Sunday, October 30, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 56 ( Gulzar and Tagore)

Jottings : Slice of life - 55 ( Gulzar and Tagore)
It is in a way unfortunate that the image of Poet Laureate Rabindranath Tagore immediately brings to mind a picture of a old matured face, with flowing grey beard, draped in flowing clothes often with a shawl casually thrown over his shoulder, solemn eyes with a steady gaze seemingly hiding immense pain and longing behind its facade, an otherworldly look that categories him only as a poet who wrote of God, cosmos and such unearthly subjects. Nothing can be further from the truth. The body of work representing Tagore is as varied, rich and poetic as Shakespeare's. From political tracts to social issues to romantic love to patriotic fervor to sensual relationships to family dramas- his plays, short stories and poetry spans the entire range with equal ease and felicity.
Though he was officially awarded the Nobel prize in 1913 after "Gitanjali" was published, the nobel citation made it clear the award was given "because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West". English language was fortunate that Tagore could write flawless prose and poetry in English, and translate his own Bengali work as well. But what is unfortunate is that, Tagore is barely known beyond Bengal within India, and the little that is available has filtered through poor and below par translations in local languages rendering his vision and style ordinary and artificial. Just like Subramanya Bharati or kannadasan, great Tamil poets are hardly known beyond the boundaries of TamilNadu; and so are many other wonderful poet laureates in different states of India virtually unknown to others, the fate and image of Tagore has somehow remained one of aloofness and other worldliness. Instead of loving him as a brilliant, multifaceted poet, we have raised him to the pedestal of a saint ensconced in his beautiful Shantiniketan. This is the bane of a multilingual society. It is extremely difficult to give birth to national literature and appreciation of common written legacy, unless, there is some common denominator in terms of a language all of us agree upon. Even otherwise, it will need great poets to translate greats works into local languages. It cannot be done by mediocre run of the mill writers or translators.
None, over the last three or four decades, who have basic understanding of Hindi can argue against the fact that Gulzar's verse, vision and genius is perhaps unparalleled in contemporary Indian poetic landscape. There are many other poets who can be ranked alongside him; but for sheer quality, poetic evangelism and national consciousness, Gulzar is unique. His is a name probably known in most parts of india. A sagely figure, clad always in white kurta pyjama, simple, with a baritone voice that can sooth, provoke, move an entire audience to tears, smiles or surges of love and ecstasy in an instant, willingness to experiment with all forms of literary styles and medium, never shy of working with young artists with taste and style- Gulzar has remained a father figure for clearly an entire generation now.
Recently, while coming back to US, at the Delhi airport, i found two volume set of Gulzar's translation of Tagore's poems. I had some time on my hands. So I skimmed through its pages for about half an hour reading few translations as fluently as I could. For a person like me with only functional knowledge of Hindi, and nothing more, those few verses were like the opening of a rose on a wet dewy morning. Gulzar's mastery of the language is such that even the grandest of imagery gets rendered in words that are as fluid and light as flowing stream. When I came back to the US, I realized few of those poems have been set to music by shantanu moitra (Parineeta, his notable work), sung by Shreya Ghosal and Shaan, interspersed with Gulzar's commentary and elucidation.
I listened to this album in the afternoon today- An experience that can only be expressed as divine and nothing more. Seven wonderful poems have been given musical life through Gulzar's words, Shantanu's twist to rabindra sangeet, Shreya's impeccable vocals and Shaan's mellowed rendition. I was lost in its beauty for nearly an hour. This album is available on Spotify. Its called
" Gulzar in conversation with Tagore"
I highly recommend, request my readers to sample this offering. Tagore comes alive with all his subtleties in the hands of Gulzar and his musical team.
God bless..
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Jottings : Slice of life -54 ( the art of written communication)

Jottings : Slice of life -54 ( the art of written communication)
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine, who holds a senior position in a leading software enterprise , made the following remark
“Bala, nearly three fourths of my working day is spent composing emails to different people. Sometimes, it takes an hour to put down my thoughts the way I want to… It is quite draining..”
“Thats strange : Are you saying that you are taking time thinking about what you want to write or is it that your time is consumed writing what you have thought and decided? which one of this is true?
“Why do you ask that. Aren't they the same?”
