March 27, 2016

The Silence of the Stones

It was mid day and the sun was bright, directly throwing his warm winter light on us. We were halfway through our journey and yet it felt we had seen nothing, observed nothing. High above the mountains of Ajanta, we stood looking at some of the best examples of art in Indian history. Ajanta is magnificent. And there is no other word that better describes the rock cut temples of Aurangabad.

Often you will find people telling you that travelling to Ajanta and Ellora is a day’s journey. They could not be more wrong. Every cave temple has wonders that you can stare at for hours. The paintings that you see in front of you are one of the greatest treasures of art in India. Year after year, craftsmen made these caves come alive with the most primitive of equipment, fuelled only by their passion to create.

Start your trip with Ajanta walk up the hills, the tourist guides and guidebooks will tell you that the best displays are in the first few caves. Do not believe them, rather take the entire journey and explore every cave. Understand the frustrations of the carvers of stone as they kept making the stones come alive. Listen in to their hushed silences still trapped in the stones. Listen to their dying footsteps as the royal patronage trickled to a close forcing them to leave the caves unfinished. Hear the faint noise of the religious chants as three religions coexisted for centuries. Look for the intricacies of the carvings; the brightness of the colours still remaining and try to imagine the interlinkages between the religions. Forget the babble of tourists and feel yourself transcend into a world of quiet scholarly studies and self-imposed mendicancy of monkhood.

Next day travel to Ellora. Start at Kailasa; for nothing else matters. Imagine a giant boulder. Men and women such as us will look at it in wonder and even if an inspiration seizes us, we will start chiselling away starting from the front. But imagine cutting through the rock from above and creating the abode of Lord Shiva on earth. Kailasa tells us of our own perfection; of the grandeur we were once capable of; of human triumph in pursuit of God or ungodly vanity of kings. Look at how Shivaism and Vaishnavism coexists under the same canopy. Once you have made your peace with the feeling of insignificance make your way to the left or right. The ancient rocks will tell you untold stories of Jainism and Buddhism. Look up at the Tirthankaras and the Bodhisatwas. They will smile down upon you and show you how their facial features changed with centuries.

As you walk away, tired but fulfilled, remember to leave the places clean. You owe it to your own future generations for Ajanta and Ellora need to remind us for our triumphs and our impermanence.

March 20, 2016

The Brotherhood of the Waiting Men

We wait; silently. We nod at each other at times. We know we do not have anything against each other but we also do know that at a moment’s notice we would be our fiercest adversaries. We are soldiers, following orders, ready to plunge into the chaos at the slightest nod from the overlords but we respect each other as we all have been there.

We know the young eager ones from the old time tested ones. We know the ones like me who have been bloodied in the battles and have laboured on. We relish the moments when we see someone mess it up so badly that there will be hell for the poor lad when he reaches the trenches at night. It’s a complex manoeuvre that takes years to hone skills in and the young ferrets never seem to get that. We respectfully step aside when the generals march in; their eyes full of contempt at the mere sight of enemy soldiers standing near the common grounds.

The gadgets in our hands give us some respite. It tells us about the world outside. A world full of red bulls, footballs and cricket bats. A world where one day we will return after the call of duty has been answered. But the gadgets often fail when raw muscle power is required to snatch another soldier’s hopes before his own eyes; my downcast gaze silently apologizing before returning with the trophy.

Handing it over to the general; I wait slowly taking in the silent admirations of the enemy soldiers around who have failed to find their exact shades of pink, purple or lilac.

We all wait praying for each other so that this visit to the trial room is the last in this outlet. 

February 07, 2016

The Goodbye

Long Long ago, in the Summer of 2007 to be precise, four little mice had boarded a ship. The docks were silent, the night was still and the moon played hide and seek behind the clouds. The ship set sail into the unknown and before one knew, the stars above realigned and the four little mice saw each other. Each different from the rest but they soon realized they were all the same in being different from the rest of the animals on the ship. But that is a story everyone knows!

The mice charted different courses within the ship till one day one of them set sail, then another and finally even the third. The last remaining mouse looked on as their boats sailed further and further away.

The airwaves carried their squeaks to him, faint and yet conveying the different emotions that swept over them. Trepidation, anger, joy, love, hatred, frustration, fear, ecstasy and sometimes even indifference. The world was unforgiving, sometimes all it let the mice have were memories of a life less complicated.

The last mouse remains. And he hopes and prays for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to be true. Let the mice indeed be the most intelligent species on Earth. For each have made their choices and some day each will need to say goodbye.

