Thursday, May 28, 2015

Karna - symbol of a paradox.

Karna - symbol of a paradox.
Among all epics the world over, none displays the wide variety of characters, situations, human frailties and intense drama as the Mahabharata does. I recently read an admirable translation by Robert Fitzgerald of Iliad and odyssey; I loved it for its sheer energy and action, but I must confess that it does not equal the scope and breadth of Mahabharata. Even in condensed form such as in the work of Sir Rajagopalachari, at least a hundred characters are packed, a thousand stories and sub stories are woven, and million morals, ethics, wise idioms injected. What to speak then of its original length and breadth. In its rudimentary Sanskrit form, it runs into fifteen printed volumes. Legend has it that in its pages, one would find every character reflected, every psychological nuance explored and almost every human paradox mentioned or solved. This may be a true claim. I am not the best judge of it. But it is certain that it does contain some of the most interesting, enigmatic and brilliant characters ever conceived in a human tale and placed in vivid dramatic contexts - and above all a minefield of ethical and moral codes to live by in society.
Yesterday, during a discussion among friends, one of them quoted Karna as an example of a man who epitomizes the trait of boundless giving. It set me thinking, and the result is this short essay. I am sure anyone who is even casually acquainted with this epic will know who Karna is? So I will not get into his tale. What is interesting though for me, is that there is a school of thought that thinks of Karna as a stupid man, who gave away unwarranted, unnecessary promises and wealth to those who sought his favors, when he could easily been smarter, more practical, more possessive - and thus not only saved his life, but could have been what in modern terms been “successful”. His own mother schemed against him. What could be worse than this? - And Karna willingly gave himself to be cheated and disenfranchised. There is definitely merit in this reasoning. One cannot deny it. But Vyasa’s characterization of karna as a generous man has a deeper significance, and missing it would be committing grave injustice. The point is: Karna gave because he was in tune with a deep truth that to exist, to live - one doesn’t need be attached neurotically to material possessions. As long as one has it, enjoy and revel - but always with a deep anchoring within oneself that it is merely for us to use and not to own. This is the true meaning of the word materialism. To love matter means to enjoy, respect and protect it - not to possess. furthermore, matter makes sense only if there is a self to cherish it. What then can be more precious than our own existence, our beingness or self or whatever one wishes to call it. I remember reading a beautiful story of a mystic who would carefully lock the doors and windows of his house when he was inside; but quite strangely leave all of it open when he goes out. When questioned by his neighbor’s on his odd behavior, he replied with an indulgent smile on his face: “I don’t know about all of you, but as far I am concerned the most precious thing for me to safeguard in my home is my “self”, my “beingness”, hence I lock all my doors when I am in. When I am out nothing else is worth owning obsessively...” The story may be apocryphal, but it certainly is very symbolic and points to a center very deep.
Another beauty of Karna’s character is that he knows all along that every sacrifice demanded of him will eventually strip him of his life. His story is full of such calamities - Illegitimately born, his Mother leaves him adrift in a basket to die, his master teaches extraordinary fighting skills only to curse him ; denied an opportunity to exhibit his artistry in archery, he joins hands with those who give him his due respect and understanding, but unfortunately belong to other side of justice; Gods in human form appear to deceive him into giving away his protective skin making him vulnerable to mortality; His mother again appears later in life to rob him of his right to kill her legitimate sons, and then finally, his charioteer deserts him at a crucial point in war - in all these events, Vyasa pictures Karna as fully aware and cognizant of his consequences. Yet, he plays his designated part in the drama to perfection. There is no fretting and fuming over his tragic life, but an enlightened acceptance of roles and responsibity. He does show occasional anguish and pain - but all that is subsumed in the fire of self-understanding that no matter what one does, there is an overarching law which fuels our destiny, and the best one can do is to be true to our vocations and give it the best that we can under circumstances. .
His is a life that symbolizes the core paradox of Human life. On one hand, Man understands that he is a part of a greater cosmic process driven involuntarily by forces that cannot be predicted or controlled; and on the other hand, he also needs to lead a purpose driven life in society with narrow rules and boundaries. And it this polarizing pull in different directions that becomes difficult to reconcile. Karna is a perfect symbol of this paradox – Vyasa's brilliant creation. Along with granddaddy Bheesma, Karna stands as a crown jewel of epic characters in the history of world literature.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Anthony Burgess’s “Earthly Powers” - A masterly work of literary fiction.

