Friday, April 28, 2017

X for X-mas

As a kid, I had a silly fascination for Christmas. There were all things right about it - twinkling stars, red and white costumes, cakes and chocolates. Conveniently for my parents, I was not gullible enough to believe in Santa Claus. Every year, I would want to celebrate Christmas, which really didn't mean anything more than installing a star outside our house. But, there was considerable effort involved in that as dad had to get a special bulb for it, fix the wiring and then tie the star out on the porch. Every evening, I would switch on the light religiously at 6 pm and admire the star against different backgrounds of the evening ranging from twilight to night, before retiring to bed, my contribution to Christmas celebration complete. Mom had the more difficult job of explaining to people why a TamBrahm family had a star hanging outside the front door, giving company to the mango leaves thoran atop the door. She did manage the situation with elan, offering a simple explanation - "Because Kavitha likes it". 

After New Year, the star and the bulb would be brought down and carefully packed, rendered to safe custody till next Christmas. Oh, wait, wait. The bulb would have another use in the September-October season. Do you remember that doll festival I spoke about here? The bulb would be installed to give company to the dolls as night lamp (yeah, the dolls sleep better with a night lamp on) during the Navratri celebrations. Quite a secular bulb, that one. 

I didn't just have a fascination for Christmas but I liked going to the Church as well in those days. My parents contributed their bit by worshipping at the Church and the Mosque as well along with the zillion temples already on their list. Perhaps, they believed that appeasing all gods was a smarter way to keep the family safe and happy than being partial to one or one set of Gods. Looking back, I can attribute my love for the Church only to the fact that it was clean and silent, unlike many of the temples I was subjected to. I had no view on the religion itself, but I had a couple of large pictures of Mother Mary and Jesus hanging in my room because they looked beautiful.

I did of course harbour the idea of a Christmas tree at home, but that was shot down with the "Don't push it too much" look from my mother. A few years back, I ended up traveling to Australia during Christmas and had my fill of photographs with big, small, wide, narrow and all-kinds-of Christmas trees as backdrop, to satiate my forever dream of a Christmas tree. But, the travel also left me with a lesson learnt hard: Don't travel to Australia during Christmas. Almost all restaurants, cafes and eateries are shut from Christmas to New Year, as the people who run those places take off to celebrate the holidays.

P. S. This post is the twenty fourth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

W for Words

Potent like poison,
Can bite, seep through, make a mark, spread like wild fire.

Empty like air,
Can swoosh through people without so much as a tremor.

When used right,
Convince, confuse, jolt entire worlds.

When used as fillers,
Get ignored like the ad in a YouTube video.

Action following them,
Are difficult to combat, let alone ignore.

All words and no actions,
Are difficult to digest, let alone revel in.

Words, words,
Short, long, simple, complex,
Meaningful, nonsensical, deep, shallow,
Not just a bunch of letters but
A whole load of emotions and attitudes.

P. S. This post is the twenty third in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

V for Views

I am a sucker for interesting views of cities and towns I visit. From atop observatories and castles and hills, cities look like lego sets, with toy houses, little specks of people and moving wagons in the backdrop of sun and the clouds. From other places, it is fascinating to catch the fast pace of the city, from ferries and trains and coastlines.

These are some of my favourites:

Prague: A quaint little town with red rooftops and a greenish castle amidst it from atop Petrin hill's observatory tower

Sydney: The view from inside the Sydney Opera House onto the Bay

Ljubljana: A quaint little village, idyllic in every sense of the word, as viewed from the Predjama castle

Hong Kong: New Year's Eve, from the Star Ferry, onto Hong Kong CBD

Bosnia and Herzegovina: While traveling by bus from Split to Dubrovnik in Croatia, the roads pass through a small patch of Bosnia in between (with passport check points included)

Dubai: The very famed musical fountain inside the Dubai Mall, where one can lose many hours without spending any money

Macau: A busy street filled with holiday shoppers on New Year's

Udaipur: The entire City Palace, as viewed from Lake Pichola

Mumbai: My most fav, Mumbai during monsoons

Mumbai: Gateway of India, viewed from the top floors of the Taj Mahal hotel

P. S. This post is the twenty second in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

U for Useless

I am a great fit for Bombay. I have major OCD that extends beyond just arranging things in order and putting 'em in their place. I hate clutter, am always on the lookout for throwing away items that are not useful. V is the polar opposite. He can never really make up his mind about whether to keep or discard anything, which means we have piles and piles of stuff that may-potentially-be-partially-perhaps-useful some day, things I think should walk out on their own into the garbage bin across the road right this minute. 

We had an incident once that made me realise how real the struggle is. This was Prague in 2015. We had trekked too much (by my standards) up a smallish hill and the sole of one of my shoes gave away. We managed to come down, hunt up a shoe shop before closing time (do you know they start closing at 8pm :O) and found a brilliant pair as replacement. I immediately wore the replacement, packed the old ones into the new box and tossed the box into the garbage bin nearby. V was flabbergasted. "How could you throw it away?" he asked me, as if I had thrown away an autograph from A R Rahman and not a worn out pair of shoes which it would make little sense to transport all the way back from Prague to India only to... throw it out. I tell you, between us, the struggle is real.

