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Sunday, November 18, 2012

The 'would have been ROYAL' city

I have been hearing a lot about this city named 'Calcutta' since childhood. My grandparents had stayed there for quite some time, my mother was born there, some of my mother's cousins are born, brought up & settled there. They all can speak very fluent Bengali, some have married to Bengalis etc. etc. I had heard all praises about the city & that Royal-ness was there in my grand father's blood till his last breath, though it is only now that I am able to relate the Royal-ness.

My first interaction with a Bengali was with a colleague of mine sometime back, she was very sweet & I always used to ask her, "are all Bengalis are as sweet as you? Is it because they eat a lot of Roshogullas?", and she used to just laugh, her laugh was as sweet also. I knew tits & bits of the language, the traditions & so on since then.

Having been married to a Bengali, I guess it can't happen that you don't visit Calcutta or Kolkata because there will be many relatives there even if the person you married to doesn't have any roots from there. It is famously said, "One can take a Bengali out of Bengal but never Bengal out of a Bengali", I am sure it is true for a majority of Bengalis even now. First time I visited Kolkata was for work & I disliked the city to the core. I took a flight so I did not have to see the black+yellow taxis all around in my first sight of the city but such a sight was not very far from the airport as well. It was in 2007 & having seen almost 6-7 years of good wide roads & cross-roads in Ahmedabad, it was a very depressing sight to travel through the narrow packed roads. I did not have any preconceived notions about the city but I did not like it at all, I must say. The one thing that I got very impressed with in that visit was the schools St. James & Our Lady Queen of Mission. I had visited many schools in almost all the metros with a team for a large scale project related to how children think & understand, and among all the schools in all the metros that I visited, the children in these schools had a point of view of their own on each concept in each of the subjects Maths, English & Science that we had tested them in. It was indeed very impressive!

Second time I went there was for a family visit but by then I already had this big amount of dislike for the city already. During that visit, I realized things were just worse than before in every parameter.



Third time I went there was again for a family visit. This time I thought of observing the city & things around with an open mind. We had a chance to go around the city which did not happen in the last two visits. Starting with the Howrah Bridge, when you enter the bridge, visualize yourself as the only one on the bridge, the best colour possible of the water in the Hugli, road side neat & clean, no random boats etc. floating on the river etc. Imagine how ROYAL it would have been in those days with the bridge, the city spread out on the river bank, the railway station almost built with a palace-like look giving an extremely royal feeling from the bridge. The names of the streets like Park Street, buildings like Writer's Building, the lush green Race Course, the designs on the lamp posts, the names - Eden Gardens, the Victoria Memorial, the chariots outside this memorial - breath-taking, but unfortunately only if you imagine the old times of all these. Not in the current times. But now I know why people like Calcutta so much. Everything is so old there around the city, many buildings in the city seem like they can fall any time soon, with no scope to extend the roads sideways, everything very poorly maintained, the traffic can stop if the tram stops in the middle of the cross-roads due to electricity failure & the traffic can come to a stand-still. People so lethargic & non-energetic, absolutely no enthusiasm to move forward but very happy just because they had Tagore & Bose & Pal from Bengal who were such great Indians, always thinking about them with no clue on what is the present & what is the future going to be with no Tagore or Bose or Pal around anymore. No doubt one can never forget the Tagore, Bose & Pal. If you happen to visit the Cellular jail in Andaman, 1 in each 6-7 names in the list of freedom fighters who had served their jail term there were Bengali names. But now, there is a lunch time for just about any small shop there & no matter how much you want to buy, they won't sell because it would be their nap time after the lunch. At any time, you can be at the Howrah Bridge just about half a km from the railway station & can miss the train. The black+yellow taxi driver doesn't bother to try to get you there even if he can, he just does not hurry, such low levels of enthusiasm can be found only there I guess!

But not all is the people's fault there I guess. Most of the credit possibly for the shift from the extreme Royal-ness to extreme backward-ness can be attributed to many reasons - the city being the British India capital, the ruling then & since then till now also may be. But sad, very sad indeed that the city could have been something else altogether! Somehow, the place could not just adapt to the new times.

