Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Seven Year Itch

Last weekend anon was in town after almost two years. We did what we usually do, i.e. she comes home, criticizes everything about my life, then SH joins and they both gang up against me, we shop, we watch movies, we meet the guys and we all get drunk together. Of course, now that it’s been over seven years since we have known one another, we end up repeating the same old stories, playing the same old music and cracking up on the same old lame jokes. The only difference is now, some of us are married and we expect them to laugh and enjoy the same way as we do, even though they have no background or context. But they politely oblige us and even patiently take pictures while we pose trying to recreate the past, notwithstanding the receding hair line, the bulging stomach or the wrinkles under the eyes.

So as I try to trace back my life over the last few years, here is a journey back in time: from college to Goa to Kerala to Coorg to Singapore to Malaysia to Cambodia to Goa again, these are the people I have grown up with, learnt to drink with, traveled with or simply called up in the middle of the night to crib…

SH, me and anon in the first term of college…

And on my birthday in campus on a cold December night…

On our way to Kerala…

Our roomie bonding trip to Goa…

Then in Singapore after graduating…

Roadtrip to Coorg…

Not to mention Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia…

Again in Phnom Penh, Cambodia…

Finally the Goa wedding last year…

Never even realized how the last seven years simply went by while we were busy making other plans

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Wall

This week the world celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which took me back to last year when I was in Berlin, witnessing all its historical associations, street art and distinctive culture. However, what stood out the most was how ugly the city was especially when compared to its European counterparts. Having already visited other historically rich cities like Istanbul, Rome, Florence, Vienna and Prague, I expected Berlin to be in the same league if not better, but as we entered the city centre, navigating our way through the heavy traffic, the numerous under construction patches, not to mention the torrential rain, I found it more like Bombay!

But then, over the next few days, Berlin captivated me in a way that no other city in the world can: the sheer power of no-nonsense history can make an indelible impression on your mind. I mean once you have stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate, felt the ruins of the Berlin Wall or just spent hours reading the placards at Checkpoint Charlie, you are automatically transported back in time as the famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech of John F Kennedy echoes in your ears or the Russian soldier just across Checkpoint Charlie stares into your eyes: cold, unflinching and steady. While the famous but uncharacteristically plain government building or Reichstag reminds you of the role it played in WWII and the “death strip” parallel to the Berlin Wall sends a chill down your spine, some of the other places like Hitler’s bunker, the Jewish cemetery or the Babelplatz which is infamous for the book burning by Nazis, repeatedly take you back to the dark days. Of course, there are other places like the Alexanderplatz, the City Hall, the Postdamer Platz or numerous museums, cathedrals and universities, but as beautiful as they are, once you have walked along the non-descript remains of the Berlin Wall, nothing can hold a candle to that.

I have no recollection of the Berlin Wall coming down, but once you have a taste of its significance even it’s only through books and documentaries, you can’t but help staring at it for hours, even as the busy pedestrians behind you impatiently push you down the street.

As far as walls are concerned, it’s safe to say the Berlin Wall is definitely not a imposing brick and mortar wonder.

Rather, it’s almost an anticlimax, but one which is loaded in history…

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Corporate Fairy Tale

We all have read fairy tales as a kid right? Remember those days when your world revolved around the Cinderellas, Rapunzels, Snow Whites or Sleeping Beauty? I, for one, loved fairy tales. In fact, to me fairy tales were like books on String Theory for Sheldon. Ok, perhaps not the best analogy, but there was a time, when I ONLY read fairy tales, and not just the regular ones, but even the most non-descript ones from all over the world, especially Greece and Russia.

Anyhow, over the past few years I have been observing some uncanny similarities between fairy tales and the corporate world. Think about it, every fairy tale would have these standard characters: the beautiful damsel in distress, the loyal (usually gay) friend, the elusive Prince Charming, the irrepressible witch, not to mention the scheming ugly sisters and finally, the all powerful, evil ogre (often green in colour).

Now, consider the typical office environment around you. Let’s start with the easiest, i.e. the all powerful, evil ogre. No points for guessing who he is: the CXO/MD who derives a sadistic pleasure in turning the fairy tale into a nightmare for every employee of the organization.

