Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Big Sho(r)t

Being vertically challenged, I have often been subject to ridicule, right from my nursery days, when I was saddled with not-so-flattering nick names (kids can be cruel) or sent to a lower class even though I had already graduated, to even now, when I am often overlooked for responsible positions, because
a) people don’t notice me or
b) people who do notice me don’t take me seriously

However, today, instead of cribbing about how I always get the short(changed) because I am short, let me list out some of the benefits of being so:

In the looks department, I can easily pass off for a teenager/college going student, and I am often met with shocked (and suspicious) glances, when I tell people that I am working or I manage a team…

While traveling by flight or in movie theatres, I never have to complain about the lack of leg space, which allows me to either sleep comfortably as soon as I board a flight or curl up in my seat in a late night (boring) movie (most of which would have Shahrukh Khan/Akshay Kumar/Sandra Bullock)…

If I am ever stuck in a burning apartment (god forbid) or need to be rescued from kidnappers/robbers, I would always win the favour ahead of the bigger girls and let’s face it, there are only so many knights in the shining armour…

It’s very convenient to dodge people I am deliberately trying to avoid (like dancing aunties at weddings or Math/Finance teachers)…

And, finally, and I can’t stress this enough, in a country like India, where it’s so difficult to find eligible bachelors, being short opens up the field, because, let’s face it, I don’t have to worry about being with a guy with whom I have to wear only flat shoes (and I can nurture sweet dreams of marrying Rahul Bose)…

So, while a part of me aspires for the lanky gracefulness of Maria Sharapova, I take pride in belonging to the group of elite short men who made it big…

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Down (Pause) Town

This is a long overdue post about my long weekend trip to Bangalore on Independence Day. Now, it’s an unwritten rule that I spend the three important national holidays (January 26, August 15 and October 2) in Bangalore, usually arguing with anon about all our pent-up differences of opinion. This time, I was lured by the offer to go on our Roadtrip II (refer here for Roadtrip I). So what started with a four-day trip to Wayanad was reduced to a two-day trip to Chikmagalur to an overnight trip to Yercaud to a daytrip to Sivasamudram and finally resulted in a two-hour drive through the city traffic to, hold your breath, Nandi Hills. Now, I am not the one to crib about messed-up travel plans, especially when I was meeting my alleged best friend after six long months ever since our holiday to Cambodia and Manila earlier in the year.

So, instead of driving out of the humdrum of city life for a relaxing and soothing weekend in a cozy and isolated homestay in the midst of the hills, we started the weekend with a bang: by watching the first day first show of, ummm, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobara. Now if the corny dialogues, the annoying clichés and the overall mind-numbing three hours weren’t enough to drive me up the wall, I was watching the movie with anon’s colleagues, i.e. people I have never met in my life, including a two-year old who, irrespective of his cuteness, wasn’t exactly my ideal companion for spending Independence Day. What followed for the next couple of days was almost the same as all my Bangalore trips: meeting the same useless people, getting drunk, trying out new places, and jabbering like there was no tomorrow. Of course, I could have done the same things sitting in Bombay, but somehow there is something about Bangalore that keeps beckoning to me, that makes me go back every few months, that never fails to cast its charm on me.

The journey back was less than perfect as my flight got delayed due to some technical glitch and by the time I landed in Bombay, it was well past midnight. Which is why I decided to board a Tabcab back home and as luck would have it, the cab driver turned out to be a complete jerk who stopped the cab a good two kilometres before my house, took out the bill and promptly refused to drive further. On top of that he was rude enough to ask me “to get down and stop wasting his time”, as I furiously dialed the helpline number to lodge a complaint. Finally, after being unceremoniously dumped in the middle of the road in the middle of the night, I took the help of a kindly auto driver who dropped me home, as I burst into tears.

The incident just reinforced my belief that Bombay was no longer friendly, Bombay was no longer safe, Bombay was no longer home.

