs books that I read. It was different because images of Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman kept interfering with my reading. And the tone of RKN's Guide seemed so different from what could have been shown on screen. Railway Raju in the book seems pretty far removed from anything urban, anything that involved duplicity - though he is a mischievous fellow.

Railway Raju grows up tending to his father's shop on the Railway station in Malgudi and acquires some knowledge by reading books, magazines and newspapers that he uses to wrap merchandise in. Blessed with the gift of the gab he soon became a sought-after figure at the station and soon turns into a local guide for tourists. All is well until Rosie arrives on the scene with her historian husband. Raju meddles in that complicated marriage, offers a shoulder and advise and helps the marriage break off. Rosie finds herself though - and pursues her passion Bharatanatyam and grows as an artist. Raju leaves his life behind and becomes her manager. The husband has long since gone off. These two now fight like a married couple. Until the day he is sent to jail for forgery of a document. Rosie, now Nalini, famous and rich, has since moved on to Madras. Raju becomes a wandering man who is mistaken for a holy man by some villagers and he finally tries to do the right thing by their faith in him.

It is the most complex of RKNs stories that I read so far. The characters have all kinds of shades and their relationships are complex. In his other novels the protagonists are simple people, almost Wodehousian, but here Raju brings a fatal flaw with him that pushes him to the brink. The affair between the married woman and the charming guide is not typical RKN - and what starts harmlessly enough with him helping her find her passions finally costs him his life.

Reading S.D. Burman's biography and the references to the nagin dance, Waheeda Rehman's pluck in speaking her mind, I am now enthused to correct another error in my choice of movies t date - watch Guide the movie.

RKN sold the rights of Guide to Dev Anand who made a hit movie but RKN was never happy with the movie nor the financial dealings that came out of it. Whether he wrote a book about film producers after his experience is something I need to investigate (he did write something called 'The Misguided Guide' - a humorous take-off on the Guide movie experience). Dev Anand met him at his house in Mysore - a house I am happy to report I visited - a few years ago. They were converting it into a museum. What my research tells me is this - that Guide was made into a Hindi and an English film and that the writer Pearl S Buck was instrumental in the making of the movie and the English version of it. The English version which is more faithful to the novel sank without a trace while the Hindi version which was significantly different, did very well.

Downsizing - Movie

Downsizing is literal. Scientists find a way to make humans consume less, use less resources to save the planet. The discovery has its own consequences - some happy some not so happy. Hong Chau is a revelation. If not for her...

Monday, December 17, 2018

Half Lion - Vinay Sitapati

This is a lovely gift from Abhinay complete with a nice message to me. This is also the third or fourth book he has gifted me - all diverse and eclectic in content. Vinay Sitapati's book on P.V. Narasimha Rao, former Prime Minister of India appears to have received wide critical acclaim with the Economist calling it 'The book of the year' and the Times of India calling Vinay 'the new rock star historian;. Vinay has a PhD in politics from Princeton University and has degrees from National Law School Bangalore and from Harvard. He is an Associate Professor who teaches Political Science and Legal studies at Ashoka University.

The book starts with the way PVNR was treated after his death on December 23, 2004, with Congress leaders persuading the family to cremate him in Hyderabad and not Delhi, refusing his body access to the Congress Bhavan and other such unpleasant politics over his death. the finger points clearly at Sonia Gandhi with whom PVNR did not share a great relationship after he was made Prime Minister. In the end, it was in Hyderabad, near the Tank Bund that his final rites were done, and Vinay actually ends up saying that his body was left half burnt (which is the title of the first chapter). It's rather dramatic but it serves its purpose - the former PM was not wanted in Delhi by the Congress by that stage.

Coming from a Brahmin family in Nizam ruled Vangara, in Karim Nagar district PVNR showed an exceptional penchant to learn. His father who was a landowner decided that PV was better off studying and he was sent to another village when he was five to study. The separation seemed to have a traumatic effect on young PV. He was adopted by his rich neighbour who owned some 1000 acres of land and was worried that it might be taken away by the Nizam. PV was debarred from college in Warangal when he and in college mates sang Vande Mataram against orders to stop and were expelled. This was in 1938, Rao was seventeen. He went to Nagpur to complete his degree then went to Pune to study astronomy. He went and studied law in Nagpur and then joined B Ramakrishna Rao, a lawyer in Hyderabad. Married pretty early to Satyamma, he sired eight children with her, but left her to handle the children as well as the lands while he studied and went about with his life and politics.

