Sunday, December 29, 2013

Naked Determination by Gisela Hausman: A review

I have to confess i am not a great fan of non fiction. I am a story guy. I like good stories. All those self help or self improvement literature brings out the lethargic guy inside me. As if my mind builds up a security parameter in which none of the words or sentences of such a book would ever be able to jump and come in while i go to a deep slumber. When i came across Gisela's book Naked Determination, the same inertia had gripped me initially. But as i went page after page, it felt like an incredible story. It contained life and times of Gisela Hausman as told by Gisela herself. Each of the chapters are like a leaf from her life tree. She isn't preaching or lecturing. She leaves it to your prerogative to draw out any lesson from each of those leaves. She could have written about great people and all the analysis of what made them great. But she deliberately avoids those cliches. Her life is rich and varied and it is from her life and rich experiences we can choose to learn life lessons if we wish to. It takes immense courage to put out one's own life for scrutiny by others. But she is honest with that and shares both her successes and failures. It's not only about her strengths but like all of us we can see her vulnerable side too through the depiction of loss of the loved ones-whether its death of her husband or ending of a relationship. This definitely connects her to the readers. From the book it is also clear that she is well traveled. She traveled to Russia, Mongolia and China during the iron curtain days and the chapters about those are good to read. The reason being these days we have the TLC, Natgeo and online travel guides which help us to plan for a foreign locale. However during the cold war era flow of information was restricted and it must have taken enormous amount of courage and a bit of craziness to visit those countries.The lessons she learnt on those trips are invaluable and i think that made the person she is today. Her insight on email writing is also very helpful in our daily lives. The language of the book is simple and style of writing is fluid which makes it a very good read. But above all this book reveals what an incredibly beautiful human being the author is.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Snackpack Jack

Jaikishen Gupta aka Jack (mostly addressed as such by his manager Tony Bhadraluchi in appreciative emails) always believed he learnt his lessons the hard way because most of his textbooks during school time were hardbound and not paperback. At this moment his desktop had a Visio document opened. He had immersed himself in the technical design it represented like a helpless pilgrim who had given all hopes of being rescued after realizing he was drowning in the mighty Ganges while trying to take a holy dip. Except in his world he had the outlook desktop email alert and the cell phone ringtone. Needless to say his untrammeled concentration was broken when an email alert popped up. It read-
HR-Vending Machine in the cafeteria.

