Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Dreamers Clause

Having just moved into Coimbatore from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, I found the city and the newness reinvigorating. I was an associate professor at the Mechanics department of a well-known and reputed technology college at Mumbai. Having lived in Mumbai for the past 25 years and seeing our two boys grow and leave home to tend to their own dreams, quests and lives, my wife and I had sensed a restlessness that comes with the feeling of empty-nest syndrome. When I had got an opportunity to come back to my roots at Coimbatore to head the department at one of the new colleges, I gladly took it. I had moved in April, found the cosmopolitan nature of the city quite to my liking and the pace was much different compared to Mumbai. Also, the fact that we were in the new city, was refreshing and there was some unlearning and relearning involved in that; more than anything it kept us mentally engaged in the discovery process.

We had found a nice apartment that was in the quieter part of the town and settled down. As we settled down, we got to know people around. Over the past six months, there was one family that endeared itself to my wife and I. It was a family of a mother, her son and the daughter. The son was in the final year of the engineering, but in a different college from the one I taught in and the daughter was still in the 12th. The lady of the house had lost her husband quite early and worked in a government position and had brought up her kids with a sense of decency and responsibility. We had liked the kids immediately; gradually, the kids – Dilip and Deepa started frequenting our home. There were lot of times when I came home and found Deepa helping out my wife. Dilip too had gotten familiar with me and called me “professor-uncle” and discussed with me on various topics. For us it was nice to have kids at home and we actually welcomed them into our house and kind of gave them unfettered access to our house. I found Dilip to be an extremely nice kid with simple tastes, wanting to keep his mother happy and wanting to do well. He was also a dreamer, who constantly dreamed and aspired to greater things. The only problem being, I found his efforts really did not commensurate his dreams; and he seemed to have set his boundaries around what he actually knew or what his circle of friends told him; to me there seemed to be a big gap between that and the reality out in the world. As Dilip came to me for advice, I came to know him better and deeper. It was not uncommon that Dilip would say that he had done his exams very well and end up getting around 60%, that too in a state where 80% and above was normal - I found out that he actually had done well for the questions he had attempted. For the rest, he always dismissed it with a wave of his hands and explain why the other portions weren’t important and how his seniors had told him that people who come in for in-campus interviews did not ask any questions around that and why it was important to know the portions he knew very well as they were key to a job! As a teacher and as someone who was well-versed with on-campus hiring, I found his point of view bordering absurdity; The fact that getting higher scores will get him above the baseline cut-off required for meeting the job-eligibility completely missed him. I tried to get this into him, but he had this disarming smile of a simpleton that was just impossible to get angry at him.

About 2-3 weeks ago, he had come home seeking some clarifications, just ahead of his semester exams. We got talking and he told me that he had been quite unlucky. After a bit more back and forth, I had found that he missed on an on-campus job interview. He just missed the eligibility by about a 2%. The cut-off was 65% and his aggregate was just below it. He continued that his friend who had gotten much lesser than him in the past two semesters had made it, while he missed out.

“I find it strange, how come?” I had asked him.
Dilip explained, “No, professor uncle, he had actually scored more than me in the earlier semesters; his aggregate is just over 65%. Now, he has gotten through the first two rounds and most likely will have a job by end of tomorrow”
After a pause, he added, “I am just plain unlucky”.
I had felt exasperation slowly build up in me. “Dilip, so what in your view is Luck?”
He was surprised at the question. Finally, after some thought he had said, “Uncle, it is about finding something by chance that one wasn’t expecting”
I helped him out, “So, it is about being in the right place at the right time and unexpectedly finding the opportunity”
He agreed, “Yes, yes”.
I continued, “Dilip, this is where you are wrong – it is not just about that – it is about being in the right place at the right time with right preparation”. I stressed on the “right-preparation” part one more time. “If you aren’t prepared well enough, there would be times when you would not see the opportunity, even if you are around at the right place and at the right time”.
I added lightly, “For all you know, the opportunity can come, stare at your face, tap you on your shoulder and then knock you over; and without the preparation, you will just get up, dust yourself and walk-on and let the opportunity slip-by. So, essentially, lucky people are those who had worked hard putting in the right preparation”

Dilip became thoughtful and slowly nodded his head. I had hoped that I had gotten to him.

That was several days ago. Today, I had no lectures and settled down at home to work on the research paper I was helping a PhD student with. Earlier in the morning, Dilip had come home to say bye to me and told me that he had his 7th semester exam start today. I had wished him all the best and had hoped within me that he has prepared well. As I was immersed in the thesis, I heard Dilip’s voice – it was early evening and Dilip walked into my home-office.

I looked up at him enquiringly.
“Uncle I did my exams quite well – There were about 4 questions that I really knew well and I’m sure I would have max’ed it. I am quite contended about what I did”
I was glad, “I’m happy for you Dilip, so what do you expect?”
“I should get around 70%, uncle”.
I was surprised – I’d peg his score at 60% then. “But I thought you did very well…”, I trailed off, enquiringly.
“Yes uncle, I did very well on the 4 questions that I had answered. There were 3 other questions that I answered so-so. Those questions were from the syllabus I had not really prepared on – I heard those topics are un-important”
I was aghast.
Dilip concluded, “Just did not expect this; I was really unlucky, uncle”

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Whats it all about ?

