Monday, April 30, 2012

Just love the way business works


Let me count the ways in which I like business
1.      I love the way my supermarkets have the apples and pears waxed so that they attract me to buy them and also sell me vegetable soap to wash the wax off.
2.      I love the way my mobile operator calls me to sell his schemes when I am ‘roaming’ and charges me for receiving those calls when the humble SMS had suited him when I was in town.
3.      I love the way my credit card company gives me a totally unnecessary add-on card in the name of my nominee for ‘free’ and then charges me for it the next year because I did not call them up (on their toll-free number that bounces me around for a day with no results) to cancel the card.
4.      I love the way my internet provider fails to send me a bill, disconnects my connection without notice for not paying up but rings me up twenty times thereafter since I have continued not to pay up!
5.      I love the way business hates government interference when they are profitable and insists on it when they are not. Apparently unbridled capitalism is good only if it ensures their profitability!
To every one of them the Customer is King, of course! People in business sure have weird ideas about how Royalty was treated in their heyday.
I was hesitant about generalizing based on these thoughts about business till I found that people in business shared these thoughts themselves! There are a couple of ads running currently – from two different industries – that claim that the companies concerned do not cheat the customer (while the rest do!) Obviously, then, it seems to not only be the norm to take the customer for a ride but also an acceptable norm considering that honesty in business is touted as an exception!
Quite evidently the watchword for today’s world is still ‘Caveat Emptor’ – Let the Buyer beware!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

I am Versatile


My first award:

The rules of the nomination are, apparently,
1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.
2. Paste the image as above.
3. Share 7 random thoughts about yourself.
4. Nominate 10-15 bloggers for the award.
5. Inform them of the nomination.

I am versatile and, now, I have the license to say so. What is more I am twice as versatile as I thought I was. Two lovely people have nominated for the ‘Versatile Blogger’ award – Indu Chibber and Cynthia Vincent – and, thanks to them, I can wave their nominations in the face of people who refuse to admit that I am versatile in anything other than the various postures of sleep.
After starting blogging in 2009 I found myself with a total readership of about four, including me, and the other three members of my family had to be coaxed, blackmailed or otherwise intimidated into reading my blog. There were other visitors, of course. People, who strayed into my blog by mistake and left with all the speed of a scalded cat. With so much encouragement, it was but understandable that I stopped blogging for more than a year. A couple of months back I joined Indiblogger and, presto, it is raining awards now!
But wait! If I am twice as versatile do I need to tell 14 things about myself and nominate 20-30 bloggers? The former would test your patience and the latter would test mine. I mean, just imagine reading through pages of prose about an uninteresting person and, imagine me having to copy some 20-30 hyperlinks. Not to mention the fact that I could well be lost in the interesting pieces available to read on blogosphere and forget to even collect the links. So, I will beg your indulgence for submitting only 7 bits of information about myself and only 15 nominations.
Random facts about me:
  1. I hate the very idea of man-management. Like dealing with people as people and not as employees, subordinates, bosses, customers and suppliers. With this attitude, I probably should have taken up pottery but became a management graduate for my sins! So, I decided to quit as early as possible and did so about 5 years back.
  2. I can be quite content doing absolutely nothing. A rare trait, even if I do say so myself, and absolutely necessary when you decide to quit working early in life.
  3. Punctuality, they say, is the politeness of princes. Now that we have dispensed with Royalty, we seem to have dispensed with punctuality as well. I am a fanatic about punctuality and that means that I get ample opportunities to get worked up every day of my life.
  4. Books have always been my major addiction. If every man needs an ambition mine was to have a library at home. With about 3000 books at home, I think that I can consider myself as having achieved my ambition to an extent.
  5. I am interested in old Tamil and Hindi film songs (Well! Some people would call them ancient). I have recently taken up listening to Carnatic Music. Thank God, it is possible to appreciate music even if you cannot understand it.
  6. I took up trekking after quitting my job at 44 and started off with a Himalayan trek to Tapovan/Nandanvan. Now it is almost an addiction and I invariably do one Himalayan trek a year.
  7. I hate people judging me and I hate judging people. So, you can understand how much I hated having to do the next part of this post.
Bloggers I nominate for the Award:
It is a difficult ask to nominate bloggers. There are a lot of talented people out there and it is impossible for anyone to actually read all available blogs. Then, there are the personal lacks. For example, I have no real aptitude to read poetry nor do I have much of an eye for visuals. This, in effect, means that poetry and photo-blogs, no matter how excellent they are, fall outside my purview.
The next problem is that some of my natural choices for the award have already been awarded (right along my nomination in some cases) – to my knowledge – and there is scarcely a point in my also joining the chorus. So Debajyoti, Bhavana, Kajal, Arti and other such much-awarded bloggers are not in my list much as I would have loved to put them in.
The bloggers that I have chosen are not unknown either and they may already be sated with a galaxy of awards. Nonetheless they figure here - in the order in which I found them - and they will have to lump itJ.
1.      Deepa
2.      Rajagopalan Ratnaraj
3.      DS
4.      Pooja Pradeep
5.      Ajesh banerjee
6.      Poorvi Shrivastav
7.      Dhiraj Shenoy
8.      The Fool
9.      Umashankar Pandey
10.    CaptainAwesome
11.    JasmeetKukreja
12.    Akshara
13.    SudhaGanapathi
14.    KayEm
15.    Zephyr
Once again, I express my thanks to the two (possibly misguided) people who nominated me for this award.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Revenge of Women


I am telling you, guys, there is a conspiracy against us. Wake up soon or you will suffer for the rest of your lives. I know! I know! You guys think it is all a paranoid fantasy. Let me put the evidence in front of you and, then, see if you think whether it is I who am fantasizing or it is you who are living in a fool’s paradise.
Let us take the movies first. Time was when the hero just sat in front of the harmonium and it was the heroine doing all the dancing. A wee bit later, the hero had to strike majestic poses while the heroine danced all around him. A bit of PT exercises became necessary thereafter. Now do you really think that the hero can just flap his arms around and be considered a great dancer? Not on your life!
So, what has that got to do with what I am saying? Look! There are more women in media and, presto, the hero has to have great dancing skills. Coincidence? Don’t be naïve! You think that it is the movies and has nothing to do with you? Well! When was the last time you found some guy wind-milling his arms and jerking his feet around when the mood took him and found the girls drooling all over him? If you need a Hrithik Roshan in reel life, you need a Salsa class in real life. Get that through your thick heads!
Ever wondered why you suddenly have started to go to the gym and found yourself looking anxiously at your belly to see if you can spot any signs of a six-pack? Could you have caught your dad doing it? More likely that he was patting a well-padded belly fondly and the only six-pack that interested him was beer! So what, the generation gap has substituted a fondness for beer with a fondness for treadmills? Nonsense! If you say that you will also say that you actually enjoy the process of waxing your body to remove hair! Guys, get real!
The previous generation had the best of life. A bit of hair oil and shaving cream about summed up their cosmetic needs! Now you can’t do without styling gels for hair and a whole cornucopia of shaving accessories. If all the girls will run after the man with the best deo what would that leave you holding? So, there you go, having to de-odor yourself. Time was when a tanned skin was macho. Today they tell you to use a fairness cream for men instead of one for women when you had not thought of using either.
Guys! Arise! Awake! Women are avenging themselves against us for all the eons when they were put in a position of having to maintain themselves good-looking while we went our way merrily. If you do not take a stand now, you will never be able to make it. By the time you find yourself using ‘Veet for Men’ in the bathroom, with your wife loudly complaining outside about how long men take to get ready for an outing, it will be too late!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Lament of a Woman

I just do not understand all this trivial discussion about the problems that women have in balancing work and home. Child’s play, let me tell you, compared to the main time-consuming issues that confront us women. Issues that confront us the moment we wake up and do not let go till we get to sleep, if we can get to sleep.

