Sunday, December 25, 2011

137 Monday Musings - The tyranny of year ends

137 - The tyranny of year ends

In a lot of ways, each year that passes by is unique, bejewelled by the events that decorate it, by the footprints that one leaaves on it and what it leaves on us - and yet in a lot of ways each year is also similar to all others - in that each one finally, ultimately and permanently passes. After a few decades, years that have gone by become faceless, similar and difficult to distinguish from one another. When they begin, they are pregnent with possibilities and when they end they are one among the many, like faces in the crowd that we know exist but cannot make out in the blur. The year gets born in January and dies in december, never to be recovered, never to be distilled as something unique, remembered only through random events. Do i really remember 1988 as distinct from 1989 or any two years of my life? Can i really demarcate what began in 2001 and ended with it?  Do we really plan life year by year - If yes, i salute the methodical in us and if no, then what is the brohuha in the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012!

Sometimes i believe, that the end and the beginning of another year is such an overrated event. In taking stock of the year, the way it will be done the whole of this week, i get an impression that every year is a project, which has to be accounted for at the end of the measuring period. In measuring time as a linear construct, wtih a beginning and an end, so much angst and stress gets generated in the pursuit of salvaging what lies between the beginning and the end. I wish there was a better measure of time, something that leaves more to celebrate and less to regret. Yes, i want to make the best of the time i have got, pack in the most in the suitcase i am given, but i want to do it at my will, my pace and my comfort - not with the sword of damocles that hangs on my neck, not under duress and pressure. Yes i understand that fulfillment will come at making every moment worthy, but sometimes fulfillment also comes in going slow, in less, in moderation and in thoughtfullness, rather than a mindless frenzy for more. I love driving slow so that i can see and enjoy the countryside. I want to experience the year as my muse, not as a tyrant.

So yes, this is my last musing for 2011. I should have mused more often than i managed, i missed many mondays and i missed many experiences, insights and thoughts that should have converted themselves into cogent and coherent musings. Many of them are permanently lost, in a way many died untimely for want of adequate intellectual and emotional noursihment, and yet i would want to believe many are just hibernating - waiting for the right conditions to spring to life. Going by the xperience of the years gone by, I doubt i will remember 2011 as a unique year with an unique identity, despite many audacious attempts at doing something new, but i will definitely be at peace with myself in the wisdom, that the world has not come to an end. Its just a meausre, that has its moment of glory, but at the end of it all, its just a measure of time, not the meausre of life.

And that still rocks.


Saturday, December 17, 2011

136 Monday Musings The folly of Certitudes

136- The folly of certitudes
The other day I got to deliver a talk (calling it a lecture would so much denigrate it) at my B school alma mater. When I was told to talk on 'Career Management', a part of me went stiff, for in my own mind, I am probably the last person suitable and able to to guide youngsters on an issue that has plagued my own journey for so long, and with so little clarity.
My Professor chose this subject for me because in her assessment my journey, brownianesque in a way, had not followed a traditional course. I had graduated in pharmacy, and then studied marketing during my management course, started off as a product manager with a pharmaceutical company, but soon drifted again to hunt for fortunes in the sales training business in a life insurance company. The questions I was asked were pretty predictable for the audience who was at that stage of their career where such questions do corner a large proportion of their existential angst- How to chose subjects, how often one must switch jobs, how to make money fast, what are the pitfalls of going entrepreneurial, how easy or difficult it is to change functions or kind of jobs so on an so forth. I can only imagine how hollow and theoretical and how utterly patronizing my answers must have appeared to them, going by how they felt when I used to sit on that side of the auditorium.

I have played that interaction of an hour or so many times in my mind and have desperately wanted to change the answers, like one distressingly wants to change the answers after appearing for an exam where he knows that he could have done better. How much more sense I wish I had made to them, given them a sense of script that I had before embarking on my journey, script which they were probably searching for, a formula they probably had imagined I had before I took my call and got it right, in their eyes at least!. If only they knew better.

Restlessness can be a plague to the soul. Being permanently in search of that thing, which would give the elixir called satisfaction, a sense of completion, of having arrived - and then having reached that milestone, that terrifying existential question - is this what one was looking for, making one question the worth of all those years, a sense of waste and emptiness engulfing your sense of being. Only those cursed by that sense of restlessness can identify with that sinking feeling, when on the face of it all the pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place, when on the face of it, life has just fallen into place. Each time this abyss faces squarely on your face, the clock has been reset at 00.00hrs.  

I have asked myself many times over, as I mull over the confidence with which I answered those questions - did I really have a plan, did I really take a calculated decision, completely aware and informed, was I really sure of what I was doing? I am sure of the answer - Certainly NOT. One acts on hunch, on instinct, on something deep beneath the diaphragm that is screaming that this is to be done, that this MUST be done, for it FEELS right. Surely not a scientific algorithm that one will risk the ship to, not a map but only a compass, to borrow a phrase. I am not even sure that those punts have been right, but at least i feel OK that I played the hand that way.

The best of advises come from the worst of people and I have this nagging feeling that someone with a penchant for losing his way being made the cartographer! But being lost in this time and day of certitudes can be a virtue. In any case there are others who are much more lost but living much more fulfilling lives. Amir Khusro says
"Khusrau darya prem ka, ulti wa ki dhaar,
Jo utra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar"
(Strange is the way of love, only he reaches the shore who has the courage to drown) 


Sunday, November 27, 2011

135- Monday Musings – Murder of an artist

135- Monday Musings – Murder of an artist
An old quote keeps coming back to me and it goes like this - 'If before 30 you are not a communist you don’t have an heart and if after 30 you are still a communist you don’t have brains'. On the same lines I am led to believe that there is an artist in most of us before 30. After that usually life takes over.

Rockstar, the new movie on the block, is a fantastic watch for the many nuances it carries with it - there is something in it for everyone. For the star crossed lovers there is that pain of a love that shall never see its fulfillment, cheated either by circumstances or death. For the artist there is this search for the elusive inspiration that will transform a gawky teenager to a raging sensation and when that poignant artistic inspiration fired by human angst does arrive, it does so with a deep sense of pain - a pain which at the same time is the progenitor of the artistic brilliance and the one thing that will not allow him to enjoy the fruits of his success. How tragic and how moving.

History is dominated with the tales of pained geniuses, so much so that it is unthinkable to believe that artistic brilliance can be even attempted in a life bereft of tragedy and angst. There are reporters of art, who write, appreciate, read, perform and enjoy - they are like the moon, glowing on borrowed resplendence and then there are creators of art - one who creates, designs, writes, essays, and portrays. It seems that the latter has a special penchant for agony, grief and suffering - they almost thrive on it, live on it. Take the agony away and you have taken away the soul from their work. Suffering has created more music, more literature, more poetry, and more art than anything else.

Suffering is hugely personal construct. One can, quite literally, choose to suffer. Most of us go through the usual grind, give and take a few minor details- heart breaks, coming of age, finding the calling in life, directionlessness, confusion over choices, dealing with the consequences of it - so on and so forth. Some deal with the roller coaster and become successful. Others take it to heart and become artists. The latter become successful and famous in the eyes of the former because there is something uplifting and autobiographical in the tale of every artist and his art. This is mostly because those of us who made safer choices, dumbed and numbed our personal agonies, let the artist in us die, sometimes thankfully so, but find echoes of those memories in every story of a celebrated artist - someone who we could have been.