Bombay, as the plucky young journalist who got raped a few days back discovered, was yet another city which treated its women with shameless disdain

Friday, August 23, 2013

Live Like You're Dying

I had been considering quitting my job for the last four years now. In fact way back in 2008, when I was still in B school and just been offered a PPO, I had been contemplating not taking it up, since you know, I was the “creative kinds” and hence more suited to live up to the stereotype of a directionless, temperamental artist who did things on her whim, who hated being tied down to a boring routine and who would rather sacrifice a safe, materialistic lifestyle for the experience of LIFE itself. But parental counseling, societal mores and peer pressure got in the way and I chose to become a cog in the wheel instead. Today, when I came across this article, it got me thinking: of all the people who are gainfully employed, how many are masters of their own destiny or simply a victim of circumstances?

So there are people, who despite being a “corporate” set-up, genuinely enjoy their work: They sincerely believe that they are making a difference to the company, and they derive satisfaction from the measurable impact they have on the organization: be it in terms of exceeding their sales targets, implementing IT solutions or raising billions of dollars in a volatile financial market. And my dad is probably a glaring example of this species.

And there are people who followed a career simply because of the contribution to society that it entails: So there is a primary school teacher whose life revolves around crying children who hate studying and therefore hate her. She gets paid peanuts which don’t even allow her the luxuries that she aspires for, and yet she simply loves her job because it satisfies her soul. So is the story of a nurse, a doctor, a social activist or to some extent, even a journalist. Obviously, many of them go on to mint money as well (think private tuitions/private hospitals), but in most cases, it starts off as a desire to do something meaningful rather than mint money out of it.

Then there are people who chose a profession they are truly passionate about: They may be in something as widely recognized as Sports, Music, Entertainment, Literature or as obscure as Pet Detective, Fortune Cookie Writer or Rodeo Clown. But the important point is they CHOSE their professions out of sheer love of the activity.

There are also people are motivating creating jobs rather than having one. At times, it could be someone with an Ivy-League education and a glittering corporate career taking up the challenge of starting up on his own or someone with no industry experience or training, but sheer business/common sense. The common driving force is the will and the determination to be their own master, irrespective of the risks/obstacles/uncertainties.

And finally there are people like me: a vast majority of us, who are just going through the emotions, following the herd and taking the crowded road to respectability, acceptance and matrimonial sanction, waiting for the day when we would finally be in the above four categories.

To be a master, you need the courage to let go; to be a master, you need to take the leap of faith; to be a master, you need to live like you are dying

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Shackles of Independence

The spirit of this Independence Day was bitter to say the least as it reinforced once more that despite all the progress we have made over the years, freedom still eludes us:

Freedom from bureaucratic hassles…
Freedom from regional bias…
Freedom from misuse of power…

I moved to Mumbai from Kolkata ten years back: I have studied here, I have worked here and I have LIVED here. For all practical purposes, this is MY city and I take as much pride in it as a typical Mumbaikar would, I defend the city when other people criticize it, I frown at pedestrians who spit on the roads or throw garbage and I proudly wear the freedom that the city offers on my sleeve. As a single woman living alone, the city allows me to travel in the middle of the night in public transport, embrace its cosmopolitan culture without being judged and carve out an identity for myself which is not defined by where I come from but rather who I am.

Until, I had the misfortune of running into the web of bureaucratic stronghold when I had to visit the local Passport Office to get my passport renewed. I had heard good things about the new online process and decided to get it done from Mumbai instead of Kolkata, where it was originally issued. What followed can only be described as a nightmare.

I filled out the online form, paid the fees and booked an appointment after ensuring that I have all the requisite documents.

On the day of the appointment, my documents were verified as being in order but due to some system breakdown the rest of the process was not conducted. After wasting the entire day, I returned empty handed. I went back the same week, but I was asked to take a fresh appointment since they were no longer entertaining people from previous days’ slots even though they were the victims of the breakdown.

I got the next date three weeks later. My documents were verified once more and this time I was given the token to go inside. Another official verified the same and since all were in order, they took my photograph and fingerprints. The next step was to get the signatures of the two government officials.