I read this line in the Victoria Memorial museum, "No other city in India had benefitted so much from the British rule & no other city had to pay the price either."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What's in a Name? :)

I came across this article in an in-flight magazine. It is an article by someone who has the name 'Rajesh Khanna' :) What a sad moment that day was when this legend passed away! I simply love the Kishore Kumar's songs picturised on this legendary actor! Anyway...

Having the same name as that of a 'Bollywood' icon! Ask me! Whenever I introduce myself as 'Sridevi' (notice that the 2 spellings - of my name & of the actress' name match too, otherwise there are variations of the name like Sreedevi, Shridevi), people have a very pleasant smile on their faces & most often people react, "Mr. India?" :) :) On the first day of my college in St. Xavier's Ahmedabad, someone asked me my name. I said, 'Sridevi'. He said, 'Aur main, Salman Khan..hahahaha". I didn't know what to say, "Mera naam sach mein Sridevi hai.", I said. He got shocked, "Hain...sach mein Sridevi hai? Yeh kaisa naam rakh liya...". Pratik - I would never forget this :)

In South India, this name is very common - in all 4 Southern states I guess but more common in Andhra Pradesh, next comes Tamil Nadu as per my knowledge. But my name did always raise eyebrows in that part of the country also along with a pleasant smile. The actress has a sister named 'Srilatha', coincidentally my sister's name is also 'Srilatha' (notice the 'tha' & not 'ta' :), a trademark of southern India - it won't be Prashant, it would be Prashanth, Srikant would be Srikanth etc.). But does anyone care about this 'Srilatha' coincidence? Now we ask, what's in a name? Yes, there is a lot in a name that has a lot of fame :) I vaguely remember asking my grandmother in my childhood about why they named me like this. She said at that time the actress was gaining all the fame & so when I was born, they named me after her, so that I would also make a name like that in my life. Apparently there is this God named Balaji, the one who has a golden temple to himself in Tirupati, one of his wives is also called Sridevi. Thankfully my family didn't name me after that God. Gods I tell you & especially this Tirupati one <sigh>...let me store this discussion for another blogpost of mine.

When I asked this question to my naani, internet was not there so I could not check the details. But now when I check on the internet, I actually notice that this was the period when the actress had already made her strong mark in South India & was rising to new heights in Bollywood too.

What surprises me is the immediate reaction "Mr. India?". The movie was not at all a woman-centric one, and Sridevi was not looking too good, neither had she acted too well. The extremely important & major attraction was the Mr. India himself. Then why Mr. India??? I actually like her in Chandni a lot, but no one's immediate mention on hearing my name is ever 'Chandni' :-) I personally like her very much in Chandni, she looked her best in this movie I feel & what amazing music & songs the movie had! 'Lagi aaj saawan ki fir woh jhadi hai...', 'Parbat se kaali ghata takraayi...' & more...wow!

It is good to have coincidences but these kinds of coincidences are very special, one big advantage is people will always remember you. Thanks to the 'Sridevi' & all who make 'names' & thanks to my family who named me after this actress. If I rise to similar heights in some other field of course & not Bollywood, I can already anticipate the media headlines :)

But sometimes it might actually get scary for the relatives like in the movie 'Gandhi My Father', Harilal, the son of the Bapu is being asked his father's name by the hospital staff when he is literally in a dying state. He says the name 'Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi', & the hospital staff says, "he is the father of the entire nation, tell the actual name" - Harilal actually dies in the hospital without anyone knowing about him. How sad can something like that be!!!

Like the author in this article mentions, thankfully, no one has said anything like this to my family or relatives, "Okay, stop joking & tell me the actual name"!

What...is...in...a...NAME!!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

My learnings from corporate life

Disclaimer: These learnings are purely from my analysis on things prevailing at various work places as per my observations & detailed discussions with many people working at many work places. The reader is free to agree/disagree/argue/debate on any of the below points.