Ah! Such is that bitter sweet world of 'could have been’; such is its angst that it can fuel the artist in you. Wait a bit more and then life will take over. Will it, yet again is the million dollar question.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

134 Monday Musings - Saada Haq

134- Monday Musings - Saada Haq
If movie songs were to be any indicators of the spirit of the times, inspired by or inspiring the tumults of that period and in the process becoming anthems, then gear up to listen to 'Sadda Haq...Ithe rakh' (Give me my rights..NOW) not only from on air and in the dim lit pubs and bars but also on sundry social and corporate occasions alike for a long long time. I can think of a few more in the last few years which had acquired a deep symbolism and shouldered the onus of describing the angst and imagination of the times they became popular.

'Papa kehte hain bada naam karega' was a gentle reminder in the 90's of the huge burden of expectation that the youth shouldered and how the he was clearly ready to chart a course of his own by refusing to become and engineer or a businessman, rather finding solace in the elixir of love. The same actor exactly a decade later gate crashed into the imagination of the carefree youth to move away from the beaten path by announcing 'ham hain naye, andaaz kyon ho purana'. India was changing by the end of the last century and the exhort 'badle duniya, badalne do...hum apni dhun me chalte jayen..hum hain naye..andaaz kyon ho purana' became the ziet gist of the times. Dancing to its lyrics in a sense liberated the generation from the shackles of the old dreams and old methods. The generation had announced its arrival in style.

Another khan in another path breaking movie united disparate groups of people to its war cry 'Chak De', a phrase which has no equivalent in the English language, but which would broadly mean 'Let’s rock'. Any group of people, community or gathering who wanted a point to be proven, a war cry to unite all towards one common task and who wanted a insurmountable problem to be solved, a herculean aspiration to be chased, had to just play 'Chak de' and the spirits would soar. In yet another time when a youth lost in his search for identity, so typical of the age across times, and yet to typical of particularly these, finally finds his calling, not surprisingly sung on high notes 'payega jo lakhya hai tera' from the movie Lakhsya. It is difficult to say with certainty that it right before or right after that we found the youth being so sure about what they wanted from life - in being floaters they were exercising the same choice that fired their souls in wanting to make it big in corporate or business or politics.

Saada Haq, not only in its lyrics but also in its video, depicting Kashmir to North East, farmers to communal rights, is a reminder of the impatience of the times, where no one is willing to wait anymore and any longer. They want their haq, what is their natural and national right, NOW. Intentions won’t suffice, delivery does. The message loud and clear - Don’t suffocate us into slots, don't slice and divide us on samaaj and riwaj, keep your sermonizing and patronizing to yourself if you cannot handle what you preach, just....well..'Saada Haq..Ithe rakh'. The song has all the ingredients to become the theme of the times, the ultimate expression of an impatient people on the edge, almost a warning to the powers to be. Don’t mess or it will be messy. The song has been getting into my bones slowly but surely, and going by its popularity, it is clear that other bones are equally pervious to its uplifting quality. The echoes of saada haq will only intensify in the days to come.

Movies then no doubt are such an addictive craft. They say, there is at least one story in each one us. I am growing to believe there is at least one song and one movie in each one of us. Go ahead - write it, record it, shoot it. You have at least one reader, one listening, one viewer ready. 


Saturday, November 5, 2011

133-The Journey

133-The Journey

This diwali vacation I travelled quite a bit to the faraway nooks and corners of my home state Jharkhand and once again enjoyed the highly nuanced face of India – sometimes a bit disturbing if my urban tastes and sensibilities forced me to judge, but mostly enjoyable for the sheer richness of diversity that was on offer.  India lives in many decades - Some in 2010's, some in the early 2000, some in the 1990s and certainly but unfortunately some even in the 70-80's. Each decade has its own sights and sounds, peculiar to the times they represented which became the liet motif of those times - and fossilized over the layers of time, lending them identity and signature. This trip gave me the unparalleled joy of living those sights, smells and sounds yet again - sometimes eerie, but joyous nevertheless.

Post Office Gomia, in District Giridih, somewhere in the north-East of Jharkhand, right next to the Bengal border, is in the heart of mining belt, the hotbed of naxalite activity, and the destination of my journey. The 200 kms drive was an ensemble of a variety of experiences, often unrelated, but in warm harmony with each other – giving it a collage like diversity and appeal.
Crater sized potholes break the pace of the journey to no more than a drag, while rich green hues of paddy fields mark the countryside till as far as eyes can see. On the horizon is a faint boundary of the hills that puts an end to the audacity of sight. The roadside dhaba in eastern India is quite different from its flamboyant north-Indian cousin. Its tiled or thatched, mud paved, surely dirty and opens to the fields in its backyard. The tea is milky, syrupy and very sweet, the food however is fresh. We crossed the monthly fair for all the nearby villages as we reached the infamous town of Purulia. What a sight waited for us - 3 kilometers of the fair on both sides, cattle being traded and loaded on cranky trucks, bullock carts blocking the traffic endlessly, items of living made out of bamboo or hay that I never imagined people used anymore lined on both sides.
Darkness descended while we were a good 20 kms away from the destination - a twenty nasty kilometers cutting right across the heart of naxalite territory and passing over the 30 year old Tenughat dam on the Damodar River. It was perhaps the longest 20 kms of my life; the pitch darkness, made scarier by the stillness - a state of no sound exploding within your head, aggravated by the dense forests on both sides. As one passed on the road on the dam, a near vacuum of nothingness engulfs you on both sides - invisible in the dark, starless night but hundreds of meters of precipice palpable and felt through your bones. Such a night has its own smell - fresh, elevating, cold, very grassy, but blunted with the smell of fear it gets marinated with, so much so that one has to strain to enjoy it. As we descended on the other side, much to our relief, we noticed the first glimmer of faint yellow lights.
The day in these parts begins with sunrise and ends with sunset - something that is quite unfathomable to those who are used to extending the day beyond the sunset, aided and abetted by the glare of CFL and neon. Mornings are misty, grass rich with the overnight dew and the dozens of roosters at the forefront of the hamlets community alarm system. October evenings descends early - as if the preparation for the evening begins even before the afternoon is over, as one is acutely aware that darkness will bring the day to an unceremonious end. Early mornings and evenings there is a layer of smoke in the air, of burning raw coal from the nearby mines and of dried leaves, obnoxious and poisnous, but for those who might have lived on it, its comforting and familiar. It adds to the feeling of being at home. 
The railway station is breathtaking in its antiquity -Two platforms, one each for the Up and Down trains. One small tea shop doubles up as a two-item-menu-snack counter serving samosas and boiled eggs ONLY. The lonely pan shop has beedis and non filter cigarettes stacked for display. At 8 o clock in the night when the last passenger train passes through the station, the station momentarily flickers back into activity for 5-6 passengers that will alight and the same number that will board, before things close for the night. The dark engulfs till the roosters to get to work the next day.

 And the only thought that comes to my mind as I return, is Ah! So many roads, so many journeys - and such a short life.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

132- Rediscovering Premchand.

132- Rediscovering Premchand.

