Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Lesson From Dravid's Lesson

[I hate to be proselytizing on the blog; but I'll use my bronze bullet for this exception :)]

Dravid, as we all know is perhaps the most technically accomplished batsman in the world cricket today; one amongst the best ever and perhaps the best in contemporary. However, some three years ago, he was struggling as an One-day bat; apparently he went and talked to Bobby Simpson and asked for help. When Simpson asked him to talk about his mindset, Dravid talked about how mentally he prepares himself before every inning, taking in the cricketing environment, ground conditions, pitch conditions, wind conditions, brightness so and so forth. Impeccable preparation - no one can fault those. A standing example of how perfection and excellence could be achieved by practice and devotion to what one is doing. Since Dravid was not a big hitter, he needed to rotate the strike and run singles and twos; In spite of his technical brilliance (and poetry if I may add), Dravid wasn't able to articulate why he cant be successful at OD cricket. In the course of discussion, Dravid also explained to Simpson that he had the mental map of the environment and had the unaagi/awareness of what was around him; his peripheral vision was strong. Then came the root of Dravid's travails. He told Simpson that he exactly knew where the fielders are even while concentrating on the ball being bowled and still could not get the ball past them.

Simpson asked Dravid to make a slight adjustment. He asked him to redraw his mental map with the gaps between the fielders highlighted rather than the fielders themselves. Dravid did just that. The result is obvious. For someone who had a strike rate in early 60s those days, has now a healthy career strike rate of 70; this would mean since changing his mental map, his strike rate would be around 80+, which would be with the best amongst best, considering he is averaging 40+ in One day format...

There was a lesson in there for me here... Am I focusing on the constraints or on the opportunities. I believe (and have personal experiences) that when I start focusing on the gaps, invariably the things I've set out to change have changed. Opportunities appeared to me. When I saw the fielders, I got stuck by the constraints and invariably ended up frustrated...

In the end, maybe we should look at constraints as what they are - to do a job they are put in the world to do :), but no more. If we could have a refractible vision around them, may be there are opportunities and miracles waiting for us there - It may be worthwhile to discover, to know those; That to know that what we do can touch people, change things, in ways that we do not know or we can ever imagine…!!!

Ps: Maybe this is an apocryphal story; but that’s missing the woods for the trees :)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Of Root Canal and Cavemen

I’m on almost 180’ recliner and I don’t feel any bit comfortable.

In the past month or so, I have been having pain in my teeth. I could feel a crater had formed in the last molar on the bottom jaw and that had slowly started causing pain. The pain has not been acute, but it was always there to the extent it had become an irritant and kept gnawing. For the first time in my life, I had visited the dentist and she had said that my tooth is as good as gone and the decay has set in to the root and touched the nerve and hence I need the root canal treatment.

Hence, I’m here today reclined most uncomfortably in the dentist with a masked and gloved dental surgeon sternly poring over me, with the spotlight blinding me. In front of me was an assortment of needles, hooks, scalpel, injectors – it looked surreally part and I felt I was the recipient of an inquisition. First she ordered my mouth wide open, studied the situation with a grave disposition and then she set out to work; and did she set out to work… For the next 30 minutes, it was a combination of filing, drilling, gnawing, excavating and all that. Just a bit of digression: apparently every tooth has two nerves in them and they go to the root of the mouth. They are quite sensitive. She was successful in excavating one of the nerves; the other one seemed to hold its nerve against the invasion, which is not good news for me. Every time it was touch by the instruments, there used to be this pain – it is not searing and it is not big – but a pain that encompasses the whole jaw, more like an wholesome pain. For me, during the process, the anticipation of pain rather than the actual pain itself was more painful. She seemed to have the process set-up: drill, excavate, file and return to process – I joked with her, amidst pain, that if she drilled any further, she might even strike oil. I’m sure she enjoyed the joke behind the mask!! This went on for about 40 minutes, during which she realized that local anesthesia might actually be helpful and administered it.