Started on a whim, inspired by a colleague and a fellow blogger (I was no blogger then, just a simple fellow; in an other sense, I still am :) ), it has been an year. A year of writing, publicly. At anniversaries, its mandatory to look back with nostalgia and look ahead with great wisdom. So, there I vent. I wonder what defines my blog. 59 blogs later, is it about Stories ? Musings ? Pottery (Sue me, I cant spell ! And yes, I cant write - so sue me twice) ? Fillosofy ? Looking back at one year of scrawl, Sweetheart, sweetheart, whats it all about ?*

Thanks to the wordcloud from snapshirts.com, I don't have to crack my head over it. Here it is - this is what it has come up with after content-crawling..
Hmmmm.... In 19 years from now, where would I be ?**
---
Ps: The wordcloud, amazingly, did not come up with these two of fav topics - Hence my own mention of those explicitly as annotatory footnotes. I'm amazed that I've not writted about them as much as I thought I would have. Have I grown up ? Or have I grown older and Wiser ?
*: With allusions to Floyd and finding nothing to whine and mope about.
**: Quoting that Roman sentry in the Asterix adventure, in his second year of service in the army, looking forward to retiring after the mandatory 20 years.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Do Unto Others...

Kannapiran was furious with his son. That was few months ago.

Kannapiran a.k.a “Kanal Pori” Kannan, was a mid-rung leader in the party and a MLA of the MSK ("Makkal Sevai Kazhagam") Government. At the time of the incident, he was away on southern districts tour, where he was tasked by his leader, Periaswamy, to use his oratorial skills to recruit members and rejuvenate the party at the grass-root level; which indicated that his star was rising within the party. His wife had called and informed him that his 16 year old son had gotten into trouble, where he and his friends had gotten drunk and ransacked a bar; the owner had filed a complaint with the police. Kannan had to rush back, say the normal “conspiracy of my political opponents” speech, worked the back-room, changed the FIR and got his son released and implicated some other harmless stand-by youngster. In equal measures, he had to use his power, waste away one of the quid-pro-quo’s and strong-arm a bit to get his son out. Kannan believed that he had gone down a couple of notch in the political game with his intra-party rival with whom he was jostling for eminence within the party. Which is why even after several weeks after the incident, Kannan still simmered thinking about the incident.

Kannan had come home earlier tonight, after a meeting with his leader who had praised his effort in the southern districts. He had gone to bed, happy. He heard some commotion that woke him up; and he saw the bedside clock show 2AM and his wife was not in the bed; he got out of the bed as he discerned someone crying loudly; he went downstairs to see that his daughter, disheveled and sprawled out on the sofa and his wife crying loudly over her. Soon he found out that his daughter had gone to a party with her friends, had something to drink and had couple of her classmates and seniors had tried to molest her; but they fled the scene as few men in the bar had challenged those boys. One of them was caught and was handed over to the police.

Kannan was enraged. He called a few people and found out which police station the boy was handed over to. He called his man-Friday (who doubled up as a body-guard and a few other roles) and drove down to the police station. As he charged into the Police Station, he countered the night-duty policeman literally sound asleep. He woke him up and demanded to see the youngster who was locked up – he had every intent to teach that boy a lesson through a sound thrashing.

The policeman stood up, saluted not-so-smartly and said,

“Saar, a few people came in earlier and took him home. We were told not to talk about it, since he was the son of the home minister in the central government”.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

When its no longer a walking stick !

As I was reading the news paper today, this picture and the caption "RISING TO THE OCCASION: India's Premlal Sharma won the pole vault gold in the 75+ category. — Photo: G.P. Sampath Kumar" caught my attention.

This was something humbling, intriguing and made me think. As one grows older, it is very plausible that one starts worrying and getting a bit paranoid about the small pains and such, imagining things that in hindsight borders between ignorance to stupidity. But for a few, it does not seem to matter at all. They just go about their lives doing what they love to do or like to do. For them, it seems it is not just important to “live” but to be also “alive”. They just seem to use the tools that are available to all, albeit a bit differently.

However, these very same tools have different perspectives in the eyes of holder – For most its a crutch, a walking stick that supports or a stick that deters; but only for a select few, it is a catalyst, a pole that vaults them to greater heights.

(Incidentally, Mr. Premlal Sharma cleared 2meters in pole-vault to win the Gold; and the URL is at:
http://www.hindu.com/2006/11/19/stories/2006111909081600.htm)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Law of Diminishing Returns

Sometime ago, one of my colleagues explained the “Law of Diminishing Returns”. Nothing exemplifies that better than what is happening right now, on our electronic media, right in front of the bean-bags in my living room.

Few months ago, a Delhi court acquitted Manu Sharma, the alleged (got to be alleged, since he has been acquitted then) killer of Jessica Lall. The court, while passing the acquittal apparently had passed strictures on how the investigations were conducted – shabbily. The News channels picked up the stories and created more stories around it. As a normal, every-day person with every-day problems and in spite of those, I was appalled. I was shocked to an extent that I wanted to do something about it; including printing bumper-stickers. At some point in time, I believed that the TV channels merely reflected the thinking and sense of injustice that seemed to have prevailed amongst the people. A few people I had talked to had a sense of hurt (Sometimes I wonder, if the TV news is a reflection and outing what the common man feels, rather than being other way around as they seem to think – ie opinion makers with the common man).