Anthony Burgess’s “Earthly Powers” - A masterly work of literary fiction.
There are authors whose books cannot be read at one go; even though the temptation is compelling to do so. It is not so much the story that grips, but the peerless prose and structure of the work itself. The author is in supreme command of his craft carving out sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph of incandescent description, precise dialogues, succinct emotional undertones and a sublime understanding of the art of writing itself. My tryst with literature is an old one; and in the course of my reading I have had the privilege of relishing works by several established and acclaimed masters; and many times discovered few unknown gems as well. The purpose of this essay though is to talk briefly about a book that I just put down: "Earthly powers" by Anthony burgess.
Before I get to that; I must say a few words on how I was introduced to Anthony Burgess. A year and a half ago, I watched Stanley Kubrick's (one of my favorite directors) controversial movie "The clockwork orange". It is an incredible movie which, in my opinion only a Kubrick could have executed with precision. So much of violence, a dystopian view of life, and almost a raw brutish morality pervaded the entire movie. It was then I realized that the story was based on a novel by the same name published in 1961 by Burgess. My curiosity was piqued: what kind of novel would it be that projected so much psychological intensity on screen? And then when I started researching the book, I realized that it was highly controversial, and many universities had publicly banned the study of this novel in colleges because of its tenor, language and violent theme. It has been my experience that anytime academecia gets offended by a particular work of art, then it is almost certain that the artist has in some way pushed the boundaries of his profession, and chances are high that the ejection from mainstream is more a reactionary mechanism than an unprejudiced view of the work as such. Now, I had to read it to find out what so was explosive in the book, and coincidentally, I found a tattered copy of it in a second hand book store very soon. The novel itself was only 200 pages or so long, but it was undoubtedly one of the most difficult reads in my life. Being a master linguist, Burgess had spawned a new Russian infused dialect called Nasdat (a curious combination of Russianish English). It took a while to understand what he wrote with characters slipping into this tongue ever so suddenly making it difficult to keep track of the transistion from plain English to Nasdat. But the curious thing is that, despite the hardship involved in reading it, the story took on a life of its own. The powerful, violent imagery of Burgess transcended the need for coherent prose. And page after page, Burgess lets loose his vision of anarchy in a world where violence and immorality have no balancing scales, and the story moves with tremendous zest and pace interspersed with brilliant insights. I had to read the book three times, before the language, story and author's vision came together. Burgess had written the entire work in a fit of inspiration within three weeks, and flipped it over to his publisher – literally a product of ecstatic outpouring. Little did he realize that his short work would be rated as one of the most original works of fiction of the last century. Shortly after this, I read his Enderby novels, Love life of Shakespeare, Napoleon symphony and a few others that I could buy on Kindle. The bug of Burgess had bitten me. His linguistic style and the overpowering inundation of his prose has kept me captivated during many a sleepless night.
I bought "Earthly Powers" four months ago. It is a tome of a book. In hard cover it spans around 650 pages. I still remember reading the first few pages last December on a cold wintery evening and pausing to take a deep sigh of aesthetic relief. I could sense that this could be Burgess’s most ambitious work. The first few paragraphs rumbled a with force, maturity and elegance not found in his previous books. Here was a man at the top of his craft - I could feel it in my bones… His main character Ken Toomey, a Homosexual (a rich and acclaimed novelist) is visited by a cardinal soliciting help to elect a pope, who also happens to be his Brother in law. With this modest beginning, Burgess weaves a tapestry of unfolding emotions, subplots, social, political and religious jottings, characters that literally come alive in our minds eyes with a few pointed brush strokes of immaculate pen; deep tragedy and subliminally comical situations handled with ease and effortlessness of consummate artist - Burgess takes us by the scruff of our necks on a journey of self-discovery into rationales, motives, purposes of human existence and weird perplexities of modern society. The Book is divided into 81 chapters; and each of it is a work of art by itself. I could not at any point in my reading go beyond two chapters at a time. It is not because, I couldn't; but I didn't want to. I preferred to bask in the luxuriant story telling ability of Burgess, savoring his language; chewing into his prose and power of expression, ruminating on his insights into human nature, introspecting with him on the nature of God and organized religion; struggling along with to understand ambiguities in Human sexual tendencies; falling along with his characters into abyss of Human flaws, and rising with renewed optimism under different circumstances - it kept me riveted every page. In the past few months, I have carried this book with me all over the place, though its bulkiness made it slightly uncomfortable to snug into my laptop bag – I just couldn't stop reading it.
I finished the last chapter last evening; and I kept holding the book in my hand - unwilling to keep it down or close it. As a reader, I have had similar experience with many authors and their works - but few that can compare to the intensity I felt for "Earthly powers". There was something compelling about it - a tangible quality that I am still trying to grope, define and digest. James Joyce's "Ulysses" , Thomas Wolfe " Look homeward angel" , Toni Morrison's "Beloved" , Margaret Atwood's "Handmaids Tale" are a few books among many others that immediately come to mind as I write , that have arrested me, held me in that rarified zone of literary ecstasy as this one did. That is the real power of literature. If an author can get his readers to succumb to his charm, drag them into a vortex of life that is otherwise unavailable, make them think and rejoice at the same time, leaven the story with brilliant prose and style - then such a work can then be raised to the pedestal of a classic, a work that will stand the test of time; and can forever be a source of joy and enlightenment.
As I keep wrapped the jacket around the book, and placed it back on my shelf - I knew, I will revisit it once more; sometime in the distant future. There are some chapters, some paragraphs that will continue to haunt and make me reread them. I am sure of it, and I look forward eagerly to that delectable pleasure, whenever that happens.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

The Blonde story.

