Sunday, May 15, 2016

Confessions of an arm chair critic

Before going any further, let us all for a moment watch this incredible scene from the movie ratatouille.  

To quote Ego, "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so" 

Such an insightful quote from an equally insightful movie. In a way most of us or at least I am sure of myself , belong to the category that is worse than a piece of junk than the junk itself. I find it incredibly easy to say a solution is wrong. Its the easiest thing to do. But when it comes to the finding the solution, the whole brain thingi  goes to the drain. While  being a critic comes to us naturally, listening to one does not. Being a toastmaster, giving feedback is an integral part of the educational program. While giving feedback it is always asked to sandwich a negative feedback  between positive things. This is a something toastmasters as an organization has learnt over the years.

So why am I writing about things that seem so random and out of context. Recently I read this article from the guardian "Guardian article about negative comments". With the advent of the digital revolution we have access to plethora of information. This is a great power, and of course with this great power comes great responsibility. There is an unusual surge in the right wing, rather extreme thoughts through out the world.

Over the past year or so there are loads of issues creeping up in and around me, particularly from india that has made me and many of us take a stand. Ofcourse each of us have a right to take a stand as much as the other person. Let me start with things close to my heart. The whole intolerance debates. Amir Khan or Shah rukh khan who said that there is a growing sense of intolerance around us. They might be right or they might be wrong, one thing that we must respect is their right to speech. Without going into the merits of their statements what is completely unacceptable, is the reaction of the people who are both for and against their stand. What followed was an incredible name calling and swear exchanges, where terms like presstitudes, AAPtards, bakhts etc etc. Why have we become so sensitive to criticism and why do we get hurt so easily.

Historically there have been many such debates where personalities more than idealogies have dominated. Closer to home, the debates Ambedkar vs Gandhi, Bose vs Gandhi are definitely the top picks. In the social media we can always find people sharing how the country would have been different if the other had been in charge. For example, let us take the Bose vs Gandhi debate for instance. Both wanted complete freedom for India. How it would be achieved is where the difference rose. While Bose wanted an Indian version of fascism (Without the racism bit), Gandhi was in favour of step changes, with Indians slowly taking control rather than going for immediate complete independence (Source : From the book "Bose in Nazi Germany", Bose had lived in Germany for about 2 years trying to persuade the Axis powers to invade India).  Both the ideologies have their merits, and Gandhi being a better tactician and people's person, had persuaded the majority to follow his ideology.

Does this mean the two lost their mutual respect! When INA officers were arrested in 1945, Gandhi went on a fast seeking their release. Nehru was the chief  defendant for the INA officers. The term, Father of Nation was bestowed upon Gandhi by Bose himself, while Gandhi called him the "Prince among the patriots". Source [Bose's address to MK Gandhi from Rangoon]. We cannot get back in time and verify if these statements are true. But what is clear was a clear mutual respect and accepting to agree to disagree. Researching for this article, I came across these 2 letters,
Bose to Gandhi
Gandhi to Bose 
This shows a clear mutual respect and admiration.

There is a beauty in having a difference of opinion. Time and again it is nice to have our beliefs shattered. Thats how we grow up. But once we grow we somehow forget what helped us grow in the first place. We have over the years lost our ability to listen, be tolerant and question our on beliefs. I really hope there is a more mature interaction, where different ideas can coexist. India in particular has had unity in diversity in her DNA through out the history. Our first prime minister was an atheist, who was a protege of a staunch believer, and had a law minister who hated both their ideologies, home minister who was more right than liberal. I wish we could learn from that and  have constructive respectful conversations. And yes, I am dreaming. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The ticket

He has been in chennai for more than a year now. Though he is long way away from his  home, he had grown quite fond of his adopted home. One of the biggest challenges he faced daily was his commute from Koyambedu to Chrompet (The commute path for the benefit of the readers here). A stretch that is 17 km, usually takes something between 1 to 2 hours depending on the mood of the traffic. The travel in the bus  was quite simple. Get in, get a ticket from the conductor and then go to sleep. Getting a seat was hardly a problem as his stop coincided with the start of the bus route. He knew the route like  the back of his palm and could navigate with ease using the public transport.

He was very tired due to an ever increasing work load. He had been contemplating getting a  motor bike to ease his commute. He  nonchalantly entered the bus that was standing in the bus stand. He saw scores of people walking by. The average commute time was easily over a hour for a travelling professional. He could now rest in peace for the good part of next 2 hours. The bus was getting full and as it started, he saw the conductor navigating slowly through the crowd and coming towards him.