Now with the Priyadarshini Mattoo’s case closed, and the fast-track cases being flavor of the day, Jessica Lall’s case is being reopened. From my perspective, great - finally someone is waking up. And then the madness has started – perpetuated by the TV channels, which seem to whip up some kind of popular opinion. Somehow, the news channels – both NDTV and CNN-IBN seem to have believe that the judgment should be obvious, signed, sealed and deliver Manu to the hangman. Then, ofcourse, follow up with one-hour program of whether Capital Punishment should go or stay; and bask in Two-minute-packaged-noodle-type problem-solution within “We the people” and “the Verdict”.

But suddenly things did not seem to go per their script. They did not seem to foresee the "problem" of Ram Jethmalini jumping into the fray to defend the accused. This is where their behaviour bordered on stupidity to complete prejudice. The way Ms.Sagarika Ghosh was questioning (a belligerent) Ram Jethmalini, insulted the average man’s intelligence of judicial system. I still cannot understand what her problem was – was it that Manu Sharma should be pronounced guilty without a trial? Was it that a lawyer-of-repute was defending the accused? Were they scared about RJ's reputation as a lawyer that they did not want to see him the court and the possibility that he could actually win the case for his client? By badgering RJ, did SG believe that they want to obviate the need for trial – was she implying that the judicial trials were immaterial and irrelevant ?

As I was watching the program, I was thinking – hello!!! What is your issue here? As you ask everyone to have trust in the media, do also propagate the value of trust in the judiciary too. If Manu is indeed guilty and there is unimpeachable evidence around that, the courts would definitely do their jobs. The belief here is, as media is important, so is the judicial system. Believing that their (Media's) integrity is few notches above that of Judiciary is megalomaniacal and egoistical. If the evidence is flimsy and the investigation was botched up, focus on that; so that, it could be corrected.

Trying to circumvent the system is not on. I trust the system to be strong and solid enough to withstand the intelligence of Jethmalini, eventually. Assuming anything else or assuming oneself to be the sole upholder of justice is going back to the vigilante system of justice and at best, benevolent dictatorship. At some point in time, these channels' value to this case will cease to a point of zero utility. In my own mind, I believe the media is losing out on a supporter. Hearing about the acquittal in February, I wrote the following:

http://hey-rambam-ling.blogspot.com/2006/02/gods-own-country.html

Now I'm writing about the law of diminishing returns. Soon, the Media would be doing more damage to the case than help. It would be that of vanished returns.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ghosts !

“Hahahaha” – his close friend had bellowed in laughter – all of the others in the group had joined in.

He had told his friend that he had seen a ghost. The word had gotten around and he was the object of derision amongst his friends and butt of jokes.

“What were you smoking?”
“Were you drunk?”
“That is why you should not fall asleep in middle of your work”
“Does he haunt you while you sleep?”
“I’m sure", sarcastically said another, "its legs were ... …”

So went all the ridicule and laughter. That was several moons ago. Today he had seen “IT” again. He had immediately called out his friends, who silently climbed up far-away trees to look for the demon that he had sworn to have seen. In spite of the disbelief, they just wanted to be sure that they were away from the demon, just in case. Sure, they were scared of the demons that they had heard about only in the stories.

He and his close friend hid behind a tree and set their sights on the solid oak tree that stood at the entrance to their gated community.

He suddenly was aware of rustle of leaves as his friends from atop the trees were fleeing. He heard his friend gasp ! His friend had held on to his hand and was pointing towards their object of attention, that seemed to have a bottle in its hand and weaving in towards them. That’s the last thing he could bear to see. In abject fear, he and his friend fled.

“Look !!! Just like in the stories – look at its feet. Its much unlike us – they are actually touching the ground…”,

he heard his friend say, as they flew back under the stones, where the skeletons lay.

Friday, October 27, 2006

One short!

before random thoughts run out, here i go - slip in a slog and sweeping points:
  1. Who else thinks that this champion trophy is more absorbing than any other set of ODi(ou)s before ? For a change, the batsmen are struggling to make runs. The chasing team has less than 200 to make and we aren't sure if they would. Makes me watch the match on the tube, even if 11 out of the billion blue isn't on the field.
  2. If the pitches of this champion trophy is a pre-cursor to what is to come in the WC, good. I hear the pitches in Windies are slow and will aid the bowlers - good, very good.
  3. Who else is shedding copious, patriotic tears when SRK (for a fat fee, ofcourse) yearns for India and Blah !! Seems he has carried his histrionic hangover from the "K*!^@%#" series right into this. With Mandira and SRK, sharing adjacent frames, I wonder if KaranJ has an idea for the next blackbuster. I'm going, wth - This isn't even "Indian" team, its the team from "BCCI"
  4. One learning for me. Never go for a health-check just before Deepavali. The numbers from the check-up just dont add up to the tempatations of the taste-bud that emerges around this time. Now I've a resolution that I'll start behaving after all the sweets get over! A combination of cricket matches, sitting in front of TV, with a knowledge that there is a cache of loaded triglycerides at your hand's reach is not good. Not good at all. Writing these, I resolve harder - about getting by tongue to behave.
  5. Heard Chappel's dressing down of the team; reminded of what I heard from my dad, when I was in the 8th standard. The team's performance dramatically improved against WI after that. India actually managed to cross 200.
  6. Dravid ran himself out yet again. Whats with him - someone with such a cool thinking head, with sound brain and temperament, cant judge a run ?! Btw, did anyone else see Dravid's face while Agarkar bowled his standard a-wide-per-over overs at the death?
  7. Chappel seems to have uncorked a genie that he is now finding it difficult to get it to go back in the bottle ("Symmo, no not you"). Seems to have compounded by loss of form by the Indian batsmen - all at once. Its bit painful to see at the same time, they have been hit by bereft-of-ideas disease; and sticking to 'we are one game away in rediscovering form'
  8. I wish the motor-mouth Charu Sharma (a poor poor Harsha Bogle wannabe) and Mandira Bedi actually shut up and let Ian Chappel, Geoff Boycott and other experts speak. The comical and farcical aspect of the show get exacerbated with Sidhu's comments. Actually, in a morbid way, I listen to Sidhu with resigned fascination - you never know what he will come up with; its like I cannot make an omelette without breaking an egg.
  9. Finally, not sure if any one's noticed - the ad breaks are much bearable. We dont go to an adbreak as soon as the batsman plays the last ball of an over and comeback, when we see the batsman follow-through after playing the first ball of the next over, with 7 ads packed in between - That technique is patented by DD, I guess
Whats with a list of 10 points to talk about - why is it top 10? Who is the one who talked about human beings, mediocrity and top-10?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Life - Could be short, could be fun !

