Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Tao of Coaching - Max Landsberg

It's a slim little book at 101 pages but packed with great insights. Max Landsberg shares many powerful insights through a story - of one Mr. Alex - who wants to be productive, manage his team well and be a good leader. How Alex learns the ropes of coaching and motivates and ensures that his executives perform, unfolds through little incidents at his workplace. The idea is summarised and ended with an exercise for us to practice. I believe it would help all executives to have a copy of this book.
Profile Books, 101 p

Right up front we understand that managers and leaders can get better results if they look at themselves as coaches who can guide their wards along. Coaching does not need great effort or investment of time (sometimes as little as 5 minutes) if the parameters are laid out. Right upfront one must also understand that coaching will free up time for the coach, helps achieve better results and helps him learn more about interpersonal skills and performance delivery issues.

The way great coaching works is through asking questions and letting the coachee think through their own solutions. Lazy coaching is telling them and moving on. Another aspect is the art of eliciting feedback which is crucial to all growth or correction. One must know how to get and give feedback.

Structuring coaching sessions, diagnosing individual styles, taking account of skill and will, overcoming reluctance of being coached, motivating coachees, recognising cultural differences, starting teams, coaching caveats and mentoring are covered in short chapters. There are chapters on finding and avoiding coaching blocks, coaching in a hurry etc which would help coaches in being more aware of the process.

The book validated some of my own ideas of coaching - of asking, of feedback, and gave good insights into the how of things such as structuring sessions etc. It's a book well worth reading if you're dealing with people.

2015 - Year in Books

The year started well with 'Start with why' by Simon Sinek (watch his TED talk) which is a fine book on leadership and communication. But I like the fact that I could read some writers and works that I always wanted to read. From Manto, Khushwant Singh. John Kennedy Toole, Wilbur Smith and the wonderful short works of the masters in the Penguin classics collection (Chekov, Gogol, Wilde, Kenko, Shen Fu, Maupassant...) it has been an enriching experience reading them.

1. Start with Why - Simon Sinek
2. Leaders Eat Last - Simon Sinek
3,Invincible thinking - Ryoho Okawa
4.Guts and Glory - Makarand Waigankar
5.Devdas - Sharathchandra Chattopadhyay
6.One Minute Manager - Ken Blanchard
7.48 laws of Power - Robert Greene
8.Choukathi Bahercha Cinema - Ganesh Matkari
9.It's a Matter of Attitude -Justin Herald
10.Lolita - Vladimir Nabakov
11.Train to Pakistan - Khuswant Singh
12.Sputnik Sweetheart - Haruki Murakami
13.How Google Works - Eric Schmidt and Jan Rosenberg
14.Stillness Speaks - Eckart Tolle
15.Chanakya in You - Radhakrishnan Pillai
16.10 Second Miracle - Gay Hendricks
17.Sole Sisters Run
18.Connecting the Dots - Rashmi Bansal
19. Chronicle of a Death Foretold - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
20. Tao of Leadership - John Heider
21.A Confederacy of Dunces - Kennedy O'Toole
22. Leadership at Infosys -
23. The Leader Who Had no Title - Robin Sharma
24.Those in Peril - Wilbur Smith
25.How to Win any Argument - Robert Mayer
26.When God Bowls a Googly - Aswhath Aiyappa
27.Aarushi - Avirook Sen
28.Tinderbox and Other Stories - Hans Christian Anderson
29.The Heat and Dust Project - Devapriya and Saurav Jha
30.A Simple Heart -Gustave Flaubert
31.A Pair of Silk Stockings -
32.A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Tree - Kenko
33.Gooseberries - Anton Chekov
34.The Nose - Nikolai Gogol
35.Il Duro - DH Lawrence
36. The Art of thinking clearly - Rolf Dobbelli
37.Lord Arthur Savile's Crime - Oscar Wilde
38.Pitch it - Dev Prasad
39.Traffic - John Ruskin
40.Dolphins, Whales and the Gudgeon - Aesop
41.Kasyan from the Beautiful Lands - Ivan Turgerev
42.Femme Fatale - Guy de Maupassant
43.Steel Flea - Nikolay Leskov
44.Mottled Dawn - Saadat Hasan Manto
45.Great Fire of London - Samuel Pepys
46.Old Man of the Moon - Shen Fu
47.Miss Brill - Katherine Mansfield
48.A Slip Under the Microscope - H.G. Wells
49.The Robber Bridegroom - Brothers Grimm
50.How to be a Literary Sensation - Krishna Sastry Devulapalli
51.The Tao of Coaching - Max Landsberg
52. Cracking the Code - Ayushman Khurana
53. And Then one Day - Naseeruddin Shah

The books that made an impact are - Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Train to Pakisatn, Manto's stories, Tao of Leadership, A Confederacy of Dunces, Devdas, Steel Flea, Old Man and the Moon, Aarushi, Start with Why, One Minute Manager, How Google Works.

I loved Krishna Sastry's 'How to be a Literary Sensation' which is a delightful piece of funny non-fiction writing and something new. Ashwath Aiyappa's book 'When God Bowled a Googly' is a cry of anguish from young people of today's world as they try to cope with too much. It was moving to hear of this youngster's expereinces - and of his subsequent, untimely death.

The Walk - Movie Review

Philippe Petit walked the distance between the twin towers in New York on a high wire in  August 1974 with no support or safety equipment and named it 'le coup'. 'The Walk' is a movie based on that epic walk when Petit walked the wire eight times, to and fro for 45 minutes, at a height of 1350 feet, saluting the crowds, kneeling on it, once even lying down on it. It was a time when the twin towers were being built that Petit staged his unauthorised walk.

Young Petit is a juggler, high wire artist and many other things. While in Paris he sees a picture of the twin towers and to put a wire across those towers and walk across that becomes his life mission. He accumulates accomplices to help him in his mission, including the lovely Annie, Jean Paul, Jeff, JP, coach Papa Rudy, who guides him and makes a detailed plan to fulfil his dream. Nothing stops the young man - not even an injured foot that bleeds throughout his walk on the high wire, not the lack of permission, the many snags they encounter - and he pulls it off in style. Petit's feat was achieved when he was just under 25.

It's amazing how something seizes your imagination and becomes your life purpose. All else becomes secondary and your only focus is that goal. The madness of the idea fuels the kind of preparation that only someone like that can put in. Consumed by his idea, Petit draws everyone into his dream. One understands when he first steps on the rope why Papa Rudy says it is a 'beautiful thing'. In that moment one feels the beauty and honesty of that act, that thought. Petit becomes one with the balancing rod, the wire, the towers, the earth, the clouds and the sky, and as we watch we become one with all that too. The lessons that Papa Rudy teaches - of gratitude, of honesty, of arrogance, of preparation, of attention to detail and of deeply felt connection to the wire void - serve Petit well. On the wire he feels that immense gratitude. All artists would feel that.

Petit talks of his connection with the void, with his circle, with his space which is interesting. Hopefully I can read his book and get a first hand look into his mind and his thoughts. His obsession with the wire, his costume, the equipment borders on selfishness but then its that kind of an obsession that sparks such acts. The connection between danger and beauty, life and death, peace and anarchy, artistry and creation shows up.

It's the perfect movie to watch for our corporate teams. The huge goal, the preparation, the mad desire to achieve it come what may, the setting oneself up for something of that scale and then delivering it are all lessons to draw. But then not everyone can become a Petit. Wonder why it took so long to make this movie. One 3d moment when Petit first suffers a fall, his only fall apparently, and the balancing pole hurtles at your eye. Papa Rudy tells him that most high wire artists who die, fall in the last three steps - they think they have arrived but they still have three more steps to walk. You have never arrived until you have.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Movie Review

A friend of mine asked me if I had the entire collection of Star Wars. He wanted his young kids to watch the entire series before he showed them the 7th. I remember watching the first one perhaps before I dropped off the Star Wars. I don't think I will watch any more.