As i opened my old school trunk, just as i always do during the annual pilgrimage to my village during diwali vacations, which houses infinitely more treasure than its humble capacity, i chanced upon the 8 novels by Munshi Premchand - the giant of Hindi literature. In hindsight, why did i read them as a school kid, when i possesed niether the linguistic proficiency to understand him, nor the maturity to comprehend it, still baffles me. Knowing myself, i am sure it would have been some early strains of narcisissm or a crass display of showing off. That not withstanding, i decided to re-read 'Godaan' (Cow - donation) - his last novel and perhaps the most brilliant one.

Godaan has three broad set of characters, each depicting the then socio-cultural mileu of 1900-1930's. Each of these set of characters depict the complex web of social relations that existed within thier classes and also with each other - carrying with them hundreds of years of social history, its peculiarities, the colossal sanction for exploitation availabale to higher castes and classes and the early signs of redemption that an individual initiative could provide.

Hori is a poor small farmer who is caught in a web of usurious debt to pay off the cost of everyday existence like buying seeds, marrying children, bringing up an extended family and who personifies the helpless life of an Indian farmer - emboldened by hope of good times but razed down by oppressive social and economic circumstances. Dhania is his loudmouth, bitter, complaining but well meaning wife, who is burdened by Hori's sense of duty, innocence and naivete, but who does not hesitate to back him up in the most trying of circumstances, particularly those which were morally right but socially blasphemous, like giving shelter to his unmarried pregnant daughter in law and literally selling off thier young daughter to a much older but rich groom.  The plot is thickened and brought to life by a broad set of characters. The money lenders of all castes, the patwari, the village priest, sahukar, so on and so forth, who had money but no moral compunctions, who broke all social laws and sought comfort in the shudhikaran(purification) ceremonies avaliable to them but not to the poor. The sense of outrage and tragedy is difficult to miss in the turn of events. Hori has but one ambition - to see a cow in his house.

The second set of characters revolve around the Raisaab - the feudal lord who owns the villages, has the right to tax them, ask for gifts and donations - only to maintain the standard of life and pretence that is traditionally the forte of the class of Raisaabs. While the politics of pre indepence india gets depicted as a sub plot, it wholesomely bares the hypocrisy of this class - who are torn between thier traditional penchant to exploit and yet participate in the lofty ideals of liberation of the downtrodden. The helplessness of Raisaab to let go of the comforts of his stature with the accompanying rights to  exploit his aasaamis (constituency)and to still be seen as THE RAISAAB is comical but piognant.

The third set of characters include Mr Mehta - the fiery idealist, professor of Philosophy, who is driven by a higher purpose in his life, bound by social duty, uncorrupted by money and charms and who has clear views about the role of women in the society. The second character is the charming, beautiful and educated Miss Malati, who has no compunctions in using her education and charms to get her way in a manner unthinkable for women then, but who goes through her own discovery of ideals, morals and sense of social and national duty in the pursuit of the hesitant Mr Mehta, who is the only one who refuses to be bewitched by her charms in the beginning.  This is an engrossing depiction of the tussle between the traditional role of women, thier angst in the fight for liberation and thier discovery of meaning somewhere in between.

Godaan is a must read for many reasons - again and again. Vernacular literature gives more insight into the complex history of our society, more authentic, more lively and more nuanced. It opens us to a world that English literature may not be able to do ever. As Hori dies on the last page and the everyone cries for a Godaan - the ultimate daan for a chaste Hindu, Dhania cries, gives off a thread of cotton as daan - that being the only material possession they are left with - alongside Hori, a part of you dies, 2011 not withstanding.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

131- Monday Musings - Run

131- Monday Musings - Run
Around three weeks ago, i ran my second marathon, called the Kaveri trail marathon in the Rangapetta bird sanctuary, sandwiched between the cities of Mysore and Srirangapatnam. I am a late bloomer as a long distance runner, as anyone who has known me for some time will testify and so writing about my experiences of long distance running is particularly significant and cathartic.
Kaveri trail marathon was different from the Mumbai marathon in many ways. It was a natural trail on the banks of an irrigation canal and through the bird sanctuary. As a little over a thousand runners ran through the lush suganrcane fields, thick foliage, with massive trees as bystanders, under the canopy of clear pristine sapphire blue sky, it was difficult not to be carried away with the surreal settings. Every mile or so farmers looked quizzically at the runners and bullock carts got stuck on a trail which had only that much space. If one would not have been overwhelmed by the challenge of staying on course for 21kms, one would have liked to pitch a tent and just tried saying 'statue'!

I came back and watched a brilliant video on the net by Christopher Mcdoughal, who opines that mankind as a species was born to run. He uses anecdotes, historical and sociological evidences to claim that man was quite literally 'born to run'; that running is a natural human state - being stationary or sedentary is abnormal to our sense of being. He uses pre civilisational conditions, and present day African and Mexican tribes (who are the closest to the pre civilisational conditions that we can find today) to suggest that running comes naturally for human beings like breathing and the ability and habit of running has played a huge role in our journey of existence. I dont know if i all that he says can stand scientific scrutiny - and i hope it does, but i can surely identify with the the joys of running that he describes. When you run, that is the only thing that you do. The world and its worries recedes. The mind clears. The soul sings. Every muscle in the limbs make its presence felt. For those like me for whom running does not come naturally and have to summon every ounce of energy and courage to stay the course, running is also an experience of deep personal victory over limitations of the mind and body. 

So to everyone who does not run, i recommend what Christopher Mcdoughal says - Running is the natural state of being. It may look impossible to begin with but the end of it all, its a deeply moving and uplifting experience.
Run - as if your life depends on it.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

130 Monday Musing - Man and God

130 Monday Musing - Man and God

Someone asked me the other day what my view about God was. I was temporarily taken aback by the colossal nature of the question, the import of which far exceeded the age and agenda of the person asking and the person asked. But a question it was and so begged for an answer.
The notion of God and His place in the overall scheme of things varies with culture. There is a significant difference in the notion of God in the eastern and the western world. Within our eastern worldview too there is an amazing diversity in the notion of God and more importantly how to reach Him. Some belive we should be 'God fearing', others believe in 'surrendering to Him', while yet others belive in 'Loving' him - either which way there is an unique and personal relationship that gets established between the worshipper and the worshipped.

I recognise my own inability to believe that God created man and his universe as a distinct event, almost like a divine project - and despite having been born in a culture which did propagate man's essential subservient position vis-a-vis the divine, i recognise my inability to relate to this notion of God. I am also growing to believe that in all likelyhood, man needed God, in its various avtaars, more as an explanation and support to tide over the vicissitudes of existence. God many not have created man, but man had definitely reasons to create Him.

Nothing scares man more than uncertianity and ambiguity. In fact i believe all of human civilisation is a story of mans relation to uncertianity and ambiguity. What we cannot control or predict, or what we are unsure of, scares us. What we cannot explain or put a rational cause and effect relation to, worries us. The mere thought of future as a place we cannot have cut out to follow a particular script worries us. Just as the cave man could not explain thunder, shower and lightening, the modern man cannot explain career and family uncertianities - and both need an anchor to hold themselves to. So we have nature Gods for the caveman and we have numerous godmen for the modern day man.

