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

Zero tolerance

Indian society has always been considered tolerant, compared to most others; and we tend to give credit to our multi-faceted lineage and our upbringing where we have been taught Vasudeva Kutumbakkam  “the entire world is my family”. I am forever intrigued by the  variability in tolerance different people and organizations show. And so exploring this here. Look forward to others’ views as we all have different perspectives and experiences on this important topic.  Tolerance is defined as the capacity or practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs/practices of others.  And we all know that differences abound!! In fact differences make life so enjoyable – colorful and rich!! And yet some differences get so deep rooted, and seemingly irreconcilable, that tolerance goes out of the window. When and why does that happen? is a worthwhile inquiry.

Etymologically “tolerance” word was first used in the 15th century. Derived from endurance and fortitude, the word was first used to to describe “having permission from the authorities”. Of course well before the 15th century enough examples of tolerance were seen  and expounded. Cyrus the Great released the Jews from captivity and allowed them to return to their homeland. The Roman empire was known to allow the conquered people to continue to worship their own Gods.  In the Old Testament Book of Exodus 22:21 says: “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him”. Tolerance personified?

Hindu philosophy was always about inclusion and respecting diversity. Vishnu Purana and the various avatars of Vishnu show that we readily accepted Fishes and Tortoises and Boars (Matsya, Koorma, Varaha) as God. This transitioned into a half man half animal Narasimha avatar; before moving to a human representation of Vishnu as Vamana then Parshurama,  Rama and so on. The challenge to the Hindu philosophy epitomized by the Buddha and his philosophy was dealt with by subsuming even Buddha as one of the avatars of Vishnu in some Hinduism texts! In this context and background the intolerance that we see today in the name of religion is oftentimes  saddening. In pursuit of the most laudable and lofty objective of going closer to God, how can we get divided so deeply into sects and castes and be at loggerheads with one who does not follow my discipline, my reality, my God?

This same approach we see in our housing societies and clubs. Deep chasms develop quickly and we tend to see differences as unbridgeable gaps. “If you are not with us then you are against us” is the prevalent philosophy. Rather than understand and reconcile differences, people start taking joy in accentuating differences and holding forth the differences as opposing flags and rallying cries to deepen the intervening valleys further!!  We seem to have forgotten the edict from the Holy Koran: “There are a thousand ways to reach the Allah”. No one path is right: all roads lead to the same end. So tolerance and mutual understanding should be our guiding star.

Even commercial organizations which should be driven together by common goals and objectives see the same intolerance of alternate and different opinions. That is why you hear of bosses who say ” My way or the highway”.  Recently I came across a cartoon where a Boss is addressing his team and tells them  “I like people who in their own individual manner find a way of saying ‘Boss you are right’ “. Many of us will recollect the group think that emerges when such bosses are around. People don’t give their opinions as they feel it will serve no purpose whatsoever. Rather it will isolate and identify me in the eyes of the dictatorial boss and expose me to more pain. So the intelligent and creative subordinate becomes quiet and withdrawn, tolerant of the mayhem around him, biding the time when he can move on to a more open culture, a more accepting team, a more tolerant boss.

I was fortunate to work in an organization with had multiple lines of business. And at one time saw two totally contradictory styles of management. One Boss was loud and unforgiving. He loved the sound of his own voice. He held “durbars” and not meetings. His meetings had a start time but never any defined end time. People were summoned and tortured. Laughed at if their opinion differed from that of the boss. The other SBU Head however encouraged dissent. He made it clear his was one opinion but the final decision would be taken jointly. All functions were involved in every cross functional matter. Understanding and blending different perspectives was the preferred way forward. He truly believed and practiced tolerance and mutual respect. No prizes for guessing which SBU head did well and which SBU head soon found himself out of a job, out of a team, out of the company.

Today corporate reality or even social and familial reality for that matter has become so complex and involved that no one can claim full expertise or knowledge. In this context,  ability to hear differing opinions and blending sometimes contradictory approaches, to fashion a creatively new solution, is the only way to survive. There is only one verb tolerate and one adjective tolerant but the two nouns Tolerance and Toleration have both come to acquire different meanings. As parents we must understand that the highest result of education is tolerance. Our parenting must be full of examples when we can tell our children ( and our corporate teams) “I do not like X but I am ok if you do it” OR  “I like Y  but I am ok if you do not do it”. The day we do this with equanimity we have understood tolerance.

