Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Monday Musings 219 – …and it passed away!

Monday Musings 219 – …and it passed away!

A year passing away is at best a symbolic event, if at all it can be called an event – for in reality nothing really happens on that day. There is nothing big bang about the day, the year passes away in sleep really. So like all his ancestors 2014 also will pass way tonight. May its soul rest in peace.

Each year has its own biography, adorned with events and idiosyncrasies, for each year we give the year an opportunity to swing from the heights of imaginative brilliance to the lows of mind numbing stupidities. It is through this concoction the year acquires a flavor, so distinctly its own. At the end of 12 months, on the day of its passing the specific events are forgotten and may be they are irrelevant, only the lingering taste of it remains. It’s like food. Once the food is cooked and eaten, only its zayka remains. Now zayka is an interesting word – it means a combination of taste, aftertaste and flavor. The question then is what is the zayka that is left behind as the year has passed. That and only that matters.

The counter question is equally powerful – does passing off of a year really matter? What is the fuss about passing off of the number on a measuring tool called the calendar? The sooner we recognize the ephemeral nature of things, people and fortunes, the sooner we shall rest in peace – pun intended. Our significance in the larger scheme of things is always a heightened mirage, a story of indispensability we have been telling ourselves only to delude the mind, quite well knowing that the world will go on even without us, may be a wee bit better. So this soul will drink an extra glass in exasperation while everyone around him will drink in celebration.

I like the internet forward which says it best – “we all have two lives. The second one starts when we realize we only have one”.  It can be a truly liberating view. In the last few years, just like everyone I have made a few resolutions, missed following most of them by the end of January, but managed to limp forward with a few of them. I don’t think there is anything wrong in making resolutions but it will be na├»ve to believe in its magical ability to make things any better that what they were, a fact that will become amply clear by end of January or at best by end of March. The recognition and the realization that there is only one life or its miniature version, that this year will exist only once can be very burdensome or can be very liberating. It decides our attitude towards that very abstract notion called time.
I ask myself what is my attitude towards time and get no clear answers. Do I treat it like a perishable goods and hence with soft hands, fearful to spend it on things that do not merit spending something as precious? Do I treat it with nonchalance of a king, who knows that he has enough and more of it and hence treats time with disdain? Do I ignore it like one would ignore seasons, for they come and go, of their own accord and over whom we have little control – for we can only chose our clothes and not the season? I ask myself much more and get no clear answers.

So I also ask myself, how should I treat this day which shall pass away in its sleep? Should I treat it as just another day or should I make an event out of it, just like many around me are making? I don’t have clear answers.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Monday Musings 218 - Two things

Monday Musings 218 - Two things
The title may be a shameless rip off, but then who cares when the point I make it is original. Then I also ask myself what if the point is equally a rip off and I tell myself who cares as long as the articulation is new. Didn’t someone say, the tale is in the telling!

So here are the two things. The first one is actually a question that I wonder about. Let me share the set of questions first and then I will share what makes me wonder about it. What makes the beginning of a trend? When can one say that something or someone ‘created/started/ignited’ a thing which others picked up and soon many more started to do or talk or write about and hence one can safely call it a trend? What happens when established names, celebrities and icons pick up, accidentally or deliberately, what may have been dealt with already by a novice or a newbie, but by sheer virtue of their established stardom walk away with a lion’s share of the credit of having started the trend?

Three novels hit the Indian market in the last few months with practically the same theme, if not the same plot. The protagonists, male or female from the heartland of Bihar and their story of adjustments, trials, exploration and discovery in the hallowed corridors of the Delhi University. The contrast is pretty obvious – Bihar and its teeming millions, uncouth and desi in the popular imagination, an archetype popularized by the inimitable Lalu, set against the sophisticated and elitist Delhi university. Sparks had to fly! First came the bilingual ‘What a loser/Loser kahin ka’ by the new kid on the block, Pankaj Dubey, then came ‘Half Girlfriend’ by the celebrity author Chetan Bhagat and finally ‘Your dreams are mine now’ by Ravindra Singh, another established name.