Anyway, despite my OCD and occasional arm twisting of V (figuratively), I still end up with a lot of the following. Hence, my life has become one long decluttering exercise.
  • Papers - Bills, credit card receipts, toll bills, the works. Half the reason these stay is because I have conserved my consulting mentality in the hope that someone is going to reimburse these bills some day. The other half is because V keeps them in his wallet and keeps the wallet out of my sight. You may ask why something in his wallet bothers me. Just that, sometimes (most times), his wallet bulges so much that he stuffs them in his jeans pocket, puts the said pair of jeans to wash, and makes sure all my clothes come out glittering in damp credit card receipt paper. 
  • Old apparel - Worn out shoes, dresses that have become too small are all stashed away in the far corner of the many lofts in this house in the hope that... in the hope that what?!
  • E-commerce boxes - This one is my contribution and I am not proud of it. I ordered a small packet of decorations from Amazon, it got delivered in a large carton fit to hold 20 Maggi packets, and I retained the carton in the hope that it will come handy some day. That's not the only time I have done it. I hate you, e-commerce!
  • Obsolete tech products - I have two old kindles, one old tablet, a dead laptop and a phone that no one is willing to exchange for the phones I vie for. And, I have no clue what to do with those. Those are times I know our civilisation is in decline, we will all drown in molten tech hardware someday.
This post has given me new hope. Once this blogging challenge is over, I am going to bounce back to clearing out the junk lying around here. It is too difficult to declutter and de-junk our minds, but surely it must be much easier to declutter the space we live in. No?

P. S. This post is the twenty first in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

Monday, April 24, 2017

T for Tiger

Following this, little person and I are ready with our next story, again translated from Tamil in which language I narrate the story.

Veer the tiger was in a contemplative mode. He was not able to focus on anything - walking, running, hunting, eating, sleeping. Nothing. This hiccup was killing him. He had always hiccupped a lot but with time it was getting worse and he did not know what to do.

Getting up resolutely, he decided it was time to ask someone for advice. Off he went, in search of Bully Bull, who, he heard was a pro at health tips. 'Hic... Hic... Hic...' he said as he walked towards Bully's hang-out area in the jungle. Frustrated with his 'Hic'ing, he led out a low groan "roaaaaa..... hmmmm....hic... hic... arr". Hearing this menacing sound, Bully Bull, who was up until then happily lolling about in the shade of a large tree, got up and jumped into the wilder parts of the jungle in an attempt to escape from Veer. As Veer slowly reached Bully's spot, he realised that Bully had left. Too tired to follow him, he meandered slowly, unmindful of where he was going.

With time, he came upon the Deer settlement. Perhaps, Dancer Deer would be able to help, Veer thought to himself as he made a beeline. Sensing a predator in the vicinity, all the deer fled off the settlement, leaving Veer alone. "Hic... Hic... why is no one around to help me? Hic... Hic... Roa....groa....nnn", Veer moaned dejectedly. 

That's when he heard a voice from up above. "Hey Veer. What's up?" said Wise Monkey swinging from one tree branch to another. "Hey Monkey... Hic... Give me a solution for my hiccup issue," said Veer hurriedly before the onslaught of another set of hiccups. 

Wise Monkey: Hmm. Ok. Let me ask you a question. Answer me honestly
Veer: Ok... Hic Hic.
Wise Monkey: How do you eat your food?
Veer: Hic... What question... Hic... is this? With my mouth only... Hic Hic Hic...
Wise Monkey: Uff! Not like that. Tell me the process.
Veer: I snatch my prey, stuff it into my mouth Hic Hic Hic... and gobble it up! Roarrrrrr
Wise Monkey (closing his ears): Ok Ok. Listen to me. You should always chew your food well before swallowing it. That's how you can avoid hiccups.
Veer: Oh! Hic Hic Hic. Ok let me try this solution. If it doesn't help, I will come in search of you and... Roarrrr.. Hic hic... roarrrrr
Wise Monkey: Haha sure

And then, Wise Monkey swung away from tree to tree till he was far away from sight. Veer resolved to chew his food well and eat next time he caught his prey and went humming in between his hiccups, dreaming about his next prey.

P. S. This post is the twentieth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

S for Serials

I was born and brought up in Chennai, with the typical English as first language and Tamil as second language, education. I didn't see the need for knowing Hindi then, and neither did my parents. In fact, there was absolutely no discussion or confusion about what my second language should be in primary school (we had 2 options - Tamil and Hindi). The reasoning was simple - mom and dad refused to enrol me in for a subject they wouldn't be able to help with at home. But, that didn't stop us from listening to Hindi music and going for Hindi movies. The former is still manageable but imagine three pure-bred Tams sitting in the cinema hall watching a Hindi movie set in deep rustic Uttar Pradesh. Actually, don't imagine. Just think about how we didn't even have Wiki to read up the story later on. We still managed to enjoy the movies because we most often than not went for the sake of them songs. Those were the days! Anyway, I digress.