1. Never get emotionally attached to the company.
The biggest learning of my work life is to not get attached to the company emotionally. The company takes advantage of us then, I know one can't help it but that's the harsh reality. The company will never be emotionally attached to us the way we are to it, after all why should the company be? If we still choose to be so, its our problem, we should not complain about the company then! I attended a training where the instructor, while sharing his past corporate life experiences mentioned that when he looks back to his corporate life years, he now realizes that his company had take advantage of his passion. When experienced people say something we think, it feels good. So, I am probably more sure to put this up as a statement here. I probably would have put in anyway, even if I had not met that instructor, but now I know there is at least one more person who learnt what I learnt!

2. Be yourself, you won't lose anything.
Many lose his/her identity in the process to fulfilling many objectives of self and/or the others. Some want to impress the boss & want to do what the boss wants them to, some are worried about acceptance in the bigger team & the circle around, some are bothered about the business being hit, some others are bothered about not being left out and so on, many more reasons. In this process, many tend to behave/act as a different person & just not being themselves. In this process, many tend to imbibe qualities that don't suit them. In many cases it is the fear, the peer pressure, the insecurity, the circumstances, the situations - but in the entire process, one loses his or her own identity & in some years, becomes someone else. May be for good, may be for better - but is it actually worth taking that entire pressure! For the fear of what? If we were just ourselves, wouldn't we have done as well as we had done? I strongly believe we could do much better. For a short time period, we could still be someone else till we overcome the fear, the insecurity, the circumstances, the situations, but not for the entire work life time.

3. Work for yourself & with a 'team', not for the company.
Many of us are worried about the company name that will be on our resume and so, we all tend to strive to work for 'the' company. I say always emphasize the 'work' & the 'team' that we work with & not the company. Every single moment in our work life, we deal with the work we do, and the team that we work with. If we don't enjoy our work or don't enjoy the company of the people we work with, would it at all matter which company we work for! It is correct that the brand name matters on our resumes, but I strongly believe it doesn't beyond a certain extent.
(I choose not to elaborate this any further here.)

Believe me, whatever I am, whatever skills I have - may it be analytical, communication, even the ability to write this blog - I give entire credit to my work & the people I worked with in my earlier company named Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd. It is not a big brand, but whatever I learnt there, I am able to use to be at par with my counterparts in the BIG brand that I work for now. I always feel companies/employers should consider talent from small brands as equally important if not more, as any other big brands. The learnings in terms of operational hands-on work as well as in terms of strategic thinking is much higher built in small firms rather than the big ones. Unfortunately, companies tend to do otherwise.

4. Never work to die.
I was (& probably am) a workaholic. But its fine to say 'NO' to ourselves. It is fine to log off during the hours we decide to. It is my biggest realization that if an email comes on the most important project in hand, we need not get restless to immediately reply to it or start working on it. Of course, there are situations where we need to react immediately but it is fine to judge the situation & decide on the time for the action to be taken. Not every situation would demand the same kind of attention, promptness, hurry, anxiety! Things can be unmanageable at times, but if things remain unmanageable for reasonable amount of time, there is something seriously wrong with either setting expectations or the way we function or a combination of these two.

5. Ignorance is Bliss!
The more we talk to & the more people we talk to and know about the things that we would otherwise not know, the more dangerous it is if we are not able to filter out the information from impacting us as a person or our work. The more ignorant we are of the information that we 'need not' know, the happier we are. We may be quite matured to not bother about anything being not the way we want it to be, but the more we hear or the more often we hear about any such information, at some point we will start relating ourselves to all that & it is definitely bound to hit us. So, being ignorant or keeping ourself away from coming across such unpleasant information frequently is a bliss. Evaluate yourself based on what you are contributing & what you are getting, it is simple ROI & the enhancement that you are making to yourself in whatever parameters of evaluation that matter to you. If the result of this evaluation turns out to be positive, that's the success, but the catch is the parameters of evaluation which definitely have to be chosen perfectly. So, ignorance helps us to evaluate in absolute terms just about ourselves & not in relative terms comparing ourselves with others.