His eyes veneered the system tray of his workstation. The clock in it registered 4:17 in the PM. It was exactly 13 minutes to his tea time/snack time. Although there was no such time as per HR policy but most of his coworkers would take a snack break at this time. They would go out to the roadside vendors, smoke, drink tea with deep fried snacks (samosa, pakora, bhel etc) and gossip among themselves. Talking to the roadside vendors provided them the much needed local information in this era of globalization. While Jack avoided (or at least pretended to) eating outside due to his increasing weight and restrictive dietary regimen imposed by his wife, devouring the forbidden stuff was like a guilty pleasure. He would seldom eat during this unofficial break as he would go home and have tea with his wife in the evening but he would definitely take part in the discussions. In his monotonous world of meeting deadlines and long working hours it was like a life line that injected a dose of much needed change that recharged his life cells. But today something was different-he had not received the customary call from Abhik Goswami (fondly called Otirikto by friends as a tribute to the word 'overweight' in Bengali language). Although Otirikto's workstation was just in the adjacent bay, he would always call Jack's extension and in his husky voice remind Jack of his obligation towards snack time. Jack held the arms of his chair and gave slight push so that he could have just the right elevation to see what was happening in the adjacent bay. He saw Otirikto was sitting in his chair (crushing the chair would be more realistic description) and reading some article in Wikipedia. He leaped out of the position he was in leaving the chair to a squeak a bit in recoil. He patted Otirikto on the shoulder.Without turning back Otirikto said-Do you have some soiled 10 Rupee bills.Before Jack could sink in the information Otirikto swiveled his chair and got out of it like an expert ballet dancer. Now Otirikto's desktop was in line of sight of Jack and on it was a block diagram of a vending machine. Both of them started checking their wallets as if they were getting mugged. Out came a 10 Rupee bill from Jack's wallet which exactly met Otirikto's specification.  On it Gandhi had lost an arm of his iconic glasses and one of lions in the emblem had turned red as it may have absorbed some red color. Jack sincerely felt he should have emptied his pockets before the weekly washathon (yes he was the one doing weekend laundry) or had he received it from the vegetable vendor last Friday. Anyways they had got their candidate for testing and rushed to the cafeteria. Some of his colleagues were already there inserting bills and punching the row and column combination to their desired snack. The machine appeared like a transparent refrigerator which had a number pad. The rows inside it were stacked with snack packs of various makes. Jack and Otirikto had the same feel when they had seen the Nintendo machine for the first time. They zeroed in on a snack and Otirikto decoded its row column combination. Jack inserted the tip of his worn-out 10 Rupee bill so that the vending machine could swallow it. The machine swallowed the bill but after making a churning sound coughed it back. It was not accepting the bill. One of the colleagues said that the machine would only accept good bills. They smiled. Like an expert magician showing his trick Jack caressed the bill again inserted it. This time it accepted and he punched in the row and column position of their desired snack-a Bombay bhel. The machine made a clunky sound and from the matrix of products spitted out the Bombay bhel. Jack and Otirikto ate that at the blink of an eye. Otirikto then brought out his worn out bill which looked like coming straight out of a trauma center except it was cello taped instead of stitched. This time they had Jhalmuri (a Kolkata version of Bombay Bhel or is it the other way round?) They went back to their workstations contended. Jack went back to his Visio document. He did not realize how much time had passed until his cell phone rang a familiar ringtone. He picked up his cell phone (a Smartphone) and saw the picture of his wife and a text right below it that read-wife calling. With a swift motion he swiped his thumb first over her picture and then on the telephone icon. Tony would always say that apart from weekends the only time he is able to touch his girlfriend is on the touch screen of his Smartphone. This brought a hint of smile to his face. He picked up the call and his wife was sounding irate-

Where are you honey?
Where else? In the office-Jack replied.
Still in office? Its eight and I had prepared tea. If you were going to be late you could have called.

Jack had not realized it was that late. The ever eager enzymes of hunger had not interrupted his work as it would do usually. He apologized and said he was held up due to an impending work that needed to be finished on time. He sent an email to Tony and left for home.
Near about six months  has passed since the introduction of the vending machine. In a special HR meeting held in the Company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley and presided over by the HR Director, Jack’s regional HR Manager presented a report on increase of employee productivity since the incorporation of the vending machine. Among various other things it said that
·  The concept of on premise vending machine was taken from a study conducted by a German university which stated that eating outside decreases work performance
·  Time spent by employee in productive work has gone up by x percentage as employees do not  out of the office premises frequently
·  Time spent on unproductive work like snacking and socializing has almost diminished as snacks are available inside office premises
·  Tasks are completed on time and before time because employees are going home late
The regional HR manager was congratulated by the HR director in presence of all other regional HR managers. The HR director said that this experiment would be considered a Kaizen and gradually implemented across all regional offices.
*********************************************************************************Jack has completely stopped going outside the office premises. He also does not go home early now for snacking with his wife. Initially his wife nagged about it but now she has stopped complaining. He has received numerous appreciation emails from Tony and most probably would be promoted. He could not even make it to hospital when his wife went for her first ultrasound. After that incident they do not talk much. Sometimes Jack would stand in front of the vending machine and stare it for minutes and in a fit of rage he would consider sabotaging the machine but the next minute he would calm down. How he can do such a thing when the only goal in his life(as with other Indians) was to keep himself employable-so that he could keep paying his bills, repay his home loan and try to secure a good future for the yet-to-arrive newest addition to his household.