I did struggle though. I liked (still like) humming songs, and my idol A R Rahman was becoming big in Bollywood. Which means I had to, had to, hum Hindi songs. And, become the butt of all jokes in school because of those mean girls in the other sections who had Hindi as their second language, and also looked North Indian (white, you know; if you don't, read this). So, I was always on the lookout for learning Hindi words, in bits and pieces. 

And, I got the perfect tool for that in that '90s Doordarshan world, when Tamil DD didn't even have serials of its own. We used to get serials dubbed from Hindi, titles included. Which means Junoon became Pidivatham (adamancy), Imtihaan became Sodhanai (challenge), Dard became Anbai Thedi (in search of affection), Shanti stayed Shanti and Tu Tu Main Main became... I don't remember. I still don't know whether those Hindi titles really match in meaning to their Tamil counterparts, but they are still stuck to memory.

The serials themselves were not noteworthy, and if I remember right, many of them were never taken to completion. Not that my parents let me see any of them, except for those snatches in between after dinner time when I had furnished sufficient evidence of completing my homework and revisions. However, I did insist that I would watch "Dekh Bhai Dekh", which I think aired every Thursday from 9.30 pm to 10 pm. That's when DD would decide to throw a bummer. Half the time, the tamil version wouldn't get telecast, leaving me alone with the Hindi version. Which meant I spent half an hour watching Shekhar Suman prancing up and down an elaborate joint family set, while Farida Jalal would put in guest appearances on and off with some wisecracks (I think so, because the serial would have that silly laughter track running when someone said something funny).

Sundays were a different deal though. There was Shaktimaan and Jungle Book on TV and I was "allowed" a couple of hours after getting up in front of the idiot box. Do you know who my first crush was? It was Captain Vyom, of the Captain Vyom fame. Did you click through and figure out who that is? Had my head in the right place even then, didn't I? Why don't they make such gorgeous looking serial heroes anymore on Indian television?!

P. S. This post is the nineteenth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

R for Remarks

Why are you studying that course? You won't get married.
Why are you still studying? You won't get married.
Why are you in such a high paying job? You won't get married.
Why don't you do housework? You won't get married.
Why do you argue so much? You won't stay married.
Why aren't you married yet? You aren't the marrying type.
Why are you marrying that guy? You aren't the marrying type.
Why do you work after marriage? Quit your job.
Why don't you cook? You are married now.
Why do you travel so much? You are married now. 
Why don't you have a baby yet? Quit your job.
Why don't you have a baby yet? You aren't the baby rearing type.
Why do you still work? You have a baby now.
Why don't you breast feed your baby? You aren't the breast feeding type.
Why don't you augment with formula? Your baby is tiny, you aren't the baby rearing type.
Why don't you have a second child? You aren't the baby rearing type.
Why do you still work? Your kid won't grow up well, you aren't the kid rearing type.
Why are you divorced? You were never the marrying type.
Why are you marrying again? You will never be the marrying type.
Why are you traveling solo? You aren't the family type.
Why do you live alone? You aren't the family type.
Why do you need a big house? You are a widow now.
Why are you a widow? Because you are a sinner and this is your punishment.
Why do you have no son? Because you are a sinner and this is your punishment.
Why do you work so much? You won't stay married.
Why do you work so much? You aren't the baby rearing type.

Types and typecasts, comments and more comments, judgments and more judgments - It takes a special something thick skin to navigate this world and its ugly remarks all through life, from birth to death.

P. S. This post is the eighteenth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.

Q for Qing

I have been nursing this crazy idea of learning Mandarin for a few years now. Idea because, doing business with China is becoming an increasingly important factor in wealth amassment. Crazy because, I have this theory that knowing the common language is an important factor in doing business or for that matter, doing anything better. 

So, breakthrough happened a couple of years back when good friend K also evinced interest in learning Mandarin, and we enrolled for a basic spoken Mandarin course with the most famous institute in Mumbai. It was a 2 hour session every Sunday for 12 weeks. 

My fighter alter ego kicked in, and I am proud to report that I attended all but one class (which I missed because of a holiday I had planned much before enrolling for classes). I am also proud to report that I did my homework every week before the class, which meant that Saturday nights were spent practising mā, má, mǎ, mà and ma (having five different meanings ranging from mother to horse). Surely, that's not how V would have liked to spend Saturday nights, but, hey, variety is everything.

Overall, those were a great three months, and reminded me of how I have always enjoyed being a student, learning something new and wanting to show off what I have learnt. More importantly, the class was composed of a motley group of people across age groups and professions (starting from 18 years all the way upto 60) which was refreshing, for I have been in classrooms and offices interacting with mirror images of myself for over 25 years now.

