Sunday, March 30, 2014

Monday Musing 199: The dying art of self deprecation

Monday Musing 199: The dying art of self deprecation

I spent the better part of the weekend watching the celebrated TV serial 'Mirza Ghalib' written and directed by the acclaimed Gulzar, co written by yet another giant Kaifi Azmi. The serial was telecast in 1988 in the times of black and white TV and the hegemony of Doordarshan. I was still in school and yet to develop the intellectual capacity to distinguish between Krishi Darshan and Ghalib - the only role both played was that they allowed me some time in front of the TV. Then somewhere in the year 1994 during one of those long distance train travels, I bought 'Deewan-e-Ghalib' from The Wheeler & Co, one of those ubiquitous book stalls that spawn in the railway stations across the length and breadth of the country. Ever since then the yellowing pages of that book, now filled with underlines, notes and asterisk marks have reminded me of the giant that was Ghalib and his amazing story and the realisation how little I still understand him. 

Watching the dozens of episodes of the serial is like a crash course on his poetry and a peek into his persona. Apart from the literary genius that he was, this time what intrigued me about him was his amazing ability of self deprecation. Despite his genius, despite his own realization about his genius, he remained amazingly self deprecating about himself. He took his art seriously but never himself. He was childlike, full of humor and never hesitated in pulling a fast one on himself given his penchant for alcohol, gambling and continuously being in debt- obviously in a literary way. Sample these. 

Ho goya koi aisa bhi, jo ghalib ko na jaane 
Shayar to wo achha hai par badnaam bahut hai
(Is there anyone who does not know of Ghalib - he is a good poet but has a bad name)

Ye masail-e-tasaffuf aur ye tera bayan ghalib
ham tujhe wali samajhte, jo na baadakhwaar hota
(O Ghalib - with the quality of your observations on the matters of the world, one would consider you a wise one, if not for your love for alcohol)

I am sure there would be much more evidence of his self deprecating streak. The point of this musing is to contrast this to the current times in general and the cubiclist in particular. 

Look around and one would find just too many people taking themselves too seriously. No one has time, actually the ability to see the humor in tight spots. Self deprecation is a dying art and a dying ability. Too many serious blokes are making living a dangerous vocation. This is no where visible more starkly at work place. The pursuit of success, ladder climbing, survival of the fittest has robbed us of the ability to laugh at ourselves and take a dig at our own imperfections. If a man of Ghalibs genius could do it then maybe we give ourselves a little more credit than we deserve, or may be Ghalibs genius was actually in his ability for self deprecation despite his brilliance.  

In yet another place he writes, 
na tha kuch to khuda tha, na kuch hota to khuda hota
duboya mujh ko hone ne, na hota mai to kya hota
(When there was nothing, there was the supreme power, who would have been there even if nothing would have been there - my downfall is in my taking my 'being' too seriously - what would have happened even if I was not there)

Folks, in the long run - we are dead, so cheer up. Watch Ghalib for inspiration. 

....and before I forget, tomorrow is Monday. Let’s get to work. 


Sunday, March 23, 2014

198 Monday Musings: The Catch

198 Monday Musings: The Catch

It is difficult to remain untouched by the feverish pitch of the coming parliamentary elections. This time like no time before, the method in the madness reveals itself from behind the cacophony of voices. The electoral madness and its actual outcome notwithstanding, the run up to the elections have become increasingly corporatized. The stamp of the 'marketing think-tank' behind the campaign is unmistakable - which brings me the point of today’s musing that all vision selling is less an intellectual act of creation but more the mundane act of selling. 

I see three distinct strands of electoral positioning so far - and each one of them will have equivalents in the corporate world to take note of and lessons from. 
First the 'Old wine in the old bottle' - the Congress's attempt to create a promise where none exists. It fails to trigger imagination because of the corpses of the unmet expectation lie everywhere. The die has been cast now and their promises of the future shall be judged by the images of their past performance. They had their chances and they must realize that they cannot manufacture the reputation of performance through imagery and propaganda. As Alyque Padmse said 'The fastest way of killing a bad product is good advertising'
The second is the BJP campaign of 'You gave them a chance - now give us'. This is more a TINA - There is no alternative pitch, the case of pitching for 'we are relatively lesser evil'. There is no imagination, no original proposition, no vision per se that might fire the aspirations that paints the picture of a new ideal, but an appeal for an anti-establishment wave ridden by an ‘angry young man’ tactics. This is the nature of the permanent protester whose only method is to talk of the disenchantment with the establishment, but not offering a coherent and powerful vision of the future. It is nothing but a 'better' version of the past.
The third, unfortunately the only one who offers this is the AAP (why is this unfortunate is something that deserves another musing) - a bold new vision of the future, something fundamentally and radically different from the past, that has a better chance of dealing with the challenges of the future. It may not be clear and definitive, but has the promise to shake things around. Even in partial success it is a better bet than trying to fix the old. 

Corporate leaders and I do not mean the CEOs here, but the middle management fall in precisely these three categories. Middle management is where the things rot more often than not. This is where vision meets execution, or rather where it does not meet!

