Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 Coming Up!


It is the 31st of Dec, 2008. The last day of this year. Tomorrow will be a new day, a new year. And as always, the feelings are mixed - How will the new year be? Will it bring any better luck or fortunes? Why will it be any different? What is changing...the morning of Jan 1, 2009 will be the same as all other mornings...so what is the big deal?

I think the idea behind this frenzy of a New Year is hope and loads of it! Everybody hopes that somehow the next year will be better. A new beginning will be possible only if the old is laid to rest. It is a closure and therefore a beginning too. It is a cycle as is every other thing in this world. And though we may not realise it, it is this circle that gives us a sense of comfort.

What goes around comes around...
From beginning to the end, from end to the beginning
Life, Time, Seasons - all move around in a circle

Though we talk about vicious circles and wanting to break away from the circle, we also find real comfort and peace only when in a circle. It is a circle when we say good follows evil, evil follows good, good follows evil, light follows dark, winter follows summer, old age follows youth, rain becomes the sea...everything is a circle. And if, things don't follow this circular pattern, we feel disoriented.

Circles are smooth, round, closed, complete
Squares are sharp, triangles sharper still, Rectangle is but a square broadened
Circles are smooth, round, closed, complete

As this year closes, another one waits in the wings...last minute make up done, just ruffling its feathers a bit.

Each year teaches us something only to be forgotten in the other year, to make way for new learning and new beginnings. Beginnings are always new...you never begin something again.

I had liked the sound of the word 'two thousand eight'. And now, am trying to say 'two thousand nine' or 'two oh oh nine' or 'two zero zero nine'...hmm...this feels like nine. But i always liked 8...and i will always remember 2008 as an year in which there were lots of waves, volcanoes, whirlpools...endings, beginnings as always ...just like a circle.

2009 coming up...and bringing hope with it as did 2008 and as will 2010.

Friday, December 05, 2008

More on Mumbai 26/11 - Heroes of the Taj: Michael Pollock

This was sent across as a forwarded e-mail by a few friends. This story is worth a read...

http://www.forbes.com/opinions/2008/12/01/mumbai-terror-taj-oped-cx_mp_1201pollack.html



Commentary
Heroes At The Taj
Michael Pollack 12.01.08, 7:40 PM ET

My story begins innocuously, with a dinner reservation in a world-class hotel. It ends 12 hours later after the Indian army freed us.

My point is not to sensationalize events. It is to express my gratitude and pay tribute to the staff of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, who sacrificed their lives so that we could survive. They, along with the Indian army, are the true heroes that emerged from this tragedy.

My wife, Anjali, and I were married in the Taj's Crystal Ballroom. Her parents were married there, too, and so were Shiv and Reshma, the couple with whom we had dinner plans. In fact, my wife and Reshma, both Bombay girls, grew up hanging out and partying the night away there and at the Oberoi Hotel, another terrorist target.

The four of us arrived at the Taj around 9:30 p.m. for dinner at the Golden Dragon, one of the better Chinese restaurants in Mumbai. We were a little early, and our table wasn't ready. So we walked next door to the Harbor Bar and had barely begun to enjoy our beers when the host told us our table was ready. We decided to stay and finish our drinks.

Thirty seconds later, we heard what sounded like a heavy tray smashing to the ground. This was followed by 20 or 30 similar sounds and then absolute silence. We crouched behind a table just feet away from what we now knew were gunmen. Terrorists had stormed the lobby and were firing indiscriminately.

We tried to break the glass window in front of us with a chair, but it wouldn't budge. The Harbour Bar's hostess, who had remained at her post, motioned to us that it was safe to make a run for the stairwell. She mentioned, in passing, that there was a dead body right outside in the corridor. We believe this courageous woman was murdered after we ran away.

(We later learned that minutes after we climbed the stairs, terrorists came into the Harbour Bar, shot everyone who was there and executed those next door at the Golden Dragon. The staff there was equally brave, locking their patrons into a basement wine cellar to protect them. But the terrorists managed to break through and lob in grenades that killed everyone in the basement.)

We took refuge in the small office of the kitchen of another restaurant, Wasabi, on the second floor. Its chef and staff served the four of us food and drink and even apologized for the inconvenience we were suffering.

Through text messaging, e-mail on BlackBerrys and a small TV in the office, we realized the full extent of the terrorist attack on Mumbai. We figured we were in a secure place for the moment. There was also no way out.