The age group is of note here. The 18 year olds were obviously the biggest fighters in the class, and the fighting tapered down with the increasing age. I was definitely behind the real students on the fight meter, but much ahead of the rest of the class. Eventually, Judgment Day arrived and emotions ranged from "Please, let me pass" to "I am going to top this one" as we answered our test papers. Since this was Mandarin 101 and our teacher was a native speaker from Guangzhou, we just had to hang around for 10-15 mins while she corrected our answer sheets and distributed the same. I liked the number I saw on my sheet, kept it down and looked around to sighs of relief from my friends (yes, made a few out there) who had also become eligible to get their certificates that evening. Meanwhile, you remember that friend I had enrolled with? - He came over grinning saying he had got some 85 and what did I get? (We are friends from B-school so exchanging marks is a die-hard habit). I told him and I heard a 'hush' from behind - It was one of the 18 year olds. She had got 88, had already seen her fellow 18 year old's paper which had a 92, and now she was in for a shock - she wasn't second in class but third, because I had got a 94.

At that point, I really felt sorry for having disappointed this kid. But, hey, come on! You cannot always underestimate someone because they are older and more prone to memory loss and Alzheimer's, can you?

Q for Qing because it is realllllly hard to find a word starting with Q, and Mandarin is a unique language where q is pronounced ch (qing is pronounced ching that is). Also, qing means 'please' in Mandarin, for the benefit of the knowledge-thirsty ones.

P. S. This post is the seventeenth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

P for Performance Pressure

Pressure is real, performance pressure that is. I have felt performance pressure all through my life. Sometimes, I have performed well, sometimes I haven't. However, conquering performance pressure isn't a test I have passed ever, forget winning. And, it has never bothered me much, the fact that I suffer from performance pressure, though the pressure itself is quite a deadly thing, leading to, amongst other things, severe anxiety, unending headaches and a constant fear of under-performance and ridicule.

The one common thread to all these situations is that they have all been under my control - school tests, exams, interviews, excel models, presenting to CxOs. If things work out, I know it is because I put my best foot forward. If things don't work out, I know I should have put a better foot forward.

However, pregnancy changed all of that. It is obviously an unknown, but the actual experience makes one realise how much of an unknown and erratic nine months it can really be. Every blood test became a make or break, every scan a do or die. I would beat myself up for every increase in blood sugar level, blame myself for any scan that showed any of the measurements of the baby outside of the normal range. I couldn't rationalise the pressure I felt because it was not rational. There was no explanation because I was doing all that was under my control right - healthy food, exercise, check-ups, supplements. In fact, I once asked the doctor what exactly I had done wrong to have ended up with this scan result. She looked at me as if I had walked down from Mars, and told me, in that matter of fact tone she used for pretty much any explanation, "Has nothing to do with you. Each female body is different."

And, I know it is just the beginning. There is a long road of pressure to be handled, longer pathways of irrationality to overcome. Then again, that's the thing about irrationality. There is no rational way you can overcome it to become a saner person.

So, cheers to irrationality and erm... motherhood.

P. S. This post is the sixteenth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

O for Outrage

The doorbell was ringing incessantly. Outraged, Kovakkari* woke up and tossed the blanket aside. For a second, she blinked, and then picked up the blanket again, only to throw it across the room with tremendously righteous force of anger. 'When did I buy a saffron coloured blanket?' she yelled at no one in particular as she got up to deal with the doorbell.

As Kovakkari pulled open the door with a huff and a puff, the milkman stood there with the monthly card. It was that time of the month. Already. Kovakkari looked at the bill - 325.75 rupees was the value of the milk she consumed last month. "Bloody demonetization. Bloody saffrons. Bloody..." as she attempted to curse further, the milkman gave up, telling her he was ok to collect it next week if she could keep the exact change ready, and made off in a hurry.

Losing the one person audience she had for her anger, Kovakkari scuffed against something papery down on the floor. 'What the...' she started, realised it was her morning newspaper, picked it up in a hurry and brought it in. 

Making herself a cup of black tea (she had signed up for the 'Black is Beautiful' campaign against 'Fair and Lovely' the previous night) and picking up a Ragi cookie (the nearest to black that she could get without compromising on her 'Made in India, No Swiss chocolate' oath from day before yesterday), Kovakkari settled down and picked up her laptop. Of course, as the laptop booted up, she conveniently set aside the fact that it was a white coloured 'Made in China' device. If you had questioned her on the choice of laptop, she would have said, "Arrey yaar, it consumes lesser electricity. I am saving for the sake of my power deprived country no."

Going directly to her Twitter feed, she skimmed through for the latest in the world of outrages. Nothing worthwhile, she realised, as she started flipping through the 'Paper of India'. "Ah! Here it is, I got it!" she yelled excitedly as she circled an item in red, before going back to Twitter. "Yo saffron brigade, stop promoting exclusive orange sarees #bhakt #stopthisnonsense", she typed and clicked a photograph of the paper as evidence, to post along with her tweet. It was an advertisement for 'Govinda Sarees' with models waving the pallus of their red, orange and yellow coloured sarees into the air, heralding 'Ram Navmi'. 

As Kovakkari finished her black tea in silence while monitoring the RTs on her tweets, she came across a tweet on 'Azaan' by that famous singer. "What is this Azaan? Sounds Urdu-ish", she told herself as she googled up the meaning. 

Another outrage brewed in her mind, as it did elsewhere in the world of social media.

