Wednesday, August 16, 2017

About Elly - Movie Review

Watched this Irani movie and as always with Irani movies, got completely sucked into the drama of human life, of what lies beneath the seemingly tranquil surface. A small, weekend picnic involving a few young families also serves as the perfect opportunity for one of the wives to set up a meeting between a divorced man in the group and her child's school teacher. Into this seemingly innocuous setting comes a flood of drama that pushes everyone to the limit.

What if there was more to the school teacher's history than is known? What if her secret life makes it easy for the others to judge her in her absence? What if there is no way to explain her absence to her near and dear? What if the worst comes true?

The way each of the characters show their true character under stress is sown very well. Judgmental, blaming, justifying, escaping, lying and finally the group coercing one person to go with the majority and hide the one single truth that could save the absent person's honour. Some parts were stretched for dramatic effect surely and some actions did not make sense fully, but human actions rarely make sense anyway.

Disturbing. Beautiful. Directed by Asghar Farhadi. The beautiful and talented Golshifteh Farahani stars. The Iranis make movies like no other.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Anjali - I Wouldn't Do That For A Lot of Money

We were listening to a song that went like 'ding dang ding dang...' and a few other words thrown in on the radio and I made a face.

'Do they get paid to write those lyrics?' I asked.

Anjali laughed.
Yes,' she said. 'It goes "meri wali ding dang karta hai" like that for a long time."

After a moment she said.
"I would not write stuff like that if they paid me a crore of rupees.'

'What about my reputation?' she said. indignant 'I would not write stuff like that ever.'

Hmm. Glad.

Anatomy of Trust - Brene Brown

Fabulous stuff!
Trust is built in really small moments.
BRAVING - Her acronym for trust!
B - Boundaries - are we respecting boundaries of our own and others
R - Reliability - are we delivering what we promise repeatedly, are we doing the thing we say we are goign to do over and over again
A - Accountability - Are we being accountable, can you own a mistake you can apologise and make amends, and allow me to own my mistakes and make amends
V - Vault - are we keeping our confidences, ours and others
I - Integrity - are we
N - Non judgmental - about self and others, can we ask and give help, reciprocate, if we cannot ask we are not good enough to give
G - Generosity

And in combination with what Google's team has researched and 'found', it makes profound sense - this is what psychological safety is all about!

5 Keys to a successful Team - 200+ interviews, 250 attributes of 180 teams
Who is on the team matters less than how team members interact, structure their work and view their contributions.

Impact - team thinks that work matters and will create change
Meaning - Work is personally important to members
Structure and Clarity - Team members have clear, roles, plans and goals
Dependability - Members get things done on time and reach Google's high bar of excellence
Psychological Safety - Team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of one another

Monday, August 14, 2017

When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi

Much acclaimed book written by Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a bright young doctor, a neurosurgeon by training and a writer at heart (and training), a seeker by instinct, who succumbed to stage IV lung cancer at the age of 37. He died in 2015. Paul's book gives an account of how his life was, his growing up years, his love for literature and then his love for questions that dealt with life and death, and illness and then, as he rises to take off  into a hard earned career in neurosurgery, the discovery of stage IV lung cancer and how he and his family dealt with it.
Bodley Head, 228 p, 

Paul writes about his feelings - his shift from doctor to patient (in the same hospital) and his wondering about the small things they overlook as doctors without knowing exactly how patients feel. His world comes crashing - his plans of a family with his wife Lucy now have to be hurried as he can foresee his death. They have a daughter who gives him some of his most cherished moments before his eventual death. Lucy and Paul's family stand by him throughout. Paul goes back to surgery after chemo treatment and gives up only when he feels he cannot handle it anymore.

Paul writes in a voice that says everything but yet not everything which is why Lucy's epilogue completed the book in the way it should have. The two also complement each other so well that it is perhaps fitting that Lucy provides the missing pieces, the angles, that Paul could not complete.

The book was written in the last stages - when Paul had to make up his mind between surgery and writing - chose surgery first and then wrote. He wanted to finish this book and he did (almost, from what I could make of it) and it was completed by Lucy and the editorial team at Random House. It's a moving account of a bright life who for some reason also wanted to experience the suffering and the pain of death, and who found himself facing a situation he wanted to alleviate for so many more.