Some may not believe in any notion of God, but are surely scared of the unknown and believe its advisable to keep him in good humor. It is better to have God on your side when the tide turns adversarial. So if following a set of rituals either prescribed thorugh generations or through new found faiths, provide a sense of security, why not!. It is not uncommon to find many, if not most, to go through these rituals of fast, pilgrimages, darshans and worship, as a routine, as soul-less steps of an algorithm, without really relating to it, or connecting with it as a spiritual experience. They still do it, so that the unknown does not get offended and withold his benediction and blessings. It is almost like an all encompassing, all powerful insurance cover one buys for life itself.

I am also growing to believe that while most do not understand and experience God as a truly soulful experience, it is still better to be a believer in the notion of God, because it lends two things so essential to survive - stability and hope. In the worst of circumstances, in the bleakest of things, God provides an inexplicable hope of correction, redemption and improvement. That hope lends man courage to go on, to keep moving, to keep living. And in an otherwise hopeless, cruel, and infinitely disturbing web called life, that hope is worth calling God.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

129- Driving Growth through Changing Palates

129- Driving Growth through Changing Palates

I have been liking the Cadburys, 'Kuch meetha ho jaye' campaign for a while now. The TV commercials are warm, tell a story, softly tugs at your heart - whether its the eloping daughter TVC or the young teen wanting to walk the girl to her house or the young couple sneaking a conversation at the dinner table amidst family members. Over the last year or so i have also witnessed increasing instances of people giving or recieving the chocolate packs during festivals and other occassions instead of the traditional mithai-boxes. The marketing wallas would probably call this product growth through expanding usage. Within expanding usage it would be a case of expanding the number of occassions that the product can be used or consumed. I think this is a brilliant marketing campaign, which has already made a dent on the established social practices - and if the cash registers at Cadbury's are ringing, i am not surprised.

Every product we are told reaches maturity where its growth plateaus after the initial surge forward. India by all accounts traditionally has not been a chocolate consuming society. The chocolate revolution so to say, either as a sin food, or a food (if at all it can be called as food) indulgence has been a recent phenomena. Not many years ago, it was an item for the elite, particularly those who returned from the foriegn shores. Our sweet tooth was satiated by traditional mithais or sweet dishes - whether its the rice kheer and sewainyas of the north, or the pooran polis of the west or the paisam and mysore pak of the south and the innumerable milk based sweets of the east. Every region and community has its signature sweet dishes, which apart from being sweet also had some or the other food value. But chocolate is a different creature. It has limited food value, but much to the chagarin of the many with bursting waist lines, a very high calorie value. The last two decades has made chocolates the most common indulgence for children - and when they grow up, the chocolate mania in them refuses to grow up - mostly.

How does the marketing guy expands usage? Well, he gets an Eureka idea - how about chocolates usurping the space which traditionally has been occupied with the sweet dishes/foods. Imagine if after food people start having chocolates instead of jaggery or kheer or sandesh. Imagine if people start giving chocolates instead of sweets on every auspicious occassion as shagun. Imagine the consumption possible and imagine the market available? Absolutely brilliant piece of marketing.
I remember a marketing anecdote from my marketing classes. In a room full of marketing professionals the Coke head asks - 'Who are we competing against?' No prizes for guessing the answer - 'Pepsi'. The Head says ' No. Water is our chief competitor, so is tea, coffee and nimbu paani. We must mover from the share-of-wallet to the pursuit of share-of-stomach. Every time a consumer wants to drink something he must want to have Coke'. I don't know if the story is true or not but its another example of trying to expand product consumption through playing with the traditional stuff served. The DNA of occasions has been played with, altering the map of what is to be eaten and served. No wonder, the nimbu-paani has practically gone out of the welcome drink for the guest.

Any lessons for what we sell for a living folks? Think about it.


Monday, August 15, 2011

128 Monday Musings - A tale of two citizens

128 Monday Musings -A tale of two citizens

They are separated by a good score years or so and so it can be safely concluded that they belong to two separate generations. The years that yawn between them encompass two stories, keeping together two lives disjointed yet connected, in the sense that where one ends that other ought to have begun.
She is lightly over 60, has very little formal education to boast of, but is well versed in the language of her ancestors. She is literate in a very limited sense, that her Hindi is passable but has no familiarity to English whatsoever. Her life revolves around her family, cooking, washing and buying vegetables. She has spent her entire life fufilling familial responsibilities like millions like her in the social mileu she inhabits. Every Republic day and Independence day she demands a tricolor be brought to her.She would then struggle to climb to the terrace of her house, which is a small hamlet in some inconsequential hinterland of this vast country and tie the tricolor to a unceremonious bamboo stick and unfurl the national flag with the TV antennae acting as the spinal cord that keeps it erect and flying. The family and the nieghbours treated this with indulgence for a while, some even made fun of her fascination, but now have come to accept the ritual twice a year. No one is sure if she understands the concept of a nation, or that there is any background of service to nation that runs in her family or she has had any experience that has drawn her to the strongest symbol of a nation - but come the republic day and the independence day she is resolute that she WILL unfurl the flag.

He is a young progeny of the liberalised India. He has flourished with whatever the country had provided - and amongst his friends is a common refrain, that they had succeed inspite of the country and not because of it. He mocks the government sector for all its shoddiness, ineptitude, callousness, lack of initiative, poor security, overburdening taxes and under delivery of governance. Luckily he is not alone in it. He is educated, articulate and aware. He has read all the history, has all his facts right, knows the major events of the Indian struggle of independence, can argue in favor or against the (controversial) role of all major stalwarts of the struggle with passion and eloquence. One might not be wrong to include him in the resurgent middle class, that is the pride of last twenty years and many argue, upon whom the future of this country depends.

This was a long weekend including the Independence day holiday. She unfurled the flag. He went on a holiday. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Monday Musing 127- Co-Passenger from another time

127- Co-Passenger from another time
It has been a season of meeting very long lost co-passengers in the journey of life for me. Last time i wrote about my English teacher and this time i am going to talk about 'Pandit'.

Manohar Lal Purohit was my classmate during my B. Pharmacy days in the sleepy town of Berhampur, the coastal southern tip of Orissa, kissing the border of Andhra Pradesh. Tall, lanky as both were, the similarities ended there. He was extremely fair, almost pinkish, like the Indian version of a greek god - and i intolerably hairy. Originally hailing from the Jhunjhunu district of Rajasthan, he had spend his formative years in the mining belt of western Orissa, bordering on Jharkhand, in a nondescript town called Brijrajnagar. The fact that he was the only other Hindi speaking person in a class dominated by Oriya and Bengali speakers naturally brought us together instantaneously - a bond which only got cemented by the fact that we were ragged together most of the times, creating a 'brothers-in-pain' camaraderie. Since there was no hostel, five of us got together to rent a room and called it 'Sabarmati' - a decision i was instrumental in influencing, as an ode to my unusual last name. I was, however in no mood to convert it into an ashram, not in the traditional sense anyways.

Pandit, as he gradually got to be called, was going through a rough patch at that time - having lost his father and financially being supported by an Uncle, who also introduced him to the world of spiritual awakening. I am not sure if the outcome of this story would be any different had Pandit's sitiuation been any kinder to a young chap of 18. Adversity has strange effects on people and Pandit perhaps found solace in the intoxicating opiom of spirititual awakening.