Star Wars 7 is one that all die hard fans would watch. For non-fans like me there is precious little. I found it too cliched and juvenile, with predictable lines (May the force be with you!) and scenes. I found it difficult to engage with their stories, their emotions - even in 3D. When the robots made funny noises some people laughed. The girl keeps crying often for no reason but I did not feel like crying with her. Harrison Ford is struggling with his joints which is the loss of an illusion. The great Luke Skywalker appears like a shepherd atop a hill, looking rather lost in the end (if I were the girl I'd have checked his id). Mostly it is about bad parenting by Ford and his wife who bring up a terrible fellow who goes about in a complicated costume as their son. It's one of the most boring movies I have seen especially in the context of the background, the epic characters and the money and talent at his disposal. Enough said. Let me now move on and find a way to end the year on a good note.

Skyfall - Movie Review

Bond almost dies. Survives. Becomes a wreck. Then M almost dies. Then she dies thankfully. Then the villain with no purpose dies. Many cars and helicopters and other vehicles die.

It's not fun watching this Bond with no sense of humour. It made no sense either. Why M keeps interfering when the chaps are doing a fine job, why anyone wants to kill M. Why M is there at all in the first place.

The song by Adele is the best part of the movie.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Osmania University College of Engineering Global Alumni Meet 2015 - A Trip Down Memory Lane

So after almost three decades after passing out of the Osmania University Engineering College we were invited to a large scale Global Alumni Meet. Vijay was driving it and he put in a lot of effort. There were alumna from 1951 - to the last batch. About a 1000 showed up. The program was well organised and was a resounding success. I met many old mates - Choudary  and I went together, Sanjay came with us as did Chandu, Vijay was on the dais, Srinivas Reddy, Sriman, Ravikanth, Subramanyam, Balaswamy, Pradeep Mannam, Srikanth Iyengar, Dhananjay Goud, Jitender, Amarender, Sridhar, Rajkumar and on and on. I met Prof. Shamraj too, dapper and fun as always.
Dec, 2015, Koni, me and Chandu at our favorite place - the steps, Sanjay went missing at the critical time as always.
Among the things I did was write a piece about our days in college for the souvenir. I think it might just be appropriate to share the same here now because it does recount our times then with as much detail as I can remember. Will also place a few pics - from then and now.
Feb 1988, Three of us in this pic too  - Chandu standing, Sunil Jyoti, Ali Mumtaz, Aquel Husain, Koni, Sanjay (partly hidden), me (foreground) and Subbu

The article then.

 “What They Don’t Teach You at OUCE But What You Can Get to Learn if You Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open”
Harimohan Paruvu
Civil, 1984-88

When Vijay first asked me to write about our years at the Osmania University College of Engineering I was naturally apprehensive. Any realistic account of my years at the engineering college would be suicidal of course. There were things that had to be done which I did not while there, and there were things that should not have been done which had done. Hence, my rising app. But I decided to go ahead with it in the interests of recording history and, as governments the world over do, present a slightly watered down version of those years.
Me and Srikanth Iyengar - part of the winning Vizzy Trophy team for South Zone 1991
I had no clue about what engineering was about when I joined the course (I found out two years after I left the college what that word meant). I had precariously low knowledge of maths and physics and chemistry. My only expertise was restricted to the cricket field. I sneaked in to the college through the sports quota and once I got there faced, what certainly appeared to be a formidable challenge to my mental faculties for four years (or more). I felt like a total fraud going into this center of learning with my appalling credentials – but then truth be told - I feel like a total fraud going though life itself. But like most things in life, I knew we could always solve the big problems when they showed up. 
So I put my chin up and walked into this imposing building they called the Osmania University College of Engineering.

Between then and the final year, much changed inside of me. Not all of it was because of what was taught inside the classroom, so let me try and tell you “What They Don’t Teach You at OUCE But What You Can Get to Learn if You Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open”. (My last book was a self-help book and I have still not got out of that mode.)
Aboard the Nancowrie 1986 -  Cruising the Bay of Bengal on the way to Port Blair (Sanjay, Subbu, me and Sydney on far right)
To walk into a room full of colleagues who knew their maths, physics and chemistry inside out, with nothing more technical sounding than the angle to hold the seam to bowl an outswinger (and that too on occasion), was a daunting task. Everyone looked like a scholar, seemed to know the time table, the subjects, the way to navigate through this ocean. I looked around desperately and found equally desperate eyes of fellow sportsmen. Kindred souls. But my cause was not helped by my hobnobbing with my fellow sportsmen (the sportswomen turned out to be a smarter lot and hobnobbed with the toppers). We realized that after sweating it out on the fields we had little gas left for academic pursuits. We spent much time at the canteen where there was no threat of being called by the professors to answer academic questions in class, the answers to which we did not know then or will never know ever – why they asked us I could never figure out. If the same professor had come to bat without knowing that the cricket ball would hurt, I don’t think I would have revelled in bowling the shiny cherry at his head and indulged in mocking at his lack of ability. The classes then were not the place where I would learn I decided. It had to be elsewhere. That is how it panned out anyway.
End of Pot Pourrie I guess 1988 - chai at Hilton after an exhausting day of doing nothing
The first of the great lessons I learned at the OUCE was that there was a place for everyone in the world. Like many wise men say today, diversity is the way forward and this came through at the college. If we were not really wanted in the classroom we found that we were welcomed with open arms at the canteen. It was filled with free spirits who did not think much of classes, who had ready wit, who loved movies and were constantly making plans of breaking some law or the other. We drank much chai, discussed movies, pondered over the pros and cons of falling in love with most of the girls who visited the canteen and went home rich and content with this new knowledge. We found solace for our troubled hearts in these wonderful centres of tolerance and acceptance. Lesson one – we had a place in the world too. Just as any parliament has a place for all sorts and not just those who knew maths, physics and chemistry, I found I belonged too.

Any education worth its salt has to be about finding our legs, our feet and ourselves. I was hopelessly purposeless when I walked into college (now I am hopefully purposeless). My insecurity grew many times thanks to my seriously academic friends who had alien aspirations like GRE, TOEFL, US, foreign Universities, I20s, MS degrees and stuff like that. Where these guys had their entire lives planned out right down to their foreign cars, jobs, universities, types of girls to marry, children to have, what universities to send them to etc - I could not see beyond the day, did not know what all these words meant and had no idea why anyone would want to leave home and go to a cold country full of foreign people. They appeared to be brave souls with great clarity and I admired them secretly. As opposed to them and their clarity of purpose I hoped something would happen to me and I would end up somewhere in between a rich and opulent life and a mediocre life. Hopefully a normal life like in the advertisements – with a house, a car, a wife, children and a dog. A farmhouse, a house in the hills would be welcome of course. I however, was hazily aware that I needed something to hold on to. It was then that my weakest link became my strongest. I found that there were a lot of people who seemed to like the fact that I could play cricket well. Playing first class cricket for the state, getting my pictures in the newspapers and magazines every once in a while was not bad achievement in a world full of geeks and I started feeling a bit more confident of standing on my own two feet. That is something I am immensely grateful for –that we are all enough with whatever we have. Even the knowledge of how to bowl fast which I believed had limited application in this world. How wrong I was! But that was lesson number two – I was good enough with whatever I had.
Life at the college canteen - Seth in the red coat and Vijay to the extreme right
The next thing I found after settling down was that people were easy to get along with if you had the capacity to smile, to greet and be genuinely fake. People of all hues and backgrounds came into my life and I got along well with most. I made friends in the table tennis rooms, in the canteen, in the hostels, in the cricket fields, inside and outside class rooms, in seniors and juniors, among all sexes. Soon life was like being in some heady high all the time. Imagine being suffused by love all the time, not a care in the world despite empty pockets and all the hope the world can offer. It was an incredible high. Lesson number 3 – that if the heart was open, friends walked in by the droves. And so many of them are still in touch sharing jokes and wisdom on whatsapp (which I discontinued a few months ago)!

