Saturday, September 26, 2009

Great expectations

I asked a lot of questions the other day. And today I am going to answer a question. All credit of the title goes to Mr. Charles Dickens, who wrote one of the most beautiful pieces of literature by that name. The number of inferences you can make about the central characters - Estella and Pip is immense, and each time you think about the story, you are transported into another realm altogether. So, my post comes nowhere close. It is just yet another observation of human nature if you will. I don't mean to write this in a patronizing sense at all. But the more I observe people in specific instances, the clearer the trends get and the more embossed the patterns become.

My observation for now - expectations are the cause of all misery. Yup! You might have heard this piece of platitude in numerous situations. But clingy as the human mind is, the expectation never seems to go away. I expect people to behave in a certain way. I expect reciprocity. I expect everyone to think like I do. I expect people to be trustworthy. I expect people to value relationships the way I do. I expect to build ties of everlasting friendship. Little do I realize that it takes two ends of a rope to tie a knot. (See - I didn't use the other cliche of it taking two hands to clap!)

And then I end up wondering and pondering the biggest existential question of all time - the eponymous question - WHY. And I ponder about the underpinnings of my masochistic leanings - the wish to subject myself to this expectational torture, not once, not twice, but every single time. Is this the right way to be? Is there a way out of this vicious cycle of expectation and disappointment? And I end up with the same answer every time - No. And why is there no way out? Because I expect, therefore I am - and as always, hope springs eternal. Who knows, I expect not to be let down next time around...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

One line thought provokers

I don't certify that these are profound existential questions. But these are some random thoughts that keep crossing my mind, every time I get reflective.
  1. Why does the mind pursue unrelentlessly an object it cannot have?
  2. Why do some people act with animosity towards others, and on purpose cold-shoulder them, but refuse to give reasons about why they act the way they do?
  3. Why does one still wonder about such people who bear a grudge they refuse to explain?
  4. Why is it so difficult to sever ties with people who you once cared about, but who don't care about you any more?
  5. Why is work : reward never = 1:1?
  6. Why does hope spring eternal?
  7. Why does every low urge one to think that the high is just around the corner, when in reality there is no light at the end of any tunnel?
  8. Why is Sub Saharan Africa, the way it is? Isn't the bottom most point of this region called the Cape of Good Hope?
  9. Why do I never learn, in spite of multiple lacerations?
  10. Why do I always draw a blank, whenever I am in dire need of something to think about?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bittersweet success

You've always heard people describe success as being sweet. Success, when it comes to people is sweet, no doubt. It is a heady feeling. One where the air smells sweet and fresh, the environs looks greener and prettier, hot musty weather becomes sunny and beautiful, a smile plays on your face for no reason whatsoever. Success can make all possible cares fade away. Success bestows an unforeseen level of confidence in an individual - a confidence to take on the world, in the belief that all I'd do going forward will be successful. A mystique is generated around those who are successful. Start with examples from literature. The Count of Monte Cristo, no one cared about Edmond Dantes, and used him as a pawn in their bigger games, and bundled him off to the Chateau d'If. But when he returned as the Count of Monte Cristo, to exact his revenge, he exuded an aura of success and wealth, and people flocked to him. Take sport. The world was at McEnroe's feet, in spite of his mercurial temper. The world feted Kapil Dev in 1983. Senna, Schumacher, I can't think of another S. Bjorn Borg was a legend, and people talked about Pistol Pete all the time.

I happened to see 'Romi and Michelle's high School Reunion' - a certified chick flick. Now, for those not in the know, it is a movie about these two women who have had a miserable, marginalized life in high school, who are not having a super great life 10 years after high school, but decide to go for their 10 year reunion anyway. They desperately want a make over, and wish to portray a life of success. Why? Because they feel that at least then, they would be given their due and be treated like humans. Now, the movie goes on in a typical romantic comedy way, but the message is clear. Nothing succeeds like success. And one can go to any extent just to get a morsel of a pie called success.

But what happens when success gives one the slip somewhere along the way? Well, everyone is human at the end of the day, and success can get addictive. The crave for more and more success is all-consuming. Some manage to beat the wave for a long time, but some fade away as fast as they came up. The way down is painful. Reminisces of the past, glorious life can be depressingly painful with thoughts about what you were, and what you've lost out getting the better of you. But it isn't easy shaking it all off and rising up to face a new challenge. It takes supreme courage, to pick oneself up and move on after brushing the dust off. And if one is attuned to a certain degree of success, such a change in attitude and manner of operation is not just tough, it is practically impossible. Much like the zamindaar in Satyajit Ray's Jalsaghar - in spite of his indigence, he is so consumed by his quest for pomp, that he sells every last penny, just to put on a more magnificent show. A switch to a more conservative lifestyle is impossible. And that is why we see instances of a Britney Spears losing her mind. Or a Federer losing his cool on court. The very thought of perhaps 'losing' is much too intense to bear, or face.