A la Voltaire let us remember, we are all formed of frailty and error: let us pardon reciprocally, each other’s folly!!!!

 

May acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness alter your life: vikas

Shit happens

One of the inspiring stories I had heard was about this donkey who had become very old (like me). The Farmer had been served well by the donkey;  but now,  he could neither see very clearly nor serve as a beast of burden.  The Farmer was a kind soul,  and so allowed him to just carry on. One day,  due to his poor eyesight,  the donkey did not see the old dry well: and fell right in!!! It was a 14/15 feet fall and so obviously the donkey could not climb out of the dry well. Nor could the Farmer put down ropes and physically pull the donkey out. And pull out for what? thought the farmer. The donkey is of no use anyway (again like yours truly),  can’t pull his weight around the farm,  do any productive work,  etc etc. Yet considering the donkey’s prior committed service,  the Farmer thought he deserved a decent burial. In the  same dry well!!. So the farmer began shoveling some dirt and mud into the well: with an idea to cover up the donkey and let him die in peace!!

What did the donkey do? (again like me??)  With every shovel full of mud and muck thrown on him: he shook it off and stepped up. Shake it off and Step up. And as the mud kept raining down on him,  lo and behold,   there came a time when the donkey was near the mouth of the dry well : and could just walk out to life and liberty!!!

In every adversity: you have a choice. Do I feel miserable for the inequities rained on me? Do I curse the powers that be? Do I rive and rail at the uncertainties of life? Do I wallow in self pity and curse my stars or my past? Or do I emulate the donkey? Learn from him and say : “Shake it off and step up”  As soon as I learn this magic formula of Shake it off and Step up I soon find myself out of the woods and into a space of freedom and joy.

Unfortunately most of us are so upset with the closing of one door: that we continue to berate our fate and stare at the closed door : little realizing that so many other doors are opening up, and we can Move On!.  But we still get stuck and beat out head against the closed doors in our life: thereby not paying attention to the other opportunities that are open,  other doors which take us to a new realm.

Every area of human endeavor is replete with examples we can learn from! Take Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. She did not rise to the list of Forbes’ Most influential Women Leaders by any wave of the proverbial magic wand. She chose to study  in Australia specializing in malting and brewing and topped her class. Despite this specialist  knowledge, she was told she could not be a Master Brewer as that was a “man’s job”. This closing of the door, encouraged her move abroad where she met Leslie Auchincloss,  founder of Biocon Ireland who happened to be looking for a partner to expand into India!! Rest is corporate history!! But few know that Kiran had negotiated with Leslie that she would get a Master Brewer position equivalent,  in case Biocon India did not work out. I think Leslie is still waiting near the open door: waiting for Kiran; while she has moved on.

Do we move on? Do we Let Go? Or we become a Narayan Murthy who speaks of Letting Go but at the first possible turn: wants to hold on and not Let Go!! If only Shri Murthy had stayed as the “chief Mentor” or a la Nandan Nilekani,  moved on to other pastures. Nandan moved from an entrepreneur to a corporate role; thence to a role as a bureaucrat and politician. His stint as the Chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India was full of glorious achievements and putting India well on the road to digitization.   And yet again the skin is shed and he is now in the hot saddle vacated by Sikka, and vitiated by NRN. His wholesome smile and ease is open for all to see. We see a true karma yogi here.

Truly we see the live exemplification of :

वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि।

तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही।। Bhagwat Geeta Verse 22 Chap 2

जैसे जगत् में मनुष्य पुराने जीर्ण वस्त्रोंको त्याग कर अन्य नवीन वस्त्रोंको ग्रहण करते हैं, वैसे हीजीवात्मा पुराने शरीरोंको छोड़कर अन्यान्य नवीन शरीरोंको प्राप्त करता है. अभिप्राय यह कि जीवात्मा सदा  ही निर्विकार रहता है.

How we all, who were worshipers of NRN in his earlier avatar, fondly wish Mr Murthy had shown this निर्विकार attitude. Or for that matter, wish so had Mr Ratan Tata. Or even Mr Cyrus Mistry. By their belligerent actions and public displays all these icons have shown their feet of clay. Shown that Letting Go was difficult for them. Carrying on seemed easier for them. and they were ready to cause enormous losses and harm to the organizations they lived for, the values they publicly espoused just because they were unable to Shake it off and Step up.