The Blonde story..
What is it about Blondes? I remember reading Annete Kuhn, a respected feminist critique of films define three types of Blonde stereotypes that have profoundly affected western culture’s perception of women with light or yellow colored hair:
a. Ice-cold Blonde: a blonde who hides a fire beneath an exterior of coldness.
b. Blonde bombshell: a blonde with explosive sexuality and is available to men at a price.
c. Dumb blonde: a blonde with an overt and natural sexuality and a profound manifestation of ignorance.
The common denominator running through all three categories is that Blondes are physically stunning, and no man can pretend to turn away his face from her without casting a surreptiously glance at her magnetic attraction, or experiencing a soul cuddling desire to possess her. A blonde girl with a buxom body coupled with deep blue eyes attracts Male attention like no other category of the feminine sex. Something to do with genetics, I guess…Male testosterone whizzes past its flood gates in a mad rush when masculinity encounters a blonde. It is interesting though to note that it was in a French play performed in 1775, that a courtesan named Rosalie Duthe (a Blonde obviously) was for the first time satirized as “dumb blonde” for the simple reason that she paused for a long time before she uttered any dialogue on stage. She was literally acted dumb or mute; and male audiences found the gesture extremely funny, and in convoluted way vindicated their belief ,that women, however beautiful cannot match up to their intelligence quotients; and will always have to remain the intellectually submissive and sexually satisfying gender. Not surprisingly, the play ran to packed audiences for four continuous seasons. Male chauvinism at its best!! Dumb blonde has however no proven scientific psychological cause whatsoever, or nobody has any reason for why such an opinion exists; but it quite unbelievable how pervasive this notion is in all sections of social, professional and personal life. In psychometric tests, Psychologists are puzzled when blondes are rated less competent intellectually among a choice of Blacks, Brunettes and light haired. And Dumb Blonde jokes are as much part of cultural idiom as anything else. Interestingly, however, Men advocate a reason for Blondes not needing to be intelligent; and the line of reasoning goes like this: Why should one cultivate intelligence if success could be achieved by simply being physically attractive or capable? Not necessarily applicable to Blondes, but we have “Dumb Athletes” as well. They are great when are taken on their physical value, but talk to them at a plane above that, and they woefully fall short of requirements. I don’t necessarily buy this reasoning, but this was epitomized or shall I say immortalized by Marylyn Monroe (arguably the most famous blonde in recorded history) in her movie “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend”. In this picture, her fiancée’s father hates her initially for her lack of intelligence; but eventually realizes that he was wrong in his assessment, and asks her why she continues to pretend dumb. To which Ms. Monroe famously answers “Men prefer me this way…”
You must be wondering why Blondes have interested me all of a sudden. Well, I was watching Reese Witherspoon’s “Legally blonde” and this essay is a result of it. There have been many actresses who have adorned the “dumb Blonde” role. Judy Halliday, Jayne Mansfield, dolly Parkton, Goldie Hawn, Marylyn Monroe (of course...) - all of them promoting the quintessential image of hare-brained ladies, whose only way out in their films was their physical charm. But “Legally blonde” presents a modernist version of the “dumb blonde” girl. Elle woods (played by the highly capable Ms. Witherspoon) is a blonde with a difference. She is happy basking in her physical charm, until she is intellectually challenged by her boyfriend, who does not wish her to be anything else but the little doll that she is. She is fettered by the Stereotype, but circumstances pull her out of that comfort zone, motivating her to get into Harvard to study law; and it turns out that her aptitude for that profession is more than suited than many others who struggle their way to get there. In a way Amanda Brown’s book legally blonde (the movie is based on this book) is an attempt to reverse the deeply entrenched bias against Blonde women The book and the movie however refuses to let the go of the aura surrounding Blonde girls; and at the same time wish to project them as capable enough to succeed intellectually, brushing shoulders with the best of them, using their natural bodily gifts only as a fit accompaniment to their mental accomplishments - and in the end, providing a perfect blend of beauty with brains. The movie in many ways is predictable. The story, characters, settings - all of them are exaggerated; and I would assume that Reese Witherspoon would have breezed through her shots. She is too good an actress to play this role. For a fine young brainy woman like her, the character of Elle woods would have been a complete antithesis of what she believes in.
For those of us who have seen the classic “Gentlemen prefer Blondes” , which probably for the first time pitched the flimsy, hollow image of a Blonde girl firmly in our minds, “Legally blonde” reprises and redefines that notion in the light of modern feminine views on equality and opportunity. Yet, as one reaches the end of this comedy, it is not so much the triumph of Elle woods as a successful lawyer that sticks with us, but more the image of the fragile Blonde who somehow stumbled upon success. And that according to me is the Tragedy of this film. Her character should have had more substance to it, and less of futile pranks and idiosyncrasies sprinkled throughout the film. It seems that the new millennium (the movie came out in 2001) is still unsure of whether the myth of a Blonde is true or not.
On a side note, I wish to end this essay by pointing out that Blonde hair is considered a sign of incompetence in men as well. I was reading a survey of CEO’s of top 500 companies (an overwhelming percentage are obviously Men), and it was found that less than 5% of them are Blonde. Well it may be sheer coincidence that it may be so, but the study derives the fact that somehow “blondeness” in whatever form or shape or size tends to lower one’s estimate of the person in question. Amazing conclusion! I paused a little bit, and thought? Do I have such a bias in me?... Well - the honest answer is “I don’t know…” But it is definitely true that the last century perpetuated this myth, this image to such a deep extent that it now becomes quite difficult to shirk away the unconscious prejudices, opinions that cloud our perceptions. The subliminal triggers that a Blonde evokes in us are far more powerful than we imagine. We may not be swayed intentionally, but there is no doubting that it affects our judgment to a greater or lesser degree at a sub-subconscious level. The visual media, and its popular icons have only helped reinforce this bias, not remedy it.
To me, the Blonde stereotype is very representative of cognitive biases that we carry around all the time. In this case, it is a glaring example; but even otherwise, in our daily living, almost every perception, action or reaction is decorated with such tinges of unconscious pigeon-holing. When we look at somebody, it is always though our filtered consciousness. It could anything - race, color, status, education, wealth, beauty - any of it; but as we grow up and get more and more indoctrinated and opinions reinforced, our prejudices and biases sink deeper and deeper - to a point that it becomes difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. And that is exactly the fate the idea “Blonde” has met with. The word has acquired a connotation that indicates lack of intelligence and it has remain stuck in public consciousness; and unfortunately to most of us the “word” is more important than the thing itself. And therein lies the enigma and tragedy.
God bless…
Yours in Mortality,
Bala