The book is about death and life. How inadequate we are to deal with something as inevitable as death. Paul talks of how he felt that the cadavers were treated casually in the anatomy labs and how he understood why many people did not donate their bodies for science. Somewhere Lucy talks about why death is not celebrated still and there is mourning and sadness around it.

These are thoughts I have thought about too. That my death should cause the least trouble to those around me, to the world in general. I would be quite happy if my organs were donated to others if they were found fit, my body donated to a medical college, and the pain of the rituals which have never made sense to me anyway, be spared to those around me. What I would insist however is that my friends and family celebrate the time I spent with them, think of a few fun moments and go home after playing a few songs I enjoyed, crack a few jokes, share a few anecdotes and down a couple of drinks so they go home with a smile. Now that  is something I would insist on - a celebration of my life - and the theme would be fun, happiness, bon homie and smiles. 

The Butcher of Amritsar - Nigel Collett

Sagar bought this book with some difficulty to research the life and times of Gen Reginald Dyer aka The Butcher of Amritsar who earned great infamy by his act of firing upon an unarmed and peaceful crowd at Jallianwala Bagh on flimsy reasons and killed over 379 people (at conservative estimates - other estimates are over a 1000). The book is written with great detail and traces Dyer's family history and his childhood and sets up the grand climax in a way that we understand why he did what he did.
Rupa, 574 p, Rs. 296
Dyer's family came to India when the British Raj was finding its feet in these parts. His grandfather John Dyer was an officer with the Calcutta Residency and was involved in fighting off pirate ships. His father settled down near Simla and set up a beer manufacturing company which was successful. Reginald Dyer was born in India and spent the early years here. For some reason his father sent him and his older brother to distant Ireland, a journey they made all alone. In the strife torn Ireland where the boys were exposed to frequent violence between Protestants and Catholics, Reginald or Rex Dyer found himself being picked upon by others. He however fought back and established that he was not a person to be trifled with. Quiet, shy, reserved and rather a loner, he was also brave and a fighter, with a quick temper. After his studies he went  to military college and secured admission into the military afterwards.

Posted in India he found a girl Annie from a family which was well-to-do but which for some reason did not approve of him. In the early years he was shunted off to vague postings, training in distant colleges in Chakrata or on the western Frontier. His career slid back and he found little action or opportunity to prove his mettle. The scientifically oriented Dyer spent much time inventing a range finder for the military and improvised it many times with a fair amount of success. He missed many opportunities of growth by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he was hugely popular with his junior officers and the local soldiers. He could speak their languages and supported them fully. Perhaps he understood their predicament which was what he was going through.

Dyer's regiment went to Hong Kong to counter the Chinese uprising. There was little to show there except for guarding the prison inmates. Then to Persia where he makes a series of uncalled for moves which do not show him in great light. He does not reveal his true intentions and does things he is not asked to do. Dyer takes risks and is a bit of a maverick. It is clear that Dyer has his own understanding of the situation and his own solutions and once he has them, does not listen to any other opinion. The Persian campaign ends without too much glory for him. However one thing stands out - Dyer has incredible tenacity and once he sets his sight one anything, no hardship could deter him. Blessed with enormous energy he could also motivate his troops to follow him in the harshest conditions and give him all they had. He also led from the front, bravely and courageously and never took a step back. He was a strategist and enjoyed his time in action. As a leader of men, Dyer was good.

As the Commander in Charge of Jullundur Dyer was not directly involved with the riots of Amritsar that took place on April 10, 1919. The local administration did not handle the rising discontent in Amritsar well by spiriting away two leaders, Satya Pal and Kichlew, cancelling Gandhi's speech and firing upon protestors resulting in deaths. This led to a violent reaction from the crowds which resulted in burning down of three banks, several English offices and deaths of bank managers and other Englishmen. One British citizen Miss Sherwood got badly assaulted and was left to die but was rescued by locals. Fearing the uprising to become more violent the local administration called for help. No further violence is reported - though telegraph and railway lines etc were being cut. For some reason, without any direct orders, Dyer decides to come to Amritsar and take charge of the city with his regiment. He assumes complete control from the existing weak administration. Dyer comes to the city on the 11th April, one day after the violence of 10th April.