* Kovakkari means 'Angry Woman' in Tamil

P. S. This post is the fifteenth in the 
A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

N for Networking

Not many of us have fine tuned the art of networking, the real face-to-face networking that is - alumni meets, office parties, get-togethers etc. In fact, a lot of us aren't even well versed with the ABC of networking which is just walking up to someone unknown, introducing ourselves and hitting upon a topic to speak about. 

To solve the problem of real life networking and to further our professional interests, providence gave us LinkedIn. Thanks to this invention, we can really walk upto anyone and ask for a job straight out, without introducing ourselves or finding a common topic to speak about. How cool is that? Not really. 

Let's all spend a silent moment thinking about all these things we do on Linkedin, and ask ourselves if we will think it decent and productive to do any of them in real life, in a social setting we attend with the precise focus of advancing our careers.

  • Cribbing - Thinly veiled attempts at cribbing about investors, entrepreneurs, recruiters, candidates etc. are silly. If you have something not so nice to tell someone, go and tell them. If you are afraid of doing that, don't tell them. If you want to let it out of your system, call up a friend and tell them. If you don't have any friends to tell it to, perhaps, the issue is with you, not with the other person. The people on your LinkedIn network aren't volunteers at AAI (Agony Aunt Inc.).
  • Posting for a job for someone else - Recently, I came across a posting by someone looking for a job for their good friend. The poster said, "She is a great HR manager with 'x' years of work experience. She is currently in a very bad job with a very bad boss blah blah blah". The poster had of course tagged the lady in question, which meant anyone on her LinkedIn network, including her bad boss and the employees in her bad company could see it. If this isn't bad blood and the antithesis of a graceful exit, what is? It may have been a signal to her company to buck up and treat her better, but it still is in bad taste.
  • Expressing interest in public - Someone posts a job profile and mentions that if you are interested, you need to send in your details to a specific email id. You promptly go there and type "Interested" in the comments' section. This serves two purposes - 
    • Exposing to everyone on your LinkedIn that you are looking for a job. Maybe, that was the idea - so your boss will know you are on the lookout and will up your salary and give you a promotion 
    • Pissing the job poster off - Didn't they expressly mention that you need to contact them separately? How lazy is typing a wayward 'Interested' in the comments' section?
  • Sending a LinkedIn request to connect with no information about yourself - At least update your profile before sending out invites to connect. Imagine walking into a networking event (not a masquerade ball) in a mask and expecting people to shake your hands and introduce themselves. Similarly, you cannot have a name that says "A. R.", 2 connections (B. S. and C. T.) and send out invites to connect. The place for that is Orkut, not even Facebook.
  • Sending a LinkedIn request to connect with too much information about yourself - I recently got a message from someone I don't know (not a 2nd degree connection) that started off with "I lost my job at XYZ company and I am urgently on the lookout..." It sounded similar to those scam emails we get about the Nigerian widow who has billions that need to be got out of the country. Do any of us want to sound like a scam, do any of us want to come across as sham on a professional networking site? Even if that's not the case, do we want to wake up the pity hormone in the receiver when sending a message, and not really talk about our areas of strength and profile as an introduction? I guess the answer to all those questions is no. 
Do you have any more such do's and don't's for LinkedIn? What are they?

By the way, after an internal struggle with my saner alter ego, we have decided not to post this on LinkedIn and fall under the first category of peoples outlined here, out there.

P. S. This post is the fourteenth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

M for Miniature

I have a fascination for miniatures. I think all of us who have played with some doll or the other (even a teddy) as a child would, for that matter. More so for me because we have been ardent celebrators of Navratri or the doll festival since I was born. For those not familiar with this festival, go right here

A few years back, when I happened to visit Amsterdam's Rijks' Museum, I was fascinated by the collection of miniature doll houses there. Apparently, it was quite a tradition amongst the rich households of yesteryear Amsterdam to commission and design miniature doll houses of their own houses. It was a favourite pastime of the lady of the house. In fact, calling it a pastime seems to trivialize the money, time and energy they put into getting it done - replicating the curtains, carpets, flooring, furniture to the exact fabric, marble and wood used in the actual house. 

Look at this one I caught in Rijks'. Isn't it beautiful?

Very recently, I read this book "The Miniaturist" which is set in seventeenth century Amsterdam, and while the premise borders on a miniature doll house commissioned by the lady of the house, it does eerily get into how whatever is designed for the doll house happens in real life. The miniatures have minds and souls and lives of their own, living on in that little doll house, directing what happens in the real house. Almost!

I have little person in my hand as I type this, and it is fascinating to note how babies are miniature versions of human adults - mini hands and legs, mini mouths and faces, mini mini fingers and toes. But, it is also equally fascinating to think of how they are not miniatures in every other sense of the word - the amount of time, energy and love they consume and absorb is quite unparalleled really!

If I were a theist, I might even call babies miracles. But, since I am not, I will just leave it at calling them babies, absolutely adorably cute miniatures that are infinitely better versions of what human adults corrupt themselves into becoming in the course of a lifetime.

