Sarkar 3….Bahubali 2…God save our souls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climb every mountain…

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Speed : vikas

Enough…already

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theory & Practice: which side are you on?

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

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

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

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

What type of a person are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the experience : vikas

Smruti & Srushti

The proverbial chicken and egg of philosophy. What came first? The image/concept /thought : Smruti. Or was it the creation, nature, the substantive form : Shrusti.

Let us explore this a little further. It is said that before a chair (or any object for that matter) is made, there must be a design, a form, an outline in the mind of the carpenter. Then only can he set out to make the physical chair, guided by his “Smruti”. To the proponents of Smruti, the mind/the inner eye/the visualization is all powerful. Indeed it is where it all begins: as without a concept in the mind what will you create in the physical sense? This is an argument forwarded by the Believers to prove the very existence of God. How could the world have come into existence unless God/Jehovah/Allah/Bhagwan first thought of it. And then made it: brought it into existence. So Smruti first.

The professors of Shrusti would ask: from where does the dream, the concept,the thought come? The thought must come from something substantial, concrete and solid: an outcome of Shrusti. Smruti happens within Srusti, to Adam or the Purusha who has to precede the conceptualization. So without creation, Smruti does not exist. After all Smruti of what? it is the dream or abstraction of Shrusti. An interesting argument put forth by this group is : if I were standing within touching distance of a tree and suppose I close my eyes: what happens to the tree? Does the tree still exist when I close my eyes? It is in my memory. But that is because I have seen the actual tree before. In the absence of Shrusti can Smruti exist?

Like most conundrums this one not have a definitive answer. Nevertheless we should be aware of the interplay of Smruti and Srushti (or Srushti and Smruti,if you will )as that is what creates the world around us as well as the world within us. (This I believe is the best way to understand the Hindu philosophical concept of “Maya”) Perception plays a substantial role in shaping the reality around us and within us. Blissfully sometimes we carry on unaware of the dynamic interplay and thus end up taking strong positions because we believe our worldview. What I am cautioning is that this could very well be only one side of the argument. And we need to pause and appreciate the other world view, even if it is not in support of our own.

The strident espousal of one approach, one way of thinking, one point of view is really putting all of us at risk. And at loggerheads. We must openly accept that your world view,your smruti and your shrusti can very well be different from mine.
That does not make mine weaker or less believable. Nor does it give an automatic superiority to yours. We need to dialogue to understand each others’ point of view. And chart out a way forward based on mutual discussions and understanding,rather than believing my point of view prevails above all.

Since we began with the simile of chicken and egg, let me end with a facile joke which answers this question of what comes first. When Pandu the simpleton in our village Sawantwadi was asked this moot question: what comes first the chicken of the egg? He pondered over the question for a while and then gave his famous pronouncement : “I am sure whatever you order first in the hotel will come first. So it could be chicken if ordered first: or the egg”!!!! So also in the Hotel “Maya” run by that Power you will get Shrusti or Smruti depending on what you have ordered!!! So relax and enjoy the experience….

This is my Shrusti and my Smruti.
May you discover yours: vikas

Women of substance…Begum Jaan & her 11…some pondering

We saw Begum Jaan last night. A period film set in the times of Independence. An ensemble cast with some interesting names. Led by our much decorated actress with multiple national awards: Vidya Balan. In the Cinepolis VIP theater for the 8pm show my family had the privilege of experiencing a “private” screening : we were the only 3 people in the entire theater!! That itself should tell you a lot.

It was sad because the theme chosen by Srijit Mukherjee is powerful. And the writer/ director is attempting to tell this story a second time : it is a remake of his own earlier made Bengali file Rajkahini.. So Srijit deserves space in my memory book for telling the story second time: and still getting it wrong!!! I have not seen the original Rajkahini; but Begum Jaan just fails to take off, make an impression or grip you from the start. Which explains the 3 people audience ( all from one family) and an empty theater for a late evening show.

The protagonist is “tough as nails” brothel keeper whose life and living is being uprooted by the Radcliffe Line, which passes right through her palatial house of ill fame. Of course it disrupts and disturbs lives as the challenge the Radcliffe Line poses is bifurcating the settled lives of Begum Jaan and her girls. The story is about how Begum Jaan and her motley bunch of “girls” oppose the Police, the functionaries of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League,  and finally the local goondas. And die a fiery death while trying to protect their life style and their freedom.

While the backdrop is the independence movement, and the riots and human misery which got unleashed at the time of Partition, the whole treatment of the events appears totally facile and simplistic. And when the main holocaust is portrayed so poorly how can the implication of this development for Begum Jaan and her bunch of harlots involve, grip and arrest you? The same holds true for all the side themes of caste-ism, self gain & poverty of thinking or planning by the bureacracy, irrelevance and greed of Kings, and the sheer betrayal by the school teacher. Good side themes. But none of them presented powerfully.