Now, I’m still on the recliner and she picks up the drill one more time – I saw apparitions of Dr.Torturer in “True Lies” and I fantasized that I was Arnold Schwarzenegger. At that point in time, she had broken me completely – I was ready to confess to things that no one knew about me; Heck, I was even willing to concede that I was the second gunmen in the grassy knoll on Nov 22nd 1963. It is in such a state of mind that she had brought me into, when she declared that we were done. I had no idea about that, anyways; Firstly, after the 45 minute drill, I was ready to believe whatever she had said and two I didn’t feel a thing or the pain, since the anesthesia had taken hold of my right side of the face.

As I exit the clinic, I wonder what would have our predecessors and forefathers have done in such a predicament – I’m talking about the cavemen. I picture that scene in my mind: A cavemen in pain with a tooth that needs a root-canal treatment. He goes out to men-only community gathering (called a stag party these days) party around the fire. Downs a lot of liquor (general anesthesia); gets into a scrap with the right person (designated dentist), gets socked across the jaw, loses couple of tooth (general extraction of painful tooth and a couple of others, that could have possibly caused a problem in the future) and finally gets clubbed over his head and loses consciousness (post-operative tranquilization). And when he wakes up in the morning, he probably has a hangover and has no recollection of the root canal treatment.

Let us see the argument on both sides here. On one side, we have the scientific method of filing, drilling, extracting, and so on and so forth. Ranged on the other side are liquor, scrap, stupor… Hmmm, let us see which the preferred option is…

I believe this is a true true example of where civilization sucks!!!

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Myth

Authors Note: (no, this is not about Mallika Sherawat)

It has been a good morning thus far – in fact, I can go to the extremes and declare that it has been a great and wonderful morning. I had woken up early and was out of the house at around 6.30AM. I had covered a good distance by speed-walk carrying some weights on a rucksack; after that had run for about 2kms and then closed it out with some real streeetchhhhhheeeeeeeeessss and stomach crrrrunches. As I checked out the results of my hard work, the stranger in the mirror was seriously beginning to look alien – looked fit, a flat stomach (with a little bit of desperate help of Mr. Tummy Tuck) and what looked like lean countenance. An irrelevant thought occurs to me: isn’t it odd that when you admire the fruits of exercise and labor in the mirror, one tends to miss the additional fat and additional chin in the face?

At work, the team had met a milestone and we decided to go out for a celebratory lunch. A few of us are at lunch in a decent restaurant; it was a buffet. In hindsight, I can trace the downfall to that. I am ok through the main-course: I am very conscious enough, just to eat a bit of roti and a bit of that buttery-tasty-rich paneer stuff. Then the disaster strikes as I move on to the dessert area. My will deserts me. The bits have become big bites, in fact long long bites. Seemingly, the amount of resistance one could have in yielding to temptation is indirectly proportional to the triglycerides that traverse through one’s blood stream and lurks for that ultimate coup-d’etat. I indulge in guilty pleasure – dive into that nice ice-cream with nuts and the hot gulab-jamun. Wow, a spoon of cold ice-cream and hot-jamuns is heaven!!!

Oh, by the way, now I know for a fact that under-wear-ad-guy-with-sculpted-abs and a washboard stomach is just a myth. What is certain in life are three – death, taxes and a tummy. Particularly for us special breed of men, who are in the wrong side of thirties; and in the 30+ zone. Yes, at 30+ 12 years, it is.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Musafir hoon Yaaron… Na Tikana…

Have you ever felt, in your life that you are running harder and faster just to stay in the same place; and sometimes even if we manage to outsmart the events and tread-mill and make forward progress, you get besieged by doubt if you are directionally correct and true-north? What if you (or the unit of the organization) are on a path that is untrodden and never been done before; and you are discovering the path as you go on it? And to the rest, you just appear to be aimless peregrine and worse, sometimes to yourself. You have a goal in mind – a generic goal, but at the point in time you embark on the journey you do not have the shape, size, color of the goal – it wasn’t something that can be touched and felt; and you did not have the enough capability or skill even to envisage what that final goal or destination would look like? How do you know that even if we get to the end of the rainbow and start digging for the pot of gold, there isn’t a note from Murphy that the pot is on the other end?

