August 28, 2008

There’ll Always be A Place

When I was young, or let’s say when I was a lot more innocent than what I am today, I lived an enchanted life. And I mean it. I had a vivid imagination. I guess every child has, but what I remember tonight is that I could visualize almost everything. I used to mix Goblins from my Blyton books with the Khokkoshes from Thakurmar Jhuli. I used to stand on the terrace of our house, break a twig from the Neem tree and use it as my sword against all kinds of monsters to save the kingdom. I was the undisputed king, the knight in shining armour. When my grand mom gifted me my first illustrated Russian Fairy Tales, I would often encounter Baba-Yaga and the corner of the terrace would become her hut, spinning endlessly on its chicken legs. No one knew that this fantasy land existed. Not my family, nor my best friends in school.

When I was much much younger and went to Durgapur, I would roam around the gardens of everyone in the neighbourhood and pretend that I was lost in the dense dark forest. In my mind sunlight would turn into a misty darkness where I could not see beyond the next tree trunk. I had a dog that used to live nearby and whenever I was out he would come from nowhere and accompany me. Often in the afternoons when the koel was tired of its incessant singing and there was no one who would bother if a little kid had tiptoed away from his bed, I would turn into the mighty He-Man and Bhola would be my Battle Cat. I have missed Bhola, every day since I have left Durgapur. He or She was my first pet, my first friend and I have never let anyone take Bhola’s place.

I still remember my disappointment when no one ever gifted me the He-Man sword and I was too egoistic to ever ask for it, even at that age. Times came when I could afford it myself, but those were times when I would settle for an audio cassette that I had been tracking for ages. I was growing up.

The Sagars and the Chopras of this country rendered a great service to the Indian kids of my age. Suddenly mythology was no longer stories you had heard. You saw them everyday and you enacted them. I was always terrible at Arts and Crafts. Really terrible. And yet I made bows and arrows by myself. It’s another matter that the arrows would never fly to slay the might demons but that did not stop me from being Karna. At that point of time, I remember I used to run out of books to read very often. So I would pick up old textbooks of my dad or mom or sis and read them. Somewhere I had come across the interpretation of Ramayana by a hugely talented and forgotten poet called Michael Madhusudan Dutta. And there I met my first Anti-hero. In place of Lord Rama, my heart was with the human Indrajeet. It’s perhaps then that I first realized the power of the pen. A story which millions considered holy was turned upside down by a poet who impressed upon the child who was reading it, the importance of upholding national pride and honour even when faced with the question of right or wrong. And therefore as much I have read and re-read the Ramayana, and celebrated the triumph of good over evil and appreciated that sacrifices need to be made for the greater good, I have never been able to accept Bibhisana.

When I grew up a little bit, I remember that I sometimes fought the British. Sometimes I was an Indian Revolutionary, sometimes the German Paratrooper of World War II. I was yet to devour World War II history (that would come ages later) but when you are a kid who’s right and who’s wrong doesn’t matter. You decide which side you want to be on and you just belong there. I had a pretty neat collection of guns. Leo used to have a variety of them and almost every other Chandmama issue would have a double page spread of the latest toys and guns from Leo. I loved guns as a child. I still do. There’s seldom a balloon shooter shop which I pass by without aiming for the most difficult target.

Slowly and slowly Blyton’s goblins were replaced by Famous Five, the Epics were read to find deeper meanings and Russian folk tales were replaced by her modern authors. And then one day, I realized I could no longer imagine. I did not know anymore how a fairy looked. I did not have the courage anymore to pick up a twig and fight a troll. I had grown up.

whatever may come, whenever you're lost remember there always be a place for us

castles we build crumbles to dust - don't worry there

always be a place for us

(A post dedicated to a Star Movies Screening of Bridge to Terabithia which suddenly opened floodgates of memories locked up somewhere deep down)