Friday, May 22, 2015

When work is passion and play - Conversation with an Air Hostess

Two sets of Air attendants with two different kinds of values they bring to the job: On my way to Melbourne, I travelled Virgin Australia- manned by some of the finest young ladies in the business: Immaculately dressed in red, glowing complexion, beautiful, smart, well groomed, eyes glimmering with fierce pride and a gait that exuded raw confidence in their own selves, professional by the book with a not an extra glance or word more, sticking punctually to their codified schedules with robotic rigor... And on my return journey , I was on a Delta flight operated by mature (many of them old) ladies whose eyes spoke of little weariness and lots of experience; tolerant, going about their job with a practiced and unpretentious ease - smiling without reservations, patting someone’s back with natural maternal affection, spending extra time with young mothers whispering sweet nothings to their kids; gently chastising self-absorbed husbands, walking down the aisle regularly(out of schedule..) with a tray of water and beverages making sure the elderly passengers are properly hydrated ; making recommendations on which option to pick for Dinner - in short, they belonged to a different era. The contrast between both of teams was remarkable..
Flying over the Pacific on my way back, almost everybody in first class were fast asleep with their entertainment turned on. The usually turbulent pacific weather was strangely peaceful, and the Airbus was cruising gently at an altitude of 33,000 feet. I just finished reading a wonderful book "God and the unconscious" by an English theologian Victor white - Fascinating essays on Jungian archetypes and Christian imagery. My eyes were tired and I needed to get my blood circulation going after hours of sedentary reading. I walked up to the Attendant station and found two elderly hostesses who had served my dinner quietly sitting- not doing anything in particular. I requested for a glass of hot milk, and I stood there talking to them.
One of them was an elderly blonde, and she said “This is my 40th year on the skies. And I have loved every moment of it. In my younger days, becoming a flight attendant wasn't a stepping stone to something else. It was a dream to fly in the air, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, visiting places, meeting people... In fact, I met my husband on such trip to Italy. He was a waiter in the hotel we were accommodated. He later became a Flight attendant himself... I still remember my first instructor’s beaming voice as he told us “On air, every guest who flies us with us should get out of the aircraft never to forget their experience on board. They must get down with the feeling that they have been part of a tremendous human achievement - the ability to fly… And each time they come back, this experience should be renewed and relived…
I interjected “So wonderful to hear your story. However, being a frequent traveler myself, I must say that the Job has lost its lustre. Attendants have become more beautiful, young, and physically presentable - but I guess, somewhere, that quality of service and hospitality has been sacrificed. .. , and I guess, travelers have increased a million times as well and flying is no more considered a luxury and guests are equally inconsiderate.". I told her about my impressions on my onward journey- that though the girls and boys aboard were pleasant, they gave me the feeling that they were doing us a favor.
“Yes, it is true..." She continued.." You see that is the problem… The excitement, the pride in flying is no there anymore. All of us get used to things - Guests and attendants both. As Human beings, we start taking our blessings, privileges, luxuries for granted. Until, There is a crisis, we don’t stop to count or appreciate our gifts. In the seventies, every security presentation at the beginning was a thing of great excitement. Attendants were passionate about their demonstrations, and more importantly, every guest on board would listen to it wide-eyed - knowing the importance of those activities or even for thrill of it. The entire performance was charged and vibrant. Every cup of drink or food served was a miracle - a dream come true – of eating and drinking thousands of feet up in the air. Everybody understood it… But now, like anything else, flight travel is a just another monotonous thing. There is palpable boredom, unless there is turbulence… (She chuckled…)
“And believe me, I am not surprised that youngsters are not interested in this career long term. The general respectability of a flight attendants job has come down, and so have the salaries. There is more gloss than substance. Girls and boys do this after college for some quick money and travel; and once they get bored they move on to something more “real”… Airlines are happy with this. It keeps their costs down; and they don’t care. Guests aren’t bothered as well. Mutual respect, courtesies and decorum are fast becoming a thing of the past…. Hmmmm but I still love my job... My body complains, but the sheer delight and happiness or being up in the skies still pushes me on. Last month, we had a family reunion in Louisville, and my Grandchildren wanted to me to retire; come and stay with them. They are doing very well… But you know, I cannot think of not doing what I am doing. It is a tiring, unthankful job- but I have still managed to retain my inner fascination for it. Gosh - It’s time for one walk down the aisle…..” So saying, she got ready to lumber along again with a smile on her face.
Admirable!! Is the word that issued from my lips. I wish all of us can find such passion, depth in work. But, I guess to find it, one must know what interests us, or what would we love doing the most? - And do it.. The key to excellence at work and satisfaction is not the money, or the position - but the energy, freshness and verve we can bring to our work each day, each moment. If we don’t enjoy it, then chances are we aren’t doing what we are supposed to be doing.