I got a rude rude shock this weekend. Shock of magnitude, as its said metaphorically, as if one is hit with several bolts of lightning. Around 6AM Saturday morning; I was asleep, but slowly waking up and in the kind of not very conscious mode. I got a call from someone I know – it was my friend’s (lets call him X) mom – I also know his mom fairly well. I knew that his dad was not keeping well and he has had severe problems. As soon as I heard X’s mom talking to me, I thought it was about X’s dad. As his mom was talking to me, I almost missed it the first time; nn the 2nd parse, I heard it correctly - it was not X’s dad, but it was X itself.

This X, a friend of mine for nearly 15years, who barely crossed 40, had a heart attack.

Apparently, the previous night at 7PM he had suffered a major heart attack; fortunately, his (doctor) mom told me that he had suffered it in the right ventricular part of the heart, where his artery was 90% blocked. His mother said if the attack was on the left side, it would have been much much serious, almost a goner. Fortunately, he was taken to the hospital on time, got the right medical attention and had an angioplasty done, sticking in a stent through him and removed the block. He is well.

A bit of background about him. He is a guy who is quite funny – he is a repository of jokes, funny stories about himself and people around him, anecdotes and past incidents. I suspect that some of the stories are imaginary. Since I’ve known him for many years, I’ve heard him repeat stories, with a different (real) personalities involved with different locales and settings – replete with inconsistencies with his previous version. When, I once pointed this out to him, he countered – whether I want to laugh or want to dwell in detail. I got the point. In a party or a crowd, one can easily locate him; just look for a largest group, where the most noise comes from and where the loudest laughter comes from – he probably would be in the center of the group, telling one of his story (albeit with a different person, I bet); due to this prowess, he once was named the "Goran" (the jungle story teller in the Phantom comics).

Such is this guy. This morning when I talked to his mom, she told me that he is fine and will be out of CCU and into general ward. Doctors have given him a schedule that he needs to maintain – it includes exercise (which he does not do), diet (which he does not care) and quit smoking (that he does not even try). His mom also told me that its better that we do not call him or visit him, since she wanted him to take rest and not talk much (which is kind of tough for him). I had heeded to her and refrained from either seeing him or talking to him.

Today, as I was returning from work, I had heard a familiar ring tone – from the movie Pulp Fiction, Misirlou - it was X. I had assumed that it was his brother using his phone; as I picked up the phone, I heard his booming voice on the other side… With that typical laughter, he set out to explain what happened between 7PM and 10Pm that day; including the masala’esque details and how he found the whole thing funny – ‘at 7PM, I was this close to death, but fully conscious, with a weight of 5000 kilos on my chest and by 10PM, I’m done – back to normal… My heart had stopped, they used the iron thing ... … Since I knew the Cardiologist, I asked him where did they pull you out from?...”

The Goran is back - with a great new plot for his future stories, all woven around his heart-attack and heart-arrest; I'm sure retold a several times over; and I'm very sure with a discerning but very interesting differences.

Back to normal, all is well. Life could be fun!!!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Dark Sides of the Moon

Dark Side

I had many a simple dream…
...to feel the grass beneath my feet,
And for my dad to lead me across the street
I'd have taken root, me in his finger-hold
Root enough, someday I'd climb a hill
I was looking for warmth in mothers fold
Clinging to her, time I bide,
To end up as a count++ in female foeticide.

The Other side

I too, had many a dream…
But now, to live my life, I walk an uphill mile
I brave upstream to get to a smile
Living on with the half that makes hell mild,
I’m not as fortunate as you were, my child.
I live on, and on and on -
A count++ of suffering woman.
_____________________________________________________

ps: http://www.indiafemalefoeticide.org/
pps: saw an advert that triggered this

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Christensen’s Disruptors

There is a theory postulated by Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School professor, that there could be a few products or systems that create entirely new markets, new demands and displace established providers. His view was that in a current market there is only a certain “performance” increment that customer from a certain tier, would demand from their suppliers and providers; however, his theory is that there are innovators in the ‘supplier’ companies who would bring in higher performant technology that outstrips the ability of customers in those tiers of the market to absorb it. This implies that these large companies/providers are pushed towards serving the higher tier of the market that needs such performance; and thus these companies are pushed to create a niche for themselves. As the larger companies move towards the higher tiers of the market, it creates opportunities for smaller and more agile companies to enter the lower tier of the market with ‘disruptive technologies’ that lends to simpler, easier and a "fit" (and perhaps cheaper) product, which may not be highly performant as the ‘niche’ above. His theory also states was that the bigger companies are so absorbed with focused innovations addressed to their most sophisticated and profitable customers in the higher tiers, that they miss the disruptive innovations. When such companies with disruptive technologies intersect with the appropriate vehicle (such as internet) can create a disruptive business model and can blind-side most of the established companies. Christensen believes that disruptors have caused many established companies fail and go south.