At around 11:30 p.m., the kitchen went silent. We took a massive wooden table and pushed it up against the door, turned off all the lights and hid. All of the kitchen workers remained outside; not one staff member had run.

The terrorists repeatedly slammed against our door. We heard them ask the chef in Hindi if anyone was inside the office. He responded calmly: "No one is in there. It's empty." That is the second time the Taj staff saved our lives.

After about 20 minutes, other staff members escorted us down a corridor to an area called The Chambers, a members-only area of the hotel. There were about 250 people in six rooms. Inside, the staff was serving sandwiches and alcohol. People were nervous, but cautiously optimistic. We were told The Chambers was the safest place we could be because the army was now guarding its two entrances and the streets were still dangerous. There had been attacks at a major railway station and a hospital.

But then, a member of parliament phoned into a live newscast and let the world know that hundreds of people--including CEOs, foreigners and members of parliament--were "secure and safe in The Chambers together." Adding to the escalating tension and chaos was the fact that, via text and cellphone, we knew that the dome of the Taj was on fire and that it could move downward.

At around 2 a.m., the staff attempted an evacuation. We all lined up to head down a dark fire escape exit. But after five minutes, grenade blasts and automatic weapon fire pierced the air. A mad stampede ensued to get out of the stairwell and take cover back inside The Chambers.

After that near-miss, my wife and I decided we should hide in different rooms. While we hoped to be together at the end, our primary obligation was to our children. We wanted to keep one parent alive. Because I am American and my wife is Indian, and news reports said the terrorists were targeting U.S. and U.K. nationals, I believed I would further endanger her life if we were together in a hostage situation.

So when we ran back to The Chambers I hid in a toilet stall with a floor-to-ceiling door and my wife stayed with our friends, who fled to a large room across the hall.

For the next seven hours, I lay in the fetal position, keeping in touch with Anjali via BlackBerry. I was joined in the stall by Joe, a Nigerian national with a U.S. green card. I managed to get in touch with the FBI, and several agents gave me status updates throughout the night.

I cannot even begin to explain the level of adrenaline running through my system at this point. It was this hyper-aware state where every sound, every smell, every piece of information was ultra-acute, analyzed and processed so that we could make the best decisions and maximize the odds of survival.

Was the fire above us life-threatening? What floor was it on? Were the commandos near us, or were they terrorists? Why is it so quiet? Did the commandos survive? If the terrorists come into the bathroom and to the door, when they fire in, how can I make my body as small as possible? If Joe gets killed before me in this situation, how can I throw his body on mine to barricade the door? If the Indian commandos liberate the rest in the other room, how will they know where I am? Do the terrorists have suicide vests? Will the roof stand? How can I make sure the FBI knows where Anjali and I are? When is it safe to stand up and attempt to urinate?

Meanwhile, Anjali and the others were across the corridor in a mass of people lying on the floor and clinging to each other. People barely moved for seven hours, and for the last three hours they felt it was too unsafe to even text. While I was tucked behind a couple walls of marble and granite in my toilet stall, she was feet from bullets flying back and forth. After our failed evacuation, most of the people in the fire escape stairwell and many staff members who attempted to protect the guests were shot and killed.

The 10 minutes around 2:30 a.m. were the most frightening. Rather than the back-and-forth of gunfire, we just heard single, punctuated shots. We later learned that the terrorists went along a different corridor of The Chambers, room by room, and systematically executed everyone: women, elderly, Muslims, Hindus, foreigners. A group huddled next to Anjali was devout Bori Muslims who would have been slaughtered just like everyone else, had the terrorists gone into their room. Everyone was in deep prayer and most, Anjali included, had accepted that their lives were likely over. It was terrorism in its purest form. No one was spared.

The next five hours were filled with the sounds of an intense grenade/gun battle between the Indian commandos and the terrorists. It was fought in darkness; each side was trying to outflank the other.

By the time dawn broke, the commandos had successfully secured our corridor. A young commando led out the people packed into Anjali's room. When one woman asked whether it was safe to leave, the commando replied: "Don't worry, you have nothing to fear. The first bullets have to go through me."

The corridor was laced with broken glass and bullet casings. Every table was turned over or destroyed. The ceilings and walls were littered with hundreds of bullet holes. Blood stains were everywhere, though, fortunately, there were no dead bodies to be seen.