August 26, 2008

Being Politically Aware

Often it is said that the masses vote without thinking. They get carried away by the wilful politicians. Political pundits sit in their air conditioned rooms and lament the absence of an electorate that thinks for itself. Maybe they are correct in their assumptions or maybe it is the high society snobbishness speaking which has never bothered to go and vote in the general elections. In fact, I belong to the same category. I haven’t voted in an election for a long time now. The classes I graduated with since school, college and post graduation would easily number around 1200. Even if 200 amongst these young men and women cast their ballot in the forthcoming general elections, I will be surprised. If I count all the seniors and juniors I know, the percentage might drop even further. I do not know if I myself will be able to. I know that I want to. Because when I crib about governance in this country, I want to hold my head my high and say I exercised my right and therefore you are answerable to me. I AM THE ELECTORATE. I still remember the pride with which I voted in all of the elections that were held during my stay in Calcutta.

Anyway, coming back to the point, it was Guru Purnima that night and I was travelling back in an auto. As I chatted up with the driver learning up about Mumbai roads, he causally mentioned that Matosree was on the way. I asked him if he could take me to Matosree and then drop me off. He tensed for a moment and asked “aap unke supporter ho?” (Are you his supporter?) On my confirmation that I was a completely non political person he eased up a bit. He was a Maithili Brahmin and like many others from his state was wary of the recent developments in the city. He told me how he considered himself a Mumbaikar and yet today he had to live carefully. He took me to Matosree. TV reporters and the supporters of Sri Balasaheb Thakre were everywhere. For me, it was covering another landmark of one of my favourite cities in my country, for him it was standing face to face with the uncertainty of his future in a land he had come to call his own. (For the uninitiated, Matosree is the residence of Sri Balasaheb Thakre, the founder of Shiv Sena.) While I was getting down at Dharavi and paying him, he told me, “Mujhe ghar jana hain aur vote dena hain. Agar mere gaon mein kaam ban jaye, toh mere bete ko aana nahin parega Mumbai,” (I want to go back and vote this time. If there’s work in my village, my son will not have to come to Mumbai). There was no animosity for anyone. Just a hope for a better future. The questions about ‘sons of the soil’ are complicated. And I do not think I can dare to try and give my viewpoint on it. In a play the Sutradhar does not voice his opinion. His work is to bring forward the opinions. If I consider myself a Sutradhar, I have heard enough arguments for and against the topic, all equally passionate.

My second realization came the day UPA won the trust vote in Parliament. I had just landed in Mumbai. In the Lounge at the airport, people were watching the news channels for a glimpse of what would happen in Parliament. When I got on to the cab, his first question to me was where I would be heading. His second was if I knew the result of the trust vote. I like Dr. Manmohan Singh and I unequivocally say it all the time. And never once across the length and breadth of India, cutting across political lines, have I ever met anyone who disagrees. Of course, you’ll realize that I haven’t met Mr.Karat.

There’s another class of people, who are slowly dying out, in this country. They are the Indira-philes, not India-philes. These people feel a strange and often crazy sense of loyalty to the late Ms. Indira Gandhi. I have seen them in Bengal, I have seen them in UP and that night I was sitting beside one in the taxi. I never had such a deep insight into the state politics from anyone ever. He knew every single result of every single assembly and municipal elections. He knew whom he was voting for and why. He knew he would vote for the Congress again if Dr. Singh continued. By the time I reached my guest house, I perhaps knew more about the Maharashtra politics than ever before. If only we had a few million more like him, who might be anyone's supporter but aware of the reasons behind their support. In fact, tonight I can imagine him sitting down after his hard day and telling all who had gathered around him, “If Mrs. Gandhi was alive today…”

August 25, 2008

On the Roads of Mumbai

A Drive Less Ordinary - I seem to have fallen in love with the Mumbai Pune Expressway and the adjoining roads. Over the past few weeks I have been to Kalwa, Panvel, Khapoli, Thakurwari and the innermost parts of Raigarh District. It has been an eye opener. I met people who living within a couple of hundred kilometres from Mumbai had never seen Mumbai. I learnt what being content was all about. I learnt what it meant to be able to live life as it pans out without any excitement, every single day of ones own life. Here in Mumbai we live from weekend to weekend, going through the normal routine of waking up, catching the train to office and then back again. Friday evenings and weekends become the most hyped up taglines on gtalk status messages without anything spectacular ever happening to anyone on any weekend. Yet, Mumbai lives in hope. But in Thakurwari, every morning is the same and yet every day the work in the fields is different. (In case you remember an amazing movie called Sarkar Raaj, you’ll remember this village. In an aside, Amitabh Bachhan never ceases to amaze me. I am eagerly waiting for The Last Lear)