Otirikto has gained few more pounds. In the current appraisal cycle he asked for a salary hike to the amount of 22 percent as he found most of his earned income was being spent on food. This was done after he conducted an independent investigation about his mounting food expense and found that he was being charged Rs 100 per Kilo for potato(the main ingredient of his home diet) by the grocery store as he had no knowledge about the actual market prices.

Tony broke up with his girlfriend. He came to India for an official visit and went for a team dinner (drinks included). After a few pegs of his favorite whisky he said that he finds the vending machine very mysterious. He thinks it’s not about the snacks it stores but the way it is operated and snacks delivered that makes people keep coming back to it-even when the hunger has subsided. He even thinks it can control mind.

As of now, HR has successfully installed the vending machine in all locations.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Friends with trees on heads

Some people say if you have belief, you can do things which are beyond the wildest imagination of human mind. However in my experience I found that if you have belief in your friendship you can even grow a tree on your head. Don't believe me..check out this snap:

I took this pic way back in monsoon of 2005 when we went to the backwaters of Kerela. On the left is Prem and right is Jayanto(for those who don't know). In a way i am also an innate part of this picture. Not because i clicked it but because Jayanto is wearing my T-Shirt. I think that's the way friendship is. It's so full of life that it grows on you without your realization. Just like that tree on Jayanto's head. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Finding Love | Epilogue | A dream

I am a dream. A recurring dream that Ragini experiences. Ever since she met Luv's friends, i have been   part of her sleeping experience-if not everyday but certainly periodic enough to qualify as recurring. Even on that Sunday when Luv went missing and she fell asleep holding their photo album in her arms, i moved into her sleep unannounced. Did i arrive on my own due to her agony or was i invited exclusively by the sedative effect of the curd rice she consumed. I am not a psychoanalyst and certainly as a dream i do not have the luxury of humans to read the most incisive book written on me ever-Interpretation of dreams- by Freud.
I open with the outdoors of a school. There is a reunion that is taking place. Guys in their mid thirties- some with their spouses and some with their kids and spouses are sitting inside a classroom. A teacher comes and everyone stands up to wish her. There is laughter and humor in the air. Some are bragging about their achievements in life. Ragini is sitting with Luv and next to them are sitting Ank, his wife and kid and Amir and his wife. She can also recognize Prabir the class topper and his family sitting ahead of them. Suddenly Luv stands up and excuses himself for going out of the class. Ragini looks towards people around her. Age has put a time stamp on these once young and restless people. They have put on weight and most have puffed eyes and receding hairlines. However its peculiar that most of them are looking outside the window. She turns to her left to see what others are so eagerly seeing. She sees Luv talking to a girl- a teenage girl wearing a school uniform. They are not aware that a class full of middle aged people are staring at them. She sees that Luv doesn't quite appear the same as he was just a few minutes ago when sitting next to her. He looks as if he came straight out of his school farewell photograph-a restless teenager who gives a damn about the world. She felt she is witnessing two people in a time warp-as if time had stopped for both of them.

I would like to thank Ankur for being the inspiration and source behind this story.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Finding Love | Chapter-5 | The invoice of love

Love is a strange thing. More i think about the events that unfolded on that Sunday, the more i am convinced about the strangeness of love. Luv always said that love is around us- we just need to see it. He would be holding my hand and talking to me while walking across the crowded Brigade road but still he would be looking around. He would usually speak in metaphors and i was a women of literals.It was difficult for me to relate to what he said. But then i was in love.