It was quite clear that sooner than later the dreaded academic side would catch up with me and put me under stress. That was when I learned another lesson – that if we asked there were many who wanted to go out of their way to help. Apart from the core group of fellows who made it their life mission to distract me from any meaningful work, I remember Prof Shamraj who helped all sportspersons with the same generosity that he exhibits even today, Fakeer Mohammed saab who was our PD and then Venkat Reddy who joined as the PD later. All of them in their own way helped me and all sportsmen in general in every way and made our journey more bearable in terms of internals and attendance and other scary, academic stuff. There were also a myriad souls who were willing to help with our academics – those who took time out and cracked their heads trying to explain basic stuff to us. All we had to do was ask and there was help in every way possible. Lesson number 4 – if you need help, ask. I was surprised at how much help I received by merely acting and looking helpless. (That’s when I got the realization that women are really smart)
After an inter-faculty game of cricket
Where I was limited by my knowledge of maths and science, many others were limited by language itself. I soon realized that if I could understand a bit of subjects (not mathematics which used a different language) and convey it well in English, I had a better chance of scoring higher than a guy who knew the subject but could not convey it. So I filled my papers with tons and tons of prose with all that I knew – from the introduction of the book to the bibliography, all that was English was my field. I learned that everyone has a weakness - and it is how we use our weaknesses and strengths to achieve our goal that matters. My aim was not to get a gold medal – I merely wanted to pass. So this use of English to argue my case worked fine. It probably served as early practice to write stories too – I used lots of additional papers as I stretched my tiny one line answers many times over across eight or nine drama-filled pages. Lesson number 4 – work within your limitations, don’t beat yourself up and find a way to use your limitations well.

Once in the second year we were faced with a sudden and unfair change of rules – from 24 backlogs which would have ensured smooth passage to the final year without studying at all - it was brought  down to a mere two backlogs. So one fine day, after I had missed an entire semester exam owing to cricket commitments, I was told that I needed to clear 16 of my 18 exams compulsorily in about 25 days or repeat the year. Somehow for me, failing was an option, but repeating an year was not – it seemed like a terribly boring thing to do. I pulled in all the resolve I had, set myself down to learn from all sources, waylaid the best in the business at the library, and picked off the subjects off one by one. A whole month of taking it ball by ball, session by session, paid off and I did manage to scrape through all 18. It was an achievement I pride myself on in retrospect – I could do anything if I set my mind to it I felt. I appreciate now my survival instinct in seeking help from everyone – profs to colleagues. More importantly I realized the importance of a good teacher. The subjects taught by Ram, Vinod and Krishna Reddy in short classes in the library that lasted not longer than 20 minutes resulted in scores of 70% and above for me – me who had no clue about those subjects. The lucidity of concepts taught by a good teacher sank in and I reproduced the same almost verbatim the next day. Lesson number four – a good guru can sort you out in a few minutes and explain stuff in simple terms. Get those mentors you all.
On our trusty steeds, some missing

One of the most important lessons I learned during those years was the importance of ownership and what it takes to win. It was on the cricket field that I fully understood what it takes to win. This happened after many painful losses of course. There were games that I played both for college, university and state when I made up my mind that we would not lose and I did all that I could to ensure that. That mindset helped me many times and I knew that if I accessed that mindset, I could not lose or not give less than what I could. I had to commit and prepare, and be ready for the consequences of wanting to reach out to a higher world. We won hard fought championships with severely compromised teams that ran on nothing but passion. Lesson number five – the importance of preparation and ownership, the commitment to win.

In the same breath I realized how much I gained as an individual if my team won. This was something that the cricket field taught me again. Every time I did something to help my team win I found that I was recognized for my part in the win, even with lesser performance, and was rewarded suitably. I understood how important it was to work for the team, how important for everyone to feel the same way in every one’s own benefit. I did use this learning to be of some help to all those who mattered to me, to play my part in that team and I am not much worse for that.
Picking some prizes for Civil 1988 - Venkat Reddy, our PD, in the background
As I progressed towards the final year, I found that girls were people too and not angels on a heavenly mission to mess our minds. So when they donned their human avatars, I found it easier to know them and speak to them. However for some reason I think I was under the popular illusion that if one kissed a girl one had to marry her so I avoided going past holding hands (which is not crossing the marriage limit by any standards). Time passed, women passed. Lesson number five was more important than any – tis better to have tried than never to have tried at all. It remains one big regret that so many lovely ladies never knew of my wonderful intentions towards them and probably never will. However as a lesson I carry that forward, and pass my love freely these days.

It was not that I spent my time at college learning boring self-help lessons. They happened by some mistake and sound better in retrospect. What really happened was a complete waste of time with some excitable, adrenalin junkies that I made as friends. Choudary, Sanjay, Subbu, Ali, Ram, Sunil Jyoti, Chandu, Vijay, Gautam were some who remained constantly in damaging distance through those years and shared many mad moments.
Somewhere inside the college, but outside the classroom (From left - Aqueel, Subbu, Sanjay, Chandu, Ali, me and a junior of ours)
Once we took off in Choudary’s jeep on a hunting trip – saw nothing but a rabbit’s tail - and on the return journey got the driver excited enough to take a sharp turn. The jeep keeled over and tumbled on to its side with all of us inside. How we jumped out and put it back on its four wheels in a minute was a mystery and save for V who suffered some damage, all was fine. Yet another time we travelled on the flimsiest set of two wheelers to the famed dhabhas of Medchal and were chased on the way back by lathi wielding cops on Bullets. Luckily I was on a bike that was faster than the one at the end of the line. To spice things up there were politics and elections, enmities and friendships, wins and losses. There was love, and quiet visits to the ladies hostel. Once I walked into an exam to answer a paper on Geometrical Drawing and realized I did not even know how to fix the drafter. A helpful neighbor fixed it for me and unfixed it later. Full marks for courage but what was I hoping for I did not know. Perhaps I expected the drafter to draw on its own once it was fixed – I was always an optimist you see.
Aqueel and Koni on the bike, Seth posing as if he does not belong, outside the canteen
I found some amazing ingenuity like a friend who bribed a clerk to get an internal question paper. So busy were we celebrating this coup that we failed to prepare and were more unprepared than we would have been if there was no question paper in hand. Also I found great improvisations with which our friends would copy – highly scientific methods using the angle of light and a particular kind of ink. I found that our toppers had no qualms in copying too, if it added a mark or two. And once we went and submitted the wrong assignment – a civil structures assignment to the steel structures Prof - the strictest Prof in the department. There were late night revelries in the hostels, movies, bread omelet at the late night canteen run by Sattar who they say finally went off to the USA himself. The day canteen was run by a moustachioed gentleman who went by the simple name of Seth – some said he was a rich landlord who lost his land. Seth was a kindly soul but knew nothing of how to make chai till the last day.

There was cultural upliftment. Music for example. We listened to music in the eclectic students lounge which I found was an advanced concept. It had a record player and some fine records chosen by someone with good taste. I heard America there for the first time– “Magic” and “Horse with no name”. One chap would play music on request there. Luckily, in those days, people could sit by and chat without getting beaten up for listening to some kind of music or sitting in a particular style those days – people were a bit more tolerant then. We also had these western music nights during annual day celebrations where a group called ‘Katalog’ came and played dangerous stuff like ‘Cocaine’, ‘Smoke on the water’, ‘Money for nothing’ and stuff like that while we recreated our own version of Woodstock.
Informal cricket - Subbu diving away (for the pic I suspect) 
There was our own cultural festival ‘Pot Pourri’ which we could never pronounce right. The good news was that the festival brought in good looking girls to the college voluntarily so we did not have to go searching for them. The bad news was that these good looking girls found people who matched their intellect and wandered off with them. We found a way to get our own back at these cultural festivals which excluded us sportsmen – we were culturally challenged you see – so we started a cricket game called informal cricket which was a one bounce, hostel corridor version. It became a big hit with an all-girl team participating in it too. I use those same games to explain team work and leadership to companies these days. So I did learn something at college that provides me a livelihood after all!