And at such a time, one needs to muster all courage and face life head on. For after a storm there always is sunshine. I'll end with one of my favorite quotes from the movie The Count of Monte Cristo - “Life is a storm my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes. You must look into that storm and shout, as you did in Rome, ‘Do your worst…for I will do mine.’”

I like success, but I love the courage needed to face the failure that would lead to further success....

Friday, September 11, 2009

What has B school taught me - Part 1

It has been almost a week since I wrote here and each day has passed with my walking back from class with an all new thought in my head, and an ever-strong determination to voice my thoughts. And then all hell breaks loose, when I look at my to-do list and realize that I need a minimum of 30 hours in the day to be able to strike off 10% of my list! But tonight, I decided that Thought Center has been off-center for too long now, and so, at 3 am, while munching on a piece of chocolate, I collated my thoughts and, well, sat down to write!

What has B school meant to me so far? Well, one of our alums had said somewhere that for her, B school was all about a journey towards self-discovery. I couldn't agree with her more. I, for one, have been able to look at life from a different perspective, after coming here. Attribute it to the fact that I am out of home for the first time, fending for myself, and having to take full care of all my requirements, from submitting assignments on time to procuring toothpaste before it runs out! So it has to some extent made me appreciate the life that was - not just the domestic aspect, but even the life at work. Once we graduate, God willing, we would need to enter the workplace - transformed. From being someone who meekly followed, we might be expected to lead. The stars would be expected from us, since after all, we have been through the lathe machine called B school!

And nothing can get us prepared for the people skills test that we would be put through. Unless we make a conscious attempt to appreciate the people around us. School gives us an immense opportunity to interact with people from backgrounds starkly different from ours. I used to feel extremely happy about my origins in Mumbai, and did to a very great extent believe that my city was responsible for making me who I am. Till I met someone here at school, someone, who has grown up in a remote village in AP, and has literally slogged hard to get here. From life in a municipal school (since that was the only school in the village), this person has studied hard, and managed to push himself up. Finding the municipal school inadequate to satisfy his aspirations, he managed to be the first in his family to venture out to a 'private school' in another village to study. With agriculture-oriented parents who have not even managed to see a school leaving certificate through their education lives, this person worked his way into one of India's premier engineering institutes thereafter, through his sheer drive, motivation and passion to excel. He managed to leave his peers behind, while forging his way into the future.

Yet, what he thinks back about fondly are the long bicycle rides to and from school with friends, the stealing of mangoes from the zamindar's orchards, the evenings spent talking about movies and girls! All these reminisces, without even an ounce or a tinge of arrogance, not even once portraying an air of 'look at where I came from, and look at where I have reached'. And while his academic achievements are nothing short of stellar, he still feels that we city bred individuals are miles ahead in terms of achievements, since we can speak fluent English, and carry ourselves more gracefully in public, something he feels he cannot still do. And when he makes this statement, I am even more awestruck at his stark simplicity, in spite of his achievements.

And that is when I realize that life is a great leveller. One can bask in the sunshine of success one moment and be thrashed against the rocks of failure the next. And at the end of the day, one realizes that almost everyone, irrespective of where they started from, end up at almost the same level.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Manic Monday - Are we Indians truly worth it?

Andie McDowell, Aishwarya Rai and Eva Longoria look us in the face and say - 'Because you're worth it'. But are we really worth it??? India is reeling under swine flu. That said, I just saw some reports of Chikungunya cases being reported in AP. Even a bustling metropolis like Mumbai was not spared. Pune and Mumbai became swine flu spots. And the administration received well deserved flak for not having a proper process in place to check the pandemic! We are supposed to be the sunshine country of the future. Linked with China, poised for growth, harbingers of the world economic order! And here we are faced with drought, (which climatologists claim is a natural occurrence once every 5-6 years, scientifically), a pandemic, the world economy is hit and all hell has broken loose!

