Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A day of remembrance

A day of remembrance..
I woke up today morning with a mucky feeling in my stomach. My head was heavy, and a sense of uneasiness pervaded my body. It wasn’t the best of nights. My sleep was pretty disturbed, with images of blood smeared bodies, stunned and scarred faces, limbs writhing besides its decapitated owners, buildings in flames – all kinds of grotesque images kept floating across my mind’s eye. I am normally a deep sleeper, but yesterday night, I kept tossing and turning for most part. Early in the morning around 4’ish, with a cup of coffee in hand, I stood in my Balcony absorbing the pitch darkness that normally precede a dawn. It is as if the night throws up its deepest black on to its canvas in these early hours, before the stirring brightness of the day repaints it to gold. It was at this moment it dawned on me that today is 9/11, and I understood the significance of my disturbed sleep.
It has been fourteen years since that tragic day at the beginning of this beautiful century. Enough reams of paper have been spent recounting the horrific spectacle of those few hours; I wouldn’t want to recount it again. But, this date is now etched in the collective consciousness of humanity, and will forever remain a grim reminder of gestalt change in Modern Man’s psyche of what violence and terrorism could mean. After Auschwitz, this attack, when properly understood, went beyond the scope of rationality and even imagination. Planned, executed with merciless precision over a religious ideology by a group of educated young men only establishes the fact that no matter how progressive we materially become, our instincts still lie with our Hominid ancestors. That Streak of savagery, irrationalism, instinct for violence are merely dormant in most of us; and given the right impetus and conditions it could sprout, and plunge headlong to a result that could be as devastating and debilitating as the happening on World Trade center on that fateful day. And that is the gripping fear which faces us today. And after 14 years, it has made us suspicious, less trusting, more susceptible to racial and ethnic distinctions, highly insecure and paranoid. When we thought we were becoming more cosmopolitan, 9/11 pushed us back a few centuries psychologically. We believed, we had seen the worst forms of meaningless, baseless violence during the last century; but little did we realize we would quickly be on the back foot pretty early in this one.
On this day, my sympathies, deepest condolences and profound empathy to all those families who succumbed to this act. I shall pray that in years to come, we would have redeemed ourselves sufficiently, individually and collectively, as recompense to all lives tragically lost. It is the least we can do for them.
God rest all their souls.
Bala

Friday, September 4, 2015

The poise of Sangakkara..

I have always rated Sangakkara as one of the most polished players to have wielded the cricketing bat in my generation so far. Left handers have a natural flair, a gift, an artistry which right handed batsmen belabor to achieve. I can, even after all these years, still stand transfixed, mesmerized by a David Gower cover drive when replayed on television. There is something so poetic about it transcending the mere physicality of the act to a sublime experience where aesthetics and talent mingle in divine unison. After Gower, I must admit, the only other left hander I have openly admired and enjoyed is the cultivated purity and elegance of Sangakkara. I write this short article in lieu of his retirement from the game this month .Here is a man, who could have done anything with his life. Born rich, bred well, educated meticulously - the young boy achieved all meritorious honors one is capable of acquiring in Trinity College, Colombo - one of the foremost elitist educational institutions in Asia. Cricket was just one more option to him when he was 12. And he picked it up so well... Probably, there is merit in the accusation that his family’s standing in society won him a berth in the national side; but there is no taking away anything from him after he got in. How well the young man acquitted himself is evident in his sporting record over the last decade and half! His country was in flames and red with blood, when he started playing; and cricket was the only glue that kept the Island together and on the global map as a nation worth reckoning. The humiliating loss of the world cup in 1999, after a glorious win in 1996 proved to be the right break. Old cronies were asked to leave and game rested on young shoulders like Sangakkara’s. From then on, there has no looking back. In every form of the game, the young lion excelled himself. His articulate demeanor on and off the field, the educated brilliance he bought to the game; controlled aggression and understanding captaincy - elevated his team (along with other greats like Jayewardene) to a league that few teams have managed to reach.
I just finished watching an interview on CNN recorded in November last year. In thirty minutes Sangakkara presents himself and his views in a manner that would have made a Steven Pinker proud. Clarity of thinking, conviction of purpose and above all - maturity that comes when a sport is played at the highest level was evident in every sentence he uttered. The impeccable oxford diction, teasing smile, rugged looks and a nonchalant confidence shone through his rationalization of why he thought Cricket was fundamental to Srilankan history during times when Civil war ravaged through his lands. The team was constituted from all castes, tribes and sections of its native population; and its solidarity was his prime concern. And also, in the famous (now historic) Cowdery lecture he delivered in 2011, he spoke beautifully about the political condition of Srilanka, and how its unabashed corruption tried its best to infiltrate the game of cricket. Such courage can only come when one has to nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Never before in the annals of cricket did a lecture so profoundly affect and move audiences’ world over. Coming a young man in mid-thirties, it seemed almost prophetic and true.
It is sad to see him leave the arena so young. One would have felt that there were more years in him to serve the game he truly loves. But again, a true champion knows when best to leave. That is a hallmark which distinguishes the greats from the extraordinary. I am sure, confident that as an ambassador of the game and its evangelist, he will continue to enrich our lives. He is too full of energy and zest to hang his boots so early...
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

"Two days and One night" - a review.