What good is a good college story if there are no cops. After one cultural festival one of our excitable friends got carried away and imbibed a bit too much culture. Unfortunately there was a skirmish during the festival that warranted police presence. We were desperately shifting our drunken friend to the hostel before the cops caught us and would have had too, had he not insisted on stopping the bike and proclaiming his love for each one of us individually. In the middle of his ballad arrived the constabulary and we were all carted off to the police station first, the hospital next for medical examination and finally thanks to some intervention by a political bigwig, let off from the police station with stern warnings after midnight. Our friend, a middle distance runner, decided to celebrate his freedom by taking off on a run at a pace that was too hot for us even on bikes. We searched for him all over and when we returned in a state of despair found him cosily snuggled in his hostel room oblivious to all that happened.

In one another incident we found the same hero at the receiving end of some abuse by a conductor. Offended by the conductor’s abuse, the temperamental young lad garnered some support from the hostel, stopped every single bus that returned on that route and proceeded to id every conductor. When the erring conductor was produced it was a hell of a scene – buses stopped for miles on either side while the conductor was gently reminded of the advantages of being polite. Once again he made use of his runner legs and sped away before the constabulary arrived. For a long time after the session on good conduct, bus conductors on that route behaved with utmost respect to the engineering students. Good education always helps.
Pic from Endeavour - Sanjay (bearded) just back from a basket ball game chatting with Koni and some pals from CBIT
There was this Inter-Engineering college sports meet called ‘Endeavour’. I led our Engineering college which was the favorite to win until the semis and then left for a state commitment. When we won the game against CBIT in an inter-college game there was that classic college moment when the prettiest girl from CBIT was gracious enough to seek me out in the dressing room and congratulated me. When she shook hands, many hearts around me burned and I swear I could see smoke go up in the air. Perfect filmy stuff. It made a lot of my friends wildly jealous. But it remains a wonderful moment. In a revenge match the CBIT guys, all good friends, called us over to their college, and once again lost. This time we were supported by the prettiest girls from our college who had become good friends with us by then!

A moment of great pride for me was being part of the Ranji trophy team that won the prestigious trophy for only the second time in its history (and the last time since), and the vice chancellor invited me over for tea at his lodge. That remains a high point in my two years on campus. Tea with the VC? It was bigger than the tea with the Chief Minister for me. It was a fine gesture.
Chief Minister NT Rama Rao presenting me with a certificate and a cheque for being part of the winning Ranji team, 1987
There were bike trips to Goa, feni and extreme drunkenness (funnily I never drank in those days). There was a ship cruise to the Andamans to visit our friend Ali – where sleeping on the deck and watching the stars, watching the sea and sky merge as flying fish flew by were great memories. There were movies by the dozens, some classics and some utter trash. Ditto for biryanis and cheap Chinese lunches at Alex’s Kitchen and Chin Ling. There were table tennis matches that won us many lunches on days when we had no extra money. One trip to Nagarjuna Sagar with the Electrical batch which is best forgotten except for a twilight walk on the dam listening to the Beatles sing ‘Paperback Writer’ and ‘Hey Jude’ thanks to Subbu’s small tape. Friends turned into foes and scooter dickies filled with cycle chains. As the final year grew closer we occupied the immense halls of the main library building that served as a great base to study alongwith our many well wishers who taught us how to survive exams.

As our time at the college shortened I could see the energy of the US dream engulfing more than half the class. The other half was planning for a life of higher academics or jobs. I realized I had not yet gained any special ability and needed to set my academic career right before I proceeded further. I gave up on my Engineering which had been severely compromised and focused on getting myself an MBA. But first things first, I needed to clear my engineering.
Outside Minerva Coffee Shop - where we used to cram for our exams (Subbu, Koni, Sanjay, Ali and me)
In one way or another, classroom or outside, the transition from gawky, unsure teenager to bearded, unsure young man did happen. I learned what I could, and to me, it was enough. If education was about finding self esteem and a confidence that one can get along in life using right principles, I did walk off from those portals with some semblance of those learnings. Along the way it was a great bonus to have found the love and appreciation of so many friends.

Now when Vijay asks me to write about those years, I can only look back at that period with great fondness. It was a time of celebration, of youth, of follies and fun, of learning and openness. It is a time that is still clear in my mind. Today older and wiser I can appreciate the goodness of all those who showered me with their love and understand the limitations of mine and all those who were found wanting in certain circumstances. We were all evolving and learning, work in progress. All is now forgiven and when we meet now, older, wiser and greyer, I know most of us have evolved into leaders who are fighting the good battle well. There are so many luminaries in that batch doing wonderful work in the government, in industry, in education, in arts and culture and many other fields. Too many to mention but one would like to believe, as every batch does I am sure, that this was a special batch. Forget the heroes, even the villains were spectacular.
Serious stuff - prepping for the finals at the Main library (Koni, Anand and Subbu)
For those who may want to know more about the gaps in my story, here goes. The path was messy and continues to be. After the engineering degree I acquired an MBA from Osmania College of Commerce and Business Management. Those two years were spent slightly more purposefully in terms of acquiring academic knowledge and credentials. I landed jobs serially in petroleum, airlines, exports and finally a development bank (which I preferred to call an investment bank because it sounded better than a development bank). Many years later I decided to chuck it all and live life on the edge – chasing my passions. Of course I had two passions cricket and writing and so I combined the two and started writing on cricket. The first book, a novel titled ‘The Men Within’, took a while in coming but when it did, it was made into a Telugu film ‘Golconda High School’, the second was a romance titled ‘If You Love Someone” and was not made into a film and the third is a self-help book on cricket titled ’50 Not Out’. Some more books are on the way as I navigate my way through this writing world. I flirted a bit with cricket administration and served as Chairman of the Senior Selection Committee for the Hyderabad Cricket Association before retiring into my peaceful life again. Since I use some management jargon and also need to pay bills – I do some work with corporates on leadership and team building. I have a wife who is equally footloose and has not a thought about tomorrow. We have an eight year old daughter who is exactly the opposite and who is fully grounded so we are back to the classroom again.
Sunil Jyoti, me, Ram, Anand and Ali - returning to college 
The lessons that began at the University continue in the University of Life.

P.S. Let me put on record a love affair I never acknowledged before. If for nothing else but its grand looks and strength of character, I would never trade those four years of engineering for anyplace else. It was all I could imagine of a university; stately buildings, huge halls, sweeping staircases, endless corridors, expansive steps, lawns, libraries, the dignity and history, it was marvelous. I hope someone puts a picture of the building in this edition. I was very much in love with the way my college looked and feel proud that I belonged there.

Merry Christmas - Timothy Paul's Gift

For well over three decades I have known Timothy. Handsome, quick thinking, fast on his feet and a man who hates to lose a cricket match, a table tennis match, a running race or even a battle of wits (I pitted myself against him on all four and lost). Timothy must always have the last word.

I remember seeing him for the first time at the Osmania University cricket grounds way back in the 80s when we were in college, me studying engineering and he studying law. He made an immediate impression with his Clint Eastwood kind of Hollywood looks, slim hips and broad shoulders. And of course a pleasant countenance and an intelligent mind.
Merry Christmas!
Somehow we gravitated to each other and shared many confidences - he would advise me on all things from love (always marry someone who loves you, never make the mistake of marrying whom you love), to captaincy (give them clear roles, set them targets, most people have no clue what to do unless you tell them). He was a keen student of the game too and would give many insights into batting. Many are the hours we spent at the Ameerpet playground practicing and talking.

I made several trips to unheard of places to play games thanks to Paulie - from Aizza College in Malakpet, Guntur, Nanded, Parbani, Machilipatnam, Zaheerabad, Bidar, Basavakalyan and maybe some more. In most places we won and sometimes were in physical danger from local sides. I would not have gone on a  single one of those tours if it had not been for Timothy - I trusted him to handle my end and also make it a good outing. We won some crazy games - the one at Aizza College was one of the craziest - and played as opponents at times. One particular memory I have is the two of us sitting on the railings at parade grounds and watching the game - we were part of the Hyderabad Under-25 team that game.

