Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Smells like 'team' spirit

Remember growing up on a heavy dose of family unity and melodrama churned out by the likes of Suraj Barjatya and Yash Chopra? No? Good! Neither do I. But I have heard that these are long sagas of endless artificially-created complications of usually very good looking, well-dressed and stinking rich people with nothing better to do in life. Throw in a dozen songs, a few action sequences and some exotic destinations and you have enough masala to keep a generation of extremely bored and jobless people entertained for half a day.

Now apply the same analogy to an offsite “team building event” organized by an investment bank. Replace the very good-looking, well-dressed and stinking rich people with many bespectacled, pot-bellied, semi-bald, jargon-spewing men, a handful of bespectacled, superior, efficient women and a misunderstood stupidly rebellious, introverted unsocial, differently-enabled misfit ME. And instead of exotic locations, take Khandala, instead of laboriously-composed Jatin-Lalit music, imagine repeated amateur renditions of Sutta and instead of testosterone-charged action sequences, consider some artificially designed “problems” which would “test our endurance, co-ordination, communication and teamwork”. Also, instead of Johnny Lever making funny faces, you have an old, retired colonel as your instructor who offers the adequate comic relief. And the lady with a fake accent as his sidekick can best be described as Katrina Kaif in any movie.

I have always thought teamwork and group activities to be unnecessarily hyped. If you think about it, things get done much slower when there are more people involved: parliament, judiciary, meetings, which is why I have always been more productive when I am working on my own. But no, HR has this obsessive compulsive need to prove that ALL employees belong to this one happy family which results in these completely pointless events. While my friend (let’s call her s2, s1 being me) and I kept our participation to the minimum level, we could not escape the ordeal of being put through a day of “fun activities” as we kept grappling for the “fun” part. We dealt with the situation in a matured grown-up way: SWITCHED ON OUR HEADPHONES…

Quite a long way to go before we become the teary-eyed Karishma Kapoor suffering in quiet dignity…

Friday, November 25, 2011

She's Leaving Home

Tonight is the last night at my current house home. I just loved this place, even though it signified the larger part of my life this year: loneliness, independence and a tinge of nostalgia. But I did learn a lot here: I managed to learn cooking, I managed to run a house by myself, I managed to keep it in shape without a maid and most of all, I learnt to sleep alone and live alone without getting scared.

And somewhere in between, I also learnt to become a decent host and throw some alcohol parties though most of the credit will go to my friends who came with very little expectations.

After everything I had been through, this house was just what I needed: quiet, peaceful, uncomplicated: Far enough to get away from all the bitterness, close enough to avoid the Mumbai peak hour traffic.

I will miss my long walk back home everyday from work which helped me to switch off while I listened to music…

I will miss the calm Sunday evenings, sitting by the window, sipping coffee and reading…

I will miss the long phone calls in the middle of the night, unable to fall asleep after that, as I stared out at the dimly lit Eastern Express Highway…

I will miss my enthusiasm while preparing the “most awesome chicken curry”, which would quickly get dismissed “as bland hospital food” by a certain Jehadi brother…

Most of all, I will miss being a neighbour to the certain Jehadi brother, who surprised me with his kindness, who moved my stuff and set up my kitchen, who listened as I cried on his shoulder, who sat there in my hall binge drinking with me, who wheeled me to the hospital when I got hit by a bike and who, most recently, annoyed me at lunch…

I so hate change, especially the kind which makes me more lonely, more independent and more cold…

Monday, November 21, 2011

Material Girl

I have always been scared of commitment: the very word screams of PERMANENCE, which scares me and hence I have avoided renting an unfurnished flat so far. I just want that flexibility to get up one day, pack up my bags and MOVE. But a few months back I was forced to buy a refrigerator because the old, rented one gave in. While that was a big step for me, it also made me realize the joy of possession, the excitement of buying something new which is MINE (not my parents’, landlord’s, flatmate’s or broker’s) and the satisfaction of doing it all by myself.

