Thursday, March 28, 2013

Black Friday

Yesterday was holi. For all you readers in South India (all two of you), we had a holiday. Yes, there are more important occasions deserving a public holiday than Rajnikanth’s birthday.
Now, as a general rule, I do not like festivals, especially the kind that involves mass absenteeism at work (think Christmas, Diwali and now Holi and Good Friday combined) and the general air of celebration, happiness and loud music (What IS with this song, Faavicol anyway?), especially when I am stuck at work while rest of the world is enjoying at home/taking a vacation.

As a kid, I used to love Holi. Being an early riser, I would be ready with my cheap colours, gulal and water balloons sharp at nine, dressed in my most tattered clothes, all excited to get down and dirty, knocking on the doors of my other friends who were barely out of the bed. I wouldn’t even notice how the next few hours would go by, as I would run around the locality, pouring buckets of cold coloured water on one another, respectfully bending down to touch the feet of elders while colouring them with gulal and simply throwing balloons at non-suspecting strangers on the road and running away, only to discover that they have already reached home before me to complain to my folks. The next few hours would be spent in agonizing pain as my mom would try to get the colour off me with various cleaning agents, while I would pray that I would retain it and miss school for a couple of days.

But once I moved out of home, I was less excited about holi and the fact that it usually came in the middle of exams meant I couldn’t play even if I wanted to. But being in a hostel, that was hardly an option, and each year I would end up with colours/gulal and while I cribbed at that point, now I know how precious it was to be with friends who cared enough to drag you out of your miserable text books and give you some respite.

However, the Holi highlight has to be the two years of my MBA, when it was probably at its dirtiest best. No matter how much you refuse, how hard you try to stay away from the hooliganism and how determined you are to not participate in the mayhem, you ended up being dragged, bathed and caked. The more fuss you created, the worse would be your state. Today, when I look back, I could only smile at the hideous photos, the memories of the ‘maltreatment’ and the agony of getting back to a sober state.

In the last four years since I have started working, it has been one huge slide to loneliness: the first couple of years were good fun as I celebrated with a slightly childlike flatmate who took all festivals very seriously and another childlike boyfriend who made home, feel like, well, home; but after the flatmate got married and the boyfriend got back to being just a boy, I also lost the heart or the soul to celebrate: be it holi, be in Diwali, be it Christmas, be it New Year or be it any occasion.

Today, as I sit in a sparsely populated office, I wonder if my love for colour is gradually giving way to a clinginess to darkness

Monday, March 25, 2013

Alpine Romance

This weekend was orgasm redefined: I spent a major part of it watching India’s young players give a drubbing to the Aussies, as they walked away with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy after a 4-0 clean sweep. I have been following cricket for the past fifteen years, but rarely have I seen such complete domination, and the fact that the Australians were at the receiving end of it, made it all the more orgasmic.

If that wasn’t enough, I spent the nights drooling over my childhood hero, Andre Agassi’s autobiography, Open. While I have been an ardent admirer of his game, his colourful personality, his daring experiments with clothes, accessories and hairstyles, not to mention his failed marriage to Brook Shields followed by a low-key wedding to Steffie Graf had only added to his charm. Call it my fascination with the vulnerable yet rebellious appeal. However, after reading the book, I discovered new aspects of his life which only strengthened my loyalty towards him: his volatile relationship with his father, his troubled childhood, his special bond with his elder brother Philly, his childhood friend Perry, his coach Brad and his trainer Gil, his agonizing years in the infamous Nick Bollettieri’s Academy, his frequent showdown with the authorities due to his on-court antics, his controversial views on his contemporaries including Jeff Tarango, Jim Courier, Michael Chang and Pete Sampras. Now I had grown up watching all these players on TV, but when I read about an insider’s account of how they were as individuals and not just players, I felt a renewed connection to the game, which I admit, I had been neglecting a bit lately, purely because of a lack of personalities. Yes, I love to watch Federer play and I like Djokovic’s clinical assassination of his opponents or Murray’s raw talent, but I miss the colourful personalities of the nineties. Give me an Agassi or a Kuerten or an Ivanisevic any day over the modern day players.

But the highlight was definitely my three hours of temporary insanity when I blew up 20k on clothes, accessories, bags (yes, plural) and a huge suitcase. Imagine yourself among the most stylish clothes in Debenhams, and then imagine a 50% discount on the stuff that you actually like! How often does that happen? So there I was, posing in front of the mirror, wearing a sweater, a blazer and an overcoat on a hot Mumbai afternoon, with people staring at me. But I couldn’t care less, as I lovingly stuffed all of them inside the biggest American Tourist suitcase available. Just to complete the feeling of being totally loved by myself, I gifted myself a couple of oversized handbags in extremely pretty shades, but now I am feeling a bit guilty. Call it the morning-after awkwardness.