P. S. This post is the thirteenth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

L for Language

You just met someone new, perhaps a new colleague at work. What makes it click between the two of you? Same college? School? Previous company? How long does this commonality sustain conversation? How many common friends, teachers and bosses can you really speak about? 

But, imagine if you can both speak the same language. That's a connection special like none other. It's almost like the two of you are in on an inside secret that no one around you is privy to. No, that doesn't mean that you are talking ill of the people around you. It just means that the relationship gets elevated a little, if not more.

I have always liked the idea of learning new languages, but restrained myself from fear of having no one to speak that language with and practise it to perfection. For, unlike theoretical subjects that we can study on our own (a good discussion would of course enhance the learning but isn't a necessary condition to learn the subject), language really needs the other person - the conversationalist - to make it better learnt.

Of course, those people who have parents from different parts of the country have it easy in this regard. They have the opportunity to learn more languages than the ordinary person, and an at home expert to speak it with too. When they go out into the world, they will be able to make that special connection with people from more than one region, because of that tongue they have in common.

Wouldn't it be a nice idea to foster this in school, make kids learn 3-4 languages so they have a peer group to practise, and avenues to exhibit in forms of writing and speaking and theatre? That could also extend into learning different cultures and histories and living in a lot of other people's shoes. Oh! How cool would that be!

P. S. This post is the twelfth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

K for K

K is a fairly unique alphabet in the English language, in that we don't use it as much as we do use C - Cat, Clay, Create, Commemorate and so on. It is usually a silent accompaniment to the beloved N as in Knack, Knock, Knot and Knit. But, then, it is a potent letter in its individual form, as K.

How do you react when someone says K to you, in response to something you ask them, say over text or whatsapp? 

Super Happy - You are in seventh heaven because that person actually bothered to respond that it doesn't matter they invested time that won't be enough to unlock their phone through touch id, to respond to you. Maybe, the response was from Ratan Tata or Mukesh Ambani.

Reasonably pleased - Your crush responded with a K to your tenth 'Hi'. Maybe she / he meant FO, but hope is a good thing, the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. 

Normal to ignore continuum - It is an acquaintance who asked you for some information, and you said "I don't know". K is acceptable in response. No?

Outraged - You just sent a 500 character message explaining how an induction motor works, along with tricks on how to remember the shortcuts in order to write the answer and pass the exam. And the receiver just 'K'ed you.

K is a potent letter, so remember the lessons before you respond with a K next time someone asks / tells you something. Are you ok with the person on the other end falling in the "outraged" pie of the chart, ready to kill you the next time they see you?

P. S. This post is the eleventh in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

J for Joysticks

I am not much of a video games aficionado. However, there was a time when I did play video games extensively, for a period of two weeks during summer holidays. One of dad's business associates from Singapore had gifted this joystick plus video game contraption to me when he came visiting, unaware that I would have been happier with a stack of books. My parents being the over-zealous parents they are had to set it up, just to make sure they knew how to install it. Incidentally, summer holidays were on and I think, secretly, they were hopeful of one trip less to Landmark if I could be enticed into some other occupation (Nice try - it didn't work out that way). 

It had some 50+ games that I could play, once the device was linked to the TV screen. There was an option to play against the 'system' if there was no second person around. And, being the single child I am with all the neighbourhood kids traveling to their hometowns for the holidays, I had to choose 'system' every single time. The games were quite mindless, one particularly where a frog would jump from one side of the pond to another sticking out its tongue at the right moment to catch its prey, another frog from the opposite direction competing for the same prey. The first time I played it, I got a bad headache. However, from the second time onwards, it got addictive. 

Since I was a single person playing against the system, there was no need for two joysticks, the second one packed and kept in the loft, that ubiquitous place that must still be holding much of our family treasure (second joysticks, extra nuts and bolts, car repair tools to name a few). If you have seen me working on my laptop, you would know that gentle is not my touch with keyboards. Then, how could the joystick have escaped the power of these hands? In a week or two, the joystick started feeling a little loose in my hand. That's when mom took control of the situation and packed off that video game contraption, thinking that I would lose my mind in my overuse of the thing. I tried explaining to her that it was only the strength of my hands at work, but it fell on deaf ears.

Though I crib about it today, I am kind of glad that the gift was packed away for good, and offered to the loft lord, in exchange for my wellbeing. One less addiction to deal with at least.

P. S. This post is the tenth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

I for Information

The Oxford English Dictionary defines information as fact, etymologically derived from the Latin informare, meaning 'formation of the mind'. 

See what I did there. I started by factually describing what information means, before even getting into the context of this post. I am a true consultant like that, I cannot make statements without reams and reams of data back-ups, footnotes and source references. For instance, I wouldn't say, "We live in times of rampant racism". I will hit google to find out trends in racism across the past few decades, with cuts by geographies and racial types, before making the statement, even if the statement does not cover any of the aforementioned data. 

I know - I have it easy thanks to the internet. Would I have done it in a different era when information was found in books and in libraries that couldn't be searched at the click of a button? I can't answer that question definitively because I don't have data about any avatar I may or may not have had in a different era.