"Two days and One night" - a review.
Here is a hypothetical situation; and I urge my sensitive readers to put themselves in the situation I am about to describe. Let’s say, you work in small organization of about fifteen employees, earning a salary just enough to lead a dignified life, raising kids and aspiring to remain secure financially You have recently recovered from a bout of depression (an emotionally bad phase), nothing serious, but just enough to put you in a slightly precarious position at work. You badly depend upon this job. It is not that you love it, but it pays you enough to lead a respectable life. And that’s all matters to you just now. Apart from a couple of co-workers, whom you consider friends, other respect you as fellow worker, and one or two remembers professional favors you have extended. Beyond this, there is no bonding between others and you. Your employer faces stiff completion from Asian market and takes a decision to cut down costs. This is the simple proposition he places in front of his employees: Either he fires you, and give the rest a decent bonus of $ 2000, or he retains your services and nobody gets a bonus this year. He takes a ballot, and the outcome - not surprising, is that you have to leave. All of them have voted for their bonuses goaded by a little non-coercive talk from your employer on company’s profitability and their job security. You are distraught, heart broken, not a highly skilled person and uncertain of your future. Your children are going to decent school, there is a mortgage on your home; and it has only been a couple of years that your Husband and you have seen some kind of existential security and financial freedom, after having lived under Government bailouts for a quite a long time. You plead with your employer to retain you; and he relents on a condition: A fresh ballot will be conducted on Monday (all this drama happens on a Friday evening), and he tells categorically that if you can convince the majority to forgo their bonus, he will reinstate your job. That leaves you with you two days and one night to talk to each of them and see if you can turn the tables around. Otherwise, you are in trouble and have to reevaluate your life choices once again.
This Ladies and Gentlemen, is the essence of the story of this most wonderful 2014 French film “Two days and one night”. From a land where Camus and Sartre lived, thought and wrote about man’s loneliness and existential predicament, there could not be a better work of cinematic art to capture the deep anguish, pain and paradox of modern man than this movie. Marion Cotillard, the phenomenal French actress, plays the role of Sandra - a working mother, who faces this crisis of having to let go of her dignity, self-respect and talk to each of her colleagues requesting their cooperation in holding on to her job. She doesn’t like doing it. Her upbringing, sense of worth prevent her; but practical realities forces her to do so. She meets each one of them, and asks to vote for her stay. The brilliance of the movie lies in the reaction of each of her coworkers to her plea - who like her, are caught in the web of “making a living”, “ making both ends meet” and all of those social obligation and commitments that modern man is painfully made to endure. Some of them willingly acquiesce, others blatantly refuse; some others feel sorry but are unwilling to surrender their good bonus; a few insult her. In all this, the actor in Marion presents the myriads faces of Sandra with startling realism and vividity: Her changing moods and phases, the terrible humiliation on having to do this without letting her Children know; gobbling anti-depressant pills, unable to cry with freedom, choking with grief on her supportive husband’s shoulders; contemplating suicide; winning small victories, losing a few, reassessing her value systems and outlook; progressively getting more confident and positive that no matter what happens Life will continue – in all this, we see a common man, living in an unequal world, unsure of tomorrow facing the horrendous psychological reality of Modern society - where an individual is nothing but a cog in a wheel to be easily dispensed with. In a world so dominated by economic realities of living, it is hard to accuse anyone of being selfish. The various protagonists in this story, who refuse to vote for Sandra are not wrong in their stand or views. They have reasons, in fact compelling reasons for wanting their bonus. Building a patio, School fees, mortgage payments, and travails of single income families - all of them valid and sound. And Sandra understands and empathizes with them. The most common word in this screen play is the French world “Merci” - meaning “thank you”. Sandra uses it at least fifty times. She feels bad asking such a big favor from her fellow workers, but who is to be blamed for this? The employer, market conditions, screwed living conditions in modern civilized world, evils of capitalism - which of this can be humanized and accused for this existential uncertainty. The long road to modern industrial (and now digital society) has been a steady transformation from “living a life” to “making a living”, and in that process, we have dehumanized ourselves to the point that we cannot make a healthy connection with one another without weighing relationships, values and common decency in economic terms.
Well, let me loop back to this film… Marion Cotillard! It is impossible that anyone cannot know her. She has been the face of Dior for about eight years now. And if we have ever flipped through a copy of vogue or Vanity Fair or wall street journal, among 200 other journals and magazines that have had her face on front covers – I am certain her expressive face would have passed before our eyes without consciously noticing it. Stunning, sultry, shapely extremely well spoke and literate (as most French Women are) – she transitioned in to movies very young. Widely considered as one of the richest, most bankable French heroines of the twenty first century Her moment of recognition ( in Hollywood) was in 2007, when she became the first (the only actor so far) actress to win an academy award for her performance in French film in French Language. I must confess, beyond this detail - I knew nothing of her until I saw this movie. And to say that I was overwhelmed by her passion, intensity and understanding of Sandra’s role, and its meticulous execution on screen - would be the grossest understatement I would ever hope to make as a passionate lover of the medium of Cinema. It was revelatory, to say the least. The Dardenne brothers, who made this movie could not have hoped for a better, more realistic exhibition of acting display than this. A deglamorized role, with just two costumes in the entire film ( I counted), unkempt hair, bereft of any gloss, expressions that effortlessly ranged from thwarted grief to rumblings of hope, an almost superhuman command of the script and flow of this arty story and script - Marion, in my books , played the character to perfection. There was not a single glitch. Marion, the glamour girl simply dissolves and disappears into Sandra Bya - the working woman who needs to keep her job to stay afloat.
Sound had no role to play in this drama. Hence there is no sound track. Not a single strain of violin or Cello to enhance the tautness of the moment. There are only grim silences punctuated by succinct dialogues, gasps and grief. In fact, one doesn’t feel the need for music. When art closely imitates life, sound becomes a distraction, and most profound works of visual art always deal with silences and white spaces and unsculpted marble.This film belongs to that league.
I would conclude this rather lengthy review with a poignant observation by French man Jean Paul Sartre in his frightfully stark book “Nausea” - a classic in existential literature
“I felt myself in a solitude so frightful that I contemplated suicide. What held me back was the idea that no one, absolutely no one, would be moved by my death, that I would be even more alone in death than in life….”
“Two days and one night” presents this personal crisis in modern society, where life loses meaning even if contemplates death as a panacea to this robotic, impersonal and uncertain living… Watch it, and you will see what I mean….
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala



Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Shashi Tharoor’s eight minute defense…