A quick tour of the city and a march. Then he makes a proclamation that no meetings are allowed and force would be used if orders were broken. The proclamations are however not done effectively enough and certainly not in areas where it should have been made. It is also the time of the Baisakhi festival where many out of towners come to Amristar for shopping or trade. At 4 pm the local meeting takes place in Jallianwala Bagh. Some 20000 people are inside the bagh they say. Dyer comes with fifty of his men and orders them to fire with no warning given to the crowd who are peacefully listening to a speaker. The soldiers fired 1650 rounds into a mass of men, women and children and were egged on by Dyer to shoot into the thickest part of the crowd many times. People died in piles of twelve high - women and children included - as they tried to escape the relentless fire, jumped into and drowned in a well that was in the bagh. Blood, flesh and bodies lay all around. The firing continued unabated for 15 minutes, stopping only to reload, and Dyer ordered them to stop only after they have almost exhausted their supply, saving just enough ammunition to cope with any resistance on the way back. No help was offered to the dying and the dead. The fact that he had also put the town under curfew from 8 in the evening made it difficult to people to rescue the wounded. People lay wounded overnight, some over two days, and died in the bagh with no help from the authorities. None made any effort to help or offer medical help. The authorities did not even bother to visit the bagh after the incident. The numbers varied between 200 and 1500 and have been agreed at about 379 by the commission. In short, the crowd, peaceful and unarmed, were fired on relentlessly and killed like animals. That this person evaded jail and lived a free life with minimum punishment and even was hailed as a hero by the British shows the injustice of it all.

Not satisfied that this was enough, Dyer also enforced a crawling order in the street where Miss Sherwood was assaulted. Anyone who had to walk on the street had to crawl the length on their bellies. which meant that those who lived in the street also could not come out for the whole week - or they had to crawl. This inhuman and degrading rule meant that the police wuld beat anyone crawling if they found any sign of the body rising above the ground. Dyer also made a rule that everyone should salaam him as his car passed them in the town and if they did not they would be summoned to the Ranbagh camp and made to learn how to salaam over the length of the day in the hot sun. Six young men were caught ad publicly flogged until they repeatedly lost their consciousness on charges of having assaulted Miss Sherwood - with no proof at all. Clearly Dyer wanted to show who was the boss. He had no regard for civilian life. The press was cut off so the otuside world did not know of the incident until much later.

After the firing incident there was no remorse nor any sign of helping the innocent locals. Dyer said that the injured could have gone and applied  for help in hospitals if they wanted - fully knowing their condition and knowing that a curfew was on. Dyer was seen as the saviour of Punjab by the British and the suppressor or a second mutiny. Terse messages giving incomplete information were sent by Dyer and the other authorities in Amritsar to their superiors. No information on why he chose to fire, what the provocation was, whether a clear proclamation was made, whether any warming was given before firing, why the firing continued for so long on an unarmed crowd, and why no relief was provided after the firing - all critical aspects. For days and months Dyer got away with the thought that he was the saviour of Punjab and many complimented him on his good work as well.

Dyer was sent to Thal In Afghanistan to rescue some posts from German interference and he did a splendid job of it in the harshest conditions - perhaps buoyed by the Amristar incident and the good words he heard about his action. After a highly successful campaign in Thal Dyer returned - a brave and courageous son of Britain. But by then details of the Jallianwala bagh story were out and questions were now being asked about why he did what he did. In an enquiry by the Hunter Commission he pretty much said that he wanted to teach a moral lesson to all those who were conspiring against the British and he felt that it was his duty to use the force he did to teach the lesson.

As the enquiry began in the right earnest and questions were asked Dyer's health started failing. The case grew bigger and bigger and claimed his career and his reputation. He lost his rank and barely made it to England, ill as he was and so was Annie. The newspaper Morning Post and several of his supporters fought tooth an nail to make him a hero and saviour with no thought about the dead or the way they have been killed. Enough that they feared a rebellion, a repeat of the 1857 mutiny, a conspiracy that was not proven and there had been riots earlier. To link it to an imagined conspiracy and to come down on a crowd that was unarmed, uninformed and peaceful, was not discussed. Dyer however got to use his rank, though he was taken off service and sent off on half pay. He slowly lost his health and died. To his death he claimed that he had done no wrong and he would have done the same thing again and again. He somehow believed he was saving the empire. However Dyer did suffer from memories of that fateful day from the day it happened until his death.