I was called to counter C4, where the lady (first of the government officers), verified the documents, signed and stamped my old passport. I heaved a sigh of relief: finally it was going to be done, my month-long struggle would come to an end and I could now plan my vacation. But one more signature was still pending, so I had to wait.

After almost three hours, I was still waiting. Then I saw my name flashing on the screen and I rushed to the counter C3, eager to get it over with. But I had a nasty shock awaiting me when the man flipped through my passport and documents and demanded another document which was never mentioned on the website nor by anybody else in the five-step verification process that I had just been through. I had brought other documents which were mentioned on the website as valid address proofs (bank statements, rent agreement, credit card statements, company letter) which I showed, but he kept on insisting on the one document that was not even on the list. When I mentioned that his colleague in the very next counter had verified and accepted the documents, he promptly escalated my case to the senior passport official who refused to even logically consider my case, and instead resorted to threaten me. I sat there, looking straight at him, giving him reasons, trying to prove that I had indeed followed the rules they themselves made, pointing out the inconsistencies within their own staff, convincing them that I was a law-abiding, tax-paying, well-educated responsible citizen who had traveled across the world, but all I got was coldness wrapped in a mean, thinly-veiled jealous mind, which simply would not listen, would not co-operate and would not do the right thing.

After eight hours on my third trip to the same office, faced with discrimination, agony and sheer intimidation (including the threat to cancel my passport), I just ran out of there crying, my file still stuck in the bureaucratic red tape (literally).

I was tired of fighting the system, fighting for something which was my right and fighting for some semblance of sanity in a country which treats its citizens like aliens…

Especially if the citizen is not a native of that state and doesn’t speak the language…
Especially if she is a single girl alone and seemingly vulnerable…
Especially if she is independent, financially secure and widely traveled…

With power comes responsibility, but also the right to misuse the same…

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

And the Mountains Echoed

I am one of those people who are author loyalists more than genre loyalists. So as a kid, once I got hooked to Satyajit Ray or Enid Blyton or Alfred Hitchcock, I wouldn’t rest till I had read ALL their books, irrespective of what they wrote. So, I devoured Blyton’s Malory Towers with the equal enthusiasm that I reserved for Five Find Outers or the Famous Five, even though the last one I sincerely disliked. When it came to Ray, the scope was wider as I did not just stop with his books, but went on to his movies or even translations, as I have already talked about here.

As I grew up and moved on to other writers like Agatha Christie, Sidney Sheldon, Jeffrey Archer, Jane Austen or Ayn Rand, I usually ended up reading almost ALL their works, even though many of them were just rehashed versions of the earlier ones or simply just not as good. But it didn’t matter: for that one year or so, I would be like a loyal wife, tied to the writer, for better or for worse. Until I had devoured their entire collection and moved on to someone else. The same holds true even for Indian writers, be it the nuanced work of Jhumpa Lahiri, the gloomy magic of Arvind Adiga or even the irrepressible wit of Sidin Vadukut. And I have hated Chetan Bhagat with the same gusto, without missing out on any of his five best-sellers.

And then I discovered Khaled Hosseini during my college days. I finished The Kite Runner in a couple of days, bunking lectures, missing out on meals and dismissing anybody/anything that came in the way during those two days. Assignments, CGPA, social life be damned, I was too intricately involved in the lives of Amir, Hassan and Ali, swayed by a myriad of emotions. No wonder then, when his second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns released when I was in my MBA first year, I had no hesitation in treating myself to a copy, ignoring impending exams, placements and financial crisis. While I found the book distinctly more depressing that the first, the impact it made was significantly deeper, if not more satisfying. May be because it was a story of two women in a society which traditionally treated its women with disdain. May be because the memory of reading The Colour Purple was still fresh in my mind. Or may be because both stories resonated strongly against the backdrop of the trying socio-economic circumstances and my inexperienced, privileged and young mind was shocked to the core.