Shashi Tharoor’s eight minute defense…
The Oxford union debating society is one of those hallowed bodies established in 1823 to further free speech and exchange of radical ideas in a liberal environment; and its chief objective is to not cast aspersions on people and places, but rather a forum where Men and Women with reputed intellectual caliber and genuine integrity could exchange ideas impartially within the closed walls of its magnificent debating halls. Except for a few instances in its remarkable history, the society of Oxford union (the body that administrates these debates) have not found any occasion to public retract statements of speeches by its esteemed participants; and they have held debates on almost every conceivable topic that has stuck a resonant chord in national and international consciousness. Even a casual perusal of its speaker list over the decades will show that eclectic array of people: Models, musicians, sportsmen, Scientists TV evangelists and presenters, Rock stats, Films actors, novelists - and many more, have been generously invited to present their case; and almost all of them have done so in a manner befitting such a gracious invitation. And in that line Shashi Tharoor was invited to participate in a debate titled “The reparations program” which included speakers from countries who have lifted the yoke of colonialism off their shoulders and are now on their way to economic and social development.
Great debaters are those who could argue for and against with equal force, to substantiate or discredit a formally framed notion or an idea. From the time of Rome's Cicero to Modern day statesman, there is an unbroken tradition of towering intellects whose rhetoric garnished with facts have held audiences in thrall. While their individual stand may be different or diametrically opposite to what they represent, the sheer intellectual breadth and depth coupled with silvery skills of elocution could sway an audience either way - just as a snake charmer woos a snake to his melancholy tunes. And for an entranced audience in a debate, the matter that is being contested is not so much important as how it is contested: what levels of intellectual virtuosity is brought to bear by a speaker, how are “facts” bent to yield an interpretation, how convincingly true does one truly sound; style, diction, language, repartee's, rebuttals - these are the artistic elements that one relishes in a debating event. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Shashi Tharoor is profound intellectual by any standards of cerebral comparison. If there is one thing that stands out in his professional and personal life – it is this extraordinary ability to gather himself at will and speak eloquently on topics that interest and excite him; and throughout his student days at Tuft, in UN, and even after, he has continued to speak, debate, evangelize his views in different forums, writing books and publishing essays (search YouTube and you will a hundred Tharoor videos passionately arguing one cause or the other). And it is not least bit surprising to me, that on that beautiful cold day - 28th of May, Tharoor rose to speak in the austere Gladstone (Gladstone was one of the greatest prime ministers of England, a vigorous debater and a past president of Oxford debating society) hall in defense of the fact that Britain owed India reparations for the untold economic and social damage it caused during its 200 years of colonial rule. He was given, as customary, eight minutes to make his case, and what a wonderful exhibition of measured reasoning Mr. Tharoor displayed. It was spell binding, to say the least. Being the penultimate speaker, he had to rethink, rephrase and re-research (in his head) the entire case, and being the intellectual that Tharoor is - he had absolutely no difficulty whatsoever to realign his thoughts in quick time laced with sufficient wit and wisdom to leave a last impression on crowd assembled, and through the internet – almost on the entire globe.
But here is my point. If Tharoor was given an opportunity to defend Britain’s cause in another debate - he would do so with equal, if not more, aplomb. He is that capable a historian, statesman, intellectual and debater. What I am not very sure though is why Indian Media, and a lot of social chatter is revolving around Tharoor’s valorous and patriotic defense of wrongs against India, or how England now has to bow its head in shame about its unabashed exploitation of a meek country, when all Mr Tharoor was doing is acting out a role in a debating forum. I find it utterly ridiculous. While it is a known Historical fact (Few have time to read History today- that is the problem), that any country that has ever embarked upon colonization does so only with the sole objective of serving their own internal needs, and Britain was no exception to that Golden rule. That in 200 odd years, they despoiled our agricultural cycles by replacing rice and wheat with spices, jute and cotton, or they systemically tore apart the social fiber of an ancient civilization to bend it to their will; that Indian economy dropped to an abysmal 2% from a high of about 20 %; That Indians starved to death when Churchill diverted food supplies to armies - all these are known, documented, debated facts and nothing new about any of them. Tharoor was merely clothing them in a voice that suited the hour and occasion. That is exactly what a debate is all about!
Now the hue and cry on whether England has to now repair damages done in the past, or it still owes millions of pounds to India is in my opinion- is as puerile and childish a reasoning one can hope can hope to advance. No country, and I mean, No country has ever kept up its promises of reparations for colonization or for any damages for that matter. History is replete with almost every country owing a smaller, weaker continent or people moral or monetary damages. The truth is both the Colonized and the Colonizers simply move on and build their own future. And speaking about India in particular, Colonialism in the form of British (and thankfully not the French, Portuguese or others who wished to establish their dominion) had in fact given this country the pedestal to launch its freedom movement. The fact that when we eventually got free in 1947, and we did have substantial infrastructure in the form roads, railways, Post, law and administrative services in place - is something that we owe only to England. The fact that most of the senior leaders in the first wave of governance (including Gandhi) was educated in British law and inherited a lot of their customs and sense of fair play - gave India, as an independent nation, the confidence that it could govern this diverse nation. The educational system, development of arts, libraries, museums – all of which still remain as portent as ever even today in our social fabric only vindicates the fact that England’s rule did give us a solid base upon which we have only building for the last 70 odd years. The fact that in 200 years of British governance, for the first time, we had less discrimination between religions, castes and minorities, that the Indian army was formed, tutored and solidified into a good fighting unit through institutions developed in the model of Sandhurst; that the British did not allow any other nation to encroach upon Indian shores for significant amount of time gave our country its first taste of cohesiveness, nationhood - these are things that cannot be weighed or evaluated in monetary terms. Not for a moment am I defending the evils of colonialism, but all that I am attempting to point out is that the past is an enigmatic, and oftentimes a paradoxical time frame. While we would like to thump our chests and cry foul over something that happened centuries ago, we could also pause to think if things could have been any different from how it happened. One of the fundamentals that learns out of a deep study in history is that a nation’s past always seems intolerable in retrospect, and one feels things could have been better. But the sad truth is: The if’s and but’s, the what’s and why’s are conundrums that none can solve. But, on the other hand, the good news is that what we have now in our hands the glorious present, carved out of ever moving time; and we should make the best of it.
I appreciated, enjoyed Mr. Tharoor’s wonderful Ted-like speech. It had substance, style and wit. But beyond its cerebrally stimulating tactility- to be patriotically aroused by a debate held in closed room for nothing more than intellectual pleasure seems to me a knee-jerk reaction slightly overdone. I would rather, using Dr Kalam’s metaphor in a different context “We are now free country with all forces under our disposal and command; what are we going to do about it..? Let’s not talk about injustices done in the past and seek retribution now, but rather work towards learning, and moving forward.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

A Sage passes away.. Dr Kalam

A Sage passes away.. Dr Kalam
When I heard about the sudden demise of Dr Kalam in class today, I was instantly reminded of Einstein’s remark on Gandhi: “Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever walked upon this earth”. It will not be untrue to rephrase this moving tribute and write “Generations to come in Independent India will scarcely believe that amidst the turmoil, corruption, bureaucracy, unenlightened leadership and utter lack of vision – there lived a man, whose life was devoted to the cause of humanity as much as it was to science, whose life was as much a study in humility as it was in the dignity and respect of human beings, whose living presence was a reminder that political life need not be divested of statesmanship, whose prolific and prodigious scientific intellect was tempered with sense of material achievement with a human touch, whose fertile brain at the age of 83 was still young enough to think of a modern and rejuvenated India, whose every step was a commitment to bringing out the very best in the community around him - and above all, a man whose untarnished and scrupulous living is a stirring example of how one may lead a life without any debilitating attachments, simple; yet with self-respect ,authority and learning”
Dr Kalam died well. He could not have chosen a better podium to leave his exhausted body behind. Addressing an audience in IIM Shillong on “Livable Planet earth” - a topic that always interested him, his heart gave way to merge into its Universal counterpart. What a life? We will miss his smiling face, his whitish flowing hair, his brisk walk, his compassionate look, his unpretentious talks, his undisguised accent, his illuminating insights, his playful demeanor, his towering intellect, his overwhelming magnanimity and his unbounded optimism in India and its future. In his passing away, we have lost yet another father of our nation. But this time around, this sage has managed to inspire millions of young hearts who will not get bogged down by the pettiness they see around them. They will not allow the fire that Kalam has lit to die so easily. Where Gandhi failed, Kalam will succeed, because he has touched the powerful, vibrant chords of confidence, dignity and optimism in younger generation; and the putrid accretions of a burdensome past will not shake their confidence in a future, which is made out of education, innovation and courage to live out one’s dreams. This is the legacy of DR APJ Kalam and the message of his life to us.
You shall never die sir. You will live in every dream realized, every achievement consummated.
God bless…
Bala

The pulse of a Leader..