“No My friend, they are entirely different. In the first case, you are consciously deliberating on how you should respond to the substance of an email received, or a proposal under consideration. It is more about solid thinking, weighing options, based upon your professional expertise and knowledge you bring to the table.. And organizations decide to pay you well only for that kind of work. But, on the other hand, if you are spending an hour writing and rewriting what you have already decided and thought through, it is a shame and utter waste of your time and organization’s? because it indicates a basic lack of communication skills. Well, you may believe and make others believe you are working, but actually all that you are doing is grappling with basic communication techniques, which, with all due respect, one should have learnt in school, college or by self study later…” I chuckled along with him, and continued “ It is even more shameful in modern times, with word processors doing all the writing for you, and all that you have to do ( for most part) is to choose from options indicated. Think of the time twenty years ago, when type writers, or even earlier than that - pen and paper. Managers would not dare to write incorrectly, because there was effort involved and they knew the consequences of not forming their sentences well enough before attempting to write. But today, there is utter carelessness about writing. Language, vocabulary, syntax, punctuation, flow, style - nothing is learnt well enough to become part of oneself, and hence unnecessary time and energy spent”
Roger looked at me puzzled “ So Bala, are you indicating that most of what I call productive work is nothing more than feeble attempts to write properly. Surely not? “
“Well, I wouldn't want to generalize. But for most part, it seems in the modern work place, the attempt to translate good thought processes on to paper seems to be the real challenge for many. I have known people take long time to compose emails a paragraph long. It is not so much the typographical errors, or even grammatical. It is to do with the effort of finding the right words, and structure and style to convey what we wish to.”
“you may be right. Now that i think about it, it seems a big chunk of time is spent of forming sentences the way I want to. Certain kind of emails , I can write quickly and well. Others take an inordinately long time. especially, if the matter under consideration is new, important and will have consequences. Even there - it is the hesitancy, the unsureness of my own sentences that bother me and not my thoughts or decisions. Hmmm, you do have a point there…”
Roger and I laughed, finished our coffee and bagel and parted ways.
My interest in letter writing was kindled nearly three decades ago , or even earlier( I dont remember exactly when), in Palani, Home of my Mother’s elder sister. During one of our customary holidays there, i came across a book on English language and its usage. Again, all that I remember about the book is that it was a red hard bound volume, aged and musty even then. In one of its chapters, which talked about letter writing, the author had quoted Lincoln’s letter written during the height of civil war to a mother who had lost all five sons in battle. For some reason, the letter remained indelibly etched in my memory, and triggered my passion for letter writing ever since. Even today, I can quote Lincoln's letter verbatim. It goes like this
Dear Madam,--
I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.
I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.
I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,
Lincoln
It was later, I came to know that it was the famous Mrs. Bixby letter, considered by many to be one of the most elegant, short well phrased and emotional letters ever to come of out a presidential hand. One of the best ways to improve written communication is to read collections of letters by renowned writers. In it, more than their formal writings, they reveal, how a common place thought, or a profound idea can effortlessly be conveyed to others. Young professionals, eager to do well in modern workplace would benefit if they can find time to read such letters. It will help them grow in confidence and facilitate effective communication with elegance ,grace and purpose.
God bless..
yours in mortality,
Bala

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Jottings : slice of life - 53 ( Goli vada pav - a journey)

Jottings : slice of life - 53 ( Goli vada pav - a journey)
To be part of a system, work with it, accomodate to its demands, pressures and necessities, and to retire with enough money to keep you comfortable for rest of your lives - is an accepted and socially blessed way of professional living. But on the other hand, to break from that rut, conceive of a quaint idea, nurture and nourish it with your “ Sweat, blood and toil”, endure the rigors of its progress, withstand the tremendous psychological and financial pressures it brings upon your family life, to duck innumerable criticisms and downright vindictiveness (sometimes), equally blessed with luck and encouragement from known and unknown sources, and above all, to sustain an idea through a long decade despite all vicissitudes and build a successful business enterprise commanding national acceptance and international penetration - is a bold, audacious and adventurous journey worth, in retrospect, every minute and effort that went into it.