Politics also gives us so many examples. The Gandhi family since Indira have never felt like Letting Go and we have the 3rd generation of Gandhis being foisted on an unsuspecting Indian populace. Admittedly, Rahul baba takes the joke on the Indian voters to a really new abysmal level. Look at Lallu and Rabdi. If you wonder what was Rabdi Devi’s legitimacy: you might as well question even what was Lallu’s claim to fame??!!  Nitish in Bihar, Jayalalitha in TN: how many names we need to recount to conclude that the people in power never want to let go: they believe and act as though India  is their jagir which they can pass on like the cattle, hearth and chattel much like the British Lords and gentry.

Looking at all this evidence I conclude: Letting Go is important if you need to grow and move ahead. It is only in shedding the past will you learn and master the future.  Others who give you dollops of sympathy: are not your real friends!! You only need to focus on your own actions. Move on in life. There is miles to go. Let go: rather than carry the past as a burden which will slow you down forever.  Learn from the donkey: Shake it off and Step up. You will soon see a new robust future.

That is why possibly Swami Vivekanand says: “Men, Men.  Men- these are wanted. Everything else will come.” { For my emancipated lady friends: here “men” includes women and vice versa. Remember Swami Vivekananda most illustrious disciple was Sister Nivedita}. Imagine the world if Rudolf Diesel was not able to Let Go of the conventional wisdom of the time and develop an engine that could be ignited without a spark, but just by pressure!. Imagine if Bill Gates was not able to Let Go and move forward as he incorporated so many path breaking ideas in nascent computer operating systems.  Imagine Steve Jobs not being able to move on when he was sacked from Apple, a company he founded, by a Board he incorporated , and a CEO he had chosen. Letting Go, Moving On, and Shaking it off, he set up Pixar and that was his calling card to reenter Apple for his second glorious stint. Can our NRN and Ratan Tatas and Cyrus Mistrys and Yogi Deveshwars and Amol Naiks learn from Steve Jobs to Let go and Move On? Or will Nagavara Murthys and Rahul Gandhis and Roshni Nadars and Isha Ambanis continue in our public life as evidence that Shit Happens!!

 

Remember, Life is a four letter word.: Love it and Make it: despite it all: vikas

 

Bareilly ki Barfi

Effervescent, entertaining, engaging, enjoyable.

An absolutely MUST SEE movie.

It is an emergent spark of the coming of age of the Bollywood factory! Every week we see so many films being released. But Bareilly ki Barfi is the clarion call that Bollywood has come of age and is not afraid of showing totally human, totally believable characters. People like you and me. People who act absolutely human. And do not put on any “filmi” airs. They live very normal lives. Day to day humdrum things happen to them. And amidst it all: a lovely story flowers and entertains you.

No actions of any of the characters is “super human”, which has become the norm of all the Hindi potboilers. Here is a under the wraps writer Chirag (Ayushman) who publishes his trashy fictional book under someone else’s name and photograph. And when Bitti Sharma (Kirti Sanon)  reads the book and changes her life’s course and wants to meet the author Vidrohi ( Rajkumar Rao),  Chirag has to play role of getting Bitti to meet Vidrohi. The proverbial love triangle ensues with Chirag falling heads over heels for Bitti while Bitti only wants Vidrohi in her life. Vidrohi is engagingly played by Rajkumar. First aloof, then interested in Bitti, coming up against Chirag ;  who is now caught in a web of his own subterfuge, as he has projected Vidrohi rather than openly accepting he was the real author of the novel that Bitti actually seeks.

Rakjumar shows what a great actor performer he has become. He is a total scene stealer in his various avatars; Sari salesman, scared friend, local aggressive loudmouth, man in love, and finally challenger of Chirag. Each scene in which he is on screen just effortlessly belongs to him and his acting prowess. The movie is worth watching just to see the craft and skill of Rajkumar.

Kirti Sanon ( whom I saw first time on screen) has remarkable confidence and presence. She brings Bitti Sharma to life. Her interactions with her friend, her mother, her father, with Chirag, in her Electricity Dept Complaint Office, her first hating Vidrohi’s loudness and then falling in love with Vidrohi :  all are done with ease and elan. While the totally believable script characterization helps her, she deserves full credit of carrying it off well.  I saw Anushka Sharma’s confidence and star power (displayed in Rab ne Bana di Jodi and Band Baja Baraat) take birth all over again in Kirti, in the way she has played Bitti.