A few minutes after Anjali had vacated, Joe and I peeked out of our stall. We saw multiple commandos and smiled widely. I had lost my right shoe while sprinting to the toilet so I grabbed a sheet from the floor, wrapped it around my foot and proceeded to walk over the debris to the hotel lobby.

Anjali and I embraced for the first time in seven hours in the Taj's ground floor entrance. I didn't know whether she was dead or injured because we hadn't been able to text for the past three hours.

I wanted to take a picture of us on my BlackBerry, but Anjali wanted us to get out of there before doing anything.

She was right--our ordeal wasn't completely over. A large bus pulled up in front of the Taj to collect us and, just about as it was fully loaded, gunfire erupted again. The terrorists were still alive and firing automatic weapons at the bus. Anjali was the last to get on the bus, and she eventually escaped in our friend's car. I ducked under some concrete barriers for cover and wound up the subject of photos that were later splashed across the media. Shortly thereafter, an ambulance came and drove a few of us to safety. An hour later, Anjali and I were again reunited at her parents' home. Our Thanksgiving had just gained a lot more meaning.

Some may say our survival was due to random luck, others might credit divine intervention. But 72 hours removed from these events, I can assure you only one thing: Far fewer people would have survived if it weren't for the extreme selflessness shown by the Taj staff, who organized us, catered to us and then, in the end, literally died for us.

They complemented the extreme bravery and courage of the Indian commandos, who, in a pitch-black setting and unfamiliar, tightly packed terrain, valiantly held the terrorists at bay.

It is also amazing that, out of our entire group, not one person screamed or panicked. There was an eerie but quiet calm that pervaded--one more thing that got us all out alive. Even people in adjacent rooms, who were being executed, kept silent.

It is much easier to destroy than to build, yet somehow humanity has managed to build far more than it has ever destroyed. Likewise, in a period of crisis, it is much easier to find faults and failings rather than to celebrate the good deeds. It is now time to commemorate our heroes.

Michael Pollack is a general partner of Glenhill Capital, a firm he co-founded in 2001.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Mumbai, meri jaan...

I should have remembered Nov 26 as just another time that my age clock comes a full circle and I subtract another year from my life. Yet, what happened on Nov 26 this year has shaken me completely as it has a lot of others...Mumbai was under attack ...Mumbai, desh ki dhadkan was under attack once again and with what audacity where we questioned and made to come down on our knees. Who were these people who made it possible? Young 20-25 year olds, apparently-misplaced youth...20-25!!!!! For God's sake...their God and my God and everybody else's God...20-25 is the time when one lived and thought of life ahead. What is it that makes these young people move towards such means? What justifies this macabre killing of so many people? Money - how much money is good enough for committing such an act!!! 10, 000, 50, 000, 1 lakh, 1 million...how much is good? Who are these terrorists - dressed like you and me, looking like you and me, walking the same streets, watching the same movies, eating the same roti...who are they? What made them what they are? Is it poverty that has pushed them to such a level?

The terrorists who brought the whole country to its knees were the young ones...what was shocking was the sheer gall of these men. There were some of them who actually sneaked upon a police jeep and went on a merry shooting spree...such audacity, such fearlessness...why? How? What kind of training does this to people?

And then there were all those soldiers - police, NSG commandos, Army men, firefighters...all of them. The heroes this time were the Commandos for sure...men of sheer grit and bravery who without the aid of advanced weapons or tracking tools managed to salvage the city, save the people, and help India get over a war...A war it was and nothing less and let nobody question that. It was the NSG who did a brilliant job of saving and rescuing as many as they could and with what little support they could. Now that the real war is over, will begin the debates on how they did the wrong thing and how they should have used some other strategy...how they should have just blown up the whole place or how they should have shown more restraint (as suggested Israel, per a TV channel)...Its important to know that they did what they could do best without. Sure, more lives could have been saved maybe...had more not been wasted but that was not the situation at the time you and i were watching all this unfold on live TV. They were in the situation and they did the best!!!