But, then, should we really be thankful to the penetration of the internet in our lives? 

Sample this. For my parents, clicking photographs was a big deal. The Kodak was ceremoniously brought out on special occasions and out-of-town vacations, camera rolls refilled, photos clicked and developed, and placed in elaborate albums that were stowed away in the cupboard, only to be taken out for show and tell when guests came over and stayed for so long that conversation ran out of the house. It was difficult to figure out what movie, food type, book, author, city, actor etc. they liked unless someone had spent years knowing them and knew them very well. 

That's no longer the case. No one needs to pay us for information about ourselves, nor does anyone need to spend years befriending us and earning our trust. We are more than willing to supply it online, as profile data, page likes, photos and videos, and stupid tests that claim to tell us "Seven secrets about you", "Who are you in the fantasy world" and "Who will look out for you", amongst other things. Yes, guilty, I am addicted to those tests as well. And, only after I click through to the results do I wonder how much data about myself I gave away to get back results like "You are a saint. You were Mother Teresa in your previous life." Hell, two of the biggest storms last year - Brexit and Trump - were successful because of big data. Yes, big big big data about people's online presence and likes and dislikes helped fine tune and target campaigns that made Trump POTUS. 

That article has definitely made me wary of my increasing online presence. Not that it has had any meaningful effect, because, just like alcohol and drugs and cigarettes, social media is an addiction too. It might make sense to invest in and build a social media detox methodology, for that might be a big business in the years to come, campaigned and targeted with the use of big data, at the heaviest users of nametests and the biggest uploaders of cat videos.

P. S. This post is the ninth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

H for Horlicks

What with the maternity recovery in progress, my mother has found a great reason to revert to her former bully self as far as my food habits are concerned. No cold drinks, no chocolates, no ice creams, no onions (really?!) - I didn't even know so many food items can be "no"ed. But, that's not what gets my goat. It is this:

Me: I am tired.
Mom: Drink Horlicks.

Me: I am sleepy.
Mom: Drink Horlicks.

Me: I am hungry.
Mom: Drink Horlicks.

Me: I am going to die.
Mom: Drink Horlicks.

For heaven's sake mom, have you secretly become the brand ambassador for Horlicks? How much are they paying you? More importantly, can you give me a cut, if you are going to force me to drink the damn thing all the time?

P. S. This post is the eighth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

G for Great Indian Novel

The Great Indian Novel by Shashi Tharoor is an all time favourite book of mine. It is one of Tharoor's more ingenious works, marrying the political scene of yesteryear India with the Mahabharata, the real great Indian novel.

As a kid, like all other kids, I was exposed to the Mahabharata and Ramayana in myriad forms - songs, cartoons, abridged books, grandmother's tales. As I grew older, there was something about the Mahabharata that enamoured me unlike other mythological tales. And this fascination continues till today.

The Ramayana is a black and white story. There are two kinds of people, good and evil, and in the end, good triumphs over evil. That sounds too simplistic. Perhaps, I have not delved deep enough into the story of the Ramayana to make a comment. But, its black-and-whiteness and its protagonist's chastity tests of his wife have never allowed me to delve deep.

The Mahabharata is a different story altogether. It embraces the grey, the murky and the normal human mind's failings beautifully. It encapsulates good and evil, fate and karma, going as far as to say that who you think is evil may actually not be evil, he may even have done something so good that the evil gets cancelled out and he reaches the heavens much faster than the "good guys". It is not a story about a bunch of good guys being cheated out of their property and rightful throne. It is about two factions that war against each other, off and on the battlefields, second guessing the other's next steps all through their lives, and ending most of their lives in a pointless war eventually. In fact, one of my more favourite parts of the book is where Kunti and the Pandavas, while escaping the lac palace, kill a worker woman and her five sons and place the bodies inside the palace so that the Kauravas are thrown off track into believing that the family indeed died in the fire they had planned. Clearly, the Pandavas are no better than the Kauravas then. Or, perhaps they are worse off because they kill innocents who have no stake in the game for their own benefit. 
I read  a detailed version of the Mahabharata a few years back, one written by Ramesh Menon. It is an easy read, but a really long and detailed one, and came with very good recommendations from people with much more knowledge than me on the subject. Guess it is time for a revision because there are so many intricacies in this epic that can be easily forgotten. 

Warning: There is popular belief that reading the Mahabharata brings bad luck since it is a book about war and death and no real happiness. As against this, reading the Ramayana apparently is supposed to bring good luck.

P. S. This post is the seventh in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April. 

Friday, April 07, 2017

F for Feminism

Feminism is the bad boy of the Oxford English Dictionary this decade, perhaps usurping Atheism from that coveted position it held on to for centuries. Since the word has given itself a bad name, for reasons hitherto unknown, I wanted to clear the air a bit on what Feminism means to the average Feminist, when he / she calls himself / herself a Feminist. 