While coming back from one of these trips, I heard the clouds rumble above me and before I knew it the rains hit the roads. Have you ever driven in blinding rain on a highway? Have you ever seen droplets of water on your window screen defy gravity and travel upwards? Have you ever wondered if the droplets had a mind of their own and wanted to go back home, to the clouds, where they belonged?

With All Due Respect – Culture is an acquired taste. It is also a very complex taste. In Calcutta, it’s very ease to identify the real connoisseurs from the pretenders but in Mumbai it is really difficult. And perhaps it is almost impossible in the auditoriums of the NCPA. I was there in the Experimental Theatre the other day for a piano recital and in my office attire felt like a sore thumb sticking out. The audience was mostly elderly or people who were whispering loudly about how amazing Mr. Maciej Pikulski would be. I was definitely the least knowledgeable in the crowd. I can not even differentiate between a d-flat and a c-minor. For me music has always been one that soothes my soul. One that can keep me awake at night for hours or lull me to sleep when I need it the most. Anyway, coming back to the point, I was appalled at the behaviour by some of the members of the audience. The cell phones kept on ringing. People kept talking between themselves with complete disregard to the performers. And it was then that I could differentiate the chaff from the wheat. Unfortunately in Mumbai, the chaff and the wheat are almost inseparable unless thrown into the water together.

Ala Re Govinda Ala Re – Janmastami has been special in many ways in my life. I still remember collecting my Physics Paper in BITS and the Prof commenting, “Well this is expected when you are celebrating Janmastami with your friends before the exam.” In my defence, I was just having dinner. Secondly I remember a very excited Dee strategizing about how to have the least time in Matki Phod competition at IIMB and encouraging us to take swigs of Gatorade or some other energy drinks. Well, the very unsporting H block of mine did not win in the two years Dee and I were on campus. Anyway, this Janmastami I was in the heart of Mumbai looking at the various Dahi Handis being organized across the city. The ones at Wadala were perhaps smaller in size and prize money but definitely not small in terms of enthusiasm. It felt nice to stand with the crowd waiting for the teams to come in and break the handis and yet something felt not right. Every team was brandishing Tee Shirts from one political outfit or the other. And this was everywhere. Perhaps the days, when every person across communities came together to celebrate a festival, are indeed gone from the memory of Mumbai.

Life Updates (in case you are interested)

So let’s see how things have turned out over the past few weeks. I finally saw Love Story – The original English Play on which Tumhari Amrita and Priyo Bondhu were based. It was mesmerizing. Andy and Melisa if were named Arun and Alisha would not have been far too removed from our reality. But somehow I still like the Bengali version of Anjan Dutta. I think he had adapted the play brilliantly. One wish remains though. To see Farooq Shiekh and Shabana Azmi stage Tumhari Amrita once again.

RK called before he left for the States. A very lovable junior of mine from BITS, he was always the studious kind. He called me from the IGI Airport at Gurgaon and I realized suddenly that we might never again meet. I wish him well. A lot of people I know are in the States but not many I know remember to call before they leave. I guess once you are ready to make a move, you just go on with it. Nostalgia sets in a lot later.

And finally, finally I was published in Anandabazar. It was a big deal for me and let’s just say that I am happy.

August 18, 2008

Life in a Monochrome

All my bags are packed and I'm ready to go, the train is waiting outside the door;

I hate to say my boss goodbye...

Well, she's left but I'm struck, Life's like that at times it sucks,

But no more baby coz I'm gonna fly.

Books are waiting, the chips are bought, the movies are there, the coffee's hot.

Oh I’m all set to have a weekend of my dreams.