Let's now look at the politicians..this was Mumbai...the playing ground of the Lion - Bal Thackeray...anybody seen him yet? And what about Raj Thackeray...where is his Maharastrianism now? Mr. Modi made an appearance but unfortunately, it is being seen as a step taken a bit too fast...why is the temptation to be in the spotlight and point the finger at the ruling government such an affliction with our "leaders"? Did you catch the words of dear Mr. Patil, not the one who left Home, but the one who is Deputy to Ritesh Deshmukh's dad. He said - " aisa to hota rehta..aisi chhoti chhoti ghatnayen to hoti rehti hain". Oh yeah!!! How chhota was this, Mr. Patil? What would be big enough for you? When grenades would blow up right in front of you? Would that be big enough? The mayhem was on...i waited for our soft spoken PM to make an appearance or even the first woman president to make an appearance and send a message to their people...but i was asking for too much...The PM did speak but it would have been better if he hadn't...this is not a speech which is going to be a part of his best talks ever. Sure, he was under pressure. Sure, he was worried but he is the PRIME MINISTER of this country. He is supposed to handle pressure and have the answers and the solutions. If nothing, even a pretence of it would have been good for the morale of the people...But, NO. The President, I'm still to hear about her or from her. Remind me again, do we have one in this country? The Supreme Commander of all the armed forces...

One thing is for sure...we cannot rely on our leaders. We need not wait for them to wake up and take steps...they have not, they will not. We need to awaken and not let such things become a habit with us...(psst...even if we deny it, it has become a habit for us...we are not bothered about it anymore...no more sleepless nights about terrorists, about bomb blasts, about innocent people being killed...nothing shakes us anymore...)

I don't know what is it that we can do...all i know is that we should not become indifferent to such incidents...it is with our indifference that these terrorists have managed to terrorize us for so long...i have no solutions, no answers. None that will stand up to such tests. But I do have a wish-list and want to work towards it:
  • I want us to be rid of the temptation of taking the easy way out by paying 20 rupees more to jump a red light or paying 5000 for a fake licence
  • I want us to be rid of the irresponsibility of blaming it on the police or the politicians...we made them what they are today, we can undo it, we need to make that choice
  • I want us to feel - feel for the pain of others and not sit in our plush new-age IT companies and get on with end of day deliverable when the world is collapsing around us
  • I want us to wake up now...it is already too late...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Some words and thoughts by others

It has been quite a while since I posted anything. So, I thought that I will post some quotations that I have saved up. These are from a collection that I started when I was in Genpact. I used to send out 'Quote for the week' kind of stuff. Then, Priya also shared some lovely short poems and all of it went into my collection. I really like quotations. Actually, if I think about it, quotations have been a part of my journey so far since school days, I guess. Meenakshi and I would always fall for birthday cards which had either funny one-liners or long poems with beautiful words. And then we would go on to add quotations to the card...write inside the card, over the envelope, even on the flap. I had gotten this beautiful cloth-bound diary for my birthday when i was in school and i promptly made it my quotations books. I have it till date!! It has been close to 15 years now...i would think. Nani and I also used to write down quotes into a diary. She was the one who got me started on books and reading and even English movies. She got me going on poetry and Ghalib and Mir and Shakespeare. We also used to have a song book, na? Aditi is another person who has shared some of the most wonderful quotations with me. She even gave me this calendar with quotes on it for each day of the month. I got another one from Anu recently. Even at this office, Anu and I, would wait for Jyoti to change the date on her calendar so that we could read the quotes. Even when I was in France, Maria and I would go all weak-kneed on hearing and reading beautiful words. We had picture post-cards and cards with quotations on our walls. I still remember how beautiful Coelho had sounded in French.

One of the most 'quotable' author is Antoine de Saint-Exupery with his book - The Little Prince. Thene there is Mark Twain, G B Shaw, PG Wodehouse, Paulo Coelho, Ghalib ...

Ok, I've given enough background on why I like quotations. Here are some that I adore. They are for different moods and occasions but they say so much. Let the real writers come up now:

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin

"Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light, I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night." - Sarah Williams

"I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about." - Oscar Wilde

"There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking when you're busy interrupting." - Mark Twain

"For those of us who can dream, there is no such place called faraway." - Richard Bach

There are so many that i could go on and on but i won't. Words are so powerful. I wonder where that power goes once the word is said...it is energy that is released and then what becomes of it...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Being an Oriya in New Delhi

“Are you from Orissa? How long have you been in Delhi? I’m sure you don’t speak Oriya? Do you?” I’ve answered these questions time and again. And its not just one section of the society that poses these questions to most young people of Oriya families settled in Delhi. There are times when I’ve tried to be understanding if the question comes to me from aged people, people old enough to be my grandparents. I know that for them these and similar questions is an attempt to understand that ‘children’ are still being taught traditions. When they pose these questions, there is no mockery in them. Instead, there is a curiosity to know and understand if people who’ve lived away from Orissa have any connection with their native land. Answers to their questions in the affirmative reassure them that all is right with the world. However, they can accept negative responses to the same as well. They understand if you tell them that you have lived away all your life and so, don’t identify with the Orissa they know.