Which is why, I decided to take up an unfurnished apartment (it was also financially more feasible) and do it up myself, adding my own creative touches. Obviously, the first step was to buy furniture.

So this is how you go about it:

1.Research, research, research, so that you know your options and price ranges for both second-hand and new furniture. There is a reason why your company provides you with high speed internet access. USE IT.
2.On the day of furniture hunting, wear your shabbiest clothes (or look like a tramp as my dad describes me) and DO NOT shampoo your hair.
3.Go to the shady lanes next to the railway station which sell second hand stuff, haggle with them, but don’t buy. Move on to a proper store right next to the second hand shops which has new furniture and innocently ask if they have cheap used stuff.
4.Use your natural qualities to your advantage: in my case, I look like a school girl, lost and confused in a big city, which is why shopkeepers assume that I am a student looking for the cheapest alternative. Obviously, I don’t correct them. There are places to flash your MNC badge, but the roadside furniture store isn’t one.
5.Tell them you are planning to share an one bhk flat with three other people, which clearly establishes your financial limitations AND explains why you need a four-door wardrobe (it’s embarrassing to admit the number of clothes I have).
6.Tell them you want to buy EVERYTHING from them, if only they had it second hand.
7.The kindly shopkeeper offers to sell you new stuff at extremely reasonable rates AND agrees to buy it back (in case you want to sell) after a couple of years at half-price, when you presumably “finish your studies”.
8.Use ‘thank you’ and ‘bhaiya’ (but NOT ‘uncle’) at regular intervals and smile brightly.
9.You walk out with a neat quotation for a double bed, double-door cupboard, divan, side table and centre table, to be delivered at your doorstep, all within your budget (i.e. the money you saved from brokerage)
10.Most importantly, IT’S NOT PERMANENT. You can give it back to them and get some money back.

I am moving. Hence more excrutiating details to follow. Live with it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Black Swan

My MBA gradesheet shows that I have majored in Finance (which also explains my huge number of backlogs), but somehow I am ashamed of that fact (not the backlogs, the Finance major). I find it so much cooler to say “I specialized in general management”, which is a polite way of saying, “actually I fooled around in my MBA.” I could still get away with it in Company D, but when you join an I-Bank and say, “Oh I am a right brained person”, people look at you like you are Paris Hilton.

And it doesn’t help when you sit right in front of the Equity Research team. As soon as the markets open, everybody gets excited as if Aishwariya Rai just gave birth to a baby. All kinds of alien jargon like “rally”, “short sell”, “stop loss”, “option trading” are thrown around by people (why is it mostly men?) and the next half an hour would be spent on the geek’s version of locker room discussions, i.e. vomiting the contents of the Economic Times they just memorized on their way to work. Male bonding amazes me at times…

No, I am NOT passionate about the markets and no, I do not trade, but that doesn’t mean I am not human. I may not get orgasms comparing the P/E valuations of different companies, but I also have feelings. Every time someone at work asked me, “So where are you investing these days?” like an innocent, truthful person, I would say, “Actually I let my dad handle my investments”. Over time, I have noticed that this honest admission leads people to treat me like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.

But thankfully, I have discovered some sane people (all of them women) on the floor with whom I can take coffee breaks and discuss the Kardashian sisters, travel destinations and other people’s shallow tastes.

At times, you wonder if there is indeed a valid reason for stereotypes…

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Struggling Writer Turns Struggling Broker

When I was a kid… I wanted to be a globe trotter
When I started reading… I wanted to be a private investigator
When I began to follow cricket…I wanted to be a cricket commentator
When I was trying to fit in… I wanted to be an engineer
When I didn’t get admission in engineering… I wanted to be an Economist
When I read Education Times… I wanted to be a MBA
When I was in B school… I wanted to be… ummm… EMPLOYED (2009 batch, remember?)
When I joined a consulting firm… I wanted to be a banker
When I joined an investment bank… I wanted to be a writer

Yes, ladies and gentleman, I have finally found my calling. How could I NOT see it? How could I be so blind as to not notice it when it was RIGHT THERE? How could I be so FOOLISH?