Rao was influenced by the nationalist leader Swami Ramananda Tirtha, President of Hyderabad State Congress who wanted the lands owned by the middlemen to be transferred to the tillers and make for a socialist society. His other mentor was B. Ramakrishna and he was made the president of Karimnagar district Congress and lost the election in 1952. In 1957 he won the election from Manthani. In 1956 when Andhra was carved from the Madras state there were demands for a separate Telangana. Rao became a minister in the state cabinet. He was in a relationship with one Lakshmi Kantamma, wife of a Forest Officer, who was elected to the Parliament. Rao never let his family close to the politics. He was also never interested in politics - he wanted to be an academic.

In 1971 he was made Chief Minister by Indira Gandhi. He was firm in enforcing his ideas of land reforms which were not very popular. However, the 'Jai Andhra' movement in 1972, which was an offshoot of the mulki judgment, cost him his Chief Ministership. He quietly acquiesced and stepped back. Then he became the General Secretary of the Congress Party. He saw the Emergency through and lived to see the return of Indira Gandhi the Blue Star Operation and the subsequent assassination of Indira Gandhi. All through, PV was seen as a man who would not trouble anyone, his demeanour, his quiet and perhaps even his stature made people feel secure with him. There is no reason why he got so many posts without high ambition. In 1970 his wife died. In Delhi he was friendly with a journalist Kalyani Shankar - romantically or no - it's not clear.

He served as Foreign Minister in Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet - at a time when Rajiv was trying to get rid of all the older people in the party and getting his own friends and 'yes' men into the party. There is an instance of how one of his friends makes PV put his foot down - a lesson in manners to the sixty plus politician - something he never forgot. When he became PM he banished them all. At the time of Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, he was all set to retire. He had sent his books back to Hyderabad and even taken up monkhood at a pitham in South India. Rajiv Gandhi's death opened up a new avenue for him and PV seemed to have played his cards well and somehow managed to become a PM in a minority-led government and at a stage when he was forced to make reforms. He picked his people well, Manmohan Singh was one of them, and went ahead with the reforms that pulled India out of economic crises. In those years he also faced the Babri masjid crises and started the nuclear program despite pressure from the US. He started selling India as am economy for foreigners to invest in, would take businessmen along with him to improve trade.

All through he was politically not very strong and survived by the skin of his teeth. He believed in godmen, Chandraswami and Sharma, had his private relations with women like Lakshmi Kantamma and Kalyani Shankar which he did not hide from anyone, went everywhere with his cook Rajaiah, read thousands of books and made detailed notes, mastered the computer and learned two languages. He wrote and translated books, tried his hand at fiction. He would read books by the dozen and would write notes of appreciation to the authors - Sitapati mentions a note to Arundhati Roy and her reply to him.

PV was a contradiction, a man thrust into the position of power without him wanting it. He would have been happier in a college just as Manmohan Singh might have been but they did bring their own brand of leadership and achieved much quietly. The Babri case was one where he was said not to have done anything - Sitapati devotes an entire chapter to it and it appears that PV tried to get parties together through backchannel talks, made errors in judgment about people and felt betrayed when the mosque was brought down. Despite the best of intentions, people are judged by the outcomes and PV will have to bear the cross. PV, right from his days as Chief Minister in Andhra, had a way of isolating himself by choosing a course of action in conflict with his mentors or his colleagues - land reforms in Andhra, hawala cases against his colleagues when PM, sidelining Rajiv Gandhi's friends and perhaps even ignoring Sonia Gandhi, overestimating his judgment and underestimating VHP and Shiv Sena and even Arjun Singh, these seemed to be some of his faults. That he did what he felt was right was pretty clear.

Small incidents give his character away. The way he takes apart a malfunctioning water pump and repairs it, the way he figures a way to get better yields from cotton, the way he learns ten languages and computers, and pretty much anything he sets his mind to are interesting. He was not one to worry about credit long as the job was done as in the case of the nuclear program (Vajpayee completed the job) and the economic reforms (he attributed that to Rajiv Gandhi). A weakness for women is one of his faults, it says.