Vidya Balan uses her talent to create a memorable character of a foul mouthed, curses spewing, iron fisted & feudalistic brothel keeper.  But the innate contradictions in the way  her character has been written by Srijit stare the discerning audience in the face. Even while she is objecting to the arbitrariness of the British rulers, and the INC & ML henchmen Begum Jaan herself comes across as a self willed and manipulative woman. Becoming exactly what she detests.  Her use of her relationship with the local Raja ( Naseeruddin Shah) by sacrificing a new virgin girl or the way she treats the village Master or her own bodyguard show Begum Jaan to be as shallow and shaken as the people she is opposing. My heart went out to Begum Jaan only in the very last sequences where she is asking her 11 prostitues to run away while she will stay alone and fight. And when they refuse, the spirited manner in which she fights and leads her “woman army” to attack the intruders multiplies your respect for what she stands for. And at the very end, a la Rani Padmini, how she leads the 5 women who are left standing into the burning haveli…i was most impressed with the smile lighting up her lips and eyes, as she accepts her final fate. By her example she she also helps the other girls accept their fate smilingly. Watch the movie just for Vidya Balan : here is an actress who can raise the movie to a level higher than what even the Director or the rest of the big cast line up can do!!

Naseer, Gauhar Khan, Vidyarthi, Rajit Kapur, Rajesh Sharma, Mushran, Ila Arun et al play their parts well but lack the sparkle that would fire your heart. Only other person who has elevated himself and his role is Chunky Pandey as the villain. Without typical Hindi film melodrama and raised voices, Chunky instills fear and anger in a subtle underplayed role which leaves deep impression. One wonders where was this talent hidden by Chunky for all these years. He never let us know his true capability. But in Begum Jaan he puts his calling card on the table most firmly.

Just two more things : one which I liked and one which I hated. First the bad news. I just could not understand why any and every interaction amongst the 11 girls in the house is high  and shouting pitched. They never have a normal conversation: all are shouting matches. What was Srijit thinking? But on another plane I loved the way Srijit has used historical Indian lore to bind the script and story together. The use of computer graphics while recounting stories of Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi or Razia Sultan drive the story forward and stitch events well together.  The use of Rani Padmavati story for the climax leaves a deep impression and makes the entire finale very believable. So also the use of the old Pyasa song: Wo subah kabhi to aayegi… Goose bumps as you leave the cinema hall.

So in the rhetoric of active feminism does Begum Jaan make a powerful statement? Yes and No. The theme and direction is right. But the execution could have been much, much better. So the final scorecard would read : Vidya Balan 7 Srijit 2 (out of 10).

Bombay Times had shown a group photograph of the Begum Jaan team and said this team together has won 20 National Awards. Wonder where the Awards winning performances got lost in the Partition drama?

Love : vikas

White lies. Black lies. & Other lies

I am sure there does not exist anyone on this earth who has not lied; sometime, some place, somewhere. In this respect, most of us begin early. As kids when faced with a difficult question from your Mother, the temptation to take the easier way out and make an innocuous excuse/lie is par for the course. When Fathers ask tough questions about studying or about our friends, again we do take some liberty with the truth. And creatively change reality to escape more difficult consequences. Bunking classes; catching a movie; trying a cigarette (or at times something stronger); continuing friendship with persons our parents feel are a bad influence : in all these, and many more similar challenging  circumstances, we take the easier way out and either indulge in half truths or blatant lies. And we easily explain to our conscience that it is for the “larger good/peace/happiness” or what have you. Have we all not played along in this game?

At one extreme end is  the famous white (? or black??) lie of Yudhishtir (encouraged by Krishna) who informed Drona that  “Ashwatthama hato” (Ashwatthama is dead) adding sotto voce “Naro wa Kunjarova aham nahi jananti”. This lie, from a true follower of Dharma like Yudhishtir, caused Guru Drona to disarm himself in grief of having lost his son. Thus, Drona the Commander of Kaurava army, who could not be defeated, was left defense less due to Krishna’s subterfuge.That lie has become an epitome of expediency. Of means v/s ends debate. All with very large scale consequences. Least of all being the “fact” that Yudhishtir was till then so pure a follower of Dharma that his chariot reportedly ran an inch above the earth surface: but this lie made him as much a mortal as all of us and his chariot after that never flew above the earth; but traveled on the surface of earth like all others’ chariots. A classic Puranic tale which also underlies that “gods” themselves are not above lies?

In more modern times our dear Mr President Trump’s inauguration attendance created its’ own controversy and gave birth to the concept of “alternative facts”. Though most of the world later debunked this terminology and as so accurately called out   on the air by NBC’s  Chuck Todd “Alternative facts are not facts, they’re falsehoods!”. Nevertheless am sure the Trump brigade genuinely believed the alternate facts. And held firm their own image in their mind.

