Sunday, April 30, 2017

Jottings - Slice of life - 119 ( “Dear Zindagi” - Alia’s brilliance )

Jottings - Slice of life - 119 ( “Dear Zindagi” - Alia’s brilliance )
In one of the most arresting observations in metaphysical literature Friedrich Hegel, german philosopher and author of the “Phenomenology of spirit “ writes “..The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence…” Somehow, I was reminded of this statement when I watched Alia Bhatt’s brilliant performance in her 2016 film “Dear Zindagi” yesterday night. For an young actor, whose career began just few years ago, her transformation into one of the most accomplished and complete performers is incredible. To be honest, I stopped watching “Student of the year” midway ( Her first full length movie in 2012) because the movie was a calamity worth forgetting. Even in that wasted effort, I did notice Alia's freshness, vivacity and strikingly originality and effortless acting style. She was the only redeeming feature of that movie. The germ , the pregnant bud of acting talent was visible in her performance even then. Few years and couple of movies movies later, under better directors, stronger characterization and wider acceptance, Alia has quickly emerged from her chrysalis, infusing vigor and much needed breath of fresh air into an otherwise sedate, mechanical and repetitive nature of Hindi film ecosystem.
In an earlier review, I had written about “Udta Punjab” and the audacity of her role in it. Not many young heroines would attempt such a character so young in their career. One may argue, she had the backing of her powerful family; but even then, in an industry which demands glamor first, and acting later, it was a bold move. And the truth is she succeeded in her gamble. Her role in that film was critically and commercially a success, and from there on, her transformation into complete actress was just a step away. “Dear zindagi” was the just the right movie for her to showcase her complete art, and what she came up with in this movie is brilliant - a performance which can put her among the very best in world cinema.
A little about "Dear zindagi " as a movie and its premise. At the turn of twentieth century, Sigmund Freud revolutionized the study and diagnosis of the human mind. Until then its study was reserved for charlatans and magicians. Freud lifted it to a status of a science, and established the practice of systematically analyzing individual fears and complexes. He called the study “psychoanalysis” or the method of guided conversations with a trained psychiatrist ( a term which came into vogue after Freud). However, Freud made a fundamental assumption (which he claimed came from facts) in his approach that all mental illnesses and personality dysfunctions arose from an abused, repressed or otherwise uncomfortable childhood, and the only task of a psychologist was to unravel the fears lurking in the interior recesses of a patient’s mind, bring it to foreground and help them face and resolve it. Freud was so convinced of his theory, he brooked no opposition to this method. From simple eating disorders to unsolicited anger to deeply felt sexual problems, Freud liked to blame one parents or family. This is where his close friend and brilliant doctor Carl Jung parted ways with him. While Jung accepted Freud's methods, he wasn't convinced that everything that happens in ones life is to be blamed on ones supposedly tormented childhood. Life’s problems to him was much more deeper and wider than such a narrow prognosis. The reason I spent few lines talking about psychoanalysis is because “Dear Zindagi” is a story based upon this premise that a modern, talented, well read ,articulate, aggressive, outspoken girl who cannot commit to any relationship in her adult life can be traced back to the fact her Parents left her for few formative years to build a firm career for themselves. She moves ghostlike between one relationship to another hoping to find something stable and permanent , which , it seems was denied to her in childhood. Gauri Shinde’s story and direction meanders along trying to project “Kaira” - young cinematographer - as helpless, despite being superbly talented and attractive to opposite sex. She has no qualms sleeping with someone for a night, and then wondering what was it all about. Even when her bed mates are genuine and interested in continuing the relationship, our heroine backs off, because she has repressed memories of parents leaving her alone. (Quite extraordinary, I wonder how Freud would have reacted to this attitude). Anyway, Kaira meets psychotherapist Jehangir khan( a walk in the park for the veteran actor Shah Rukh), and slowly but steadily, he begins to untie the knots within her. The inevitable freudian conclusion of “blame it on your parents” comes out in the end, and then all is well.
From the above paragraph, it would seem to you, that I wasn't truly enamored by the movie or its story line. Yes, you are right. I would have switched the movie off, if not for the captivating performance of Alia bhatt, who raised the role of a terrified and talented kaira to perfection. Like Audrey Hepburn in “breakfast at Tiffanys”, Alia bears the brunt of this movie entirely on her young and nimble shoulders. Every frame smacks of sincerity, commitment and immersive understanding of her character. Not an expression out of place, or a dialogue incongruously delivered, or body language amiss. From start to finish, her performance sizzles with authenticity, vigor and confidence. Towards the end of the film, when she finally opens up to her doctor, recounts her traumatic separation from her parents as a child, the effect it had on her , and then breaks down into genuine, wholehearted copious adult tears for the first time - we , as audience, get a little teary eyed as well. Its a beautiful shot by Director Gauri. The camera moves around in angle, captures the icy adamance of strong girl breaking down as she speaks, until her tears wipes away all traces of negativity, and slowly bringing back serenity and composure to her wet cheeks and puffed eyes. Beautiful!!. Very few times have I fallen so much in love with an actor in the course of watching of movie. This was one such moment. Alia bhatt will now be on my lips along with few others artists who I truly enjoy and love.
Bollywood ( I hate to use this term, but I guess OED has accepted it, and so will I) has this practice of letting go of great talent by projecting them in mediocre films. Unless one is lucky, or as in Alia’s case a strong family backing and clout exists, it is difficult to sustain excellence in Indian film industry where commercial success means more to its makers than anything else. Fortunately, Alia can chose her roles. She has the luxury of doing so. I will pray and wish she picks her projects with care, as she has already shown capable of doing. God willing, we would definitely like to see more of her in future.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala



Monday, April 24, 2017

Jottings - Slice of life - 118 ( World Book day - April 23rd)