[Above pic from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disruptive_technology]

Well, what has this got to do with my blog ? I always thought that there are few things that would stop me from blogging – one, that I’m so busy that I do not find time to do anything else (“yeah right”, you go). Second, I finally decide to settle down in a place where there is no internet (‘wake up Rip van Winkle, its 21st century”, you say). Third, my creative juices (“stop smirking”, I say) dry up and I just blocked from writing (“most likely”, you concur).

That’s what I thought too. But then, I got blindsided by this technology that has disrupted me. The technology of computers, displays and keyboards – most here being the keyboard – I seem to have RSI (or CRI) that seems to have aggravated by a tendon tear on my left shoulder – so the doc thinks. I was adviced to adopt right posture, ergonomics and type less – I believe he left out the “and think more” part.
______________________________________________________

Ps: The weave between Clayton Christensen theory and this blog may be pretty thin. But what the heck, I liked the theory and wanted to introduce it in the blog ! :-)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Quo Vadis ?

This where I am (other than being here), this September…

I am reading:

  • Open Secrets – India’s Intelligence unveiled by Maloy Krishna Dhar
  • Shotokan's secret – The hidden truth behind Karate's fighting origin by Dr.Bruce Clayton
  • Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight by Sharon Heller

I am listening to:

  • My wife, as always…
  • Byrds, Kadri Gopalnath on the CD Changer (Turn, Turn, Turn – both lyrically and musically is just a great song)
  • Old Tamil Songs, PF, Eagles, S&G in my car
  • Bruce S, Enigma etc on the PC (if I ever get around to sit at my desk)

I am amused by:

  • People who are amused that Lalu has been invited to IIM, having pigeon-hole’d him
  • This picture joke that someone sent me
  • How we argue D/L method is a useless one when India loses one on that

I am amazed by (or I'm humbled by):

  • The creativity in the blog-land
  • The complexity of creating a new business

I am frustrated by:

  • Being part of Bangalore’s traffic problem – I’m going with the flow (eh ?)
  • Having to temporarily suspend Karate due to injury and having to opt for poor substitute (running)
  • The complexity of creating a new business

I am intrigued by and drawn to:

  • The mysticism of oriental martial arts
  • The economic opportunity in India
  • The complexity of creating a new business

I am impressed by:

  • New breed of Tamil directors who experiment themes that aren’t black and white and dwelve in wide spectrum of grey (saw பட்டியல், திருட்டு பையலே, தலைநகரம் recently)
  • Vijay’s comic timing in கில்லி (reminded me of Rajni in தம்பிக்கு எந்த ஊரு)

I am still impressed by (continue to be):

  • Dravid’s Technique and his level-headed approach
  • Watching US Open and
  • Wimbledon, Federer’s brilliance, even when he is struggling (make that quadruple-y impressed)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Decade-End..

Anyone here know north east corner of Harmony and College ?
Anyone here know about such a corner in Fort Collins ?
Anyone here know what/where is Fort Collins ?

Fort Collins is a sleepy old university town about 80miles north of Denver, at the foothills of the Rockies. With a total population of people equivalent to what you can find in Commercial street in Bangalore during festival times.

The monument (in the picture alongside), that exists in the north east corner of the Harmony and College road in Fort Collins has significant historical importance. If not for the whole world, it does definitely for me. For everyone else, its a gast station, for me its something more...

Flashback:

This was one of the typical new year resolutions that one vows at the start of every new year and by Pongal the resolution goes 'govinda, goinda'. I had unerringly taken this resolution every year. At one time, I had even made it upto தமிழ் new years day. It was a cycle that was repeated nicely and I was in a groove (or rut - but then, thats a point of view). Then, in a flash of brilliance, a colleague of mine and I decided to have that resolve starting that very next week. He did get through, but I followed my usual resolution pattern and broke it within the first 5 days itself.

Then I had to travel to Fort Collins on work. My supply from India lasted the whole week nicely. On that fateful "good" friday my supplies eventually ran out. On way back from work, to replenish it, I had stopped at this monument.

Then at the spur of the moment, I stepped out without buying that pack of Marlboro; I had walked out of that gas station. I had quit smoking. It was 6th Sept 1996.

Flashnow:

I am in Fort Collins. Today as I drove with another colleague of mine through that spot, I had pointed that out to him. Then I realized it was Sept 6th, exactly 10 years after.

I recall somone who had asked me what my achievement was (please note the singular inference in their question); Ignoring their hints, I tell them its two of them. One, that I quit smoking. Two..., well its covered elsewhere in the blog as "Black Thursday".

Perhaps, five years from now, I'd still be writing - blogs or otherwise; if that happens, that would be the third; or even learn to play a musical instrument !!

Enough for a lifetime, I guess...
____________________________________________________

ps: For another day, i'll probably write on test of temptations during the first two weeks, after quitting...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Vanavasam...

Whatever, I can never become that, even if I aspire to:

I cannot have the patience of the oak tree, that is shown when tackling adversity...
I cant be so devoted to someone with zeal that pales passion into looking ordinary...
I cant be so strong on something thats as significant as life, at the same time so fragile with something thats so unimportantly insignificant...
I cant imagine that I give up some material joys, so that someone else can lead a better life...
There are many things that I cant be. But you are...