I had planned for a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Luv's company. First a two course meal-lemon rice followed by lots of curd rice and then watching the most successful movie ever in my vernacular language. Although till that time he was not completely conversant in my native language but for him language was a non determinant in a relationship. On the day he proposed me sitting on a drop vehicle at the end of a night shift, he said that love only understands one language and that language is the language of heart. I thought he was talking about the acoustical patterns we hear while using a stethoscope on a person's chest but he made it clear that he meant emotional connection. So with my expectations soaring high  i called him a day before that fateful Sunday. But my hopes were shattered when he told me his schedule was already set for the next day. He was invited by his friends Ank and Amir for a lunch. If ever anything annoyed me more than non vegetarian food was Luv's friend circle. He along with his friends were part of the great human migration from north India to Bangalore that took place during the early stages of  the IT bubble. Before Luv introduced me to them my understanding of north Indians was that geographically they lived north of Vindhya mountain ranges and spoke Punjabi. However to my utter amazement it turned out that his friends were from various parts of India like West Bengal, Assam and even Kerala . Their parents had emigrated to central India during the socialist era to get into government jobs as there was a scarcity of skilled labor in those parts. And like past repeating itself, these immigrant population was again migrating to Bangalore to overcrowd our streets. They would make lewd jokes and swear openly with utter disregard of the neighbourhood. But what annoyed me most that they would make fun of Luv. Specially the two cousin brothers -Deepu and Jeetu who would spare no expenses in ridiculing him. I do not why Luv S Chauhan who belonged to a respected Rajput family would take crap from such people. Each time we went to meet his friends, he would do a lot of explaining later to  make me understand that they don not mean anything seriously. Also in his circle was JJ who due to no particular reason always competed with Luv. Then there was Amir who was obnoxious and tried hard to appear smart. Ank was the one who was most intelligent among the pack and i conversed with him more often than others. Every time these guys would get together they would indulge in drinking and smoking and making fun of each other.
Due to all these reasons I was enraged at the idea of Luv spending an entire Sunday with this company instead of being with me. This resulted in a heated altercation over the phone followed by heinous name calling and stereotyping . I told him i would never call him again and ended the call. I thought he would call me in the evening or at night but he did not. Next morning i could not take it anymore and decided to call him. His phone was unreachable. I redialed his number repeatedly in the hope that it would connect once but it did not. I called up Ank thinking maybe Luv was with them as he was supposed to be according to his schedule. But when Ank said he was not there yet, i was alarmed. Did he went somewhere due to the fight we had yesterday? Did something bad happened to him on the way? Is he purposely doing this to make me feel miserable. I wanted to find Luv but did not want to tell these guys about our fight yesterday as it would make our pair a constant source of amusement for them for the next two months. In an emotional voice i said that i feared something bad could have happened to Luv. My appeal worked and Ank and Amir launched a manhunt. I was being updated timely regarding the pursuit by the duo. I opened the photo album and kept looking at pictures of us and thinking how could i have avoided the fight. The curd rice that i had prepared for consumption by both of us was entirely consumed by me and due to its soothing effects i  do not remember when i fell asleep, still holding the album  in my hands. My slumber was broken by the monotonic ringtone of my Nokia phone. It was Luv. I grabbed it and instantly broke into tears.

Where were you?
What happened? Why are you crying?
Where were you? I was so frightened. I am sorry and i promise not to fight with you again.
Well honey i was coming to meet you for breakfast-to sort out our differences.But my bike broke down midway and i had to go to a mechanic where the carrier signal was not available.
Please dont ever do that again. I was so terrified at the prospect of loosing you. We kept searching for you everywhere.
Dont worry dear. I love you and i forgive you for the fight we had. Why were you looking for me all over the city? I am always with you. Love is always inside us. We just need to look within.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Finding Love | Chapter-4 | The testimony of a second chancer