Jottings - Slice of life - 118 ( World Book day - April 23rd)
In 1995, UNESCO declared 23rd of April as “World book day”, a day to commemorate the simple yet powerful act of reading, a day to glorify and acknowledge the miracle of the written word, a day to remember with awe the tremendous debt we owe to codified knowledge and culture in books that have appeared in various sizes, shapes and forms over thousands of years across civilizations; enriching, creating and maintaining an unbroken continuity, making us unique species with the ability to document, interpret and develop a life of mind and consciousness. What and where would we be without the written word? Its hard to imagine.
There was a time, when books were rare to find, print and distribute. But the thirst to read was there. Common man desperately wished to possess the written word. He wanted to hold the deep mysterious meanings words could invoke in his bare hands , read it with reverential awe in the flickering lamps of oil and candle and pass it on to his children as a treasure to be cherished and assimilated. The invention of the Gutenberg press was pivotal in Human history. With it, the word was liberated from the confines of palaces and monasteries where only scribes and priests were permitted to laboriously copy scrolls. Having copied, they held books within their fold as secrets not to be disbursed Printing changed all that. It helped thought spread across continents. Beautiful literature confined to one part of globe could now be enjoyed elsewhere within the folds of portable, compact book. In a crucial way, its distribution helped man to appreciate, acknowledge and understand that Human experiences were universal, no matter where they were experienced. Literature in the form of play and fiction increasingly sensitized us to our common heritage as Humans. It validated the fact that our joys and sorrows, suffering and pain, sense of right and wrong, were only variations on same themes. The basis, the dream to live as one global community would not have been possible without the proliferation of books.
When books became a vehicle of cultural transmission, mysteriously, as if by a divine ordinance, writers began to flourish aplenty. What was until then a specialized act of creation, now became available to everybody with talent and aspiration. Every household could potentially give birth to an author, and anyone who wished to read could also try their hand at writing. It was no more the privilege of few. Writers could write and publish what they wanted. It was up to to discerning readers to give it its due. A fine system that helped opens doors to independent thought and expression, which otherwise would have remained stifled in censorship and authority.
Unlike many today, I dont believe that reading as a committed act of enjoyment, learning and inward flowering has lost its relevance . While it is true that electronic media, quick news and facts, referencing and using rather than reading and understanding have become more prevalent, there will always be readers for whom nothing can substitute the wholesome act of silent reading in a quiet room - with legs comfortably curled in upon a sofa, a reading lamp gently casting its yellow light on the printed page, solemn quietness around occasionally distracted by the sound of a passerby or bird chirping, the soft ruffling sound of paper ( depending on its texture) as fingers involuntarily and impatiently grope for next page of a gripping book, the unconscious smile which appears on ones face while reading a well crafted sentence, turn of phrase or use of a rare word, the sudden illumination and transcendence that comes from an idea, or an emotion laid threadbare in clear prose or poetry, the utter sense of self-sufficiency between the book and reader - these are joys that can never be taken away from us, no matter how much technology seeps into our lives.
In the words of Alberto Mangel, a great novelist and an eloquent advocate of reading, in his wonderful book “A history of Reading” , writes
“At one magical instant in your early childhood, the page of a book—that string of confused, alien ciphers—shivered into meaning. Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened. You became, irrevocably, a reader.”
I cannot agree more, or express the feeling better.
To all readers , I share my joy, benediction and love of reading with all of you.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Jottings - slice of life - 117 ( The marathon in Boston..)

Jottings - slice of life - 117 ( The marathon in Boston..)
A typical Greek legend mentions how in 490 BC, the Greek soldier Pheidippides ran the entire distance between battle field of Marathon to Athens to report the momentous victory of Greeks over long standing enemy - the Persians. It is also recorded in breathless prose by Herodotus in his history of Greco-Persian wars that Pheidippides not only ran without pausing for breath, but dramatically and tragically dropped dead in sheer exhaustion after conveying his one-word message of victory to stunned Athenian senate. It is in his honor Marathon was instituted as an event during the 1896 Olympic games. In 1897, an year after the first marathon, the city of Boston organized their own run on Patriots day, the third Monday of April. Today, 17th of April was the 121st run of this glorious American event of physical endurance, communal participation and unity.
Yesterday night, when I checked into my Hotel in Westborough, the lobby was unusually busy and vibrant. There were lots of men and women dressed in athletic wear, leaning over reception desk, bustling with energy enquiring eagerly about Hotel shuttles to Hopkinton. It was then I realized that I was right on time to be in the midst of the famous Boston Marathon. The hotel was completely full with visitors from all over the globe.
In the evening, I could only find a bar stool to have dinner. All other tables were occupied and people were queuing up to eat. As I looked around and observed , I was surprised to see only one dish predominantly served on most tables. From certain distance, it looked like a liberal helping of special kind of Pasta. Meanwhile, the bar tender handed a menu card, and with a smile educated me on the fact that Pasta is a great food the night before marathon, and every hotel which hosts runners would have this specially made Pasta dish on their menu for today. I was told It injects the much needed carbs in right proportions into the system. Interesting, I thought!! Sitting next to me was a wiry old man with a long pleasant face and sharp eyes. He didn't have an ounce of flesh on him. Not that he was bony, but his skin was taut and tightly pulled over his muscles. From the look of it, he seemed in peak health. He was sipping a glass of water, waiting for his Pasta, I guess.
He smiled benignly at me and enquired:
“Are you here for the run?..”
I laughed and said “ No sir, I wish I could run. But as you see ..” I pointed to my well developed paunch “ I am in no shape to run except for 30 minutes on tread mill.. How about you?”
He gave out a very pleasant smile and said “ Oh well, I am sure here to run. This is my fiftieth Boston Marathon, and I am 75 years old…”
For a moment, I thought I heard him wrong. I looked into eyes quizzically. He repeated his words “ I said, this is my 50th outing, and I am 75. Not a year have I missed this event. Only twice in these last fifty years, i couldn't compete the marathon, but that was because I wasn’t keeping well. Otherwise, I ensure I am fit enough to do this run..
Around me, I could see people of all nationalities. My neighbor further educated me that nearly 30,000 runners participate in this event, and many of them travel from other countries. As we were talking, few young boys walked up and took selfies with my neighbor. Apparently, he was a local hero in these parts. He quickly forgot my presence and turned the other side to share tips with his coterie of fans. Understandable!!. My understanding of marathons is next to nothing. I smiled to myself, quietly finished dinner, and sneaked back to my room.
It is wonderful what sports and athletics can do to promote camaraderie and well being. It cuts across all barriers. I understand, each year about 500,000 people line up Boston roads to cheer their running heroes and heroines. The stamina, grit, endurance and commitment to complete the 26 odd miles of a full marathon is worth every bit of adulation we can muster. Over the years, however, strict norms have been put into place to qualify as a runner. And since the brutal bombing of 2013, security ensures have also perceptibly tightened. But, in spite of all these changes, nothing has taken away the joy, power, optimism and cosmopolitanism of the Marathon. Watching this humungous human train run together in one single mass, one wonders wherefrom do we get the idea of segregating one man from another. All of us are united in our raw physicality, sweat and determination. The greek story of Pheidippides may be apocryphal, but the movement it started 2000 years ago is certainly a veritable reality.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Jottings - Slice of life- 116 ( Virginia Woolf - a biography by Quentin bell)