The first kind are those who have played their cards, often miserably so, but who at the beginning of a new year want the teams below and around them to give yet another chance to their moribund plans. They want their teams to respond with passion, energy and commitment even though the corpses of poorly thought plans, half baked initiatives and horrendous follow through lie everywhere. 
The second kinds are those who are waiting in the ranks to usurp the throne, plotting and planning in the shadows, cynical and sarcastic with the current scheme of things, but who do not anything new or substantial to offer. They can at best offer how to 'tinker with the carburetor' to make it marginally better, but have no clue about the 'new engine' needed to drive into the future. Obviously most of them are blissfully unaware of this, but wishful thinking is still not a crime, is it?
The third kinds are needed but are rarely found. Middle management is also not the best of places to be in, for it is sandwiched between the thinkers and the doers. They do not have the power of the top or the insurance of the bottom. They are also most susceptible to existential angst and disillusionment that is rampant in the corridors of the corporate world. However this does not takes away the crying demand for them to not only have a vision, as different from the organizational vision that shall infuse a new lease of life in their functions. They are either caught in the web of only talking about the big picture, leaving the dirty job of execution to the lesser mortal, or they get too involved in the small tasks abdicating the need for a big picture thinking. The precarious balance between plumbing and philosophizing remains elusive.

The plumber must find time to have a philosophy or else he might die a plumber. The philosopher must find opportunities to plumb or else he might become unfit to even plumb. What a colossal waste both shall be!!


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Monday Musings 197 - The cities we live in and the cities that live in us

Monday Musings 197 - The cities we live in and the cities that live in us

On my second trip to the ancient city of Benaras, as is my wont, I was wondering around in its traditional parts - trying to soak in its sights, sounds and smells. (I had blogged about my first visit to the city a few years back). This time I had two of my local colleagues who had both returned back to the city, helplessly - after having migrated away for greener pastures, but had returned like the cat who keeps coming back to your house even when you try to leave her way away, hopelessly enamored by its love for the household.

While moving around the old city and enjoying its own version of night life - from the thandai, tea, hot fragrant milk and wrapping it up with the delicious paan, I was given a short tutorial on why it is difficult to take a person out of Banaras but quite impossible to take Banaras out of the person. Only to prove the point I was given a wonderful book called "Kashi ka Assi" written by Dr Kashi Nath Singh who apart from other distinctions taught Hindi literature in the Banaras Hindu University. 'Assi' in the title refers to the 'assi-ghat' area of the southern tip of the city, right on the banks of river Ganges and is the oldest part of the city - one may easily call it the 'true - original - Banaras'. This book, without going into details is a wonderful account of the soul of Banaras, with its eccentricities, lingo, and people, peppered with colorful expletive ridden language of this part of the town. As the opening paragraph warns - ".....this book is not for children, nor for the aged - it is for adults only.....”. This warning is treated with warm welcome by the original Banarasis for whom such colorful language is a way of life - a restraint in the language to make it more civilized is akin to sacrilege, an attempt to play with the identity of the city. 

We know by now that cities have their own character and many have fallen hopelessly in love them. In the corporate world one of the big reason people do not move bases is the love for their city. Many have sacrificed the lure of opportunities at the altar of love for their hometown. Many of batch mates from college were resolute in their decision not to move out of the place of their birth. I would usually respond this with polite sarcasm but I guess I understand the phenomena a little better now. 

Many books and movies have managed to capture the spirit of the city in its truest form. The city is the character as much as the people who form the narrative. In recent times, Calcutta was a character in the movie 'Kahaani', Delhi was a character in 'Delhi-6', as much was Mumbai in the movie 'Dhobi ghat' and amongst books, 'Maximum city' by Suketu Mehta described Bombay. I am not sure if we have gone beyond Mumbai and Delhi - even using Delhi  as a backdrop is only a recent phenomena. However there are at least a dozen or more Indian cities who have a distinct flavor of its own and which are stories ripe enough to be told. I am sure there would be books which exist but I wish they were either written more or popularized more. I would never have enjoyed Banaras as much as I have after having read 'Kashi ka Assi'. 

How titillating it would be for the soul if someone wrote a full blown book about the eccentricities of Lucknow or the finesse of Allahabad or the humor of Hyderabad, the preoccupation of intellect of Chennai or the love for argument of Kolkata/Kerala or the love for analysis of Ahmadabad (or Surat or Rajkot) or the finesse of Bangalore or the love for nothingness of Cuttack or the love for political and social discourse of Bihar - so on and so forth. It will make a great reading and for those who cannot or have not travelled, it will be a good window into a people who are so near and yet so far. 

Zauq, a great poet and a man in love with his dilli (Delhi), shunned the courts of Deccan where there was a greater appreciation of poetry and perhaps more profitable to be in, by saying -  

In dinon garche dakkan me hai badi qadr-e-sukhan
Kaun jaye 'zauk' par dilli ki galiyan chhod kar 

(There is great appreciation for the art of expression in Deccan these days but who shall leave the streets of Delhi!)

We must continue to live in our cities - but at least the cities must continue to live in us.