Cuppa Tea : life’s elixir

I remember when we were in Johnson & Johnson, a management conference was planned at Kathmandu. Per corporate safety and business continuity guidelines, no more than 3 senior managers could travel in one flight. So the Board of Management was split into 4 different flights. Our Finance Head and I were together. We reached the Kathmandu hotel in the morning around 10 am. First formal program was to begin with dinner. So both of us promptly planned a sight seeing outing. We hired a car and took off planning to return by 630/7 pm, in time to freshen up for dinner.

Those were the days before mobiles and so when we were gone, we were gone. After Basantpur and lots of local sightseeing we took off to Nagarkot which bosts of 270 degree views of the Himalayan range. We returned to the hotel around 6 pm and found a posse of people desperately waiting for us. “Where have you been? The MD is looking for you. Entire Board is in the business center, except you two. 10 times they have asked.” Etc.

We rushed to the Business Center and into the full blown wrath of the MD. “Where have you been? How can you just take off? we are desperately searching for you. This is so immature. We wanted a management comm meeting” Etc. We protested ” but sir the first formal function was at night. There was no meeting planned” After which we got the LEARNING OF A LIFETIME. The pearls of wisdom from the MD’s mouth which you should remember forever ” Any time is meeting time; and anytime is tea time”.

So true. And so prophetic. Anytime is tea time.

Being an HR person through 34 long years, I have grown up on the enormous no of cups of tea. Whether working alone in corporate cubicles or in meeting rooms, or when one graduated to the recesses of cabins, the one and only constant companion who stood by you in the entire corporate journey was the ubiquitous cup of tea. The “tea trails” went through many a convoluted route : Whether as a junior you managed to wrangle a cup from the canteen boy or the sheer exuberance you felt when when Siemens put up a vending machine and you could have tea at will ! hallelujah!! Thereafter managing a cup of “german tea” as black tea with fresh lemon slice was called in Siemens ( though one had to have a very good equation with Shetty the 5th floor peon). And then the arrival into a cabin where you could legitimately call for a cup whenever you had visitors. Johnson & Johnson ( though American) had a really old school British touch where tea was served in a tray by a waiter dressed in a bow tie!!! All of which got reflected in a cartoon I preserved for a long time : It showed a guy sipping his cuppa and the accompanying blurb read : “sometimes I think I come here just for a cup of tea”. Tea was undoubtedly an integral part of the corporate journey and corporate experience.

When I started travelling abroad for company work, the taken for granted cup of tea suddenly took on very different dimensions. Western Europe was still ok: you could hold your head high and ask for tea in UK ( but of course), France and even in Netherland and surrounding areas. But reach Italy and you got a disdainful look when you asked for tea. Even that cold treatment was fine compared to the sheer horror on the face of your host in US of A when you said “no, not coffee, would prefer tea”. Obviously the faith was that full bloodied males drank coffee and not tea. Many were confused as to how to handle this ridiculous request. In US, this is second only to the crime of asking for milk and sugar in your coffee.

Compared to all this ridicule, I always found that asking for tea was easier in Asia and Far East. The challenge in Singapore and Korea and China took a different turn however. They would shoot a barrage of questions: Oolong? Black? Green? African Red? White? First Flush? Herbal? Lemon? Chrysanthemum (for God’s sake). For someone who only knew of BOP and Dust (and also knew Darjeeling tea is only for the Gods), it took a while to go through these dark forests and find out that only Earl Grey and English Breakfast are teas which we Indians can recognize as tea. And since entire Asia ( except our dear Pakistan and Malaysia) and Far East drink tea without milk, you soon graduated to drinking your tea without milk. As a fringe benefit, first time since you were born, you discovered the real taste of tea.

I grew up in a middle class family: and though there was enough for all: we were never into a lap of luxury. One indulgence which my parents allowed themselves was buying good quality teas. While in Maharashtra, Green Lipton was standard fare. As we started getting posted out of Maharashtra, and we gained in knowledge and tea sophistication, Lopchu and Ranglee Rangliot made their appearance in our larder. When my father got posted to Eastern India and traveled for work upwards of Calcutta, the more premium teas from specific tea estates came in. As small children our biggest trip was waking up early and joining my parents for their ritualistic first cuppa. Made in tea pots, covered with a tea-cosy, following the traditional “one spoon per cup and one for the pot” formula, brewed to perfection, by pouring boiled water over leaves in the pot, far away from the flame, and kept precisely for 2 mins. Those were the days my friend. So tea is very much a part of my growing up.

Finally, as head of HR, having consumed so many thousands of cups in my 34 years’ career, I will confess today : I was always suspicious of people who did not drink tea. Within HR where I had complete sway, I confess, I rejected candidates if they said they don’t drink tea. Tea is the universal binder. Conversation opener, relationship strengthen-er, builder of rapport and the best icebreaker you can have : with a worker or with an MD! It’s magic works at all levels and how a person drinks tea tells you a lot about the person. And remember, any time is tea time. My father put it best in his rustic Marathi : Baine kunku ani purusha ne chaha kadhi nahi mhanta naye” ( A woman should never refuse kumkum (the vermilion on her forehead) and similarly a man should never refuse a cup of tea).

Bring it on. Hot and black elixir of life.
Golden tea, my one true love : vikas

Hindi Medium & Half Girlfriend

Today was baby’s day out. Wife had gone to meet her mother; daughter in her office; house guests from tomorrow, who themselves called in morning to say “your last day of freedom, we arrive tomorrow morning”. So the choice was to stay and home and listen to my daughter’s cat mewing and bawling through the day; or escape to the movies. Indeed a Hobson’s choice. Maybe some of you may think my seeing 3 movies in the day : Hindi Medium ( first time), Half Girlfriend ( second time) and Meri Pyari Bindu ( third time) was an overkill. But then you have not seen the cat at home!!!