An interesting book. Thanks Abhinay.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

My Musical Notes 18 - Leo Sayer's 'Endless Flight'

There was this little shop in Chirag Ali lane, one I never knew existed. Choudary took me there one day when we were in Abids for some work in our first year Engineering. I was thrilled to see that the quaint little shop had a very unique collection of music. I had never heard of most of those artistes - some rare stuff.

That visit, I bought Leo Sayer's 'Endless Flight'. It's one of those one-song tapes (like Yes's 'Owner of a Lonely Heart) which I found later. Leo's biggest hit was 'When I need you' - a delightful ballad that stays with you. Never heard much of the other songs but this one stayed in most of my slow song collections. Leo had another great hit 'More than I can say'.

Choudary was not much of a music collector, but he was enthusiastic about music (he is enthusiastic about everything). I clearly remember him coming along with me (he was my manager and chief negotiator then, and even now) when we went to buy a Phillips car deck and a couple of speakers. On my own, I would have probably bought a music system minus speakers or made some gaffe like that so I would always take him along to bring some sanity.

That was my first personal music system, my own, bought with some money I earned from some cricket prize. (Choudary would also come along to buy my first car, my first TV, and several other things for me). If I remember right we got it for 1200 bucks. What was brilliant about Choudary was that he also bargained with the shop in Abis to throw in a cassette free (things I would never have done). We got Iron Maiden's - 'The Number of the Beast' (Can I Play With Madness) which put me off iron Maiden forever. But since I lost that tape, I need to record this here.

That Phillips car deck with an auto-reverse system and green indicators that shoe warmly in the night, gave me hours and hours of musical pleasure. We somehow fixed it in an old books shelf which could hold all my cassettes at the bottom and the car deck above with those two speakers hanging up on the wall.

Thanks is owed to Choudary for my car deck, Iron Maiden and Leo Sayer for now. He will feature much more in more musical notes later of course.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Movie

It's a Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tennessee Willaims adapted into a movie. Released in 1958 it starred Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor.

A hurting and alcoholic ex-athlete who hates his wife, an older brother and his family who is out to get their share in their rich and dying father's wealth and the drama that unfolds over the space of two nights. Wonderful stuff.

I Am Not a Crook - Art Buchwald

It's a full book of columns that Art Buchwald wrote about Nixon and his bumbling Watergate gang and by the end of it, you know the entire story and some. In fact, Art dedicates this book to Richard Nixon. John Dean, someone called Stancy, Eldeman, Ehrlichman, Ron Ziegler, Charles Colson and his grandmother, Kissinger and his wife Nancy..and almost everyone even remotely connected with the White House. One column has two people working in the White House talking to one another, another where the White House is talking, plumbers, psychiatrists, George Washington, the much so that you wonder if any angle has been left alone.

As always, Art Buchwald's columns leave you laughing out loud. One piece was exceptional because it drew more than one laugh. It's where a second-hand car sales showroom decides to bug its prospective customers so they get to know what the customers are talking about when the salesman is not around so they can better address their needs. It's hilarious.

Raja gave this lovely used book - owned by one R.Sundaram (and signed by him too) when I told him I now desired to collect as many funny books as I could to make my life more full of fun and laughter. He also gave me a Dave Barry book which I am yet to read.

Thanks Raja. And more importantly, thanks Art Buchwald. There was a time when as a youngster I used to read his column in the Hindu and it would make me laugh even then without having a clue about politics in America. When I wrote a column for the first time for the New Indian Express I secretly told myself that I would try to write like Art.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Anjali - Friends and Feelings

Yesterday Anjali got off her school bus with a stricken face. I could spot it from the distance. I could also tell from the way her ability to hold herself decreased as she walked towards me that it was no ordinary matter involving seats or some sharp word from the driver or the ayah. As she came closer to me her face crumpled and tears sprung into her eyes as she hugged me. I asked her what happened.
'Divya fell in our sports class from the slide and hurt herself. She was crying so much. I never saw her cry so much.'
Manali  - Pic courtesy Tenzin
Anjali would not stop crying. When I told her we could go and visit Divya, she calmed down. She started messaging her school Principal Anita aunty and her class teacher Sandhya aunty to find out how Divya was. After their responses came assuring her that Divya was ok, she smiled.