God bless…
Yours in life,
Bala

An unusual evening with a maverick..

What can be more pleasurable, intellectually stimulating than spending an evening with one of the brightest, enterprising and mercurial software brains that I know of in a nightclub (colloquially called a Strip bar) with garrulous laughter all around me; naked sultry girls and boys hanging, gyrating and lasciviously leaning over a pole; Sweaty bodies meandering aimlessly in the midst of swirling intoxicating music; alcohol flowing in thick density lowering inhibitions and heightening passion - and here we were, Bill (name changed) and me, holding a can of coke in our hands and talking over the mystic lure of programming and idealistic abstractions of Spinoza’s “Ethics”.
Bill is a MIT drop out. Nearly six foot tall, in his mid-forties: he began his tryst with programming in a small gaming company in Silicon Valley – disgruntled soon enough; joined a music band and played the electric guitar for a while before his inner urge to code drew him again to take up a developer position in a startup company. In three years, his astonishing talent and intuitive understanding of Enterprise architecture helped redefine software that drove his retail business (the framework he created is still one of the most recognized design patterns in distributed development, widely used and built upon). Fell in love, got married, fathered two kids; and decided to leave IT to contribute to work for a Non-profit organization for war refugees - an urge, he tells me that overcame him when he read about their plight in a popular magazine. Disillusioned with Bureaucracy - he made his leap back to his first love- software; but this time for one of the biggest sport apparel companies in the globe; where he found his passion, brilliance and freedom coalescing into one wholesome bundle of energy. This was in 2005; and since then his vision and direction has established some of the finest practices in retail and logistics of this Multi-billion dollar business. Dressed always in hooded jumper-suit; wearing the same branded shoes, making wise crack jokes, multitasking, holding his teams spell bound with his freshness and sudden flashes of insight into problems - he is at once adorable, handsome, incorrigible and supremely intelligent - all at the same time.
He had walked into my class a couple of month’s back (his 200+ team was getting trained) without any announcement, briefly for ten minutes holding a cookie in one hand and the largest mug of coffee I have seen in another. He listened intently to my lecture and walked away abruptly, again without any acknowledgement. It was only during lunch that he came over and said “Bala, you are a passionate instructor. Your technical conviction is infectious… I like you man...” That broke the ice between us, and since then I have been in numerous calls, conversations, tech discussions - and our bond has only deepened. I realized that he was a very deep man with a strong sense of life and meaning outside of his professional life. This time around when I landed at his office on Monday, he shouted out a warm round of welcome and straight away jumped into a technical discussion around a conceptual hurdle. After ten minutes, I had to get to my class; and he said with a twinkle in his eye “Hey Bala, this evening, I can take you to a special place, if you have time.. We could talk about Rebecca Goldstein and her views on Spinoza there… We had left it half finished last time”. I readily agreed...
Little did I realize that his “special” place was this uptown Strip club? Apparently, he was very comfortable there. He knew all the bouncers, managers, and waiters and of course the girls - who would occasionally cuddle up, and he would land a polite kiss on their cheeks, only to continue our discussions on metaphysics. We sat in a corner booth, ordered some chips and salsa with coke... “Bala, I somehow knew you wouldn’t be offended I bought you here. This is my favorite spot, if I needed my brain to work itself through a situation. Most would prefer solitude, but to me this din and roar of this place numbs my senses to the point of withdrawal, and allows my thought processes to take on an independent life. The chaos of this joint fascinates me. My wife loves this place as well...” he laughed out aloud. “Well Bill, I must agree that this is the perfect place to discuss Spinoza… The human scales of right; wrong and good, bad falls away here; and we are confronted with brute reality of existence in its raw nudity…”
We were there for nearly two hours, talking, eating sipping coke; intermittently slipping into admiring a model on stage for her stunning beauty and grace. Time passed without any heaviness to it. From software architecture to development instincts and attitude; to God, religion and chaos, we explored common interests with strange passion and intensity. It was almost as if two souls were connecting at a deeper level leaving behind the façade of one’s personality and vocation. It was 11 in the night; time to leave and Bill drove me back to my hotel. Both of us visibly silent after the intensity of last few hours; and strangely, all that remained with me was the substance of our conversation and not the lusty images that surrounded those words. In the midst of sensory explosion there was an anchoring within oneself. As I got out of the car, I peered into his window and said “Thanks Bill. It is an evening that will leave its mark on my soul…” He smiled back and revved his engine and said “It was a great evening Bala... Stimulating conversation…See you tomorrow in office…”
God bless…
Yours in life,
Bala