Jottings - Slice of life- 116 ( Virginia Woolf - a biography by Quentin bell)
I just finished reading Quentin bell’s beautiful and intimate portrait of his Aunt Virginia Woolf. Its a two volume work. Each covers a specific period of Virginia’s growth into intelligent, good looking girl with increasing signs of spasmodic madness - which was to haunt and consume Virginia throughout her life - and concomitantly her emerging genius as a novelist, thinker and writer of sublime prose with keen eye for human frailty, vulnerability and inner strength. These two irreconcilable conditions - difficult childhood and overflowing genius - often find their intersection in few chosen artists in all ages, and the task of any committed biographer is to capture these shifting landscapes of hell and heaven and present to their readers the intense personal agony, pulsating creativity, demonic energy which possesses such lives.
A biography is not a matter of simply documenting facts. It is something way beyond it. Artistic geniuses are often the product of a particular age, prevailing cultural and social conditions. Unless, the biographer has the ability to peel layers of his subject in the context of the period in which they lived and worked, understand psychological forces which shaped their heart and mind, the biography may become a mere chronological list of events, with no substance, feeling or fire in it. And what use is it for us to read such a life story of bland events? None at all!! Biographies are to be read for inspiration, for validation within ourselves of paradoxical traits which are often dismissed as eccentric and impractical, but have stood vindicated and reflected in great lives before us. if it doesn't serve that purpose, there is no use to reading a biography. In fact, well executed biographies should lift an individual to world stage, and paint for us a picture of centrifugal forces which shaped the destiny of the hero or heroine in question; the mysterious mix of birth, family, upbringing, education, friendships, disappointments, happiness and tragedy which moulded life of a budding artist, and how those tumultuous forces were channelized into a book, or a painting, or a piece of music. After all, Why should a Leonardo be the one to have painted the Mona Lisa, or only a Michelangelo be challenged to adorn the roof of sistine chapel, or a Beethoven to have composed the majestic Ninth Symphony, or only a Dante to pour his spiritual longings into his Divine comedy; or a Dickens be the one to capture the enormity of french revolution into something tangible in his Tale of two cities. These were not chance happenings, but a confluence of subterranean creative forces surging forth in specific individuals. They symbolize Bergson's “√©lan vital”- the primal life force which brings forth right individuals at the right time, or Nietzsche’s superman - who rises from the ashes of artistic and cultural decadence to reinstate the living fire of Mankind. Something in the very atmosphere they breathe, gives them the impetus, the power to consummate their powerful destiny and create a new charter.
The tragedy though is , more often than not, such creative lives often are torture to themselves. They would do anything to get away from the enormity of their gift and responsibility. Torn between the conventions of normal life and demands of creativity, most of them live their lives on the brink of madness. Given a little push, they would descend irrevocably into an abyss from which a return is impossible. But they are somehow pulled back to finish their ordained work. But miraculously, a helping hand in the form of a Husband, a wife, a teacher, caring friend, sometimes even a foe would gently wean them away from self-destruction and get them to live. In that delicate state of existence, they transmute their energy and genius into enduring works of art. In Virginia’s case, the helping hand was her Husband - Leonard Woolf, without whom the world of literature would have lost her without a trace.
Virginia was a complex person. Nobody really understood her well enough. There was never a doubt she was gifted and precocious, but there was equally little doubt she was mad, and her madness overshadowed many relationships she entered into. To chronicle such a life is not easy, unless a biographer can get behind her skin and empathetically look at the world through her eyes. It wasn't that Virginia was unsocial or unsympathetic, but her overwhelming sensitivity to life, the constant upsurge of creative energy, her need to be reckoned as a serious author, often blinded her from acknowledging common social courtesies. She was the first women member of the famed Bloomsbury group - a group of hardcore male intellectuals who shaped the literary landscape of pre-war era. She brushed shoulders with men who understood her genius and vitality, but couldn't accept her in that capacity. In an era, where ballroom dances, and docile courting was the norm for young ladies, Virginia preferred the battles of intellect and art. Not many of her potential suitors could stand the brilliance of her personality, and many sought reasons to malign or discredit her abilities; except few close people. She was prolific letter writer, and she poured her deepest thoughts into them, but her letters were often incomprehensible because she wrote her thoughts as it streamed across her consciousness with brutal honesty and deep feeling - a method of writing which would become hall mark of her genius. For someone writing her biography, such letters are the only material available to examine and study her life. But to do justice to it, the biographer must have understanding, sympathy and patience to decipher the context in which she wrote, and why she wrote. Quentin bell was best poised to do the job. Being part of the family, he could sift legend, folklore and myths from facts emerging through her letters and essays. He had unprecedented access to everything Virginia wrote, and more than anything else, he acknowledged the streak of madness and eccentricity which ran through his family, and Virginia was only an extreme manifestation.
What made this biography one of best I have read is the wonderful writing style of Bell himself. Over 700 odd pages , Bell uses language with such felicity and grace, it is hard to believe he hasn't written lot many books. Hardly a sentence out of place; and wherever he describes Virginia’s inner motives and reasoning, he excels. He knows his aunt was one of greatest writers of her generation, yet he weighs her talents and accomplishments impartially, presenting Virginia as a normal human being struggling to make sense of her life and purpose. His prose acts as a mirror , which reflects Virginia without distortion. For a biographer, that is a great quality.
To me Virginia’s writings are pure gold. I have read and reread all her works many times. A copy of “ Voyage out”, slim volume , always remains in my suit case. In my opinion, like Joyce, she liberated English language from its pedantic chains, and in her hands prose became poetry with all its grace, beauty and structure. For those of us who love her work, Bell’s biography will provide necessary circumference to Virginia’s effulgent creative center.
God bless….
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Friday, April 14, 2017

