Saturday, March 31, 2012

On why I became a blogger

So I was a fat kid… make that fat AND short.

Now imagine being a short and plump introverted 13-year old girl with unmanageably messy curls and specs, who is not good at studies AND who doesn’t have a ‘winning personality’ to make up for the ugliness or the lack of brains. The only thing I was good at was cricket quizzes (at that age, I could name the entire squad of ALL cricket teams including Kenya and Holland, RESERVE PLAYERS INCLUDED). Of course, I could also tell you who murdered who in which Agatha Christie novel or the key differences between the hard court in the U.S. Open (acrylic hard court) and the one in the Australian Open (synthetic hard court), but nobody, let alone 13-year old boys seemed to be interested in that kind of valuable information.

So the geeky boys avoided me because I was no use to their problems with thermodynamics and I was fat…

The good-looking boys avoided me because I did not have good taste in clothes and I was fat…

The popular boys avoided me because I was not exactly the life of a party and I was fat…

The talented boys avoided me because I could not sing or play an instrument and I was fat…

The fun-loving boys avoided me because I was not fun and I was fat…

So what was the fat, bespectacled little 13-year old with bad hair supposed to do, especially since she flunked Computer Science and was doomed to a life without any programming skills, i.e. the skill that separates humans from animals?

She decided to become a blogger

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kolkata Calling

Time to go back to the sedate life in a city where even the dogs are slow…

Time to go back to the familiar Kalighat Metro Station and shudder at the thought of Bob Biswas creeping up behind me…

Time to go back to Chetla Park where I used to run around as a three-year-old while my parents sat on the grass munching on chana…

Time to go back to the smiling face of the sweet shop owner who tells me how much I have grown every time he sees me, even though I haven’t grown at all in the last nine years…

Time to go back to my favourite Puchka stall and binge on the REAL puchka, cursing the lame versions of Panipuri and Golgappa in Bombay and Delhi respectively…

Time to go back to the single screen theatres of Priya and Nandan to watch a Bengali movie, feeling out of place…

Time to go back to Golpark and Gariahat and Jadavpur, smiling at the memories of the stolen moments with school friends…

Time to go back to Park Street and suddenly get in touch with my Bohemian side…

Time to go back to the usual arguments with mom as she pesters me to get married/wear ‘decent’ clothes/come home before 8 p.m./go jogging at an ungodly 5 a.m./visit relatives I don’t want to visit…

Time to go back the usual ‘deep discussions’ with dad as he takes away my trashy novels and forces ‘Europe Between Wars’ down my throat/explains complicated excel sheets while I pretend to care/gives me 107 reasons why Bengal is going to hell as I fall asleep/enthusiastically insists on making “Cricket World 11” team for BOTH Tests and ODIs though I staunchly refuse…

Time to go back home after 1.5 years…

Time to go back to Kolkata…

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Long Winding Road

There I was… staring vacuously at the sea, not knowing the way forward but not having enough courage to move backwards. It was one of those moments when I turn to Bombay, one of those rare occasions that I feel grateful to the city with all its shortcomings, simply because it lets me be, no questions asked.

The city fails to fascinate me, the neon lights fail to keep my desires burning, the towering buildings no longer inspire me to dream big, Bombay no longer beckons to me; still, like an old couple, we hold on to each other, not so much for the better, but for the worse.

Over the years, my relationship with the city has evolved like any other relationship. From the adolescent infatuation with its care-a-damn, live-and-let-live protocol to being blinded by the power of love, from the rebellious kid who challenged everything that was wrong with the city to being the matured pragmatist who quietly accepted her destiny, from the young girl with only dreams and no vision to the realistic woman who was capable of distinguishing between dreams and fantasies, from the headstrong person who never compromised to the mellowed-down individual who simply got tired of fighting, Bombay had coloured me with different hues.