Wake up in the morning and you have this hideous bird’s nest on top of your head. About the first thing you do is to check the pillow to see if there is the fine layer of dust on it – the dreaded ‘D’ word - dandruff! Better you do it than some stranger on the streets with a scalp camera looking to scalp people like you! Uh! Oh! Time for the anti-dandruff shampoo! Now, do you have a sufficient stock of that hair-conditioner around? Can’t show your head to the world with lifeless hair or, God forbid, split ends, whatever they be! You just cannot imagine the number of problems that strands of dead protein can get into nor the amount of effort that goes into making that self-same dead protein look alive!

Never realized the number of life-threatening problems that your face can go through! Some say seven some say ten but, how many ever they be, they have all got to be addressed. Do you really want to go around with damaged skin? Of course not! Unless your skin is fair it has got to be damaged, right? So, on with the moisturizing soaps, moisturizing creams, face washes, fairness creams and the rest. Oh! Peel off that facial layer first! To think that our parents were naïve enough to think of vitamins as something to ingest! Without the use of vitamins all over their faces, no wonder they look wrinkled. (Signs of old age and not of vitamin deficiency? What nonsense! They never even heard of anti-wrinkle creams and claim that at sixty-odd, wrinkles do appear. Excuses! Excuses! )

Till not so long back, that was about all the problems I had to tackle in the bathroom, except the periodic depilation (sounds more scientific than hair removal, doesn’t it?) of the armpits and the legs and those creams for the feet that keep them from developing cracks. But Life does love throwing curve-balls at you, doesn’t it?

When I do wear those sleeveless dresses of mine I had always admired the play of color across my arms. The slightly darker tan, up to where the sleeves usually are, tapering off to the lighter tan above seemed very pretty to me. How was I to know that that was gauche and, if I did not have an even tan all over I would be shunned by society? Much as I’d like to say snootily that, since I don’t play tennis, it doesn’t matter how varicolored my body is, I am not sure that I can carry it off. So, I have to smear body lotions all over now and, let me tell you, if someone has found a way to conveniently reach the middle of the back – other than using a husband or boyfriend – she deserves the next Nobel Prize for whatever! 

I know that I have no intentions of picking up a couple of pompoms and flinging up my hands. So, what do I need with fairer armpits? Maybe this is one thing that I can dispense with. I, however, don’t dare do that unless I intend keeping my hands firmly stuck to my body whenever I wear a sleeveless dress. Just cannot stand the idea of my friends murmuring, “Did you see that? Her armpits are darker than the rest of her body!” and sniggering at me. (Boy-friends? No way! A man has difficulty enough in seeing that his girl has her head completely shaved. Pester him about it and “You look somehow different”, is the most he can come out with. When he has difficulty in even seeing that what you are wearing is a sleeveless dress, do you really expect him to notice subtle variations in skin color? Nonsense! It is the friends of my sex that I am apprehensive about)

Am I done with the bathroom and can I proceed to my dressing table where there is another pharmacy set up to design my face and body? Till about a week back I thought so. Not now! Apparently even my vagina has got to be the same color as the rest of my body. Now that, at least, is safe from the eyes of my friends and I can rely upon men to not be very perceptive, can’t I? One doubt bothers me, however! About the only two things men seem to take interest in are a plunging neckline and the vagina. To be sure, their interest in the latter has not, hitherto, been in looking at it but dare I take a chance? I may be willing to trade in my current boyfriend for a better model but I cannot stand for being the one who is dumped and with cause!

You do not really want to know about the saga of the dressing table or the dress decisions that come thereafter or of shopping for all these. After all this, do you really think that I even have the time to worry about balancing work and home, leave alone actually balancing them? What am I - a juggler?

I envy the previous generation. A bit of shikakai, some turmeric and soap and they were done! They never knew how easy they had it. I can, however, thank Heaven for small mercies. By the time my daughter grows up, they would have found a way to get rid of the unseemly red that mars the lips and the mouth and that disgusting pupil which is of a different color from the lovely white of the rest of the eye! It will probably take a woman two days to get ready for an outing but, then, any sacrifice is worth it to make a proper appearance in society, isn’t it? Thank God, I won’t have to make all those sacrifices! Yet!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Desi Wild Hogs

Me and my big mouth! If I had only not allowed the beer in my veins to do the talking I would not be creeping around the dark outskirts of this dhaba like a juvenile playing at James Bond. If caught, however, the consequences would be more serious than for the juvenile. Those six husky thugs inside drinking beer looked quite capable of breaking every bone in my body and I did not dislike my skeleton so much that I wanted it disassembled. For a moment, I wanted to run back to the bike that I had ridden here and drive away with my tail firmly between my legs.


“You got yourself a good bike there!” 

“Do you think those oldies will create trouble?”

“Those pathetic excuses for bikers? They must be in the next state by now. And, no police station in this area will take their complaint against me. They all know that my dad is the MP here.”

Uproarious laughter wafted out of the dhaba.

Something fizzed in my blood other than the beer – Fury! Life had taught me to swallow a lot of insults without reacting but, somehow, this insult to my biking abilities ripped through the Teflon skin that I had developed.

In a sudden flurry of motion I crawled over to the bikes parked outside the dhaba. There was Sudhir’s bike – the no-frills one – looking like a house-wife in a parade of models. That was the one I had to take away before any of those toughs in there came out.

Three hours ago the four of us had stopped at this dhaba, full of aches and pains, and downed a few beers as accompaniment for a great dinner. The dhaba owner was well into his drinking session with his five friends when we landed up but, nonetheless, whipped up a very good meal and we were feeling expansive. Sudhir was feeling more expansive than most and was bemoaning the discomfort of his bike’s seat and lauding the more ergonomic design of the other bikes we had seen outside the dhaba.

‘Arre uncle! If you dislike your bike so much why don’t we exchange bikes”, said the dhaba owner.

Before any of us could even utter a protest Sudhir said eagerly, ‘Would you?” One beer had normally been enough for him to fall all over the neck of the nearest stranger and swear bosom friendship and, thanks to an aching back, he had downed three. Had we told anything about bewaring Greeks bearing gifts, he probably would have said, “But these are not Greeks, they are Jats” and laughed immoderately.

This sextet looked menacingly strong and, before any of us could find a way to tell Sudhir not to go ahead with the deal without insulting them, Sudhir had gone ahead and taken the key of the dhaba owner's bike. "Mine are in the bike", he said exuberantly. The sextet were solicitously ushering us out to the bikes by the time Reddy found his voice and started saying, “But..how do we know that your bike is good?”

“Are you doubting our honesty?” said one of them menacingly.

“No..No..but…” stuttered Reddy.

“What do you lot of has-beens know of bikes anyway? Get lost. The deal is done.”

Before we knew it we were riding off in a hurry. Within the first fifteen minutes it was amply clear that the only good thing about Sudhir’s new acquisition was the seat! The kick-starter kicked back, the accelerator either refused to move or rotated like a fan and the brakes squealed more than they braked. After erratic progress for a few kilometers with Sudhir’s bike either stalling like a mule or jumping ahead like a war-horse we came to a halt.

