February 01, 2015

The Acts of Kindness

Every day as we go about in our daily lives, often wondering about the choices that we make, nothing cheers us up more than the sudden acts of kindness that strangers show our way. Over the last few weeks I have suddenly become aware of them and remain eternally thankful.

A lady slowing down her car so that I may cross the road, the unknown colleague holding the door open for me as I balance my laptop, my coffee mug, my phone and my notepad, someone offering to take my box of trash while I wonder where have all the dustbins gone, the auto driver sympathizing with me over my long hours at work.

Somehow we miss acknowledging these gestures, often taking them as nonchalantly as we would accept a rightful heirloom. In our rush to meet deadlines, the faces that held the door opened for us flashes past in a blur. People who do not matter seem and feel invisible and slowly our lives start becoming a lot more inhuman.

The other night I was in an auto somewhere in Andheri. Suddenly at a signal, a guy came running, “Can you drop me ahead?” There was no sense of request, the word please did not seem to be known to him and there was no waiting for an acknowledgment from my side. To be honest it was a bit scary, but then I still trust Bombay.

As the kid spoke, his story seemed interesting; he had planned to get off from a BEST bus without paying for the ride, was caught and was fined. He got off again, without a word of thanks but I guess that’s fine. In a world where an abuse and expletive laden show takes the internet by storm and defended under the garb of free speech, courtesy is often the easy prey.


But it showed me one thing. Not just we are forgetting to be kind, we often are afraid to be so. And that does not bode well for a world torn with strife.

January 05, 2015

To Hug or Not to Hug!!!

Being a global citizen, at least considering oneself to be a global citizen can be tricky. The nuances of how you interact with people around the world change every time you meet someone.

Having grown up at a boy’s school – we knew only four ways to express ourselves. A succinct nod, a firm handshake, a pat on the back and then if the occasion really demanded it – a manly hug. (e.g. a lovely drubbing given in a college fest to Calcutta Boys, Xavier’s, La Marts et al)

Now the hug is a great gesture. It shows warmth, personal camaraderie and bonhomie. Maybe at times, it’s a complete invasion of private space but then a hug is a hug and we boys did hug, but as I said only when occasion demanded it. The hugs I received when the infamous IIT results of 2001 came out were more than any words of consolation that my crestfallen teachers could offer me.

When I went to college, suddenly there were the better half of our species all around and the seniors loved to hug. While I did try to protest saying it was unwarranted physical contact; often that would be followed by squeals of laughter and a second hug. After sometime I realized resistance was futile.

I slowly realized that hugs can be wonderful. When you are in the receiving end, it comforts you and allows you to collect yourself together. Hugs and I became friends and friends got hugs. Now the hugs were of course not for everyone. You had to be in the circle of trust! The hugs would never be allowed to wander about. That would be profligate! Bangalore had a mixed crowd – those who hugged and those who didn’t. We were still a small batch trying to learn ‘Business’ so you knew very soon who to hug and who not to hug.

When I started working, of course hugs took a back seat. In India, hugging someone might send a signal that you are about to get married and I was no longer in the wonderful wonderland of Pilani with no one to frown upon such things.

To hug or not to hug became an important question and the answer soon became a firm no! In India you never hug anyone. Period. The firm handshake and the nod came back. Hugs took a backseat. Friends started getting married. So it was of course the right thing to not go around hugging them!

But then I started working with a lot of professionals from across the world. And the hug came back. And what a return it was! And I walked in with trepidation into the new found world. And the hugs changed. The Filipino hug accompanied by the laughter, the big warm Latin American one, the cautious European ones (is it one cheek, two or three?), the surprisingly warm Russian and Turkish ones, the non-existent British ones and so many others.

And then the confusion was of a more pleasing nature – not whether hugs would be frowned upon as a workplace gesture but whether it was acceptable to hug as long as the two in question agreed to it. As they say, the hugs were back!

Most important thing however in the question of hugging is your spouse. If you are with someone who is a strong crusader of personal space and a big naysayer to hugs, then you must step carefully my friend!

Then all you are allowed is an approved Hugs list!