The brush was gradually giving in, the paint was slowly fading and the picture was a worn-out version of its original colourful self

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Job That Wasn't

So a lot of people ask me what it is that I do for a living. Proudly, I tell them that I work with (and not FOR: we believe in the ownership and partnership crap) a GLOBAL INVESTMENT BANK. Some of them are satisfied with this vague answer and move on to more interesting topics like when do I plan to get married. Some others seem unimpressed and ask me why I can’t manage to find a more respectable job with a respectable company like TCS. But a few painful ones continue to probe, “ok, I know it’s a GLOBAL INVESTMENT BANK, but can you please ELABORATE on what it is EXACTLY that you do?”

Cornered, I try to follow the well-established principle mastered in B school vivas, “If you can’t convince them, confuse them.” So I quote the headline of my Linkedin profile: “I am in the research division where I am responsible for product development” and throw in some MBA jargons like “BD”, “Innovation” and “Cross-functional collaboration”.

But the jobless skeptical person continues, “That makes very little sense to me. Can you explain to me, in layman’s terms, what your day-to-day responsibilities are?”

Desperate and at a loss for words, I am a picture of discomfort, “Well, you know, it’s very difficult to explain. You see I don’t have any routine tasks, so you know, it’s more unstructured in nature. But primarily, you know, I am more of an internal thinktank if you will. Do you get my point?”

Jobless skeptical person gets more suspicious, “Not really. If you had to explain to a five-year old about what you did at work today, what would you say?”

In my mind, I go over my day: I reached office at 9, I read the editorial of two newspapers, abused IT for blocking my blog, had breakfast, tried to adjust the heights of the text boxes in my ppt and had a call discussing the colour of the text boxes. After 30 minutes of argument over why red is more suitable than blue, I needed a coffee break where I bitched about my boss. Then I changed the colour of the text boxes to blue and went for a really long lunch break where I bitched about my boss.

After lunch, I was sort of sleepy, so I surfed through tripadvisor, planning my fictitious honeymoon with the fictitious guy, making a note to add “should not be scared of heights” to my list of requirements which also include “cute, intelligent, humble, articulate, well-read, well-traveled, non-obnoxious, non-loud, non-geek, non-weird, slightly old-fashioned, with a good sense of humour, possessing good taste in movies, clothes, shoes and music, willing to share household responsibilities and most importantly, capable of exterminating pests especially lizards” collectively referred to as “unrealistic”. Satisfied with my good work, we went out to the nearby overpriced coffee shop where I bitched about my boss.

Next, I attended a two-hour meeting, where I sat diametrically opposite to my boss behind a big guy so that I was well-hidden and free to scribble a cartoon on my notepad while other people gave updates, discussed ‘high-level’ topics and presented ‘basic concepts’ like convertible bonds or credit-linked notes, while I secretly wondered if I was the only one to whom it did not seem ‘so basic’. But after five minutes, I gave up and went back to my cartoon which was shaping up really well. By the time the meeting was over, I did not feel like changing the font size of my entire ppt, so I annoyed some colleagues on the newly-added communicator exploring the range of smileys and bitched about my boss

Aloud, I said, “A five year old would not be able to grasp the significance of my work. It’s not child’s play you know.”

I have to make strategy-level decisions for my company, and sometimes it even involves deciding THE.WHOLE.POWERPOINT.TEMPLATE

Monday, March 19, 2012

Page 3

This weekend I went to attend one of these fancy book-launch events in JW Marriott. (pregnant pause while you soak in my intellectualism). The occasion was the unveiling of Kapil Sibal’s second book of poems, “My World Within”. The event was being sponsored by the noted producer, Firoz Nadiadwala, so more than the Union Minister or his book, the main attraction was the high profile Bollywood stars who were expected to grace the occasion.

Now the million dollar question is what was I doing there? I am not into poetry or Bollywood stars, neither do I like Page 3 events. Of course, the obvious answer is the free food and the alcohol. And like a typical wannabe, I was there at 7:25 p.m. (hey the invitation said 7:30), so that I can “get the best seats”, and guess what, I was one of the first ones there, with other loserly wannabes. There was no sign of Kapil Sibal or even worse, any alcohol and starters (like I was promised).