“You guys just ran!” I said angrily. “There is a law in this land. We could have threatened them with the police! They would not have dared to beat us up!”

“Why don’t you go and get Sudhir’s bike back instead of making out here like Sunny Deol?” said Rajiv contemptuously.

“All right! I will”

It is quite easy to be brave and believe in the law of the land when you are safely away and shooting off your mouth with friends. On the ride back, however, all my bravado leaked away. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I would never hear the end of it from my friends if I went back. How often is a display of fear avoided only because of a greater fear?

The sight of the dark outskirts of the dhaba and six husky guys sitting inside the partitioned kitchen gave me an alternative idea. Which was how I found myself on all fours in the middle of six bikes, trying to steal back Sudhir’s bike. Thank God the keys were still in it.

But wait! If I just took the bike away and these guys found out soon they would be after us in a jiffy. Try as I might I could not see the four of us coming off victorious, or even alive, in a melee with these guys. The only thing to do was to somehow incapacitate their bikes so that they could not follow us with any speed.

With my heart in my mouth and my pulse hammering in my ears, I cut off the fuel pipes of the other five bikes. Even while near panic I could not help feeling guilty about vandalizing bikes. I may have not ridden bikes for nearly a decade before now but I still had the heart of a biker. I could contemplate injuring any of these guys with indifference. Damaging their bikes, however, seemed like harming a child and only self-preservation could have egged me on to do it.

I silently pushed Sudhir’s bike out to the road and started it and rode off with a sense of accomplishment. The things that a man can feel proud of!!

x x x x x x x x x

When I first thought up the idea of a biking trip, the last thought that would have crossed my mind was that I would some day be sneaking around and stealing bikes. I had quit my job in my late thirties because I always knew that the one thing that I did not want to do with my time was work. A lucky investment in the stock markets and a even more luckily timed exit had made it possible for me to live without working. (Yes! Some people do make money in the stock markets. Where else do you think that all the money that you lose goes?).

Now that I had time on my hands the problem was what was I to do with it? Not even an instruction manual to help me out. Getting into the habit of allowing my office to decide what I do with my time had nullified my own inventiveness and now I was at loose ends - which is when I thought of the four bikes in my garage and the three friends to whom the other three bikes belonged. Sudhir, Reddy and Rajiv were coming over tonight to celebrate my new-found freedom and I intended broaching the idea of a bike trip to them.

“When she married me, I was 21 and a BA(Economics). If I had stayed as I was I would have spend a lifetime climbing to where I am now and she would have been happy. Now that I have done my PGDM from IIM-B, she wants me higher still. Seems like she wants me to keep climbing but there is no specific place where she wants me to arrive..just keep climbing and climbing and climbing…up the corporate ladder!” moaned Reddy. His wife was a perfect example of the contrariness of human nature. She cared for him deeply while busily chipping away at his self-respect with every word she said. Add to the mix a daughter who had outgrown the Papa-can-do-no-wrong stage and was firmly seated in the Papa-can-do-nothing-right stage, you can understand how he could give the impression of an out-of-breath, perspiring climber of an endless staircase while lolling on my bed and sucking at a can of beer.

Rajiv gave a snort. Reddy reddened and turned on him. “What do you know about it? You are MD of your own company. Bhabhi is a model and too busy with her career to bother you about yours!”

Only I was privy to Rajiv’s issues. The others knew he was not totally happy but did not really know why. Being a bachelor had made me a sort of father confessor to him. His wife was a lovely and popular model and he lived in perpetual fear of losing her. He loved her to distraction and, thanks to his fear of losing her, he was perpetually dancing to her tune. Of late, apparently, her tune had become Do-this-or-I leave-you which was causing him no end of distress.

“Guys! Stop complaining! I can’t even find a woman to love me and you guys keep complaining about the women in your lives!” Our eternal romantic Sudhir! He had sold off his online business for a hefty sum and was now a consultant for e-businesses. Had the sum he realized been heftier, there would have been no dearth of women who found him romantic. He had enough to be attractive in the arranged marriage circles but he had this weird notion of marrying for love. If only his exterior had been as romantic as his heart! As it was, his pudgy frame and non-descript face created only one impulse in women – to urgently get elsewhere! I am over-stating the case here. There are men who make wedding bells ring in the minds of women. Sudhir, however, made women feel like reaching for his wrist with the nearest rakhi available.

Getting the minds of this lot off their respective woes was a chore so I did not attempt it. Instead, I pitched the bike tour as a panacea for their troubles. I waxed eloquent about how a break would give them a perspective on their issues. I talked glowingly of meeting women on the bike tour to Sudhir. I told Reddy how the tour could possibly make him take a fresh view of his life and even enthuse him into climbing the corporate ladder with gusto. I told Rajiv that the biker mystique would make him more attractive to his wife. All these marketing efforts were successful, as you well know and you also know the unexpected results that that success brought me.

x x x x x x x x x

Just as you think your problems are behind you, Fate creeps up on you and hits you with a sandbag. I had finished basking in the praise of my friends about successfully threatening the thugs into releasing Sudhir’s bike and we had proceeded further down the road for another half an hour only to find that it petered out into mud trails. In our hurry to exit the dhaba the first time we had taken the cut-off from the road. A local there told us that the only way to reach the main road was back the way we came. Past that dhaba!

We spent the night in the open. Needless to say, I was tossing and turning all night and it was not because of the cacophonous snoring of my friends. I had not had the courage to tell my friends about my thieving and vandalizing ways and I was stuck with my story. Reddy, Sudhir and Rajiv could not understand my apprehensions and were even talking airily of stopping at that dhaba for breakfast before proceeding onwards. It was the thought of these idiots deciding to stop there and the consequences of doing so that filled my night with waking nightmares. 

With great difficulty I persuaded them to not only skip breakfast at that dhaba but to put as much distance between them and us as possible. The three of them seemed to have suddenly developed indomitable courage and iron resolution and it took a lot of silver-tongued oratory to convince them of the dangers of allowing that sextet a chance to change their minds.

When in sight of the dhaba, I saw only one bike and heaved a sigh of relief. Do you know what this bunch of juvenile idiots did while we passed the dhaba. Hooted and gave the finger to those guys, that is what! The sextet came rushing out in anger. One of them tossed a half-burnt cigarette away and bent to pick up a stone. There was a whoosh and the dhaba went up in flames. The cigarette must have fallen into the pool of fuel that had drained out of the bikes. I was piling up a huge debt with these toughs and, if ever the payment fell due, I would be looking at the daisies from the roots up.

Onwards we proceeded for the next couple of hours till we reached a small town. There was a sort of motel at the outskirts and we were hungry enough to stop there for breakfast.

Ever believed in love at first sight? Neither did I, but one look at the girl at the reception and Sudhir was lost to the rest of us. The girl, of course, showed no marked signs of Cupid’s attentions. She seemed happy to see that we were bikers but there was no specific attraction for Sudhir visible. From the looks of the photographs in the reception counter she seemed to be of the owner’s family – the owner’s daughter, as it turned out - and the bike that figured prominently in all the photographs explained her preference for bikers. 

That was it! Nothing would do but to stop there for the day (and for the rest of his life the way Sudhir talked about it!). We settled in the only room that was available in the motel. As the day wore on with no sign of that sextet there was a sigh of relief for me. There were no visible signs of pursuit till we came here and I could assume that the six toughs must have given up on any thoughts of revenge. Fate must have had a hearty laugh about then.