We watched movies - in Machilipatnam and in Zaheerabad - picking the sleaziest ones. In fact I remember watching one movie with him at Tivoli where we took a bus to Patni and hired a rickshaw to Tivoli. Crazy days.

Then there was the music phase when we would exchange music and he was in the best-of-collection phase.He still has a great collection of movies and of music. Without doubt Paulie has been one of the very few cricketers who remained a special friend with me on and off the pitch.

But that's not all. Paulie, to me, is now synonymous with Christmas.

I remember walking into Paulie's home back in the 90s on a Christmas day. Paulie then lived in the Punjagutta quarters. A quick Merry Christmas and some delicious cake and we were gone. little did I know that this would become a wonderful tradition in the years to come. Today the crowd at Paulie's house is only growing each year. For two decades now or more it's now customary for us to go to Paulie's house on Christmas evening - meet him and Seema - partake of their generosity and love and great food, company and ambience. Yesterday, after another one of those wonderful Christmas parties, I was telling them how they have somehow made this day so special for us with their graciousness and love.

It is only here, on this day, that Paulie lets his vulnerable side show up - else he is always on guard and waiting to seize the initiative. But on Christmas day he is all good host, caring to a fault, putting every single guest at ease and making them feel fully taken care of. His care and attention to detail always shows and he walks everyone in and out, which is so different from the Paulie we know (or think we know). So from the littlest kids, right from Anjali, to the oldest, Paul takes personal care. So there are the regulars - Rahul, Nagender, Ashok Nair, Ramani, Bhaskar, Aman, Ranvir, Raghavaiah, Bansi, Kumar and many more. Yesterday I caught up with the Askari brothers - Mujtaba, Khurram and their younger sibling, Sunil Bhange and many more people.

Thanks Paulie and Seema, for all the wonderful Christmases and for being around. Now Christmas can never be complete without what you made it. It is truly something special.

There was something we used to laugh about - Paulie and me- in fact we laughed about it yesterday too. There was a time when there were four of us and for some reason we decided to go for lunches each sponsored by one. Of course those were times when we all did not have money either (I certainly did not, still don't). I got some money from the HCA for the Ranji Trophy championship and I put up my hand. After two parties from Kumar and me, the other two, Paulie included, stopped. They wanted the other to host first in a game of one upmanship. It stopped there. Though Paulie laughs and says he got the best of us I don' think so - he has been hosting these wonderful parties that remind me of the Gatsby parties, for over two decades now. Mine, Paulie, in retrospect, was just a drop in the ocean.

And among his many virtues, Paulie is one guy I can share deep confidences with and at the same time, really laugh. He's one of the few guys who makes me laugh. Merry Christmas Paulie.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Bajirao Mastani - Movie Review

Peshwa Bajirao (1700-1740) wins many wars for the Marathas as their general under the emperor Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj . In fact he is undefeated in battle - after forty nine wars. His aim is to dethrone the Mughals from Delhi. But while on a battle to help the Bundelkhand king Raja Chatrasaal, he falls for the princess of Bundelkhand, who is half Muslim. Or perhaps its the other way around - that she fell for him. Or perhaps they both fell in love at the same time. His love for the half-Muslim is not acceptable to the Peshwas and he and his love are subjected to much resistance. Mastani is rejected, conspiracies are hatched to kill her, attacked, humiliated and imprisoned. The two however hold on to their love tenaciously - it's a love that dares all. In real life as well, Mastani is said to have died soon after Bajirao's death. The family's rejection of Mastani weakens and finally claims the most popular of Peshwa - at least according to the movie.

Ranveer Singh lives the role of Peshwa Bajirao with an ease that is disconcerting. It is almost every breath he is taking is that of the Peshwa, so convincing does he look on screen. He honours every promise he makes and looks the cheetah, the warrior, the speedy king. Priyanka Chopra as Kashibai, his first wife and the Peshwain, brings the complexities of her role with all the craftsmanship she has. Deepika looks the part of the regal Mastani, the warrior princess of Bundelkhand who has lost her heart to the Peshwa. Tanvi Azmi is delectable as Bajirao's mother. Milind Soman shows up as an elder in the court and Bajirao's adviser and confidant.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali weaves this tale well and shows it magnificently. The tale starts with a bang - Bajirao claiming the Peshwa's responsibility in a tense first scene. And it hardly loses steam from there despite the intrigues and conflicts being mostly internal. Rarely have I seen such perfection on the Indian screen as every visual looks authentic, vibrant and alive. If there is one grouse, it is that the love story could have been developed better to show how the Peshwa lost his heart so hopelessly to the young princess. Worth a watch. Team Bajirao Mastani can sleep easy. It's an effort that deserves praise.

Sports Day at Daksha - Peace and Sports Sportathon 2015

Every year Daksha organises one big annual event - either an annual cultural day or a sports day. This year was the sports day. Also being the 10th year since Daksha came into existence, it was special for many reasons. What started, as Anita shared 'with 3 children and 2 teachers' has now grown into a school of 400 children that is known for its commitment to right education, values and all that should be right in a school. From nutrition to yoga, values to exposure, Anita and her team are constantly thinking up ways to improve delivery, to engage children better and facilitate their growth. Much of the work and intent is on display in these annual events - Anita's complete focus and first priority is her chidren, her kind and encouraging attitude to all of them whether they perform well or not, her support to her team, the teachers' commitment to their goups, the helpers and even the children who were quite magnificent in their patience and performance.
Let's go
The numbers are growing, so even the large Kotla Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy stadium was filled - at least in the car parking aspect. The show started at 4 pm. Anjali was part of the yoga, the skating display and an aerobic dance at the end - so we settled down to a 3 and a half hour show. The children and the teachers have been preparing for almost two months. Costumes, choreography, theme, props, practice, venue, sound, music, lights, invites - it all has to fall in place exactly right. And it showed as always. When the effort is complete and you know it, the result does not matter anyway because you have given your best. Most times the result is positive.
All set for the show
The day's events comprised of - Yoga, Butterflies and honeybees race, Color race, Journey that shall never end, Alphabet race, Number race, Fitness all the way, Good food race, Relay race, Kung fu presentation, Skating display, Dress up well race, Environment is the theme, Complementary pairs, Animals race, Friendship theme, Its my creative world, Class I aerobics Happiness, Class 2 Brahmaguptas - we have the zing, we have the zeal, Class III and IV - Proud to be indians, We are Team India and the March past at the end.
The mean kung fu team
As always the sections that included the younger ones brought loud laughs and great joy at the energy and innocence the little ones displayed. The older kids, including Anjali's class, really astounded us with performances that made us go Wow. One cannot help but think about how much preparation has gone into it, how well children respond to responsibility.
Yoga - balancing the mind and the body
Apart from the preparation and fun aspects, two things stood out to me this year. One is the way Daksha integrates special children into each class. Though it is not a school for special children the way they integrate a child in every class stands out. For one, the way the other children accept diversity is such a huge learning at this age. They take it so beautifully in their stride. In ways that are so casual but so clear, the children take care of their special friends without making him or her feel less than. In one performance the children brought Saketh (I think) on to the forefront of the dance. I could see the teacher want to stop them from bringing him out into the forefront of the dance - more out of concern perhaps - and then she stopped and let them do what they could. The children, one boy and a girl, gently found their way around other dancers and brought him up front. Every other child intuitively made space and Saketh stood and swayed to the music with the rest. It was a sight that fills your heart. While doing yoga, the same young man with a resilient heart, sat on his chair and participated with gusto.
Saketh, on the chair, extreme left, performing yoga with his mates 
He let no activity go and did what he could at his own beat and time. Similarly Akhil skated along with the skating group and completed it at his own pace. The people in the arena allowed them to do their thing at their pace and beat which shows the compassion, maturity and thought that surrounds the place. When children see their teachers behaving in this fashion, they follow such behaviors forever. Its wonderful.
Akhil, hidden behind the man, skating, followed by helper akka and Radhika

Secondly, some of the moves that the children displayed in kung fu, yoga, aerobics really had a wow factor to them. All credit to the teachers and instructors. And mostly the children.