The pulse of a Leader..
It was one of the finest 30 minutes of technical exposition that I have had the opportunity to hear live in a long time. One often wonders, why CTO’s and CEO’s get paid so well, what exactly at their skill-sets that they make them eligible for a hefty paycheck, or made to blaze forth in the media as icons worth emulating. What is that charm - that tangible, palpable essence of who they are that makes us forget idiosyncrasies, arrogance, inconsistencies or madness so amply displayed in their daily life? The answer is not far: it is simply the vision, a holistic understanding of business, and a mysteriously ability to connect the dots in an astounding simple manner - that to a listener, it would seem almost insanely logical and coherent. It is not so much the detail (which obviously is a path they have trodden assiduously before reaching this level) but a piercing insight into how the juggernaut of their businesses rolls, and an uncanny ability to forecast, predict news paradigms and their implementation.
This week, I was in New York engaged with a bleeding edge technology company. It was a small audience of 8-10 software architects and a few customers as well. It was a workshop/class of how their niche product fits into its slot, and I was part of this gathering (straight from a 40 hour flight from India through Dubai) to spearhead Training programs for us in this product space. I also had to present a few topics, which I did. The company’s Deputy CTO (Dan, Name changed obviously) apparently was on business in the city, and chose it to attend all five days of this engagement. A short, fair, bald gentleman with a prince-nez kind of glasses dangling on his nose bridge; dressed in an informal Company T shirt, and slightly ill-fitting jeans; a charming, unpretentious smile adorned his face and never seemed to escape his lips, his fingers moved at break neck speed across the keyboard replying to emails, editing presentations, making briefs – but his ears were continuously registering the progress of the class, the questions asked and answers traded. He would occasionally pitch with a casual statement here and there, and all of us would be all ears (You may wonder how I know so much. Well I was sitting next to him, and couldn’t help noticing his multitasking ability). I learnt from Dan (during one of our Lunches) that he had joined this organization 15 years ago, as an engineer working 20 hours a day building these pieces that form this product range. And as the company began to grow, they also made strategic acquisitions that needed to be integrated with existing portfolio. And again, Dan was instrumental in the rewiring of those. Having anticipated the market years before it actualized, Dan and his team were ready to ride the wave when it rose. The last five years has been one of stepping back and re-consolidation, and they were nowl poised to lead..
A brief description of what this company does will be in place. It represents one of the few players in the market, who develop solutions that address an entire Software application stack. For those of us non-technical - all that it means is that their products help huge organizations across the globe manage their infrastructure and application availability better. They have various pieces (each one of them is a beast in itself) that fits into different parts of an architecture, and if orchestrated well, they could bring billions of dollars of revenue savings and software uptime to customers. This week, we were talking about one piece of this larger picture. And we had questions that came in from different angles. Our facilitator, though an accomplished professional in this specialized area, did find himself at odds juxtaposing various components together. And that is when, Dan stepped in on the last day for 30 minutes just before the session ended. It was a request from all of us, in fact…
He wobbled up to the white board, picked a marker a spent ten minutes drawing a picture with innumerable arrows and dotted lines going back and forth. Not a word from him until he had finished it, and then he swerved around with a beaming smile on his face and began “Gentlemen, this is the future of software, and here is how we see it unfolding……” He carried on for the next half hour methodically, clinically dissecting his intricate drawing with an artistry of a master who lives, breathes and pulsates with his work. As he kept speaking, we could sense the veils of ignorance being lifted from our eyes. The underlying connections, the thread that binds this complex web of products into one coherent whole began to surface and reveal themselves in a new light. The why’s and what’s automatically resolved themselves in the pristine flow of his erudition, detail and oration. The overall picture stood out from the miasma of details - which in turn, illuminated the details themselves in far greater depth than what we had heard over the last five days. All of us were riveted to his mesmerizing talk, and at the end of it, we involuntarily applauded. There could have been not better finale to this week. He put his marker down and with a wave of his had concluded” And so Gents, this is why we are so excited about the future, because we have preparing for it for the last ten years…”
John (the facilitator) and I rode the same cab to the airport, and he casually mentioned” Bala, now you know why Dan is one of our highly paid executives. He knows the gross details as much as the biggest picture possible, and that makes him quite indispensable and powerful… He is the right hand of our CTO… I could only nod my head in acknowledgement.
In my flight back to Atlanta, I closed my eyes and recaptured the flow. Everything that I had learnt in this week fell into place like a well-directed movie. And I also realized that this is what leadership is all about. It is not just speaking in the air without ones feet in the ground, but rather the opposite of it. One should have gone through the fire of working with details to emerge on top of it. One doesn’t become a manager or a leader by virtue of the number of years one has put in. The questions is: have those years counted in getting one to understand the pulse of the business one is into? Do we still have the guts to roll up our sleeves and get down to raw details, if need be? If no, then we may not become confident and successful leaders. And for every youngster, who sits through an appraisal hoping to get promoted, this is the question one should ask oneself: Do I love my current role enough to deserve this promotion? If I don’t have passion for what I am doing right now, then a step forward will only leave a weak link in the chain, and one would never be secure and productive in higher positions. A great Leader, manager, is one who can walk the ladder up and down with equal ease – in other words, take strategic decisions and understand the nitty- gritty of it as well. After all, a ladder collapses if we start burning its lower rungs.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Diaries of a vacation - Part 5