Ayushman as Chirag plays the first half very well. He is great as the small town publisher who falls head over heels for Bitti and woos his damsel. But he falters when Chirag brings in Vidrohi as a counterfoil in Bitti’s lovestory. Maybe the sheer acting prowess of Rajkumar finds it’s first victim in Ayushman’s Chirag. Ayushman is not able to hold his character or his acting together after Rajkumar as Vidrohi enters the story. His only solace is that he finally gets the girl.

On 2 other fronts Bareilly ki Barfi sparkles. All the support characters of Bitti’s parents, Chirag’s friend, Vidrohi’s mother are played to perfection and leave a lasting impression. Secondly the script writing by Nitish Tiwari (of Dangaal fame) is a class apart. The sheer repartee and clean riposte keeps you bubbling and cheery for the entire 2 hours 2 minutes of the movie. Nary a dull moment, it actually grows from strength to strength.

So Bareilly ki Barfi is sweet. Sweet from beginning to end. And leaves a lovely taste in your heart as you leave the theater.

Here is hoping the Imtiaz Alis and the Karan Johars and Anurag Kashyaps and Aditya Chopras gather some courage from the director Ashwini Iyer Tiwari and writer Nitesh Tiwari and show us some truly believable characters like Bitti and Chirag and Vidrohi in their romcoms.

So next time you are in Bareilly ka bazaar don’t search for jhumkas.

Savor Bareilly ki barfi instead: vikas

My Choice

John Steinbeck, in his typical profound manner, tells us: ” the Hebrew word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not’.” (emphasis added). How well this captures the entire journey of our life!! It is always a struggle between “thou mayest” and “thou mayest not” and the final choice that we make in a given circumstance. Truly the choices that we make, make us!!!

Imagine that fateful day, when young Narendra decided that he must meet someone who has “met God” and was in search of such a Guru. On reaching Dakshineshwar he asked  “Have you seen or experienced God?”. The fateful reply of Ramakrishna,”Yes, I have seen God. I see Him as I see you here, only more clearly. God can be seen. … If one cries sincerely for God, one can surely see Him.”. Bewildered and puzzled, Narendra returned to Calcutta, but  was convinced the words sprung from deep inner experiences. So he returned to meet Ramakrishna again and again; till he was transformed into Swami Vivekanada. Advaita Vedantism owes a great debt to that fateful meeting and of course to Vivekananda’s decision to go to the Parliament of World’s Religions at Chicago in 1893. His speech there ” Sisters and Brothers of America, It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise…” changed the course of seeing Hinduism as the religion of true tolerance and universal acceptance.

Or take the case of Gandhi. When travelling to Pretoria, with a legitimate First Class ticket, he was thrown off the train on the instigation of a white man. Instead of fleeing the scene, Gandhi stayed back for 21 years to fight for Indians in Africa. Gandhi’s travails at Pietermaritzburg railway station was akin to a second birth.  It was said: “When Gandhi was evicted from the train, an Indian visiting South Africa fell but when Gandhi rose, an Indian South African rose.” The aborted train journey finally took Gandhi far beyond Pretoria!! His concepts of peaceful resistance were born from his choice of not accepting injustice. This in turn would shape his entire Nonviolence and Satyagraha philosophy which gave India its freedom from the British; while till then “Sun never set on the British Empire” The first blow to that superstructure was in Peitermaritzburg;  finding its resonance in the birth of India, Pakistan, Australia,  Kenya,  and so many other countries’ independence. (Sotto voce: we must locate and thank the white man who objected to Gandhi’s presence in the train compartment!!) General Smuts put it well:”men like Mahatma Gandhi redeem us from a sense of commonplace and futility and are an inspiration to us not to weary in well doing”. Truly, to do or not to do:  it is our choice!!!

Jawaharlal Nehru’s approach on Article 370 and  J&K; his actions and decisions in the China War in 1962 were bereft of his genial Chacha Nehru lover of children and roses image.  His choices at that time shape our present day actions vis-a-vis J&K as well as China.