Everyone was acknowledged and awarded with a medal for their participation. The lights went off, but this time the situation was retrieved fast. The program went on past half past eight but no one was complaining.
Butterflies and honeybees - running all over the place
As one parent put it, it is increasingly evident that Anita has these wonderful leadership qualities where she draws followers to her who are loyal committed and who go that extra mile for her. It can only reflect Anita, Kamakashi, Radhika and the rest of the team (which includes Mansi's mother Pavani and Harsh's mother Vaishali).
The growing galaxy of teachers - 40 at last count
There is much to learn from her approach, her composure under pressure, her preparation and mostly her commitment. She is one person who is clear about her why, her purpose - and such journeys end far beyond what we can imagine.
The ever helpful and compassionate helpers
I was telling Kiran as we sat in the gallery that in a few years Anita should contest the elections. We badly need leaders like her. Young architect and aspiring politician Naveen Yadav, who had been Radhika's student, and who helps the school out when he can, spoke of the great commitment of Anita and Radhika and his desire to help the team in whichever way he can.
Team India aerobics dance - Anjali striking a casual pose in row 1

Shobha and I had fun watching the show. Mythily joined us. We ate our biscuits, drank the free chai that Daksha provided and throughly enjoyed the program. There was a guy who made a killing selling popcorn.
The theme of the evening - PEACE

Well done Team Daksha. Wishing you may more years of continued success.

Cracking the Leadership Code, Building Ownership Muscle - Workshop 2 on December 22, 2015

The second workshop in the series 'Cracking the Leadership Code - Building Ownership Muscle' for middle management went off well. There were some minor tweaks to the program and they all worked.

The idea that effective leadership can make a huge difference to team output and that leadership can be learned - were quickly addressed (both a resounding yes). Moving on we looked into the leadership blackbox and answered four questions that could help us as a leader in any situation - why we are leading, the purpose of it all (to make things better), what are we trying to achieve (goal clarity), how do we achieve it (the process) and who (it's always about people because we are only leading people).

Having got some understanding of the leadership box we then proceeded to look at traits one does not want in a boss (ranked ourselves against it) and then, listed traits we would love to see in our boss (ranked ourselves again). We became aware of what to work on. A quick understanding of the evolution of the leader - from an insecure and unprepared leader to a secure leader - with the important transit point of personal leadership in between was looked at. Key issues here - drop insecure traits that we are carrying and take up personal leadership i.e. own and consequently expand your current role. (Why should I - because its an investment for your growth.) A detailed look at the expanded role and how one can achieve it was followed by a discussion in their teams.

People management, conflict management, what people look for, how long to handhold the team member and when to praise and when to admonish and how to do it, were all experienced through role play. Then a quick understanding of secure leadership, of behaviors to act upon to build ownership muscle, and most importantly areas to work at in 90 days - work life, personal and social.

I enjoyed sharing the duck video that someone forwarded on whatsapp as a true example of secure leadership. No one taught the mother duck leadership through a workshop - she just followed her nature which is automatically about love.

Thanks Ira, Anupam, Anusha, Prasad, Shiva, Maradona, Charitarth,  Umar and a special thanks to Sukumar who came early and helped me with all the arrangements.

Some feedback:
This program helped in acknowledging and appreciating people, help my subs, encourage and motivate them, lead from front and deliver 100%. I'd view ownership now as an investment for my own growth. - SS

Helped me think of myself and reflect upon points where I can work upon. I plan to be more patient, listen more, take my team together and set a bigger goal for myself. - I

The entire session was very good. Learning how to take ownership helps organisation as well as our personal growth. Helped a lot in making my goals better and setting higher goals. Thanks for a beautiful session. - M

Learnt to appreciate people. Aware of my biases. As a leader I am now clear what my goal is, how to achieve it and how to implement it. - A

Learnt to appreciate and provide feedback. Building relationships with bosses and team and always being connected with them. Being patient with team members and helping them learn and grow. - U

Expanded role. Knowing what an ideal leader should be like. Team management. - A

Looking to improve on listening, asking questions and feedback, taking people into confidence, delegating work and allowing them to work independently. - S

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Anjali - Dog Stories Contd.

Anjali's dog stories are intensifying.

Now Anjali has done enough research on dogs and knows various breeds by heart and at sight. She knows which breeds are good with children, what they eat, their behaviors, how long they live, the diseases they are likely to get and a lot of such stuff which I never knew.

The picture on her screen on the computer is a golden retriver.

Dogs on the road are given lot of attention and addressed with a loving 'Dog'. We try and ignore the insinuations.

A piggy bank at home has a post it stuck on it that says Rs. 25000 for Golden Retriever. The fund has reached a few hundreds. The piggy has a suitably sad expression on its face too.

As a back up, she has now researched that one could adopt dogs for free. She knows the many beenfits of adopting dogs as well. There is a long list. Chiefly, "you get it for free".

There is a long letter on my pin up board - full of sentiment and emotion - written to us the parents, on how badly she wants a dog. It's titled 'I want a dog" and is a killer. It ends with a space for both of us to give our 'words and suggestions'. And a note to the dog - 'this is all for you dog'.

She has now drafted a contract. Where did she get that from I don't know - I suspect she has stumbled upon a kiddies site that has a step-by-step procedure to guide children on how to manipulate parents into buying them or getting them dogs. The contract talks of how we are all involved in taking care of the dog and whose responsibility is what. (When did this become an 'us' thing I don't know but suddenly it appears that I am a an active party to getting a dog which I am not.) There are signatures for parents and there is a signature for her. I signed already. I don't know why.

She made cards with the names of all dog breeds and flashes them - its like a deck of playing cards.

One thing I know for sure - whoever Anjali chooses to like or love is a lucky person. She pulls out all stops for that person (or dog).

I wonder what all I will do under this relentless pressure.

Monday, December 21, 2015

How To Be a Literary Sensation - Krishna Shastri Devulapalli

Krishna Shastri Devulapalli takes a break from writing humor novels (his earlier books 'Ice Boys in Bell Bottoms' and 'Jump Cut' gave ample indication of his rare talent) and tears into a non-fiction foray on his experiences as a writer that pretty much rips open all things literary in India. He chooses to please none and everyone in the domain is stripped off their pretences, normally hidden behind a translucent cloud. The result is a book that gives a writerly peek into this inaccessible industry - which is what makes Krishna's book hilarious. There's nothing as funny as the truth and Krishna is too good a humour writer to let go of so many wonderful truths that stare him in the eye all day.  To me this is a book that will remain unchallenged for a long long time for the simple reason that not many have his craft nor his courage and clarity of purpose.
Harper Collins, 249 p, Rs. 299

The cover gives it away. The byline (or tag line or whatever that is called) is too long so I did not include it up in the title. It's 'A Quick Guide to Exploiting Friends, Family and Facebook for Artistic Gain'. There is that stamped bookmark (or whatever it is called) on the top left hand side that proclaims 'India's No. 1 Non-Bestselling Humorous Writer'. Having sufficiently warned us Krishna then dips into his experiences with writing and getting published - consuming his family, friends, editors, lit agents, lit events, bestselling writers, published and unpublished writers and every one else in the path.

I rate funny books by the number of times they made me laugh out loud. My normal standard is three for a good book, especially if it has one that is long enough. Now not all humour writers have the ability to make you laugh out loud - some make you twitch a lip, some make your eyes dilate a bit and it is only the rare talent that makes you laugh out loud. Few fall in this last category - Wodehouse did, Dave Barry did, Sidin Vadukut did, Vinod Ekbote did and certainly Krishna did. Krishna's book gave me about 25 (some all time high record with Dave Barry and Wodehouse surely) which certainly means that I identify with his views and have been exposed to some similar experiences but more than that, its a tribute to this rare, funny man's increasing expertise with his craft. That I think is a great sign because I cannot wait to read what Krishna will produce down the line at this rate. He is intelligent, is obviously working at getting better at his craft and has now totally thrown off all indications of any kind of restraint or conforming to norm. It is great stuff and holds great promise.