He never opened his books - he had none. Every evening as others would get down to write down practical dossiers, flip through bulky reference texts, break head over complex medicinal pharmaceutical reactions, navigate through the elaborate, and frankly, extremely unromantic pharmacopoeias, he would freshen up and leave for the evening satsang in the local ashram.He would get up an ungodly hour of 4 am in the morning, around the time others would be going to bed, do his Yog-sadhna, eat his grams and be fresh as a wild cucumber as others labored to get out of thier groggy state. Exactly 24 hours prior to the exams he would enquire about the syllabus as if he wanted to study everything and then seek suggestions on the mimimum amount to be read which would give a fair chance at passing. We resented him the fact that he passed every single exam with this limited effort, while we would score marginally better than him despite late nights and excacerbated ulcers. We finally concluded that God certainly existed and that He was eminently bribable through satsangs. For every alcohol revelry we had in the house, he countered it through a equally loud Satsang, something we resented every bit, but let it be, because one God on your side always helps when facing a hostile viva-voice.

Most of us were struggling with the question of what-next after the course but Pandit was clear - he wanted to renounce the world and become a sanyasi. We were sure he had lost it, but he proved us wrong and did leave everything and joined the Bihar school of Yoga in Munger district of Bihar for future spiritual studies. That was perhaps the last we knew of him, as all of us got busy charting our own course in life. But last word was still to be spoken on it.

Pandit met a girl in the ashram he went to, who incidentally had come there with very similar ideas of spiritual journey. I am not sure if i can call it love, but something blossomed, and they decided to get married - much to the obvious consternation of family members. Niether had the quaintest idea how will they earn thier livelyhood. But married they did get and came to Bangalore and spent the next decade or so in various ashrmas, pursuing the path of spiritual awakening, living the ashram way of life. If this decade was strugglesome, as every bone in my body tells me it should have been, Pandit did not make any mention of it. Last year they were blessed with a lovely daughter, Devashree. As of now, both manage to live happily on what they earn teaching Yoga.   

I met Pandit at Bangalore after my graduation for the first time last fortnight - a very different co passenger from another life. I may have had disagreement with his way of life then, but today i am convinced that there is not one right way and more importantly he had as much right to pursue his course as much as i was entitled to.
As i look back at him and myself, I am clearly and surely inspired by his conviction to have the courage to live life the way his heart led him to; to pursue his way even at the face of extraordinary adversity, persevering with it against all odds and being happy with the choices he had made. He may have a few material aquisitions less than us, but i bet he is no less happier.

Let a hundred Pandit bloom.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

126- Monday Musings – Thank You ‘Niharika Miss’

126- Monday Musings – Thank You ‘Niharika Miss’
The day before yesterday I talked to my English teacher from school, almost after two decades. She located me. As I saved her number on my cell as Niharika ‘Miss’, who is surely not a ‘miss’ anymore, but to a mind that will remember her as she was experienced well over 20 years ago, will perhaps always remain a miss.
Niharika Miss had joined our school immediately after her Masters in English literature from Utkal University in Orissa and belonged to Bhubaneswar and was one of three imports from Orissa as the school management changed during my last three years there. For an extremely ‘bihari-tribal’ mix of linguistic influence, the addition of Oriya was only to cause a bit of flutter. She was young, freshly out of her college, in hindsight I can clearly see she was nervous, though she tried hard to put a brave and confident face, into her first job and in an alien place. Her 5 feet 2 inches frame did not help much as a few of us already towered over her. To make matters worse, she was to teach us English, which to put it mildly was not quite our strength, neither was there any desire to make it so.
I remember the first spelling she corrected for me was that Bhubaneswar was not spelled ‘Bhuwaneshwar’ as I had phonetically written. I was battling with an English handwriting that was somewhere between pathetic and horrendous, so during summer break she gave me ten 100 word essays to be written. If she was not impressed by the product of my limited linguistic abilities as she should have been, then she did not let me know it. She tried to put a 25 paisa fine (the same 25 paisa coin that has gone away from circulation last week) every time someone spoke in Hindi during her class, needless to say with little effect. I remember asking her audaciously if advance payment could be made for the fines that will fall due as there was no intention on our part to talk in English.
Once I went to meet her where she stayed and she was trying to explain why we should be reading English books and I spotted a small book on her table with a girl and a boy picture on its cover – something that made that book quite read-worthy to my young mind. When I asked her if could borrow it, she looked a bit flustered but gave in. Many years later I realised I had attempted to read a Mills & Boons title. Thank God I did not complete it.
It was a very happy day for me to talk to her – after all those years. As years went by, I did fall in love with the language and went an extra mile to develop a working proficiency in it. I have no doubt in my mind that the seeds were sown much earlier in a manner inconspicuous enough, that only a great teacher can do.
Thank You ‘Niharika Miss’. I owe you more than you can ever imagine, and more than I can ever tell you. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

125- Monday Musings Growing Down

125 Monday Musings - Growing down

Normally one grows up - the process of entering adulthood, with all its perks that appears like the El dorado of limitless freedom to a childs mind. For a decade beginning maybe at the age of 8 to almost 18, one wants to grow up fast, cursing the years for not ticking away fast enough and then by the time one is in the mid 30s, one curses the years for ticking away too fast.

My daughter is almost five and she inhabits a strange stage of her growing up - a little more than a toddler and a little less than pre-teens. We watched hers (and mine) first 3 D movie, Cars-2 the other day in the multiplex nearby. I am sure she discovered a new world called a 'big TV' as she puts her in her unique expression, but more than her, i discovered a new world of child entertainment.

I grew up on hindi comics, coming from the hindi heartland that i did, on Chandamama, Amar Chitra katha, Bahadur, Mendrake and Betal. It was only when i was past 20 and went to a college that i came to know that there were iconic toon characters in the English literature for children - of the likes TinTin, Archies, Tom and Jerry, Barbie, so on and so forth. In fact so miserable was my knowlege of what the English speaking child feasts on, that any conversation between Keerat and her mother, who thankfully had an exposure to this world in her formative years, made me feel like, if not an alien, definitely a bumkin. Last two years has been quite literally growing down years for me - the journey of an adult to understand the context of child entertainment.

It is in this context that i have come to know household icons like Ninja Hathori, Shuzooka, Doremon, and have actually seen a few episodes of Tom & Jerry, Oogie the cockroaches, and not to forget Chota Bheem, who my daughter summarily and much to my horror announced that she is going to marry. This process of not only becoming familiar with these characters, but actually getting down to watching them, as the control of the remote in most cases rests with Keerat, has been a quite an experience. I cannot remember most of these names while i am clearly expected to, and my ignorance is rubbed on by a (un)holy allaince between Keerat and my better half. Rarely i have found myself more wanting of fundamental competence than situations like these.

So we watched the 3 D movie, needless to say, something i was not asked nor expected to be asked. After a while of wondering what in Gods name was i doing wearing those funny glasses, i realised that this was one hell of an experience. Withing 20 minutes of watching technology create a magical experience and the story line suspiciously resembling a la'  James Bond plot, i was possibly more immeresed into the movie than Keerat. I know for sure that she will not the one to plot the next sojourn to the multiplex for a 3 D extravaganza.