That’s the conundrum that we started with. We did not really know where exactly we were going, although metaphorically it came to be known as Tirupathi; just because the leader of our pack had a new car and went to this temple-town the previous day we met talking about where we needed to go. The vision looked great, appealing, mesmerizing and intoxicating. Its like taking the whole ship traversing south (pun intended) and to known destination with all the known resources needed to take it there and having those resources in abundance; and trying to steer it North; just because a group of people (or one) had (seemingly stupid at that time) illusory visions that South isn’t good enough. It was tough, tough, tough and if you can imagine, tougher than tough. The big problem with such a vision is when you are doing something that is out of sync with rest of the eco-system and mental make-up of this eco-system, the journey also involves changing this eco-system, atleast at touch points that impact you; so, now through the journey you have an heavier baggage to carry; In our own context, not only we needed to keep moving in a direction that we thought was correct, we needed to continuously slow-down, retreat and bring (and sometimes carry) more into going directionally north. We were in a grueling cross-country marathon, but were under-prepared and under-equipped; and as fit as an obese couch-potato. Yes, the vision looked great, appealing, mesmerizing and intoxicating and all that; but it was also bloody all-consuming and pervading – both physically and emotionally and both professionally and personally.

Some three years later, now we seem to have arrived – with the conviction in the vision as our compass; The past month, pieces have been falling quietly; I know we have arrived at the suburbs, I can see contours of buildings, semblance of order; I’ve further tangibility on what our goal is; I can clearly see the color of the goal (its not red, gold and green, simple black and white with shades of grey J…) I understand and internalize the enormity of the size, and I can see the fuzzy shape morphing into something definite. I believe those are distinct colors and definite contours are that of our vision, our dreams. I look back at the path we have come, it no longer seems strewn with thorny bushes and stones and an unseen path that we thought we were going on. I can now clearly see the path that we took; it wasn’t straight and the easiest and the shortest route all the time; the different vectors have resolved up into a significant force in one single direction – true North; seemingly opposite vectors have taught us where not to go the next time; I saw places where we have stumbled and fallen badly; but the force was with us – we have picked ourselves up, bruised but now experienced; I see the past path strewn with experiences and as an organization new capabilities; We seem to have gathered enough people on the way, who are now willing us to reach that goal; some of them are providing us with the water-stations for this cross-country marathon; some of them have cheering us on and are giving us the experience that we sorely lack; I see someone else that I did not know earlier from some other organization joining our race – he is the coach that I could not have afforded otherwise; now he is coaching us for free. This now has become a reverse marathon – fewer people at the start; more at the finish!!

We are tantalizing close – maybe this is it; we don’t know what is in store for us… Is this the final destination or merely a resting place for us to go on? Is this the Tirupathi that we started for? Are we there? Perhaps, we will know in a couple of units-of-time… I’m reasonably confident that we are there, I see all signs of it – we just need to keep going; We will definitely know when we have arrived; and arrive we will.

I pause – as I introspect, I wonder if it is still Tirupathi that I, as an individual, wanted to go? Is there an ennui that’s around the corner that will set in? Will I actually enjoy reaching the destination or will it be a let-down? Is my pot-of-gold, the destination or the thrill of traversing the path unknown and discovering the space around me and space within me? Time will tell, I suppose.

Friday, January 13, 2006


My phone rrrrrriinnggss… I pick up the phone – it was my boss at the other end of the copper. “Rahul, I would like to meet with you today sometime, around 4PM; can you make it ?”.

“Yes”, I responded and after some status updates back and forth we ended the conversation.