Jottings - Slice of Life - 115 ( “Disagree and Commit” - Jeff Bezos’ mantra )

Jottings - Slice of Life - 115 ( “Disagree and Commit” - Jeff Bezos’ mantra )
Every year Successful CEO’s and Business investors have the practice of writing a letter to their employees, shareholders and to the public at large on the business philosophy which helps them innovate, transform and be successful at the market place. Bill Gates does it in measured management style, Warren Buffet’s epistles are touchstones of practical wisdom in making money; but my personal favorite, which I look forward to reading each year is the one Jeff Bezos - CEO of Amazon pens in rustic, down to earth nuts and bolts philosophy of life and business. In the corridors of Business power, Jeff’s name is taken with little caution, apprehension but definitely with Jaw-opening awe. Amazon is not merely the most transformatory and successful consumer business model ever - a revolution on the lines of agricultural and Industrial and technological innovations - it is also a company that constantly innovates and works with literally millions of partners, associates at all levels of Human society to run their gigantic operations. And the nerve center fueling this intricate web of operations is Jeff Bezos; his simple vision on how to act and get things going.
In his letter this year ( released few days ago) Jeff mentions two wonderful qualities needed to stay afloat and alive in modern business. These two traits stuck me not merely as business principles, but life lessons necessary for daily living in all areas of Human endeavor. The first thought Jeff’s expounds is the self-defeating practice of placidly accepting processes as the end goal of a transaction. A beautiful idea!!. We may be process compliant to the last letter, but if end customer did not get what was expected or promised, mere fulfillment of a process then becomes not only a colossal waste of time, but utterly irrelevant, inconsequential and delusionary. A process is a like a finger pointing to the moon. One can follow it up to a point. beyond that, we will have to shift our gaze and “look” at the moon and let go of the process. How many times have we patted ourselves on the back on following rules and processes, when the end result was nothing close to satisfactory. This is a dangerous situation to be in, and is especially true in organizations which struggle to innovate. The question that Jeff poses is:
“Do we own the process, or does the process own us?” A philosophical question cutting beyond business concerns.
The second idea Jeff talks about is even more vibrant, valued and truer to life than the first one. In a nutshell, for any collective action to take place members of a team should learn how to “Disagree and commit”. This is a deep thought valid for any reasonable action in world outside. The understanding that no decision can be based upon hundred percent certainty, and there are always pros and cons to every small opinion or decision, the best way to live life and do business is to state your disagreement ,but wholeheartedly commit to the organizational mandate. Put five intelligent, self opinionated people in a room, chances are very unlikely they will agree to the same course of action; but if majority are steering towards one end and others can agree to commit on that course - but with disagreements openly placed on the table; then chances are high that actions will follow rapidly, and more importantly it becomes more fluid and easier to adapt when circumstances change. There is no one-upmanship here or “I told you so” attitude. The fact the disagreement was acknowledged and digested, and all of us decided to work towards a goal which majority felt was right is a good fertile ground for quality actions to take place. There is no brooding or backbiting, and energy levels are rightly channelized. But beware, This is a bilateral pathway. The philosophy of “disagree and commit” applies equally to all - senior and junior managers. Sometimes, the top leaders have to commit to expert opinion and vice-versa. Bottom line is the end customer, and their satisfaction ( if that is possible), and everything else subservient to it.
This idea is true in daily life as well. Action is impossible if we wait for everything and everyone to be aligned. Many times, we simply have to walk the path with predominant hunches to smell and experience the roses and thorns along the way. Incessant thinking and disruptive disagreements without plunging into course of action is sure road to psychological paralysis - which then results in poor execution and finger-pointing. Just as a centipede cannot keep thinking about the position of each of its legs before moving, so is the case with any collective decision. We need to let go at some point and commit to something. One is free to pull in different directions, but once a decision has been made in an expert group, there should be unremitting cooperation to that goal. With such an attitude, it becomes easier to adapt If things are not going the way it was decided. Other members will find it easier and else stressful to accept incorrect decisions and willingly change because all of them are committed to the same goal - Customer happiness and enrichment.
“Disagree and commit” is a deep philosophical attitude. No Military in the world can flourish if not for this attitude. In fact, no act of consensus is possible in society if this principle is not understood deeply and existentially. W B Yeats captures the essence of this idea beautifully in his memorable poem. Here are those lines
“I KNOW that I shall meet my fate
 Somewhere among the clouds above;
 Those that I fight I do not hate
 Those that I guard I do not love;
 My country is Kiltartan Cross,
 My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
 No likely end could bring them loss
 Or leave them happier than before.
 Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
 Nor public man, nor cheering crowds, 1
A lonely impulse of delight”
Lonely impulse of delight - a beautiful phrase to capture the essence of work and sacrifice. I may not know whom or what I am fighting for, but fight I must, because I love to serve. This is pure mystical delight in work for the sake of common good. In the Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna refuses disagrees on the reason to fight and commit when a battle has been agreed upon, the master tells him
"You have no choice, My friend. You cannot live without action even for a micro second. You have made your point this is an unnecessary war, but the war is still going to happen. Now, Either you let go, commit and win this war or you will burn in the fire of you own weakness to stand by your dharma- which is to fight . Which would you prefer? " Arjuna Fights and wins!!
And, this is Jeff Bezos message for 2017.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Jottings - Slice of life - 110 ( Karma yoga in action )