I am proud, honored and privileged to introduce Venky (Venkatesh Iyer), part of my extended family, CEO of “Goli Vada pav” , an Indian fast food chain, as he humbly calls it. Vada pav is a quintessential maharastrian fast food, and does not need any introduction to readers from the sub continent. But for others, it is similar to a burger - a layer of rich potato based patty sandwiched between two buns. And like a burger, there can be many variations on the same theme. That such an innocuous, common place snack could be transformed into a symbol of nutrition, pride and fashion; to be manufactured large scale under strict , stringent and hygienic conditions that meet global standards of food processing; marketed with care and deliberation to reach corners of India where Vada pav was unknown or unheard of; to provide employment, education and sustenance to thousands of young boys and girls wearing that flashy and catchy Goli T-shirt and proudly manning their numerous outlets spread across vital locations with beaming smiles and unbounded energy; to entice conservative financial institutions to believe in such an idea an invest in it; and more importantly, to keep the intense levels of energy up there and continuously innovating to grow, adapt and diversify - these are the hallmarks of true entrepreneurship and capitalism.
When I met Venky nearly over twenty years go in Chennai , scarcely would I have believed that this lanky, young man would one day abandon his comfortable job as a middle level executive, and launch into business throwing all caution to winds. I would be lying if I said we weren't worried. But that is life. One never knows when that transforming moment occurs. Both his wife ( Asha, My sister) and he believed wholeheartedly in their idea and vision, and were willing to gamble everything at its altar. This is not an easy thing to do in a conservative Brahmin family. Believe me!. Venky was particularly fortunate in finding his enterprising, beautiful wife Asha driven by the same passion and energy which drove him. They complement each other wonderfully well. It couldn't have been possible otherwise. It needed the clapping of two hands ( as Zen buddhists would have it) to make this particular sound happen.
Its been twelve years now since the first outlet in Kalyan, Mumbai opened; and since then the brand of “Goli” has grown really well across India and to some parts internationally. More than 350 stores attest to its popularity and quality. I have often heard Venky say “ When McDonalds can do it, why not we?”. He greatly admires the food franchisee model of McDonald’s , and its always been his goal to replicate the rigor of that process into Indian food industry. Many years ago, I remember watching Venky’s video on Goli’s philosophy. To watch the process of Vada pav’s from its conception to completion, fully mechanized with minimum human intervention, transported to different own and franchisee locations in refrigerated containers, to be unpacked and cooked within six minutes - still remains fresh in my memory.
On November 27th, Venky releases his book “My journey with vada pav”. I think it is a story worth telling. In an age when entrepreneurship is growing, it will relevant for youngsters to learn few lessons on what it takes to build a brand, and keep it there. I have not read any pages of it, but I am sure, knowing Venky and Asha, the story will be told as objectively as possible. Here is the link to pre-order the book, if you are interested.
I would like to finish this jotting on a personal note. Few months ago, I chanced to read an essay by Shruti (Venky’s beautiful daughter). In it, she had written about the rigorous journey her parents undertook, sacrifices all of them had to make to reach where they are. I was tremendously moved that Shruti intimately shares and participates in her Parents vision and achievements. Her writing verged on the emotional in those few lines where she described their struggles as Goli was being built. It only means that the venky’s have not only established a successful business, but did equally well in bringing up a wonderful daughter as well. And that is dual success for them.
Our prayers and wishes for a richer, successful, purposeful and contented Goli family - wherever they are.
God bless..
your in mortality,
Bala
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Monday, October 24, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 51 ( The third debate in Las Vegas)

Jottings : Slice of life - 51
In this 57th Presidential campaign, the third debate held this week in Las Vegas provided a glimpse , perhaps for the first time, into where both the candidates stood in terms of their intellectual and professional calibre to assume the chair of Presidency. In the year long fiasco in the name of election campaign, the empty and vituperative mud slinging, the sheer lack of substance to any of the core issues Presidents are expected to debate; it took this third and final debate, finally, and much to my relief and to millions of others I would presume, to provide a realistic assessment about whom they should be electing. Not that either of them came out as strong winners, but having them spell out and respond to a key questions spontaneously ( at least we are told it is spontaneous) juxtaposed the intellectual apparatus needed to drive the most powerful, complete democracy in the world. While one reacted with grimaces, guffaws and lack of depth in his answers, the other was the studied lawyer, senator who visibly manufactured her orations from notes in front of her. While one had puerile fantasies of how American society should be with Walls and nuclear power and might, the other occupied the typically ambiguous position a politician would take when faced with real decisions. While one proved time and time again that he is a better business man than a politician and the only weapon he possesses is his unabashed advocacy of American power and supremacy, the other realized the role this country plays in the Global landscape and structured her answers to weave a web of concern, empathy and acceptance; while one was trying hard not to sweat profusely when asked to present a clear vision on pointed questions, the other bought in the experience 30 years of political life could bear to keep her composure, bearing and tone balanced, and her answers ambiguous. In all, this debate clearly demonstrated the choice American public have. If it was uncertain till the week before, they have their answer now.