December 14, 2014

The Loss of our Gods

One of the biggest assets of Hinduism I have always felt is its decentralization of religious practices. And therefore I have always believed more than a religion, it is a way of life. We have more Gods than we can count and remember and while many believe that Hinduism is essentially a throbbing, living example of polytheism, I always believe it also has the traits of Monotheism and Pantheism. Which is why when someone from Europe wonders how I plan to celebrate Diwali, I itch to answer, “Just like the French wine connoisseurs celebrate Oktoberfest.”

Our different Gods help us to reach the One as we deem fit. And then we find our own unique ways to reach The One. But as I travel around the country, I see a strange phenomenon. Slowly the complex fabric of our culture is giving way to the worship of what I call the Mega Gods – The avatars of Shiva and Vishnu. Even the Incarnations of the Mother Goddess are losing out to the male deities of Monotheist nature. The local gods are slowly being forgotten. In Luka and the Fire of Life, Rushdie speaks of the Forgotten Gods from ancient religions who no one remembers anymore. Slowly the Gods in our ancient forests and lakes and mountains are facing the same fate. Time it seems is able to consume even divinity. Whether it is good or bad only time can tell. I just wish there was someone working on the forgotten Gods of India.

While the Gods leave, one by one, like the vanishing languages of the world, the ‘Godmen’ fill up their places. Feeding on our insecurities, they now control a vast swathe of our country and slowly blind faith and rituals replace the logical mind that once told us that paths to The One can be many and yet they reach the same destination.

Sometimes you need the light of Knowledge to show you the way. For darkness is powerful and all encompassing but always loses in the end.


December 08, 2014

The Tough Task

SNDU (if you have forgotten by now, it’s the company I work for – Sabun, Nakhun and Datun Unlimited) sometime back started asking me to go and recruit from campuses. Amongst all the tasks that increase my heart’s palpitation, this probably is the toughest. It’s even more stressful than the times when you have to disagree with your boss on the costumes of your model in the ads that you make or when data fails to answer a question and you have to swallow hard and take a stance. Now close to 8 years later you have enough confidence to take that stance, but nothing prepares you to face a Placement Committee Member (Placeu as we called them) and tell her how many candidates have you decided to make an offer to.

Now these Placeus come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them make puppy faces, some of them play the martyr, some are plain obnoxious (to both the candidate and the company) but generally they have a tough job trying to place a batch that believes that getting a job offer at the highest pay scale is their birthright.

Anyway, the placeus are always handled well by the world famous (really, true story!) HR team of SNDU. So that takes care of the first problem. But then begins the most important task of selecting a candidate.

Multiple rounds continue, the day changes to night and we meet some of the brightest youngsters in India. Sometimes, they freeze up, sometimes they try to put on a show, sometimes they realize as soon as they walk in and this probably is not what they have wanted to do in their lives but for the most of them, it’s an opportunity they have been waiting for.

I was talking to my grandma the other day about how this stresses me out. Not because I cannot do it, but mainly because every time I say “No” my heart feels a pang of sorrow. And there is no way I can select someone who I do not think is right for the organization I love so much. She reminded me of a Tagore line, “When the judge feels the pain of the convicted, that’s the greatest justice that can be done.” The important feeling to have is empathy that ensures when someone walks out after meeting you, they feel nice about the process irrespective of its outcome.


But still, every time I walk into that room I am scared as if I am the one going in for mine.

December 01, 2014

The Loss of Reason

“Shantih! Shantih! Shantih!” the chants of the Brahmins on the banks of the Ganges reverberated around the woods. The sacred fire burnt in front of them, purifying their souls and their offerings to the Gods above.

Slowly they picked up their humble belongings and started walking back to their huts. The fire had shown them visions, ones they were too scared to even talk. In the raging fires, they were shown the world of Kali when the world would slowly move towards a realignment of time, the ultimate Yuganta.

The world they knew, where knowledge and light ruled, would lose its way. The pursuit of fame and glory would leave behind a thousand battered souls and slowly the world would become a darker place. People would forget why it’s important to be honest to oneself. Lies, deceit, half truths would masquerade as the truth and we would lose track of what to believe and what to reject.