So who started the trend of spotting that there is a story in pitching these contrasts against each other and weave a story around it? It is an amazing context that was begging to be explored. Imagine in erstwhile Hindi movies how class was the context that was juiced out for decades – the rich girl/poor boy or vice versa. The story itself was immaterial as much was the potential that such a contrast provided, something that was fascinating enough to be written about in the confidence that thousands will be keen to watch. The person who spotted this potential of the plot was a genius. Once spotted many more added their genius in exploring in multiple shades and nuances this basic plot. Pankaj Dubey, by that yardstick and in that sense, must take the credit for spotting the potential of the story that lies in the tales of thousands of students that come from mofussil India and what they go through in the elite educational institutions in the process of adjustments and integration. I also believe that the choice of making the protagonist from Bihar was equally a stroke of brilliance because Bihar represented the most entertaining version of that caricature. However a point must be made in haste, that for Pankaj, in contrast to the other two authors, it would have been not only a literary pursuit but also cathartic – for he himself was the Bihari in DU. Only he would really know where the shoe pinched. So take a bow Mr. Dubey for giving voice to people like us, who have had similar stories. (By the way I can offer you another plot – how about the deadly combination of being a sardar from bihar in big institutions – do you smell a book in that entertaining concoction? In case you do, do not forget to pay me royalty fee!!)

The second point that I wish to make is really how amazing this experience really is. I am sure across decades the student migrants from the belly of India into the hallowed campuses have engendered a hundred struggles. These struggles sometimes funny, sometimes tragic forge a personality or destroys it. The responses have been seamless assimilation or traumatic alienation or any shade in between these two extremes. The elite or the urban would never understand the impact of these struggles for this was never their journey to be understood or empathized and hence a non issue. I also know for sure that in hindsight most of these stories are happy stories because they leave the protagonist stronger and better placed to deal with that bitch/dog called life. This struggle may not be romantic or grand enough but for the person who has gone through it, is significant enough. So here is three cheers to all those from the hinterland who will land up to the urban universities in India every year with starry eyes, a desi heart and an ‘aluminum box on his head’

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Monday Musings 217 - Two tales for the cubiclewallahs

Monday Musings 217 - Two tales for the cubiclewallahs

Two conversations over the last week stayed with me – one was the disdain wreaked on me by friends back home on an innocuous question like “What do I really do at office” and the second was a conversation about what keeps some managers interested in their teams even when they move on.
The first generation job holders find it difficult to explain to his/her brethrens back home as to what do they really do at office. They understand work in simple terms – if you are a farmer you till the land, if you are a driver you drive the car, if you are a miner you enter the mines, if you are shopkeeper you open the shop every morning and sell, if you are a doctor you wait for folks to fall ill so that you can offer cure and if you are an engineer you make things. My folks understand work through the prism of the life of an ACC cement township, where every morning hundreds would trickle in every morning at the sound of a loud siren that would indicate the beginning of the 8 to 4 shift, an afternoon siren at 12.30 to indicate lunch and an evening siren at 4 to indicate end of shift, when the same thousands would trickle out – a tad tired and a tad dirty. In between what they really did was not difficult to understand – some ran machines, some picked up stuff, some made entries so on and so forth.
They found it difficult understand just as I found it herculean to explain, what I really did at office. For instance the notion of attending and calling meetings one after the other the whole day and then repeat it 5 days a week was pretty amusing to them. For instance a childhood friend after having struggled to understand what we really do in those meetings remarked, “So when do you guys work?” I kept silent. Another friend was not that kind when he remarked “so you make all that money by a few people sitting in a circle and just…err….talking and doing nothing, is it?” I swallowed pride but smiled but have not talked to him when he added “we do that all the time but our parents quite disapprove of it”.  
I am sure someday they will realize that we are a hard working lot and earn our pizza with the sweat of our brow…mmmm….ok not really sweat of the brow, but we do sweat. The notion of work is in the hands and head of the worker and just like one man’s food is another man’s poison, one man’s work can be another man’s leisure.
The second thought was around how do managers behave once they move on to another role or another company? Do they keep calling old team members to find out what is happening and whether the world has actually come to an end? There are some matured ones who stay away consciously and purposefully because they recognize that what is worse than a breakup is to call up your ex and check about the new partner.
However many are not matured enough. They would relish calling the old team members to figure out how is it working with the new person and subtly fish for compliments as how things were so much better under him/her than now. Indispensability is the aphrodisiac for managers. There is unmatched joy in hearing about the ‘good old days…with him of course”. Subordinates are also smart because they understand the subtleties of this call and fuel it appropriately while praising how ‘meaningful/enjoyable etc” life was under the previous regime. Such managers damage the purpose of continuity in the teams those they had nourished and built, but more importantly they betray their own insecurities, which is up for display for those whom he had led with the assurances of high conduct only in the recent past. I feel sorry for them and then I ask myself if I had some something similar consciously or unconsciously ever. Suddenly I don’t like what I am writing and so I stop.