In order to help the conductor he wanted to keep the change ready for the tickets. As he counted the coins and to his surprise he had 2 full rupees short. For a moment he was stunned and confused and missed a stop where  he could have  got down. He conductor was close to him and quickly thought of a plan. " Bhaiya, 1 ticket Anna Nagar" he said confidently. The conductor looked at him with   disappointment. In the local language Tamil, the conductor started saying, that the  bus is not going in that direction and he is in the wrong one. He looked at  the conductor confused. People who saw the incident unfold, began to explain to him in broken Hindi and English about what he should be doing. The conductor gestured him to get off and get the bus in the opposite direction. And obliged with a confused and a small smile unnoticed by others, he got down at Kasi theater.

Within minutes another fully packed bus arrived and took him. Since the conductor was in the front and it was already late he took his own sweet time to issue tickets to the passengers of the backside door. But he could not escape for a long time. He was asked for ticket after the second bus stop. Though he had enough money, he was high on the adrenaline and used his trick here too. "Before getting in, why don't you silly fellow see the bus number properly? Now the driver will stop at alandur bus depo. You can get down there." Shouting at him, the conductor moved to the next person. He was extremely happy for having covered a long distance without any ticket. When he got down from the bus, he heard someone sympathizing him in Tamil. "Poor boy! He has to go back all the way to get his bus now. He doesn't even know the language". Some one else helped him by telling the number of the bus, which would take him to his destination. He thanked him whole-heartedly for his kind gesture on him and walked away, with a painful smile.

By this time he had become very bold. As the next crowded bus came along, He consoled himself for becoming a liar and decided to have a complete free journey on that account. He remained at the back and wanted to get down as soon as he could. He was calm and was masking his nervousness enjoying the view from the footboard. He had a terrible shock when he saw the ticket checker waiting at the entrance, where he was supposed to get down. He showed the folded ticket which was used by him in the morning and disappeared  as quickly as possible.

He could not believe his luck. Slowly guilt and pettiness started clouding him. He saw an old man sitting by the road side. He gave the old man the rest of the coins he had and started walking home.  

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Football

It was  getting boring for Ramesh. He was not good at this at all. He was the last defender and one of the least involved players in the playground. It is the unspoken rule to make the worst player in group the goalkeeper and the next worst as the last defender. It was amazing that he was one of the fastest runners in the class, almost making it to the school athletics team, still found himself considered one of the worst players in the pitch. He did not mind because, it gave him enough time to take rest in between the multitude of special classes he had to attend. He was standing almost 25 yards away from the action. The ground was large and was  divided into several small sections with each group playing a different sport. It was surrounded by tall buildings all around.

This time around,  2 classes were sharing the ground.  The boys played football and the girls played dodgeball or chocho. The boundary between chocho and football pitches was non existent.  Ramesh was getting bored. He wanted to spice up the whole occasion, after all it was the first PT period after the monsoons. He got an idea. He wanted to spoil the girls' game by hitting the football into the chocho pitch. Stella was busy playing along the edges of the football pitch. She was one of the most studious students in the class and sat in Ramesh's adjacent desk in the classroom. She was also a teachers' favorite. Ramesh had his pick for the girl to target. With a wicked smile he set about putting his good evil plan into action. Stella was playing in his close proximity.

Wanting to get more involved in the play, he pushed up and started shouting for the ball to be passed to him. He wanted to play in such a way that, everyone would think that the ball was unintentionally hit at the girls. One right moment came. An opponent was progressing quite fast towards the goal. Ramesh quickly moved across and tried to hit the ball as hard as he could. To his embarrassment he kicked thin air and the ball hardly changed directions. The opponent was past him in a jiff, Ramesh refusing to give up chased him. He got to the ball and this time caught the ball near perfectly. He had hit the ball perfectly in exactly the right direction he wanted to. To his horror he had caught the ball too well and could well bodily hurt her. Involuntarily he shouted "Stella, ball!!".

There was  a huge thud sound. Stella alerted by Ramesh, expertly evaded the ball. But Ramesh, keeping his eye on the ball had failed to notice the goal post near by and hit the post hard. He was knocked out cold. When he slowly opened his eyes, he felt a bloody nose and Stella was sprinkling some water on him.

20 years down the line, Stella was angry. "Ramesh, see what a brat your son is turning out to be. I dont think I can handle him anymore!!".