I'm sure when the apple-of-your-eyes grows up, he would (be able to) look back in awe for what you have done for him. For us.

Happy Anniversary!!! Heres to Banishing you to another spell of 'வநவாசம்' !!!

[No comments :) ]

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Mist

She walked briskly. At that hour, the pathway alongside the lake hadn't begun to fill with the early morning walkers. She searched the faces. Would he be there?

Last night at the art show, he had said, "Ever since I moved to Bangalore, I go to the Ulsoor lake to jog every morning. Half an hour and I am ready for what the rest of the day brings."

His smile had crinkled his face and she has ached to touch the corner of his lip.

She paused for a moment and stared at the islands that dotted the lake. When she was growing up, she had always wanted to spend a day there by herself.

What am I doing here? She asked herself. I barely know him.

She stepped out onto the road and began walking home. At the corner, a car slowed down. The tinted windows slid slowly down. Shalini peered into the car, through the early morning veil of mist, beyond the sliding windows – it wasn’t Dev; it was a middle-age gent peering at her; Shalini quickly turned her head away, hid her disappointment.

It was a cool early October morning with a very light drizzle – she drew the parka over her head and thought again, ‘what am I doing here, I hardly know him – this is really pathetic and stupid ! I’m 29 and I’m falling head over heels…’, she smiled wryly and muttered aloud, ‘…all over again’.

She had earlier met Dev briefly at the art school where she taught – he was a businessman, appeared to be in early 30s with a keen eye and interest for paintings. About a month ago she had bumped into him at an art gallery. She had talked to Dev for about 30 minutes – she found him to be interesting, engaging and very thoughtful; she didn’t think he was handsome, but he had a certain charm about him – Shalini attributed that to the kindness his eyes had exuded. Then last night she had met him in the art show; and at the after-show dinner, he was at her table. The discussion meandered around various topics – food, health, tea and some on the art fraternity. Shalini had decided then that she would accidentally bump him to him at the Ulsoor lake. She had come in around 6.30AM this morning, realized the futility of bumping into Dev around the vastness of space around the lake, listlessly done some work-out and was now returning home disappointed.

As she walked back, her mind drifted to her past – losing her mother early, growing up with her father and her disappointments. Sometimes, Shalini wished that her father had remarried, so that she would have had a women’s influence in her life. Shalini was a very gawky kid growing up, physically much uncoordinated. When she was in school, she ached to belong to a clique, but was always in the fringes. Her father tried to help, but it was only so much she could talk to him. As she grew, she appeared to become more gauche. All her lack of grace seemed to even out by her natural talent and flair for painting and art. She produced art that epitomized elegance and allure. At college, she found herself getting interested with one of her college mates and slowly falling in love with him. She soon found out that falling for someone has to be two-way; and for her it usually ended up as a one-way street. It seemed that because of her inherent niceness, lot of people loved her for she was, but never did one fall in love with her. Lonelier after her father’s death, Shalini also ended up writing a lot of poetry and notes that were locked away in her diary. She had so much love to give and the lack of reciprocity left a dull aching in her all time. Ever a romantic, it did not deter from hope that she would find the right man. The right man was always around the next corner.

Shalini was jolted back to the present by a barking dog. She still found poor visibility ahead of her due to the cool fog. The mist cover reminder her of her own life. It wasn’t very clear what the future held for her. She wondered…

Beyond this mist,
Would there be a tryst?
Not with a pot of gold,
Just his hand to hold.

“That was crap”, she told herself; If only she were a bit more elegant, if only she was less clumsy, if only she were to carry herself better, if only she wasn’t the Jassi… Life, it seemed to her, were full of precluded possibilities! Somehow time had stopped still for her and she remained an ugly duckling ! “Clichéd !!”, she muttered out aloud, and added, “I should stop talking to myself aloud” and broke into a smile at the paradox.

Shalini turned into the St.John’s road and was close to her apartment block. At the entrance to her apartment, she found her way blocked by someone. She looked up

“Hello, Good morning – I was in the vicinity I thought I’d drop by and give you the book”

It was Dev in his track-suit, holding a book on contemporary Indian art, with that smile.

[From here-on, I've two possible closures - tell me which one you'd like to see]

______________________ [Ending 1] ________________________

“To be honest, that was just an excuse, I was hoping to see you and perhaps have that special tea you were talking over dinner last night”, Dev continued with mischief in his eyes and the crinkle in the corner of his mouth.

Shalini managed to say, “oh sure, do come in”.

As she looked up, she also saw that the bright sun was beginning to break through and the fog was clearing.

______________________ [Ending 2] _________________________

“To be honest, that was just an excuse, I was hoping to see you and perhaps have that special tea you were talking over dinner last night”, Dev continued with mischief in his eyes and the crinkle in the corner of his mouth.

Shalini managed to say, “oh sure, do come in”.

"One sec", Dev said and turned around to wave towards a car parked a few yards away. He continued, "I want to you to meet my fiancee..."

As Shalini looked through the veil at the car, she just could make out the person's contours - it was blurred. She could not decide, if it was due to the mist that suddenly seemed denser or her tears.

_______________________________________________________

Monday, August 21, 2006

Past Imperfect, Present Tense.