The Whitefield police station was about five kilometers from Prem's rented residence. We debated on waiting for a bus or taking an auto rickshaw to reach there. We went for the auto rickshaw as time was slipping from our hands. Although the auto rickshaw driver complained of his broken meter and charged us ten times the bus fare, still it was not the thing that preoccupied our minds. Each and every neuron in our brains was only consumed in figuring the possible reasons of Luv's sudden disappearance from our lives.None of us spoke for sometime. Suddenly the uncomfortable silence was broken when my cell phone rang. On the screen an unknown number flashed. I did not wanted to be reminded of a missed credit card payment or enlightened about a new(and better) connection plan at this crucial moment. The uncomfortable fact of the moment was our dear friend Luv Singh Chauhan was missing since morning and as the time went from AM to PM the chances of seeing him again appeared bleaker to us. So i cut the incoming call. It rang again and i repeated the action i did last time. En route we decided to file a missing persons report although i knew Ank would have loved to report an alien abduction.My casual mention of a facility for the mentally insane in the vicinity of the police station might have acted as a deterrent and hence he never spoke of such a possibility. Still there were lot of questions on which we could not reach a common conclusion-like:
Should we mention about the old monk to the police?
What if the policed surmised us as possible suspects in his disappearance?
Should we tell Ragini about the police report and police about Ragini?
What do we eat for lunch and where once the reporting was over?

Although i was with Ank on our decision to report this to the police but my heart kept telling me that nothing had happened to Luv, that he was around us somewhere just waiting to be found. I always believed in second chances and wanted to give ourselves a another chance to find Luv or Luv to find us.

As the wheels of auto rickshaw kept spinning and my stomach kept churning from the after effects of the Dosa and Sambhar we consumed at Majestic Bus Depot  i reckoned life for me was always about second chances. The reason probably was that i was never able to accomplish something in the first chance itself-be it matters of materialism or matters of the heart. Also in most situations those second chances were more painful than having no chances at all.I still remember clearly the day Ank made me propose a girl from my graduation days whom i admired mostly due to her peculiar way of talking. We hardly met after graduation and i would only talk to her sometimes on telephone. But Ank thought otherwise. He believed that like our friend Luv who although being an avid philanderer, would never give up on a girl once he had his heart fixed, i too should give this girl a second chance. He was in the city due to summer break and offered to help me in all possible ways in doing so. He had recently unearthed that i was the one who had emailed the girl of his affection as i was the creator of his email id. It was his heart wrapped up in the form of my text in the body of that email. I thought maybe he wanted to return this favor as a friend and succumbed to his coercion.  Those days cell phone technology was not widespread and i did not want to use my home corded landline- a Beetel B11 due to reasons of privacy. Most people used a calling booth to communicate. Due to some reason beyond my comprehension they were popularly known as STD booths although you could also make a local call too. Ank decided to use the calling booth in a particular neighborhood whose call rates were standard and more importantly it had a parallel line. He said he would stand beside me through all this and listen and provide immediate feedback should i be slipping. The booth was smaller than what i expected and when we both stood inside we could feel each others breath. As i punched the numbers and the call connected, Ank picked up the receiver of the parallel connected line. Maybe it was the heat or the suffocation caused due to the booth door being closed for privacy, i could not utter anything for half a minute, all the while the girl kept saying hello. Ank gestured me to say something and whatever came out of my mouth did not collude either in form or intent to what i had been rehearsing with Ank for the last week or so. Her replies were monosyllabic-yes,no, OK,hmm. As drops of sweat as big as hail in a hailstorm kept falling into the receiver from my face, she said the only sentence which comprised more than one word-
I am kinda busy now.
And then she disconnected the call. We looked at each other and both kept the receiver on the cradle at the same time. I paid the bill quickly without discussing anything with Ank as the booth owner was getting suspicious. Outside Ank kept a hand on by shoulder and said-
I know it did not work out as we had planned but you should give another chance to this second chance.

My string of thoughts were broken by Ank's voice. The auto rickshaw had stopped at the police station and it was my turn to pay the fare. As i was paying the fare, my cell phone rang again. Ank said me to cut the call and walk towards the police station. But i wanted to give this persistent caller a second chance. As soon as the call connected, to my amazement it was Luv's voice on the other side. He sounded angry.