Dyer was a complex human being - almost abandoned as a child, picked upon, neglected. He was a paradox, kind and supportive of his military juniors on one side and extremely hard on the other. He was prone to take his own decisions based on his understanding of the situation and then would manipulate his way to get what he wanted. His lack of success and recognition by his superiors for much of his career might also have made him more eager to prove himself. Somewhere on the return to Jalandher from a trip to Delhi where he and his family faced some hostile crowds, he seemed to have made up his mind that a mutiny was rising. His mind to fire he said, was made up in all of three seconds. Initially he tried to cover himself up by saying that he feared that the large crowd might attack his small posse of armed soldiers, but nothing supported his immediate call to fire and to continue to fire despite no sign of any violence or aggression from the people in the bagh. The British Parliament seemed to be unanimously behind the man as the case presented by Edward Montagu against him was shredded to pieces. To the end his wife Annie fully supported him and his actions, many Britishers and women in India felt that he had saved them by his actions. A fund was raised to help him financially by the Morning Post and it collected 25000 British Pounds.

The book is exhaustively researched and quotes from letters and official correspondence many times. Nigel Collett describes each part of Dyer's life with great detail, including incidents, people and situations. The young boy catching snakes a kid, shooting a bird and hitting a monkey (which upset him so much that he stopped shooting game), the fight in the boarding school in Ireland, the harsh terrain and opposition in Afghanistan and Persia, his obsession with the range finder, make him an interesting but rather isolated character. However it does not give much perspective from the side of the victims, nor does it delve deeper into the story of Hans Raj who supposedly was a British double agent and who supposedly called for the meeting at the bagh to set it up for the firing. It does however paint Dyer's picture well.

Nice Link - Kamal Haasan's List of 70 Favorite Movies

Kamal Haasan's List. Mine is a pathetic 19.

Thought for the Day - The Connection Between Being Grateful and Happiness

If we have 60000 thoughts a day, and most of them are about why we do not have something or someone, and this lack is bothering us, it clearly shows that we are pining for things that aren't there while being oblivious to what we already have. I was doing a gratitude exercise recently and in that one moment when I wrote a list of things to be grateful for, I realised how little I valued and was grateful for what I have. I realised I was so 'in the air' about life, so up in my dreams, that my feet were miles off the ground.

As I made the gratitude list I realised how many people, thoughts, services, fact the whole universe supports the idea of me. I have this whole universe to fall back upon, to open myself to its love. To possibilities. From being the unlucky one, I started to count my luck - from the time I was born, to the parents, to the homes, my siblings, the food, the education, the teachers, the friends, the love, the games, the movies, the books, the services, the merchandise, the smiles, the hugs, the happiness, the sharing, the feeling, the gifts, the letters, the mails, the flowers, the fragrances, the jokes, the compliments, the appreciation, the air, the health....every single moment was one which was a gift deliberately placed in my path. I enjoyed it all, in all its shades and as I stand where I am today, cannot feel more than an overwhelming feeling of love, of being the lucky one, of being given the unique opportunity. Every breath seems so precious, a miracle, every smile, every laughter.

I am more aware now and am more grateful for all that is with me, all who are around me, all that I have and get. I see that this is what life has given me and this is what I need to build from, brick by brick.

My thoughts have now changed from 'why don't I have?' to 'wow, I have all this'. It's a drastic change in my attitude - from a place of lack, want and resentment and frustration to one where I am able to appreciate what I have, able to feel happier and feel a sense of contentment. The more deeper I sink into the present, into what I have, the more grateful and happier I am. For example, if money was a concern (why don't I have as much as someone else) I focussed on what I have now and how that is helping me through life comfortably. If relationships are a concern (why are they not as good as  they could be), I focussed on what there is and I felt immensely grateful for that. I realised that when we look for what we have, we seem to have a lot more than what we thought we had.

Gratitude. Appreciation. Happiness. Groundedness. Being in the present. Treating things with love. It all opens up - not just the doorway, but the approach too. I am mentally tuned in now to feel grateful to all I experience - the keyboard, the net, my computer, my hands, the blog, the mouse and all that I see around me, waiting for my command. Wow!