So far, I was kidding myself that I am a ‘gifted’ writer; the obscurity was only temporary and it just added to the romanticism of a struggling author who was waiting for the eventuality of being ‘discovered’; and one day some publisher/newspaper would just call me up out of the blue and announce that “You are the next big thing in Indian literature and we would like to make an offer that you cannot refuse. You can sit at home and make a living out of writing.”

But no, I have finally woken up to the reality… I am not supposed to be a writer (that’s just a temporary distraction) but my true calling lies in real estate, more specifically, central suburban Mumbai real estate.

So I have been in Powai for two and a half years now, during which I have changed four houses. I have dealt with different kinds of brokers, societies and owners, I have had lunches/coffee with them, I have whizzed on bikes at all hours with them and on any given festival, the brokers are ALWAYS the first to wish me. Even at work, every time someone new joins, he/she is directed to me as I am the in-house broker who has the real estate market in Powai at her fingertips.

On that note, I embarked on a new challenge, i.e. finding a house WITHOUT a broker, and preferably one close to work so that I don’t face rejection from a dozen haughty auto drivers every morning. And yes, I walked into the building right opposite my office in the middle of Hiranandani, made small talk with the security guard, charmed my way into an empty second floor apartment, got hold of the landlord’s phone number and in 20 minutes, I had a deal: a decent one at that, WITH NO MIDDLEMAN milking me for his services.

(note to self: always wear a salwar kameez, preferably with a bindi while embarking on a house hunt)

Admittedly the house is not as nice or as spacious (even by Mumbai standards) as my current one, but the location more than makes up for it. Now I can go home for a quick nap in the afternoon, go for a jog in the park close by, admire from outside the dozen expensive eating joints right opposite my house and tell people that I live in Hiranandani. That’s like poor man’s Bandra, and while it makes no difference to my life, my friends anon can no longer make fun of me, saying that I live in “Chindi Valley” or “Kanjoos Marg”. Most importantly, I DO NOT HAVE A SLIMY BROKER TO DEAL WITH…

Say hello to the new broker in town...

Monday, November 14, 2011


I assure you this weekend was more than just going back to college, meeting the same set of people, talking about the same stories for the hundredth time, going for a sleepy LONG drive to Mulshi dam, drinking, having breakfast at Café Good Luck, lunch at Blue Nile, high tea at Chaitanya and dinner at Mezza9.

It was also about suffering a slow death inflicted by Nargis Fakhri. Katrina Kaif, take a bow. You have competition. Who said, you can’t act?

Now, as a group, we are very diverse. We have very different personalities, tastes and opinions, which is why it takes us at least 30 minutes to reach a consensus, even on simple things like in what order we should use the loo. The process can go on for over two hours if it involves critical issues like, say, how to have fun, because we can’t even decide on a common DEFINITION of fun. But Rockstar achieved what nobody else had ever managed: instant agreement.

Anyway, moving on, the trip reminded us of the old days, the carefree life, the little things that made the two years so special. But it also confirmed something which we already suspected, i.e. certain things/people never change:

Like the awesomeness of the bun maska/baked beans on toast/scrambled eggs at Good Luck, the Patiala lassi and parantha at Chaitanya and the joy of ravishing daal chawal at 1 a.m. after four hours of binge drinking…

Like repetition of the same jokes which still manages to bring a smile on your face…

Like huddling over the laptop to watch old videos and snaps and randomly hugging each other…

Like revisiting every corner of the college and trying to recreate the same memories: sitting on the swing where we had our ‘deep conversations in the dark’, crowding around in front of the Sweety Stores (only it’s now called the Rangoli Stores), arranging ourselves in the exact order in which we used to sit/sleep in the classroom (Room No. 307) or sitting opposite the canteen by the Zenia flowerbed (the guys arguing over who gets to face the girl’s hostel)…