Diaries of a vacation - Part 5
Excellence in life often boils down to very simple principles: Following one’s heart, dedication, willingness to commit oneself to a chosen task with passion, energy and zeal, grabbing opportunities as they come by, constantly innovating and finding ways of adapting to changing needs and times - all these are to found in the myriad books, inspirational speeches that abound for the benefit of common man. But what they don’t, won’t or cannot tell you is why then Excellence and success is so uncommon then, and discouragingly hard to come by. After all, if there is a fixed regimen to be followed; and if one is willing to follow it to the tee- then success must be inevitable. But that is not the case. It seems that Men and Women who are successful, and have reached the pinnacle of their chosen field of work seem to be “divinely chosen” for whatever they are destined to do, and the rest can, at best emulate their ways and means with a fervent hope that they too would touch the summit or come apologetically close to it.
Hearing Vishwanathan Anand speak at the Oberoi the other day to a close audience of 30 odd people raised a few fundamental questions in my mind. Here is a man whom one could term as child prodigy. Tutored by his Mother to play chess at 6, national champion at 14, Grand master at 15 and then to be followed by a meteoric rise in the international arena- baffling veterans with his prodigious understanding of the chessboard and its mathematical vulnerabilities; unassuming, simple, well-spoken and down to earth – that today the game of chess is almost synonymous with him along with the Bobby Fishers, Kasparov’s and karpov’s if his league. While most of the champions approached chess as a war of personalities, Anand transformed the game by looking at it from a purely number of squares on a board and its permutations.
He has been NIIT’s brand ambassador for a while now - in fact 16 years, if I am not mistaken, and every now and then we showcase him to speak about his extraordinary resilience when the chips are down. And what he had to say last Wednesday evening was quite interesting (for me, personally). Apart from normal pointers from successful people like - get the basics right, keep practicing, have a goal etc., Anand made two subtle but deep points that i need to elaborate upon. He talked about not getting caught up in ones journey towards excellence, and just get down to brass action at some point in time. He said Chess has reached a point, where individual players do not matter anymore or the game. It had become utterly predictable, and the only way to score an advantage is by playing random opening moves without thought of consequences. In other words, it pays to be chaotic and give into the moment. All of one’s preparation is just up to that point: after which, it is best to let go and trust in one’s intuition. This is a particularly insightful observation in a world that seems to be gravitating more towards order and control, where every line of work is systematized, and numbers and measurements seems to hold absolute sway over our decision making. But true Excellence is never planned. It is always those singular moments of brilliance that come unannounced and sweep away all predictions and averages from our feet. After a two year losing streak, Anand rose like a Phoenix towards the end of last year to win a couple of crucial games. And the reason, he emphasized was to abandon the trodden path and embark upon something new. It is in this sense that I said earlier that such moments of path breaking innovation cannot be learned or transmitted. It is a spark that illuminates individual breasts from within, and cannot be imitated.
The other important point that Anand talked about is the paralysis caused by psychological time. As a chess player, days and months of intense preparation are needed, cramming the brain with myriad possibilities; but on the day of reckoning – there has to be a let go, a deep understanding that the outcome of one’s effort is beyond ones control. That life has far more dimensions and variables that can possibly be coordinated, and pushing oneself too hard when it matters may possibly lead to negative results. Again, it is not mental laziness that leads to this attitude, but a crescendo of effort. This is pretty tough thing to do. In a world dominated by constant pressure to do consistently well, it takes a lot personal maturity and insight to not get bogged down by extraneous factors. The best sportsmen are those who just play for the sheer love of the game. And what is true for Sportsmen is true enough for excellence in every field of action.
I am writing this post sitting at 2.00 A.M in the morning. Dubai international airport is teeming with life, and all around me. I see people from Different nationalities - Africa, Chinese, British, French, and German – and I can hear their different tongues filtering though the buzz. This has been a glorious trip for me. I couldn’t have hoped for a better vacation. Spent real quality time with Mom and family, Met all my friends at work, pampered my tummy (to the point of upsetting it a bit) with all the goodness that rich food can offer, received hospitality and warmth that can only come with mutual respect and understanding, worked enough to keep things moving; worked out our Office in Gurgaon for the first time, took my team out for dinner; was treated to sumptuous lunches by my friends/colleagues in Delhi ( will never forget the taste of Rabdi - ever!!!) slept dreamlessly on my old bed at home; drank my mother’s hot filter coffee with intensity of an addict; watched a few serials on TV ( and actually began to like them); enjoyed the torrential and capricious rains that Kerala is blessed with; gossiped enough to last for a few months; talked philosophy with my mom - in all it was a replenishing break from professional routine.
Such periods of inactivity are required; otherwise one would tend to lose perspective and composure. And now I wait for another ten hours for my flight to New York. I have two books open in front of me. One, a tech book that I need to read for my work this week; and the other is a brilliant debut novel by Zia Haider Rahman titled “In the light of what we know”. They should keep me occupied for better part of my layover.
I must agree with Henry Thoreau - the great nature writer and existentialist – when he writes “He enjoys true leisure who has time to improve his soul's estate…” And it is for this quality of leisure that vacations are for.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Diaries of a Vacation: part 4