"Dont worry stella!! I will take care of it."

With a straight face, Ramesh called his son separately. He winked at him and said, "Its ok to be naughty some times".

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The long journey

It was getting cold. The new place had bare minimum stuffs. They have been here for a couple of weeks.  He was yearning for the warmth of his bed, the secure feeling his wall used to give him, the sound of kids playing in the street, the  vendors shouting their throat off to sell their meager possessions and the aroma of the mom’s food.  His mother's cooking did not have the aroma anymore. His sister was too small to remember the past and his parents were really happy to not to remember the past. They were glad that 2 years of running had come to an end.  It was only he who missed his buddies, the brown sand, the fun associated with the dirt and the happiness related to the scorching sun.  Now even the milk and the water tasted different.

His mother called him to go to the market to get some vegetables. It was cold. He had to dress up for at least 10 minute before he could step out of the house, while he saw the kids play in the street in their tshirts. The neighborhood was clean and he could hear almost zilch sound.  The people looked so different, they smelt different. They spoke a language he did not understand.  His parents have been telling him constantly that the place is safe. He has been o the school only once. Not many kids could talk to him or wanted to talk to him.

He walked hiding behind his mother. The sun was bright outside, he was still feeling cold. There were a few kids playing in a caged football ground. One of the kids was down injured and the football had rolled out of the ground. Involuntarily he moved forward and hit the ball back into the field and quickly ran to walk behind his mother.

One of the kids came outside the caged field and called out and asked him if he would like to play with them. Another kid even spoke the language he understood. The kid felt elated and was not feeling down anymore. He looked at his mother with the hope that she would nod her head.  His mother could sense the excitement in his eyes and slowly nodded her head. In no time the kid ran off into the cage and she sat on the bench nearby. For the past few months he had his football for company and tired the tricks he had once seen. He was never bored of practicing alone, but nothing felt remotely close to playing on the field. It was his field now.

He did not have the shoes to play on this field nor was he in the right attire, but that did not matter. He did not understand a word other boys were talking. The first pass he got, his mind froze and he passed it on to an opponent.  The boys were stronger, but was not about to give up. He took his time to understand the players around him. The boys were all powerful and good athletes, but he was nimble and very fast,  and had the desire to keep running forever. His teammates had slowly started noticing him and see how good he was and he got the ball more often.


The game was getting more and more interesting and passionate. He was slowly but surely winning over admirers. And there was that moment on the pitch. One of the boys won the ball and passed it on him. He evaded a couple of challenges and moved towards the goal. There was another boy running parallel along with him shouting for the ball. He understood for the first time the words he was talking. He waited for the right moment to pass the ball to him to score!!! And he started feeling at home.

P.S: The title is credited to a recent toastmaster speech I had heard. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Question

“Hello, Is it Sita? Ramesh’s mother?”

“Yes speaking.”

“I am calling from the KV Karaikal. I am Ramesh’s class teacher. I want to talk to you about Ramesh. Can you please come to the school?”

A bewildered Sita was taken back. “Is he doing allright? What happened to him?”

“Nothing Mam. We want to talk to you about him. That’s it”

Sita did not understand why she would be called to the school. Though not very bright, Ramesh was a courteous boy and rarely got into fights. But this was a new school and he just started going to school alone. She had a swirl in her stomach, with an unknown fear and rushed to the School.

Ramesh was standing outside the teachers’ room waiting for his mom to come. It was his punishment to stand there.  He was hanging his head down and could hear whispers behind him.  He wished the teacher hadn’t called his mom.  The principle’s room along with teachers rooms were the first building a person would bump into when entering the school.

When Sita entered the school she could already see Ramesh standing in front of one of the rooms. She was rather relieved that Ramesh was fine. But Ramesh standing there made her curious. As she went closer to ramesh, her teacher walked out.

“Hello Mrs Sita. Good afternoon. I’m Ramesh’s class teacher”

“What happened to Ramesh? Why is he standing outside ? What did he do?” She enquired with a concerned tone.

“Ramesh has become a bad influence on his class mates.”

It had all started in the morning. Like any other day he was cycling to his school.  He was new to this school and city. It required lot of crying and fight to get to use the cycle.  Recently moving into double digit age corridor, Ramesh was feeling important. His usual road was blocked and had to take a detour travelling through a different path.  It’s a road he had not taken and was warned not to take this road. The new road had a lot of bumps.