Like barging into Room No. 213 (the hostel room we shared) and squealing like excited schoolgirls as we posed for random pics (me cursing ‘my’ wardrobe by the door)…

Like the guys taking care of us (booking cabs, buying tickets, food and alcohol, arranging mattresses and pillows, making tea and waking us up in the morning) while we let them…

But then, we also noticed the differences: like getting older, getting married, talking about bosses/investments/property/family, tiring more easily and slowly giving in to mundane mediocrity…

As I tossed and turned on a rented mattress, I found myself a little less impulsive, a little less spontaneous, a little less uninhibited and a tad more scared than I was two years back…

Friday, November 11, 2011

Good Riddance (time of my life)

There are reunions, and then there are REUNIONS. The first one implies the formal alumni meet organized by your college strategically timed (during summer/final placements) so that the college can hand out colourful and badly edited (trust me, I worked in the Corpcomm team; I know how we made these pamphlets) placement brochures in the hope that some bigshot alumni will be charitable and nostalgic enough to “give something back to the college”. The alumni, on the other hand, with nothing better to do on a Saturday night, will turn up for the free food and the booze, in the hope of networking and passing around business cards, while comparing their cars/houses/size of… (I was going for bank balance, you dirty-minded losers). Thankfully, I haven’t attended any such meets (except as a student, when I was there to hand out the colourful, badly edited pamphlets).

But this weekend, we are going to Pune for the REUNION, which implies that our small but extremely confused group of 10 people (the other three spoilsports apparently have better things to do and I am jealous of them) are going to get back together to mourn over the misfortune that hit them four years back, when they met in Div B. The idea is to revisit college life, i.e. do all the stupid things we used to do, get drunk at the same place, watch the cheap morning show movie at the same theatre and generally try to go back to the past on a very expensive time machine ride. If you ask me, it’s just the desperation of a few OLD members, pushing thirty, trying to hold on to their youth.

Anyway, as much as I tried to get out of it, I couldn’t think of enough creative excuses, and hence I have reluctantly agreed to spend my otherwise happening (yes, I can never get enough of cooking/cleaning/washing/doing laundry/reading/watching marathon episodes of BBT) weekend in the most unpleasant way: meeting people who got on my nerves for two years, getting drunk, dressing up, staying up and discussing the same old stories about college life.

The sacrifices you have to make for family… oh yea, they are like family (remember, you can choose your friends, but not your relatives)

Purani Jeans all over again… time to buy a new pair?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


A couple of days back, there were some disturbing changes in my team, none of which I liked. Let me rephrase: all of which I HATED. So I did what my instinct told me to, i.e. call up my dad and whine.

Me: Dad, I have a problem.
Dad: Only one? Aren’t you being too optimistic?

One other recent conversation…

Dad: I think you should get married.
Me: Do you want me to be happy OR married?
Dad: Either way, it doesn’t matter. But I want your mom to be happy and myself to be happily married. So till you get married, she won’t be happy, and till she is happy, I won’t be happily married. It’s about me, not you.

Another not-so-recent conversation…

Me: Do you know XYZ paid Rs. 20 lacs for his son’s education abroad? You are so lucky you never had to invest anything in MY education.
Dad: Is that your excuse for being uneducated?

This time a consultant is at the receiving end…

Consultant: Sir, given our current pipeline and bandwidth along with the demands of the urgent deliverables, I guess we can come up with a timeline for the actionable granularities regarding our end-to-end services as well as our value proposition. I shall bring my manager up-to-speed on this and give you a heads-up as soon as the project gets traction at our end so that we can circle back around and close the loop on the next steps.
Dad: Call me when you learn to speak English. If I can’t understand you, I won’t hire you.