My problem is when the same questions are posed by the younger generation from Orissa. School-going children, newly-enrolled college students, or even young entrepreneurs – all of them show the same signs of mockery and a kind of angry snobbishness. Why is it assumed that Oriyas settled outside Orissa will forget their language, their traditions, and their rituals? I distinctly remember being congratulated by Oriya aunties dressed in the most glamorous Sambalpuri sarees on my ability to speak in Oriya. Why? It is the language of my family, so why am I congratulated if I speak it? There have been occasions when I’ve been address by uncles and aunties in Hindi or English with an understanding look that “You must not be capable of understanding Oriya.” Of course, eyebrows raised and with a hardly suppressed air of annoyance, I’ve answered back in Oriya as well as I know it.

The latest encounter of this kind was when a young Oriya boy decided to join the same office as me. As soon as names were exchanged, the stream of questions just flew out, sprinkled generously with the snobbish air of all the young people who come from Orissa to Delhi and show a haughty arrogance for Oriyas settled here. Why I ask are we subject to such questions all the time? Scrutinized at all times for the ‘mark’ of a true Oriya? Why do we need to prove our ‘identity’ at all times, be it at the annual Rath Yatra or during the screening of award-winning Oriya films or a simple Oriya food festival?

While on the subject, let me present another perspective on the same issue of identity. Do you remember the last time when you were at the convocation when the Chief Guest had humbly greeted the audience with a ‘Namaste’, even though he was from a foreign country? In the same convocation, the organizers all distinctly from Orissa had made august speeches in English, not wanting to use the very same language which was the connecting link for all present there? What explains how newly married women hailing from cities such as Balasore or Bhubaneswar simply cannot speak a single word of Oriya as soon as they step into the capital of the country? Or what about those parents who loudly proclaim how their children are ashamed of speaking Oriya and are only English speakers, not bothering to hide their own pride at the fact?

Both these situations are at cross purposes. Our language forms an equal part of our identity as do other factors such as our family or education. So, this is for all those who show surprise at young people settled in Delhi who can communicate in Oriya and also for those who choose the English path rather than tread the Oriya sahi. We are what we make of ourselves, and to set the record straight for all times to come – I’ve lived in Delhi all my life yet I speak Oriya. I’ve done so for ages and now my niece also speaks the language with as much love. Though my reading and writing skills are not as good as I wanted them to be, but I can read out the headlines of Samaja to my Aju, when required. Let no more questions be raised or no more proofs be demanded of me.

- Written for the annual magazine of Utkalini, an Oriya women's organization. My mom is a part of this organization, and we have memories of taking part in their cultural programmes and fetes.
- Written on 26 September 2007

Moi

Moi, je m’assoi

Seule

La lumière s’étend

Lentement

La voix trouve un coin pour se cacher

Trouvé

Des questions me troublent

Ami

Sont des réponses

Ami de la voix

Le noir dure

Lait de la lumière

Le silence

Dure

Pesant

Silencieux

Des réponses introuvables

Intimes

Un moment

Perdu


Non

Ce n’est pas vrai

Je le croit

Croyais


Vrai

Faux

Réel …non

Seul

Le miroir

L’espoir

Le noir…


Written on 03 June 2002

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Front Page - English

Mala was sitting at her desk in the office of « The Changing Times ». It was already seven in the evening. Suddenly, the phone rang. It was her boss, Mr. Thakur. He asked her to work on an article, a sensational story on that damned woman, the writer. He had even suggested a title for the article, laughing all the while in his special derogatory manner – “The author of Why Rape? raped by 3 people”. Mala was stunned. Slowly, she had taken a few pages, yellow with time, and had begun reading them but it all came back to her even without reading. It said, “Why do men rape? Is it a test for them to check their virility? Or is it a way of expressing all their frustrations? What is it? … … … The victims are – a three-year old child, an eighty-year old grandmother, a sister, a mother…” Mala continued to read as if in a trance. Some lines underlined in red. “God is neither a man nor a woman. Because the world, God’s creation, needs the energy of both the forces – masculine and feminine. So, how can we define the gender of God? Gay? Lesbian? What?...”. Mala remembered the huge public outcry against the writer. And today the people of the civilized world had succeeded in getting their revenge… Mala walked out of her room, her office. And on her table, she had left an envelope containing her resignation letter. Outside her office, Mala felt a sense of absolute peace. It was not an open war but maybe it was a first step of a generation who knew their values well and who could make these sacrifices – however small for things that mattered, small but at the same time powerful like the single stone that heralds a landslide.
PS: Here is the translation of the last post...on popular demand due to the millions of emails I received from my imaginary fans...:).