  1. Feminism advocates equality of the male and female genders across all walks of life - school, college, work, home.
  2. Feminism does not call for extra powers or privileges for females. In fact, it just asks for females to have the same privileges as males. 
  3. As you would have already noticed from the introduction, both men and women can be Feminists. It is a gender neutral word.
  4. Feminism does not advocate hatred towards the male gender. If that were the case, it would be quite weird because then, male feminists would be calling out that the male gender (not just their own but themselves) should be hated.
  5. Feminism is not a new fangled idea or movement. It can historically be traced back to the 19th century when feminist movements were focused on winning the "right to vote" for women. Yes, there was a time when females were not equal enough to males to have the right to vote their leaders into power.

Now that we have the basics sorted, let's move on to some detailed FAQs. 

There is so much equality now between the genders when compared to the previous generation. Then, why do you crib so much?
There is a reason we have more equality today as compared to the past decade or century. Equality isn't about luck or being in the right place at the right time. Women are able to vote today because the feminist movement fought for it in the 19th and 20th centuries. Women can have assets registered in their names today because that right was fought for and won. But, there are many other areas where equality doesn't exist. At the work place, there is enough evidence of females being constantly passed up for promotions, hikes and bonuses, because they are females and the team runs the risk of losing them to marriage or childbirth for substantial periods of time. At home, equality is still something to be strived for and far from the reality. And, I am not even talking about the "married woman surname changing" practice, perhaps that's more a token gesture we can tackle in the next few generations to come. 

  • The fight for equality starts even before the female is born. As per the 2011 census, child sex ratio is at an all time low of 914 females to every 1,000 males, with studies claiming that around 2,000 girls are killed everyday. 
  • The same census pegs female literacy rate in India at 65% compared to the male literacy rate at 82%. Many of you might have heard of the popular STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) argument - females don't have that much aptitude for STEM as males, hence there are lesser females in STEM careers compared to males. But, seriously, when the bottlenecks are so much for a female to even finish her basic education, isn't it that much harder for her to get to the step of considering a career in STEM? 
  • Eventually, we get to work and pay, where the gender pay gap is as high as 25%. And, even if the female manages to get through all these bottlenecks and sits in a job that pays her 25% lesser than her male counterpart, she quits after she has a child. 
  • According to multiple studies, as low as 20% women continue working after they have their first child*.
  • Beyond all these bottlenecks, if the female still wants to and puts fight to continue in the workplace, she is passed over on projects citing "safety" as an issue. I remember a few years back how a male colleague mentioned he doesn't want women on his project because the project was expected to be hectic with potential night outs and he doesn't want to shoulder the responsibility of the safety of the women on his project because Gurgaon and Noida are unsafe places. Fair point from his perspective. In a similar vein, a recent observation by lawmakers in Karnataka that women should be banned from night shifts is nothing but counter-productive. It means that slowly fewer and fewer women would be recruited because they are not as employable or as productive as men, and that's not for lack of capability from their end. 

Why do women have to keep calling out that they are lesser than men and asking for equality? Doesn't that show weakness?
If my 9 year long corporate career has taught me something valuable, it is this. We need to ask for things we believe that we deserve. It could be a role expansion, a team expansion, a promotion, a hike. We may well deserve it and everyone around us, including our bosses, may well be aware of it. However, we need to ask for it, building a case for why we deserve it. I find it difficult to implement this strategy because I feel a little cheap about flaunting my accomplishments and skills. However, there is nothing cheap about it. If it isn't important enough for us to ask and fight for what we deserve, no one is going to find it important enough to give it to us on a platter.
So is the case with equality. If we feel that females are treated the lesser of the two genders and we believe that females deserve to be equal, we need to ask for it and fight for it. There is no other way this is going to work.

What about men, men who are discriminated against, men who face domestic abuse, men who are sexually harassed? If you are talking about equality, you should fight for that too.
Yes, agree, there is definitely a percentage of men who are discriminated against, those that face fake rape cases, those that are domestically abused. But, this movement isn't about that. This movement focuses on equality for the female gender with the male gender. That doesn't mean one cannot focus on and try to resolve issues faced by men. Only that such a movement will be different from the feminist movement. Both movements can exist, strive for and win for their respective core groups, surely.
Why can't we have a normal conversation, why do we need to get into this feminist type language?
I am not really sure when the tilt happened, when Feminism started being looked at with a negative connotation. Perhaps, it happened in the era of the millennials, perhaps much before. Perhaps, since the time the movement started, a sizeable number of men and women may have secretly admonished it, rationalising, "Why should we stir the pot? Why can't we let things be?" For instance, I know a number of men - good at heart, well educated, striving for equality between the genders though not always achieving it - who vociferously proclaim that they hate feminists. "Don't talk in this feminist type language. Let's have a normal conversation," is something I have heard for many years now. Actually, not just men, many women also hold this view, some even going as far as to brand this clan "Feminazi". I have an infinite capacity to absorb shit, but this is shit I refuse to accept any longer. So, yeah, before we proceed, I am making it crystal clear - I am a feminist. If you hate feminists, you hate me. And the hatred is mutual, this is the last of conversations I will be having with you.

* All statistics and data points pertain to the Indian population

P. S. This post is the sixth in the A-Z blogging challenge series for April.