Diaries of a Vacation: part 4
Decades ago the study of “Humanities” was considered a respectable vocation (especially for Women... Don’t ask me why?). The choice of many parents would invariably narrow down to this after much deliberation, because it was considered respectable and a homely course to study. After finishing, the door to Teaching were open, and many preferred the comfort of a good stable teaching job in a decent school as indicative of having reached somewhere. And of course, prospects of marriage would increase, and along with all other goodies life has to offer. Almost every university in India, even today, offers a course in Humanities. It is sadly the lowest rung of the ladder in terms of scholastic achievement, but nevertheless a last refuge if one doesn’t get into anything else, after school. The thinking is that there is still a vestige of respectability left in it, though future may not be as bright as one would want it to be. That’s alright, I guess - considering college education, at least at the graduate level really means nothing at all, unless it is accomplished in top notch colleges, which again, is available only to a miniscule percentage of our population.
The reason I got thinking about this is because the other day in the car, a friend was ruminating aloud about his daughter’s future, and the topic of Humanities came up as a possible last ditch option for her. He said “She came always get into a Humanities course, if she doesn’t do well in her twelfth board…” I did not comment on it, but it set me thinking along different lines. Others in the car were talking about pros and cons of it, but to me, steeped in antiquarian learning as I am, my mind went back to the origins of this study called “Humanities” and what it originally intended to mean.
Humanists were a bunch of people in the late 12th and 13th century who devoted their lives to resuscitating the dying or dead embers of a civilization that existed ages ago. Rome formally collapsed as an empire in the 6th century, and with it the classic language of Latin and its rich, lush heritage was lost to the barbaric tongues of natives who swarmed to its capital. Dark ages swept the Western continent. Literature, science, philosophy - and all its great works were either destroyed or hidden in monasteries and palaces: muddied, tattered, and valueless; and its place there flourished a culture that was far inferior to what had existed before. But life is a continuum. What was once can never ever be lost forever. It may mutate, transform and lie submerged, waiting for an appropriate fertile ground -to flower again in newer ways and fresher manifestations. The great institution of Catholic Church which Constantine blessed and consecrated as a universal body holding together the moral fiber of its people stooped to levels of depravity, corruption and malfeasance that mocked the very purpose of Christ’s word. Ordained to be the custodians of Man’s culture, they degenerated into a body of unscrupulous popes, bishops and cardinals whose sole aim was to tender the word of God for a monetary advantage. They had scant regard for Human values, refinements and dignity; and prosecuted anyone who dared to voice against their convoluted system. All literature - which is the vehicle of transmission of Human heritage from one generation to another, lacking which Man would fall into a state of primitiveness at every turn of history - was now beginning to be threatened. The glory that was Greek and Rome was becoming a distant dream, and the common denominator of Western consciousness was stooping to level that put Man back a thousand years in cultural, intellectual and moral maturity. That is when a group of nobles, poets, ecclesiasts, and bibliophile’s started digging into ancient age to recover lost riches. They called themselves “Humanists” and their project as Humanities. Their goal was to resurrect a golden age, and either adopt it to meet the chaos and turmoil they witnessed, or try their level best to light of spark of interest in common man by reproducing classical works for distribution. Petrarch, the Italian connoisseur of arts was the forerunner in this effort. He had a maniacal passion for anything old, and he cultivated amongst his circle several young men from wealthy and not so wealthy families the flame of bringing to life works that lay hidden in forlorn places all over the western world. If not these Humanists, renaissance would have never happened; and the modern world as we see it would have not unfolded. With Plato, Aristotle, Ovid, Virgil, Dante and several other Greek and Roman luminaries bought to light, the 14th Century began to turn around intellectually, aesthetically and morally. Francis Bacon was its beacon. And since his time, the study of Humanities was meant to signify a glorious transmission of culture and learning across generations.
Hence Teachers in mediaeval colleges were preferred with a Humanities background. In the Universities of France, England, Germany and Italy - nobody could teach if they didn’t have a thorough grinding in Humanities. Every course needed to have Humanities embedded into it. Under its broad head, it had History, geography, Literature, arts, Philosophy and all other major branches of Human achievement. The driving motive being: education is incomplete if one doesn’t appreciate the past. And a full flowering of a Human being is only possible when one grows from collective wisdom of ages, understand its rich heritage; and transform it to suit modern times. Such an individual will shine as a wholesome person.
Alas, what have we made of this great idea and effort? Today, graduating out of a Humanities course is a sure way to be unsuccessful. Not only in India, but across the globe. In America, a graduate from a Humanities courses gets paid 5000 to 10000 less than their counterpart from any other course; and so is the case with other countries as well. With Knowledge explosion all around, in a variety of ways, perhaps there is no need for a synthesizing experience of learning. It may not be possible given the degree of specialization and proliferation of different branches of knowledge. But still, deep down, there is still lingering beauty in being able pore over ancient books, gather wisdom bequeathed to us by time, and help continue unbroken the intellectual legacy of Mankind. Humanities is the name of such an endeavor.
Philip Roth in his wonderful book (that was made into a lovely film starring Anthony Hopkins) “The Human stain”, best summarizes the current state of learning and modern attitude to heritage when a teacher complains about his students. I quote:
“In my parents' day and age, it used to be the person who fell short. Now it's the discipline. Reading the classics is too difficult, therefore it's the classics that are to blame. Today the student asserts his incapacity as a privilege. I can't learn it, so there is something wrong with it. And there is something especially wrong with the bad teacher who wants to teach it. There are no more criteria, Mr. Zuckerman, only opinions.”
God bless:
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Diaries of a vacation : Part 3

Diaries of a vacation : Part 3
While describing the crucial period in Western mind when philosophical thought was just about incubating at the dawn of recorded history, Gustav Flaubert , the great french author beautifully wrote “Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone…”. We could slightly modify this brilliant insight and write “Just when the gods ceased to be and Adi Shankara had not yet come, there was a unique moment in Indian history , between Buddha and Vikramaditya, when Man stood alone, lost in the alleys of discursive abstractions…”. And then Shankara arrived! And what a life it proved to be... The life and work of Shankara is a turning point in revitalizing and resurrecting the purest strains of mysticism that lay buried under the hubris of intellectual debates and arguments of a thousand differing schools of thought. And in a brief life time of 32 years, he established the metaphysical scaffolding that was required to hold the fundamental insights into nature of man that until then lacked the intellectual rigor to stand on its own.
Kalady in Kerala is the birth place of Shankara. Legend has it that he was born to a pious couple, devotees of Shiva, after considerable time. Orphaned young, without a father, the young child grew under the loving embrace of his Mother Aryamba who symbolized the best Brahmin traditions of the time. Shankara flowered in the ritualistic milieu that surrounded him, yet found himself strangely aloof from its mechanical and stringent injunctions. There was an inner movement that pulled him away from peripherals and tethered him to a deeper core. After a vague but uneasy restlessness grips him, he becomes a mendicant with the blessing of his mother, promising her that he would be back when she needs him the most. Thus begins an inner and outward journey that would bring the young boy into contact with the teachings of Upanishads and Vedanta, refurbishing those ancient discoveries with fresh interpretations, experiencing truth as it is, and composing copious tracts that would suit the intellectual yearnings of a confused population. If not for his singular effort, Hinduism as we know it in its purest essence would have been lost forever.
The journey to Kalady from our house is about an hour and half. We left around 8 in the morning, and by the time we reached Kalady, we had left the city behind and roads started narrowing down to quiet alleys, and a perceptible decrease in urban noise. Very quickly we reach the spot which historically has been established as the birthplace of Shankara, based on unbroken records maintained by Sringeri math since 4th century AD. What an unpretentious place! Neat, quiet, nestled on the banks of Periyar (called Purna in olden days). Legend again has it that this river altered its flow to accommodate the wishes of its young son who wished that his mother would not have to walk a long distance to fetch water - and lapped Shankara’s feet. Hence the name Kalady (means “under his feet”) This may or may not be true, but one could physically see a little turn near the edge of river’s onward flow, as if, it decided to meet someone midway. Apart from regular shrines that adorn most Hindu sacred spots, Kalady has a special shrine from Shankara’s mother. This is a small lamp that is kept burning there all the time in memory of her. This was truly a revolution at that time. Shankara trudged his way back from the North to perform the last rites for Aryamba. Even at this distance, one shudders to think of the immense moral and spiritual rectitude of this young mystic, who had the audacity and understanding to defy all known scriptorial rules of Monk hood (sanyasa) and arrive at his home town to cremate his mother. It was a consummation of a promise he had made as a young boy. I know of only one another saint in Modern times who though liberated internally cherished motherhood with all care and affection - that is Ramana maharishi. In both these instances, they demonstrated that inward liberation is not incompatible with outward conformance to social roles. A teaching that resonates though ages. Close by, there is a temple consecrated to Krishna, personified as a small boy. As is typical in temples around Kerala, the shrine remains closed for many hours during the day for various rituals. The priests and public take this closures in their stride. When Mom and I went inside the temple, the sanctum was closed, and an elderly pious gentleman near me told in hushed and reverential terms: “They are feeding the baby. We have to wait…” He said this with great conviction and belief. I nodded “Yes sir, I understand.”
In all we spent about two an hour around Shankara’s birth place. We are accompanied by my mother’s companion (we affectionately call her Bhai Amma) and Regi, who by profession manages our Apartment complex, but to our family, he is almost a son. It was great having them on this trip. As we drove back, all of us were quiet, immersed in the solitude that Kalady permeated. It is extraordinary, how the brain becomes quiet when it encounters purity. It was thirteen centuries ago that young Shankara awakened to his reality, and the quality of that pristine experience still reverberates in every crevice of his memorial. His commentaries, hymns and mystical texts have survived undiluted through time, nourishing each generation in its own way. Not all can understand the higher reaches of his insights, but therein lies the profundity of his message - that whether one understands one’s true self or not, the reality is “Tat Tvam Asi” – “Thou art that”, and none is ever away from bliss, happiness and fulfillment.
To round off this journey, our final stop today was to buy “Paal ada pradhaman” (Sweetened cream of milk). It is one of the finest delicacies of Kerala. Tastes like Milk kheer, but sweetened and fattened with extra care in typical southern style. Doctors may advice you to be careful about this, but believe me, there can be nothing better than a bowl full of this nectar… It’s been a long day, and great sweet finish to it..
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Diaries of a vacation - part 2