After twiddling my thumb for an hour, I could finally see people trickling in: fashionably dressed, hair in place, towering heels and fancy clutches. To think in my rush to be punctual, I had even forgotten to wash my hair or accessorize and of course, since I was taking public transport, I had to wear sensible shoes. But then I saw Javed Akhtar, Om Puri, Kedar Khan, Anupam Kher, Rishi Kapoor among a host of other Bollywood personalities, so I heaved a sigh of relief, knowing that nobody was going to pay any attention to ME.

Finally, Mr. Sibal himself walked in, but strangely, even at 9 p.m. there was no sign of any ‘book launch’ or any alcohol. By now, I had given up, and was just waiting for the main course, though I could not fathom the reason behind the delay. I even heard Mr. Sibal walk to Nadiadwala (note my proximity to the main stage, given the ‘best seats’) and tell him, “We should get started now”. However, a few minutes later, I figured out that we were waiting for a certain ‘Aamir’ to show up. Yes, it was the same Aamir Khan that I adored. I almost burst into laughter when I heard that. It only happens in Mumbai that a Bollywood actor can keep a minister (who was incidentally the chief guest for whom the event was organized) waiting to launch his own book!

I also saw an extremely dolled-up pretty woman, with layers of make-up walk in with some hippy guy with a ponytail. While all eyes turned to her, nobody knew who she was, including Mr. Nadiadwala. We figured out she was some struggling actress trying to make her way through Bollywood, and given she was at a BOOK LAUNCH, she must be really struggling! Anyway, Aamir (since I ALMOST met him, we are henceforth on first-name basis) was apparently caught up in traffic (didn’t he go to college? That’s the lamest excuse in Mumbai, for which you would NEVER be given attendance), so we had to start without him.

As for the book launch, it was almost a non-event. He recited parts of the book, and while he was a good orator, as a writer, I found him to be strictly average: the same clichés, the same themes and the same platitudes that all mediocre poetry is made of.

10 p.m. Still no sign of the food. Disappointed and almost suffocated in the claustrophobia of fake smiles, sycophancy and the putrid smell of money and power, I escaped (‘best seats’ notwithstanding), heaved a sigh of relief as I trudged my way out of the Marriott, got into an auto and stuffed myself at the roadside Lucky Biryani.

My first and hopefully my last Page 3 party: strangely, the only thought I left with was that of the dolled-up struggling actress.

I had escaped, but she was still there, twirling her fake curls, and adding yet another coat of the hideous red lipstick.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A Story Well Told

Remember the major part of last year: when I would watch one movie after another, hoping for an interesting and stimulating experience, and each time I would return, disappointed, pretty much like I would beat myself up every time the Indian cricket team royally surrendered to its opponents.

But suddenly the new year has turned the tide, with one good movie after another: The Descendants, J.Edgar, Carnage, The Iron Lady, The Artist, Paan Singh Tomar and now Kahaani.

Now I am not a feminist by any stretch of imagination, but Vidya Balan somehow manages to bring out the woman in me and makes me feel proud of it: from Parineeta to Ishqiya to No One Killed Jessica or even The Dirty Picture to some extent, she is one actress (and here I use the feminine gender deliberately though actor is now the common terminology) who has carved a niche for herself in the stereotypical industry without giving in to the conventional notions of ‘acceptance’. After years of playing eye candy in malecentric movies, the Bollywood heroine has finally found a voice of her own in the form of Vidya Balan.

May be I am biased, may be I am too much a Bong at heart or may be I just got carried away with the good old tough male-bashing woman who, in the veneer of all that bravado, is just any other girl desperately looking for the happy family she almost had.