Aruna Shanbaug - a life ends..

Aruna Shanbaug - a life ends..
In the annals of legal and Medical history in India, a tragic chapter came to a calm end outside an isolated room in Ward 4, Edward memorial Hospital Mumbai. Aruna Shanbaug died today of pneumonia - Death finally relieving her frail body of the burden of having to continue existing. She has remained in vegetative state for 42 years without the slightest indication of recuperation. Besides breathing, defecating and being fed like a baby, there was nothing else in her mortal frame that could be constituted as living or life. Yet, she tenaciously persisted under the loving care of Hospital nurses for these long agonizing decades with not an iota of hope or respite. Though Government bureaucracy made three futile attempts in the last three decades to evict her from the bed she was occupying unproductively, the adamancy of the nurses, support of resident doctors - made it impossible for anyone to so much lay a finger upon her. They took care of her with a fierce sense of pride, duty and empathy. She was a fit case for Euthanasia - so argued her friend, advisor and well-wisher and journalist - Pinki Virani; but the nurses would let that happen. When Supreme overturned her appeal in 2010, the hospital took on a festive mood celebrating what they deemed as the "second birth" of their beloved Aruna. Her case though led to a land mark judgment allowing mercy death by food deprivation and milder means in extreme cases. But that's besides the point... So who was Aruna Shanbaug?
Aruna joined as a nurse in King Edwards Hospital in 1970. A beautiful young lady from Karnataka, driven by a zeal to serve physically ill. It was a dream come true for her, when she landed in Mumbai. Adored for her humility, respect and ever smiling face, she soon became one of the most popular nurses in the hospital. A young aspiring medic was in love with her; willing to get married - all seemed well set and laid out for Aruna. And then the horrid night of November 27th 1973, when an illiterate, lusty and vagrant sweeper on contract decided that Aruna had to be physically violated. In a basement room where she changed into regular clothes, Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki let loose upon her the most virulent physical abuse possible. Sodomized, asphyxiated with a dog chain that cut of blood supply to her brain for a few vital minutes, beaten, and bruised - he left her on the floor all but dead. She was miraculously found alive the next day by a cleaning lady; but by then she was beyond all medical help. She had slipped into Coma, blinded by Cortex injuries - this young flower of a lady was in a matter of few hours reduced to a vegetative state. Valmiki was quickly apprehended, convicted - not for rape or sodomy, but for assault and robbery; did a couple of sentences seven years each; and walked away freely to live a life of freedom, liberty and choice. It is ironical that the Hospital did not press charges of rape against him, wanting to protect the “honor” of Aruna… Nothing can be more unreasonable than this ridiculous piece of logic. It was left to journalist Pinki Virani, who took her case, wrote a book, fought in courts and helped keep her alive and in news for so long. Valmiki has vanished into thin air. For the last two decades, Pinki has been searching for this brute, but our system is so dysfunctional and unorganized that neither the hospital not the court have a legitimate photo of him (Can you believe this?). I am sure, Valmiki today would breathe a sigh of relief, wherever he is… The young girl he brutalized forty years ago is no more. She has died today an old lady, 65 years old - of pneumonia, without a flicker of life on her face or body for the last four decades. If this is justice, then it may need a little redefinition in my books.
I came across Pinki Virani’s little book: “Aruna's Story: the true account of a rape and its aftermath” in 1998 or thereabouts in Eloor Library in Chennai. And I remember, being shaken by what I read then. For some reason, over the years, Aruna’s image has frequently passed through my memory, making me wonder and think about her plight. Pinki’s book had ended with optimism. She really hoped that Aruna would soon recover and be normal again… And that thought lingered in me as well… A few days ago, I was researching on something, when once again for a brief moment, I paused to think about Aruna. Little did I know, that a few days later, I would wake up to read about her silent passing away? I did involuntarily shed a few beads of tears. A life taken away at its prime; sacrificed at the altar of single man’s brutal consummation of sadistic needs, having to live a completely dependent life, a social outcaste - all for no reason at all… The only redeeming aspect was the unconditional love, affection and protective instincts of the nurses at KEM hospital. The took care of Aruna like a little child. Her room was special and was so her care. This is a unique demonstration of unconditional love and empathy shown by a group of nurses, anywhere in the world. And for their efforts they were honored with Florence nightingale award - an award that commemorates excellence in Nursing.
My deepest prayers for Aruna that she now moves on to a painless world. Bottled up in an incapacitated frame for long, she has now found release. The eagle can soar again, and find its incarnation in a newer context. She deserves it, and life ought to give her another chance. For this one was plucked away while it was flowering – perhaps a trifle unjustly by any standards.
God Bless…
Yours in Mortality,
Bala