And then the boss…

Boss: Can you please write the CEO speech for the Press Conference?
Dad: Err… but aren’t you the CEO?
Boss: Yeah, but I am a little tied up.
Dad: In your left brain.
Boss: What?
Dad: Nothing. Sometimes I forget you are an IIT engineer. I shall take care of the speech.

Monday, November 7, 2011

About a Boy

So once upon a time, I turned three and started going to school. There I met a boy, who was made to sit next to me (if I remember correctly, he was kicking and screaming and wasn’t too happy about it). The boy also happened to live in the same locality as I did. After the initial phase of sulking and ignoring, he gave in and accepted me as a part of his daily life, at least for the next one year, till we were promoted to Nursery II. And obviously, the cute, charming and hilarious little girl that I was, he soon became my friend. Or may be because I was the smallest in class, he found it easy to bully me. Before we knew it, he had given me all sorts of nicknames (none of them flattering), but he shared his lunch with me, so all was ok. We even started hanging out AFTER school, and being in the same locality meant we would also play together in the evenings, and get to know each other’s parents/friends.

Now, he was much smarter than I was, but he had terrible handwriting. And he was lazy. He wouldn’t pay attention in class, he wouldn’t take down notes and every evening, his mom would come to our house, and with a hassled look, borrow my notebook. So while I was an average student, he was a slightly below average student, purely going by marks. We had this perfect quid pro quo: I helped him with my notes and he made me laugh. Of course, I was hanging out with all HIS friends, and NO girl in class would even speak to me. I didn’t miss much…

By the fourth standard, he had decided he wanted to be a forest officer, while I had decided I wanted to marry “someone exactly like him”. Not him, because he was my best friend, but someone identical. But then we went to junior high and then high school. I was now starting to hang out with girls, and before I knew it, he started dating one of my friends. Suddenly I was this studious (I had to be an engineer you see), bespectacled kabab mein haddi who wasn’t welcome any more. So I studied harder and became fatter.
Anyhow, 12th standard was a mess thanks to organic chemistry, calculus and physics and my dream of being an engineering graduate in a reputed IT company in Kolkata was dashed to pieces. So my mom would often call the boy and ask him to cheer me up, the boy would bring me ice-cream and explain complicated Physics equations to me. Also, for the first time, the boy scored more marks than I did and went to a good college in Kolkata, while I had to “settle for” an Arts degree in Mumbai.

After that I am not quite sure what happened. The boy tried very hard to screw up his life and he almost succeeded. The worst part was I was no longer allowed to be a part of his life. My calls went unanswered and every time I landed up unannounced at his place, he wouldn’t meet me. So I lost my best friend, and after a point I gave up trying (too easily perhaps).

Until yesterday. When the boy called me out of the blue, I couldn’t believe it. Seven years lost in between, and we still spoke like we used to. He called me some of those unflattering nick names he had christened me with some twenty years back. But for a change, I was happy…

I have no memory of him as an adult, but the picture of the restless, naughty, tongue-in-cheek schoolboy is as vivid as it was two decades ago.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Every Dog has its Day

Last weekend was sort of a landmark for India, especially Delhi. What with the Metallica concert on Friday and the inaugural Indian Grand Prix, just following Diwali, it was quite an occasion… for the airlines and the hotel industry.

So we all know what happened to the Metallica concert and we also know how successful the Grand Prix turned out to be (bit of a salvation after the tainted CWG event). The obvious question is why am I writing about it AFTER one week? For a wannabe journalist, I am wayyy too slow.

No, my intention is NOT to debate/argue/discuss who should be blamed for the cancellation of the concert or if we need a luxury like hosting a F1 event in a poor country (incidentally, if we are talking about criminal waste of money in a state like U.P., Mayawati’s Rs. 685-crore memorial park is probably a better starting point). Of course, another interesting observation was that there were hardly any takers for the India-England one-day series, tipped to be a ‘revenge series’ for the World Champions, as for the first time, I saw empty stands in the Eden Gardens, something which was considered almost blasphemous when I was growing up. Good thing is we won. The bad thing: nobody cared. May be that’s why we won. Our men boys in blue perform better when there is less pressure.

Anyway, I am rambling. Some old habits (like trying to get a word in, even when I have no value to add, amid ten screaming powerful voices in a GD) die hard. The advantage of blogging is nobody interrupts me as soon as I say, “To add to that” or “I agree with you but…”

I just have a simple question: WHY IS THAT DOG SO FAMOUS?

The funny part was the odds on a dog running on to the track and interrupting the inaugural Indian Grand Prix were priced at 100-1. Bookies don’t leave any stones unturned, do they? Or any Pakistani cricketer, for that matter. That’s a different story altogether…

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Of Mice and Men

Lately I have noticed that Flipkart was enjoying my salary more than I was (as it is, my landlord and various creditors receive a major chunk of it), since I was buying a lot of books: mostly forgettable ones which I laboured through and would probably never pick up again. As much as I love Flipkart, I love myself more, and these are tough times (my bank has again announced further job cuts).

So I did the smartest thing ever since I convinced my mom NOT to buy the IIT entrance exam form in class XII because it would simply be a waste of money. I became a member of a library after spending a very pleasurable lunch hour browsing through its vast collection. Now for a mere 150 bucks a month, I can borrow upto 30 books, and knowing the kind of person I am, I would probably give up eating, sleeping and working just to utilize my full quota of 30 books, even if I don’t enjoy them. It also means that I can read all the trashy stuff I have always wanted to but was too ashamed to own permanently.

This also explains why I called in sick at work yesterday so that I could stay home and READ. Now readers of this blog (all five and a half of you) would know that I try very hard to portray myself as this “deep, intellectual and matured” reader: look at my reading list on the right sidebar or the books I talk about on the blog, and you would think of me as someone with a “refined taste” who only reads classics/critically acclaimed books/ books featuring in the BBC Top 100 list. While I do like all the books I claim to like, the unpleasant truth that I have never admitted so far is that for every “good” book I read, I also read at least 10 “mainstream, trashy, intellectually stunted, shallow books”, after which I end up feeling slightly cheated (not by Flipkart, but by the “author”).

Now, one such popular book which I didn’t particularly like was Karan Bajaj’s “Keep off the Grass” which I read while I was in my 2nd year of MBA. Yes, I was young, and at that age we all experiment and make mistakes. Other people in college were falling in love and I was just flirting with new-age “Indian literature”. Anyway, after reading it, I was not tempted to pick up his second book, “Johnny Gone Down”. But now, two years later, when the librarian informed me that the book I was looking for (D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover) was in circulation and would take a day to be available again, I had to settle for an overnight breezy read (remember my 30-book resolution) and so I picked up Johnny for a one-night-stand, with very little expectations. And I never thought I would admit this on a public forum, but I ACTUALLY LIKED HIM IT. I don’t know if it was the Ivy-league educated guy’s brush with a whole new world, very different from the cushy corporate rat race charted out for him, or the one-armed man’s struggle for survival or simply the vivid descriptions of the places I dream of visiting someday: Khmer Rouge and Rio de Janeiro. The wit was sharp, the story, despite the over-the-top elements, was engaging, and most of all, it did not degenerate to the ridiculous levels of melodrama. It laughed at itself, before the readers could do so. Like the author himself admits, new-age Indian writers are like the Rakhi Sawants of entertainment. The point is, it’s an insult to Rakhi Sawant and not the writer.

Oh screw it, I just liked it because the protagonist was my kinda guy: morally corrupt, financially broke, adventurous, impulsive and running after things just because ‘they felt right’ and getting himself into a bigger hole each time, instead of milking his MIT degree to settle into a comfortably numb boring life ‘with a sweet pregnant Indian wife’.