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Half Girlfriend is a well made movie. Chetan Bhagat’s book lends itself well to being adapted into a movie and Chetan himself is associated with the production. That, and of course Balaji Films and Ekta Kapoor behind the project, means the production values are good. The story is a typical love story; rich girl meets the village bumpkin, the expected clash of values between a sophisticated socialite girl and a small town Bihari hickey. The usual hits and misses all boiling down to the last minute search of the lost lady love for which the hero covers most , if not all, bars which have live Bollywood singers in New York!!!

So as you will quickly realize: the story has nothing new to tell. While some of the songs (notably Tu Thodi Der Aur Theher Ja and Ye Baarish ka paani and Will you stay a little longer) are good, overall the movie’s music does not make a lasting impression. Same is the case with Mr Arjun Kapoor. He neither looks nor behaves like a basketball player. In fact, he has one constipated look throughout the movie that jars. The saving grace in the movie is clearly and by far Shraddha Kapoor. She absolutely sparkles. Whether it is on the basketball court or in a party at her father’s house, in a traditional sari or in the western ensembles, Shraddha carries herself extremely well.

Shraddha Kapoor has literally carried the entire movie on her shoulders, through her character in the movie. And she proves beyond doubt that that she has matured as an actress. Her performance is understated and still powerful. And totally, totally believable. You keep wishing that the director Mohit Suri had found a less dumb actor that Arjun Kapoor to play the Bihari Jha. Arjun Kapoor studiously maintains the SAME expression through 2 hours 15 mins of the movie; and gets really weary on your nerves. Seema Biswas as the mother plays her role well but has precious little to do.

So overall : watch the movie if you want to admire Shraddha Kapoor carrying off 25/30 different looks and styles. Arjun K., the story or rest of the cast add nothing to the movie. Even if you miss watching the movie, you would not miss much!

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Hindi Medium sets out to tackle a lofty subject: the mad race for admissions to “prestigious” schools and to what extent a well to do family is ready to go to secure admission for their daughter. The theme and the treatment is totally realistic and something that we see around us all the time.

After directing movies like Pyaar ke Side Effects and Shadi ke Side Effects, director Saket Chaudhary has taken a very different, socially relevant and topical theme. We all have personally experienced the stress every family goes through when it is admission time. And the younger the child, the more difficult it seems to get. The movie talks about the corruption and twisting of the RTE quota in the prestigious schools. The Principal played by Amrita Singh and the Hindi teacher are enacted very well.

Irrfan is outstanding to say the least. He pulls off 2 distinct roles : a brash Punjabi shopkeeper and then the same guy giving up all luxuries to stay in a low middle class “bharatnagar” tenement to justify his RTE application. Irrfan dominates the movie throughout: whether it is showing his shop assistant how to make a sale, or rejecting caviar in favour of pakodas in his house party, his spirited dance in the party which becomes the talk of the snobbish guests, his yearning to keep his Mitthu/Honey happy at all times, his adjustments in the Bharatnagar tenement even when rats abound: Irrfan just amazes with his breadth and variety of acting skills. You find it difficult to reconcile the sauve, well dressed Chandani Chowk fashion shop incharge with the archetypal red checked “gamcha” covering his head and sleeping on the floor in absolute comfort and still wanting to tease and love his wife in the deprived circumstances. His last performance when his conscience is awakened and he challenges the Principal and the system,and withdraws his daughter from the school to correct the injustice which he himself had perpetrated: the entire sequence is so well done, that it will stay with you long after you move out of the cinema hall.

You see some parallels to Dev Anand’s (Asli Naqli) and Raj Kapoor’s movies in the scenes which show the simplicity and giving nature of the poor in contrast to the rich who are always self centered and pretentious. While Irrfan makes the transition from Vasant Vihar bungalow to Bharatnagar tenement with elan and ease, his wife (played by Saba Qamar) sticks out like a sore thumb. Wonder where Director Saket C dug out this lady from? Because of her poor acting, Irrfan gains even more in your evaluation.

The surprise package is Deepak Dobriyal as the well-meaning friend. Again an amazing performance which is played perfectly.

Overall with all it’s faults (especially the length of the movie) Hindi Medium is a must watch for Irrfan’s acting prowess, Director Saket for attempting this bold subject, Deepak D for a most amazing performance.

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Finally I was happiest watching Meri Pyari Bindu for the third time.

Happy viewing :vikas

O Bindu re…meri pyari Bindu

“Maana ke hum yaar nahin
Lo tai hai ke pyaar nahin
Phir bhi nazar na tum milana
Dil ka aitbaar nahin”
Crooning with dulcet tones, Parineeti/Bindu enters your heart seamlessly and effortlessly. And by the end of the movie ( Meri Pyaari Bindu) you are as much in love with her, and ready to do any crazy thing for Shankar Narayan Bindu, as is Bablu/Ayushman Khurana.

Director Akshay Roy (is it by design that the protagonist is also A(bhimanyu) Roy?) creates a lovely film which effortlessly takes you far and beyond. It is a crazy story, centered around a lovingly bossy, self centered Bindu and her besotted neighbor Abhimanyu Roy with a “dak naam” Bablu aka Bubble wrap. From the first time Bindu steps out of a decrepit Ambassador in by-lanes of Calcutta ( where else can you see Ambassadors?) Bindu enters Bablu’s heart and stays there. The one sided love is never returned in full, yet Bindu continues to twist and turn Bablu heart and make him follow her every wish and command. And the story is told with great humor through some truly memorable crazy scenes by the director.

The oneliners and humor sparkle through out the movie. Scenes such as Bindu surprising a friend who is making out with his girl friend to search for her “lost” key under their bodies; or Bindu forcing Abhimanyu to take in a stray dog Devdas int his home: or Abhimanyu to give out his answer sheets for copying in a college exam while she negotiates the price of each answer, under the very nose of the supervisor; or the one when Abhimanyu’s parents suddenly land up at his bachelor’s pad forcing a desperate attempt to clean up and present his sleep over friends as colleagues from the credit department: the chance meeting in Goa and the memorable motorcycle ride with “uncle” – all scenes are handled well and the sheer zani-ness keeps you in splits. Full credit to the script writer for thinking of such scenes and to the director for executing them so well.

While Pariniti and Ayushman play the main characters,the movie also actually uses “old hindi movie songs” as a major protagonist/character in the movie. Old hit no.s keep playing in the movie and actually drive the story forward. That is another brilliant subterfuge by the Director who keeps you enthralled with the continuity provided by the old favorites: it is literally playing antakshari with film scenes sparked and and built around the old songs. As Abhimanyu puts it to Bindu while proposing to make a joint tape: not fav songs but songs that matter to us and bind our lives together. For the movie viewer, Hindi film music serves to keep you engaged and participate in the story’s development.

Ayushman is brilliant as the hopelessly in love, bullied and bandied bablu who has to drop his life where ever it is and run whenever Bindu gives the two-ring emergency signal. Ayushman has played Bablu in a very believable manner and clearly emerges as a better actor amongst the 2 in the film. Pariniti has done well but comes a poor second. Possibly her antics and even her wardrobe are so much over the top that your heart stays with Bablu. As she confesses in the film” selfish hu na”. that remains in your thoughts, and does not let Pariniti gain a lot of the viewer’s affection. With her fluttering eyelashes and demanding nature she succeeds in wrapping Ayushman round her little finger, but loses the audience.

Besides the old Hindi no.s, the movies original songs are also eminently hummable. Had not heard earlier about Sachin Jigar as music directors . But they with Kausar Munir as lyricist give us some really good songs. My personal fav were Arijit singing Hareeya mai dil hareeya and the Sonu Nigam and Pariniti’s Maana ke tum. Though the internet has a solo version of Pariniti singing this song, it is conspicuous by it’s absence in the movie.

Some of the side characters also leave a strong mark. The publisher of Ayushaman, the Bengali relatives’ gang loving their football, Pariniti’s brooding Sounth Indian Father, and Bablu’s archetypal Bengali loud mother are charming in their own right.

The movie is finally about friendship and love, strictly in that order. The story is told with tons of humor and dollops of beautifully enacted sequences. My personal fav was the surprise proposal of Ayushaman with the full participation of family and friends to the tune of Meri Pyari Bindu (the old Padosan song). That is enacted so well that if I was in Pariniti’s place I could never have refused the proposal. But the story is about the multiple hits and misses of the pairing and though predictable and long, it entertains and engages.

Finally you end up fully agreeing with Bablu : Pyaar karna bahut log sikhate hai, pur afsos us pyaar ko bhula dena koi nahi sikhata. We all have learnt the truth of this great sentence. Have enjoyed love, and equally suffered because of love. Kaash Bablu ko koyi pyaar bhulana sikha deta. Aur hume bhi. We all would be happier???

Abhi na jao chood kar, ke dil abhi bhara nahi : vikas

Your Mother…My Mother…the universal Ma…Salud

There was a cartoon circulating on the recently concluded Mothers’ Day : a bevy of assistants: a cook, a nurse, a friend, a maid, a butler, a doctor, a teacher, a driver, a clown, a priest, and even a fortune teller are all in the background and the mother is told by her child : ” Mom, I appointed all these people for a day, to give you rest on Mothers’ Day”.

Humor reflecting reality. All of us know that Mothers are the original multi-skilled managers without whom a lot more than our lives would come crashing down. They make the world go a-round and without them, nothing seems right nor happens right. So is it not a travesty of justice that still we wait for a Mothers’ Day to remember and pay our obeisance to them.

I remember a quote which has been around since I was a child : God could not be everywhere, and so he made Moms. They truly bring a touch of heaven to our humdrum lives; a magic for our souls and true awakening of happiness and joy in all that they touch. Even a bleeding bruise suddenly feels better with her kiss.

The only day that your mother was happy when you cried, was the day you were born. After hearing that first cry of the newborn, her life gets totally centered around the hopes and aspirations, the joys and tribulations, the achievements and struggles of her child. We all have experienced the sheer joy on the face of our mother, when she is able to do the smallest thing for us: whether it is stitching a button “just now” as you want to wear just that dress today or making your favorite dish and observing your expression, as you eat. Somehow she feels fulfilled and happy when you eat and enjoy.

My Aai was no different. Like ALL mothers in the world, she was uniquely endowed and by far was THE BEST MOTHER IN THE WORLD to me. It is not because I was the only son, my 3 sisters also got the same love and care. Why my sisters, anyone and everyone who came to our house was touched by her magic. Even after 40+ years, my school friends from Cuttack remember her pink coloured, coconut burfis which they always say were unique in their taste. Of course they would be , as the chief ingredient was her love. No occasion in the family would ever be complete without her trademark burfi ki thali emblazoned with “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Anniversary messages. While my wife and my sisters continue the tradition of Burfi ki thali for occasions, frankly we eat the burfi today mechanically while in our memory and heart we still savour the taste of my mother’s burfi.

Her constant endeavour was to give me piping hot food. So even when I came back from school at 3 pm, she would go into the kitchen and make hot rotis for me. I would sit at the table with a book in my hand eating distractedly; and getting scolded by my grandmother, for making the hot rotis and subji grow cold. But my Aai waited till I finished the roti in my plate, to serve me another hot one off the griddle. There were many times when the family sat for dinner together there would be multiple versions of the same dish : with garlic for me; without garlic for my father; green chilli tadka for one sister; embellished with tirphala (an unique konkani condiment: giving a pungent smell to the curry) for my sister; while there was curry without onion paste as the guest, who had come that day, did not relish onions!! So the same curry was served in 4/5 different ways to accommodate individual choices: ensuring complete delight. We grew up thinking such variations were normal. With Aai it was always different strokes for different folks.

Aai came from a very well to do family: her Father was the Superintendent of Agency in the then Imperial Bank ( precursor to the erstwhile State Bank of India). In the early 30s they had a car and a driver in their house. From big bungalows to a small village in Sawantwadi, after her love marriage with my father, must have been a huge change. Suddenly from multiple servants in house, she had to fetch water from a well and become the eldest daughter in law in a large Hindu Konkani family. Emboldened by her love, she took it all in stride and she became a mother to all my father’s siblings, the youngest one being just 1 year old!! She endeared herself to not only to the family, but also the villagers who came to see the new bride.

My father took on a sales job in New India insurance and so started travelling 20 days of the month. Even when he took my mother away from Sawantwadi ( where at least there was a large joint family backup) my mother was equally at home in the 14+ cities and houses my father took her to in his career. She learnt to stay alone without any family support. Rather she took some of my father’s younger siblings to stay with her and be brought up in her house. Our nuclear family moved all across India : Hyderabad, Agra, Pune and then Cuttack : 4 corners of India and at times in between. In all this we were taught resilience and adjustment by Aai. Making friends where ever we went and keeping those friends and contacts for a lifetime.

Like all mothers, she had a penchant for fulfilling her child’s every wish. My younger sister would suddenly demand chicken for lunch, and chicken she would get. At times she wanted a new dress for the evening birthday party, and a new dress would appear. There was no custard powder at home one day and my sister insisted on jelly with custard. My mother solution was staring with cornflour and milk and preparing custard herself rater than saying we will have it the next day as the Weikfield packet was not there. All of which led to the famous christening of my mother by my sister : “Panda Aai jaadugaar” ( Mother is a magician)

After retirement my father settled down in Pune. In the building where they lived “Aji” was loved by all, as now they became the beneficiaries of the laddoos and chivda which we had outgrown. The swing in her balcony ensured a steady stream of young children to her house. And then the parents coming to take the children away would be treated to snacks and hot tea. Evening was with the Laughter club and walking friends and other oldies around the colony, and so on on and on the round robin went. Whenever we visited Pune, in my daughter Rashmi’s honor there would be an icecream party thrown for all kids in the building. In short, we never saw an empty house.

At the age of 80 she was still living life fullest. Burning both sides of the candle, she would laugh at me as I do not dance at birthday parties when she would readily start swaying to hindi music with her grand daughters. Unfortunately at 81 she was diagnosed with cancer of the intestines. But now she convinced her oncologist that she has had a happy life and seen not only grand children settled but also great grandchildren growing up. She actually counselled all of her children : don’t cry for me, i have no more desires and have seen it all. I am dying a very satisfied woman, having lived my life in full.

Even in her death she gave us a teaching : She told me : “no rituals, no poojas, no 12th day feeding of bramhins. Even our relatives are all well fed. Rather spend that money to give a donation for women’s education so that it serves a deserving cause!!! ”

What a woman! What a mother!! No surprise then that her partner for 60 years ( my father) died in 6 weeks after my mother died, and he had no medical problems at all !! He just lost his will to live after his lover, his life partner, his wife of 60 years was no more. Lucky him I say. I wonder why we are still living now??

Those of you who are fortunate to have your mothers around you : love them with all your mite. Leave no regrets for future, no I should have; I could have; I would have. Do it now. Loving your Mother is the best thing you could do with your life. Today. And tomorrow.

I am now left with only this to say:
Jab kagaz pe likha maine Ma tera naam
Kalam adab se bol uthi, ho gaye charo dham!!

Aai tuzi aathvan yete : vikas

Sarkar 3….Bahubali 2…God save our souls

I had the privilege… sorry, misfortune…of seeing Bahubali 2 and Sarkar 3 on consecutive days. Pl do not get me wrong: the problem is not in the sequencing of the movies. Even the reverse sequencing would have been equally disastrous. The fundamental problem was with the movies themselves. Allow me to explain.

Bahubali 2 was 2 hours and 47 mins of inane violence. And all with archaic bows and arrows, and maces and swords. There were black masked warriors and shamans, and there were kings and courtiers : all sound and fury signifying nothing; and meaning even less. The first part Bahubali the Beginning was majestic in its’ grandeur and sets. That advantage was already lost. So why make Bahubali 2? Only to declare why Katappa killed Bahubali? Even that explanation falls flat and comes across as a damp squib. In fact, by that time if Katappa had not killed Bahubali, I am sure that anyone in the audience would willingly volunteer to do the good deed, as you just want to leave the cinema hall and go home!!

The warning bells are already ringing as the son of Bahubali, Mahendra Bahubali is now old enough and is raging war with his uncle and grandfather. A cold sweat breaks on your brow: does this mean there will another Bahubali Part x, y or zee? Then to your relief you remember this one is called Bahubali The Conclusion. So hopefully it stays concluded. If not I am sure I will not buy a ticket and go and see another Bahubali. The saving grace in the movie was the characterisation of Bahubali’s wife Devasena (played ably by Anushka Shetty). She is shown as a fiercely independent and outspoken woman, with a mind of her own. She is challenging of the past norms and ready to act quickly and firmly when required. Even with little screen time she makes a deep impression and remains in your mind after the horror of the movie is behind you. Hope some of our modern day heroines emulate Devasena.

Bahubali 2 The Conclusion will remain in my memory as a great exercise in marketing. The fact that it earned 120+ crores in its’ opening remains for me an enigma. It only reminds me of the famous Big B reply. He was asked why cant we make films like Hollywood and apparently he replied : why don’t you ask why Hollywood can’t make films like us. In this regard I am sure Bahubali 2 will be a mark which just cant be surpassed!

I also saw Sarkar 3 today. 2 hours 12 mins of smoldering glances, deep looks and dark, angular shots. 2 hours 12 minutes of inane violence. And all with guns and pistols and machine guns. ( why does this sound familiar? ) Ram Gopal Verma’s camera work and shot composition is unique to say the least. Most time there are long shots against the light, or camera from behind vases and bed posts, between tables and chairs, between the logs on a funeral pyre and from the back of a dog’s statue, if you will!! Is this supposed to be arty? or is the director playing with your mind? Imagine what you will, as i will not show anything clearly and directly, seems to be the style.

The story moves in fits and starts and though there are stalwarts like Supriya Pathak, Manoj Bajpayee, Rohini Hattangadi, Jackie Shroff, Ronit Roy etc you gather a deep impression only of the inimitable Big B and Amit Sadh. But even the fabled Amitabh presence cannot save the film from falling flat. Neither does the story line grip you nor does the fight sequences. In fact in the gun fights you keep wondering who is shooting at whom and from where : the shooting outside the Courtroom when Manoj is shot or in the restaurant when Amit is being shot at are cases in point. The shooting during Ganapati Visarjan only creates an impression of confusion and free for all melee.

Except Sarkar’s character and that of the grandson Chicku there is no scope for Yami Gautam or Jackie or Rohini to make any impact at all. The earlier films Sarkar 1 and 2 seem to have taken so much out of RGV that he seems to be fresh out of story line, depth or continuity. In the one joint scene between Manoj Bajpayee and AB, Manoj holds his own very well. But as though to maintain a balance, RGV promptly gets Manoj shot off. More light, more story, more characterization, more fluidity in the story unfolding could have done wonders for the film. Insipid, dreary, boring, flimsy, and shallow are the adjectives that come to mind as you walk out of the cinema hall.

To conclude : don’t see the film unless you are a die hard AB fan and are ready to watch him in any and everything. Save your money for Sarkar 4 where the great (grate?) RGV may come back with a more gripping story. Apparently,”avoid Sarkar 3″ was known to the world at large already: we were just 8 people in Cinepolis on the first day, for the over hyped Sarkar 3.

Keep the faith, and we will get to see better cinema: vikas

General Manager

Many moons ago, when I worked for Siemens Kalwa factory, we had a General Manager, Motors Works named SRK Sareen. In those days (1980s) motors were in short supply and our sales colleagues from Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta then), as well as down South would all come to follow up and expedite fulfillment of their important orders. They would catch a flight, stay in a hotel, book a car,and make the arduous journey to Kalwa Works in morning. All of us would assemble in the Officers’ Canteen in the morning for breakfast and then go for our respective jobs. Any visitor from the Regions stood out, was immediately noticed and welcomed. After he has shaken hands all around, he would reach Sareen saab’s table and when he said he had come to follow up for his Motors order, boss man Sareen would heartily escort him to his cabin in the Motors factory building. Enroute conversation was most sweet : solicitous inquiries about Arora’s family; colleagues in Delhi; what have you.

Ensconced in his cabin, Sareen would light up his Charminar (he could finish an unfiltered Charminar in 2 or max 3 looooong drags) ask Aroraji (or Bala or Banerjee, who so ever was visiting), whether he would have a cup of tea. Tea would be ordered and all the latest topics in the company would be discussed. Meanwhile Arora ji is getting impatient and a little flushed under the collar. Finally Sareen was a big man and the sales guy relatively junior. Needless to add in a very feudal setup like Siemens, the power distance was killing. After tea cups are removed, all generic chit chat over, Arora finally gathers the courage and says ” Sareen saab wo meri NTPC ki motors ki order ke baare me poochna tha” ” Sareen replies ” Kya? NTPC ki order? Motors ki thi?” Sareen saab would get up and glower down at Arora. Arora confused. Scared. Kya galat ho gaya bhai? He also gets up as Sareen sir is standing.

Then Sareen sir tells him: “Beta, mere saath jara bahar to aana.” In the corridor he stands opposite his cabin entrance. And asks Arora ( who by now is confused as hell and has quaking feet) : “Arora ji jara padhna yahan kya likha hai?” ” Sir ye to aap ka naam hai ; name plate hai cabin ke darwaze par” ” Padho padho yaar ghabrao nahin. English to aati hai na?”” “Sir likha hai, SRK Sareen” “wo to theek hai, uske neeche kya likha hai?” ” Sir likha hai General Manager Motor Works” ” Aha” says Sareen loudly, dramatically, “General Manager. General. To yaar Arora ye NTPC, ye Motors ki order, ye follow up : ye sab to specific hua na? Ye sab mai kaise jaanu? mai to General Manager hun na?” Then with a loud laugh, embarrassing Arora even further ” yaar mere saath chai pio, cigarette piyo, gappe lagao. Lekin koi order wagera ke baare me poochna hai to shopfloor pe jao. Manufacturing walon se poocho. Yaar mai to General Manager hun!”

By this time Arora has cursed his father and mother for giving birth to him, his Engineering college, the day he joined Siemens, he has shat in his pants and is ready to disappear into Mother Earth a la Seeta (and Geeta, for adequate measure). Arora ji goes back to Delhi chastened. Resolving never to come back to Kalwa again. And if some follow up has to be done, he is already deciding which junior in Delhi can be made the scapegoat. And Arora has learn a lesson of his lifetime: the difference between General & Specific; which he will not forget soon.

Sareen sir was a colorful character. Obviously when he began his career as an Industrial Engineer, he must have been very much a detail man. Specifics drive sustainable solutions. And without a full knowledge and control over facts, how can anybody resolve issues and problems ? much less an Industrial Engineer !!!

We all in Corporate India are taught : God is in the details. More facts that you gather, more analysis and quantification that you do: better will be the decisions. Truth is in the details. Governing is in the details. Results and solutions come from a meticulous detail orientation. We will all evaluate juniors and colleagues on how thorough they are and what amount of granularity and depth they bring to any decision. Indeed God is in the detail. If we look back at our experience, and how we were successful: it was all a journey of getting into specifics, mastering all the detail, and then armed with all that fashioning a proper solution which integrated all our learning and aligned it with the appropriate outcome that the company/project team/boss/we ourselves sought.

Why only corporate? think of the books of fiction or even novels that you read. Cornelius Ryan books on the war ( eg The Longest Day; A Bridge too Far) are devoured because of their detail orientation. Frederick Forsyth novels ( eg The Day of the Jackal; Odessa Files) we enjoy because he does enormous research on whatever he writes on. Jeffery Archer’s short stories or novels stand out for their research which brings the story so close to reality that often we are confused while drawing a line between fact and fiction. Hercule Poirot & Agatha Christie; Perry Mason and Erle Stanley Gardner all of them tread the line between detail and specific, as against superfluous and ephemeral. Why even JW Rowling became so very famous only because of the detail she packed into even fantasy books!! Even take a very diverse area like the Army: don’t you think it it is prophetic that the senior officer, in-charge on men and materials, and responsible for outcomes is called, yes, a General!!!

A simple and great learning then – different from the success model epitomized by my dear friend Sareen – is that even God resides in the detail. For good solutions and flawless outcomes remember this truth ; whatever is to be done should be done thoroughly; details are ever important.

An interesting variation on this is “the devil is in the details”. Meaning there could be a catch or a mysterious element hidden in the details. If you gloss over the details, you may be in for a surprise and a total spin to the results expected. Another way to say this is, something might seem simple at first but will take more time and effort to complete than expected : so get into details!

To conclude: whether you are searching for God or the Devil : for getting the results you are working for : get into details. You just can not be a “General Manager”.

Wishing you great results & the strength for digging into the details: vikas

Climb every mountain…

I am sure you remember the Sisters at the Abbey singing the song “Climb every mountain” as they encourage and prepare Maria to go to the Captain’s house to face the newer challenges in her life. We all could learn a lot from those lovely words: “Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
‘Till you reach your dream.”

Mountains have always stood for high goals which we all aspire to. Every child who learns to draw, begins with a drawing of a mountain. It is nature’s signpost of drawing you out of your self. Showing you something larger than you, standing tall, inviting and beckoning you to greater heights: literally and figuratively. The majesty of a mountain, standing firm and tall has a lyrical attraction for each and every one of us. However low you may be feeling, weighed down by cares and concerns, the mere sight of the mountain uplifts and energizes you. And makes you want to stretch. And reach higher and then again higher.

Johnson & Johnson (where I worked for 10+ years) afforded me some great experiences and fabulous memories. One amongst them was a Sales Conference in Khatmandu where the theme speaker was Jameling Norgay, son of Tenzing Norgay. He spoke about his own experience of scaling Chomolungma ( “Holy Mother” Tibetian name for Mt Everest). While sharing the trials and tribulations of the world’s most arduous climb, the main thing which Jameling stressed was that you do not climb the mountain. “The mountain must call you”, the mountain must allow you to climb and reach the peak. It is a foolhardy team which thinks that it’s preparation and training and all its equipment, is enough to make a successful climb. To scale the mountain top, “the mountain must itself invite you and speak to you”. Only when you have paid obeisance to the mountain, can your climb be successful. Little surprise then that in Darjeeling where Jameling was born and grew up Everest is referred to as “Deodungha” ( “Holy Mountain”).

My thesis today is that all challenges and goals in our life (whether personal or professional) must be approached with the same humility, as exemplified by Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay; and then, spoken by Jameling. Arrogance and over-confidence will end in aborted attempts and loss to life and limb, and of course harm to the team around us. Rather if we approach the challenge with humility, sharing ideas and suggestions and working together in harmony : there are far better chances of success. We must await the “tide in the affairs of men” as only when the “mountain”/challenge itself calls you; will your climb be successful and happy. Which in turn explains why most successful people I have met, people who have scaled their mountains, over come their challenges and reached many a mountain top are all, without exception humble people. They know and understand that while their efforts were in the right direction,the final push came from somewhere outside. Unless the “mountain” had called and submitted and was willing & ready to be conquered ; success would have been a chimera.

There is a story ( maybe apocryphal) about Sir Edmund Hillary: before 29th May 1953 when they reached the peak of Mt Everest, Edmund had made many, many attempt to reach the top, all unsuccessful. After one such attempt, Edmund was naturally upset and could not sleep. In the night, he came out of his tent, looked up at Chomolamangu and said to the mountain: “I will come back again and conquer you. Because you are a mountain and I am a man. As a mountain, you cannot grow. But as a human, I can!”

All mountains and challenges in our life are calling out to us: As a human, grow. And come back again and again and conquer me. I am waiting. Ball is in your court now. Take action, reach the goal, and then move to the next mountain, the next goal.
“Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
‘Till you reach your dream.”

God Speed : vikas

Enough…already

We all are familiar with that famous Tolstoy story where a man was promised he can have as much land as he could cover with his feet from the break of dawn till the sun set. He ran and ran, wanting to cover as much ground as he could in the limited time he had at his disposal. He did not halt to catch his breath, take rest or refreshment, as he thought in that time he could cover some more ground. He ignored his exhaustion and ran. At the time the sun was about to set,the man was far from the starting point and to get back before sunset, he pushed himself so hard that he was dead when the sun finally set. Why O Why did he not cry “enough” sometime before?

We all are guilty of the same approach. We all want more: that one more elusive toffee, one more toy, one more fancy dress, one more….”what have you”. Not only as children, but even as adults, we run behind the chimera of “more”. Better company, fancier designation/title, more money, more luxury and more happiness. Unfortunately our very happiness now gets defined materialistically: bigger house, bigger car, bigger bank balance, exotic holidays, more investments and all that. At no stage we are ready to stop and say I have enough already; do I need more? Finally in the Tolstoy story the man was buried in a 6 foot by 3 grave. That much land was enough! But then, he was dead!! For us, the living, there is nary a pause. We never feel we have enough, we want more. Bigger, Better, Fancier, Costlier …keep us on that perpetual treadmill.

The orthodox economists like Lionel Robbins’ talk of the “scarce means having alternative uses” laid the foundation for modern economists studying man’s unlimited wants and needs. Could this be the precursor of our unsatisfied hunger and consumerism? Even the traditionalists recognized man’s needs are unlimited, and it is ingrained in his nature to try and satisfy his “unlimited” needs. Gossen’s First Law – more popularly known as the law of diminishing marginal utility – is also about having the next rossogolla after your stomach is full. It has diminishing marginal utility, compared to the first rossogolla you ate on an empty stomach,or the second, or the n-th rosogolla: but again you are calculating the utility of the next one, of one more..and so it goes on.

Rather than the “dismal” science of economics, even if we turn to folklore or for that matter to more recent behavioral sciences, we still do not get a logical and complete answers for that inner desire of man to not say “enough” and still look for the next juicier deal, the newer automobile, or the more adventurous ride. It seems the nature of man to be unsatisfied with what he has, and look for the next big thing around the corner. All that a man possesses seems to fuel his drive further and his desire for accumulation, desires perpetually grow.

Question: is this the way to happiness? Then Bill Gates as the richest man on earth or Warren Buffet who is able to increase his wealth year on year should be satiated by now? Mukesh Ambani or Azim Premji have they said “enough”? At what point does Mr Vishal Sikka say “no more salary increase” ?

The thought I want to leave the readers with is that these are personal decisions : you draw your own line to say enough. No one else can decide for you. My happiness is finally my call. I decide at what level I am happy. I decide when I can say enough. Otherwise this chase has no end point. I may enjoy my Old Monk very much. But after 2/3 pegs I must say I have had enough. Cardinal utility or Marginal utility : there is a limit, and as long as I understand my limit: I am happy. So let Mr Ambani and Billu Badshah and Sikka saab draw their own lines. I echo the famous country song of Don Williams ” I have quite enough to live…and my mind is free”. Very aptly this albumn is called “Miracles”. Knowing you have enough is the royal road to happiness and peace.

Let me end with an anecdote of a favorite author of mine Mr Joseph Heller of “Catch 22” fame. He was once invited to a Manhattan penthouse party at the swank residence of a very successful hedge fund billionaire manager: much like our own Mukeshbhai’s Antillia. Someone took a dig at Heller and said “do you realize our host makes more money in one day than you make in a lifetime selling your books?” Heller’s nonchalant reply: “I know. But I have something that he will never have” “And what is that?” To which, Heller’s epic rejoinder “Enough”.

In gratitude, as “I have quite enough to live” : vikas

My Father…my teacher…zindagi ke saath bhi zindagi ke baad bhi

To all of us emotional fools, a Father is a “shraddha sthana” a tower of trust and faith, a beacon as we grow up. Some of us never outgrow that stage and continue to be guided by the philosophy and learning of that towering personality. I have no hesitation to say I am one of those who continue to “look up” to my father, even so many years after his death!!

The lessons my father taught me were universal in their application and so am sharing three of these with you. Not that he was a great academic or a very learned man. He was born in a small village in Konkan and educated initially in a typical village school in vernacular medium. For college education, he first came to Mumbai and as soon as he completed his B. Com. degree, to support a large family (he being the eldest son in a Hindu family)he joined life insurance industry as an agent. That he retired as an Executive Director of LIC ( so now you understand the Zindagi ke saath… reference in the title) was a testimony to his rugged, native intelligence and his street smart & go getting nature. Though his four children got “gyan” from him in abundance, I want to share with you just 3 of his teachings which have stood by me in my life’s journey, and guided me through many a difficult situation.

First learning point: Many times in life we are faced with multiple choices and alternate routes. We analyse and agonize. We are unsure which path to take. And we spend hours and days in a flux, a confused state of mind; continuously wondering “mai idhar javun ya udhar javun”. And even when we have chosen one path, we keep wondering and questioning whether our choice was a right one, and whether we would have been better off on the road not chosen. Baba (that was what we 4 siblings called him) had a simple advice : “murder the alternative”. Think, analyse, debate, all you want before making a choice. Whatever choice you make (regardless of “right” or “wrong”) murder the alternative as you move along. Do not think, question, wonder whether the choice was right. Having chosen, murder the alternative and move on that decision with full focus and enthusiasm. Decisions, per se,are not right or wrong he exhorted. It is how you implement your decision which will make it right (or wrong). Once you murder the alternative your full attention and interest is tied to the chosen path. And you will be successful as you travel that road with your whole heart and full steam. Murder the alternative and enjoy the scenery on the chosen path.

Learning no 2 : “Doing a good deed is it’s own reward. Don’t expect that you will be rewarded for good acts. The very opportunity you got to do a good act, is it’s own reward.” Many times we think that I have done something positive and good, and so I deserve some special consequences. “What will I get in return?” is the thought that drives many of us. “Aama maru su?” as my Gujju friends have made famous. Or in management parlance WIIFM? (What Is In It For Me?) That is normal thinking. My Father’s challenge to that was: “God could have chosen anyone to do the good deed. Why did He get it done by your hands. You are privileged and rewarded already. What more do you want?” So the concept was “neki kar aur bhool ja” If you have done good, do not seek any returns. The great cycle of Karma will catch up with you. Your good works will be rewarded somewhere, sometime, by someone. Do not expect immediate returns. Good will come back to you from unexpected quarters. But do good and move on. Baba’s philosophy was very similar to the Zen teaching ” it is not the receiver but the giver who must be grateful” the Giver has, and so he can give. So truly the Giver must be thankful and grateful that he is blessed enough that he can give.

Final Learning point 3: This was long, long ago when I was just learning to drive and just had a Learner’s license. A health emergency made us pack 9 people in an Ambassador and we were driving down from Mumbai to Goa. My father was so distraught that he could not drive. I, all of 18, with just a few days of learning driving “experience” was thrust into the driver’s seat. Heavy responsibility on my head and I was scared half to death. I drove out of Mumbai, took the car upto Khopoli which signaled the beginning of the Bor Ghat. Those days everyone halted at Khopoli to cool the engine, put fresh water and wet cloth on the radiator to avoid over heating. And then began the treacherous 9.5 kms climb.

People travelling the expressway cannot imagine how difficult it was to climb from Khopoli to Lonavala. Small 2 track road. Heavy trucks. Sharp gradients. Hairpin bends galore. Mostly you had to be in 1st and 2nd gear. Engines and vehicles stalled on both sides of the narrow 2 track road and created their own challenges. Continuous Stop-Start and grueling zero speed climbs forced many to use stones under the rear wheel to prevent cars from rolling back. And now imagine a learner with a big, unwieldy Ambassador, over loaded to the hilt, having to climb the Bor Ghat.

So I stopped at Khopoli and told my father : pl take over the steering wheel, I can’t dare to climb the ghat. My father asked me why. I told him I was scared: the car will roll back. I can’t control. Too many lives at stake. I can’t drive. Coolly, even at that moment, my father turned to me and said: “Vikas don’t think of the 9.5 kms ghat. At every moment you have to just control the car for the next 20 feet. Keep climbing 20 feet at a time. And then climb the next 20 feet. Keep going, and the car will climb the ghat. Son, you worry about just 20 feet at a time. And that you can certainly do”

I did that and climbed the ghat. And realized the truth of his sentence. Later I learnt the English saying of swimming the sea, one wave at a time. What my father taught me that day has helped me overcome many mountains, many challenges as I went through life. Don’t worry about the size of the task. Climb just the next 20 feet. And then the next 20. Problem will get resolved. Many a time when I have been faced with complex problems and challenges in my 35 years’ professional career or 62 years’ life’s ups and down: my father’s advice still rings in my years : son think of controlling just the next 20 feet,the immediate problem, today’s issue. And the larger problem will get solved.

I was fortunate to have father like that. And am sure you too can gain from his native intelligent advice. So remember the three learnings: murder the alternative, climb the next 20 feet without getting scared of the big, bad mountain and eternally, be grateful and give what you can.

Be happy; go forth in confidence doing all the good you can : vikas, proud son of Sharatchandra

Theory & Practice: which side are you on?

What is important? Rather what is more important? Theory? or Practice?? or both?? Another question where the snake eats it’s own tail. And forces us to go round and round the mulberry bush.

But there is no gainsaying the fact that people are divided into 2 classes: Some who love the esoteric and Some who would any day prefer the comfort of actual practice, rather than theoretical ramblings. The Philosophers & the Practitioners, if you will!

These are different approaches and mindsets : and it is perfectly ok to prefer one side over the other; as that is how you are. Some of us are most enamored by the pure sciences and theories. We take great pride in debating alternate models. And have no discomfort if some fundamental contradictions are not resolved. Debates and alternate modelling is their trip in life.

And then, there are some of us who are very quick to make short shrift of theories. Here are the people who say “enough talk already; let us get down to business”. They love to roll their sleeves, get involved and contribute to the action. They are not happy sitting in front of blackboards or computer screens. Rather they would like to jump in the fray; and they get their thrills, from the hustle and bustle action environments where they can monitor and fire away from all cylinders. Fast and Furious to the core!!!!

What type of a person are you?

There is of course the not so pure strain of third set of people who are comfortable with conceptualizing and executing; they span the spectrum of theory and practice. These are more heuristic thinkers who can comfortably straddle both sides of the fence and are ready to equally focus on thinking and acting.

Pure sciences like Physics and Chemistry as well as streams like Astronomy and Mathematics are naturally attuned to theorizing. Most progress in these branches of knowledge has been due to theorists who could manipulate concepts and build models and through that route learn more and more about the subject under discussion. Har Gobind Khurana’s work on demystifying the DNA (carrying genetic codes and controlling the cell synthesis of the proteins) is a case in point where theorizing is pre-eminent.

A sportsman like Farook Engineer ( remember that opener?) or Mr MS Dhoni are the action oriented folks who have no time or patience for theory. They will attack the windmills a la Don Quixote ready to be taken to the stars, or cast into the mud. But sitting on the horse and wondering is not their cup of tea. That is why Mr Dhoni is called “the Finisher”.

APJ Abdul Kalam in his role as the DRDO & ISRO scientist to me typifies the third group. Theory blended with down to earth thinking and practice. Experimentation. Risk taking. Learning from mistakes. Carrying on. And with the achievement of the goal ever ready to think and aim for the next target. His books “Wings of Fire” and “India 2020” also share his vision and his aspirations for all of us. I was fortunate to hear him talk at an World Federation of Training & Development Organizations and his speech on how to develop people would have put a number of HR people present in the Ashoka Hall to shame. When I got a chance to express to him gushingly my admiration for what he spoke his simple reply was : My speech is on my website: study it and implement the ideas in the organization you represent and see how you can help other companies learn from my ideas and your experiences. Theory and Practice fuse in such a man.

So again which way do you swing? Theory? or Practice?

Of course success in today’s complicated world requires a proper blend of both. This is where the words of James Cash Penney ring out true and loud : “Theory is splendid but until put into practice, it is valueless”. (Isn’t it interesting and ironic that JC Penney’s middle name was Cash?). So practice, practice, practice. And the result will be perfect.

Enjoy the experience : vikas