To run you through the book map - it is a series of articles on writing and the publishing industry - some of which he wrote earlier for other publications. The compilation is a delightful lot that starts with him bushwacking the creative life, milking his friends, bleeding his family, mining locations and customs, sparing women and children, distilling performance arts, unfriending facebook and in the end carpetbagging literary things. The one that got me rolling was the 'Dictionary of Publishing Terms for Writers in India' which is a masterpiece. Why they did not put this up as the first article I cannot understand. Good beginnings make great sense - just as good endings. Why put the best stuff in the middle? The rest of the last section is equally funny with his take on 'Twelve Literary Superheroes', 'Eigth Maths Problems for Writers' 'Book Awards Deconstructed' and going back to the beginning 'Cunning lingo', 'The Hitman and the Corporate'. Ah , too many to choose from.

So we have his greeting cards business that began with a bang with his 'Happy Diwala' cards, Kailash Mehta and his obsession for good quotes which he appropriates as his own, KSD's friend  Sriram who started on his literary career with a raunchy story involving the English teacher and aborted (the lit career) after an early suspension, Go-Gopal's classic last line to the ageing call girl who was trying to pass off as a college girl with a causal 'correspondence course-aa?', the dangerous world of Paddy Padmanabhan who after a couple of drinks goes ballistic upon suspecting that he is surrounded by homos or eunuchs and gets his own Glenfidditch confused (this one is incredibly hilarious like that drunken scene from Amar Akbar Anthony), there is that discovery why the Gross National Happiness Index of Bhutan has something to do with the attire that the male guide wore, KSD's two hilarious dates with Pinky and her search for abortionists and Ning Singh's nifty goes on and on.

I left out much of the literary things part which is the funniest section for me - but a glimpse of that is a must. After the essential reading of the dictionary of publishing terms we move into vegetable bondage (another brilliant aspect is the titles of the chapters - this one is about how vegetable bondas are the super star at a book event), 13 ways to be  lit fest superstar (most tips already taken), Anatomy of a book event (must read, and its pretty close to the truth believe it or not) and another one of my favorites, 12 lit superheroes. This section includes real life characters like sniff-a-deal man, extreme post man, outfocus woman, buy or die girl, uncle girl, double threat woman an d others. I met all of these among the 12 and hope to meet the rest soon.Book awards deconstructed...I give up here. Go read.

For my ready reference I will reproduce a few of my favorites. These are from the dictionary of publishing terms.

Acknowledgements: Section of a book that usually comes at its end where you praise all the people you want to beat to a coma with the hardcover edition.

Copy edit: Editing that concentrates on the mechanics of your writing. Meaning, if your book is the works, copy editing is the spanner. If your book is the wheel, it is the spoke. Typically, copy editors, while doing their principal job of updating their fb status, take a high-speed look at grammar, punctuation and spelling errors and add some if there aren't enough in your original manuscript to give it that much needed edge.

Genre: Word no writer had as yet figured how to pronounce but insists on using with impunity at lit fests. It means classification of books. Examples of genre in fiction are mystery, romance, historical romance, mysterious romance, hysterical romance, mystical hysteria, morontic history, crime fiction, criminal fiction, literary fiction, literally fiction and illiterate fiction (most popular in India).

Hook: Used to mean that special something that makes your book stand out from every other title on the bookshelf. Also, the implement you use to catch your editor when she is running away from you at the lit fest. Usually followed by line and sinker.

Marketing: Effort the publishing house puts in to make sure your books reach as many editors as possible. Santa Claus heads this department and is assisted by the tooth fairy. The elves pitch in when they are short staffed.

Typo: Typographical error that usually appears on the first page of the book, making the writer immune to all the errors that follow.

Krishna's book is filled with such stuff. And the titles make you laugh too - Trans-Sunday (about transgenders attacking his house on a Sunday), What's in a Mname?, The Prosodomy of Assonance (reminded me of Ludlum), Of vegetable bondage, The pen pushers of Retellapur (of stories retold by modern day writers).

If you like funny books, read good stuff, write and want to write, are a publisher or wanna be publisher, are a lit agent or a wannabe be lit agent or anything to do with this industry, you must read this book. If you want to know what happens behind the mysterious doors of the literary world this is pretty much as close as it can get. A better reason to read it would be to get your entire year's quota of laughs. This is the time to make up.

I did like his last piece immensely - about how his job is to displease, to write as he wishes and not dance to everybody's tune. Few have the confidence to take that path. That is what separates the boys and the men also I guess. Good for you KSD.

I also think Krishna does to Chennai what Ruskin Bond does to Dehradun or Mussoorie, what RK Narayan does to Mysore. One can feel the real Chennai as we know it from the 5 star hotels to the seedy bars, the autos to the bondas, the flowers in the hair ladies to strong drink whacking males. Well done Krishna. You're getting to be as bad as Dave Barry. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Paradoxes of Our Lives - What We Are Attached To, Will Get Questioned First

What we are attached to and what we try hard to be, will always be challenged and displaced easily. What we are not attached to, cannot be displaced easily.

For example if I thought I was an honest man and I try hard to be an honest man, it is something that can be easily displaced and challenged. That happens because we have a fixed and rigid concept of what is honesty and when viewed by any perspective by another person, may appear to be dishonest even.

Thus what we really want to hear from the others, that they feel your honesty is of a high quality, may never come primarily because we are too attached to our concept of honesty. What we crave for will thus actually backfire. One may even be called dishonest.

It is better to be flexible, to act well and in the right spirit, but not crave for recognition of the same by others. To expect others to define it exactly the way you want it shows a kind of obsession to be that - one is trying too hard to be that which in itself is questionable.

You know what it means to you and that should be good enough. It is none of your business what the others think of it. If you are honest and believe you have been, be content in that space. Do not expect others to get your honesty as you define it.

If others consistently say you are dishonest then its time to look at yourself. Like Osho said that Gandhi was actually a violent man because he perpetrated a lot of violence on his own body. So could we be dishonest with ourselves and others in ways we do not know.

Go easy then. Tread lightly. Have your principles, but do not make rules of them. Be gentler with life. Do what you have to, because you want to, but do not try to make a virtue of it.

A Slip Under the Miscroscope - H.G. Wells

H.G. Wells writes two wonderful stories 'A Door in the Wall' and ' A Slip under the Microscope' in this Penguin classic.

In 'A Door in the Wall' we have this aristocrat and a successful person who is haunted by a vision of a door (imaginary it appears) that he accesses as a child. The door opens into a wonderful life on the other side and he actually walks in and glimpses it once. As he goes deeper into his real and successful life, he does happen upon that door once or twice but is always too busy to go and explore it again despite wanting to. He talks about that door and about how he regretted not entering it when he could have and how he feels he has lost his chance to access that wonderful world. His friend to whom he narrates the story finds him dead soon after telling the story of the door, caught in a door like structure, perhaps trying to access a world he wanted to and escape the one he is trapped in. It could well be the dilemma a lot of us have.

In 'A Slip under the Miscroscope' we have the son of a cobbler who lives life correctly and who is an ace student at a prestigious college. The boy makes an inadvertent error of glimpsing what the other brains in the class, a aristocratic lass, had done, in a completely unintentional act. He tops again as usual and she comes in a close second. And though the result might not have been impacted because he saw what he was not supposed to see, he struggles with his conscience, and approaches the department head. Instead of merely taking the results of that experiment out, the head suspends the lad for having confessed to this error in judgment. When he leaves, the brainy girl who now tops the class, says he is after all the son of a cobbler and much cannot be expected of him. Conscience one would think, is the preserve of the poor and weak, and helps them stay where they are. If there is one thing to learn - don't listen to your conscience, flow with what life offers you and mostly, keep your mouth shut. A bit like what Salman Khan did and so many others before him.