Dr. Amartya Sen in his book Development as Freedom has compared the India-China story and described how the Communist, populist regime of China pre-reform focused on 'people development'. One can attribute some level of the people-centric policies to the Chinese culture, where education and all-inclusive health care are principles ingrained into their psyche. Chinese and Japanese were supposed to be the lodestars of human civilization and culture in the ancient times, after all. So, an offshoot of this deep culture, stood them in good stead, whereby by the time China got ready for reforms in 1979, they had a prepared, educated population all set to exploit the reformed economy to the fullest and steam roll their way into the future.

Could we perhaps even attribute this process to communism? Communism, as a philosophy speaks of 'down with the owner-worker relationship' 'everything belongs to everyone'. So could it be that these deep populist, equitable distribution seekers could allow this philosophy to creep into the realm of governance and ensure all inclusive provision of basic facilities? Take Cuba, for instance - it is supposed to have the best education and health care system in that part of the world. The statistics speak for themselves. 4th highest in literacy rate, with literacy rate almost reaching 80%. Before the Cuban Revolution, Cuba had the third-highest number of doctors per capita in Latin America, the mortality rate was the third lowest in the world, infant mortality rate was the lowest in Latin America and the 13th lowest in the world, and life expectancy was some ten years higher than the Latin American average. Kerala - the Indian state with the highest literacy rate, and maximum institutional births in India. Although industrial growth has been dismal, quality of life for the people is rather high in comparison to the rest of India. The key again was inclusion in provision of health care and education, that resulted in overall upliftment.

So, while China was prepared for the liberalization movement, India in contrast, when she liberalized her economy, opened up the economy to grossly under prepared people, who were still majorly illiterate and perhaps never understood the modalities of a liberal economy. As a result, to a very great extent, it appears as if the whole liberalization regime was either too premature, given India's gross lack of preparedness to rise up to the challenge, or the developmental part has a lot of catching up to do, to make up for the lost ground.

That said, it is perhaps not enough to just develop pockets. It doesn't make sense to have the most opulent sea facing mansion on one end, and Asia's largest slum on the other end of a city's spectrum. Unfortunately, this spectrum is indicative of the pattern existing in India as a whole as well, with interior India still struggling for electricity and water, while some other regions grapple with issues of floods. It is all a bit murky, and a lot of sorting out needs to be done. But at least the administration seems to have its heart in the right place. There has not been a famine in India since 1947, and Dr. Sen attributes this to the fact that we have a democracy, that ensures that vote bank politics prevents governments in office from not taking adequate steps to arrest famine in the wake of food shortages. One just hopes for words to get translated into actions and we hope that a sunshine nation like ours may not still, after 62 years of independence, grapple with issues like drought, policy initiated 'food crises' or curable diseases turning into pandemics!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sunday Stuff : Leisure, story books and all things beautiful

A mellow wind outside. Cloudy skies. Piping hot tea in hand (might have been happier with coffee though). Un-understandable lyrics of Deep Forest singing 'Will you be ready' somewhere in the corner. Images of meadows, a lovely sunset, tall grass billowing in the wind. The scent of fresh, wet mud. A brilliant book in hand - Picture perfect...

At long last, we got a real good free weekend, and needless to say all of us utilized it to the max. I had my fun, but the one part I loved the most was reminiscing about all my favorite books with a fellow bibliophile! Ah well, bibliophiles are few and very rare to come by. And the variety that matches your tastes are even fewer. More often than not, one can find the kind of people who love the self-improvement category of books. They read books that give them gyaan on cultures, languages, time management, economics, behavioral finance and all such good stuff. But just like warming up to Coldplay takes a certain level of maturity (measured in years), warming up to only non fiction books is a taste that can come only with age. At such a time, one yearns for the true fiction lover.

Back in Mumbai, I had a friend who shared my reading tastes. I remember a long talk one night with her, where we spoke about a certain Mary Higgins Clark book, and I followed it up with my dissertation of the Bourne Identity (I had just then completed my third revision of the book). We then went on to talk about our common favorite book - Kane and Abel and went on analyzing each character, picking up nuances and interpretations, which I am sure even Archer might not have thought about! I had an almost similar experience today, discussing all and sundry from the unabridged version of the Count of Monte Cristo, where the Count sails off into the sunset with Heidi (not walks away with Mercedes, as happens in the movie), to O Henry, and of course Jason Bourne. And the experience left me wanting to sing with joy in the middle of the grassy meadows, with the billowing wind, much like the woman in the Deep Forest song!