While both these examples are of epic proportions, world history gives us many many more in times of war and in times of peace. The fact remains that humans are not averse to modifying facts and reality to serve their own immediate need. The “spin doctors” whom Vance Packard way back in 1957 called the “Hidden Persuaders” are at it all the time. Creatively changing “facts” to suit their arguments the game is never fair and truthful. Always there is an axe to grind and a opinion to modify: after being subjected to interpretation and modification. Most of modern day marketing and advertising is creating impressions and hopes which may or may not be truthful. How many people do we know personally who have benefited from fairness creams? but that still is a huge market with it’s own followers.

I am frankly not too concerned with these “epic” lies and spins. As a student of human behavior, I am more interested in understanding why, and how, we everyday people also indulge in this “story telling” , and creatively altering reality and marshaling ( or hiding for that matter) facts as we live our lives, and express our opinions on a day to day basis. Do we not see the falsehood we profess? or is it so ingrained and so subtle that we do this “naturally” and without any sense of guilt?

This worries me a lot, as we cannot ever be sure whether what we are hearing or what we are being shown is “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” . Philosophically and fundamentally, the more basic issue is : is there a common reality? or is each one of us living in our own world bound by our own reality which we cannot share?

Questions, questions, questions. And I can’t even appeal to Krishna to lead me to the answer!!!!!

Yours in quandary: vikas

Smile!!!…you are on Candid camera…

John Lennon is credited with that earth shattering insight: “Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.”

We all have our favorite stories of how we were suddenly accosted with a different reality which stopped us in our tracks and made us re-evaluate what we were planning to do.  (Reminds me of the famous philosophical joke: “how do you make God laugh? “well tell him of your plans for the coming year”)  My most recent brush with this altering reality experience was when we had some “friendly relatives/relatives who are more friends” as house guests. They were on way to an European sojourn and we all wanted to spend time together before their travel. Many plans were made. Minute by minute itineraries; meal by meal menus and the whole damn twelve yards. And one day into our time together (everything going like a house on fire ) : my wife has a bad fall and we spend next 16 hours in a hospital – outside the operation theater and intensive care unit. When you are tense and worried about recovery of a dear one it is difficult to shrug the proverbial philosophical shoulders and carry on. One does wonder how a Plato or an Aristotle  would have thought their way out of this bind.

Does this happen because we want a great level of predictability in our lives? Our desire to control what is going on in our lives is always so high. And when that gets off the track we feel uncomfortable. Of course no one likes an accident or a fall. But I know of many examples when even happy and good events which happened suddenly cause the crease of worry on our foreheads: why did this happen? How? if I did not cause it and work for it would it be taken away from me??. The underlying philosophy is : I am the master of my life. I control things. I make events happen. I must be able to predict everything.

In reality what can be farther from the fact? are we really in control? are events linked causally? and if they are am I am the “karta/dharta” ? Many times actually it is the butterfly effect: when seemingly unrelated and small actions all add to creating a tsunami in our lives. Life is certainly an integrated chain of events. An effect follows from a cause. But then Effects in turn cause other Effects. And the cycle is so much linked like a web that you can not really isolate in a pure manner an effect and it’s true/solitary cause.  To use the age old cliche : am I like the small fly sitting on the wheels of Arjuna’s chariot wheel? looking back and thinking proud about the amount of dust I am kicking up? What do I really cause to happen around me?

Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness says it all in the very title of the book. We think we are in control. We project ourselves as powerful and causal. But the real intricate web of cause and effects behind the scene carries on regardless. Life is as much a surprise as it is predictable. And that is the true joy of living. An aseptic in control totally predictable life will be difficult to get through. So while accidents and incidents create challenges and difficulties in life: they are the experiences which spice our lives and make the whole business of living so enjoyable and glorious. The sheer uncertainty keeps us on the edge and the thrill alive!  Life is indeed an adventure!! A treasure hunt where the rewards and the punishments are as much a part of the journey as the curious twists and turns we have to face as we move along.

I will end with an advice one of my bosses in Johnson and Johnson use to give us. We were a motley crowd of HR professionals setting out to transform the HR world in J&J across the globe. The project had many ups and downs : great moments of frustrations and challenges. When ever the team was down Kaye Foster-Cheek our thethen Global HR head had this to say: “Trust the process”. I think that is great advice as we live through life. We can question/fret/fume and tear our hair. But at the end of the day : Trust the process.

You get only one chance in life. And the “best” part is that NO one gets out of this game alive. So I  always look upto the sky and say:  I am ready! Lay it on. I am ready.  I am emboldened by my faith. And I trust the process. Do you?

Love: vikas