Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Things I can't do

In the past few days I am guilty of not having blogged, and even more guilty of not having read blog posts. This has been a period of serious introspection for me. My life was going nowhere and on an average the general sense of dissatisfaction prevailed over scattered moments of cheeriness.


I have been passing time, playing football - or soccer, as they call it in this part of the world, watching & playing a lot of cricket and generally dumbing myself down with movies like Aisha, Salt & Once Upon a Time in Bombay. My past assignment has been lighter. I have profited, not as much by introspection as by mere happenstance, of realizations of myself and am now armed with answers to the most dreaded questions in an interview.

What are your weaknesses?

I have so often floundered, and ended up saying corny stuff like 'time management, over enthusiasm, over attention to details' - you know, the sort of things you would say that would typically be 'strengths' but you just portray in a frail manner so that the interviewer doesn't know what your 'real' weaknesses are. That you actually value life more in the work-life balance, and wished that l-word were heavier. Anyhoo.

I have now realized, and I tell this with all honesty, that I can't do 3 things.

1. Google specific details: So, I suck at web-based research. I mean, as long as you ask me to look up high level details, movies, sportsmen, etc I can do as well as the average facebooker. But, the moment I have to draw up numbers like 'Membership of a particular health plan in 2005' or 'reasons why the profit margin of a client went down from 2006 to 2008', I just pass. I mean, I don't think I am cut out for this. I can read articles, but can't drill out numbers. And part of it comes from the fact that the world in general is too obsessed with specificity, and that you need to understand that numbers are indicative and not definitive.
2. Take notes: Whenever, I am in a meeting / interview / workshop, I absolutely have to be looking at the client eye-to-eye, no less, and talk to them. I can't be taking notes. I am not proud of this mind you, 'cos bigger, better people manage to excel at both. I know of people who chart out meeting minutes, so close to being verbatim, that I wonder if it were a transcript. And these would have been active participants. But I can't. Not to say I suck at interviews / workshops. I am quite fine at that. I just hate the concept of having to take notes and then transcribing it for benefit of others.
3. Sell: Sugar-coat, I can. Make them see a positive side, I can. But exaggerate the truth, I simply can't. And this, in a corporate environment, or at least going by the few 'great' sales pitches I have seen, translates to bad salesmanship. What I can do is tell them the truth. Of what we can do, and we cannot. I strongly believe in the product or service selling itself, rather than having to push it. So, I can, confidently walk up and say, 'Here is what I can do, but you know what - we can work together and I am confident of learning'. But, I can never say, 'I can do it all, just name it!' In other words, I am old school, undersell and over-perform.

See, that wasn't too tough. Now, I know what to include in my resume. And let me be honest, I am not particularly working on any of these. Because, I am not entirely convinced, yet, of the disadvantages of these 'pitfalls'. So, there.

And I swear to be a man and admit this the next time I get interviewed.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Of Films: Black Friday

"I am going to take a piss…", the vendor says and walks nonchalantly away from his stall, waving at regular customers and almost every random bystander. The camera pans over him, on to the base of the Bombay Stock Exchange and we can still hear traces of his involuntary conversations. It is lunch time and people are exiting the office building, the whole screen is covered by a blue hue. The vendor is still there somewhere in the crowd, as your eyes search for him. The reds and the greens are accentuated, while the whites and the grays blend into the blue. Slowly, in a very calculated pace the sound fades off. You know what is coming, and your eyes search for the vendor. For a moment, a brief moment, he is the protagonist. You are concerned for his life.


Glass shatters. One man flies across the screen. There is blood on the ground. Ash and dust mix leaving the whole scene covered in an unwelcome blanket. Your eyes search for the vendor. And there you see him, alive, and there is hope. You see him trying to help someone on the street, he carries a boy in his hands and then tries to pull another acquaintance, as the camera pans across a man still to recover from the shock. All this while, all you hear is what the vendor is probably hearing. A long, high frequency screeching beep. You have just seen the 1993 bomb blast through the eyes of a nondescript vendor.