Saturday, May 9, 2015

"Autumn in New York" - a Richard Gere rendezvous

What is it about Richard Gere that makes him likeable? Is it his unpretentious looks, sparkle in his eyes... or the gentle curvy dimple that blends his smile into a moments of guileless innocence; could it be those wavy strands of blonde hair that falls gently over his face and neck like beads of snowflakes enveloping a beloved prince- conferring upon him an attitude of debonair manliness; or could it just be his “masculine” presence on screen that make directors believe a movie with him is a sure road to commercial success..? Or could it be his Buddhistic leanings that give an edge of spiritual poise to his actions on screen. I am baffled. For a lover of this art form, it defies all logic that a man who is bereft of any acting talent could actually have held sway over an industry where “real” talent is everything.
One thing is clear though: All his leading ladies bask in his reflected glory. From Julia Roberts to Debra wingers to Jennifer Lopez’s to Wynona Ryder’s - all of them tingle with raw effervescence in his movies. In fact, sharing a screen with Richard Gere is a dream come true for many of them. In each one of those films, Gere is the rich, seducing male – whose testosterones are simply irresistible. Women are willing to go bed with him as easily as a calf retires to its mother. They find a paternal solace, a guardian angel in all his characters. No matter how independent the feminine role is - they ultimately succumb to his charm. That is the kind of persona Richard Gere revels in.
I had started watching “autumn in New York” - a 2000 release, a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta. I finished the movie yesterday night in my hotel in Melbourne. What can I say? - I get the feeling that Richard Gere lives the same role again and again. A rich, hotelier who dates the daughter of his ex-girlfriend (or wife, the movie is not clear on that point), finding to his consternation that she suffers from an incurable illness. The Young girl (played by Ms. Ryder) utters all recognizable platitudes of a young girl who is about to be plucked away in full bloom. She is a good actor, and brings in her own sense of realism into this role. But unfortunately, Mr Gere is clueless on screen. I am not sure, if he even understood his character. Having played the Romancer all his life, he has come to believe that all he needs to do is to strike a pose, smile a smile, jump on to bed; and attempt to look sad at inappropriate times during the film.
I am consciously quite scathing in my comments above – simple because, a real bad film in Hollywood - can really be bad. Sometimes, the outward sophistication of their artistic techniques may tend to give a viewer a false sense of class, but for a perceptive critique, it doesn’t take long to look beyond the gloss and recognize the film for what it is really worth. Especially, for those of us, who tend to look down upon regional films, this can be a real handy experience.
Well, all said and done, “autumn in New York” did well at the box office. Made at a budget of 65 Million, it grossed over 90. So I guess, the moral of the story is: keep making films that make money, even if it means seeing Richard Gere rehearsing the same drill mechanically for 20 years.
Watch it, only if you cannot close your eyes without visualizing Richard’s Gere face lulling you to sleep. Otherwise, do something better…
God bless...
Yours in life,
Bala



Sandeep - A time to move on..