Well, I actually wrote this impromptu in reply to a query of my BIG weekend plans over a gtalk chat window on Thursday evening. It was one of those moments when you try to feel nice and good about yourself and would make everyone around you feel the same. Actually, I was feeling pretty much awful, for no great reason at all. My plans of travelling back to Calcutta were scuttled. Trying as a last moment effort, I looked at the trains, buses everything for a getaway nearby. But every place was booked and swarming with people running away from Mumbai. Luckily that night G was with me. He and I walked out of office and he forced me to walk down to some place, any place. Normally both of us are pretty awesome, come what may but it was one of those days when I was down and out and G was feeling nice about things around him. We went towards Marine Drive, the one place I always run away to. For the first time the sky was a single colour at Sunset, the colour my mood was in at that point of time. It started drizzling and we walked back to Mochas. Being the Bong that I am, a nice cup of tea always cheers me up. And the Moroccan Mint Tea did just that. The aroma of a well brewed tea with a hint of mint leaves is as exotic as it can get. Or perhaps it was just that I needed something nice in my life and a mint tea was perhaps the only substitute.

We again went down towards Marine Drive and sat at Nariman Point discussing books, discussing for some strange reason Dead Poet’s Society and Monalisa Smile. The wind kissed us soothingly. The water level was higher than any I have ever seen. Little kids were running about selling flags without even knowing what the flags meant. If they knew, perhaps they would have stood together in a huddle, anger in their eyes and hunger in their belly and shouted at us, “Yeh Azaadi Jhutha Hain.”

We sat on the rocks. Our office attire a misfit against the skyline, the laptop bags serving as a distraction rather than an aid. The distance flats in Colaba were lit up. Malabar hills looked on as usual not bothered about the dreams and aspirations that pulsed along the Marine Drive. It was on of those nights when what I could see from Nariman Point was exactly the same as what one could see from a NCPA apartment – Darkness, an all engulfing darkness.

I suddenly wondered if I was allowed one phone call tonight apart from family who I would call. I didn’t have an answer. Faces flashed - Faces that are as important to me as writing, as music, as reading, as perhaps breathing. And I think there I counted my greatest blessing. One phone call would be too less for me. My friends – I have never chosen between them, neither do I want to ever. If I go away without making that one phone call, they would understand.

A called up and met us at Nariman Point. I love it when my friends gel. A got us on a cab and it started raining. The sky poured out it’s pent up emotions. I guess doing something similar is a little difficult for us humans.

Being unhappy is often like a spiral. You just go down with it without realizing ever how far you have sunk. At times, it’s intoxicating. At times, scary. It’s the quintessential Chakravyuha, it takes a lot of effort to get out of it. For me, it mostly takes people who care to say, “It’s ok if you are upset tonight. You better get back soon.” It takes a phone call from the US at night just to remind me that as usual I did not keep the promise of calling a friend and yet things are ok with us. I have been accepted as the duffer that I am. It takes friends who force you out of your room take you to a movie, take you out for lunch and torpedo your plans of reading. Sometimes we yearn for that human touch even though there’s no limit to the strength we can draw from within ourselves. It takes some crazy DJ on All India Radio FM at late nights who remember someone called Elvis. I want to meet this guy. I want to tell him that I too am keeping my sideburns in order to honour the King; before I become too old or too scared to try anything like that.

Life at times turns monochrome. The palette we hold turns empty and then comes friends with their colours, spill some on you, fill your canvas and ensure that the next sunset in Marine Drive will be as beautiful as ever.