Before I go on, a little bit of myself. I work in a multi-national in a middle-management position. You could call me a more than moderately successful professional. I had joined another firm as the shop-floor design engineer, apparently showed a lot of promise, as I had taken some initiatives on automating the shop-floor processes. My manager liked my idea and relieved me of the shop-floor design duty and moved me into the IT department to actually develop my idea into something that they can use. A year later, after most of the bugs had been killed, the software I was primarily responsible made its debut. It was reasonably successful and saved a ton of money for the company. During that one year I had enjoyed the work and the creative energy it gave was tremendous – it was being on endorphins the whole year ! And then came the let-down – since the company itself was not an core IT company, I needed to move back to their core business or maintain their existing IT infrastructure and the application; that’s when I left and joined an IT company…

…which is where I work now. In the new place, for the past 8 years, I’ve had a successful career rapidly growing into the middle-management position. Along the lines, I developed other interests like learning keyboard and rediscovered some other like quizzing due to a keen interest in trivia and curiosity; I ensured that I had some other interests outside of work that anchored me to reality and kept my general engagement levels higher. I also believed that extra-curricular things kept my mind fresh and be able to successful at work.

For the past 8 months or so, I had developed a new interest. I had started writing – stories, musings, observations, articles and such. That couple of them were published peaked my interest and motivated me to write more. I began to read a lot more than I ever did before; particularly some of the editorials in the papers for the vocabulary and style. I started looking at people and events all around me with renewed interest and for angles to feed my stories. I started noticing strange behaviors and sometimes in office meetings looked for plot-lines than the content of the meeting itself. Sometimes I did believe that I over did it, since I had slipped up a couple of times at work on what was expected of me. My boss was not exactly happy, but he was ok I guess, since I did not see him giving me great grief over it.

I had also started giving gyaan to other aspiring writers and bloggers who were never published. There was this colleague of mine, who I thought wrote really well, but was uni-dimensional. I had advised him that he needs to have couple of more ingredients in his writings other than just tickling the humerus bone; My advice to him was that he focus on two things – that he also let his writings appeal to the sensitive and emotional side of the people – at the end of it, they should feel what he feel, be it happiness, sadness, sympathy and so on; and the reader should be transported to the emotion the writer had. The second advice was that he needs to have a ‘spin’ in the tale. Like Jeffery Archer said, A Twist in the Tale. Take the story in a direction and then spin it a bit for a surprise ending, which the reader has not had an inkling for. That, I declared, was the key for a successful writing.

Thinking about it, a new idea forms in mind – its about a well planned life going awry. I tentatively label it “Tail-Spin” and start writing the outline.

As I do that, I realize it is almost 5 minutes past 4PM, I realize I’m late for my meeting with my manager. I rush to his office and by the time I get there I’m 10 minutes late. My boss seats me across his place and shuffles through a set of papers.

He looks across me and starts off about my performance in the past 9 months. He talks about how my output has been declining, milestones being missed, the results not up to the quality of what is required and how I had messed up couple of key deliverables (if I may add around the time my stories got published) and how it had lost some money for the company and so on and so forth. I tried to make some excuses and started saying something…

He just looked across, stopped me and said, “Rahul, we have gone through this discussion a couple of times. I would really like to have your resignation, so that…”

His words trailed off as I sat there shell shocked and dazed; the irony of it all hits me: my career story is in a spin and ending…

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A Tale of two Towns


Mohan Kumar felt very good about what he had done, but still was restless and frustrated. It was around 10 PM at night and he was just recapping the events throught the day. Earlier in the day, he had just posted a nothing-held-back kind of message in his company’s intranet message board. Somehow it seemed cathartic for him momentarily, until despair returned. For those who do not know Mohan Kumar, he works in Bangalore – and an assumption that he works in an IT company is correct. He has about 7 years of experience in the IT industry and has had it very good; but of late he has been extremely angry. To understand Mohan’s anger, we need to rewind a bit more.

The IT industry in Bangalore has been booming, from the late 90s. The growth has been tremendous and the employees were king. Yearly salary increases of 30% were the norm. Then the bubble burst in the US in 1999-2000; and the companies shutting down was the new normal everyday event. These events found its echo in Bangalore. The salary raises came down; and worse, certain companies whose planned business growth did not pan out, spiraled out of control down to closure. Some companies had to cut costs drastically, which translated into very little salary raises… In the company that Mohan worked for, they had gone through the exact same path: a period of nearly 2 years, where the salary raises were non-existent, with a few exceptions that covered the cream (ofcourse, Mohan was unaware of this for obvious reasons). In the past year, his company has stabilized and so looked the industry. Also the IT industry seemed that they never get back to the heady days of the 90s, but stabilizing and tending towards maturity. In ground, it translated to yearly raises averaging to be around 10%... For Mohan it came down to much less. Personally, Mohan was planning to upgrade his car to the mid-size; but with his EMI payment to the flat he had invested in and the “meager” salary raise, he just could not afford the upgrade…

…And hence Mohan’s angst.