But there I was in a shady theatre for a late night show with a friend who felt strangely out-of-place in a Bong-dominated audience, watching Kolkata come alive on screen with all its subtle nuances: the familiar Kalighat Metro Station (the closest to my house), the oft-visited Sarat Bose Road or Triangular Park, the slow trams plying on the dimly-lit streets and of course the quintessential Durga Puja. The generous sprinkling of Bengali dialogues, the broken Hindi and the typical atrocious diction (if Non-Bongs can mess with my name, we have every right to pronounce Vidya as Bidya… ON YOUR FACE) just added to the authenticity. And I loved breaking into an abusive slur with the rest of the loyal Bengali patrons as soon as Amitabh Bachchan started crucifying a popular Bengali song. If you ask for my honest opinion, it wasn’t so bad really and if anything, his contribution probably made the nation sing along to “Ekla Cholo Re”, rather than confining it to an esoteric Bengali audience. But hey, I was part of an unlikely majority in a Suburban Mumbai multiplex, and I was soaking up every bit of it.

Never had I seen so many Bengali actors come together in a Hindi movie, secure enough to play second fiddle to a Non Bong female protagonist. In fact, Parambrata Chatterjee (he was cute as the angry, uncouth but intelligent cop in Baishey Srabon, but he has outdone himself as the inspector who slowly gives in to the alluring charm of a headstrong pregnant woman) had no qualms about declaring himself as the ‘heroine’ to Vidya Balan.

As for the protagonist herself, for the major part of the movie she was the exemplary femme fatale: beautiful, brave, intelligent and determined to go to any lengths to get her way, but vulnerable enough to lure men into letting her have her way. The climax is gripping enough to shock you to your wits and Balan executes it perfectly as she flashes her eyes like a woman possessed. And the next scene tells you why: the wrath of a wronged woman is swapped with the tears of a helpless girl who had just lost everything she ever wanted for no fault of her own.

Every woman has a story of her own, and Vidya Balan sure tells it well…

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fiddler on the Roof

I know I have promised myself to gradually steer away from cricket and move on to other sports, but like all my other important resolutions, this one too is proving to be quite a challenge, especially with the recent histrionics of Virat Kohli.

But Rahul Dravid’s retirement announcement is a strong signal that the last gentleman was bidding adieu to the game which can no longer be called a gentleman’s game. What with B grade starlets, match-fixing allegations, racial abuses, titillating autobiographies and of course the mother-of-all-disasters in the form of the IPL, cricket has turned into a mediocre Bollywood potboiler, with lots of money at stake, lots of larger-than-life egoistic heroes and a voyeuristic audience.

This post is not about Dravid or his decision to gracefully step down: there is nothing I can say that would do justice to the respect I have for him. Rather this is a tribute to that endangered species of men who still have some semblance of humility, pride and honour, who can still hold their own without resorting to loud desperation, who can still command respect rather than demanding it.

In an increasingly power-hungry world with an attention span which can barely process a twitter feed, aggression is in, gentility is a passé, be it in the field, in the parliament or in the pub. No wonder T-20 is more popular than Test cricket, comic books are fast replacing classics and sms is giving way to snail mail. Small is indeed beautiful, but there is an old-world charm about authenticity, about the unabridged version, about tradition, about quiet dignity.

There is something about the 'nice guy' who doesn't need to kick others to finish first, who doesn't mind paying for dinner even if the girl bores him to death, who doesn't have to punch people to prove he is a man.

There is something about Rahul Dravid…

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Other End of the Tunnel

You know one of those weekends when tragedy strikes? The kind of tragedy that you have nightmares about, the kind of tragedy that’s predestined, the kind of tragedy over which you have no control. It’s like being in a second class compartment of a C’gate-Virar local. Once you somehow manage to get in, you surrender to your destiny. You have no option but to live with the push and the shove, go along the direction of the crowd, get out only when you are allowed to. There is no turning back and there is no looking back. It’s unidirectional.

This weekend was something that movies are made of, bestsellers are created and hundreds of sitcom episodes are churned out; this weekend was about looking back till we could no longer remember what childhood was all about; this weekend was about drowning ourselves in sorrow and alcohol till we could block out the harsh realities; this weekend was about looking towards the heaven and asking God, “why God why are you doing this to us?”

JDs and Talisker Single Malts notwithstanding, this weekend was depressing and the haze just refuses to go away.