Sometimes when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopeless and tragedy, we can thank God for Sugar cookies and fortunately when there are not any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin or a kind and loving gesture or subtle encouragement, or loving embrace or an offer of comfort, not to mention soft spoken secrets and maybe the occasional pieces of fiction. – Stranger Than Fiction

The Only Man in Bollywood today…

…is perhaps Bipasha Basu, or Radhika or Shreya Rathod, call her what you want. If you do not want to watch Bachna Aye Hasseno, don’t. But if you are bored on a lazy afternoon do go and watch Bipasha’s performance. The movie is contemporary, at least an urban audience can identify with it though I am not very sure how many people actually are in a live-in relationship in Mumbai. Maybe there are people, maybe not but then that’s not exactly the point. In fact, right now I can not think of any point. Maybe that’s the point. ;)

The movie is a tribute to DDLJ. From the very beginning till the end, DDLJ keeps coming back. In fact, if they could have their way, they would have made the movie a tribute to quite a few of the Yash Raj films. The movie is great till the last 15 minutes when in order to have the typical happy ending of Indian movies you have the hero and the heroine getting back with each other, for no apparent reason whatsoever. The story is simple. Our dude, like most dudes, is unsure about commitment and marriage (and as my babe in my next seat, who came to the movie with a pretty irritating guy, commented – all men are Sus scrofa domesticas) and therefore breaks the heart of two women (Minisha and Bipasha) before finding his one true love in Australia. But she (Deepika) rejects him as she thinks about marriage on the same lines as he does. Now begins a journey of self discovery by Raj (Ranvir) who goes back to find the two women he hurt. The reason behind them getting back together though was completely over the head for me. At those logic defying moments I found myself often watching the movie for its exotic locales.

I liked Ranvir when he did Saawariya. I like him even better now. Apart from a few mannerisms he has decided to keep in every movie, he’s fresh and confident about his act. Guess that’s what stars think they must have – mannerisms. Deepika and Minisha if replaced by anyone else wouldn’t have made much difference to the movie’s appeal. But Bipisha’s was an act which stole the thunder and the show in the movie. Apart from the fact that she looked the most stunning amongst the three women, she also gave a performance of a lifetime - first as a love struck woman and then as one of the most successful but ruthless supermodels of the country and then as a woman torn between her past, present and future.

The other man in Bollywood today perhaps is King. Not King Khan but King Khiladi. Akshay Kumar has travelled a lot from his Khiladi days. Combining comedy with action, family drama with slapstick humour, he easily cruises into your heart as Happy Singh. The first half of the movie Singh in Kinng is a drag but things pick up in the second. It’s also heartening to see that Bollywood is learning to give more space to the co-actors who are not mere props. Both Sonu Sood and Ranbir Shorey are excellent. So are Javed Jaffrey and Neha Dhupia. I am upset with Om Puri with all the silly films he gets into so I will not even comment about him. Did you have the guts to watch him in Mere Baap Pehle Aap? I did. And the only performance which was worse than MBPA was perhaps in Buddha Mar Gaya. Anyway, we’re talking about Singh in Kinng.

There’s no story to tell about the movie. Kat is Queen, Akki is King and he is the helpful nice Punjabi munda. So you get a gist of the story. How does it matter what good he does? Will you believe if I tell you that the Australian Underworld is run by a group of Punjabis from the same Pind? And would you believe one man can convince them all to turn good? And who on earth will believe that Neha Dhupia will fall for Javed Jaffrey? Akki will do similar unbelievable things in the next movie. After all, “Dil agar saccha ho toh Rab sab kar de setting.” He must be a good man or maybe it’s a trick of that extra K. :)

August 04, 2008

An Anniversary

Around three months back there was an anniversary of sorts. Now those of you who know me, I have no capability of remembering any dates. I don’t remember birthdays or anniversaries of friends or family. Not that I am proud of it, it’s just that I don’t remember. Now some people have issues with numbers, some with faces, I have the same with dates. The last dates I remembered were of course the history dates you had to remember for ICSE. I remember deadlines and have nightmares about them but thankfully I don’t have yearly repeated deadlines, at least not yet. :)

Anyway, a friend suddenly reminded me today that I had completed a year of working as a professional three months back. Well, he was surprised and so was I. Imagine surviving all those doomsday predictions and actually going through one whole year. I guess I love what I do to get the bread on the table. And that has been the only trick so far. In loving my work I guess I have been luckier than most. I just hope it remains the same. I have met some amazing people, have worked with a variety of bosses and have had a roller coaster of a time. It’s not that I do not have my frustrations. The bigger an organization gets the higher levels of bureaucracy comes in. Escalation becomes the key to getting any job done. There are processes and formats to follow. A manufacturer in some shady workshop churns out products at half your cost as your legal requirements ensure that consumer safety is not compromised.