Mohan was extremely aggravated and unhappy. He has not seen the kind of raises that he was used to when he joined the IT industry. Inspite of what he had experienced, he believed that elsewhere the picture was different than what his company was in. He had tried to change his job. From the days of “trespassers will be recruited”, the hiring criteria seemed to be more stringent. For one of the jobs that he had interviewed for, where he went with utmost confidence of being able to walk-in and the job was his to lose, he came back empty-handed. Where he was offered a job, the compensation offered was not to his expectation; Mohan felt he was being pushed into a dead-end alley…

…And hence Mohan’s frustrations.

And in his own company, his prognosis was bleak. He did not see much change happening in how the employees in general and specifically how he was treated.

…And hence Mohan’s outburst in his company’s message board (that his company has provided for the employees to post their opinions and their thoughts). He had posted as to how he and his colleagues are being taken for a ride, how the employee benefits are being withdrawn, how they are being paid pittance and finally, how they have all suffered through these times and all seems lost with no hope for redemption…

Cuddalooru :

As Lakshmi was lying down to sleep in the narrow confines, she was confused and hopeful. She had some idea of what was going around here, but she wasn’t old enough to understand it fully. Her life had turned topsy-turvy in the past twelve months.

About twelve months ago she was a happy child. Her father had a small grocery shop; although she understood that they were not rich, but they had enough to live happily – her sister, older to her by a year and she went to a government girl’s school and her brother who was very much younger to her, was going to a different school – the whole family doted on her brother. The schools were closed and she had gone with her family – father, mother, elder sister and her younger brother to a bigger town, to visit her periappa (father’s elder brother). It was holiday time and it was one of the best times she had. She had visited the zoo, saw a lot of animals that she had read only in her books about; also since her periappa’s house was very close to the beach, she had great time playing with the water. More than her, she found her brother to be really excited as any 5 year old boy would be – initially, he seemed to be scared. Lakshmi was proud that she actually taught her brother on facing the waves and how to splash water on each other. She even remembered how her she and her elder sister swung her brother back and forth holding his arms with every wave coming in pushing them out to the shore and on retreat pulling them back into the sea.

She could never forget that particular night and the next day. Her periappa’s house was next to a big church, as everyone called it. For the first time the whole family saw a building that big, lighted with bright and twinkling lights of various colors going on and off and she could hear music and singing from the church through the night; the night chill perhaps started her cold; and had to return back to the house. As the next day, they were leaving town, her brother wanted to play in the beach one last time. As she had cold from the previous night, she very reluctantly (with a tear or two) had to stay back in the house with her mother; with a promise from her elder sister that she’d bring some shells and her brother, some sea-water… That was the last time she had seen of her father, sister and family…

As she was grappling with things going around her and making sense out of it, she really was swept from one place to another place, along with her mother. Finally, both of them ended up in their Chitthi’s (mother’s sister) house nearer to their place, so that Lakshmi can continue her schooling; also initially she found that her Chithappa (uncle) was very welcome and seemed very nice and treating them well. She also instantly liked her cousin who was about her brother’s age. Also she over heard that Government had given her family some money for the loss. She found her mother getting to be recluse, not very talkative and staring somewhere, silently crying. When Lakshmi went to her, her mother would hug her but not say much. Lakshmi did not know what to do, but hug her mother, but that seemed to increase the sadness. Slowly, her mother was in bed more than she was out of it – she continued to have racking coughs. As her mother fell ill, she found that her chithappa was beginning to get ruder with both of them. One day, her mother too passed away and Lakshmi was broken; she could not go to school for a week then; one of those days, her uncle was shouting at her Chitthi about something Lakshmi’s mother had done with the money they had got. He was saying that now they have to put up with Lakshmi until she turned 18 to see the money – Lakshmi was scared, but her Chithi was still kind to her and took better care of her when the chithappa was not around. Her schooling had become irregular and around August, she altogether stopped going to school. Her Chithi too started going out to work. Her chithappa had asked to do some odd jobs around the house and to take care of her cousin, which she loved to do. Slowly, she did all of house chores and baby-sitting her cousin.