This weekend was about turning thirty

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Horizontal Ladder

Now that I am almost three years into the corporate life, I think I have earned the right to make HRish statements which would make me some sort of a management guru, a.k.a a person who writes books with catchy titles which nobody reads, but everybody raves about.

I have seen senior management and HR go to any lengths to poach employees from competitor firms, and let’s face it, as employees, we are all greedy pigs, who would mouth frivolities like ‘job satisfaction’ and ‘exposure’, but in the end give in to more powerfully shallow but effective tools like ‘compensation’ and ‘designation’. Fortunately, HR and senior management are well aware of this, which is why they have devised cruel mechanisms like the ‘hierarchy’, which can be tweaked to fool the employee into believing that she is rising up the corporate ladder, when, in reality, she is just moving horizontally.

Let’s start at the top of the pyramid. In my dad’s generation, the position, ‘Managing Director’ meant something. The company usually had ONLY ONE MD, and it would usually be someone with 25-30 years of experience with greying hair and false teeth. But today, walk into any multinational bank, you would find that the number of MDs is almost equal (if not more) to the number of office boys.

Or take the title Assistant Vice President or Associate Vice President. It looks awfully impressive on your Linkedin/Facebook/matrimonial profile, but if you look closely, you are still a rat, who now has to dress better.

Then there are some companies which just create layers and layers of frill which would ensure that the employee, while being motivated by a promotion every year, would keep waiting for the good stuff. It’s like playing strip poker: you need a lot of patience and a lot of luck. For instance, you join fresh from a B school as a Management Trainee, and then within a year you are ‘promoted’ to Asst. Manager and again the next year, you become Deputy Manager, but at the end of three years, you are left wondering why you are still reporting to the same old hag of a Manager, with very little change in your responsibilities.

Finally, there are companies which are so insecure that they deliberately undermine their competitors by playing around with designations. For example, Company A recruits 20-year old fresh graduates as “associates” and promises to promote them to “analysts” after three years. Two years later, Company B poaches “associates” from Company A alluring them with the designation “analyst”. Only after spending another three years in Company B, the analyst gets promoted to an “associate” in Company B, i.e. the level he had started five years back.

There are only two kinds of designations: employed and free…

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dumb and Dumber

There are times (about four instances in a day) when I am stupid and then there are times when I am outright DUMB (about once in four years, pretty much like the leap year), and this weekend was one of the latter.

It began on a Friday morning, when I ‘accidentally’ chucked my office id card into a dustbin: a sure sign that my subconscious was rebelling against my current employment status. Anyway, the damage was limited except the minor embarrassment of me diving into the garbage can to recover the card. But this was only a precedent to the great tragedy that would befall me the very next day.

Little did I know that an innocuous Saturday lunch and street shopping in Colaba was going to cost me EVERYTHING. Literally. There we were, sitting in Jimmy Boys, enjoying the mouth-watering Parsi delicacies, where I saw the last of my precious black wallet, which defined who I was. It had everything that made Nefertiti, Nefertiti: cash, cards, PAN card, Driver’s License, my sole house key, not to mention the brand new sodexo booklet which I had received just the previous day.

Two hours later, after a frenzy of street shopping (alas, for a change I was just a quiet observer, while S&S went gaga over shoes, clothes and accessories), I discovered that my handbag felt unusually light. By then it was too late to figure out if I had dropped it (unlikely since I didn’t even buy anything and therefore had not taken it out at all) or it had got flicked. And I panicked like I have never panicked before. After another couple of hours of complete chaos and frenzied phone calls, it hit me hard: now I could very well be the homeless migrant with no id proof or address proof. S&S didn’t know what to do, so very smartly, they bought me bangles (which I love in the hindsight). If that wasn’t enough, I had to break into my own apartment.

The next day, the agony continued as I was harassed in the police station when we went to lodge an FIR. This being my second trip to the Powai Police Station in three months, I was visiting it more often than I would like to. As I struggled to keep my temper in check and answered the inane and irrelevant questions, JB1 was a picture of calmness and patience, as he managed to stop me from flying off the handle, while coaxing the signature out of the Inspector. After one and a half hours, we were out of there, me letting out steam ‘against the system’.

As of now I am struggling to restore sanity, only getting more caught up in the web of administrative hassles: to reissue the PAN (i.e. id proof) I need an address proof (i.e. my license) and to reissue the address proof (i.e. license), I need an id proof (i.e. PAN). Also, the Kolkata-Mumbai/no rent agreement/old-house-new-house complications only add to the mess. Thankfully, my passport is still intact, though permanently disfigured with MY.UGLIEST.SNAP. EVER. I am embarrassed to display it publicly, but right now, I don’t have an option.

But at least I have new bangles…

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Feluda: The Reason for My Failure

I used to be a Satyajit Ray fanatic. Correction, I AM a Satyajit Ray fanatic.

My folks still regret the fact that I am half-educated with no core skills (read programming skills). Like every middle class parent, they also wanted me to become some sort of an engineer and when I failed to do that, they thought the LEAST I could do was to do my C.A. Even my dad managed to get himself a rank in his first attempt despite no B.Com background. So really, how difficult could it be? But thanks to a very casual upbringing, I was never much into studies. The blame lies on my dad. COMPLETELY. He was the one who introduced me to all the vices in life at a very early age: cricket, tennis, Enid Blyton, and most of all, Feluda. Ironically, ‘felu’ in Bengali means “to fail”. So the writing was always on the wall. I just HAD to be a failure.

Now given the multi-faceted person that Ray was, once you develop a taste for his work, you are virtually hooked, i.e. you can kiss your academic life goodbye. Hailing from an illustrious family, he was an artist in the true sense of the term: writer, director, photographer, painter, lyricist. He was so talented that I believe even he got confused about what to do with his life. So he tried his hand at everything, and no, I wasn’t complaining.

Ever since I picked up the first Feluda in Class II, I haven’t looked back. Back then, I was a slow reader and while my mom chased me around the house with a Science textbook, my dad lovingly unwrapped one Feluda after another. By the time I was in the 4th standard, I had finished all of them, and moved on to his other works, like Professor Shonku, Sandesh, Mullah Nasiruddin and his collection of short stories. Once I had exhausted those, out of sheer desperation, I even read the ENGLISH translation of the Nonsense Verse, originally written by his dad, Sukumar Ray, which made no sense whatsoever. He did the sketches in his books on his own, and when I was in my artistic mode, I would ape those black-and-white illustrations and go to bed with those sheets firmly laid beneath my pillow.

Thankfully, his movies gave me something to still look forward to, but at an age with no hard disk/torrent/DVDs it became a little difficult to access them. I would diligently check the TV listings and bunk school/dance classes/anything that came in the way, just to catch the umpteenth screening of Sonar Kella, Jai Baba Felunath, Goopi Gyne Bagha Byne, Hirok Rajar Deshe, Aparajito, Charulata, Satranj Ke Khiladi, Aguntuk, Nayak, so on and so forth. But somehow, I could never lay my hands on his first and one of his best works, Pather Panchali, till I started working, and finally, when I did watch it, I was overcome with a sense of deep loss: there was nothing else to look forward to…

For someone with an intimidating presence (at 6”4, he would have towered over me even while being seated) he made an instant connection with children and some of his characters like Mukul, Nayan, Apu and Durga are a testimony to how well he understood kids. But for me the Jatayu-Topshe-Feluda trio portrayed by Santosh Dutta, Siddhartha Chatterjee and Soumitra Chatterjee respectively, would always remain immortal. Of course, sincere efforts have been made to keep the Feluda legacy alive in movies, but it’s just not the same. Having said that, I would still prefer to see new-age actors play the roles, rather than not watch them at all.

And I did watch the latest Feluda movie, Royal Bengal Rahashya, and what can I say, the eight-year-old in me still manages to get enthralled despite having read the book a gazillion times.

With no mystery left whatsoever in my long relationship with Feluda, we still remain the best of friends, and I can complete his sentences… literally.