The next day we woke up to signs of revelry in the motel. Yesterday’s matter-of-fact reception girl was all smiles when we went down and a shower of color and squirts of water along with the shout ‘Holi Hai’ explained the reason why. Being accustomed to city life, it was a novelty for your hotel owner and employees to want to take liberties with you just because it was Holi but we could not bring ourselves to object in the face of such unalloyed enthusiasm and enjoyment.

Breakfast was had in a festive mood. Sudhir’s heart-throb – Jasmit Kaur- had joined us at the table and Sudhir was giving her the full benefit of his ‘charm’ with a wary eye out for the sight of any rakhis in the neighbourhood. By the time we finished with breakfast and stepped out to stretch our legs, I was as relaxed and joyous as it is given me to be when the familiar figure of that dhaba owner on that excuse for a bike hove to on the horizon. Disaster!!

Before I could even conceive of any evasive action, he came rushing in at us and got a full squirt of colored water and a couple of handfuls of gulaal in his face. Sudhir had recognized him, of course, but the love sloshing around in him had washed away any vestiges of bad humor in him and, thus, he greeted that tough like a long-lost brother is greeted on Holi. Jasmit thought we had met another friend and joined the revelry with peals of laughter and more gulaal.

It is difficult to imagine the plight of that chap. He had thought to gain a good bike and lost a decent dhaba overnight. On top of it, the very chaps who had ‘cheated’ him of the bike and caused the loss of his dhaba were adding insult to injury by making a fool of him, with that girl laughing at him like he was some sort of a comedian.

“Just you wait”, he screamed in fury as he ascended his bike. “See if I do not get my friends along, trash this place and stamp you guys into the ground” With that he roared off. Well! With that bike it was more roar than off but he was moving away to bring disaster on all of us.

Explanation Time! I really do not want to recall the next half an hour or so. By the time I had done explaining what really happened on that night and why that sextet was bound to come hopping mad at us, the other four had heaped enough abuse on me to last the next several lifetimes. Yes! Four! Now that Jasmit had been dragged into our mess she was quite free with her abuses as well – and, if you really like hearing a virtuoso performance in abuse, you cannot beat Punjabi for it.

A distant roar of bikes heralded the arrival of disaster. As we learnt later, the other five bikes had been sent for repairs overnight. With the dhaba owner on our trail, the rest had hastened to get their bikes and started after us. What with his 'superb' bike and checking for us at every dhaba en route, it had taken him till evening to reach the village before this town where he had stayed overnight. When we were sighted and our nemesis informed them of our whereabouts they were just an hour away from where we were.

“Come! Let us run!” I said in a frenzy of fear. Rajiv and Reddy turned towards their bikes.

“No way! I am not letting Jasmit face trouble all by herself. You run if you want to” said Sudhir. However hard I looked at him I could not see a hero in him but the look in Jasmit’s eyes said, ‘My Hero!” as plainly as though he were a sixty foot cutout of Sunny Deol! Sudhir seemed to have found love at last…but that ‘at last’ seemed more likely to be ‘at the end of his life’ in a few minutes.

We could not abandon Sudhir. Reddy, Rajiv and I reluctantly turned from our bikes and faced the incoming army with resignation. Reddy’s phone rang.

“Where the hell are you? Did I not ask you to call me every day? What are you doing?” said the shrill penetrating voice of Mrs. Reddy.

“Committing suicide!” said Reddy bitterly.

“What?”

I hurriedly took the phone from her. “Bhabhi!” I started…”Shit! The phone is dead!”

Mine was dead, too, when I checked. There was no time to settle Mrs. Reddy’s apprehensions with the incoming sextet descending from their bikes and advancing menacingly upon us.

I would never have believed it of Sudhir. One moment he was standing next to me and the next he had streaked forward and planted a fist in the midriff of the first opponent. Rajiv’s phone rang.

“What is this I hear about Reddy committing suicide?” It was a day for penetrating feminine voices.

Sudhir had just managed to bounce once off the ground and, with a streak of blood on his forehead, he was back into the attack.

“Later, dear! I am kind of busy now!” I advanced into a superbly executed uppercut and did a graceful reverse somersault.

“Busy? Talk to me now or I will leave you”

Reddy was clinging like a limpet to one of them when another guy plucked him effortlessly off and flung him into the trash can.

“Get off the phone or I will leave you..” a fist knocked off the phone, “for the next world!”

After that the melee was a kaleidoscope of movement. Sudhir was getting dribbled like a basket-ball; Reddy was figuring centrally in a vigorous foot-ball match while Rajiv and I were alternatively featuring as the ball and ninepins – sometimes I was the ball that knocked Rajiv down, sometimes he was! In the midst of all this vigorous athletic activity roared in a magnificent sardar astride a magnificent bike and a stentorian voice called out, ‘Stop this right now!”

Such was the command in the voice that all activity ceased on the instant. Believe it or not, Sudhir and I froze midway through falling to the ground and continued the action only after a second!

“Karnail Singh Sahib!” said the sextet in one over-awed voice! From the cacophony of adulatory voices I gleaned that the Sardar was not only the father of Jasmit but also the founder of the biking club to which our sextet of toughs belonged.

Karnail Singh had also managed somehow to get the gist of all the happenings.

“Boys! What is the first rule of our biking club?” he asked censoriously.

The sextet of toughs looked like shame-faced schoolboys and one muttered, “All bikers are my brethren”.

“You are bikers only if you can take joy in biking and spread it around. Behaving like hooligans only makes you a rowdy riding a bike and not a biker. I am ashamed to think of you as belonging to my club!”

“But…they damaged our bikes.”

“Your bikes seem quite all right now! Come, shake hands and be friends!”

If someone had ever told me that I would do something as corny as shaking hands with the guy who was using me for a punching bag, I would have called him a fool to end all fools. But here I was, holding my hand out sheepishly and wincing with the strength of the grip of the other guy!

Believe me or not, in the three days that it took for Mrs. Reddy and Mrs. Rajiv to land up here we were thick friends with the sextet. The dhaba owner had his reservations, of course, since his was the major loss but the others were quite decent lads.

Mrs. Reddy came all tears and contrition. “I never thought you would do this. I knew you were hurting but I couldn’t help myself. I won’t talk down to you again. You, too, promise me that you will never contemplate suicide again!”

“But I never..” started Reddy and gulped down the rest of his words in the face of the 10000 KW glare from the rest of us! Here was his chance at a peaceful home life and he was well on his way to fluffing it by saying that he never contemplated suicide.

Mrs.Rajiv had her own litany. ‘At last! For once you treated me as a person. Up to now it seemed to me that I was an object of desire, which should not be lost at any cost. When you said you would leave me…that was the first time you ever said anything that meant that you considered me as a person to be liked or disliked”

‘But, darling! You don’t understand exactly how..”

Another 10000 KW glare! Electricity was certainly in the air that day. I know it seems traitorous to my sex but men can really be such fools!

“You love me, darling?”, said Rajiv, recovering from his folly.

“Of course, you idiot! Why do you think I stayed with you…for lack of choice?”

There was an interregnum of inchoate noises that need no explanation.

“Rajiv! There are other ways than anger to show that you consider me as a person”. There was a hint of steel in her voice. “I am not exchanging the position of trophy wife for that of a door-mat”.