If growing up was fantastic, my growing down is magical.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

124 - Monday Musings - Go write your book

124 - Monday Musings -  Go write your book
I was invited for by an old colleague Hariharan Iyer on the occasion of his book launch, his maiden dalliance with creative writing. Let me tell you a bit more about Hari as we all fondly call him.

Way back in 2003 when I had just joined as a training manager in Max New York Life Insurance in Mumbai,  I received a call from an acquaintance of mine asking me if I could be of any help in finding a job for a colleague of his. I asked him to send this guy over out of politeness, as I was not sure how somebody at my position could help someone. On a balmy afternoon Hari, who happened to be that guy searching for a breakthrough, came to my office. As one thing led to another, Hari joined Max New York Life as a training manager on my referral a few months later and I made a neat 12000 rupees as a referral bonus, a bounty that Hari never forgets to remind me of. Our careers moved on from there and Hari soon rose into prominence owing to oratorial talent, his ability to create human connect, and his uncanny ability to move people from their stupor and act. Not that it was easy to negotiate with the personality of Hari, as someone who loved the sound of his voice, as someone who quite genuinely believed in his own sense of uniqueness. When excited he could be garrulous and it didn’t take much to excite him. In an industry based on numbers, he would declare his disdain for numbers, something that surely did not earn him approval from his bosses. As I said, he was quite full of himself and his healing abilities, he went on undeterred. He mixed life insurance training with Reiki healing, of which he claimed he was a beneficiary and hence its proponent, with great results. As he kept on growing, his belief in his innate greatness only became stronger, something that, to put it mildly as he might read this sometime, - was not shared with as much enthusiasm as he believed it deserved.

He moved to Kerala from Mumbai and then to Delhi to become the Zone Training Head, a fairly good professional growth story. Then suddenly he quit and returned to Mumbai two years ago. He quoted different reasons at different points of time - that he was suffocated, that people did not understand him, that his leaders just did not inspire him that his frequency was different from the one that had approval, so on and so forth. He had no job at hand and I for surely thought that he had lost it. I was sure that his self love had acquired self delusional proportions. We were in touch and he dabbled with quite a bit in the last two years to keep the fires burning - from free lance insurance training, to training consultancy to Reiki healing to Multi Level Marketing business. His delusions continued because he wanted to heal the world, spread happiness, promote holistic living, and create happy spaces and other mumbo-jumbo that such people are often found quoting.

I may have had huge differences in the philosophy of what he was promoting, partly because I cannot relate to it, and partly because I thought it was too much of risk - but what I just could not disagree with was his passion. When he spoke, he spoke as a man who truly believed in what he was saying. There was no way one could doubt the strength of his belief and he pressed on. A few days earlier he called abruptly and said that he wanted me to write a testimonial for his first book. I quite literally fell off from my chair. The bugger had actually done it. I read the book, wrote the testimonial and today attended his book launch. Well, I do not think that his book is earth-shatteringly original or breathtakingly brilliant. It’s quite an ordinary book by literary standards. But what is extraordinary is the faith in his work that Hari has, that he actually got around writing a book about and getting it launched. This is truly uplifting during times when we do not tire of telling ourselves all the reasons why things cannot be done. He has demonstrated the power of will, conviction and belief in our dreams.

The renowned scholar Asghar Ali Engineer came to launch his book. And I feel like shouting at the top of my voice – Go write your book!


Sunday, June 12, 2011

123- Of Mangoes and Rains

123- Of Mangoes and Rains

There are somethings that we enjoy doing not because we like doing them now, but because we liked doing it in the past. It is the memory of it that is the real source of joy and not the activity itself.

We go to an old city or an old neighbourhood and drop in a particular restuarant for a particular dish or a tea corner with quite ordinary cookies or a paani-puri waala or a walk through a park or a street, or a visit of an old theatre, or we revisit a tourist junction we go and visit all the places we had visited in the past. The same thing is at play in each one of the above - we are not enjoying the current taste or fun or beauty as much we are enjoying the memory of that joy. This is not to say that it is not any less enjoyable today, but it is the sweet something that it creates, the lingering after taste of a time gone by, mostly romanticised as the good-old-days, that is the source of that glowing abstract feeling called happiness. Revisiting it now is perhaps the umblical cord that connects us with what has been left behind, when everything has flown by,  providing us with a sense of rootedness or a semblence of permanence, in a life where one realises that nothing is permanent.

If only Youth knew and Age could! They say growing old is not a choice, but growing up is optional. I also have a feeling that growing old is not a particularly enjoyable process. It brings along with numerous disillusionments and shattering of myths - that daddy is not the strongest, that parents are not immortal, that heart breaks, that bad things happen to good people, that relationships are not permanent, that evil exist, that good people often do bad things, that there are so many things that were taught in the moral science section that are observed more as exceptions than as rule and that being good is not a default options for human beings but a choice that is fraught with struggle and requires more courage than an average man on the street has; so on and so forth. As life moves from one painful discovery to the next, its likely that an unencumbered and unblemished soul becomes a casualty. The loss of innocence is the greatest personal sorrow for each one of us, which ironically and tragically enough we are not even able to bereave or lament publicly.

So when we reach the tea-stall, eatery, paani-puri wallah and the park, street or neighbourhood, we feel a desperate need to connect, and sometimes to our horror that place has actually moved on, just as we have. They do not have any duty towards us to remain as they were, but we laden with our own need for an anchor want it to remain as it was many years back - because its being as it was, gives us some semblence of continuity and permanence. This anchor holds us back, roots us, provides something to hold on to, when everything else around is flowing by like sea planktons. Only a handful of us can attain liberation in being comfortable in the rootlessness that i describe above. Most don't event know or understand leave aside articulate what this need for continuity and permanence is like. They suffer and agonise but cannot explain why. But when they do visit these old place and enjoy the old pursuits they feel a sense of happiness and joy.And that keeps fuelling their need to keep going back, again and again.

It is in these contexts that i become a glutton when it comes to Mangoes and when it rains incessantly in Mumbai. May the Mangoes always smell the way they do and may the rains lash on my windows forever.


Sunday, June 5, 2011

122 - Monday Musings - Futures Thinking

122- Monday Musings - Futures Thinking

Over the last week I got introduced to a new field of enquiry that has been emerging in the academic circles. This is what they call the futures thinking. What the futures thinking essentially does is to study the possible existence and creation of alternative futures include the study of underlying worldviews and myths that underlie them. Let me share with you what it basically espouses and what could be the possible significance that it holds for us.

If left to itself as things stand today, a future will unfold - either in our individual lives or in the teams we belong or the organisations we work for or the nations and societies we live in. This future is a result of the choices we have made in the past and the ones we are making as of now. But it will be naive to believe that that is the only future possible. There are distinct possibilities of alternative futures that exist. Let me illustrate that with an example. Our current state of health is a result of the way we have led our lives so far and the choices in terms of food and lifestyle we have made for ourselves. If we let things go the way they are going, we will end up with a certain health say a decade or two later. Futures thinking suggests that there are alternative futures that is possible and we can create a ‘preferred future’ (the one that we would like it to be) if we take appropriate actions today. Another way of saying it is ‘today is the first day for the rest of our lives’. Now think of the preferred futures that we want to create for our families, teams and the organisations we work for.