Indira Gandhi’s Declaration of Emergency in 1975 gives many great examples of choices altering the course of history. The split of the hoary Congress that Indira engineered in 1969 – Congress(O) and Congress(R) – were the beginning of her megalomania. Riding on the back of populist measures like Nationalisation of Banks & Abolition of Privy Purses, Indira got a catchy slogan of Garibi Hatao to pilot a thumping majority in Parliament in 1971 elections. This fueled her greed for power even more. Newly anointed with Bharat Ratna, Indira won a war against Pakistan, freeing Bangla Desh. She started dominating the judiciary after the Kesavanada Bharti case and cases against the 24th Amendment not going her preferred way. Challenges began with Nav Nirman movement in Gujarat and agitation of Bihar Chhatra Sangharsh Samiti under the leadership of Jaiprakash Narayan(JP).  Ignoring the assassination of Railway Minister LN Mishra or the ruthless suppression of the Railway Strike by Indira only showed her decisions/choices progressively becoming undemocratic and totalitarian. The final straw was the Allahabad High Court decision finding her guilty of misusing governmental machinery in her campaigning, declaring her election null and void, unseating her from the Lok Sabha. When the Supreme Court also upheld the HC decision, strikes swept the country in trade, students and government unions. Indira’s choice and decision was to get a compliant President sign on a Proclamation of Emergency.

Even a simple recounting of these events shows the number of fork points and decisions ingrained in the choices made by all actors in this drama. We can  conjecture many, many “what-if” scenarios. There will be no definitive answers to questions like what-if Raj Narain had not challenged her election; what-if the HC judge had not ruled against Indira; what-if SC had overturned the HC decision; what-if JP and Nav Nirman movements had remained dormant; what-if SS Ray had refused to prepare the note recommending declaring  Emergency; what-if Sanjay Gandhi had not implemented forcible sterilizations… Questions, questions, questions. But you get the point I am driving at. Our lives are shaped by choices: choices that we make and choices that others around us make.

On a purely personal plane: I was always enamored with English Literature. Wanted to study and then teach English as a career. When I chose Humanities everyone advised me my life would be ruined. I would live to regret the wrong choice I was making.  Then came a time when there was a choice to shift to studying Psychology and specializing in Organizational Psychology. After that my career aspiration became teaching Psychology. Soon life presented another choice: IIM Calcutta. Having cleared entrance exams with difficulty,  I chose to study Personnel Management & Industrial Relations(PMIR) in IIMC!! Again I faced ridicule and disbelief since my choice was not Systems or Marketing or Finance in the proverbial melting pot of IIMC. I chose PMIR as it would add value to my psycho background. Today my choices have made me: a service oriented professional, happy building other’s careers and coaching them to succeed. I am what my choices have made me.

My final take is destiny is not predetermined; it is a matter of choices we make. Think of Vivekanada restlessly asking to see God. Think of Gandhi emerging stronger from his fall in Peitermaritzburg. We shape and create our life, and our future, through our choices. Indira’s death was also shaped by her choices. Richard Bach put it beautifully: “we are free to choose a different future: or even a different past”.  Think about that.

Let me end with the philosopher of philosophers Aristotle: “Excellence is never an accident… it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.”

Robert Frost sang beautifully: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
… long I stood;  And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…

So friends make your choices wisely: and walk the road less travelled: vikas

 

C’est exclusif

As a lifelong student of human behavior, I am perpetually intrigued, and alternately saddened to see absolutely average (and significantly normal) people put on airs of exclusivity. They project a manner emulating “to the manor born”. They want to prove to their audience, and indirectly to their own selves, that they are special! Their effort is to project themselves as better than they are, above their “level”, superior!!! Often this attempt is farcical and immediately seen through by the audience they try to impress. And thus, they end up coming across lower in the eyes of the beholder.

The simplest example is the people who try to put on an accent. I do not mean the Punjus who want to speak “English” after a drink or two; but rather, the seemingly normal folks who suddenly speak different, when they are in front of an audience or when they are on phone. We all know some folks whose vocabulary or diction changes when they are in the public eye. This desire to project exclusivity is, in my opinion, deep rooted and widely prevalent in today’s times, when supplements like Bombay Times are read more assiduously than the main TOI newspaper, when Page 3 overtakes all!!