6. Don't expect all your learning to be used in your work.
I laugh at myself when I think of this, I did this all my life till now. I saw that the famous 80:20 principle very well applies here, 80% of the work that we do would use only 20% of our skills. If we want to use over 20% of our skills, we should find ways to do something new outside of our core job, that is solely our own responsibility to analyze how we can do that.

7. Don't expect to have all the learning from work.
Again, I had this expectation for most of my work life time. I always thought all my learning would come from the work I do, and so there was a time when I used to prioritize my work & just my work & nothing else - play, enjoyment everything used to be secondary. I actually realized the 80:20 rule applies here too. Only 20% of our learning comes from the 80% of our time that we spend at work. But the rest of the 20% of our time spent on other small things in life, teaches us much more!

8. Its all people & only people!
A company is nothing but a group of people, then comes the vision, mission, the principles, the policies & so on. These are all thoughts & decisions of group(s) of people. Every single piece of work we do or the contribution we make is tied to a decision that the people have taken in the company. Our existence in the company is bound by people - the senior management, our team, the other teams, the 'boss'. We may be intelligent but it doesn't matter unless people recognize we are. We may be working very hard, but people should notice that we are. Actually there are 2 cases - we may be very intelligent & people might think we are not, but we might be just average but people might think that we are too intelligent. If it is the first case & we get frustrated about that, it is better to get out of that place. If it is the latter case, it might be good enjoyment :)

9. And, it is the 'boss'.
And of all the people, it is one person called the 'boss' who is the most important person in our work life. (S)He can make or break our lives. It is similar to a teacher. I strongly believe that if the teacher is good & teaches genuinely & passionately, it cannot happen that the children are not learning or not developing interest in the subject (Of course there are outlier students but very very few - visualize a normal distribution because there can be outliers on both sides: one who are hopeless & just live life without a meaning, one who are very deeply interested by birth in something & are too focussed towards what they want to do in life). Similar is the boss, no matter what we do, if the boss decides we should not grow, we just cannot. If changing the boss is not an option, just accept the harsh reality!

10. Be patient, its good.
No matter what, refrain from taking decisions in haste. The decisions we take should be well thought of, very well analyzed & our inner-self should be completely with us. I don't say we should not fight in a situation that requires that kind of a reaction, but while working & fighting towards our aim, we should be patient enough to react in the right manner. Golden rule is keep working religiously, studiously, again ties to the above points on being yourself, people etc., we should just keep working & doing our duties sacredly (ofcourse not any kind of work for a long time, again keeping in sync with all the above points on work etc.), the efforts can't go unnoticed. If they go unnoticed, it is the problem with the people around us, not us. What next is a decision that we would have to take then!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Finally, we have an "Actress" in Bollywood!


Vidya Balan - the first time I saw her on the big screen in Parineeta, I was spellbound by her acting & thought how could the 'Radhika' of my favourite serial Hum Paanch be starring in such a big producer's movie & act so well! I heard comments like 'wife material' for her from my then classmates on Parineeta. I didn't have any problems with the comment per se, but did have issues the way she was commented upon. I enjoy my fundamental right to speech a little too much but on this instance, I didn't exercise this freedom I remember :-) Well, I never thought she would possibly be able to compete with the upcoming trend of being size-zero or being starred in the movies just for the screen presence to attract (stupid) audiences.

Then came the movies like Lage Raho & Guru - she had improved a lot in her 'style' & had started looking really nice (thanks to her designers in these movies). Later came more movies like Bhool Bhulaiyaa or Salaam-E-Ishq - whatever the movie was, whether a super hit or a major flop - there was one thing common in all her movies, it was her acting. She was an 'actor', knew how to act & take on the roles given to her really well. She has very nice looks, smile to reasonably good limits that were enough to make a screen presence. But I always wondered would these suffice for her to succeed - especially in the trend when it was okay if the heroine in the movie need not even know dialogue delivery or giving apt expressions, but she need to have zero fat on her body & wear almost no clothes to show how less fat she has on her body!