The pioneers of futures thinking are Ivana Milojević and Sohail Inayatullah authors of many books renowned academicians. Futures thinking has six pillars (see

1. Mapping the Present and the Future through methods and tools such as the futures triangle and the futures landscape

2.Anticipation the Future through methods such as emerging issues analysis and the futures wheel

3.Timing the Future, understanding the grand patterns of change, macrohistory and macrofutures.

4. Deepening the Future through methods such as causal layered analysis and four quadrant mapping

5. Creating Alternatives to the Present through methods such as scenarios and nuts and bolts

6.Transforming the Present and Creating the Future through visioning, backcasting, action learning and the transcend conflict resolution method.

My own inspiration from the futures thinking hinges on two points – One that it provides a framework for understanding the work that I (and of course others) do as a manager. It gives a template to put in place actions, systems, procedures and practices that will lead to a preferred future. Outlining the preferred future itself is so inspiring and uplifting that all the trials and tribulations in the course of achieving it become mundane. The second point is that it provides hope, that we may not be doomed to live with all the imperfection of our current situation and that there is a possibility to create something more worthwhile and fulfilling. The practical plausible possibility of that future is a reason in itself to give things an honest shot. Future is not opaque act of crystal gazing but a conscious attempt to reach the El Dorado of our aspirations.

May you live the future of your dreams.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Monday Musings 121 - The death ofautocrats

121 - Monday Musings - The death of  autocrats

The longest democratically elected left front goverment in the world lost to the lady in slippers and a white sari. Whoa!. I am not a political analyst not a psephologist, but hopefully a reasonably aware manager. The significance and the reasons of this colossal victory must not be lost, as it has not been, if we go by the miles of newsprint dedicated to it. Add to it the defeat of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, and i call it the defeat of DMK and not a victory of AIADMK for the obvious reason that the voters would have voted any moron to get the extreme nepotism that was on display in the last 5 years out of power. Now link it to the pro democracy movement in Cairo and later on in many middle east and African countries and you can spot an unmistaken hint of a pattern - we can smell the death of autocrats.

Despots and autocrats have been as old as human civilisation. Man's search of absolute power cuts across millenia and cultures - from monarchs to sultans, from communists to right wing dispensations. Managers in todays organisations are as infected by this need, as were rulers of the past. The shelf life of such despots has only decreased over time. They may have lasted a few centuries earlier, then they lasted a few decades and now probably they will last only a few years. That is because, in the true Newtonian spirit, for every force there is an equal and opposite force to balance it out. This is nowhere more evident as much in case of human nature. Just as there is a deep seated need in man to abrogate himself to the heady concoction of unbridled power, there is an equal urge in the fellow human beings to be free to live life and make choices. Hence no where in human history absolutism has lasted forever.

As managers and leaders of extremely talented and young minds, where the notions of age, vintage, hierarchies are challenged everyday and the lines of the leader and the led is fast eroding, we can only ignore this phenomena to our peril. The children of the 20th and the 21st century will resist being led by designations. They were and are rebellious against all form of control - from parenting to bosses. They will throw such despotism, even it comes in sophisticated forms and hidden under the dubious wraps of language of patronism. The need in todays times of all team members is to be left free and explore thier talents. That puts a huge challenge to the leaders in todays times, to find the perfect sweet spot which balances freedom and yet operate within the boundries of organisational systems, processes, and cultures. This is easier said than done. A little nudge lets that balance go awry. As leaders we must always be mindful that despotism, however sophisticated and comuflaged it might be, is no longer a valid source of leadership. The led will only be allowed if they want to - and most often than not, the source of this leadership is competence. The only validation of great leadership is the number of voluntary followers one breeds under him, not because they believe you can threaten them with dire consequences if one does not toe the line, but by fostering a genuine respect for your abilities as a leader. And once you achieve this stage, they may not like you, but they will respect you and allow them to be led by you.

Difficult? - sure - but surely a worthy pursuit.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Monday Musings 120 - Demagogues

Monday Musings 120 - Demagogues
So Osama is dead – and curiously separated only by a letter, Obama is behind it. It will be a while before the self congratulatory bravado and chest thumping of the Americans will subside – not that it is completely unwarranted. I mean come on, the guys deserve a few beers for all the doggedness that they have demonstrated in pursuing their prey for a decade, through the unfriendly terrains of Tora Bora to the allegedly hospitable-to-Osama neighborhood of Abbottabad.
I have been fascinated by the demagogues peppered across history. Demagogury “is a strategy for gaining political power by appealing to the prejudices, emotions, fears, vanities and expectations by the use of rhetoric and propaganda and often using nationalistic, populist or religious themes” Cleon and Alcibiades in ancient Greece, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin as modern day political avtaars, and many controversial religious demagogues within India have furthered the cause of this art form. Osama bin Laden, surely belonged to this elite club. But this is not about Osama.
20th-century American social critic and humorist H. L. Mencken, defined a demagogue as "one who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots." And that is my basic predicament – what makes an otherwise smart, aware, perceptive, sharp and enterprising set of people to so grandly fall prey to the machinations of the demagogue? Does the demagogue really believe in what he preaches – for I doubt he really stands for anything. I have always wondered if Hitler really believed in the purity of the German race – superior at the cost of Jews, or did Bhindrawale really saw a Sikh kingdom based on political freedom or do all aspiring demagogues in our political system today, from Gujarat to Maharashtra really believe in what they say? Do they really represent, completely and comprehensively the constituencies they profess to represent and serve? And if they don’t, then how come they succeed in so magnificent a manner that they do?
But say they do and succeed they must – and there is something so fundamental in what they say, that it connects with a large enough constituency, usually angered over a historical wrong, which has not been corrected or assuaged with the balm of time or a mass catharsis of which is still pending. History they say, is often written by the victorious. So as circumstances change, power equations correct themselves, its times to rewrite history – change the name of the roads, chowks and cities, create historical figures where none existed, or invent a new yarn about the heroes, unsubstantiated, uncorroborated, untested by the principles of scientific or historical research, but romantic enough to provide fancy to the incredulous masses – who in any case are hungry for idols and heroes in their boring lives.
Demagogues do not exist in vacuum. They need a fertile ground to flourish – often a people scarred; with a real or imagined wrong that they were subjected to. Take away this feeling, however strong it might be, and you have cut the umbilical cord. Societies need counter balances to such forces of demagoguery. The price that the rise and fall of a demagogue extracts from its people is humungous. I am sure the Osama phenomena is no different. And they say about history, those who do not learn from it, are doomed to repeat it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Monday Musings 119 - 21 years