Diaries of a vacation - part 2
Rain gods have a special relationship with Kerala. They start their journey from this southern tip, and slowly move across the country bestowing their blessings. And the months of June, July and August find them at their capricious best. Low lying dark clouds hover perilously close to the damp earth, almost touching or kissing them; threatening to burst into tears (which they sometimes do with ferocious intent) or sometimes move away allowing streaks of Sunlight bathe its verdant skin with a warm, humid glow. They are as unpredictable as young lovers, reveling in inconsistency. It is not for nothing that this piece of land is called “Gods own country”. Surrounded by waters, enriched by luxuriant vegetation, relatively secure habitat, isolated communities formed, sustained and nourished on values and way of life that is radically different from mainstream – Kerala has always resisted distinct categorization. There is a fierce pride in its people one wouldn’t find in many other parts. Well groomed, relatively well educated, deeply conscious of their rich, heavy (some would call it smothering) heritage – one could almost term them as arrogant; but that would be a mistake. It is more a cultural trait than anything else. In fact, deep down they are a little shy of opening up. Like young cubs that loves to cuddle in the warmth of its mother’s belly and finds it a little discomforting to step outside its Rubicon; It takes time to draw them put. But things are changing. Proliferation of malls, prodigious influx of wealth, and expansion and spread of families to wider parts of the globe - is definitely bringing in cataclysmic changes. I was in an upscale gym yesterday evening, and got to see and hear vibrant, well-spoken group of people (men and Women) from different walks of life aspiring to live life by standards that would not have been common many years ago. There was a cosmopolitan quality to their conversation. Jim Morrison’s “The doors” was playing in the background. An odd album in a health club, but I guess , In a way, it symbolizes a severing of umbilical cord that was anyway imminent in near future, or probably it has happened already.
Since couple of years now, my mother has resumed attending religious classes on Upanishads, Gita and other Vedantic texts at the Chinmaya mission here. She is close to 73 now, and as far as I can remember, she has always had this tremendous discipline and interest to learn. It is extraordinary the kind of passion she brings to this enterprise: promptly waking up at 5.30 or 5.45, meticulously getting her books ready in preparation for class, timing her morning chores to perfection, promptly calling her driver to make sure he is on time and she is ready to reach well in advance for her class, bubbling with energy and infectious enthusiasm, greeting everyone in the mission with positivity and cheer, walking up to her chair with a reverence and commitment that would put many a youngster to shame. It is a sight to behold. For me, I can only contrast this abundant energy in her to the drab and dull faces that I get to see on many young “professionals” in many of my classes. Most of them have aged at 25 or 30; their mental edges blunted, and the flame of curiosity and intellectual appetite have almost died down. Our previous generation are definitely made of different mettle than us. What was even more amazing than this was the copious notes she has made of all lectures she attends. It runs into several notebooks I was dumbstruck!! When I held those notes in my hand. Pages after pages of cleanly written transcripts of her Guru’s utterances in English, Tamil and Malayalam, interspersed with her own interpretation, commentary and cross references. She tells me very innocently “I learn when I write down my thoughts...” What a beautiful idea? In early Christian and Hindu monasteries, priests and initiates were encouraged to read, write and copy ancient texts. The motive being: as one puts pen to paper, the mind has to necessarily focus; and in that process the alchemy of learning happens. In a way, this was one of the things that she really wanted to engage in; and I glad that she has found the right circumstances and conditions to do it. When I met Swamiji yesterday, he told me with a lot of pride and happiness in his face “Your mother is very dynamic. When she approached me two years ago, I was skeptical. How would she able to cope up, or climb two floors, sit at one place for two to three hours. But she has proved all of us wrong. She is the best student in this class...” There was nothing much for me say. I merely kept quiet with my heart brimming with joy and immense gratitude to life.
I am seeing my niece after quite some time. It is again incredible how a Human child matures so quickly after a certain threshold. She is now one year into college studying to be an architect in one of the finest educational institutions in India, away from home. And what a change! She was always a quiet girl, but now her quietness is accentuated by a maturity that comes with realizing responsibilities. That is the best moment of one’s life. When independence is tapered with discipline. I think she is in that phase right now. And I can see nothing but growth and increasing depth in her in times to come.
I am gorging on food... Nothing, I mean nothing can even come remotely close to home cooked food. Probably the warmth and love that goes into its preparation makes all the difference; there is a sense of deep satisfaction that cannot be matched in the best of Hotels. For someone like me, who live, thrive and sustain on food made in restaurants, this is as close as bliss that one can hope to realize. Kerala, as many of you may know, has its own cuisine - very traditional and in many ways only found here. Puttu, Kadalai and sweetened banana - a wonderful breakfast made out rice flour with red chick peas gravy as an accompaniment, followed by steamed banana in jaggery – is authentic Keralite fare (my breakfast today morning). It’s heavy, and as I write this post, I can feel the brain numbed by the fullness of its intake.
Contrary to all that I promised myself before I embarked on this trip, I am going to spend a couple of hours working now. Not the greatest of ideas, and Mom wasn’t too pleased, but got to be done.
Alight then…
Will continue later..
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Diaries of a vacation: Part 1.