People to whom I have described this fundoo feeling I get while discussing books, wonder what the fuss is all about. But all I can say is, reading is one level of joy. Discussing the book, the characters, the story with others, takes you deeper into that world, a world that does not have to be left off on the last page. A world where the Gemeinschaft bank exists on Bahnhofstrasse. Where Treadstone 71 is a real building. A world where characters can actually be morbidly malevolent like the wife in Roald Dahl's William and Mary. A world where two seemingly simple people, born on the same day, reach the pinnacles of success, while always being at each others' throats. A world where a person's spirit is brought into a book without even a mention of anything remotely related to an apparition - just the methods of Mrs. Danvers makes you keep looking over your shoulder to see if Rebecca is watching from somewhere. A world of the bibliophiles - One of the best places to be in.....

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Something Saturday : To all the teachers who made an impact in my life - Happy Teacher's Day

This Teacher's Day I am back at school. And thinking back about all the teachers who have taught me so far seemed like a swell idea!

Teachers through my life can be classified as - good, interesting, monotonous, scary, lovable or downright weird. And I guess this is the case for almost all of us. Every teacher has had the unique mannerism, the funny accent, the look, the voice. From a teacher who used to say 'got it' that sounded like 'adee' at the end of every sentence, to one that used the article 'the' ahead of every word in a sentence. Then there was one who used to say Sec A, Sec B, Secant C to a bunch of imbecile adolescents. And then a favorite English teacher who warned us on day 1 that 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned' and so if any one of us were to annoy her, she'd come down on us like a ton of bricks! Needless to say that this lady was by and far the only one who could control a bunch of unruly 100 adolescents! Then again, the history teacher who used to teach history like a story and we used to dupe her into making her explain a lesson she's already covered twice over. I bet she knew we were duping her, but sweet lady that she was, she'd go on with the story. And then the math teacher who'd go to any extent to ensure we understood the profound subject, and the geography teacher in class 4 who actually brought samples of pulses to show us in class while teaching 'what grains grow where'. Then the art teacher who was good enough to give Hussain a run for his money, but enjoyed teaching uninterested art amateurs instead. And then one teacher all of us loved as kids and actually competed to be 'her favorites'. And she always had 60 favorite children in the class.

Then we had the profs in grad school, who we remember more for the way they taught and conducted class, more than anything else. From one who used to say 'Actooly u see, it is up to vhee to decide what you wants to write', to one who used to say ' substitute 3 from 7 to get 4'. Then one who upon being told that her writing method prevented us from being able to see anything on the board, responded that we would see better if we kept quiet. Then there was the one prof who after having had ' Happy Birthday to you' sung to her every day of the term gave up on us and ended up listening to the song and accepting the wishes everyday!

I could go on and on recollecting memories of every one of my teachers. But more than the memories, these are the people who are responsible for shaping my interests. Be it my profs at B school who introduced me to Economics or Marketing or my profs in high school who spurred an interest in the Benzene ring that sent me off to be a chem engineer! Or even my superiors at work who taught me everything from people management to technology to crisis management. I have only all of them to thank for making me who I am today. So, to all the teachers who made an impact in my life - Happy Teacher's Day.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Thoughts on Thursday : Amor es un perro pero amistad es una cisne

Nope this post is not a review of the cult classic Mexican movie. We have a weekend. AP is closed down on account of the demise of the CM. This is the first week of the term. Life is a tad cool. So what happens when you have some time on hand, after having been used to a life of running around like a chicken with its head cut off? (sorry for the stark comparison, but that was by and far the most befitting metaphor!) Well, what happens is you get all thoughtful and you reflect over a highly pleasurable evening spent with a few close friends. And I, for one like to think, co-relate, find R-squared values - told you I had a 'free' weekend right? Add to that Thoughts on Thursday, and that is where I start.

A few months ago, a friend of mine showed me a poem she'd written on the meaning of love after being inspired by a certain Hindi movie. She had then implied that in the current day, love is all about lust. 'Lusts of the flesh' - quoting Phoebe Buffet of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. And yesterday, after some friendly nonsensical talk, someone had a brainwave of talking profoundly deep stuff like what love means to them. Some were all about loving and being loved back. Some were about fun. Some were about mystique and intrigue. Elsewhere, perhaps when I was younger, I have heard the typical rom-com interpretations as well. One of roses and gifts, unconditional love, 'You complete me', and such other typical romantic comedy quotes. Ah! Romantic Comedies! The kind where a guy bids $900 for a $20 scarf, because his affection for his estranged girl had begun with 'the green scarf'. The kind where a down and out, yet outspoken woman is told by a guy that he likes her just the way she is! I have seen a whole host of real life stories though, where people enter a relationship expecting a similar story, and get hurt when reality is actually poles apart!