Looked like it was not going to be entirely a bed of roses for Rajiv!

The biker crowd was happily planning Sudhir and Jasmit’s wedding. It seemed to me that Karnail Singh was not entirely happy with the idea – going by the disbelieving look in his face every time he looked at Sudhir – but Jasmit proved to have a will of steel, especially when it came to her father.

One unhappy voice intruded in all this festivity. “What will I do? My dhaba is gone and I have nothing to live on.”

That is when I had my brightest idea. Here I was, wondering about what to do with my time and here was this guy situated off a main road and a grand cook too. Sitting on the road, watching traffic, meeting the odd customer, going on bike rides and visiting the city every now and then seemed like a very attractive proposition.

“Listen! I will go partners with you. I will finance a small motel at your location!” I said. My erstwhile nemesis was so grateful to me that he almost drowned me in his tears of joy.

Having arranged happy endings for every one I leant back satisfied. The only fly in the ointment for me was that, when I proposed living so far from Delhi, there was a noise suspiciously like a sigh of relief from three sets of feminine nostrils! Women! I will never understand them!

Disclaimer: A fellow-blogger challenged me to write a desi version of the movie 'Wild Hogs' for the Castrol contest. I hope there are enough similarities in story-line to satisfy him, enough differences and enough biking to satisfy the contest requirement of an original biking story!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hemophilia Care in developing countries – A speech

This is a speech given by my sister about the problems of hemophilia care in the developing world. My only claim to post it is that I helped a bit in drafting it

The most incredibly brave people I have met in my life are the persons with hemophilia I met in India while working for Hemophilia Federation (India).

Imagine 
· a life with the certainty of periodic painful incapacitation;
· a life with a significant probability of becoming permanently disabled;
· a life where the possibility of being infected by Hepatitis or HIV was high considering the need for repeated blood transfusions or contaminated factor usage and
· a life which could be cut short any time because of Hemophilia.

Being required to lead such a life and managing to lead productive and cheerful lives is an impressive demonstration of courage.

My first direct exposure to the bravery required of a person with hemophilia was when Ashok Verma, the founder of HFI injured his one remaining leg in a car accident. The major bleed in that leg left him confined to bed for 3 months. Staying with him for that period to help him out was an eye-opener to the small and large indignities and problems that persons with hemophilia undergo periodically. Needing help every time you need to go to the restroom in a concrete house designed with no concept of disabled-friendliness is refined torture. If Ashok, who was relatively well-off, could not manage any better the majority of the person with hemophilia in India must have been in dire straits. Laurie’s photographs would have shown you a glimpse of what those persons with hemophilia in the developing countries go through.

The requirement of extra-ordinary bravery to live with hemophilia is higher in developing countries like India. Ashok, himself, lost his leg in the eighties thanks to the fact that there was no appropriate treatment then for a person with hemophilia with a fractured leg. By the time he was referred to leading hematologist Dr. Manucci there was no option left but to amputate the leg. Thanks to Dr. Manucci’s encouragement and persistence, Ashok was enthused to set up HFI. It is largely thanks to HFI and its 65 associated societies that incidents like Ashok’s loss of his leg have reduced, at least in Indian cities.

Reduced, yes, but not entirely eliminated. Factor availability in India is still not sufficient to ensure availability for prophylactic usage for all known persons with hemophilia. Thus, unlike in the developed world, factor usage is largely done only when there is a bleed. Even though the government and HFI have ensured that factors are available at a fraction of the cost in the developed world, the cost of factors is still prohibitively high for most pwhs. This, in effect, means that even now bleeds are treated by some pwhs with ice and rest. Thus, one cannot entirely rule out the possibility of children getting crippled due to lack of adequate availability of factors, when timely usage could have enabled them to lead a healthier life.

The factors in use in India are, by and large, human factors. Thus, the attendant risk of contaminated blood products leading to unknown infections continues to exist. Availability of safer recombinant factors is next to non-existent, unlike in the case of the developed world. It is not sufficient to make these factors available. It is also necessary to make them affordable to ensure that they gain wider usage.

There is a bigger problem with regard to identification of persons with hemophilia. The known persons with hemophilia in India number about 15,000 whereas, going by the population of India, one should have expected a population of about 100,000 pwhs. If known persons with hemophilia still face more risks in their day-to-day life, the problems of the unidentified persons with hemophilia are bound to be multi-fold.

I still remember one of my early incidents at HFI. A six month old baby had fallen off his bed in Bhopal and gone into a coma. Since he was continuously bleeding he was put on a shunt. The family transferred him to a major hospital in Delhi, where the doctors were intending to operate on him. Luckily a pediatrician known to the family suspected hemophilia and sent the father to us. The baby survived thanks to factor treatment. Chance had favored this little one but I shudder to think of the various other cases where there was no coincidental pediatrician to advise the family.

Identification of all possible Pwhs is another area where the developing world lags behind the developed world. A further issue is the lack of knowledge about hemophilia amongst doctors, which is a contributory reason for the lack of identification of hemophilia in patients. God knows how many lives have been lost and how many children crippled simply because of the lack of this information!

Support groups in India have their hands full in ensuring that factors are made available as inexpensively as possible as well as in ensuring the spread of awareness about hemophilia. In fact, despite unrelenting efforts by support groups it has not been possible to ensure that hemophilia care centers are available within a reasonable distance for every pwh. This, in effect, means that pwhs, particularly in rural areas, have to travel sometimes for days before reaching the nearest care center. Thus, it is understandable that these support groups do not have enough time or resources to safeguard the rights of pwhs by

· lobbying for improved care and quality of treatment
· support with their employers and the rest of Society.

The pwhs of the developed world are much better off in this regard.

A pwh in the family can actually set back the entire finances of the family and reduce them to poverty even with all the help that support groups can extend. This is an area where Save One Life plays a major part. Save One Life tries to ensure that the daily needs of the pwh are met, without cost to the family, and also that the pwh is enabled to lead a productive life.

To illustrate the sort of work SOL is doing one can take the case of the boy from Pune, who could now go to college thanks to SOL. When I met the father, he was so grateful for the sponsorship that made it possible for his son to become a productive member of society. It was embarrassing for me to be so effusively thanked for contributing what amounts to lunch money here but which had so totally changed life for a young boy in India.

Sometimes the impact of our sponsorship is even more heart-warming. There was this boy in a slum who had lost his father. He was unable to walk and had to be carried around by his mother, who also had to earn money to sustain the family. A couple of years after sponsoring this child I had the opportunity to meet this boy again. Surgery, sponsored by the local chapter, and physiotherapy, sponsored by SOL, had enabled him to move around on crutches. The smile on his face as he almost ran to meet us will stay in my mind forever.

The biggest frustration for us in SOL is the fact that we do not have the resources to help out every deserving case that comes to our attention. To know how life-changing a minor financial infusion can be to the concerned person and family and to have to turn them down due to lack of resources is one of the most depressing things that happen to us.

Much needs to be done to narrow the gap in the lot of pwhs in the developing world vis-à-vis the developed world. Some of the more crucial things that need attention are

· Training for the medical fraternity for identification, treatment and improved care.
· Making anti hemophilic factors available that are affordable and sometimes free of cost.
· Sponsoring persons with hemophilia to help those lead productive lives.