21 years
It will be a while before the commentaries and opinions extolling the world cup victory will subside. Every small cog in the giant victory machine will be dissected, every small decision that led to the victory that might have worked only as a quirk of fate will be eulogised as a strategic masterstroke and even the minutest of the significance of this victory on the nation, society, team (the neighbours aunt, her pet and his cousin) will be magnified many times over. To be fair, this hysteria is well deserved. Man does need a reason to forget his woes.
Lest one mistakes me as a cynic, let me clarify, that the strand of thought that has caught my fancy this week is far from it. It is actually a sublime piece of inspiration that to my eyes has either been overlooked or at best may not have been given enough attention to.
Sachin Tendulkar has attained divinity in the cricketing world is now stale news. Almost every correspondent worth his journalistic salt who interviewed him post this victory asked him ‘’How does it feel to finally win the world cup after 21 years in this business?’’.  One does not need to be a astrophysicist to know what he would have answered. However, apart from the predictable script of i-am-thrilled-elated-this-was-what-I-was-waiting-for he said something profound and beautiful. He said ‘’I had kept the dream alive’’.
Consider this for the man for whom there is nothing left to achieve or conquer. Calling him a genius is mocking him (Of course one cannot call GOD a genius, can you?). He is beyond a genius because he is the benchmark for genius now, the gold standard on which geniuses will be measured. He has secured his place firmly and permanently as a legend. Even a man of his calibre, his genius, his stature had an unfulfilled achievement to deal with. And how does this larger-than-life super achiever deals with an unfulfilled desire – well guess what – he decides to keep his dream alive. I always thought that recourse was for lesser mortals!
The second and the more mind boggling part of this story is that even he had to wait for 21 long years to fulfil this desire/ambition/aspiration – whatever you call it. Now, if blessed with all the talent that he does, with Gods on his side and the heavens having blessed him, with destiny delivering him and fate protecting him (these are some of the explanations that one hears when one tries to unravel the phenomena called Tendulkar)  - he needed 21 long, painful, excruciating years and 6 heart breaking outings at the world cup – then heavens protect us ordinary souls. I am already gasping for breath. Have I even nourished an ambition continuously for 21 months – truly, genuinely and done all that it takes?
So here is a rapid fire round. What is my world cup? and how long am I willing to play with excellence to win it? Am I willing to give it a shot for 21 years with the same passion or will I give up in between? Do I even understand the perseverance to last with a dream for 21 years? As I said I am gasping for breath. Hopefully you have better stamina.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Monday Musings 118- Of a Cup and thereafter

118- Of a Cup and thereafter
So India does it again after 28 long excruciating years. A large number of those who came out on streets were not even born then, others were toddlers, adolescents or early adults. As my better half succinctly puts in her unique style which is perhaps rooted to her being the better half, that the last time India won the world cup she was three and half, this time its her daughter who is three and half. If we go by this simple mathematical prediction, then it does not augur very well for the third win.
Everyone will have something to say about this win as one must. There is no doubt that beginning late last night the country has practically erupted to express their joy on winning the coveted title. That it came after 28 long years only makes it special. That now India is number one in all forms of the game makes the subcontinent’s domination complete. That there is nothing more for the God (read Tendulkar) to achieve is rather a poignant realisation – what will he play for if not for the pure love of the game?
Some individual achievements or team achievements around us have amazing powers. They can uplift entire societies, inspire an entire generation, sow the seeds of defiance against the humdrum of ordinariness – it may just prove the proverbial inflection points in the lives of many as history has time and again proved.
Most of us live very ordinary lives in the sense that our sphere of influence is limited. But the quest for glory in human beings, however repressed or unarticulated or unrealised it may be, continues to trouble him everyday. Since by the nature of things only a handful of us get to liberate ourselves from the shackles of this ordinariness, the sight of achievement and that too this grand, is bound to remind even the most phlegmatic of his own desire for fame, glory or achievement. Glory is an aphrodisiac that most of us cannot resist. So when we find a bunch of young, brash, on your face middle class Indian boys, beating the hell out of every other cricketing nation, we feel vindicated in our desire to aspire more than our current means. In the celebration of those 11, we find our souls celebrating the victory, not only as citizens proud of its nation, but as I see it, more as individuals who want their own lives adorned with as much glory – and since that may not be possible anytime soon, they immerse themselves in the celebration as if THIS was the victory that they were waiting for. No wonder, Indian streets witnessed not an expression of happiness yesterday night, they witnessed hysteria.
I believe India has got its ‘Ýes we can’ moment and it will have its echoes beyond the sporting world. It will inspire a whole generation to dream beyond what their current means allow them to. It does not matter which space of life they occupy – sporting or otherwise, this will provide a fillip for their quest for excellence. Those young lads did not only get us the cup, they may have got us something more precious – Audacity of HOPE – making us believe in our own dreams. There is always something or other in the circumstances that we find ourselves in, that may make our chances bleak in our own eyes, but this victory will reignite the one thing that is so central to our quest – belief. I am in no doubt, that for this generation this is going to be their Ýes we can’ moment.
1983 not only sowed the seeds of the awakening of Indian cricket, but also of the aspirations of its people to want more. It will be interesting to see what seeds 2011 will sow.   

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Monday Musings - 117 - Of another world

Monday Musings - 117 - Of another world
In a wonderful article in the Sunday Express, Shombit Sengupta, who is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management, wrote about the stimuli in his transformational journey from a refugee colony in West Bengal to the creative streets of Paris. He talks about the primacy of the stimuli that he drew from the world of art, particularly mentioning about one Subhinoy Kaku, a poor artist, who inspired his affair with art. I liked the central theme of his writing, the premise that our lives are shaped by the stimuli we are lucky to be enriched with, however insignificant or even painful they might appear at that time. I look at my own stimuli.

Jhinkpani, the hamlet that i was born and where i spent the first 15 years of my life, in the tribal mining districts of todays Jharkhand, is my most defining stimuli. It is only in retrospect, and the complete corruption by the comforts of my current sitiuation, that i realise that that life was tough. Hopping on the shoulders of an elder cousin to cross over a rope bridge on my way to school, swaying dangerously over a river was exciting then. Crossing overflowing paddy fields during rains with shoes in one hand and the school bag in another, only to wear them once you reached school was fun. The soot of the kerosene lamp, called deebri or playing with the molten wax of the candle, smashing the moths that came along with, for the entire duration of school education owing to lack of electicity was normal. Eating out meant 10 paise worth of muree (rice flaks) and dried or soaked gram. Summer holidays was flying kite or killing chameleons - the later a truly ingenuous sport where we used to keep a count of how many we killed with the perfect sling shot or a direct hit with a small stone. Holi meant a day long excursion into the forest to cut trees for the wood bonfire a night before.

Tribal societies offer tremendous opportunities for alternative worldviews. I remember the village oracle who would through his magical powers, would heal, cure and tell the location of the lost cattle and do black magic cure for just about problem. I remember his cure for an eye sore for me once - rub the eye with 7 leaves of berry and let them dry - as the leaves dry, so would the sore. It is only now in hindsight and armed with the so called rational education that i can question that worldview - but i cannot ignore that the first 15 years of my life i not only lived that life, i actually believed it. The day long football tournament would have a goat for the winner and a sheep for the runners up team. There was the annual çock-fight where ferocious cocks would lunge at each other for the coveted prize.

I know that i might be susceptible to a romanticised account of that part of my life - but all said and done i cannot erase or wish away that stimuli. If man is a product of his stimuli, then of all the ones i was fortunate to have had, that phase characterised by a brilliant confluence of Sikh, Bihari and Traibal ethos, shaped by the sheer resourcelessness, and very authentic- low cost-original pursuits of pleasure, stand out in my mind as the most defining one. What is your stimuli?