Front Page

Mala s’asseyait à sa table dans le bureau de « Le Temps Changeant ». C’était déjà sept heure du soir. Soudain le téléphone a sonné. C’était son patron-Monsieur Thakur. . .Il lui a demandé de faire un reportage « sensationnel » sur cette maudite femme, l’ecrivaine. Il a suggéré le titre aussi-« L’auteur de ‘Pourquoi le viol ?’a été violé par trois personnes. » en riant.
Mala était étonné. Lentement, elle a arraché quelques pages jaune avec le temps et elle a commencé à lire-mais de memoire. Elle a lu - « Pourquoi les hommes violent ? Est-ce-que c’est un type de examen pour vérifier sa capacité pour l’acte de sexe? Où c’est une sortie de toutes ces frustrations? C’est quoi?……….Les victimes sont – une enfant de 3 ans, une femme de 80 ans, une sœur, une mère…… ». Mala continuait de lire comme dans une transe. Quelques lignes soulignaient en rouge. « Le Dieu n’est pas un homme ni une femme. Parce que le monde, sa création, besoin les deux forces - masculin et féminin. Donc, comment peut-on définir le sexe de Dieu ? -gay, lésbienne? Quoi?….. ». Mala se souvenait de l’explosion publique contre cette écrivaine. Et aujourd’hui les gens du monde civilisé a réussi d’obtenir sa vengeance…
Mala est sortie de ce salon, ce bureau. Et dans sa table elle a laissé une enveloppe contenant sa démission. Dehors de ce bureau Mala sentait un paix absolue n’était pas une lutte ouverte mais c’était peut-être le premier pas d’une génération qui savait ses valeurs et qui pouvait faire des sacrifices - bien que petits mais en même temps, puissant comme la seule pierre qui annonce un glissement de terrain.

PS: I had written this piece as one of the samples which seemed to have the possibility of being developed into a full-fledged short story during the Creative Writing lessons with Madavane Sir. I thought of posting this as a reminder of those times and maybe as a seed for a story sometime later.