‘Thud’ He hit one of the bumps and fell down. He fell side on and the cycle was crushing him from the top. Quickly a lady who was standing near by came to help him. She instantly removed the cycle.

“Are you feeling alright?” she enquired.

Ramesh started to sob a bit though had no major injuries. She dusted him off and asked “ Do you want something to drink”?

Suddenly a man jumped in out of nowhere and pushed away the lady.

“Don’t touch the boy.  Now you want to spoil small kids too? You dirty prostitute” The lady was saddened and walked aside. He quickly turned to the boy and strongly grabbed his shoulder “you should not be talking to that lady.  Now keep going to the school.”

Ramesh was stunned. He couldn't understand what happened. The one who was nice to him ended up crying and ran away, while the one who had hurt him, felt accomplished.

Curiosity had gotten over him. "What is a 'prostitute' mam?",  Ramesh asked this question to his teacher with his widened eyes after reaching school. His teacher was shocked to hear this and still thinking of what would have led to this inquisitiveness.

"Where did you learn this word from?" She asked in utter rage and shock. She instantly had called up his mother.

And Sita was in the school facing his teacher.

“Ramesh is being led in the wrong company and it can affect the kids around him” she said concerned. She even threatened them about taking this issue to the Principal if he carried on with this shenanigan. Sita assured her it was be the last time Ramesh does something like this. When Ramesh narrated the whole incident to this mother, his mother’s response surprised him. She told him sternly not to talk about this again.

Ramesh wasn't that young to not be able to differentiate the injustice being done to that girl, but he was not old enough too to understand the reasons behind it. In the evening he was determined to know why people were behaving so strange around him.  When he returned from the school he reached to the cupboard in the storage room and dusted down his father’s old websters dictionary without his mother knowledge.

25 years later.

Ramesh was walking in his house’s garden with his older daughter who had just turned 8.

“Appa what is the meaning of the word prostitute”? She asked.





Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Cycle

Ramesh was becoming restless. It was almost 4 15 pm and still his mother was preparing the food. “Amma, I will have extra milk before going to bed” he was pleading. “No kanna, only 5 more minutes”, she tried to convince. Ramesh knew that his chance of batting today was diminishing by the minute and he was helpless. He was 8 years old and was slowly realizing the benefit of not protesting too much. Just as he was about the start his shrilling screech, his mom emerged from the kitchen with hot bakodas and coffee. Without much fuss he ate and left the house in a jiff in his cycle.

Though he was very happy to have a cycle, it was an old one passed on from his brother.  He had always wanted his own new cycle. As he cycled ferociously to the cricket ground, all the boys were huddled around something. Ramesh fought through the crowd to see what had created the commotion. In the center, was a new beaming cycle! It had a smooth texture; the shine and the smell of new metal were weakening the minds of all the guys around. Next to it stood Rahul, with a glint in his eyes and a smile in which all the 28 teeth of his was visible. It was his second bike. The boys were trying out the new bell which bettered the sound of a Mozart’s symphony. Many were queuing up to ride the new bike.

 It was particularly painful for Ramesh. He had agreed to reuse most of his brother’s old stuff, but had always asked for a new cycle. It was a matter of pride as cycle racing was a big thing among the kids and when was asked to take his brothers cycle, he was quite disheartened. But seeing one of your rivals getting something you carved for was the tipping point. That whole evening Ramesh was so disappointed that he did not care when he neither got a chance to bat or bowl in a cricket match. His mind was completely clouded by the image of the new cycle. To add fuel to his disappointment, Rahul was having a field day, scoring runs left right and center, as well taking wonderful catches.

As soon as the match was over he went home like a Zombie. He hated the cycle he was riding on. When he reached home his eyes were filled with tears. He shoved the cycle in the garden and went into the home. Angrily he went to take bath without talking to his mom and dad who were sitting in the living room.  The tantrums started during the dinner. He was stubborn and told his mom he would not eat anything. His mom was pleading him to have something and then his dad would arrange something. But he was adamant that until he gets a new cycle he would not eat anything. His mom was losing patience. “See he is not listening to me. Do something,” complained the mother.

“Ramesh, what is your problem?” his father patiently asked him.

A sobbing Ramesh slowly told his father about the greatest injustice committed to him. He father tried to reason out why buying a new cycle was not a good idea. But his was reasoning into deaf ears. Even extensive cajoling did not work. Finally giving in to the tantrums of Ramesh his father finally agreed to get him a new cycle the next day, much to the bewilderment of Ramesh’s mother. Finally ramesh had his dinner and went to sleep still agitated.