In the normal course one would expect the government of the concerned country to play a major part in doing what needs to be done. Developing countries, however, have multitudinous calls on their limited finances. Thus, neither the government nor local support groups can do all that is necessary to bridge the gap between the lot of pwhs in the developing world and the developed world. What has, hitherto, been done would not have been possible without support from the international fraternity. Such support in the areas outlined earlier would be necessary to enable pwhs in the developing world to lead a life of dignity that their courage gives them the right to lead.

Hemophilia – The Bleeding Disorder

I had first learnt of Hemophilia as the Royal disease. Apparently, it was more commonly known among European Royalty probably originating from Queen Victoria. The first references I had were about the undue influence that the monk Rasputin had acquired over the Russian Royals because he was able to mitigate the effects of Hemophilia in the young Russian Prince. The way he used his influence was supposed to be one of the major contributory factors for the Russian Revolution in 1917.

Hemophilia would have remained another of the esoteric facts, that I seem to have accumulated over a lifetime of reading, but for the fact that my sister was employed by Hemophilia Federation of India (HFI) in Delhi. Thanks to her association I met with various hemophiliacs and had reason to understand the handicaps under which they live and the courage with which they lead their lives.

Among the various things that we take for granted about our bodies is the fact that, when there is a minor to moderate bleed – external or internal, the blood clots and stops the bleed. Well! It doesn’t for hemophiliacs or, at least, not so efficiently if their affliction is mild. The process of clotting involves the formation of a platelet plug at the point of the bleed, which is then held in place by a fibrin layer. This fibrin layer has to be formed by a series of reactions involving various coagulation factors. In Hemophiliacs, the blood is deficient in one or the other of these factors – commonly factor VIII or IX. Thus, the platelet plug does form but the fibrin layer either does not or forms far more slowly than in a normal person. Small cuts like shaving cuts do not pose much of a problem because the platelet plug suffices but any more serious bleed leads to severe blood loss.

What causes Hemophilia? The origins are genetic. Some ‘X’ chromosomes, apparently, carry a defective gene leading to low production or lack of production of the requisite blood coagulation factors. Women have two ‘X’ Chromosomes and, if one of them is normal, the woman will not be a hemophiliac. For a woman to be a hemophiliac, therefore, it is necessary for her father to be a hemophiliac and her mother to carry a hemophilia gene, thus making it possible for a fifty percent chance of the daughter to be a hemophiliac. Men have one ‘X’ and one ‘Y’ chromosome and the ‘Y’ chromosome, being shorter than the ‘X’ chromosome, does not carry any corresponding gene to mask the effects of the gene in the ‘X’ chromosome. Thus, it is sufficient that the mother carries the hemophilia gene for the son has a fifty percent probability of being a hemophiliac. Comes to genetics, women seem to be the stronger sex!

There is no permanent cure for Hemophilia, yet. The only way of treatment is transfusion of the appropriate blood factors when necessary. If diagnosed and treated appropriately Hemophiliacs can lead long and productive lives. The issue, however, is appropriate diagnosis and treatment. With the sort of knowledge available, hemophiliacs have even gone undiagnosed. Horror stories abound of doctors performing surgery without arranging to infuse the requisite factors and thereby killing their patients – sometimes, even when they are advised of the issue. (The Am-I-the-doctor-or-are-you syndrome!)

The sort of problems that lack of diagnosis of hemophilia can create has to be seen to be believed. Untreated internal bleeds in the joints can disfigure them and cause the person to need crutches for the rest of his life. Periodic bleeding incidents – sometimes caused by trauma and sometimes spontaneous in severe hemophiliacs – incapacitates them to the extent that they may need help for all the necessary movements of life. The founder of HFI – Ashok Verma - had lost a leg due to bleeding and it was amazing how much energy and enthusiasm he brought into his work for the benefit of Hemophiliacs when it would have been so easy to sink into self-pity and a fear of losing his other leg! Indeed, the people whom I had reason to meet were all volunteers working for the cause of Hemophilia care – most of them Hemophiliacs with various degrees of disability – and their selflessness and love for life was a revelation to me.

Hemophiliacs suffer from other problems as well. As is the case with most people requiring blood or blood product transfusions, there is always a risk of contracting Hepatitis/HIV. For me, this is not merely a datum since I have met a couple of young hemophiliacs, who were later cut down in their prime, due to HIV contracted by infusion of infected blood.

Meeting people who can live lives in good cheer, show compassion and sympathy to others and make the most of their opportunities while living under the shadow of death/disfigurement is an ennobling experience. The tragedy is that they do live under the shadow of death/disfigurement only because of lack of proper diagnosis and treatment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The mysteries of Interviewing

HR moves in mysterious ways its wonders to perform! Especially when it comes to recruitments, the ways of the Human Resources guys is mysterious indeed. I still remember, in my day, being tested for personality on what these guys called the 16-PF (16 Personality factors) test. One of the various mysterious questions was one involving a choice of which game I liked – Bowling, Croquet, Baseball or Skating (or some such mysterious choices). Having played none of the above (and ‘none of the above’ was not an option!) I could not see how my choice would indicate anything about my personality. Maybe I did not quite understand their esoteric field. Maybe it involved predictions on the lines of Tarot, where you choose cards of which you know nothing.

The IAS was, in my youth, the Holy Grail of almost all wannabe employees. Abilities required of a potential IAS aspirant had acquired mythic proportions. One of the anecdotal interviews (maybe real as well) went something like this:

“How many steps did you climb up to come to this room?”

“As many as I will climb down, Sir!”

Wow! Presence of Mind! That is how it was told to me. For me, however, any potential IAS aspirant created an instant mental image of a person obsessively interested in counting steps on any staircase!

I could really not see where the presence of mind to obscure the absence of knowledge can become an over-riding requirement for a job – any job! Except, of course, if your job consisted exclusively of being interviewed by the likes of Karan Thapar! I can never forget his interview with Sheila Dixit about road accidents in Delhi. Ms.Dixit was making the point that, though helter-skelter traffic in Delhi was the cause of accidents, pedestrians were also contributing to the problem by not adhering to traffic rules. Thapar says, “So you mean that the pedestrians are responsible for their own deaths!” With journalists like this you really do not need rabble-rousers!

That interview put me off TV interviews totally and, thus, I missed an episode that I would have loved to watch (and did watch later on youtube). Thapar was interviewing Jayalalitha. Thapar’s idea of interviewing seemed to consist of not allowing his interviewee to complete a single sentence! Jayalalitha, of course, is well-known for her patience! She just stormed out after saying something like she thought she was to be interviewed and not to merely feed lines to Thapar on some sort of televised stand-up comedy show. If he merely wanted an audience for the sound of his own voice, she had better things to do than sit around his studio listening to his asinine ideas. (I have liberally paraphrased what she actually said). One day when I felt like cheering her with gusto!

Where was I? Ah! Interviews for education and jobs, wasn’t it? However did I get onto TV interviews? I digress too readily!

I was being interviewed for a seat in IIM-A. Out pops this question, “Can you name all the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra since Independence?” Was this man for real? Did he really think that I memorized the CMs of all states in India for light relief between studying Fluid Dynamics and Thermodynamics? Did he want me to grovel and claim, ‘I am sorry that I failed to realize the importance of knowing the name of the 1960 CM of Maharashtra in managing the funds of HLL today?” Did he expect the IAS style smart-alec answer? The first answer that sprung to my mind was “Fools can ask questions that the wisest men cannot answer” but, somehow, I felt doubtful that he would jump up in joy upon hearing it. The second one was “Do you know them?” – with or without a ‘Sir’ at the end of it – but that, too, did not seem like an iron-clad guarantee of a seat in IIM-A. The one that I chose was “I do not know all the CMs of my home state, so how can I be expected to know all the CMs of Maharashtra?”. Wrong call! Admitting to more ignorance than the question called for was not the wisest of moves.