The very next scene, interspersed with news flashes of the various other bomb blasts, is the arrival of the bomb squad. The leader of the bomb squad slows his gait down. He clearly hasn't seen anything of this magnitude before in his life. And, all of a sudden, just like that, you are now watching the scene through his eyes. He slowly gathers his step and just when you think he will launch himself into the investigation - he sits down. He doesn't drop down, just calmly sits down. He is collecting his thoughts - maybe even calculating the damage; extent of impact and in his mind making a rough order estimate of the amount of RDX that was used. The next five minutes, you are in the scene as a member of the bomb squad, not as the vendor anymore. The perspective of narration changed from that of a victim to the investigator - both of whom, by the way, would never ever be seen in the rest of the movie.

This, and this precisely, is what made the movie work for me. The effortless change of narrative perspectives. And, the effectiveness of this change on the viewer given the grittiness of the characters is jaw-dropping. Be it the fascinatingly choreographed chase scene where you become the hunted or the way you relate to Kay Kay in all those scenes when he is fighting within himself.

But the movie turns you on your head from Chapter 3. Badshah Khan is now on the run, and just like that you are now empathizing, even sympathizing with a man who is responsible for the death of about 300 people in a series of bomb blasts. The movie engages you and involves you like none other I have seen. Every character has been scripted with such delightful honesty that you end up living the life. The on-your-face hues of red and blue to enhance the screen stops being a pester and start setting the environment ever so well because you find yourself virtually within the confines of that scene, and that scene only.

I wonder if Anurag Kashyap specifically had a protagonist for every chapter in mind. Or even every scene; the protagonists rationale, for lack of a better word, is presented w/o baggage; as a matter of fact. The perspective of the narrative just keeps on changing, drawing the audience to the fence separating retrospective notional justice and clear and present sympathy. That nature of writing was simply unknown to me before I watched this movie 5 years ago. And it has made me go back and watch it at least 2 more times in the last 5 years.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Human Aliens

What if we are the aliens on this planet? No, seriously. The most popularly believed theory of human evolution is that a bunch of apes migrated from Africa across the world and then evolved. Now, I say alien invasion could have been equally possible.

Circa [whatever the year was about 5 Mn years ago]

M1: Yo Bro, let's go.
M2: Wa'ssup Jesop.
M1: Did you hear about the blue thing last night?
[A nuclear bomb blasts some 50 miles away shattering glasses and spewing smoke and ash. A deafening sound later]
M2: Say, what?
M1: The Blue Thing dude. Looked cool. You got to see that?
M2: Oh nope. I was collecting leaves for winter. These leaves are itchy. And besides, it's fall time so time for some colorful ones, Everyl likes the colors.
M1: C'mon man. They had projected the damn thing on to the big screen last night. That thing looked beautiful.
M2: Where is it anyway?
M1: I don't know, must be some 100 Mn miles away.
M2: And, you wanna go there?
M1: Hell yeah.
M2: Alright, let me ask Everyl.


E: Adambach dear, why do we have to go?
M2/ A: Everyl babes, it's cool out there. And besides, I frankly don't like the fall colors.
E: Hmm... ok. Let's go.


M1: [Suspicious] Man, that was easy. Are you sure she has no other plans? These creatures from Venus, I tell you. They have made Mars a living hell man.
[A bomb explodes]
E: Say what?
M2/ A: Nothing dear. Appleton was just praising you.
E: Of course. Too bad I couldn't get my DM61A1 with me.


E: Damn this place is cold. I told you we should have got some more leaves for covering ourselves. Oh, there. That looks like a garden. Lets collect some leaves. Wish it were fall season here.
M1/ Ap: Oh Everyl, shut up will you.
M2/ A: Eve dear... he is just kidding.
E: Adam, eat him.
M2/ A: Err... but...he is the only one who knows...this is a sin... I mean, all the knowledge..
E: Adam... eat that Apple, now.

And the rest, as they say is mythology.