Moving on to the witch, which is not exactly rocket science, i.e. the immediate boss who reports to the ogre: usually spineless, sucking up to the green monster, petty and making life miserable for the beautiful princess and all the little people around her.

The elusive Prince Charming is also a very interesting character and almost all organizations would have at least one of these smooth talking extroverts who can confidently sweep everybody off their feet (including the witch and the ogre). This is the guy who will speak the most in all meetings, get invited to all the office parties, have all the women swoon over him and walk away with the highest rating and fat bonuses. BUT, there is one small problem. This guy WILL NEVER GET HIS HANDS DIRTY. He will delegate, he will manage and he will co-ordinate, but he will not, I repeat, will not do any work.

As for the loyal friend, he would always be the side kick: dependable, trustworthy and quietly efficient, he will be the person who will rescue the team from a crisis, he will work on weekends and holidays when nobody is around to appreciate it and he will get things done year after year, even though he barely gets noticed or appreciated. Until the day comes when he is tired of the Prince Charming taking credit for his work and he quits, to become a writer or a teacher, most probably in Kolkata.

The beautiful damsel in distress is a rare species in any company, especially if you are in a bank. It’s amazing how someone can get away with doing little or no work, as long as she has a pretty face and a bright smile. Struggling with excel? Why bother with the “Help” function when you can just shrug your shoulders and chat up the colleague at the next desk, who would be grateful for the opportunity to do your work. Of course, the company does its best to groom and retain the beautiful damsel in distress, because her mere presence increases the productivity of the rest of the ordinary folks on the floor, who will try to outdo each other just to impress the girl, blissfully unaware that the Prince Charming is already miles ahead in the race.

As for the ugly sisters, they are the most abundant species you will find in every organization: scheming, bitchy associates, close to the witch, but secretly plotting her downfall. They are the ordinary people with limited skills and ambitions, slightly cowardly, too scared to upset the apple cart and therefore going with the flow, taking pleasure in trivial office politics, but overall happy with the security of the monthly paycheck and the year end handout.

So, where do I fit in? While I started out as a bit of a Sleeping Beauty who struggled to mingle, now I am completely ingrained into the system, very much a part of the fairy tale, comfortably in the shoes of the smallest ugly sister.

While the corporate fairy tale is a long and winding story, it remains to be seen if it has a happy ending…

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Moment

Has it ever happened to you that you are in a situation, where everything is perfect and you are just sitting back, enjoying the experience, and suddenly, out of the blue, something trivial simply ruins it?

For example, it’s a weekend, you are watching a classic test match being played at Eden Gardens or Lords and India is batting and Dravid and Laxman are batting, and just when you think it can’t get any better, one of them gets out, and Agarkar comes out to bat! I mean, can you even comprehend how utterly pissing off it is?

Or take another example. You are in a movie theatre to watch that one movie which you had been waiting for, you just got your reclining seats and popcorn and you are all set for the next three hours, ready to be blown away, and out of nowhere, a trailer of Happy New Year pops up, completely killing the mood.

Even worse, you are out shopping, just the way you love it: alone, in comfortable loose clothes and flat chappals, looking forward to revamping your wardrobe, and suddenly, you run into some long lost college acquaintance, who, surprise surprise, sticks to you like a leech for the rest of the afternoon, making you wait impatiently outside the trial room, while she tries out multiple outfits and whines.

And don’t even get me started on the times when you are having the time of your life traveling across a new country, soaking in a new culture or talking to random strangers, when an Indian family approaches you and asks you in loud Hindi, “Do you know a good Indian vegetarian place here?”

But in my experience, the worst of them all is when you are in a nice restaurant, enjoying the good food, the serene ambience and softly singing along to the tunes of Bruce Springsteen or The Eagles, thinking to yourself, “Boy, this place has taste”, when suddenly, they start playing, “I want it that way”. Yes, Backstreet Boys, leaving you no option but to hurriedly call for the cheque.

I mean, talk about the moment that ruins the hours