As I was flipping through the channel on late Sunday night (the 20th Aug 2006), I caught a set of surprised TV commentators who were talking about history about to be made.. I got a call from a colleague asking me if I was watching the idiot-box – I sure was, with morbid fascination of what was about to unfold at the Brits Oval ground in England. It was the 4th test between Pakistan and EnglandPakistan having gained a huge first innings lead, were in driver seat, with the last of English recognized batting pair at the wicket. One more wicket they’d have breached and England were still 30-odd runs in deficit. Tea was taken and Pakistan refused to take the field after the tea-time.

The trigger being, earlier the umpires – there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was Darrel Hair, who was driving the agenda – had called for a ball replacement; the fielding captain, Inzi was given no explanation as to why the ball was being changed; after the change Hair awarded five penalty runs to the batting side – which clearly implied that he was docking Pakistanis for ball tampering. I caught another TV snippet yesterday that had Hair following the bowler walk-back to the top of his run very intently – he obviously was very convinced that the Pakistanis were tampering with the ball. The problem however is this – in the age of legal challenges and the need for substantive proof rather than circumstantial evidence, the 26 cameras on field had not caught a single Pakistani fielder or bowler scratching the ball; the fact that the ball was 55 overs old and it had some natural wear and tear and the fact that it has been hit onto the stands by hard hitting Pietersen could have resulted in the scruffing that Hair was indicating to the other umpire Billy Doctrove (an inept umpire if I may add).

Pakistanis felt naturally aggrieved and wanted to stage a protest. After a confusing period of events that gets stated in a different chronological order depending on whose side one is on, the umpires had called of the match and awarded the test match to England, since according to them, Pakistan had forfeited the match as they failed to turn up after tea. This was the first forfeiture in the history of cricket.

After all the froth and fury on either side, let us take a look at the past record of both parties. Hair’s run-in with the teams from the sub-continent and his apparent policing of sub-continent teams more sternly; and that of Pakistan’s record in the ball-tampering saga (event details, thanks to Cricinfo).

First, Mr. Hair:

Australia v Sri Lanka, December 1995: Hair called Muttiah Muralitharan for an illegal action seven times during the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne. Murali was brought on from the other end but was not called by Steve Dunne. At the tea interval on the second day, Hair told the Sri Lankans that he was prepared to call Murali from the striker's end [which implies that Hair had already made up his mind that Murali throws]

November 1998: In his autobiography, Decision Maker, Hair noted that Murali's action was 'diabolical' .

New Zealand v Pakistan, January 2004: Hair and fellow umpire Billy Bowden reported Shabbir Ahmed, the Pakistan fast bowler, for a suspect bowling action.

England v Pakistan, August 2006: The match in discussion.

Now to the Pakistan team:

The English tour of 1991 (?) – When Wasim, Waqar and Aquib Javed were suspected of ball tampering, because they could get the ball to reverse swing prodigiously throughout the tour. Pakistani’s had attributed to the heavy overcast weather through the tour and to their ability.

Waqar Younis Pakistan v South Africa, Singer Cup, 2000: Received a one ODI ban and was fined 50% of his match fee. Azhar Mahmood was fined 30% of his match fee for "abetting'' Waqar in the same match. Moin Khan, the Pakistan captain, was also severely reprimanded.

Six Pakistan players fined for ball tampering Ramadan Cup, 2002: Naved Latif, Qaiser Abbas, Yasir Arafat, Sajid Shah, Zahid Saeed and Rao Iftikhar Anjum were found guilty of ball tampering during the Ramadan Cup domestic one-day cricket tournament in Pakistan.

Shoaib Akhtar New Zealand v Pakistan, Dambulla, 2003: Fined 75% of his match fee and banned for two one-day internationals for ball-tampering after television footage showed him scratching the surface of the ball during Pakistan's 22-run victory, over New Zealand, in the Bank Alfalah Cup.

Another theory is that the umpires started to watch closely after Alistair Cook was out LBW to Umar Gul after a reverse-swinging yorker got him plumb in from of the stumps. Strangely, when Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff, used reverse swing so well in the 2005 Ashes series to defeat the all conquering Australians, there was no talk about ball tampering.

On the other hand, Pakistanis had not pulled out matches when both Waqar and Shoaib were fined; which does imply there is some substance to why they feel aggrieved this time.

To me this looks like a case of judging by past events. Cricketing-wise, I’ve seen Hair make some perfect decisions including on LBWs. I believe he is one of the competent umpires on decision making. I also believe that Pakistan cricket is getting its act together under Inzi and Woolmer and are converting their talent into results. This is the case of prejudices and biases on both sides that has clouded either of their judgments; and hence perhaps pushed truth to the background. It was a good fodder to all the TV channel, newspapers and people like me, who watched this with ghoulish interest as cricket degenerated. Sad, since test matches were again getting interesting moving away from the boring 5 day draws in the 80s and early 90s.

The next few days would be interesting – ICC would make its usual inane statements that have no relation to the reality of where the actual sponsors are. The boards will get arrayed on either side – one group with ICC and the other with PCB – hectic parleys would go on behind doors (perhaps such skill can actually be put to use to bring about World peace, I’d think); Both sides will talk at each other without trying to understand the cultural undertones of certain behaviours. We will all be left to wonder if the international cricket is headed towards Splitsville. As is wont these days, anything cricket is just not cricket; it has become anything but the actual game.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Pall at Mall

[This story was published by Deccan Herald on 31/Dec/2006. The link is here (or):
http://archive.deccanherald.com/Deccanherald/Dec312006/artic1924120061230.asp]

I looked at my watch again. She had said 9.45. She was late. I looked around me. The mall wore a strange forlorn look. A cleaning woman mopped the floor. Her mouth drooped and her eyes stared at the floor as her hands moved pushing the mop this way and that.