So this weekend when I got my hands on the recently released third book, “And the Mountains Echoed” by the same author, it didn’t take much to put me under house arrest for two days, postponing chores/outings/drinking plans as I devoured the 400+ pages like a hungry child fresh from a hunger strike. This time it was a brother-sister story underlying the multitude of sub-plots across geographies, generations and relationships.

Yes, it’s true to the Hosseini style of writing: intricate details in the backdrop of history with a tinge of longing…

Yes, it retains the simple innocence of putting family at the forefront: from the father-son tale in The Kite Runner to the mother-daughter struggle in The Thousand Splendid Suns to the brother-sister bond in this one…

Yes, all the twists come together in the end to render it a complete narrative…

And yet, it somehow falls short of the hallmark of a truly great story; it somehow falls short of my expectations; it somehow leaves me asking for more…

The mountain in the background echoes again: may be it’s time to move on

Thursday, August 8, 2013

If Governor was a Banker

Ever since Raghuram Rajan (RR) became the governor of RBI, I have been wondering about what really drives really brilliant people? Random thought I know, but it’s not like I have a fledgling economy to revive. So I can afford to sit in my not-so-comfortable chair and discuss hypothetical situations with my equally useless and jobless friends.

But think about it, if RR, with all his illustrious credentials, became an Investment Banker, how different would his life be?

Now the world knows him… then a handful of corporate fatcats and a bunch of credit card/home loan/insurance companies would know him

Now his critics would be world renowned economists/policy makers… then a handful of snobbish B school grads and HR/IT will bitch behind his back

Now his impact is far-reaching, which gets talked about across the world… then a bunch of luxury builders/car manufacturers/Clubmahindra would have an escrow account in his name

Now he writes books like “Saving Capitalism from Capitalists”… then he would write self-help bestsellers like “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”

Now he is a respected world figure… then he would be a feared manager

Now he has a life to be proud of. Then he would have a lifestyle to be vain about

Monday, August 5, 2013

From Monkeys to Men

I have always struggled with the theory of evolution. I mean, come on. One fine day when you are just going about your daily chores, fighting with your spouse, yelling at your kids and abusing your boss, some smart-ass stranger comes up to you, pats you on the back and says matter-of-factly, “dude, by the way, do you know we have a common ancestor? We all descended from monkeys!” The only response you can come up with AFTER you have made up your mind to kill this stranger and feed his remains to Bunty, the dog, is to look at yourself in the mirror, inspect your neatly combed hair, the starched shirt and perfectly ironed trousers, and wonder, “Monkeys? Really?”

But having said that, this weekend reinforced some faith in the theory and the fact that may be, just may be, we ARE indeed monkeys underneath all the veiled sophistication.

So while Thursday night meant getting drenched in the rain and then in alcohol in the nearby shady pub, Friday was about stepping out to an unknown territory (also known as Khar) to another shady place, which proudly called itself, “Three Wise Monkeys”.
But hey, Signature tastes like Signature everywhere and after a few drinks, when there is no wisdom remaining, the place could well have been reduced to “Three Monkeys”, appropriate, given that three of us from college were meeting up.

Saturday was alumni meet night, when you turn up at a Five Star Hotel, hoping for some free booze AND some influential alum who can magically fast-track your career, but just end up hanging out with the same set of loserly batchmates and turning it into one of those age-old drawing room discussions you have had at each other’s place over the last four years. But thankfully, I did manage to catch up some of the other people I had lost touch with over the years, most of who were busy getting married and getting fat, while I was just busy getting fat.

Now Sunday night being Kap’s birthday and since he was sad about turning 27 (sniff sniff), he decided to treat us at “Three Wise Men”, thus allowing our wisdom to leapfrog from the level of monkeys to that of men in just two days! Ahh, the irony of it.
But hey, Signature tastes like Signature everywhere and after a few drinks the place could well have been reduced to “Three Men”, appropriate, given that three of us from college were meeting up.

What with all the free flow of alcohol, I ended the weekend with considerably less wisdom, as depleted as it already was.

But the signature of an evolved wo(man) is that s(he) can hold her Signature with poise and dignity, something I am sure even the wisest of monkeys couldn’t have done…