Diaries of a vacation: Part 1.
It is amazing how the mind collapses into a declutched state when vacation begins. After nearly two years, I am on a break with my family in Kochi. My journey began from Atlanta on Tuesday afternoon; and by the time I set foot in my home at Kochi, it was Thursday afternoon. I chose to fly Emirates this time. Though Delta would have yielded free tickets, it was convenient for me to fly through Dubai to reach Kochi, than take a circuitous route through Delhi or Bangalore. And I am glad that I did so for a variety of reasons.
What an aircraft the A-380 is? Introduced to the world of aviation about five years ago, this monster of a machine is perhaps the most convenient piece of passenger aircraft I can think of. Emirates has close to 50 of them (Airbus sells most of their A 380’s to Emirates). The sheer size is daunting. A two storied, 800 capacity flight with 35 Air attendants and four captains - it is almost a mini universe within that big elongated capsule. As this giant taxied up to our terminal in JFK, all other flights had to stand still to allow this massive body to inch its way out to the gate. One got the feeling that an emperor was walking up the red carpet, and all other dignitaries had to stop whatever they were doing and pay obeisance to the leader. The insides are pure class: elegantly painted in distinctive Emirates color, window rims and door knobs of polished mahogany wood, wide entertainment screens with high definition, comfortable seats in economy ( as good as Business class in most other airlines), Lunch, breakfast and beverages of the highest quality served at regular intervals with unflinching attitude. It was hard to believe that there were so many people on board. There was so much moving space all around. The most unbelievable aspect of the aircraft though is the low level of noise that penetrates inside, and despite the sheer bulk of the machine and the air speed that it achieves at high altitudes, there is hardly a shake - unless there is a perceptible turbulence outside. In all it was a 14 hour journey worth every single moment of it.
And then the quality of air attendants! I have had the opportunity to teach software in Emirates College many years ago, and what struck me then and has stayed vivid in my memory all these years is the sheer diversity of their staff. Virtually every corner of the Globe found its representation there. Beautiful women and handsome men, dressed in best traditions of middle east, taught or rather indoctrinated to adopt the highest standards of customer service; from the way they stand to talk to walk - there is a studied effortless elegance, supreme confidence and a visible passion in their eyes on being a part of one of the finest airlines in the world. Despite a predominantly Asian crowd on board, whose demands can at times be very unreasonable, the flight attendants maintained composure and tact, which can only come with discipline and commitment to the job at hand. Some would want to reason this as a cultural trait, but I beg to disagree. At least, one half of the staff were from non-Asian countries, and I think it is just the way the airline define their conduct that determines the attitude and quality of its employees. I am sure some of the other major airlines can definitely take a point or two on how Emirates achieves this level of excellence. The only other airlines, in my opinion, that matches this joy of in-flight experience could be Singapore, Thai and Virgin Atlantic. Of course, this is my personal view and I am sure my readers may have other names up there in their lists.
Well, enough of Emirates!! When I began this essay, I started off talking about a “declutched” state. A bit more on that... One of things I was determined to do was to switch off my professional persona completely - at least for the duration of this flight. Normally, I do catch up on some amount of technical reading, but this time, all that I did was to dip in Margaret Atwood’s “The robber’s bride” - which incidentally is her only book that I have not read so far. I had reserved this book especially for this journey. Not that it is her most spectacular work, but I wanted to read this book from start to finish at one go. A childish pleasure that I wished to indulge in! In forty odd years, Margaret Atwood has written more than twenty odd works of fiction, short stories and around a dozen collections of impeccable and peerless reviews, criticisms and commentaries of books, movies, social issues and personalities. And I have devoured each word she has written with relish. It would be a crime for me not to admit that many a time, her writing style percolates and suffuses my own; It is inevitable when one has spent so much time with an author. So reading this book, completed a sacred circle for me. Until her new book comes out in 2015, this will be the last.
As a part of my journey, I had a nine hour layover in Dubai. The last time I was there, Terminal 3 (the newest in the airport) was being conceived. In fact, many at the emirates college were raving about it then. And when I walked into it this time, I knew exactly why there ecstatic about it? The first impression one gets of the Terminal is that it is a huge, gigantic mall designed to lure and trap unsuspecting travelers into its glossy spidery web. Nearly a mile long of stores, restaurants, hotel rooms, resting lounges - there is a no way anyone cannot stall the temptation to spend a few dirhams/dollars. I spent nearly two hours walking up and down, peeping into every shop. The only store where there were hardly any customers was a solitary book store with a lovely collection of books. I was possibly the only one. After a while of window gazing, I sat on one of the many reclining chairs lined along concourses, watching people buy. It was an amazing experience. Weary travelers, mothers balancing kids on their shoulders, frantic husbands, temporary workmen (you will find many of them in Dubai) trying to buy stuff to distribute back home (a symbol of a “foreign returned” man) - all of them filling up their duty free trolleys to the brim with every conceivable consumable one can think of. The agony of having to spend so much is visible on many faces, as they turn every item to check prices multiple times, re-stacking , and then coming back to pick it up as an afterthought. So much of deliberation to buy things that in most cases will never be used by them. Yet, these are dues that still has to be paid to one’s family and friends who await their prodigal son or daughter returning from a foreign land. If there is one common denominator in the entire concourse, it would have to be the white Duty cover bag in every passenger’s hands. The question then is: what did I buy? I am sure most of you will laugh when you read this… I realized midway during my flight from New York that I had forgotten to pack my deodorant stick, and I needed to get one. I walked into every shop enquiring for a plain old deo, only to be told that they had everything else but that. It wasn’t a good enough product for them to stock in an international airport. Finally, I say finally - with a breath of relief – one small medicals store in one ignored corner carried two deo sticks. I paid two US dollar and bought them. This was my only purchase from one of the most highly regarded duty free markets in the world. Do I feel proud about it? Not sure, but certainly, I could pat myself on the back for not succumbing to temptations that money can buy. That is small little moral triumph, I guess.
This is gotten to be quite a long post. Will break for now and resume my next installment in day or two. Until then…
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala