School of experience

Let me begin with a confession :  I have learnt more from my mistakes than from my successes. And if I am considered a wise person today, it is because I have made many, many mistakes with gay abandon; nay, even pride!!!

I remember early in my career I transferred into the Siemens factory on Thane Belapur road: the veritable “holy grail” of rabid unionism of Dr Samant and RJ Mehtas of the 1980s. I took an operational decision which was wrong. Resultantly the entire Maintenance department stayed away from work. Being an engineering company, this was awkward: to say the least!! To complicate things, this happened on a weekend and was discovered only on Monday, by the top brass. I had tried to patch things up by burning some midnight oil over the weekend. But the union decided to teach this rookie personnel manager a lesson, and did not co-operate. Come Monday morning, I was summoned into the German Works’ Director cabin. But what he told me that day not only surprised me, but also gave me a life long learning!!

“Shirodkar, first wipe out that serious look on your face” he thundered. “what has happened? Is there a fire? Has anyone died? Has the factory totally shut down?” When I explained the productivity and mandays lost, his only counter was ” What did you learn from this incident? What will you do different next time?” Over the next 30+ years, I was to learn that taking a decision was more important than prevaricating and remaining indecisive. My mother’s kitchen’s teachings of not crying over spilt milk and being bold while experimenting with a new dish and presenting what you cooked with elan and flourish, have stayed with me since.

One major reason is exemplified by Johnny Cash, the best selling music artist of all times, who said “ There is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep wide gulf, a chasm” So make a call; learn your lesson and move on: falling down the chasm does not help. Take a stand. It is how you manage the implementation and aftermath of a decision that make it right or wrong for posterity.

As drivers we have all experienced this. When you are overtaking a vehicle, and there is oncoming traffic (so you must complete your maneuver quickly before the oncoming truck/car makes it difficult to overtake),  there comes a point when you are parallel to the speeding car ahead, and the moment of truth occurs: Do I press ahead and overtake? or better i reduce my speed and try again later? While it is good to be cautious and abort overtaking if the oncoming truck is too close, you cannot go on postponing the decision to overtake. At some point you must take the leap in your mind, increase speed further and overtake. Decisiveness and action;  over doubt and rethinking. No “fence to sit on”. Just make your move.

Like all Indians, am sure you too watch a lot of cricket. With the superior camera work today, one can actually sense the resolve of a Kohli or a Dhoni when they look at a ball and smash it for a sixer. In the same manner, the unforgiving camera catches the hesitation and the doubt, in the way the bat swings, when a ball is miscued and ends in a catch, or misses the line completely and the stumps rattle behind. The teaching is ingrained in the doing: which is why Dhoni has said in an interview ” I don’t study cricket. Whatever I have learnt is through cricket I’ve played on the field”. Experience itself is the teacher par excellence.

For meself, I must say although I am a good teacher, I am a much better student. I keep my eyes and ears open to new learnings that life affords me. And a la Papa Hemingway ” I like to listen. I have learnt a lot from listening carefully. Most people never listen”. Forget not that the Maker in his infinite experience has given us 2 ears and just 1 mouth. Listen double than what you speak. Enjoy all that is happening to you. Travel. Eat unfamiliar food. Meet new people. Open yourself to new experiences. You have to create and recreate yourself constantly.  My hoary 62 years have taught me : Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes. And thus, the learning continues ad infinitum!! So, Live each day as it comes. Be warned of Dorothy Dix’s caution, ” It is the dark menace of the future that makes cowards of us” 

For action, I take inspiration from the most famous follower of Martin Luther King viz. Rosa Parks. She spearheaded the Montgomery Bus Boycott to protest the Bus Segregation and went on to be called “the first lady of civil rights” by the US Congress.. When questioned about her courage in refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger she said ” I have learnt that when  one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done, does away with fear”. What an prescription for facing up to life’s odds and experiences!!!

Life has a way of unfolding as it is meant to be. Remembering Papa Amrish Puri in DDLJ:   Ja Simran, jee le apni zindagi!

Trust Life. Experience fully: vikas

 

True or False

As children we all have enjoyed the game ” Truth OR Dare?”. What always intrigued me, in that game, was the underlying assumption that speaking the truth was something fraught with risk, full of tension and…to be avoided as far as possible!!!! Why has Truth acquired this persona? Am sure Goddess Veritas is not amused by the way we look at truth today!!

St Augustine had roared “Truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. It will defend itself”.  But even here you will notice the imagery is negative…as though speaking the truth is a problem. Literally it begets the question: Can you handle the Truth? Myth has it that the goddess of Truth Veritas hid at the bottom of a sacred well as she was so elusive!!

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All this is a far cry from the shining demeanor that Truth is clothed in romantically, and in literature. Common opinion projects that nothing can be purer than truth and truth can stand on it’s own, despite any opposition.  When Thomas asked Jesus’ We do not know where you are going? How can we know the way? Jesus replies ” Via et veritas et vita I am the way, and the truth, and the life : no one comes to the Father except through me”  (John 14:6). Truth is ascribed much power in the Good Book (John 8:32) : ” Then you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free”.  Goethe affirms ” Wisdom is found only in Truth“.

Why then in today’s time has Truth  lost it’s shining glory? Is it because your truth and my truth may not be the same? In this age of duality and plurality have we lost the path? Has Truth suffered in the vedantic debates of Dvaitism and Advaitism? Buddha was clear when he affirmed that “3 things cannot be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the Truth” But if you just look around and follow the strident arguments taking place around you, you are tempted to ask the question: What is Truth? Who “owns” it? can anyone speak the truth; the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Why are there so many cases in the courts where both parties feel equally strongly that the Truth is on their side; and on their side alone? Did the lower courts not interpret and understand Truth in delivering their judgement? If they did: why are so many appeal Courts overturning the lower courts’ pronouncements: which in turn are challenged upto the Full Bench in a Supreme Court? and even there, there are dissenting judgments and opinions amongst the Full Bench!!! so who is right? who knows the truth?

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Says Swami Vivekananda, “Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true”.  Is this making life simpler or more difficult? I had read somewhere every great truth is a truth, whose exact opposite is also a truth!!!! So where does that leave simple folks like us who are trying to find a golden path through life’s complex questions? Oscar Wilde cautions “Truth is rarely pure and never simple”. Begging to differ from Saint John ( 8:32 quoted above) I would say that the Truth will set you free; but it will first piss you off!!!

For evidence I will parade all the arguments I have been a part of, where both parties, albeit speaking in stark contradiction, believed that Truth is on their side. On a wider scale, look at the Holy Wars, debates between Shias and Sunnis, Netaji Bose’s action agenda v/s Gandhi’s nonviolence; Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah, in modern times Israel and the Arab world, Netscape with it’s open source and Microsoft’s competitive dominance or the latest debates between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. Every area of human endeavor gives examples of opposite “armies”  righteously believing Truth is on their side. And in today’s daily Kurushetra, we miss an expert, a chatbot Krishna who can interpret and guide us on the way forward.

The dilemma of modern living is that were  Krishna to appear, his second act would be to disappear!! … and leave you to figure a way out of the conundrum, yourself! If you find the Buddha on the road, KILL HIM!!! We will do well to heed Alfred Whitefield’s advice ” There are no whole truths: All truths are half truths”. To which I will add my word of caution: & you may have got the WRONG HALF!!!!

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Don’t get me wrong. Like you, I am also brought up on the dictum: Truth is a truth even if no one believes it; a lie, is a lie, even if everyone believes it. Truth is like a surgery: yes it hurts; but it cures. Truth is visceral. It is there. Dogen said it so well “If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?” Better to be hurt with the truth rater than be comforted with a lie. My team members were always told to tell me the bad news first. No mollycoddling or sugar coating. Say it like it is. Tell me all and let me make sense of how badly we are mauled and how we will recover our position. Better to fight with eyes open knowing your sword is broken rather than getting surprises in action. Truth has a way of catching up with you. So like the Scout motto: Be prepared!!

I will end with a deep personal insight of the iconic Marilyn Monroe. She said” I am selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes. I am out of control and, at times, hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best”. Instead of Marilyn, it might as well be Truth telling us this. Yes, Truth is hard to handle! Truth pushes you no end!! Beats you blue. And leaves you gasping!!! Yet I deserve the best. And, despite all the discomfort, I vote for Truth. Always.

Let Truth alone  prevail : vikas

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Chug Chug Gadi…

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CHUG CHUG GADI…The magic of Trains.

Most of what we see today in modern India is the legacy of what the British left us: English language, game of cricket, the bureaucracy, the parliamentary system and the largest network – viz. THE “Indian Railways”.

The iconic “chuk chuk gadi” that knits India together – up close  is truly a multi-sensory experience. From the time when one enters the platform, till the time one reaches a destination, there are a gamut of unforgettable sights, interesting people we meet and stories we become a part of.

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Life is just like a journey on a train:  with stations, stops, changing routes, delays and accidents. This ride is full of hellos, joys, surprises, sorrows, expectations and goodbyes! We don’t know at which station who will get off, and who will get on, making it all the more unpredictable and much more exciting!! We are all on this ride together. Like one big extended family!

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Train journey’s were much awaited and yes, the excitement was palpable; this was “family adventure” extraordinaire! A time for bonding, fun and frolic. Of course a lot of planning went into it- from debating which place to go, booking tickets  in advance and finally packing. Small and large, wooden & metal suitcases were brought out. Finally,  a rolled bedding, also called a “holdall”  with towels, pillows, sheets, would be  ensconced on one’s head on the day of travel.

I nostalgically recall the scene on the platform where people from diverse cultures and different social backgrounds gathered: some frantically running to fill the trademark big water jug, others desperately searching their names on the chart and many more bidding tearful goodbyes to their near and dear ones….

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Once inside the train, how can one forget quarreling for that precious window seat with one’s sibling?  the sheer excitement of climbing onto the uppermost berth?  the piercing whistles and the rhythmic chugging of the wheels? All a reminder of the joys of childhood and the thrill of an enchanting journey ahead…..

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See how R. L Stevenson sings in the poem “From a railway carriage” :

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,

Bridges and houses; hedges and ditches.

And charging along like troops in a battle

All through the meadows like horses and cables.

All of the sights of the hill and the plain

Fly as thick as driving rain;

And ever again in the wink of an eye,

Painted stations whistle by.

Just like the poem resonates, the fast chugging train with my face peering through the window (and black soot covering my face) left me breathless, with sights to behold! From the quintessential lush fields of Punjab, scarecrows scaring little kids more than the sparrows,  sparsely populated villages of Madras, mighty mountains in the Western Ghats, gushing waterfalls in the monsoon, the thrill of tunnels right up to the Konkan coast- It was as if a painting was being sketched every minute! And I got to see the real India: rustic and earthy through an ever changing landscape.

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It was common to spend days and nights in the compartment. If you were unlucky enough to have your seat near the bathroom, strong odours would fill the air and your nose, even if one had a severe cold!  It all came as a package!!

Meal time was special.  In case you hadn’t bought food, there would be many smilingly willing to offer their dabbas. And Voila! You could choose from a variety of cuisines across India: idlis, thepla with pickle, pulao, fish, cutlets, jam sandwiches and more….To top it all, the vendors shouting, prancing around and offering “hot” delicacies like vada pav, cutlets, bhajjias and peanuts. And then…the eagerly awaited cha and kapi; magical potions that tasted different, each time, in every state!

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The long days whizzed past, as there was so much of entertainment on board! We all can relate to playing cards, antakshari and word games; not only with cousins and siblings but even fellow passengers. Cacophony was everywhere, making the ride even bumpier! You want to shout? Laugh or fart? Go right ahead…

There was entertainment from passengers as well. From the grumpy old uncle who was disturbed by a motley crew of rowdies, the shrieking cries of a new born infant, the newly married couple jostling to sit close to each other (shying away from peering eyes), or the wise man who was ever ready to advise anyone sitting next to him, to the saffron clad priest engrossed counting his beads; all the characters were alive as if from a rich novel or a teleserial.

And one wonders: Isn’t this what living in diversity is all about??? Isn’t this the very essence of life? Aren’t these memories and moments that shape us?

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A large part of my learnings have come from meeting these very fellow passengers: sharing food and water, lending a helping hand, picking up waste, gifting a smile, exchanging a seat, witnessing or solving a fight; and the list can go on and on….

I may have switched from the effervescent second class travel to the comfortable chair car or the more sophisticated first class coupe, but trains still fascinate me and I continue to enjoy the ride. It’s sad that the present generation (many of whom prefer air travel) are missing out on one of life’s mesmerizing moments,  replete with pure adventure!

It’s a place where one can find oneself as easily as one can lose oneself!

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I’m reminded of a song by Kishore Kumar which aptly sums up my feelings:

Gaadi bula rahi hai

Siti bajaa rahi hai

Chalna hi zindagi hai,

Chalati hi ja rahi hai…

Aate hai log, jaate hai log

Paani ke jaise rele ;

Jaane ke baad, aate hai yaad,

Guzare hue vo mele;

Yaaden mitaa rahi hai, yaaden banaa rahi hai…

Sab hain savar, dushman ke yaar

Jeena sikha rahi hai,

Marna sikha rahi hai…..

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Keep chug-chuging…. Keep exploring….vikas

 

2 Hollywood biopics

In the last week I saw 2 charmingly told stories from the Hollywood stables.

One was The Greatest Showman starring Hugh Jackman enacting the lives and challenges of P T Barnum of the Barnum Circus. And the second was a tour de force performance of the hoary Christopher Plummer playing J P Getty, THE richest man in the world, the original oil billionaire. Both the stories are presented grippingly in the real Hollywood style and grandeur, transporting us into the magical world of the past and immersing us into the trials and tribulations,  and mindsets of the 2  great personalities who lived very very different lives. And yet they reach out from the past and hold us enthralled today with insights into what they went through in their lives!!!

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The Greatest Showman is an original musical and it traces the life story of Mr Barnum. When a poor tailor’s son falls in love with a rich man’s daughter Charity and she follows him despite objections from her father to lead their lives, tragedy strikes with Barnum losing his job as a shipping clerk. His sadness that his wife and daughters are at abject poverty level propels him to create a Museum of Curios. When that fails to attract audience in the 1820s his daughters inspire him to “put something live” in the midst of all the dead and old stuff. This innocent suggestion takes the shape of his searching and assembling an ensemble of “human living curious” to form the Barnum Circus and conduct song & dance and trapeze shows to galvanize ticket sales.

At a sublime level bringing out Tom Thumb, the Dog Boy, Tattoo Man and the singing Bearded Lady from their hiding and putting them on stage gives a truly fundamental message of celebrating humanity in all it’s glorious diversity. So what if Barnum is not above lying and presenting a 450-pound man as a padded 750-pound Irish Giant (when he is actually Russian)? The message is beautifully captured in the song ” Look at me/Here I come/ I’m not scared/To be seen/This is me” speaks beautifully to all of us who have tried to hide our foibles and stay away from the public eye: it is a celebration of oddity which is amongst all of us; and making this centrestage with spunk and elan!! The “freak show” becomes an aspirational display and  encourages all of us to confront our fears and things we hide as ” “you cant go back again/ to the world you were living in/cause you’re dreaming with your eyes open”.

The energy of Hugh Jackman; the songs and the lyrics; the impressario dances and trapeze plays; the backdrop of the charming love story of the rich girl Charity who lives under a leaking roof still consumed by love and avers “I have everything I need”; Zac Efron’s brilliantly underplayed spoilt, rich brat who finds his true calling and love in the eyes of a black trapeze artist and tries to tell his old-school father that “the world has changed”; the entire interlude with Barnum’s pursuit of fame and legitimacy by pursuing the Swedish Opera singer Jenny; the moment he realizes the truth of her song and message “Never enough”; and then his return to the “freak circus” and accepting their reality rather than running away from them: all of the messages are a true reflection of open acceptance of all as they are and not being judgmental about differences. The Greatest Showman leaves us with one basic learning: ” You do not become famous by being like everyone else” Viva la Difference!! Celebrate humaneness and celebrate diversity!!!

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The second movie All the Money in the World is sombre and even dark in comparison. It has Christopher Plummer playing an aging J P Getty, the original oil billionaire. He says it with arrogance in reply to a journo: if you can count your money; you are not a billionaire. The story revolves around the kidnapping of his grandson Paul by the Italian gangsters and the refusal of Getty to negotiate anything on the ransom. “I have 17 grandchildren and if I pay a ransom I will have 17 kidnapped grandchildren” A tough hardnosed money making machine, bereft of any emotions, save and except for his prized arts de object and his wild desire to be collector.

Christopher Plummer brilliantly plays the tough old man to a perfection. His zealous guarding of his privacy is known to us from folklore. All this is brought to life in the movie. But for us Indians, focused as we are on family, it does become a bit of a challenge to understand Getty’s refusal to part with any money for his most favorite grandson’s ransom and still put his Security head ( played by Mark Whalberg) on the job of helping the dispossessed daughter in law, during the hostage crisis. The tribulations and pain of the fiercely independent mother of Paul and daughter in law of Getty is enacted beautifully my Michelle Williams ( a role very different from the Charity she plays in The Greatest Showman).

The frustration of being the richest man in the world and still being at the mercy of fate is shown very well. Getty’s angst when he cannot control the happenings are captured in a manner which makes us feel happy that we all are far far away from all the money in the world. The transient nature of relationships and the impermanence of pecuniary power are contrasted well. The movie is held together by a brilliant Chistopher Plummer. Though so much is happening around Paul, the mother and the chase to rescue him at the end the movie is scathing comment on personal relations and how they get vitiated when you have too much: Too much ego, too much money, too much assumed control on other’s lives. The movie is long ( 2 hours 16 mins) but engaging. Ridley Scott as director and Mike Scampa as sript writer have come up with a tour de force. But see it only if you are ready to question your values : what is important: Material possessions? or the people in your life that you try to possess??

Love Hollywood for challenging you and me: vikas

 

Child as the Father

“Come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned” sang Peter Pan. I was taken on this magical journey with the casual visit of my niece with her 2 daughters.  And the photoblog of my dear friend Vivek ( http://www.vivekvsp.com) which begins with a bewitching photo of his granddaughter: a black-and-white invite into the color-filled world of children.

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Children around us are indeed an enchanting return to a world where all is bright and beautiful, birdsong is perpetual, everything is possible and curiosity  & wonder know no end.

When I was a child, I wanted to grow older. But, this shit was not what I expected…. Disappointment galore!!!!  So now, all the time, one wonders whether regression is really bad? is there a return path? can we go back? Back to the excitement, the wondering and the staring? Indeed I realize my desire to grow up was misplaced as WH Davies sang long  ago:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
…No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

And  so “stop the world and let me off…I am tired of going round and round”. the only reprieve we “who have played the game and lost”  will now get, is the time we are privileged to spend with kids, around them,  playing with them,  seeing the world through their eyes full of curiosity and wonder. But everything is a ceremony and a celebration, in the Eden garden of childhood. Tom Stoppard captured it well, when he wrote: ” If you carry your childhood with you, you never become older”.

For the GenX who believe posting things on Tumblr and Instagram is more important than actually living the moment, a word of caution: most of our childhood is stored not in  photographs. Rather it lives in sights and smells. In the scent of biscuits and cupcakes that you so lovingly imbibed : even as you crossed the friendly neighborhood bakery, on the way back from school!! Childhood lies in the smell of your mother’s saree which filled your nostrils when you rushed to hug her when you returned home; the smell which still lingers and reminds you of the safest place in the universe!!! Childhood is entrapped in the early morning light when you woke up and crept into the living room to have a cuppa with your parents : pretending you liked without sugar tea as you wanted to show how grown up you were, just like your parents who had tea without sugar !!  Childhood lies in the thick curtains you experienced on your first holiday at a posh hotel; in the lovely sunsets you saw with family at the hill station; and even in the smell of petrol and engine oil when the car broke down in wilderness and your father gamely tried his hand at repairing the car, to take his precious family to a safer haven before nightfall. Indeed childhood, and the associated memories,  make you richer than Plutus and happier than Happiness itself.

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Paulo Coelho avers : ” A child can teach an adult 3 things: to be happy for no reason, to always be curious and to fight tirelessly for something”. Were we to assimilate these 3 values and live by them, I am sure not only would we be happier but also  make the world a better place for all whom we come in contact with.  From my grandchildren I have learnt the importance of living fully and living well, of sharing and caring without fear or favor, the joy of giving and taking pleasure in another’s joy and success.

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Imagine a corporate world where we lived by these principles:  which the children in our lives can so easily teach and demonstrate to us. Imagine being happy and satisfied with our lot and not feeling jealous of what others have or receive. Imagine standing up and  taking responsibility, volunteering for work assignments as they give us joy of expression and proving our capabilities. Imagine doing things without being afraid of being laughed at or singled out for ridicule. Imagine stretching ourselves continuously because we enjoy contributing with all our might. Imagine the whole organization applauding whenever there is an achievement which adds value to the company.  Imagine doing what is right and doing it with full confidence. Imagine “Sharing Caring and Joy” define organizational culture. Where Win-Win thinking is practiced by all with full gusto. Can we imagine and help create such a corporation?

Our inspiration will come from children. They live freely and positively all their lives. Now we who have “grown up” ( or should I say “grown down” and “grown in” ) have simply to learn and practice a new religion: Be the one you needed when you were younger. The inspiration and the way forward lies with the young. Can we became children all over again? in spirit and demeanor,  if not in in age? Can we attack every challenge with a “never say die” spirit? Can we be all conquering? Can we keep smiling when we win;  and more importantly, when others win? Can we leave behind our narrow sense of self and be all encompassing through joys and tribulations, through failures and challenges? In sum, (as Hugh Prather, Notes to Myself says )  “can we just be, instead of being for” ?

I end with Poet laureate Wordsworth’s words

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is the father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

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Gargee, my grandchild, teach me your innocence and love: vikas

Give or Take?

All of us have met both types of people in our lives. Some are givers, some are takers. What is better? To Give? or to Take? Come, let us explore this.

Early in life I realized that giving is noble. It make you feel better. Your hands are on top. You are the benefactor. You feel proud. And then came along a story of a Zen Buddhist master who was gathering contributions to erect a new Monastery. The Master would go around with a sack slung over his shoulder and whatever he recd, he happily put in the sack and moved forward, to ask further. On his travels, he reached an Emperor’s palace and made his request. Convinced of the cause, the Emperor ordered 100 Gold Coins be given to the Master for the new Monastery. When the coins were proferred, the Master put them in his sack; slung it on his shoulder and started moving out of the Palace. The Emperor accosted him “Master, even for a King, 100 Gold coins is a lot. I have given such a large gift. Will you not say anything? Are you not grateful?” Pat came the Zen Master’s reply ” It is Giver who should be grateful” and he walked on…

Like all Zen stories, this gives a strong message subtly: indeed the Giver should be grateful: he should understand that his better position, that enables him to give. Do we understand this? or do we want the receiver to kow-tow before us and feed our ego? Yet when we expect gratitude/thanks/”receipt” for our giving: are we not cheapening our gift? Are we not making it totally transactional? Putting a value/price to our act?

And yet, that is how most of us are. As soon as we receive a bequest, we are already calculating how can I return the favor? We have already put a value to our gift, and are wondering what must I do in return? In my opinion, by this very thinking we bring down the Giver and his Gift to a lower, pedestrian level The nobler thought of gratitude is exchanged for the banal “how do I return this?” thought: making the whole thing  transactional, a daily matter of give and take.

On the other hand, if we remain grateful and feel obligated, we elevate the Giver to a nobler level.We recognize his pre-eminence and acknowledge his superiority. We make him richer and more important. Thereby priming the pump for him to do more good, help others, give more… acting on the principle of “Feed Forward” whereby more good radiates all across: you “return” the favor you received by doing good for others in your life, rather than “closing the account” with one person. Your becoming a Giver radiates the feed forward idea and overall there is more positive valence and joy in the relationships you touch.

We were in Atul, where hundreds of families showered love and affection on us. Still do. Could we “return” all that we got, to the people who gave? No. But we could carry the positivity forward, in ensuring we give to others more, if not in equal measure, to all that we receive. We just returned from a vacation abroad where families we had not met for years played perfect hosts and made our stay in a foreign country totally enjoyable and fun. Can we return their “good”? Yes, by being good to others. This is what gets the world to go around.

I recently came across a story of a teacher and his pupil who were walking in the woods. They found abandoned clothes in the wilderness, obviously left there by the farmer who was working the fields. The child said to his teacher: ” Shall we hide the clothes and then see the discomfiture of the farmer when he returns?” The teacher made a counter suggestion “Shall we instead put some coins in the pockets and hide and see the farmer’s reaction when he returns?”. They played out the teachers suggestion and put some coins and hid to see the farmer’s reaction. When the farmer came back, and while wearing his clothes, discovered the coins, he broke down and said  “God I thank whoever did this kind deed. This will enable me to buy some extra bread to feed my sick wife and hungry children.” The pupil had learnt his lesson : how it is far better to give than to take away.

Recollect the times when you were going through a difficult time in your career and others came forward to lend a hand? You were hard pressed for time to complete an activity with a strict time line, and a colleague offered to share the load with you? You were unsure which road to take and miraculously people appeared who guided you on the right path? Solutions often come forth from unforeseen quarters and people because when you are positive in your approach,  you do attract positivity around you.

An award winning corn farmer understood that he must share his prize-winning corn seeds with  neighboring farmers: since winds that blow, carry corn seeds  across farms. So if my neighbors’ fields have poor quality corn: those seeds will get mixed with mine and reduce the quality of my output. If my farm must produce good quality corn: then my neighbors’ farms must also have good quality corn. The positive I do will come back to me: that is the principle of the feed forward. To get I must give.

To end, let me quote another favorite Zen story :  a man was unhappy as his wife was very tight-fisted, never helped others and never shared openly within the family & friends. The man invited an enlightened Zen Master to guide and educate his wife. The Master came and saw the wife was unhappy with even the additional mouth to feed but did not say anything. He observed her stinginess and narrow mindedness and still said nothing. All slept, and  next morning, before he was to leave, he called the wife and showed her an open palm with his fingers stretched out. He asked the wife: “If my hand always remained like this and I could close it, what would you say?”  “It is deformed and bad” was the wife’s reply. “Yes” said the Master; & ” if my hand was closed tightly in a fist and always remained like this and I could not open my palm: what would you say?”    ” It is deformed and bad” was the wife’s reply. “Great” said the Master ” if you understand this I have nothing more to say to you.” The Master left. The wife learnt her lesson, mended her ways.

Hope we all understand this lesson and learn to give so that we get:  vikas

This i believe…

Unfortunately for me, I was born without a faith bone in my body!!! If fact be told, most Shirodkars are agnostics and prefer to leave the godly path well alone. This is true more of the men folk in my family: the daughters of Shirodkars still retain a modicum of faith and are “god fearing” and religious, though not fanatically so!! (Thank God!!!)

This men-women difference in the family, itself is an interesting twist of faith! Apparently 4 generations ago, my great-grandfather chose to go on a Kashi yatra (obviously he believed in God) and never returned. People accompanying him on the Yatra came back after 6/8 months, and told my great-grandmother that her husband had succumbed to sickness and passed away enroute. My great-grandmother, shaken up by this twist and turn of life, gazed at the 4 children she was now left to bring up, alone!

Her reaction was to go inside the house (they were land-owners and money lenders)  straight to the Pooja room where all idols of gods were kept; pick up all the idols there, bring them out into the courtyard of the house, and…she threw all the idols into the open well!!! Reportedly, she told the shocked onlookers that if god could not protect her husband, who had gone to pay obeisance to him, she would not worship such a god: and neither would any member of her family!!! Village folks thought this was an immediate emotional outburst and the lady would come around, in due course. But the idols remained immersed in the well and the lady remained firm on her thoughts. Thus ended the faith and “pooja-archana” in the Shirodkar clan.

Her 3 sons and 1 daughter (my paternal grand-father being one of them)  maybe due to their love for their mother, or maybe since they were stricken by the injustice of loosing their father so early, stopped being faithful and religious. They became rationalists and lived their life bereft of faith, away from rituals and temples. This is what they taught and professed to their children. Most accepted this approach, though even in our family there were exceptions; especially the married into the family daughters-in-law. But the approach was tolerant: we will not stop you if you believe, but we will not join you either. This in turn gets passed on generations to generations. Even today I look at my daughter who tends to paraphrase Robert Browning Pippa’s Song “God’s in his heaven/ All’s right with the world” to mean “let God be up there and stay away from me; and I am down here and will live my own life without troubling him”.

Is this right? Is it wrong?? I don’t know. It is hard to believe in coincidence, but it is even harder to believe in anything else.

I totally believe George Carlin ( famous comedian of yore)  “Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.”                                            So what is faith and belief?

I grew up as a rabid atheist, keen to debate and tell people of faith how wrong and irrational they were. My credo was ” belief is the death of intelligence” a la Robert Wilson. But through the growing years (and with debatable increased maturity ?) I understood that I know precious little!! So it’s foolish to conclude definitively on such matters. Resultantly, I became quiet and kept my opinions and lack of faith to myself. Atheism ripened into agnosticism. I did not believe;  but I could appreciate others’ faith and belief.  I understood that views and opinions are so divergent that it is foolish to “convince” others. So let everybody believe what they want and practice as they will. A la Mao, “let thousand flowers bloom”. The world is much better off with toleration and mutual respect of each others’ faith !! Or lack of it!!!

Bengalis have a saying ” if you are not a communist when you are young: you do not have a heart; and if you are a communist when you are old: you do not have a head”. Faith, Belief, Trust, Religion : to me, are similar concepts. Head and Heart both pull you in different directions at different points of life, & at different stages of your growth.  And the best part of this conundrum is that : it is a sliding scale!!! Or it could even be compared to a see-saw that swings either way!!! what is left to you, is just enjoy the ride!!!!

Sometimes (Often?) I admire my wife and others who have a core of faith. They intuitively follow Emerson’s dictum “All I have seen teaches me, to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.” Believers are lucky, as they have something to believe…to hold on to. During the Annual Pandharpur Yatra ( or Amarnath Yatra or Vaisnodevi Yatra, for that matter)  I see hundreds of thousands of followers who are content to chant the name of their gods and saints. They experience a bliss which eludes me. They have a solid rock to stand on;  while I am perpetually buffeted by the sea of doubt and lack of faith. Belief gives a stability & structure & direction to their lives which I do not experience. Like the proverbial blind men, I need to slowly feel my way forward, perpetually in doubt, whether I  am on the “right” track. But would I exchange this darkness with the light of certainty? No! I would rather like to muddle through, step by step!!

I take solace in the words of Yaan Martel who puts it so well in the Life of Pi  “If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”

Still searching for an answer to that one: vikas

Advait Superstar

Just returned from seeing Secret Superstar starring Zaira Wasim, Meher Vij and the inimitable Aamir Khan.

A simple, straight forward tale, told with  emotional purity that leaves you spell bound. And when you do not know what to compliment more: the brilliant story about pursuing your dreams regardless; the professional acting; the unusual casting; the hum-able tunes; the heart touching lyrics you realize this a Director’s movie whole and soul. And then when you remember that this is debutante director’s first film you realize the real Secret Superstar of this Bollywood outing is none other than Advait Chandan. Way to go, Advait!!!!

When Aamir is associated with a film you obviously know this is going to be something different. And Aamir does not let you down. Here he is producing the film anchored by his personal assistant. But he also plays a major role in the movie. He enacts the quirky music director Shakti Kummarr with such ease and aplomb that you are once again left marveling at the loads of talent this person brings to the screen. He is loud, brash, obnoxious, flirty and difficult. He plays the character so well that whenever Shakti Kummarr is on : the screen is full and out-flowing with Aamir’s presence. And yet, at the same time when little Inshu (little schoolgirl with loads of talent) is on screen you can actually see the greatness of Aamir the actor when he underplays Shakti so much that Inshu can play herself well and steal the scenes!!!! The caricaturist music director and losing popularity singer is played brilliantly by Aamir, as only he can pull off.

The story is simple and straight lined: Inshu is a school girl who is a talented singer. Her mother ( played by Vij to perfection) keeps encouraging her despite facing a very difficult and abusive husband. Inshu is a typical self centered schoolgirl: one knows how to receive affection and love: but not give it back whether it is to her mother, her brother, or to her school friend Chintan. Inshu dreams big: and wants to be a singing superstar. Hidden from her abusive father she posts videos secretly and gets a huge following online. This huge popularity gets her upto the “Glamour Awards” nomination. She does not win the trophy but in losing, she wins the hearts and minds of all and reaffirms her love and connect with her mother.

Director Advait makes a big pitch of the importance of dreams in stitching our lives together and going after the dreams to set a new direction to our future. Inshu dreams about her mother getting out of the abusive relationship and a marriage scarred by domestic violence. She even finds a divorce lawyer who is willing to help. And all this is displayed with humor bubbling over once in awhile. The movie never becomes melodramatic or melancholy. While Inshu and her mother are suffering, there are enough interludes to keep your interest high.  And keep you guessing how it would turn out at the end. The last scene of Inshu’s mother (Vij) reconciling that she cannot compromise the future of he daughter  and son and her walking out on her husband while at the Airport counter to check in, is realistically handled. Again another sign of the Director’s tight script control and story telling finesse.

Even the small side characters leave a deep impression on you. Inshu’s brother Guddu trying to “repair” a broken laptop with brown tape and gum. The Dadi who is still questioning why she was born a girl and why she has been a silent spectator to all the wife beating and abusive behavior. At the end the same Dadi accepts her daughter in law’s right to walk out of the life of her abusive son. The producer of Aamir’s new film: the archetypal Producer who is only interested in bimbos and selfies. The school friend Chintan, who loves Inshu and is ready to encourage and help her do what is right for Inshu’s future: even when the cost involved is letting Inshu fly out of his life. All the side characters play their roles very realistically and you are so drawn into the narrative that you carry these people in your heart and out of the movie frame.

Since the protagonist is singer, there is great scope for music and lyrics to play an important part in driving the narrative forward. And Amit Trivedi’s music as well as Kausar Munir do not disappoint. “Mai kaun hun” is the song which appeals to us all as that  is a search of defining ourselves that we all are onto constantly. “Meri pyari Ammi” can be the anthem for the Secret Superstar movie in toto. It has remarkable lyrics. And is rendered very well. “Nachdi Phira” treads very familiar grounds and even the tune and rendition are pedestrian at best. But another song that sparkles and stands out is ” Sapne re” which sets the tone for the story what weave our lives and aspirations together. Finally we are what our dreams are and if we take the risks and efforts we can make our dreams come true is the positive message propagated by Secret Superstar.

I return again to the real superstar in the movie: Advait Chandan. He has even written the script for this film and the story would touch your heart even if it was not embellished by Aamir Khan or the superb performances of Vij as the mother and Wasim Zaira as Inshu. Advait has brought us a film which proves that the art of clean and simple story telling is still alive and kicking. And as Indians we will always root for good music and want to be reminded of a mother’s love. I will eagerly await the second film of this talented Director.

I left the movie theater feeling bad my mother is no more. Otherwise i would have surely told her once again after watching this film how much I love her.

See the movie to be reminded what a mother’s love feels like: vikas

 

Saif’s Chef

Once in 2014 there was a Jon Favreau Hollywood film called Chef. Come 2017, our desi director Raja Krishna Menon has attempted what he calls a “not so faithful remake” of the film starring Saif Ali Khan as the Chef. And since it is not so faithful to the original movie, our Bollywood version works quite well.

Many things work well in the film. The chief one being Saif himself. Last few movies of the Nawab have been poor outings to the box office. But Chef is something where you glimpse the old charm of Saif. His boyish charm of Dil Chahata Hai, his regal elan of Parineeta, the arrogance of Kya Kehna, the innocence of KHNH and his youthful exuberance of Salaam Namaste : all the varied avatars are in display, in bits and pieces in Chef. Saif carries the entire movie on his shoulders. And you want the movie to succeed, as you want to continue to see this multi-faceted actor, in his many more roles.

Another reason this movie works is as Indians we are always focused on and fascinated with food. Chef panders to that hubris. Whether it is Chandni Chowk’s Chhole Bhature or the Iddiappams of Kerala or the newly innovated Rotazza (Roti Pizza) :- food plays as important a role in the movie, as it does in every Indian’s life! The angst of a 3 Michelin star Chef when a customer dares to say the food is not as good as it used to be is as genuine as is the love with which Saif cooks and serves pasta for his friend in NY or his wife in Kerala. Our traditional love of food showcased so centrally, resonates well with the viewer, even as it drives the story forward.

Besides food, for us Indians, what matters is family and friends. And the family values and importance of relationships in our lives are subtly emphasized throughout the movie. The father and son relationship of 2 generations of Kalras: Saif with his father and Saif with his son are emotionally brought out. {Is it by chance that the rapprochements between both the generations of Kalras also happen due to food: when Armaan eats the Rotazza invented by his father Roshan after they have had a bitter argument;  and, the life long anger of the senior Kalra dissolves when he eats the Rotazza in Delhi and finally smiles and accepts the journey traveled by Roshan.} The beauty of relationships is also lovingly brought out by Ramkumar Chacha who teaches Roshan to cook or his Bangladeshi assistant who follows him from NY to Kerala. Other examples abound: Roshan’s lady colleague in the hotel in NY and her support of Roshan in his difficult times; Milind Soman’s support of Roshan’s ex wife, Radha; Radha’s own unrequited affection for Roshan being rekindled when he returns to India: all these sub plots underline the importance of relationships in the movie and lovingly reflect the importance of relationships in our Indian ethos.

Chef begins in NY and takes us to Kochi. From Kochi via the food truck we are taken into the lush green and watery backfields of Kerala.  After a brief sojourn in Goa we go right upto Delhi. The story unfolds on the lovely backdrop of changing scenery. The snow of Manhattan, the fishing nets of Kochi, the backwaters of Kerala, the winding roads of Goa, the Golden Temple : all leave a loving mark in your memory. The journey of Rohan Kalra is thus not only mental but a physically remarkable journey: pleasing to the eye as is pleasing to the heart.

Full kudos to the writers Ritesh Shah and Suresh Nair. Their script and characterization is totally real and believable. There is no melodrama. There is no pontification. Situations happen and are shown on an “as it happens” basis. The Kerala unions objecting to the domestic servants cleaning the bus;  entire Milind Soman’s character as the friend of Padmapriya the ex-wife; the drinking and brash driver of the food truck who leaves no opportunity to challenge  and question Saif; the Kerala food sampler who questions why he should accept/eat free food but then loves what he gets; the colleague in NY’s Galli restaurant who frankly tells Roshan she is sad for Roshan losing his job but happy that she got a chance to to take over or even the way Radha the ex-wife role is written: all totally matter of fact and practical: memorable but not over the top – all add to the charm of the movie.

Though the blurbs and publicity call Chef a “comedy” this is not your typical rib tickling fare. There are enough sparkling dialogues which make you chuckle. Yet the movie works because it is a series of normal day-to-day believable situations enacted out by simple and truthful characters. The movie works because the entire story hangs together well and entertains you without being preachy, at any time. The first half is a trifle slow. But you exit the movie hall with a smile: 2 and quarter hours well spent and enjoyed :  watching this delightful caper.

Safe to watch Saif playing Chef : you will not regret your decision : vikas

New tune Newton

Newton is refreshing, stark, hard hitting, pure, timely, subtle, honest, humorous, thought provoking, wistful, pithy, absorbing, engaging, meaningful, interesting and sharp. In fact, I run out of adjectives to describe this powerhouse of a movie. Blessed with some superb casting and an even more amazingly tight script {just 108 mins} , this is an absolute MUST SEE movie that challenges the typical escapist fare that Bollywood doles out to us week and week. And due to Rajkumar Rao’s stellar performance and Amit Masurkar’s (Director and Script writer) contribution it will leave you spell bound.

The theme is absolutely unique: a rookie government clerk foisted into an election tour of duty, which no one wants :  as the scene is set in Maoist infested jungles of Chattisgarh. The story revolves around how this seemingly unlikely hero stands up for the election process and fights the establishment (security forces, media, local apathy, and the police) to allow the tribal voters to exercise their franchise. In this effort, he is assisted by a motley gang of four who themselves are hardly convinced about what they are doing. But Newton stands firm and challenges all around him to allow the “dance of democracy” to roll unfettered under his watch!!

The movie makes you laugh. And the movie makes you think. The small vignettes played out by the characters will leave a lasting memory. Dialogues sparkle!! Some of my memorable moments were :

  • the name Newton is coined by Rajkumar himself:as he explains: Nutankumar me se nu ko hamne “new” banaya aur tan ko “Ton” so ho gaya Newton
  • when one of the Election Duty team confesses he is here only because he saw an opportunity to ride a helicopter, which he had never done before
  • The old and tottering village Patel offering to intervene in the standoff between Election Duty Officer and the Security Incharge (beautifully enacted by Pankaj Mishra)  even as he cannot even stand upright as he  intervenes in the argument
  • The world weary Raghubir Yadav calmly combing his hair when madness is all around and his  Presiding Officer is tense
  • the Security detail forcing the tribals to cook “desi” chicken curry and requisitioning the local hooch for their afternoon repast
  • the tribal school teacher Malko’s reply when she is asked whether she is a “nirashavadi” : she says she is just “an adivasi “
  • Atma Singh ( Pankaj Mishra) explaining to the people to use the Electronic Voting Machine :- ” uspe cycle hai, paani hai, motorcycle hai, diya hai, jo kuch chahiye uske samne ka button press karo”
  • Or the same Atma Singh counseling Rajkumar Rao : “Newton ho, Einstein ban ne ki koshish mat karo”

As a movie, what is most heartening is that there is no pretense, no sham. Everything is true to life: so close to reality that it hurts; and yet at another level: it tickles. The top gun in Police is only interested in impressing the foreign journalist;  maybe all the more, as she is a lady. He has no interest except ensuring normal semblance: “izzat ka sawaal hai”. Or the way he brushes aside Rajkumar Rao’s apprehensions, when he tries to complain. His response: ” Koi booth capturing hua hai? False voting hua hai? Violence hua hai?” If all this has not happened, he cannot understand or take cognizance of the basic travesty of justice or the total rape of the electoral process. Rather he consoles the Presiding Officer and walks away.

The magic of the director came across to me in two scenes most strongly:

  • in one memorable shot, Rajkumar as the Presiding Election Officer on duty has spent the entire morning half waiting for voters to arrive. He sits at a table in an empty class room and the camera pans long shot to the blank, stark blackboard just behind his chair. The camera continues to go behind and show the dark yellowing wall behind the blackboard: equally blank: equally harsh: equally stark as the situation the protagonist finds himself in . Salutations Directorji for the thoughtful composition of that shot.
  • When Malko is leaving, Loknath laughs at Newton sir’s card where he has drawn a five of spades. The school teacher Malko’s response will remain with me for long. She points out to Loknath that the 5 can represent the 5 fingers of a hand. When they come together, it forms a fist: substantially increasing it’s power. And further she points one finger at the head signifying the fist can be directed/led by the head/intelligence to achieve much, using the proverbial “sixth sense”. Reminded me of the Zen masters’ teaching. It has the same simplicity of thought and yet is so profound in it’s import.

To end I quote the famous Director Hansal Mehta’s tweet : Making films is not a race with a finish line but just a never ending search for your ‘self’. Thank you  for reminding me of this.

I owe you Newton for making me think, and taking me deep within myself: vikas