The nightmarish case studies about organizational behaviour comes alive almost everyday. I guess it’s in human nature to pass the buck. In an interesting example in The Tipping Point, Gladwell had described that we are much more prone to help others if we know we are the only ones who can help. If there are more than one of us, we tend to pass the buck, hoping someone else will take the responsibility. The pattern changes if you are the boss though. Then the fight happens as to who can be the fastest in getting the information on the table. And then there’s the ‘cc’ culture. You begin to ‘cc’ everyone on the mail, starting from the sales team to the scientist in the R&D lab, from an insignificant cog like me to the CEO of the organization. It’s so irritating. And finally there’s the ‘why’ gang. If I ever become a professor, I will fail anyone who does not ask ‘why’ in my class. But thank God, I am a docile creation of his. If I had an anger quotient even 10% of Dharam Paji or Sunny Paji, I would have been in dire trouble for sitting on people who ask ‘why’ as the first attempt at sliming out of a request. It’s not that I am against why. I ask why every 2 minutes. It’s just that I don’t ask why when people ask me to pass on a napkin at the lunch table.

If you have been reading my blog, you’d have perhaps noticed that I never mention what I do for a living except for passing references. This blog is a universe away from my day to day work and I intend to keep it that way. Every day my life is full of excel sheets, presentations, videos of consumer interviews and such ‘uninteresting’ stuff. Now even in my spare time, I have to write about the same issues, the remaining sanity in my head will bid adieu. But since this is an anniversary post, I must say something. Well, in very unromantic terms I am a salesman. I sell everything from soaps to soups. Now how does it matter if I work for SNDU (Sabun, Nakhun and Datun Unlimited) or for some better known FMCG or Consumer Durables Firm? However, if I were to write a romantic ballad on my work, I would perhaps say my entire work is dedicated to understanding one person – you.

I guess I stand somewhere between the two extremes.

One year back when I had made this decision to join the firm I am with presently, I was amongst the minority in my business school in terms of my choice of career. But then, egged on by friends who stood by me, making the right decisions of following one’s heart never seemed difficult. Well, it wasn’t a cakewalk either and it felt bad when friends ended up on the opposite side of the fencing match. To be frank, few of us who were closest to each other are most relieved even after one year that we are not experiencing a face off in the market, at least for now. And if one day, I have to fight some of my best friends in the market, I know we will all do it and fight tooth and nail, but fight like honourable men and women. Yeah, I am proud of the batch I graduated with. The Marketing fanatics of IIMB 2007 have been one of the best lots of people I have ever met in my life.

Last one year has taken away a lot of things. I do not speak as often to people who matter to me. I do not seem to find time to just sit and do nothing. On a Sunday like today, I’d rather wake up late than go cold calling to people’s homes. My once enviable music collection has now stagnated with a year old expiry date. I miss the intellectual, theoretical debates late into the night in Athicas which often turned theatrical if you were too sleepy. I miss staying in a house or at least a hostel. Sometimes guest houses and hotels seem to be upsetting. (In a completely unconnected aside, my latest caretaker was the caretaker in the house of my ex-CEO. Though he is a thorough professional, I am sure he considers it a demotion to come to our guest house.)

Somewhere down the line, I realized that I was living weekend to weekend. But then soon I understood that you are what you make yourself to be. It was a conscious decision to never touch the internet on weekends after I left Bihar. And I have tried to stay true to that. Monday mornings are a nightmare but then you gain some you lose some. For example, instead of going and listening to Ranbindrasangeet today morning in Mumbai (which I missed due to miscommunication), I celebrated this post working on a presentation, watching India win and to top it all of, finally watch Prabhuji’s son debut in Bollywood as Jimmy.

And so come inflation or not continue to buy soaps and soups and I might just be able to survive for another year. Thinking beyond that is too long term :)