December 31, 2015

The Recap

This year started with a promise to be more regular with my blog and apart from the bursts of a creative itch once in a while, the promise remained just that; a promise; shamefully unfulfilled. But this year was strange in the way it shaped up. Imagine an inverted bell curve and January and December being its end. Starting on a high, falling down the slope and then as the end of the year approached, pulling oneself up to feel nice about the world around.

This year has been a year of learning humility. It was also the year of farewells. Invincibility took a beating; friends said goodbye. And somewhere in the middle of the year; life became mechanical. Imagine yourself as a firefighter and noticing the hidden flames all around you. Will you have time to go and water the seeds you had planted in your garden? 2015 taught me not to lose the woods for the trees, to let go off battles not worth fighting for and not allow one’s own self to get hurt by actions of others.

2015 was not the easiest of years but suddenly somewhere inspiration came up. You realize that when you are looking at the bottom of the barrel; it’s up to only you to pull yourself up. Strangely help came from unknown quarters. A little bird made her nest in our balcony and she refused to give in to the daily efforts of 2 adult humans who kept guarding their turf and before we knew there was a birth. She never moved.

It taught me to overcome my fears and focus on the task at hand. And somehow, things started moving at a more interesting pace. Once you cease being afraid, a lot of changes start happening to your life. And suddenly you feel free.

2015 was also the year when I took the bull by the horns and started driving. Inspired by memories of NFS in Budh Front, I decided it was time to go for an automatic vehicle. However, Kherani Road taught me that NFS is not exactly replicable in real life and dents on your car costs actual money to repair. Sadly no one seems to be paying me for a drift well-made or a sharp turn on 2 wheels! And more importantly the one who always rides shot gun if she is not at the wheels refuses to allow even the least transgression while driving.

Most importantly I managed to read. I realized that the number of books I read in a year was going down in sync with the number of blog posts I upload. 2015 changed that. 30 books along with numerous articles and treatises on marketing and strategy is not a bad way to sum up the year.

2016 will be tough as well. And that’s how Life will be for us in our thirty somethings. The occasional memories of the future that could have been will tug at heart strings but the war will rage on.

“Going in one more round when you don’t think you can – that’s what makes all the difference in your life.” – Rocky Balboa

December 24, 2015

Silent Night

It’s a few hours till Christmas; arguably the second on my all-time favourite festival list. And yet, this Christmas feels strange. For the first time in years, Mumbai has cooled down to take me back to my growing years in Calcutta. Bru CafĂ© has launched the Christmas Plum cake. And a lot of bakeries are trying hard to make me forget the taste and nostalgia of Nahoum. But I still am not jolly. And on Christmas, without fail, you need to be jolly.

I probably will miss going to a midnight mass this year. I probably will miss listening to Christmas carols. There are a list of ads I need to see before the day is out and I shut down my laptop. It’s almost six and I should be shutting it down and watch the sun set over Mumbai. Long long ago, it is believed that a star was seen in the sky. I should be searching for that star tonight.

As I sit, I can hear the singing in the mosque nearby celebrating the birth of another prophet. The world always celebrates life; never death. It celebrates in birth; mourns in death and yet between the cycle of life and death we play our small games; day in and day out. Sometimes the futility of it all is striking. A friend recently said, “gain experiences.” Noble thoughts but what are experiences but a display of showmanship when advertised on social media?

The sun is a brilliant hue of orange, the birds are returning home. Somewhere a bard may still be strumming his guitar for a new song. It’s Christmas and I want to pause. And reflect and yes have my plum cake. But those seem futile when your mind keeps humming discordant notes. Is there light somewhere, anywhere?

The Saviour and King, they tell me, was born in a manger.

September 18, 2015

10 Years of IIMB

Somehow, unknown to me, a life event passed by, silently, without much fanfare I associate with such dates. Sometime back it was the 10th anniversary of a fresh graduate stepping into the strange world of management education. The call was to study for two more years. The call was also to postpone the inevitable employment for two more years. But what IIMB did to me was more than just that.

Don Bosco and Calcutta had given me my moral fibre and the very foundation of who I am - with my idiosyncrasies, my mannerisms, my accent and maybe even my ideologies. BITS Pilani took all of that, took me as a person and threw me into a cultural cauldron, something I had never witnessed before. I embraced it and before I knew it, it made me ready for the world outside.

But IIMB? IIMB was different. IIMB made me find my love. And like all true love, it did not come easy. I spent a year searching for what made me happy, till one day, while attending a lecture I knew I had found it. I really believe in the “Conspiracy of Universe” Theory and therefore what happened in the second year at IIMB would not be any less exciting than a fairy tale. While Year 1 was about surviving with the help of phone calls from Pilani and Bangalore, year 2 was all about taking the devil by its horns and facing it.

And the only thing I took away from college? Never stop learning. It sounds grandiose but it’s true. The biggest bane of anyone in the marketing industry is the curse of the “know-it-all”. I call it at times the “been there done that” syndrome. It essentially attacks as you grow older, when you believe that you have seen it all! The tragedy is that situations repeat and yet they are never the same. It’s critical therefore to ensure that you know your basics and never forget them.

If I have been invited to a college to speak, I cringe when I hear wrong definitions of basic marketing terms. I feign ignorance when asked to decide between two decidedly wrong theories. I apparently fainted when evaluating case studies recently submitted in a competition. But then they are still better than the consultant friend who calls whenever he has a client with a marketing challenge. “Dude. Still selling soap? Ha Ha Ha. Listen have a marketing query. I am recommending XYZ. Should I call it a line extension or a brand extension? You marketing guys. Love to make things complicated. Ha ha ha”

Whenever caught in any of these situations, the only things that keep running in my mind is either “Schiffman Kanuk, Schiffman Kanuk”, or “Kumar Kumar Kumar”. It’s like performing an exorcism on myself to defend against the demons of incomplete knowledge. And then I go home and read a bit.

You may call me weird but I have often found a hard bound copy of Aaker to be more therapeutic than banging my head against my desk.

Anyway, you might have got the gist. I love my job. I love creating stories. I get angry when someone makes better stories than me. And then I applaud and get down to work even harder. That’s what IIMB gave me. I think often people in my situation get the creation bug. And they become entrepreneurs. In the last 8 years or so, I have created three stories. While the credit for that is not just IIMB but my organization (SNDU in case you have forgotten – Sabun, Nakhun and Datun Unlimited) too, the genesis has to be IIMB.

2017 would be my 10th employment anniversary and also the 10th anniversary of the Class of 2007. It would be a good time to pause and reflect. Today I can just be thankful for the opportunity.

“Schiffman, Kanuk, Kumar. Om Shantih Shantih Shantih”

September 05, 2015

Despise the Bully

When I was in school, I had been taught “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” Years of studying the Bible taught me never to throw stones at others, as none of us could claim to have not sinned. When you grow up reading religious texts, mythologies and a spattering philosophical discourses, you realize the world is grey and not a simple tapestry of black and white.

But since the day I had stepped into school, I knew one thing instinctively in my heart, when you see a bully, “TAKE NO PRISONERS.” Two things helped. First, relative size was an automatic deterrent. Second, being the teacher’s pet, class monitor and the first boy ensured that I had a voice. And when you have a voice, you exercise it. It’s a duty.

The problem with duty is that other factors come into play making the choices really really difficult. Morality, friendship all get entangled into a mishmash of right and wrong. And you start making the choices. I have been incredibly lucky to have teachers who accepted my choices and taught me to live with them and face their consequences. It also helped that mom knew everything. But more about that, some other day.

In school handling bullies became easier as I grew up. It took guts to stand up to the boys in the Senior School but once you do that, there’s no stopping back. Once you take a stand, it’s final and maybe lose a few friends in the process. But the fact, that you have the gumption to take a stand slowly steels you to your very core.

When I went to college, bullying had reached new levels. For the first time I saw class distinctions being used to bully. Supposed Intellectual superiority (based on things as flimsy as knowing the name of a particular author) was used to bully. Regional Majority came through as group bullying. That’s the reason why I have always been sceptical of ragging. Ragging forces discipline through hierarchy, ragging forces social bonding through conformity and therefore ragging is no better than bullying. And it pained when later I heard juniors who had been saved from bullies, turn into the very same monsters.

Bullies are cowards, bullies are weak, bullies suffer from an inferiority complex. And the funniest part? Bullies NEVER have the gall to punch above their weight. I have never seen a self-assured individual ever resort to bullying those under him or her. It has always been someone who feels that a point has to be made, someone who knows his/her inferiority in relation to others.

All through my life, whenever I have faced bullies, I have taken a stance against them, all but one. And every time I remember the incident, I know how that moment of indecision had failed to stop further instances. I was scared. I had been bullied. And then I had made a commitment – never again.

The reason I feel compelled to write this is because I see so many profiles of proud parents with their kids on my social media page. My nephews and nieces are growing up and have faced bullies as early as in kindergarten.

All I want to say is that we have choices – not to be bullied and neither become one.

Hate is a strong emotion. I know I am not capable of something as strong. But if you can, every single time you meet one, despise the bully.