Jottings - Slice of life - 110 ( Karma yoga in action )
In 1967, On a beautiful April day in Cleveland, Dr Martin Luther king addressed High school students in Glenville. Towards the end of that memorable oration, Dr King exalted the quality of workmanship one should carry into any field of work that life chooses to lead us into. He said , in his own inimitable, passionate and measured style
“Set out to do a good job and do that job so well that nobody can do it any better.
If it falls your lot to be a street-sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures.
Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.
Sweep streets like Beethoven composed music.
Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say here lived a great street-sweeper who swept his job well..”
In this single utterance, Dr King summarized the entire philosophy of work ethic so hotly debated across boardrooms, governments and societies all around the globe. It is as simple as this. Just do, what you have to do with every ounce of passion you can muster. The reward of such an attitude may not monetary, may not be upward social mobility, may not be pride and status among peers; but the amazing thing is : with such an attitude , one does not feel the lack of any of these. There is instead a tremendous sense of wholeness, peace and well-being which becomes the envy of others. This is karma-yoga, the art and science of work.
There is a big supermarket store near my home. Sometimes, i just go there to stroll the aisles, and secretly watch Ben work. Ben is a plump middle aged man with a booming voice and an exquisite smile on his face. He works at the billing counter, both as a manager and an operator. You could see him welcoming every guest with a warm, spontaneous smile, not the plastered perfunctory parting of lips in the name of greeting, bill every article from the billing lane with care, grace and value, ensuring the customer is engaged - talking to them about their purchase and wisdom in doing so , and finally before they leave get to know their names. He would do this unceasingly for hours together without any break. Young boys and girls working alongside Ben would look at the clock for their scheduled break time, fidgeting, but not Ben. He would keep going until someone politely reminds him to step out. I learnt few months ago that Ben was a Customer service Manager, a very high rank in that store. He needn't have to work at the counter at all. But he does it , because he could never watch a tiring team member and not step in to relieve them. He simply loves his job and this store. He has been working here for 15 years.
I have also watched him train youngsters. His standard line to them is “ Watch the item you are picking up. let your mind be where the hands are..” This is line that could have come straight from the Bhagavad Gita. Not only would he advice with a smile, he would physically be there for his agents, rattling away prices, help packing bags and simultaneously look around to see if anybody else needs help. He is a whirlpool of passion and energy touching everyone around him.
One day, not long ago, I visited the store at 12. 30 AM. I needed milk. Ben was there in the self service counter with a couple of boys assisting him. The Store was almost empty with few guests winding up their purchase
“Ben, what are you doing here so late..”
“Ahh, Mr Bala, the boys wanted to party tonight. I let them go. They must have fun, you see..”
“But, what about you Ben.. I saw you at 10 in the morning , and I see you again at midnight.. dont you need a break…?..
He laughed : “ I will Mr Bala. once I shut down in 30 minutes. To me work, rest and play are all the same thing. I dont distinguish and split..
I could only nod to his profound observation. I looked around and addressed the boys near him “ I dont know if you realize you are working alongside an enlightened man. A man, who understands the relationship between work and being. Just learn from him, be near him. it could be the greatest blessing of your lives..”
Ben quickly interjected with a guffaw “ Oh No!! Dont embarrass me Mr Bala. I am just a ordinary worker enjoying his job. Nothing more. Boys, you guys have fun….”
There was a customer searching for something, and Ben was off to help her out.
I walked out of the store smiling, fulfilled and wiser..
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Jottings - Slice of life - 111 ( The girl on the train - Book, Movie and Emily Blunt)

Jottings - Slice of life - 111 ( The girl on the train - Book, Movie and Emily Blunt)
During my flights to Seattle and back this week, I watched two films : “The girl on the train” and “Devil wears Prada”. Both of them are based on books with same names, and both of them are wonderful adaptions - true to the intent of the author.
I chanced to read Paula Hawkins book in 2015, just because I had nothing to read on a particular flight. I picked it from an airport book store, and was half hoping to fall asleep midway. But surprisingly, it was powerfully written. The story and characterization of a depressive, alcoholic; her perception of life that flits between imagination and reality at regular intervals, kept me reading till the end. It was a murder mystery, and Paula had enough command over the medium to keep the story at the edge and not revealing the true killer till the last few pages. It was a four hour flight, and I had almost finished the book before we landed. I remember feeling during that time that this would make a great movie, if only they could cast find the right Female protagonist for the lead role. It needed someone with maturity and madness to play Rachel Watson - the depressive, alcoholic.
Emily Blunt played the role to perfection. In a story, which goes back and forth in time, it is important that the lead character maintains a thread of continuity for the audience to see and empathize. The gradual degeneration from a healthy married woman to chronic depressive caused by her incapacity to conceive a child needs careful and measured acting. It should be powerful, without slipping into melodrama. Viewers must sympathize with the obviously pained spouse, who bears the brunt of his wife’s inconsistencies and alcoholism. We must be pushed to the conclusion that the husband is the victim of unfortunate circumstances and he should find himself a better female companion than his present one. In the book, Paula spends pages describing such a transitory state, but films dont have that luxury. In few decisive scenes, the matter must be bought to focus. Director Tate Taylor does a brilliant job doing exactly that.
I saw Emily Blunt’s performance for the first time a decade ago , interestingly enough, in the movie “ The Devil wears Prada”. She was almost a debutant then, acting besides Meryl streep, as her overworked, overstressed personal assistant. It was a short role, but important. Like mirror reflecting sunlight, almost every one in that movie glowed in the brilliance of Meryl’s artistry, and I am sure Emily became a better actor watching the genius at work. Ten years later, in “The girl in the train”, Emily Blunt performs as a complete actress in all respects. She lent tremendous credibility to the character that Paula Hawkins carefully sketched. The basis of Rachel Watson’s character is this : does an alcoholic compromise ones ability to perceive and judge all the time. At least that is the common understanding. But it need not always be true. Sometimes, when perceptional barriers are broken down by drugs, life appears more real and true than it is otherwise. It is this dilemma which most alcoholics find very difficult to reconcile. What is real and what is unreal? Which of our sensory perceptions represent true state of affairs, which are distorted? These are questions Paula tries to answer in this murder mystery, and which Emily projects so beautifully on screen. It is one of those rare occasions when you could read the book first and watch the movie, or watch the movie and then read the book. Both complement each other.
I will talk about “the Devil wears Prada” in an other installment.
God Bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala



Jottings - Slice of life - 112 ( Rajan, yet another milestone..)

Jottings - Slice of life - 112 ( Rajan, yet another milestone..)
Loyalty is a quaint word in an organization. On one hand, it shows tremendous sense of discipline, contentment, innovation, finding ones right footing in your field of work, climbing up a specific ladder with unwavering sense of purpose; and on the other hand, loyalty can also means inefficiency, incompetency, comprising to the lure of mediocrity and staying where you are and living out a professional life without pushing the bars of excellence for oneself and others. When you tell somebody, you have worked for a single organization for twenty five odd years, without a break or sabbatical, your listeners will involuntarily interpret your stay there in either of these ways. They can perceive you have grown and excelled into something better each year, with increasing responsibilities, elevated positions and carving out new opportunities for yourself and the organization , or they can easily surmise you have stagnated, like a pool of water collecting moss and dirt circling within limited boundaries, and you are only there because you have nowhere else to go. Again , there are others who simply look upon a job as a means of financial security and nothing else. Their aims, goal and vision are different, and they do not care so much for what they achieve within an organization as much as what they do out of it. They will probably belong to the aesthetic world of artists, social workers, philanthropists, philosophers, devoted to family or what the french like to call “bourgeoisie”.
The above paragraph was only a preamble to recognize and congratulate once again my friend, well wisher and respected leader - Mr Rajan , on his new role within our organization. Rajan belongs to that band of loyalists for whom an organizational environment is only a pedestal for excellence. Nothing less!! Last year, I had the privilege of writing a short piece on his well deserved award during our annual congregation. This time around, once again it is my privilege to congratulate him on his new expanded role, acquired after 30 years of focussed commitment to the world of IT in its raw bolts and nuts, as he now takes on the challenge and exciting landscape of intangible and yet powerful world of digitization and data sciences. What a transition? from late eighties, setting up X86 machines, wiring them up with sweated brows, and putting together a rudimentary computer infrastructure to help young students learn the wonders of software to now, when he heads a business unit responsible for digital transformation and analytics where hardware is of least concern and thought-driven technology drives IT solutions more than anything else - its been a long road, full of learning, discipline and commitment. And Rajan has travelled it with grace, style and focus.
When I sat down to write today morning, I had something else in mind. I wanted to review a book. But when I opened my laptop, this short piece just poured out spontaneously. I allowed it to unfold without interruption. Rajan is representative of the kind of top leaders we have in our organization. All of them are pioneers, and the fertile landscape of NIIT allowed their talents to blossom and spread. They are all “loyal” to the organization not because they have to, but because they want to and they attempt to fulfill their capacity to work in roles they play. That is the secret of work!!
Many Congratulations Rajan!!.
yours in mortality,
Bala

Jottings - Slice of life - 113 ( Anna, congratulations!!!)

Jottings - Slice of life - 113 ( Anna, congratulations!!!)
It is not often that one gets to write congratulatory notes on the growth, evolution and promotion of two individuals close to you. I wrote a short piece on Rajan’s remarkable journey today morning, and in the evening, as I was sitting in the sauna basking in its intense heat and sweat listening to the sonorous voice of Abida Parveen singing rapturous poetry of Kabir , my brother called to inform his elevation to a very senior position in the oil industry and will now move to Mumbai - the heart of India’s business. I felt twice blessed with good news today.
Driving back home, My thoughts went back to the mid eighties, when my brother had just finished four years of bachelors education in Chemical engineering at coimbatore, and was with us in Hyderabad applying for jobs. It is always a pivotal point in a Man’s life - the pregnant waiting, the undetermined transition from secure student life when no questions are asked to a period when the honeymoon is over and one is expected to step into a role of responsible, bread winning adult. Life really doesn't prepare us for that period of uncertainty . It just needs to happen. And the quicker it happens the better it is for the young boy or girl. What I remember of that pendulous time is my brother being very firm and keen he would only pick up a job related to the subject he studied, enjoyed and found fascinating - which is Chemistry. Though other jobs could have easily come his way, he was sure, as only those who are firm in their convictions and interests can be, that he would get an opening suitable to his taste, learning and love. I must say, those were tense few months for him. I still remember the taut feeling of expectation which pervaded our home. Though we knew it was a matter of time before he would get a job, but when something is so eagerly awaited, every day could seem abnormally long and weighty. But Honestly , I dont have memories of brother being forlorn or dejected. No!!. Outwardly he was relaxed and kept persisting and attending Interviews in different parts of India. He was absolutely sure the subject he loved would become his profession very soon. Rare quality in young men these days!!!
The day wasn't too far before his conviction became a reality. The Refinery at Kochi accepted him as a junior engineer - the level at which a technical graduate will have to begin his journey. This was in 1991, and from that moment there was absolutely no looking back. Almost every couple of years, he would go up few rungs in the ladder, and along that everything in his life proportionately brightened and increased. Married to a equally qualified, compassionate and supportive girl, parent of a beautiful daughter currently studying Architecture, Shekhar, my brother has come a real long, long way from those few nervous months in Hyderabad. Like Rajan, Shekhar has grown with the same organization. Once again, his loyalty is not from a sense of weakness or incapacity to move, but from a deep source of strength, commitment, growth, love and constant learning this environment has provided. One the years, Shekhar has matured inwardly. With every increased in responsibility at work, His work ethic culture, expertise has adapted and expanded in stature - Hallmark of a true Professional..
As a brother, I have always admired and cherished his focussed professional growth. I am sure there is still a long string of achievements awaiting him, and in each step of success, we - his family, friends and well wishers will be there to bask in the joy and pride he creates around him.
I am sure Shekhar will join me in dedicating this wonderful journey to our late Father - whose blessings continue to permeate our hearts and minds, and to Mom’s unconditional love, optimism and unremitting confidence in whatever we do.
God bless..
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Jottings - Slice of life ( A remarkable professional journey)