To me, this seminal debate was made productive, meaningful and worthy of listening only due to masterly performance of Chris Wallace, the moderator of the event. I dont care which Newspaper he represents, or what are his political leanings. On the stage , he was commissioned to play a role, and by God, he played it to perfection. It is not easy, when the entire world is watching with avid interest, many laughing at what we made of this glorious tradition; and then to step in with authority, wisdom and consummate ease to pull conflicting ideologues together and moderate a coherent debate between two complete diametrical personalities. It is not at all easy. After all, for one last time in this election, the world gets to see and hear what the future America President would look like, how they plan to steer this nation, and more importantly do they have stature and calibre enough to stand up to public scrutiny and approval. Hence it was important to keep a tight leash on proceedings. And Chris was on spot from the moment the Camera turned towards him at 18.00 EST with his short, confident welcome, and quick relaxed introductions. It was clear he meant business and he knew he needed to salvage the lost pride in venerable institution of Presidential debates. In a packed 90 minute engagement, never once did he pander to either one of his participants. His questions were ordered and sequenced brilliantly to ensure the debate was never derailed. Even when he wanted to solicit personal comments on personal issues, he did so at his own pace, time and manner. His research was precise, never intrusive and always shedding light on the question as well as the answers. Moderating a debate is an art. No many can do it. It needs deep understanding of participant's psych and how they would respond to leading questions. Chris, no doubt is a senior correspondent and news anchor, and knew his trade and its rules well; but even then, it needed his utmost care and poise to make sure in the glare of those ninety minutes, both nominees got equal attention, applauses and boo’s, along with eliciting their sincere positions on important issues in this election. It was a master act that redeemed my faith in this great tradition of national debates. Well done Chris Wallace!!.
In the 1940’s, during Roosevelt’s time, there was an unique opportunity for US-China reconciliation. General Mao invited himself to the US to meet the President. He wished to impress upon US policy makers how enamored he was with American Institutions and their fight for freedom and liberty. He believed that US and communist China weren't at loggerheads, and both countries could borrow, learn and nourish each other amicably. But for reasons beyond the scope of this essay, this meeting never happened; and an irrevocable opportunity was lost to bring the two nations together. For a fuller, and more popular account of this event, I request you to read Barbara Tuchman’s account in her collection of essays titled “Practicing History”. Why am I remembering this incident here? The answer lies in the fact that during the course of this last debate, Both Trump and Hillary referred to China as a threat at least a dozen times under various guises. If I were watching this debate as a Chinese citizen or its Government representative, I would be very proud of myself. That an American election depends so much on curtailing my growth, my increasing omniscience, my greater economic pressure; and depends less on correcting or resuscitating their own institutions and growth, only goes to prove that China has arrived well and truly on the international stage. Trillions of dollars in debt, nearly all manufacturing outsourced, more importantly increasing control of raw material supplies into US, and forming a powerful axis in Asia along with Russia and others - makes the future of US almost completely at the mercy of others. The belief that only democracy and democratic institutions can lead to growth is a lop sided view of History and current affairs. A communist China seems more focussed and clear than many democracies are. Its another issue whether its citizens are happy, see opportunity and have freedom. But if there is one lesson that History has consistently taught and frequently emphasized - it is that nations which do not grow economically, cannot provide secure jobs and live more out of Imports than on exports - will decline. Balance of power will shift and a time will come when the very value system we wish to protect will become barriers to growth and stability. Both Trump and Hillary are acutely aware of this condition. At least in this, they seem to be in agreement.
Finally, Despite all that has happened in this election, I think America still is a triumph of highest Democratic values. In no other nation will an election process happen with so much involvement, debate, fun, seriousness, intellectualism or the lack of it, and so much national participation and international scrutiny. It is truly a spectacular process. We will know its end in less than month. But whatever it is, the next four years will remain one of the most important in the history of this greatest experiment in Human civilization.
God bless..
Yours in mortality,
Bala