And when she called and spoke to Divya, I could hear her distinct concern and relief in her voice at her friend being fine. Messages flew back and forth after the phone call, friendship vows were exchanged, plans made for making get-well cards.

That pain in her face when she first told me about Divya's hurt (which they could not stay back and help with, because their bus had to go and the teachers had taken Divya away) to the relief and celebration was a complete journey.

Another day last week, she spoke so indignantly about one of her teachers not allowing assistance to a child who needs assistance to write. Anjali grew up with her friend and was shocked that the teacher would refuse assistance even after the assistant was present and was permitted by the school. Once again, I could see her face carry shock and indignation at the unfairness and injustice. She marched straight to her teacher and told her about it.

That's a trait I admire in people - the courage to go and right a wrong. I have been guilty so many times of letting things be, letting them sort themselves out. It's cowardly. 90% of us fail to do that, and I really admire the 10% who stand up for their friends, who feel so strongly about right and wrong, about anything at all. They are so much better than us who don't feel anything at all, or rather deadened by our fears.     

I do wonder at such undiluted concern, at how affected they are as children. I am sure many adults are too. I deeply admire that trait to feel others pain so much, to be so concerned for them that you are beside yourself. I hope Anjali never loses that. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

My Musical Notes 17 - The Best of Alan Parsons Project

I was introduced to Alan Parsons project by Sanjay, my cousin-friend, who was then studying in IIT, Madras and Ram, my brother. The song they got me hooked on to was the one everyone loved 'Eye in the sky'. But then I also remember a song called 'Time' that I discovered in another assorted rock album that I had bought. Technically, that cassette, if I find it, comes before this.

Alan Parsons project brought some intelligence to the table. Right from their formal sounding name to the names of their numbers which go like 'Psychobabble', 'Games people play', Pyromania', 'Old and wise', the group had a distinct presence. They would not fit with the hard rock crazies, nor be the romantic silly headed pops guys. They were in their own little world which fit neither here nor there.

Alan Parsons, however, was always played in the rock music evenings which meant that the default group would have been Anil Menon, Sunnie, Ram, Kiran, Choudary. I loved the whole idea of an eye in the sky but in later years started liking 'Old and Wise', a sad song. However, when I first bought the cassette my favorite was 'Psychobabble'. Another big one for me was 'You don't believe'.

Those were the engineering college days, cricket playing days. My music advisors would be mostly Vidyuth and Naresh. Since not too many enjoyed this kind of psycho music it meant I was left to listen to it by myself in my room mostly. Which I did and thoroughly enjoyed.

The team of Alan Parsons (who worked with the Beatles and Pink Floyd) and Eric Woolfson met at Abbey Road Studios canteen in 1974. Goes to show that canteens should be infested more. 

Revenge of Gaia - James Lovelock

Gaia is the living earth, the part which Lovelock says is one living, breathing organism. This consists of the part of the crust before the molten centre begins.

The concern is about how humans are fast heading to destroying even a self-regulating system like the Gaia. Deforestation and the many other means in which we are leaving carbon footprints are taking us towards a clear doomsday scenario. Lovelock, however, feels that nuclear fission is an answer.

Many scenarios are discussed. Though I did not spend too much time trying to understand the actual mechanism I was impacted enough to think of the carbon footprint I was creating and how I could make some adjustments. 

My Musical Notes 16 - REO Speedwagon Greatest


My first REO Speedwagon was the album 'Hi Infidelity'. It had a saucy cover. I bought it at Sangeet Sagar - perhaps the salesman who was instrumental in my growing interest in music played it for me, or maybe I heard someone else playing it. But I bought the cassette. (That cassette of mine is missing though.) This cassette with REO Speedwagon's Greatest Hits came sometime later.

But from the first day, I heard 'In your letter' and 'Keep on loving you' and even 'Take it on the run', I was hooked to Speedwagon. Much later I also enjoyed their soulful ballad 'Can't fight this feeling'.
'Keep on loving you' figured in all the assorted slow tapes I made for myself and my friends.

'Can't fight this feeling' I remember was a favorite number and again made it to all my slow assorted tapes. Rather maudlin but I think I liked those kinds of songs. Also, remember Shobha M singing this song soulfully in one of her 'better to burn than fade away moments'.

An abiding memory for me is that of Sangeet Sagar and the cover of Hi Infidelity - for some reason Speedwagon takes me back there - of walks in the evening twilight from Police Control room to Sangeet Sagar full of anticipation and the walk back from the shop to the Public Gardens bus stop and then the bus ride home - couldn't wait to go home and play all the songs to my heart's content.

Lovely. Listening to the songs takes me back to those moments.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Comedy Writing Secrets - Melvin Helitzer

This book is one of the many books that Sunil gave me from his father J.R. Jyothi's wonderful collection of books. I might not be able to ever get the essence of this book across for obvious reasons, but the main structure can be put across, and some ideas for the newcomers. There are so many wonderful jokes and one-liners that made the book a delight to read.

Helitzer starts with the 3Rs of humour - Respect (humour gets us respectful attention), Remember (must be remembered) and Rewards. Humour writers must be aware of the MAP - Material, Audience and Performer. The key to good humour is Consistency and Targeted Material. The character of the material must fit the character of the audience and the performer.

"Instead of working for the survival of the fittest, we should be working for the survival of the wittiest, then we can all die laughing.' Lily Tomlin

All humour writing starts with imagination. Imagine a 'What if..' situation. Don't be inhibited. From the 'what if..' emerges what is known as observational humour.
"Imagination is intelligence having fun'. 

The known joke formulas are - Double entendres, Reverses (switch POV), Triples, Incongruity (pairs logical but unconventional idea), Stupidity (makes you feel superior), Paired phrases, Physical abuse (slapstick).

'The joke is a story and the surprise ending is its finale.'

"Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night.' - Woody Allen
Why we laugh
Surprise (embarrassment), Superiority, Biological, Incongruity, Ambivalence (conflicting emotion), Release (audience knows but one actor doesn't), Configurational (things fall in place).
Humour is social criticism. The object is to deflate.

Understanding what motivates audience appreciation is one of the secrets of writing humour.

"He may not be able to sing, but he sure can't dance.'

THREES Formula - The Anatomy of Humour
Target - Humour is criticism cloaked as entertainment, so criticise self, celebrities, places, things, ideas
Hostility - Cruel (sexual problems, intrusion of authority, financial condition, family patterns, angst and feelings of helplessness, intellectual, insecurity about our physical characteristics)
Realism and Exaggeration - Truth (state cliched problem, create surprise ending), Exaggerate
Emotion and Surprise -building of anticipation in the audience, pregnant pause, surprise is an absolute must

POW - Play on words
Imagine a 'What if...', then Play on words. Go in a predictable direction, switch at last minute.

'The heart patient refused the transplant saying he'd already had a change of heart.' - George Carlin
Cliches -
Double entendres (double interpretation) - Irony, Oral misunderstanding, Usage blunder, Malaprops, oxymorons
Simple truth (literal meaning) - Non sequiturs

"A hundred years from now the works of the old masters will be a thing of the past." - Grove Day

Reforming (alter word order spellings) - Oral cliches (shrimply awful)
Take off (acceptable interpretation, realistic but exaggerated) -
Association (combination of cliches by relating different subjects)

"Familiarity breeds attempt.'

3 Prerequisites for a reformed cliche to be funny-
- cannot be obvious
- should be mildly outrageous
- must be immediately familiar to the audience

Make sure the joke is the last possible thought. Humour is written backwards. Hold joke till last possible minute.

Change POV - offer a solution that is both logical and diametrically opposite of what is expected
PS. Don't telegraph message.

'I have a brother in Harvard Med School'
'What's he studying?'
'Nothing, they are studying him.'

One liners, Epigram, Anecdote, Free association, Commentary, Word association, Insult, Working the audience
Tripe format - 3 actions
PAP Test - Preparation (situation set up), Anticipation (Triples), Punchline (strong pay off)

Humour writing is a lesson in word economy.

Paired elements
Synonyms, Antonyms, Homonyms
use as paired phrases, sentences, words,, states

"She wasn't just throwing herself at him. It was more like taking careful aim.'
Funny Words
Words with K in them are funny. Funny words work but in the middle of a joke and are frequently used in groups. (Names, Cities, Ethnic experiences)

Double entendres - exaggerated and understated realism
'In show business, the key word is honesty. And once you've learned to fake that, you're in.' - George Burns

"When a thing is funny, search for a hidden truth" - Bernard Shaw

Humour is everyday life turned into absurd shapes. Get your facts first and you can distort them as much as you can.

Stretch Band theory
Overstatement / Understatement
Push it till the limit.

"My one rule is to be true than funny" - Cosby

Subtle humour isn't underrated, it is understated.

Surprise or Shock
Humour is like guerrilla warfare. Humour shocks first, surprises next.

The alternative to obscenity is understatement.

Staying in character
It must be the perfect characterisation of an imperfect character.

The 20 masks of comedy are
Stand up/ Aggressor / Sad Sack/ Druggie rebel / Intellectual student / Political satirist / Storyteller / Rube or Country boy / Old timer / Ethnic type/ Immigrant / Partners/ Sketch performers/ Ventriloquist / Actor / Impersonator/ Clown/ Vaudeville / Improviser/ Bumbler

Characterisation can be aided by - Costume, Props, Voice and Physical appearance

Establish an identifiable character. Let the audience feel superior. Make the audience care.

Markets for Humour Writers
Humor writers get paid well. Lee Iacocca paid 90000 USD for his humour writer.

In a speech, there are six areas for making humour work
Preparation - rehearse, be early, pack the hall, keep the sound loud
Title - most important
Introduction of speaker - write a clever introduction
Introductory remarks - not too much humility, not more than 3 funny pieces
Speech - have something to say, do not apologise or explain, remember wit is the salt, not the meat
Getting off - standing ovation lines

Be aurally oriented. Remember, it takes 1 week to write a good speech.

Greeting cards talk to the reader. Tell them what they want to hear.

Cartoons - something is hidden from one of the characters. Everyone including the audience knows what is taking place.

"Journalism tends to make all kinds of people bigger. Humour brings them back."

Print humour - News anecdotes/ one line jokes / over statement / understatement / ironic tales

TV Sitcoms themes - Family aggression / workplace aggression / mistaken assumptions / Intrusions / Heart break / Moral and ethical conflicts / Sympathy for the disadvantaged / Physical mishaps / Something of value / Failure to cope

The book must be read to get a glimpse of what he is trying to convey. This is almost like the index of the book. But even in the classification, there is something to learn about the structure and the basics of humour writing. Like everything else, one gets better with practice. Thanks Tops and Jyothi saab.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Passion Quotient - Virender Kapoor

The book is about passion and how it's an important part of success and profit. Virender Kapoor has been the Director of one of the Symbiosis Institute Business Management colleges and has written 18 books, one of which is PQ. His books cover topics like Speaking like Modi, Succeeding the Akshay Kumar way, Excellence the Amitabh way, Innovation from Einstein, Leadership the Gandhi way, What to Learn from Military Principles, Effective Leadership, A Wonderful Wife, Life with Values, 12 Essential Abilities of Extraordinary People,  Winning Instinct, Wonderful Boss, Jugaad, Heart over Matter and so on.

He says passion is about energy, excitement, care and that which makes you go the extra mile. To find your passion check your own profiles and your memories and you will find what drives you - your values, convictions, desires. Identify what you risked things for, what you did with no transactional element to it, what came easily. Once you identify it, spell out your whackiest expectations. A list of career drivers are provided to help find direction. A passion profile is also indicated.

To be passionate simplify, adapt, face your fears, take risks. And to find fizz on the job be self-driven, achieve, share, learn and have goals. He gives profiles of 10 people whose passion brought rich rewards - Sunil Mittal, Sabeer Bhatia, M.F. Hussain, Narayana Murthy etc

Passion and creativity go tother he says and he deals with how to be creative as an individual and as a team. How to foster passion in schools and colleges and how children and parents should be and think is also dealt with. He winds up with a leadership chapter where he profiles JRD Tata, Mother Teresa and General Patton.

I thought the book went all over the place. There are a few useful tips but nothing concrete or earth shattering. At one place there was 'Right' instead of 'Write'. Surprised Bloomsbury could make such glaring errors. The book tries to inculcate the missing factor into our lives and is an honest effort in that sense but it spreads itself too thin. The bios don't help at all because we all know their stories. In the same genre, Frank Bettger's book which talks of enthusiasm is brilliant - it gets the point across forcefully. Despite a noble objective, I felt the force with which the passion quotient could have been put across was missing.