Jottings - Slice of life ( A remarkable professional journey)
RV college of Engineering, Bangalore may not be in the same league as IIT’s. At least, not in general public perception, but for those who have lived in Bangalore, interacted with the college, met its professors or head of departments, mingled closely with its alma mater - it quickly becomes quite clear, those who have studied and graduated there possess an ambition, charisma, grace, leadership and an ability to continuously learn which have often propelled them to highest echelons of success in many organization across the globe. This is not to say it is the atmosphere of the college alone which contributed to their success; we must give equal or more credit to the quality and calibre of students it has managed to attract from all parts of Asia. Over the last half a century, it has produced stalwarts in virtually every walk of life without too much fuss or propaganda.
Sapnesh Lalla, our new CEO- designate ( announced today) is an engineering graduate from RVC. In the last two weeks, I have had the privilege to write about two other achievers, and today, I once again rejoice in the tremendous achievement of Sapnesh in reaching the pinnacle of professional growth possible within an organization. Twenty five years of working up the ladder, and in each step a wider vision and dimension of the company embraced - his journey has been tough, fascinating and inspiring for those who have been fortunate to work alongside him. It is not my place or position to write about his professional achievements. The fact he is now designated to lead a strong organization of around 4000 odd professionals in diverse domains, is testament enough he has crossed several important business milestones to reach this position.
My first personal interaction with Sapnesh was in 2009, when I landed in America. he had just taken over as the President of our business unit. What stuck me instantaneously was his approachability, and a feeling of being in the presence of a man firmly rooted on the ground. There were no “airs” about him. One could meet him in the corridor and he would pass by with pleasant smile, a greeting or a handshake. The intangible psychological distance that normally exists in organizations between senior leaders and employees miraculously disappears in his presence. We look upon him with pride and awe, but never with a sense of apprehension or fear. He has this ability to put people at ease. A remarkable quality.
I have on several occasions observed his informal conservations with fellow co-workers. Sapnesh’s understanding of the IT education landscape, its possibilities, challenges and solutions to penetrate to the heart of a new business opportunity - has often left me amazed. While all around him, various strands of opinion would float, Sapnesh would make a single unassuming remark, which then would coagulate the entire discussion into concrete, coherent form, just as blood clots and unnecessary bleeding stops when an antidote is injected . It was not so much the force of his professional authority which steered the conversation; but the validity of his point, his ability to listen carefully to what was being said, and the way he placed his own views ever so gently on the table which steered the conversation. A gift of a true leader.
As I have repeatedly written in my previous pieces, we are fortunate in having wonderful senior leaders , who lead by example. In a way, I am proud that our new CEO is from the Business unit I am part of, but viewed more pragmatically and less sentimentally, Sapnesh always belonged to the entire education business, and his contributions over the last two decades has touched every part of this wonderful organization. This professional elevation is a formal consummation of one more milestone
I join everybody else in wishing him the very best in his new role.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala

Jottings - Slice of life - 114 ( frequent flyer - eccentricities and uncertainties)