If you are wondering what made me splurge on stuff which would never see the light of day in Mumbai, I am not TOTALLY crazy. I am actually going to Switzerland for a couple of weeks for work, and hopefully I can venture into the mystic Swiss Alps while I am there.

The shopping was just the foreplay, the romance begins next week

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mein Kampfe

Following my tryst with the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, I realized that my appetite for morbid human depravity is far from being satiated. If anything, it has only been stimulated and lately I had been going back in time, reading about mass atrocities committed by "leaders", trying to understand the twisted psyche that motivated them to commit such outrages.

Which finally led me to Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampfe (My Struggle). Now, I had read Anne Frank’s Diary as a child, well before I read about the Holocaust, and therefore I was not able to fully grasp the context of the book, though purely from the literary point of view, being a pre-teen, I could well identify with some of the nuances plaguing a 13-year old girl. But the historical significance of it was quite wasted on me at that point. Later, when I watched Schindler’s List, it touched a chord, but I never explored it further.

However, once I started planning my visit to Auschwitz this summer (yes, I am on a two-week vacation to Vienna, Salzburg, Prague, Krakow and Berlin), I simply had to delve deeper on the subject. So despite all the negative publicity of the book, I picked up Mein Kampfe just to get inside the head of the man himself. Yes, it is an extremely biased portrayal, yes, it’s a tedious task to get through the pages and yes, the language only makes it tougher. But hey, it’s not called Mein Kamfe for no reason!

So on one hand, while I prodded through the book, on the other, I was struggling with my own mind, until, until, until I discovered the magic of the Ultimate Long Island Ice Tea during Happy Hours on a weekday!

Nine drinks later, the struggle seemed to ease off, the vision became a bit blurred and the judgment was hazy

Monday, March 18, 2013

Legally Blonde

I have always been fascinated with legal dramas or movies: what started as a fleeting interest in The Practice and Ally Mcbeal as a kid, turned into an addiction to Boston Legal, not to mention movies like Kramer vs Kramer, Philadelphia, Primal Fear, A Few Good Men, Erin Brockovich and of course, The Accused. In parallel, I was devouring John Grisham’s books though To Kill a Mockingbird is my favourite.

So yes, I had a soft corner for the courtroom: I liked the idea of justice, I liked the articulate debates, I liked the suspense and most of all, I liked the closing arguments by the lawyers of both parties. While it came across as a noble profession, it had a certain amount of glamour attached to it, and even though I never seriously considered a career in law (thanks to my single-minded focus on being a mediocre engineer from some random college in Kolkata so that I can work with TCS in Salt Lake), Law was something which has enamoured me over the years.

Until this weekend, when I saw Jolly LLB. Now the movie was strictly average, though Boman Irani was at his suave best and Arshad Warsi once again proved that he is one of the most under-rated actors in Bollywood. But more importantly, it showed the gory side of the profession, especially in the Indian context, in which the crisp outfits, the swanky courtrooms and the successful, confident advocates were replaced by the realities of corruption, botched-up police investigation, the power of money vs. the helplessness of the marginalized victims and of course the struggle of a mediocre small-town lawyer with questionable ethics.

And then I realized, there is no such thing as a ‘noble profession’: there would always be people in ANY vocation (think education and think Arindam Chawdhury) who would give it a bad name and similarly, there would always be people who would be honourable, honest and conscientious, irrespective of what they are doing.

Everything has a shade of grey; the trick lies in painting it white…

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Most people like to spend their weekends relaxing, watching movies, partying or traveling out of the city. Once upon a time when I had a life, I would also do these things. But now, since I have a computer and no life, I do random stuff like looking up on the internet for interesting career options, mostly start-ups. Which is how I came across this interesting concept of Wunderbarkidz, which is essentially a start-up pre-school with a twist, i.e. it focuses on kids between 1-6 years to help them communicate in English and think in English. Located in far-flung parts of Maharashtra (with some in suburban Mumbai), it targets middle class or lower middle class families, where the exposure to English is minimal.

Now, I have already talked about my English speaking woes as a child in this post, and given the struggle I went through over the years to express myself in the Queen’s Language, I instantly connected with the idea. Not only that, I made an effort to write to the founders (two surprisingly young brothers from Insead and Dukes) who immediately got back to me and thus I traveled half-way across the city to New Bombay on a Sunday afternoon to meet them.

I had no idea what I could possibly gain from the meeting, nor did I have any specific agenda in my mind, but it was fascinating to listen to their story, the challenges they face, the grass root reality of starting a new venture, especially when it touches children from under privileged circumstances: despite their urban metropolitan upbringing, their Ivy-league education and their completely elite backgrounds, they were surprisingly grounded, surprisingly in sync with the reality that plagues our education system and surprisingly down-to-earth in their vision.