It was after hearing several unique perspectives, that I decided that love is like an elephant and each person is like one of the 6 blind men of Hindustan. Some perceive the trunk, some the tail, but each has her own interpretation and meaning of love. At the end of it all, though one wonders whether it is really worth the time and effort trying out the options put forth by love, if endings can be somewhat like the endings in the movie Amores Perros - where all 3 protagonists are willing to sacrifice the comfort of the status quo in favor of the mysterious love that they look for, only to be grossly let down at the end. Aha! I did tie in the title to the post!!!

But one thing I firmly believe is that no matter what love may mean to different people, at the end of the day, friendship most certainly is one of the most beautiful things ever. Look at it. A bunch of people who had no relationship whatsoever, somehow hit it off, find common (or maybe grossly divergent) grounds, hang out together, pull each others' leg, forget about time, talk anything and everything (you perhaps don't even remember a meaningful snippet of your talk, but end up having a great time nonetheless) and basically end up with a memory for life.

And so I say - Amor es un perro pero amistad es una cisne - Love is a dog but friendship is a swan!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What I saw Wednesday : AP CM missing

Bizzarre! But the AP CM had been missing for over 9 hours by the close of the day. His chopper went missing off the radar. And people wonder about the fate of the leader of the masses. A man who apparently was very pro-people. So that's all from my side here! More like a bookmark of something that happened in AP while I was in AP!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Trends on Tuesday : Perils of the social network

Today's post is certainly going to ruffle a lot of feathers, as I talk about a trend that has been catching up over the past few years. Social Networking and its implications on humanity.The world is growing closer by the minute. Technology aids people to stay in touch at all times, with distance no longer being an impediment. That said, social networking sites on the internet were a boon to people living today's super fast lifestyles, that leave one with hardly any time for physical fitness let alone social and emotional improvement!

Simply using these sites to get back in touch with people you left far away as you moved along the pathways of life is fine. But expecting these sites to supplant face time, or for that matter be an indicator of one's social quotient is grossly misplaced. So, if I have 400 friends on Facebook, ideally I should be considered one with a strong network. But perhaps I need to pause and think about how many of these peoples' lives am I intimately aware about. How much do I know about these people? Are they really friends or mere acquaintances? Is Facebook really my bookmark of friends, and my way of staying in touch? Or is it a glorified address book, that contains their contact details while having people tweeting feeds about what they're doing in their lives?

Facebook is perhaps a wonderful platform for people to establish their first time contacts with long lost friends. It is perhaps brilliant for marketing or endorsing a cause amongst your peer group. But it sure as hell is not the right emotional medium to announce to your friends that you are getting married!! But in today's world, where people are on the move all the time, and technology is so addictive, with cell phone updates available to Facebook, the emotional connect gets lost somewhere. It is suave to actually tweet - 'had a blast at office party last night' and put up a zillion pictures with a bunch of tagged faces. But ask me how many meaningful conversations I had with people last night, and the answer would be a dismal 1 or 2. Where was the time amidst posing for all those pictures???

Then comes the incessant need to keep putting up status updates and random inputs about one's life. Now why does the world need to care about whether you are running on 5 hours of sleep? Does the world need to know that you are having a tiff with your significant other? Why should the world know personal details about your life just because of your want for something to tweet in the first place? You may argue that I should perhaps not read these messages if I didn't want to. Well, fair point. But all I ask is, what about the fine art of exercising discretion on what can and can't be shared? What is wrong in keeping a few aspects of life strictly personal? I'd put in a post a while ago on a similar trend with respect to gtalk tag lines and here it is.

A very funny pdf is doing the rounds these days, describing the Ramayana on Facebook. No offence intended to anybody, but just to give a flavor of how unwittingly funny life is on Facebook, I'm attaching a snapshot of this pdf here -

But this is a trend. An American Presidential Election was won with the support of Facebook. The current generation lives and thrives by social networking through Facebook, Orkut and Twitter. I am an ardent fan as well. And not keeping with the times and trends will only leave one behind as the world marches on. So what can be done? Complement Facebooking with some phone and face time. Let us not let go of the human connect and make way for the humanoid connections. Let networking not be related only to TCP/IP. Let the age old medium of person to person contact co exist with peer to peer software connections.

That said, now let me put up a link to this post on Facebook and Orkut! Didn't I tell you it's addictive??