Friday, September 05, 2008

To Sir With Love

In India, we have a penchant for celebrating everything with fervor. And most festivals or holidays are linked to one religion or the other or else have such mythical beginnings, the stories of which have gotten lost over centuries.
One of these happy occasions stands out in its uniqueness. The day I'm referring to is Teacher's Day. This is celebrated on Sep 5 each year across all educational institutes in India. However, it is the enthusiasm in schools that truly brings out the 'teacher' and 'student' in us.
As Sep 5 just went by, I wanted to talk about a few such teachers who left their mark on me during my growing-up years and have most definitely played a role in shaping my personality. I spent my childhood growing up in South Delhi and went to a school called Green Fields. At that time, it wasn't one of the top league schools such as a DPS or a Modern or a Sardar Patel, but it was the best. :-)
One of my earliest memories is of a music teacher way back in kindergarten. I don't even remember his name anymore but do remember that he was a tall, thin, dark man with an English-sounding name who could make the most beautiful and heavenly music from a piano. I'm sure the music he played then was nothing more than the regular prayers or rhymes or maybe Christmas carols at times. But I do remember him as the first teacher in my life. He brought music to our little hearts and minds. Thank you, Sir.
I also remember my class teacher from the I st standard. Some of the reasons that she is still in my mind is that I was the apple of her eyes...:-)... and also she was the one who unknowingly initiated the desire for books in me. She used to have a huge (in the eyes of a 5-year old) red-colored book about a boy and a dog and would read out parts of it to the class during the last few periods of the school day. I don't remember the story anymore but I do remember the feeling of eagerness with which each one of us would wait for the story-telling sessions to begin. The red book about a boy and a dog filled our imagination and colored our dreams...
I continued in the same school from kindergarten till XII th standard, and so it forms a huge part of my history.
It was in class V that we were introduced to the study of our ancient language, Sanskrit. I know in today's day and time most schools offer foreign languages such as French or Spanish to help prepare children for a global environment. These languages help the children, their parents, and even their neighbors appear more smart. The parents can also place wagers on which child will settle in which country 'abroad'. However, back in my school days, the language option in an English-medium school was between Hindi and Sanskrit. I chose Sanskrit simply because I thought I could learn two languages at the effort for one. The translations would be in Hindi and so I would get to learn Hindi as well. There came a time when we had a Sanskrit teacher by the name of Nand Lal Sharma. He was a thin man dressed in greys and whites with a forehead that would get marked on hearing our grammar. But even at that age, quite a few of us felt respect for a man who was trying to teach us a language mostly forgotten, never used, and frequently ridiculed for its inclusion in the syllabus. He would make us memorize by rote essays written in Sanskrit!! He would explain excerpts from Kalidasa's Meghadutam and bring the beauty of Ujjaini women and the stories of Malvika-Agnimitra into our rooms of metal and wooden benches. I met him in a market many years later and was touched when he remembered my name. It is obviously easy for a student to remember a teacher's name but for a teacher to do the same is a feat. :). He was also the one who told me the meaning of my name...
English teachers, I believe, always have had the reputation of being the most approachable and creative people in a school. They are the ones who make your days seem more livable in times when all the laws of thermodynamics are eating up the insides of your brain. A close second came trigonometry and the periodic table. These were the people who shone like knights in shining armor and salvaged our souls from permanent damage wreaked by the havoc of the aforementioned subjects. I remember Indira Ma'am in class V or VI who helped me read and understand 'The Death of a Salesman'. I remember Sudha Ma'am who got us interested into dramatics and theater. Shobha Ma'am - a confidante for many at such times when suddenly all girls were getting their hearts broken...:). Kumaraswami Ma'am (of the beautiful sarees and jewellery) for being the shoulder to cry on about bad marks, expectations from parents, competition from peers.
I remember Radhakrishnan Sir, our biology teacher, who was simply the most loving person and till date my knowledge on genetics and mitosis and meiosis first bring up the visuals of the diagrams in our notebooks, copied from the ones he drew on the board. He was a friend, philosopher, a guide. He encouraged us to look outside the window and learn from nature. He was one person who did not limit himself to just his subject but talked to us of all things. He called us the extinct species...knowing well that the generations to come would not be the same as us.
School rolled into college - the entry point into a world which was not ready for us and for which we were not ready. In college, through myriad days, I remember Mr. Madan who taught Indian Politics at my college. There was Ghosh Sir with with his political philosophies ranging from Chanakya to Plato to Gandhi.
From there on I moved to JNU, one of the finest universities of the country. JNU evokes a strong sense of belonging and makes you feel that your journey to discover yourself has only just begun. At JNU, I was introduced to the fantastic world of great French artists and the world of impressionists. Dhir Sir threw open the windows to a whole new world of Picasso, Lautrec, Modigliani, and Monet. Then, there was Sengupta Sir whose classes on Sartre made me watch plays based on Sartre's writing even in Hindi. There was Vijaya Ma'am who taught us Indian French literature...such ideas, such concepts came up. She helped me discover Indian literature through a foreign language and it brought me closer to my roots. All those discussions about le beton desarme and Indian mythology and modern India - beautiful and awakening. I did my dissertation in her guidance - a story on getting to know oneself through the eyes of the other...Michaux. Then, there was Madavane Sir - the one who had corals on his desk and millions of ideas forever swirling in his mind, the author of La malediction des etoiles, the one from whose room we could see the library building crying, the one who pushed us to think and write better.
I wanted to say Thank You to all these teachers who opened all these doors and windows to such fantastic worlds, and made a lot of what I am today.
Thank you

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I click therefore I am

I click therefore I am

My values are but a mouse-click away

All desired skills have boiled down to a component ID

The LMS – a record keeper

Sole proof of my values existence

Back and Next – two entities of my life

So close, yet so many pages between them

Loading at 40%, then 60%

…my knowledge never reaches 100%

I drag and I drop unhesitatingly

Hoping that these activities get me recognition

I wait for my development plan to fade away

And to evolve into a certified valued professional

I cross all hurdles and reach the assessment

Never has a 90% meant such joy and relief

And as I return gleefully to my seat with my name printed in b/w

My thirst for knowledge

And my will for development is all but extinguished

There in my inbox sits another mail

… it is IT Security week next and the darned online trainings are back!!!