In every step, humankind would slowly move towards their final test where the world would be cleansed and repopulated. That would once again turn the Wheel of Time. But what they had seen was a possibility that the seeds of destruction of the world would be sown without a hope for a rebirth. Unreasonable, argumentative, desperate for a lifestyle they cannot sustain, mankind was racing towards a point of no return.


For years they prayed, hoping to find a path for redemption for humanity. And yet answers failed them till one day the answer came, “The Loss of Reason will spell the end of all things we hold dear.”

November 30, 2014

Family

You never chose them and yet they are the only ones who will never leave your side. You get upset with them, bang the phone down, and yet on the next day you call up when frustration tends to grip at your very heart.

They come in all shapes and sizes; they come with unsolicited advice, they come asking questions you do not want to answer and yet you end up answering them. You add them up as you grow older and when some of them leave you behind, you realize how much you miss them.

Sometimes you believe that the friends you meet on the way can replace them and you take solace in witticisms which say you can choose your friends, not your relatives. And they truly are a great pillar of support as we had found out when we moved to Singapore. As we increasingly leave the cities of our birth, we let go of one of our biggest support systems – family. In the increasingly insular and selfish worlds of our cities, we never realize what we are missing. In a life spent travelling between cubes our horizons start to close in on us till all that is left is a phone in our hands and noises in the airwaves between us.

I guess there comes a time in one’s life when we miss our families the most. And growing up in a large joint family, my life in this metropolis feels surreal at time. Because, whatever be the situation, you just want to know that they stand behind you.


And when they do, you stand tall.

October 26, 2014

Hum Indiawale

My choice for movies swings more than the Swinging Sixties. And from being a snob to being someone who is indiscriminate in his choice of movies, I do it all. And as I grow older I realize, movies serve two major purposes for me. First, it’s art. It tugs at your heartstrings, makes you think, sometimes even forces you to come to terms with your own demons. But secondly, and definitely more importantly, it’s entertainment. It allows you to leave behind all your problems, your logic too and then forget all your worries for 3 hours (yes our movies are often 3 hours long) because in the end the hero always wins.
                  
There was a phase in my life when I looked down upon these movies, making comments about how this is not true cinema but as years have gone by; I have realized there’s a space and reason in this world for everything; even movies which will not survive in our memories beyond their opening weekend.

This year three movies were released who shared only one thing in common - the first letter of their name – H. The first was Highway. It was one of India’s most mature road movies and showcased the talent powerhouse that is Alia Bhat. You walked out of the movie, wowed by her performance, with a lump in your throat and then kept thinking about the breathtaking shots of the road that cross crossed across India. It left bare the hypocrisies of our society and left us stealing our glances from our own reflections in the mirror.

The second was Haider - Cinema at perhaps its best, but a Hamlet retelling at best an average attempt. A story retold in the midst of pain, suffering and agony. It reminded us why we missed Tabu so much. As an actress, she gave one of the most memorable performances of Indian cinema. But more importantly Haider taught us the importance of democracy and why we must always strive to fight for it. Whether you agree with the film or not, you have to feel proud that you are allowed to make movies which do not follow popular opinion. It dares to tell the other side of the story. And whether you accept its version of reality or not, you have to accept that you need to hear that story as well. But more importantly, Haider made a very important point by perhaps a quirk of fate. Released on 2nd of October, Haider was able to do what Hamlet could not. In perhaps the most telling scene of the movie, Haider remembers Gandhi’s greatest lesson to mankind – “An eye for an eye will make the world go blind”. For this one reason, Haider could have been made only in India.

 The last and perhaps the most representative of our cinema was Happy New Year. A musical blockbuster, it had exactly the same kind of drama that we want in our movies. A SRK potboiler, it perhaps made no sense, had little logic and yet it kept us laughing, singing and cheering till the end. Because while seeing the movie, we all knew our hero could not fail. The world would stand up to acknowledge him and he would go back home with the girl, with the diamonds and with our hearts. And we did not mind that he kept repeating his own dialogues.


We Indians, how much ever we want to love our Ritwik Ghatak, we end up falling in love with Uttam Kumar.