I have been given to understand that such questions are asked to see how confidently the candidate admits his ignorance. I fail to see the logic of this idea. I would have thought that the purpose of an interview would be to see what a person knows and how confidently he is able to articulate what he does know. I am very confident about the fact that I do not know something when I am ignorant! It is when I think I know something that I have a lack of confidence! If I knew that saying ‘I don’t know’ with confidence was all that was required of me, I would have spent my time standing in front of the mirror, looking at myself in the eye and practicing to say ‘I don’t know’ instead of wasting time on memorizing the capital of Timbuctoo and other such esoteric pieces of information! (I have a suggestion for Interviewers. If all you want to test is this, why don’t you just ask ‘Which came first – the chicken or the egg?’ rather than elaborately inventing questions that the candidate cannot be expected to answer? Fear of coaching classes, I suppose!)

Let me turn to the one interview where I was successful. This was the interview that got me the seat in IIM-B.

“Ah! So you are Suresh!”

“Yes Sir!”

To the best of my knowledge and belief that was the only question that I answered in the whole interview. My unwavering confidence in saying ‘I don’t know’ to all the other questions must have so impressed the interviewers that I got admitted!

Monday, April 16, 2012

The theory of Maya: Is it all Illusion?

The problem with understanding Hindu philosophy is that the Sanskrit terms do not lend themselves to ready translation. The most common translation of Maya has been Illusion. Consequently, a lot of ridicule has been heaped on this theory since scientific experiments are considered to have proved the reality of what we perceive around us.

Four blind men encounter an elephant for the first time. One feels the tail and says, ‘I know what an elephant is! It is a rope’. Another feels the leg and says, “No! It is a pillar’. A third feels the body and says, “It is a wall” and the fourth feels the trunk and says “It is a snake!”

The reality, of course, is that the elephant is none of the above, which is not a denial of perceptions of the people concerned. Maya is what causes the difference between reality as it is and reality as it is perceived. Thus, Maya actually talks about the limitations of your perception and your inability to perceive reality truly.

The fact remains that human beings are capable of seeing and thinking only in three dimensions, incapable of imagining infinity and cannot understand most things except through the language of mathematics. Can you think of a number that is neither positive nor negative? We know that any number multiplied by itself can only yield a positive number. Yet we use the concept of the square root of -1, call these numbers imaginary numbers and use them in a bid to understand the universe! In more mundane terms, we cannot hear what a dog can hear or see the world as an owl would see it. The reality of the everyday world with perceptions enhanced would probably be much different from the way we perceive it.

Most of what science has discovered about the universe and yourself are not readily perceived by you. For example, babies are supposed to be about 75% water but the fact that you cannot pour your baby into a jar and carry her while traveling does not make you disbelieve that assertion. The biologist talks of a body made of multiple cells but we cannot perceive it directly except through the help of instruments. The physicist sees in everything atoms and sub-atomic particles and atoms are composed mostly of empty spaces. The fact that the wall in front of you is mostly empty space according to physics does not make it possible for you to walk through it. (Please do not try – unless you are a ghost!)

According to Einstein all mass is but concentrated energy. Thus, there is an essential oneness in the universe (leaving aside minor irritants like variations in the amplitude and frequency of energy waves which differentiates color in visible light etc.). We, certainly, do not see the person in front of us as concentrated gamma rays or some such thing and, yet, we do not disbelieve Einstein either!

If anything in Hindu philosophy is completely proven (and, possibly, endorsed by other schools of philosophy) it is the limitations of perception. Thus, the one singular truth should be the Mayavada. Advaita asserts that it is possible for the person to pierce the veil of Maya i.e achieve perfect perception. That may be open to question.

The nature of true reality, which is obscured by Maya, is also a matter of speculation. Whether true reality is as prescribed by one of the Vedantic philosophies or of one of the other schools of thought prevalent in the world is also open to question.

The one absolute truth is that Maya is not (an) Illusion!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Sick of Motion

Do you have a headache? You can expect your friends clustering around you offering an instant pharmacy of help. A cold? Sympathy and varieties of home remedies all round will be on offer, unless you choose to sneeze in someone’s face! Fever, body aches, wounds? Everyone is so solicitous of your welfare. What is it about motion sickness, then, that gets you the horse’s laugh when you only claim having it or the averted face and wrinkled nose when you demonstrate that you do have it?

Imagine your head spinning so fast that you feel the need to hold on to it to check whether it is still moored to the neck. Imagine your stomach churning vigorously and knowing that what will come up will not be butter. Imagine all the food that you gorged on wanting to make the journey back up your gullet, when you have a strong suspicion that it will not taste as good when coming up as it did when it went down. Is this misery any less than your headaches, fevers or pains that you will merrily hand over a barf bag and make fool comments about morning sickness and pregnancy merely because my stomach doesn’t have a starved look?

About those barf bags! Every time you put your face close to it to spew out the remnants of your morning upma you inhale the invigorating scent of what your previous morsel has been turned into by the action of your stomach. The smell has something of an Axe effect – only what it brings a-running is not a bevy of scantily clad beauteous damsels but the rest of whatever is there in the stomach. If anyone also thought that carrying it around like a trophy bag made one feel proud, they need their heads examined.

I am not unreasonable. I can even understand your quaint dislike to having the remains of my breakfast dumped in your lap, after being processed by my digestive enzymes. What I fail to understand is why you have to be so facetious and unsympathetic to my problems. Instead of saying ‘There! There! I know how difficult it must be for you”, you say, “If you will vomit, what can you expect?” as though I chose to be motion-sick after a careful assessment of all available choices.

And, then, there are the conversationalists! Just as you are feeling like a well-shaken champagne bottle desperately holding on to the cork, there is always someone who will ask you how you are feeling and feel wounded if you do not reply. As though they do not understand that you are not sure about whether you would spew out words or vomit when you open your mouth. (Not much difference, did you say? Go read another blog, bro, I am not talking to you!)

One has to look on the positive side of anything! Motion sickness does get me the window seat in the front of any vehicle I travel by when in a group. Fear is a great motivator and nobody wants to take the chance of having me bathe them in odorous liquid while on a trip. If your neighbor in the vehicle is crowding you too much a mild retching noise is sufficient to get you all the space in the world! There is always a silver lining in any cloud but no one has, as yet, assured me that the cloud is worth having merely because it has a silver lining!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Karma Yoga: Being ‘In the Zone’ always

The racquet seems like an extension of his hand. The opponent seems to be playing exactly the way he wants him to play. The shots he selects are the best possible shots for the situation. The ball seems to travel exactly where he wants to put it. For that period he can do no wrong and the entire game is totally under his control.

A tennis player calls this being ‘In the Zone’. For the period for which he is in the zone he is the game, he is the player, he is the racquet and he is the ball.

While he is in the zone, is he excited about being so close to a championship victory? Is he mentally spending the money that the victory will gain him? Is he, maybe, thinking of how his coach and cohorts will laud him or how his girl friend will reward him at night? Or, maybe, he is thinking of winning the Grand slam this year?