Historically of course this disease is old as the hills. There is an apocryphal story about the first English settlers to America on the boat Mayflower. Apparently the people on the boat were so status conscious that it was said “The Cabots spoke only to the Lodges; and the Lodges spoke only to God!”  Heaven help some of the hoi polloi who tried to interact socially with the Cabots and the Lodges!! In social dos today we all see such behavior. There are those who would desperately try and enter conversations with the movers and shakers: getting badly mauled in the process. Yet they would steadfastly ignore some others, seemingly below their level, who were trying equally hard to converse with them. What creates this social pecking order? Who makes these hierarchies? Is it not the innate desire to be exclusive?

Those of us who have had the fortune of working in MNCs have seen the deference with which even mechanics and technicians are treated just because they are German or American: while we gleefully ignore our own brown skinned brethren. Correspondingly the technicians belonging to “Vaterland” will look down on even General Managers of the host country merely because they are from the HQ country.  Those of us who had had the misfortune of travelling to Europe have experienced first hand the twisted egotism of the French who would disdainfully look down on anyone who dares speak in Queen’s English in their hallowed land. Their attitude is speak French or be damned. C’est exclusif!

One expects religion to be the most inclusive, and the least exclusive. But is that the reality we see reflected all around? Rather, in the name of religion, we see the most deep lines drawn between people. While all accept that at the fundamental level all religions teach love and brotherhood, it is in the name of the selfsame religion that we see maximum groupism and claims of exclusivity. We have forgotten Thomas Keller who avers ” The Gospel is an exclusive truth but it’s the most inclusive exclusive truth in the world”. We had  first Protestants who claimed Roman Catholics had lost the plot. And then came a bevy of Lutherans, Orthodox, Pentacostal, and many other variations: all claiming exclusive knowledge and grasp of the Good Word. We forgot Prophet Mohammed’s teaching :  there are multiple ways to reach the Allah. Rather in Goa we keep debating Shiva or Vishnu : who is Supreme? Do the Shwetambers have the right path or is it the Digambars?  Nirgun or Sagun : both claim they define Godhood better.

All this debate and claims lead to David Mitchell’s insight:  ” Faith, the least exclusive club, has the craftiest doorman. Every time I have stepped through it’s wide open doorway, I find myself stepping out in the streets again.”  The desire to be exclusive finally ends by showing us how non-inclusive we become. The Gods look down in pleasure on repentant sinners as ” it isn’t what we say or think that defines us but what we do” per Jane Austen (Sense & Sensibility).

Have you not seen people who wear their educational qualifications and alma mater as plumes on their head? They just cannot forget they are from IITs or IIMs or have a PhD and all their interactions are through this looking glass. They distance themselves from others, casting a long shadow of exclusivity. The qualification, college or “club tie” becomes their ‘nom de plume’; a high gate they erect to keep the “aam janata” in their place. But actually they end up as prisoners in their own fence!!! As Theodore Adorno put it “the specific is not exclusive : it lacks the aspiration to totality”. And the real world is glorious and entertaining only because of it’s rich diversity. Which in turn, can be understood  and enjoyed only if one is inclusive.

Are you only the IIM or PhD? Or are you wider and deeper than that? “To use for our exclusive benefit what is not ours is theft” warns Jose Marti. I was a Bombay University topper in BA and in MA. I had the privilege of studying in IIMC. So what? I always hid it as I reminded myself that every year there is topper in BA and one in MA. Hundreds study every year in premier colleges. But that does not define me. If it distances me from others: I would rather hide the Gold Medals I won, and not use them as the proverbial “third eye” of Shiva to judge and evaluate and destroy others.

In today’s times we can learn a lot from the entire journey of the LGBT community to get their rightful place under the sun. Stuart Milk a LGBT activist puts it brilliantly: “We are less when we do not include everyone”. Elsewhere our own Bapu cautions: “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive”.  So ubiquity is the new exclusivity. And the faster we understand this, the better human beings we will become. ” I am large. I contain multitudes” as Walt Whitman sang. To which I will only add what Sant Chokhamela  taught me :

उंबरठ्यासी  कैसे शिऊ आम्ही जातिहीन
रूप तुझे कैसे पाहू त्यात आम्ही लीन
पायरीशी होवू दंग गावूनी अभंग…                                                                                                                    ( I cannot come to the temple as I am an outcast:                                                                         I cannot even see your face as I am so helplessly enamored;                                                        so I will stay at the steps and sing your praises)

Don’t threaten me with love baby. Let’s us just go walking in the rain: vikas