Jottings - Slice of life - 114 ( frequent flyer - eccentricities and uncertainties)
Every seasoned flyer will have at least one; most likely many personal stories to share about flight delays, interminable waits at airports, missed flights and bags, bad seats, re-routing, long layovers, unexpected upgrades, bad food, ineptitude of flight personnel , so on and so forth. In fact, in most airport bars this is the most common subject matter of conversation - whose and which flight stories are more entertaining or excruciating than the other? But I believe the true sign of a frequent flyer lies in the composure and presence of mind they display during abnormal travel conditions. How well and how quickly can we accept the fact that running this complex network of air travel , including a zillion variables - both man-made and natural - can break down in so many different perceptible and imperceptible ways. While, as travelers, our focus is to reach our destination as painlessly as possible; to make that happen, an extraordinary number of factors have to miraculously fall into place each time. What we call “planning” is only a statistical probability that things are going to be alright, it is never an inviolable certainty. Once this oceanic feeling of acceptance becomes second nature, only then can anyone consider themselves mature travelers, not otherwise.
Consider this for a travel story. Not very dramatic, but illustrates my point. Until 9 PM yesterday evening Central time, My travel from Dallas to Atlanta today morning at 7 AM was not a cause of worry at all. I checked in on-line, got upgraded, gates were confirmed, cab was booked for 4.45 AM, bags were partially packed - and all I had to do was sleep tight for six hours and head home. It was a grueling and exhilarating week at work, and my customer and I concluded our engagement Friday night by dining at a popular Brazilian Steak house in downtown Dallas fort worth. It was “eat as much as you want” menu, and four of us did justice to money paid. My stomach was full to the brim with food and deserts, and when I reached the hotel room my body was pleasurably drowsy, aching to slip under plush blankets for a good nights sleep. Normally , I sleep really well, and don't wake up in the middle of nights. Especially, When I am tired and full of food, I sleep like a log. But for some inexplicable reason this morning, I woke up at 1 AM today with a start. I turned over, and my eyes fell on my phone besides my pillow which had couple of messages waiting to be read. I ignored it, went to the bathroom, and was about to go back to sleep. But before closing my eyes, out of casually curiosity I read the messages demanding to be read. There it was!!. My flight at 7AM stood cancelled, and the message stoically continued with the assurance that I was rebooked on the 9.30 AM flight. In a way, I was happy. I could sleep few more hours. I called the cab company and rebooked the cab for new timings and promptly went back to sleep. At 2.30 AM, i remember having an uneasy dream, and again woke up for the second time. Very unusual for me. There was something that bothered me about the message I had read. I switched on lights and re-read the text. For a moment I thought my eyes deceived me. But the text was clear. The 9.30 AM flight I was talking about was not for today( Saturday) but Sunday, which is tomorrow. Now I was wide awake, and my brain started processing options available to me with trained mechanical precision. I was clear about one factor, and that is - I wanted to reach Atlanta today morning. Once that decision was made, rest was only to implement the decision. I quickly got online and tried finding alternate flights. None was immediately available. All of them were booked. I tried various airlines and different combinations. Finally after 45 minutes, a flight showed up departing from an other airport in Dallas, which was a 30 minute drive from my Hotel. The time now was 3.15 AM and this flight was departing at 6 AM. I bought the ticket, and called my original airline to cancel the booking. I quickly got ready, got down to the lobby by 3.45 AM and tried unsuccessfully to call my cab. The front office couldn't reach them as well. Quickly I turned on Uber and requested a ride. Two Uber drivers cancelled on me before one arrived at the lobby at 4.15 PM. We rushed to the airport. Not surprisingly, there was a fairly long line for boarding pass and baggage check in. By 5.10 AM , I stood for TSA verification. I dont know if It was early morning enthusiasm of the officer on duty, or just one of those days, the young TSA law enforcer who looked at my driving license and boarding card quizzically decided they didn't match. He said my full name wasn't printed ( the fact is, it cant be printed) on the pass and it must be, if I need to travel. Not willing to argue my case, I cut across the queue , ran to the checking counter and requested the ladies there to print my name as accurately as possible. They tried, and printed a new boarding card with more than three quarter of my name on it. That the best they could in little time we had. I ran back to TSA clearance, he glanced at the boarding pass, smiled and allowed me in. Not eligible for TSA pre-check, because this was a different airline from what I normally fly, it took 15 minutes standing in line and getting my things screened. By the time I reached my gate, boarding had started. This was a low cost airline with no fixed seat number. When I eventually entered the plane, there was just one row remaining, with one seat - a window seat in the middle of the plane. It was a completely full flight. I plopped into my seat with a sigh of physical relief. Little did I realize I had more excitement in store for me.
I have a habit of settling down quickly with my head phones, books and iPad. As the flight took off, I was more or less ready for a period of study. When the plane reached cruising altitude within 10 minutes of take-off, the middle aged black American lady next to me, started palpitating and gasping for breath. He face was filled with sweat, and in between heavy breathing she blurted she had not eaten her blood pressure medicines and that she was empty stomached, and she needed a Sandwich immediately to pop in her medication. We obviously called flight attendants to help, but unfortunately this was a short flight of two hours, and all that they carried was basic snacks, which my increasingly suffering neighbor either did not like or cannot eat ( I could not ascertain which was true) in her condition. She vomitted thrice into disposal bags and all around. It was clear she was sick and needed to lie down and stabilize. But this was not a deluxe flight with room to sleep, nor were there enough free seats for that. Therefore, the only alternative for our patient to lie down horizontally is for both of us ( The other passenger beside her and me) to vacate our seats and allow her to stretch. She was a big lady, and sure needed the entire space. The attendants didn't quite ask us to give up our seats, but their imploring looks categorically suggested we volunteer. So twenty minutes into the flight, I was standing on the aisle with my book, reading glasses and headphones, and the one available seat in the entire flight was given away to my other fellow passenger. After all , it is not right for a lady to be kept standing. Men can. At least, thats the code of honor we believe in. So for rest of the flight ( 1.40 minutes) I travelled standing. An unique experience. Standing right in the middle of the flight with sympathetic looks from all passengers , flight attendants jostling me around as they catered and collected things, I kept reading and smiling as much as I could . I tried walking up to crew deck, but that was too small even for them, and accommodating me would have made even more difficult. During the last few minutes of landing, we pushed aside the legs of my now deeply snoring passenger, sat at the very corner of the aisle, with great difficulty pulled the seat belt around and waited for the Plane to halt at the gate. A medical unit came in and picked her up for further investigation.
Quite a morning , I must say. As i headed home in Kofi’s car, I realized I had not lost my cool or composure during this entire period. Yes, I was hurried, pushed to make quick decisions, change plans, but I did it because it ought to be done, and there is no reason to be upset or irritated about any of it. Years of experience traveling gives one a sense of vigilance and alertness, just a well trained marine know exactly what to do unconsciously when faced with life threatening situations, Seasoned business travelers instinctively adapt themselves to new and changing travel conditions. They are equipped to survive delays and disruptions. They act as it is appropriate in a given situation without emotional or psychological attachment. A zen way of doing things. When I reached home, I ate a bowl of oatmeal, had a hot shower and hit the bed. A good, deep sleep was all that was required to jump back to normal life - symbolic of the homeostatic lifestyle of a itinerant traveller.
God bless…
yours in mortality,
Bala