Hats off to this lady who acted in the Dirty Picture, I had seen Silk Smita acting when I was a kid, I remember the day when we heard the news of Silk Smita's death in a Telugu news channel. I still want to know who the guy played by Naseeruddin Shah in the movie was in real life. I remember people only cursing Silk Smita for the 'dirty' images she portrayed on the screen. I am happy this movie revealed the truth behind her portraying what she did. 

The daring that this woman Vidya Balan showed by exposing her obscenely fat figure needed for the character she played in the movie (yes, Silk Smita I had seen myself was OBSCENELY FAT & it looked VERY UGLY) & that too in today's world of Bollywood was honestly very, very commendable. That proves the strength of a movie lying in the story & the acting, no matter what the other parameters are & how they are shown on screen.

Yet again - the movie Kahaani, what a story! What an acting! And hence, What a movie!

I thought the 'actresses' in Bollywood are far gone, I was constantly reminded of the movies like Waheeda Rehmaan's Khaamoshi & wondered if I would get to see a heroine-centric movie again with only acting by heroines & not all sorts of stupidity. Thanks to Vidya Balan my answer to this question is in affirmative now!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

10 years - still so fresh in memories!

27th Feb, 2002 - just after we were remembering the damage created by the earthquake to our lives in the past year of 2001. It was about 3:00 PM when we got to hear about the mob setting fire to the Sabarmati express at the Godhra station. People spoke a lot about that, everyone was discussing about various options while the news spread that the coaches were coming to Ahmedabad, honestly I couldn't follow a word of what was happening as that was the first time I was hearing something like that! Almost everybody was sure, there would be something that would happen. What would happen, what impact would it have, how much impact would it have, who all would be affected, when would it start, when would it end if at all....nothing was known. Slowly the day passed & towards late evening, fear started spreading around the city - immense fear. Next day morning, things started & nothing in our country can initiate at such a fast pace as what we know today as the historic riots in Gujarat 2002.

I can't describe the details - but the damage it had done to all the lives has not yet healed entirely. Almost everybody has views about the riots, all sorts of questions - who did it? why they happened? how they happened? About the political icons involved in the riots - all these in the fastest developing city of the country.

I LOVE Ahmedabad - I give most of the credit to that city in making me what I am today. I hate the fact that the city saw such high impactful incidents like the earthquake, riots, floods back-to-back. But each time, it stood back up to normalcy. But of course some things remain silent, unspoken but they remain - in the form of distances between people, distances between friends, distances between communities which were once sharing celebrations of festivals together!

10 long years now - the city has seen amazing development in terms of infrastructure, in terms of ease & peace of life! The only thing it was lacking possibly was the jobs sector which now has not remained a big concern with many IT companies setting up their offices there & also some companies considering some of their outsourcing operations to be set up there.

I keep reading a lot of stuff occasionally on the riots front - news pieces, some video snippets etc. a week back, when I was seeing the documentary by Rajdeep Sardesai on this I remembered the experiences I had also during the riots - there was indefinite curfew which after 1.5 months or so, started opening up just for 30 mins to 1 hour only for women & kids - the shops has stinking eggs, no milk, no vegetables - all we could do is cook some rice & eat it with something like a pickle - we south Indians can survive just with rice & some pickles or some powders. Fear was in the air - police releasing tear gas shells just in our street, sudden curfew announcements happening which would throw current through your spine - we could see mobs going with as many kinds of weapons as possible to just cut down anybody in the rival side - all from our own balcony. It was truly terrifying, there was fire everywhere, lots of well-known shops, restaurants were set ablaze, every road had vehicles burning, some friends described seeing incidents of setting people live on fire!!! I pray such an instance won't happen again! At least I don't have the courage to see it again!

To all of those who suffered in the riots passively, to all those who got jailed for no reason, to all those whose families got affected for no reason, to all those who are probably still suffering & lacking the basic amenities, to all those who died innocently, to all those whose businesses were washed away, to all those whose livelihoods were ripped apart - hats off to their strength! And prayers that the human race gains some wisdom to not let such incidents take place ever again!

Read the Outlook issue of March 5, 2012 here generally on some other related articles.