Come to think of it, we are the most intelligible species on earth. We are almost the 'newest'. And, for all we know we must have dumped some desolate little planet for a better place to survive and made this our own. The resident species, dinosaurs, lions, dogs an crows were dumb, technologically illiterate and used power to rule. They must have had sightings of many such space ships landing with alien humans being spotted now and then. And before they knew it - we came, we saw and we conquered. I don't think the dinosaurs went through a natural extinction process. Them damn things were just taking too much space.

Am I watching too many Sci-Fi movies?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Practice makes a man perfect

... and apparently, the lack of it makes him suck at it. Fellows, here's the story of my life. The story of how a young little boy didn't get to be what he always wanted to be, but instead ended up being what the society wanted him to be. It's sad, so get your handkerchiefs out and move your cup or tea away from you.

As a kid, I was awesome at cricket. I played for my team back home from the age of 11. That is no mean achievement considering the fact that the next youngest chap in the team was at least 5 years elder to me. I started off fielding for my team, at what I thought was the most awkward position; exactly behind the wicketkeeper - just before the gutter. It wasn't until 3 years later that I realized it wasn't a 'real' position, per se; but hey I love my fielding.

It was one fine day, when I was 13 or something, I guess that I bowled to one of our top batsmen. The ball cut in sharply and had the batsman's stumps flying. Oh, actually the stump just limply fell down because it wasn't fixed properly - but hey, I got our top batsman out. He was 19 and I was 13; and I bowled him over. (Argh! Not like that.) This gave me a break. Like a real one. I was now officially the "practice bowler" for the team. This would ensure our "match bowler" never got tired. One season of dedicated 'nets' bowling and I found my place in the team the next year. I was elated. Oh! By the way, I still possess the pebble on the pitch that made the ball cut sharply in the first place. Anyway.

Now, there was this new problem I realized after some 6 years of playing cricket. I never got a chance to bat. I was the team's designated bowler. I knew I was a good batsman; I had joined the local cricket coaching class for a year and won the best batsman award too. I had played 47 balls, scored 27 runs and stayed not out. I scored 2 boundaries; one a fine late cut through third man and the other a fine glance to fine leg. Sublime. I was a lean guy; I scored a whole 7 runs in front of the wicket. I had the highest average in the team, and it is my honest belief that I deserved the award. So, now I was 20 and hadn't gotten a single chance to prove my batting abilities. I approached the captain, and asked him if I could open the innings. After he stopped laughing, he rose from the floor and sat on the wall he had fallen off laughing, he realized that I was not joking.

And he gave me a chance. Now, fellows, this was the first time I was opening the innings. And we were playing the team from a nearby slum. I was a bit nervous, sweaty hands and all. When I walked back after seeing my leg stump take a walk itself, my captain patted on my 20 year old shoulder and said, you should practice. My eyes gleamed. The walk back from the pitch to the pavilion, which was really a tree at the end of the ground, was long and full of thoughts about nifty come-backs to the team's sarcastic remarks that would have welcomed me. But instead, the captain showed some confidence in me. I was determined to practice.

But friends, if there is anything which is more truer than 'Practice makes a man perfect', it is 'Old habits die hard'. No one would ever bowl seriously during practice matches except me. People would try all sort of weird bowling styles and spins. I never got to bat a real bowler except during matches. And, then we moved grounds. A new construction came up in the ground we used to play and we moved to this area where we could play only on the off side. And then the next 3 years, I would bat only to play on the off side. I practiced, yeah. And I could bat like a gem on the off side. But, except for the paddle sweep - I couldn't play the on side for nuts. And this had to happen to the boy who idolized Mohd. Azharuddin.

Now, I am in California and I play cricket. I could bowl after a hiatus of 5 years with little practice. I could bat on the offside, once I get my touch. But the on side, it simply doesn't exist.

PS: Irrelevant but true. My cousin's apartment housed a girl named Kripa: she was an amazing cricketer. It was she who first prodded my to try and bat up the order (in under-arm) cricket. Any baseless confidence that was instilled in my little mind, is credited to her.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Tough Choice

Everyone comes across phases in life where one has to make tough choice. A decision that would potentially change the way you lead your life. Decisions that would affect not just self, but others around.