And there I was, like a little girl, looking down at the ground, identifying with a cause close to my heart, but unsure about how to deal with it

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Promise

I finally managed to watch Kai Po Che: I had read the book (Three Mistakes of my Life) long back, when I was still young and foolish (now I am just old and foolish), heard people go ga-ga over the movie and decided to give it a 100-rupee morning show shot. The movie was definitely better than the book (though that’s more of a sad commentary on the book), and it did not drive me to insanity like say, any Salman Khan/Shahrukh Khan movie in the last five years.

What I liked most about the movie was change in protagonist to Ishaan from Govind. Having grown up in a middle class neighbourhood in Kolkata, I have seen a few Ishaans as a child: prodigiously talented, passionate, attractive and yet, equally lazy, laidback, undisciplined and directionless. So when I think about successful people (and here I define success in the conventional sense), I see three sets of people:

1.The talented people who are not born with a silver spoon. But they are committed, hard-working, focused and ready to give it everything despite all odds. And you get your Tendulkars, Obamas, Bachchans

2.The talented people from a privileged background. They are genetically gifted, they already have a platform waiting for them and the sensible ones manage to carry the baton forward. The history of sports, politics and entertainment is replete with such examples

3.The talented people who don’t quite make it. They show promise, potential and passion, but over the long run, it fizzles out. Sometimes, they get distracted, sometimes they become victims of their circumstances and sometimes it’s just bad luck, but at the end of the day, they become like any other anonymous citizen lost in obscurity. What follows is either they become a clerk, trying to feed a family of four and passing on the burden of their unrealized dreams to their kids, or even worse, they lose themselves in a haze of depression, drugs, alcohol, frustrations and self-pity.

But while it would be easy to classify Ishaan in the third category, he was also a rare exception, who fought tooth and nail to salvage a raw talent (Ali), to make sure that his gift did not go wasted, to protect him, to nurture him and cushion him from all the mistakes that he himself had made.

And there you go, that’s the beauty of promise, even more so if it’s undelivered

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Karthik Calling Karthik

For someone who works in a remote/captive set-up, lives in the world of netbanking/credit cards/online payments and stays away from family, a major part of my day is spent on phone calls.

So, if I am not arguing with my mom on potential marriage prospects (or the lack of them), I am cribbing to my friends who are in different parts of the country/world or listening to my kid brother go on and on and on about the latest model of phones, laptops, tablets, cars or other such things which are of no interest to me.

If that’s not bad enough, there are recurrent goof-ups by my bank, credit card company, telephone company or broadband company, who believe it’s perfectly customer friendly to put me on hold for ages with some terrible background score, at the end of which, I would be greeted with a not-so-helpful customer service agent with a confused accent. They are so NOT happy to help!

But the cake definitely goes to the people at work where I waste a major part of my youth. Since my boss sits out of a different country, we spend half the day trying to get through to each other, dialing the phone till our fingers are on the verge of falling off. Whenever I call, he is in a meeting/about to go for a meeting and whenever he calls, I am usually loafing around in the cafeteria or wandering aimlessly around Hiranandani, trying to pick up the pieces of my life. Then there is the problem of cross border communication, when we are trying to navigate through different languages/accents/dictions, getting more lost in the process, when one party just rambles on, though the other party has no idea what’s being said. By the end of it, you feel like Arnab Goswami, ranting like a madman, while the audience no longer cares.
Now, since we are in research, we have this inherent knack to find people who will LISTEN.TO.OUR.VIEWS, but since front-end bankers are too busy to save their jobs, they don’t have the time/enthusiasm to humour us. SO what do we do? We talk to each other: it’s a case of quid pro quo, i.e. you let me bore you, I shall let you do the same to me, as long as it gives the impression that we are all very busy! And just to give it a professional “look and feel”, we CALL each other up, while sitting next to each other, and THEN talk, so that we can hear ourselves, hold your breath, not once, but twice! As for what we DISCUSS, let’s just say it covers the whole of animal kingdom with a generous dose of phrases like “bull and bear”, “hawkish and dovish” or “headwind and tailwind”.

It’s like Karthik Calling Karthik, but just imagine close to two dozen of them, and it’s total chaos

Monday, March 4, 2013


Being back to the humdrum of the mundane life in Mumbai somehow restores the balance in my life: last weekend, I was living it up in Manila, without a care in the world. Few days later, here I am, back to my ritual of emails, phone calls, MS Office, not to mention cleaning, grocery shopping and selling old newspapers!

The fact that JB and PR spent almost the entire weekend at my place, cooking the most awesome chicken, while Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara treated the country to graceful centuries, making my return to commonplace reality a little less disheartening.

But the fact remains that I am desperately restless, never quite satisfied, always looking out for change, wanting to do something different, craving for a fresh start, longing to turn my life upside down, for better or for worse…

More than any external circumstances, it’s my inner self which is at war with itself, trying to find that elusive piece of the jigsaw which would make the puzzle complete…

And I continue to play hide and seek with myself, I continue to look for the intangible pleasures of life and in the process, I continue to delude myself that someday, it’s going to find me…

Someday, the puzzle would make sense