Nice stuff and very different writing style. H. G. Wells was an interesting person who wrote 100 books (I'd love to aspire for that number), married twice, was an avid proponent of free love which he practiced by having extra marital affairs (which is probably why he writes about conscience - my theory is that we write or try most to be what we are most bothered about). The great quality of his writing is that I found the style rather winding and convoluted (needs concentration) but the story and its sub-text remains quite clear when you want to access it. I think its a wonderful quality for any writer to have - that the story and most importantly the questions it asks remain clearly.

Meeting Rohini Hattangadi

When Shobhs went on a trip with her cousin Suhita's colleagues on the popular Marathi serial 'Honar Soon Mee Ya Gharchi" a couple of years ago, the first thing I said was 'Can you get me Rohini Hattangadi's autograph?'. I am not much of an autograph person and there are few people who I would ask for an autograph but Rohini Hattangadi somehow brought out that reaction from me. Rohini was gracious enough to give me her autograph too.

Last week the same group of friends - Rohini Hattangadi, Suhita Dharmadhikari, Smita, Purnima and Supriya (in the serial they all live together in a house where there are seemingly no men) visited Hyderabad on a vacation. The last two days of the trip were spent with us at our home. Of course they were all more than welcome to stay, and I only wondered if they would be able to slum it down with us. Suhita said they were absolutely cool with it and the idea was to have fun.

In little ways, despite the severe shortage of time, as they were travelling a lot, I got a glimpse of Rohini Hattangadi up close and once again I felt, there was something to this greatness in people. There are certain underlying traits that make them special so that life runs up to them and offers them its best.

All first impressions of her name bring back visuals of Richard Attenborough's 'Gandhi' where she played Kasturba Gandhi. She played the role when she was 27 and sometime after played the role of Anupam Kher's aged wife in 'Saaransh' when they were both just 30s perhaps. The images from Gandhi remain etched in our minds as also the many character roles she played with complete dignity - even those villainous ones. Rohini Hattangadi, says Wikipedia, is the only Indian actress to have won a BAFTA for her role in Gandhi which is a huge honor. A national film award and two Filmfare awards accompany that. I love the fact the she continues to work, travel and just go with the flow instead of withdrawing from life.

From her first hello at home, I found her very grounded. She graciously gifted me a shirt that all my lovely guests bought for me and advised me 'Try it. I hope it fits'. It fit and very well too. That evening we spent a bit of time before dinner, discussing a bit of Hyderabad's history or what I knew of it. I told them about the Qutb Shahis and the Nizams, the nan as the emblem on the Nizam's flag, of the palaces and their significance, and whatever I could remember. There was easy banter and humor at the table and they adjusted with an ease I would not have thought possible.

Suhita knows of my penchant for interviews - I interviewed her and Jayant (though I have still not put Suhita's interview up yet) - so she prodded me and said I should interview Rohini. It was topmost on my mind ever since I heard she would be coming but I was unsure because they had such packed schedules. I said I would love to and asked Rohini for some time. I wanted her thoughts on acting, on the craft, on preparation. Rohini was more than willing and said she would.

The first thing that strikes you about her is the complete lack of airs. She is very approachable and there is not an iota of energy about her which says - man she is a busy person who is involved with herself so let's not disturb her. She is aware and present totally, as a person, not a star.

As we early risers crowded around the table for morning tea the next day, Suhita introduced me as a writer and a cricketer. Rohini told me of her uncle CP Joshi who was a cricketer too and who played in Rajasthan with Ranjitsinghji. While Suhita told them of my cricketing exploits I quipped that it was so long ago and that I think people should only talk of what they did in the last five years. Rohini laughed at herself and said 'Don't I know that?  I have been stuck with the Gandhi image for so many years now.' I really admire people who can laugh at themselves. I can't.

While discussing 3 Idiots I put up rather harsh and unreasonable arguments against the movie and it was interesting to see how vehemently Shobha and Suhita defended Hirani's wonderful piece of work while Rohini listened and responded indulgently. Okay you have your own views though they appear rather biased and silly was the feeling but what's important was that I felt I was allowed to have my say. I also love people who respect people with differing opinions.

Next day I could spend some more time with her at the breakfast table. I asked her what she thought was great acting. She said it was about how one makes the viewer believe that the character is feeling what the character wants to convey. She said this is something that happens differently each time an artist addresses that role - one's experience adds depth she said. When I asked her about how important stillness is (quoting Morgan Freeman), she thought for a bit. Then she said 'I remember Shekhar Kapoor once telling Naseer on the sets of Masoom, to be still. Naseer had this habit of fiddling with set property all the time. Perhaps there was something about stillness there,' she said. It's an endearing quality to say she didn't really think too much about this stillness but that she could map an experience and connect it to the craft so quickly. They say this is a quality of experts - to have their template and long term memory and to be able to quickly retrieve it for use.

I asked her about the days at NSD where she studied 1971 on and won the award for Best Actress and Best all-round student. She also met her husband Jayadev Hattangadi who was her classmate and who won the Best Director award there. Rohini spoke of Ebrahim Alkazi and his demanding syllabus, the Stanislavski methodology, set design, the Kabuki play, the work ethic that was demanded of them, the many experts who visited them. The syllabus appeared daunting even as she reeled it off and one wondered how much effort went into passing that course. I asked her if people failed - she said yes. She spoke about how one guy was flunked by a narrow margin and how they had all pleaded with Mr. Ebrahim Alkazi and he said 'how could I pass someone who did not know about..." There was a great fondness in her tone as she recounted the stories of the NSD days where Naseer was one year senior to her and where she met her late husband Jayadev.

I asked her how she got inspired sometimes to find that elevated performance. I told her that I try to populate my mind with that elusive thought, search for the answer, and then suddenly out of the blue, it struck me. She agreed with the out of the blue bit. Once she said she was searching for a particular quality of tone she wanted to use for her role and suddenly on television she heard this voice and she said, yes, that's the voice I want to use. She tried it and it worked. She said she normally found what she was looking for without too much effort.

I told her about what I read about acting - from Naseer's book where he mentions how Om Puri worked on his craft and performed so well in a Kabuki play that left Naseer wondering how one could approach their work. It was not about talent - it was about careful, deliberate work. And about what Amitabh said once about it being all in the eyes. She said that in theatre one had to use the whole body while in cinema perhaps the eyes will do the trick.

After seeing the sound and light show at Golconda she shook her head and said - "why could they just not have some people play act a bit? It would have been so interesting to watch". I thought, yes, how interesting it would have been if there were real figures running up and down the fort. Wow!

We spoke about this and that and though I did not quite get the interview I wanted, I was glad I could discuss some ideas with her. I wanted to know more about how she approaches preparation, her craft, what worked and what didn't, her favorite roles and actors, performances she loved of her own and of others, what the craft means to her and her secret formula for great performances etc. But those apart I found this absolutely breathtaking humility - in the way she picked up my plate off the table after breakfast, thought not for a moment before cleaning up the table, had no qualms of a special place at the table or in the house. There is this completely disarming quality of just being grateful to life - even to the extent of asking me while she left - "I hope that our morning chat was enough". To have remembered that much, to know of people and be sensitive to their hopes and aspirations, of how things work, of her place in it, is easily what greatness is made of. Shobhs tells me the same things, of how Rohini never complained or sought special recognition or treatment.

If I have to take some learning from her it is this humility, this being so completely normal, this love for her craft which keeps her going to perform, this eagerness to learn and travel in complete anonymity, her ease with her younger colleagues and with strangers, there is much to learn. She says no more than required and no less, carries herself with grace and dignity and yet stays so simple and grounded.

This is an autograph I will surely cherish and perhaps I will conclude my interview sometime else. Thanks for your time Rohini and I hope we mwwt again so we can chat some more.