I had my chance last week. I was checking into the Double Tree Hotel (Hilton Group) in Berkeley for a week's stay. It is a fantastic hotel, right by the bay with scenic look outs. Just when I was checking in, at the reception counter the sweet Philipino lady with a welcoming smile handed over my room key and asked me a question: "Breakfast or internet?"

I was baffled. I thought I didn't hear it correctly. In a parliamentary manner of asking her to repeat, I said 'What the ...??!!' To which she duly replied - one of them is complimentary. Now, this was a choice that would decide my lifestyle for the rest of the week. All week long, client meetings were lined up to start at 8 am in the morning, which meant getting up at 6. So, given that lunch would be no earlier than 12 noon - no breakfast meant 6 hours of no food. On the other hand, no internet meant no evening life.

Giving this a quick consideration, I found myself unable to take the decision. I asked her again, 'Are you serious?', to which she curtly replied "Yes".

I took the keys and went back to the room. Unpacked my stuff, took my laptop and walked over to the lobby for free internet and spent the night up to 2 am working in the lobby. Crazy, right? But hey, in my defense, the breakfast was by the bay and they served good hot tea. So...

Anyway, what choice would you have made: Breakfast or internet?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Long time; No blog

Just wanted to check this mobile blogging thingy. Quite useful for moblogs, if you are into that kinda blogging. Also, o just realised that pressing the spacebar twice in my iPhone keypad results in a period and a space.


Random updates: I will be moving to Chicago shortly. Hopefully. And there is a cricket match to be played this Sunday. Souls are blessed. And I hear it is going to be a T20. Given my history, it will be the longest match I play. And it isn't even ironic. Such goes life.

Coolness returns.

Capital losses for India

Capital losses for India

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Monday, December 07, 2009

MF Hussain and the Freedom of Art

I like this man. I do not know much about him. I haven’t met him. I haven’t read about him. I am not particularly an art connoisseur. I haven’t even seen his paintings, except for the odd ones that are flashed in the media. I do not know much, as I said, and hence I can’t be making blatant statements about him - good or bad.

But then I saw Meenaxi. And I formed an opinion - not the adamant kind. But yeah, I was floored to say the least. If there could be poetry without words, this movie had it. The source was MF Hussain and the medium was Santosh Sivan. The result was Meenaxi: the most poetically photographed movie I have ever seen. And, then to add beauty to it there was the art direction by Sharmishta Roy who captured the essence of just about everything so perfectly in the movie. How can I not mention the music? If ever you would want to hear music to enrich abstract thoughts and visuals, watch this movie for sheer inspiration. It is an idea bag. I am sure many of us would have wondered looking at ‘life’ paintings of a market place in a village or just a cart and some people on a street and then been amazed by the sheer detailings that goes in. And then the faded, dull earthiness that is evoked through the ironically colorful picture? Well, if you are a lover of that kind - this movie is frameful of that. It is as if MFH has painted every single frame on a canvas and then let Sharmishta and Santosh loose on the location.

So, with not a bad plot at all this movie does make for a great viewing. I found it particularly enjoyable. So, within a week of its release, when a certain sect of people raise their voice over the use of a song - the brilliantly composed, amazingly delivered and wonerfully sung - Noor Un Ala Noor (pardon my inefficient Urdu); it simply beats the purpose of living in a free country. I was all beaten down and ready to face yet another toned down, force-compromised artistic venture. But then something happened that made me stand up and tip a hat to MFH. He withdrew the movie. He lost a lot of money. The technicians employed were the best in India. Tabu was ‘hot’ in the industry. So, I can bet my words when I say he would have lost a whole lot of money in the deal. But that is what he did. He withdrew the movie from the screens. No comments. No arguments. No compromises.

The movie went international, screened in some festivals and got a few good reviews. Died a silent death, if you may. But the movie shot in 2004 - was ahead of its times. And the man who made it, seemed ahead of his society. He has now sadly moved his base to Dubai, I hear. As I said, I have not followed much of this man. But one move, one movie - made it for me.