What did she think of all that she saw here? I wondered. The abundance. The greed. Hungry mouths. Grasping hands… I shuddered. Malls frightened me.

"Are you out of your mind?" I had said when she suggested we meet at Garuda Mall.

"At that hour, you don't have to worry about the crowds," she had said with a laugh. "Think of it as a social experiment. A mall at an unmall-like hour. What happens there? Bring your notebook. You can make notes…"

I had smiled into the phone. Divya could be funny, and persuasive. Garuda mall was too much in the heart of the city and I had wanted to avoid driving in the Friday night traffic. So I had proposed a newer mall that had come up at the outskirts, still incomplete, but occupied enough with shops to loiter around; or help conduct ‘social experiments’ that Divya had suggested. She had agreed.

Here I was, waiting for Divya to turn up, biting into one of the small chocolate bars I had bought to satiate hunger and boredom – I had bought a couple for Divya as she loved those; As I was killing time going up and down the floors, shopping at windows that were downing their shutters, avoiding weird look from the shop keepers, I noticed something beyond the cleaning women. In one of the dimly lighted corners that had an offset into the toilet areas that was still incomplete.

There was this girl, about 10, wearing clothes that was neat, but clearly old and frayed at the corners. She was feeding the boy of, perhaps just over 2 years old. The way she ran up to the cleaning women, talked to her, it was obvious that the woman was her mother; with the mother busy, the girl had taken up the role of mothering her brother. Alongside the construction materials, there were a stack of papers, from which she picked one to clean-up her brother after the feed.

I settled down at the one of the ornate benches, and watched. As the women came closer to the seating area to clean-up, I lifted my legs up to help her swab the floor; she looked up to me in thanks and I smiled at her. She returned the smile reluctantly; her son came running up to her playing catch and run with her sister; the woman with a resigned admiration, like any other mother, let the kid climb over her and push her. I took one chocolate bar that I had and held it out for the kid – the kid looked to his mother for approval and tentatively took it – and then ran with unadulterated joy, screaming out his sister’s name.

I started making small talk with the cleaning women. In any case I was killing time, waiting for Divya to show up. In a few minutes, I heard the oft-said story about a poor woman in India – Santhamma’s husband was a drunkard and had left her only to return to beat her up for money. She takes care of her children; her daughter goes to school sporadically; but of late with her brother in the family the living was taking its toll. The daughter had started doing odd jobs and graduating to regular jobs. Santhamma was repentant that her daughter could not go to school, but she had no way out. Her daughter earned some money that helped feed the family and very basic needs and help retain their dignity; there was no help from any other quarters.

Santhamma moved on and yet no sign of Divya; I sighed and called her on the mobile and it was not reachable. “Damn Networks”, I muttered. I looked at my watch, it was 10.45 and the mall-security in his beat gave me the strange looks; there were just couple of shops still open.

I saw the girl do a ruck-sack kind of carrier around her back and she lifted it to her back along with her brother. She gave the sheaf of paper to her brother who playfully handed one to her, as she walked to every shop and slipped one under the door. It looked like some ‘notice’. I saw Divya walking in with a smile. I waved to her and motioned her to wait a while; as the girl moved closer to the shop behind me, curious, I reached out for the notice and took one to read it.

As I read it, I was stuck the incongruity of it; I could feel my anger rising – I was getting incensed. Then the futility hit me; and I laughed out loud, at the irony of it all. The girl, puzzled, went about her work that would help put food on the floor for the family.

Divya took the notice from my hand and read it aloud,

“Whomsoever it blah, blah… … Government of India blah, blah, …, ban any children under the age of 14 employed blah. You hereby have time till 30th of September 2006 to comply with this order… blah”.

I walked up to the girl, gave her the remaining chocolate bar. Her eyes lit up. I quickly averted her eyes, took Divya’s hand and walked out of the mall. I’ve had my social experiment for the day, perhaps for a long time to come. As a 52 year old mother, holding my daughters hand, I had trouble deciding if the Government decision was right or wrong for someone else’s daughter.

_________________________________________________________________

Author’s Note: I wrote this story for http://www.refreshbangalore.com. The starting lines of the story were already published as a part of “kathe Korner”; that story needs to complete those lines. Those lines are the ones in italics.
The winning Story is at: http://www.refreshbangalore.com/shortwinner.asp

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Deconstructing Shylock!

He wasn't aware,
Nor did he care
For that lilt from a bamboo
Those colors of a rainbow
That caress from the breeze
The quiet rustle of the leaves
That sounds of a mynah
The sweet smell of the flora
The world could dress itself in all glory,
Shylock would see dreary!
He would just walk away
from those that dont pay.
The colours he could ever see,
was that of money!!!

He knew he had a disdain,
Looking at the weak and pain,
That was until today;
Facing that child's stare.
Nor was he aware,
That something so forlorn
could breach his scorn,
That something so tall
could be in that heart that small,
holding him in thrall.
So much love, so much fear
in those eyes with a tear
Looking up in innocence
seeking his acceptance;
Apprehensive and yet bold,
wrapping fingers, in a unsure hold,
His cold apathy begins to sink.
The orphans eyes blink
and the tear drops falls -
The stone resolve stalls;
The moist's first diffident signs
Appears in Shylock's soul's confines.