One of the fundamental lessons to be learnt and practiced meticulously while living in society is the ability, courage and understanding not to confuse roles that one plays with relationships. They are diametrically opposite to each other; and professionals who realize the difference tend to breathe fresher air and lead more invigorating lives than most others. And in my association with many such professionals - My friend Sandeep Godkhindi stands as an example of such a way of living. I write this short post today, as Sandeep works his penultimate day at NIIT, after having served the organization with distinction, ability, grace and profound understanding of Software education business - I have had the privilege to know and work alongside with.
I deliberately wrote the last few lines in past tense because Sandeep is changing roles - that's all. To me, and to many others who have known him closely for more than a decade now - Sandeep hasn't moved anywhere at all; nor will he. And that is what I meant by preponderance of relationships over roles. He is no more my "manager", but that doesn't make any difference to me. We transcended those boundaries and I am happy that we share such a relationship with each other.
Among many other achievements at NIIT, the one that stands out for me personally was the way he conceived, formed, established and executed the soft skills business (beautifully named "PlanetworkZ") in Bangalore. That was a time, when BPO's were eager to have energetic, savvy , communicative and culturally attuned youngsters filling the demanding role of process and sales outsourcing. And Sandeep had a right feel for the jugular vein of that opportunity. He formed a wonderful team with a set of highly talented, beautiful, motivated and self driven Women to execute programs for some of the top BPO's in the business then. There was an electric feel to his office those days, and all of us basked in its tingling intensity. I still can recall those halcyon days in our Bannerghatta office.
I request all of you to join me in wishing Sandeep the very best in his new role. Like a rose that spreads Fragrance wherever its placed, Sandeep will extend his warmth, intelligence and excellent team building skills to his new role. And to that extent I am envious of the organization he is stepping into. They are in now in possession of a gem which was ours long enough..
God bless you Sandeep..
Yours in life,
Bala

A question of traits - Conversation in Melbourne

The first time I landed in Melbourne , nearly a decade ago - I was unmistakably recognized as an "Indian". At that time, my entire demeanor was a give away, I guess. And now, In the last two days at least two of them have asked me "Are you from America?". I am not sure, in the interim, what perceptible differences have risen in me. Well it is true, that the last three years, I have been living a resurrected life, not so much in the work I do - but more so in the inner quality of my approach, attitude and sense of what is important, meaningful - and finding in myself that spark of what it is to be truly alive and kicking. But I am not sure if that is being an "American" in that sense of the word. I don't associate myself to any identity, nationally at least. I love American soil because it helps fulfill my destiny, and I am in proud to have been born and bought in India - because it made me what I am today . Beyond this twin likings, I don't make a conscious effort to belong to any particular nationality.
So I was very curious, when this blonde, young, voluptuous waitress in the restaurant, walked up to me and said in her typical Australian accent " Which part of US are you from?". She laid down the bowl of soup and bread that I requested for, along with a glass of Hot water and Lemon, and looked me with those crystal blue eyes - questioning me. I replied " How do you know If am from US and not India".. "Well, Aye, nobody orders so fast in this restaurant except Americans. This is a typical British place, and guests come to relax, drink and question our delicacies. I see you are loaded with books, tablet and you hardly glanced at the menu before you were sure what you wanted to eat..." It was then I looked around to find primly dressed couples and business guests talking to each other in Hushed tones and serious faces. I seemed to be the odd ball out. I was wearing my sport pants, a round neck T-shirt and slippers to go with it. Presentable - but not in the best traditions of Formal dinner dressing. I involuntarily laughed and said " So, you judged me by me dress and attitude..". "No, Not exactly, but I like people who know exactly what they want to do. My father was an American and my mother belonged to Brisbane. As I grew up, I distinctly could see my father care a damn about what others thought and did, as long as he did not offend anybody. Australians are curiously caught in two worlds- Ours and British. And sometimes we end up straddling both without being sure of what we want...
"hmmm, that interesting.. Well, let me tell you, I am not yet an American, but I do live and work in the US. And yes, to an extent you are right.. I wanted to something to eat, and a place to work as I do that. This restaurant was conveniently located to do both.."
She gave a beaming smile and said " yeah, that's what made it look Strange and glaring. This is one of the high end restaurants this side of Melbourne and nobody comes here to have a casual dinner. I have worked here for a couple of years now, and I have seen only Americans do this...".
As I walked back to my Hotel, I was not sure if the young girl had got it right; but there was a point in her judgment. It is easy to pigeon hole people, if they display specific traits. If doing ones own thing is being an "American", then so be it. Frankly, I hadn't realized this..
God bless..
Yours in life,
Bala