In the past 3 months Lakshmi was puzzled the way she was changing. She did not know what it was but she definitely looked different and felt different. Her Chithi made her dress differently now. However, what was worrying Lakshmi was she did not understand when sometimes her chithappa came home earlier than her Chithi, he was gentler to her, but returned back to being harsh one her Chithi came back home. Lakshmi was confused; and she used to be scared sleeping alone in the kitchen and sometime stayed awake for long. Three days ago, she saw on the TV, that a collector named Radhakrishnan was doing wonderful things for children like her in another district. It was also one year since she lost her family and six months since she lost her mother.

That night, Lakshmi remembered her family and the time they had in the big town and beach and sobbed softly. At that age, she couldn’t recognize that she was suffering, but she definitely had a hope that the collector would also come to her town and do something for her. That day she said a silent prayer and fell asleep…


Thus fell asleep two tortured souls, unrelated in two different towns; one with hopeless and futlie rage in his mind; the other full of hope that the things could change, without even knowing if the worst was behind or yet to come.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Nostalgia is not what it used to be...

I've this wonderful image of one specific period in my life. This was between years six and ten. We, my parents and older sister, lived in a small town called Katpadi that is about 100km from Chennai. We had a fairly a "BIG" house (rather a LOOOONG) house, which had a passage going through set of successive rooms with another room to its right. Each rooms on the passage was designated to have separate functions by my mother. It had huge space at the back (never have gone to the rear compound for the fear of scary and creepy living things near the thicket of shrubs) and relatively bigger space on the front and sides. Whats so special the house ?
- This is where I first learned to play cricket. I used to bounce the ball against the wall, and angle the bat in a way, i had assumed Vishy plays his 'cut' (later realized its Azhars-edge-to-slip-thing)
- This house is where I found how I can change my hair style to look like 1971-6for38-at-the-oval- B.S.Chandrasekar
- Its this time, I consistently beat my sister in Chess after having learned it
- Its the time when mother grew a garden; we used to get vegetables from the garden to be cooked the same day
Its this time, when my Sis and I used to race to the corner of the streets to touch my father returning from work; and my father as his choice would be on that day, dodge one of us to get the other to touch him first
- Its the time, when we used to have "Nila sappadu" - taking the food upto the terrace and have dinner in moonlight
- From our terrace, I used to look at the hill and small fires burning there; and get scared looking at it, since someone said thats where the 'robbers' live and they are cooking their dinner; My fear disappeared as my fascination for constellations grew and was able to recognize the the Polestar and the Great Bear...

and I can go on and on with those wonderful memories and with many more such recalls. It seemed that those images were frozen, sculpted and stored away in my psyche...

Then reality happend...I visited the place after decades recently. With some difficulty I found the house; I was first struck by the open drain and light stench from it. The house was converted into an office and it was shockingly decrepit. It definitely could do with one coat of paint or three. There were no signs of Jasmine or December flowers in the "Garden", that my mother had nurtured so carefully; The garden had remnants of thorny bushes, if that piece of barren land can be called so
. And the Katpadi summer with adjoining hills was inimical and scalding hot. The house itself seemed to have shrunk in size; The whole experience was anti-climatic - a jolting disappointing let-down...

...May be I should have never tried to connect my images burned in my head with the reality now. The past is not the same once you revisit it; On the other extreme, its also possible the past was not really that pristine as we sometimes remember it to be. Its just a memory that we choose to remember...

In the end, perhaps Nostalgia is overrated; its really not what it is made out to be.