Perhaps he is afraid of losing that lucrative sponsorship deal if he loses the match? Afraid that his uber-cool girlfriend would leave him if he lost? Angry at the opponent for putting it across him in the Australian open and wanting revenge? Afraid of how the Press would write him off as a has-been with one more defeat?

Yeah! Right! The correct answer, as you have guessed it, is none of the above. At least when the player is ‘in the zone’ none of these thoughts can cross his mind. Whether playing the game without a thought for consequences is a sufficient condition for entering that state of mind called ‘being in the zone’, I do not know, but it certainly is a necessary condition.

Whatever game! Anything you do if you can do it without a thought for the consequences, at least for as long as you are doing it, it improves the possibility of entering the zone. Believe me, the times when you are operating in the zone gives you an ineffable pleasure quite apart from what you can materially get out of doing it. This, probably, is what was meant when they said, ‘Work is its own reward’. (Not the ‘if you do good work you will be rewarded with more work’, which is the common interpretation in corporate life).

Karma Yoga talks of work with detachment. Work, as in the definition of Karma Yoga, is whatever you say or do every moment of your life and not merely the time for which you punch the clock. Whatever life throws your way to be, to say or to do should be carried out without any expectations or fears of consequences. If you can detach yourself from hopes and fears, I believe that you can be perpetually ‘in the zone’! Thus, a tennis player who is ‘in the zone’ is, for that period, a Karma Yogi.

To be a Karma Yogi 24x7 is not given to us mortals. What we can strive to achieve is to increase the possibility of taking joy from work i.e of being in the zone. Firstly, it is best to choose an area of work where you do have interest if not passion. Secondly, even if consequences do matter, the work should also matter. Thirdly, while doing the job take pride in doing a good job regardless of whether the incremental efforts will lead to commensurate material rewards.

To exemplify it, let me take the community of bloggers. When you choose to write what you have a passion to write and not what you think will get you the most footfalls; when writing for a competition, you take up the subject and write what you feel about the subject and don’t try to write what you think the sponsor would most like and, while you are writing, you are lost in the act of writing and not in thoughts of the prizes you are more likely to be ‘in the zone’!

The biggest problem that comes in the way of people doing their best even in their own chosen area of work is that they feel a better job redounds to the benefit of the employer, who will take the benefits without so much as a ‘Thank you’! If that be the case, my only advice is ‘Screw the Employer, don’t screw up your work!’ Shoddy work does not give one a sense of self-worth and a lack of self-worth spoils everything in life.

Being a Karma Yogi 24x7 would be ideal. Even traveling the path to the ideal is rewarding. Material rewards, as well, for obviously you do a good job when you are ‘in the zone’ and you cannot keep a good man down, can you?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

College Vignettes

“This is the last time I will allow you to come late to class. The next time you come late, the only acceptable excuse is a lady on your arm’

That was my English professor at the Madras Christian College in 1980. This was a time when you had been taught to believe that talking to an unrelated woman was a sin second only to the heinous one of failing in exams. Having had that lesson dinned into you ever since you realized why girls are not boys and having not yet reached the state of deciding that even hell was worth getting together with a woman, it was like a breath of fresh air to hear an adult actually encouraging you to get along with the opposite sex!

“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. If you like a man, take him around to the college canteen, get him a cup of coffee and look into his eyes. No response? Take him to the local hotel, get him a masala dosa and look into his eyes. Still no response? Take him to a Chinese restaurant, heap noodles before him and look into his eyes. After the first forkful he will look around the noodles and say, ‘I love you’. After the second forkful he will look around the noodles and say, ‘I love noodles better’!

The same Prof.! Does it strike you that he was more of a ‘Ask Aunt Sally’ than an English professor? Let me hasten to add that he was very good at teaching Shakespeare as well but the Immortal Bard made less of an impression than his advice to the lovelorn.

“Women dress up so that they can be admired by men. Distressing a woman is a heinous sin. (‘Pen Paavam Polladhadhu’ in Tamil is pithier) So, men, never fail to admire a woman’

This was the Tamil Professor at MCC. Advice that most men take to heart but apply, as women will testify, only to all women other than their respective spouses. By the way, what is it that makes the language professors more romantic in conversation? Is it that they read poets who, when they take a breather from Nature, concentrate on the female form divine? A chemistry prof. could work in romance by alluding to endorphins and the biology prof. has endless opportunities but I am yet to hear of either featuring prominently in the list of romantic conversationalists!

My all too brief sojourn at MCC ended with my getting admission in Chemical Engineering. The only funny thing I learnt there (other than the fact that someone actually considered that I would make an engineer!) was the definition of a Chemical Engineer – ‘he who knows neither chemistry nor engineering!’. I do not know how seriously that was intended but all my life I have tried to be a true chemical engineer, as per that definition.

My days at IIM-Bangalore are a blur and it appears as though I sleep-walked through the whole course. My only stand-out memory of those days is standing in a long queue for food in the hostel mess and dolefully misquoting Robert Frost

‘And miles to go before I eat
And miles to go before I eat’

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Do you have the courage to face going slowly blind?

Tunnel Vision! The first time I heard of it as a physical ailment was in one of my early day at IFFCO. There was this young chap, working in the Library, who had come over to our section and the other guys were talking to him in a concerned manner. Naturally curious, I overheard the conversation.

This librarian was, apparently, afflicted with Tunnel Vision. What was worse, his ailment was such that the doctors had told him that he would progressively lose his vision till he became completely blind. (Retinitis Pigmentosa, is the term, I think!). It was apparently a congenital condition and there was no known cure for it though some courses of treatment could retard the progress of the problem.

The chap was describing his issue in such a matter-of-fact manner and outlining the stages that he would go through progressively that I was thunder-struck. Apparently his night vision was close to nil and he had lost nearly all his peripheral vision as well. How could any human being discuss the possibility of slowly losing his vision entirely without a trace of self pity?

God knows what slough of despond he must have passed through from the first time he was informed about his condition to the time he made peace with the idea. How he must have railed against a destiny that had completely destroyed all the hopes and certainties of his life and replaced it with a long uphill climb to achieve any semblance of normalcy in his life? How he must have tried to take his mind of the issue – watch TV, read a book, look on the beauties of nature, whatever – only to be reminded of the fact that all these things would become impossible for him soon? How every single simple act in day-to-day life must have reminded him of the fact that each of them would require either help from others or arduous retraining of his faculties to carry out? How he must have hoped against hope that there would be some remission and that someone would find a cure soon?

It is not like we have a society that is particularly empathetic to people with problems. Oh! We all learn to say ‘visually challenged’ instead of ‘blind’ and feel quite virtuous about it. Say ‘visually challenged’ with as much contempt as you used to say ‘blind’ and I really cannot see much difference. A society so full of people with so little a sense of self-worth that the only thing they can feel proud about is the fact that their eyes are functioning when the others’ isn’t - and feel the need to express it by being patronizing to or contemptuous about the person with the problem.

I have no idea from what deep well of courage he drew to get over that abyss of gloom and achieve such serenity in his life. I tried to put myself in his place and I could not find it in me to say that I would have had the courage to have all physical, financial and social security destroyed and still continue to retain hope in life. It takes incredible courage to face up to something as devastating as this and still find some stability in your soul. I wish I could say that I have it. This man – a ‘lowly’ librarian – towers over me in the sort of courage that he evinced and I can only salute that courage without really hoping to emulate it.

On the day I heard him my instant reaction was, “And I think I have problems?” Sometimes it seems to me that it is we who have Tunnel Vision!