The next morning his father took his old cycle to his garage repainted it. To make it more attractive he added a horn of a discarded automobile and kept it ready for Ramesh.

Ramesh returned from school and was simply excited to see a shinning cycle and was particularly excited to see the horn. Unsurprisingly that evening he was the center of attraction in the playground also. Both Ramesh and his father were happy that evening.  
       


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Kalam - A small tribute

APJ Abdul Kalam was, someone whom I always looked and will look upto. For most of us the Gen Y Indians, he is an idol for reasons many.  On 27th of July he died of a massive heart attack, in the most kalamest way possible, interacting with students of IIM Shillong. I am sure his words, deeds and vision will live forever.   Here is a walk down my memory lane about how he had influenced me over the years.
  1.   First time I remember hearing the name APJ Abdul Kalam, was when I was preparing for a quiz quiz competition during my 5th standard.
  2.  This was around the time pokran testing happened. The news during that time had Kalam in the spotlight. Here was a simple guy, at the center of a great acheivement, unlike the melodramatic Heros, I was used to in the films. And more importantly he was also talking in tamil.  
  3.   Here comes the first real wow moment from kalam. In our school, we used have this session reading articles from famous ppl, about philosophy etc. (Annayin mandhirangal or kdhavai thera katru varatum  or the sukhbodhanandha article etc). On the occasion of the childrens day, our Princi read this article from a Tamil Magazine (anandha vikatan I think). An Essay written by Kalam to the children, asking them to dream and think beyond the limits. The ease with which he connected with children was phenomenal.  Then started the admiration for his words both written as well as spoken, which has continued till date.
  4. During my 9th standard, I had applied for velamal talent search exam, The main reason being that the final prize was to be given by Kalam.  But fortunately by the time the prize distribution was on, he had a small swearing in ceremony to become the president of the country.
  5.   And as a president, he never disappointed. His speeches on the eves of Independence Day and republic day would fill me with optimism and hope.
  6.  The first disappointment from was soon to follow.   Eagerly I had started to read his book the “Wings of fire”. After a sensational start to the book in the first 2 chapters, what followed did not connect with me at all. What started as a stunning personal story tapered into a collection of facts. But the book had its merits. The ease with which he simplifies literal rocket science is remarkable. No wonder he is an exemplary teacher. One particular example that springs to mind, is how easily he and his team resverse engineered a soviet launch vehicle and he explains it as if it was as simple as fitting your bike!!! One thing have learnt in my dabbling with the academic and professional experience is that simplicity is the greatest complexity and he had mastered it.
  7.   Having missed a chance to see him in person during vellamal contest, my wish got fulfilled in 2007 when he came to NIT Trichy to chair the convocation ceremony. How lucky can be the 2007 passouts!! There were a few security guards, few hundred people and a large window between me and Kalam and still his speech was music to my ears. To the gathering of new graduates he talked about interlinking of rivers. He made a reference to a quote from patanjali muni which was quite inspiring,  (yes I copied from the internet)"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bounds, your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents come alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamt yourself to be." 
  8.        In 2010 he spoke for the Koodamkulam atomic power project. It requires guts to take a stand. If there is someone knowledgeable enough to take a stand it was him.


A portrait by my friend Supraja
There is big list of things I admire about him. It is indeed sad that he is physically no more with us. But his legacy will live with us for a long time to come. It is also our responsibility to make sure that this happens.  One of his regrets during his tenure as president was his inability to install solar panel at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan(Pls see the interview at Wharton) .  As a mark of respect, we should try to install solar panels in our homes. As he loved poems, I have written a poem as a tribute to him.

"you dream of the sky,
The limits set at infinity,
We saw the birds fly,
Through the eyes of this divinity.

You had that vision,
To see the Edens beyond the realm,
The science midst the mother nature,
And the unity midst the divided nations.

You were not tall, but seen by all,
You were not loud, but heard by all,
You were not muscular, but stronger than many,
You were the leader everyone wanted to be.

O teacher, My teacher,
We needed no class to be taught,
The words of wisdom,
Piercing the heart and the head straight.

The shinning jewel on mother India,
Adored with accolades from afar,
you wore multiple hats, of which I wish to borrow,
the hat of simplicity and Kindness."

Thank you my dear Teacher.