I click therefore I am

- Written in blood after putting in 16 hours trying to finish certain ‘mandatory’ online trainings at my workplace

Post Script (PS) – I would like to thank all the non-creative and completely humane IDs who created the assessments of those trainings where an ‘All of the above’ and a ‘True or False’ saved some of my breath. Thank you, friends.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Musical Regions

I’m very fond of watching the various music-based reality shows that are being shown on all the TV channels these days. I’m referring to the more serious ones – shows like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Voice of India, and the latest to join the bandwagon – Junoon. (I will not name Indian Idol in the same breath simply because I think it is blasphemy to do so.) I think all these shows are brilliant in the way that they look for such amazing talent across the country and across the continents, in many cases as well.

I think Sa Re Ga Ma Pa is the one that began this trend of music-based shows and we have quite a few voices in the music and film industry now, voices that have found their audience and limelight, through this show. It used to star Sonu Nigam as the host, who did a splendid job of it too. The voices were all so fresh and so beautiful. Some became popular and some not-so popular. But, each one did find the confidence and I’m sure this was one of the shows that proved to all the young ‘hidden’ talents that an avenue, even if difficult and unapproachable, had opened. The same show has moved on from its modest middle-class beginning to a more nouveau riche look with the sets changing to include more sparkles, the participants beginning to look like fashion models with honeyed voices, and the gurus have definitely changed paces as well. Not to speak of the hosts – Sonu Nigam to Shaan to Aditya Narayan – all of who have added their own personality to the show. I must admit I was a die-hard fan of this show till last year. My heart soared each time Bappi Da would give an 8 to a favorite participant or a young singer from across the border would be put in the danger zone because of the lack of the adequate number of points.

This year, 2008, Junoon (being aired on NDTV Imagine) seems to have captured my heart in the very same way. The participants that remain or those that have left all are trained voices. This shows in the range that they can bring about and also the music that they can create. I also particularly like the concept of dividing up the teams into Film songs, Folk songs, and Sufi songs. This has not only brought the highlight on folk songs which are definitely shadowed in by film music in real life. It is a noteworthy attempt on the part of the organizers to come up with the concept. (Excuse my ignorance on the other show – Voice of India…I have not been an avid follower of the same.)

But now, here is what I think these shows can do but are not doing…all these shows ask for the people who watch TV to vote for them using the all too mundane and annoying task of sending SMSs. That very act has become quite a nuisance because after some weeks of feeling for the participant, I realize that I’m paying too much to see someone stay on till the next airing of the show. And that pinches! And though I enjoy the music, I do not vote for any of them. The second more annoying bit about the voting procedure is when all the participants are encouraged to evoke a sense of regionalism in the viewers. All of them choose to ask for their votes in their regional language, irrespective of the fact that they themselves probably don’t use that language at home. Each one cries out to a state to vote for them. Nation, nationality, Indianness – all seem to be shed off in this matter. Music which is universal is cruelly segregated into regions. The thought of asking India to vote for them is an afterthought and that makes it even more distasteful.

What then is the difference between these people, who bring music, the very language of gods, into our lives and the ones who incite regionalism for forming governments? Why can’t we all just ‘vote’ for good and brilliant music? Why does it have to boil down to such narrow boundaries of language and region? A lot of people may think that I need not rant and rave about such a trivial issue but it is that very idea that I want to confront. It is the idea of regionalism that pollutes the purity of a universal emotion – music. And as slowly as it invades music, so it finds a way into our minds and our soul. Let me explain…have you noticed how all of us modern, educated, walk and talk with our peers and our colleagues affecting a degree of equality. I use the word ‘affecting’ because it is but a façade that we present to our own self, believing that we see us in the other. We do not. As quickly as we assimilate everybody in our peer group, with that very swift movement, we categorize them into ‘punjabis’, ‘mallus’, ‘bengalis’, and ‘south indians’ and attribute traits to the communities. We break the ‘universal’ into ‘regions’ and that is why it becomes easier for any foreign (and no, I don’t mean the <>) element to seep within into the fine cracks and send out tremors. Regionalism has already taken various shapes leading to unrest…why do we then let it enter the realm of music?

All people responsible or part of these beautiful music shows please leave regionalism out of music. Let the people in the parliament and those who aspire to be in that august institution think about regionalism and its uses! Let music be spared!

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

- Aldous Huxley

Without music, life would be an error.”

- Friedrich Nitetzsche

And I rest my case...