Where are you guys? I kept calling you but you never picked.
But you didn't turn up on time and neither were you reachable on cell phone. We thought something might have happened to you.
I could not muster up the courage to say we were at the police station and were on our way to report his disappearance.
Are you guys drunk already? The handle of my motorcycle went bad and kept pointing to wrong directions. I thought i should get it fixed and then join you guys.
Really. But don't you think it took a long time for you to get it fixed. And on top of that you never called to inform us.
Man i forgot to recharge my cell phone and the cheap motor cycle mechanic shop was in a place where i did not get the service providers signal.
But Ragini said...
Just forget all that and tell me where are you guys now? Coz i am at Ank's place and there is no trace of you guys.  I am very hungry and thirsty.
We are at your place. We thought you might have fallen ill and hence came to your place.
After a few seconds of dead air Luv said-
Man you guys are crazy. Ok lets do one thing. Since we do not have the time for cooking now lets meet at Biju's place. It's midway for both of us and more importantly those guys have a cooking maid and usually there are leftovers. But you have to bring the old monk with you as i am not going to pay for that. If you have forgotten, i was the one who was invited.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Finding Love | Chapter-3 | The voice of love

If  you love me you will regret,
If you can't be a crow, be an egret.

Never take counsel from a person in matters of heart whose journal's introductory page starts with the aforementioned couplet.  I made that mistake once and paid a heavy price. Ank and Amir had called me for lunch in the December of 03. And where there is lunch in a bachelor accommodation, booze is sure to be accompanied. Imagining the prospects of surrendering my sanity to the wisdom of an old monk made me delightful. But on the other side of this arc there was a girl-my girlfriend. The rules of love made it mandatory to keep your partner updated about your coordinates. In this state of dilemma i decided to call up Ank and discuss the matter. Although he had no prior experience in matters of heart except that he was proposed by the most gorgeous girl in his college days, he was one of the wise guys. In a discrete manner i asked him about his opinion on sharing-it-all with girl friend topic. He said we should be open in sharing information with girl  friend. But he also said he will take a second opinion from Amir. Ank had opted for the conference call facility from his service provider and this would be a good time to test it. He brought Amir in conference. Amir's view was that all information to a girl friend should be provided on a need to know basis. I decided to go with Ank's opinion considering Amir had no prior experience with girl friends. The closest he came to be friends with a girl was when he returned a lost basic language program sheet to a girl during the first year in college.
I called up Ragini and told her i would be busy the coming weekend due to a lunch at Ank's place. She said she had planned for a movie date this weekend-a movie in her vernacular language. Although i had no bias against her vernacular language but watching a movie in her language was altogether a different ballgame. The reason was the vernacular movie industry was going through a lean patch at that time-particularly in terms of content and production value. All you got to see was mindless violence, gravity defying action sequences and song and dance sequences involving pelvic gyrations. In no time we started to snipe each other with arguments and counter arguments about the greatness of our language, culture and cinema. Seeing that love was loosing to regionalism i decided to back off and told her i would talk to her later. Due to increased work pressure i was not able to call her back through out the week. Instead i was busy talking to unknown people in the US using a fake New York accent and referring myself as Patrick. So were Amir and Ank. They were busy fixing some ones printer or fax machine in US by being Jim or Harry. Maybe we all had become different people who were indifferent to people around us.
On that Sunday morning when i woke up, i was still undecided. However sitting in the toilet for an hour not only cleared my bowels but head too. I made up my mind to give a surprise visit to Ragini and have our differences sorted out over a cup of coffee and a bowl of upma. I was sure if i had breakfast with her she would allow me to have lunch with my buddies. As soon as i fired up my bike's engine i heard someone calling my name from the first floor. It was my landlord reminding me of missed rent payment. If anything i hated more than my landlord's face was my landlord calling me from behind while embarking on my journey. Bad omen i thought. I dissembled not hearing anything and drove on. Hardly i had reached the next signal, my  cell phone started buzzing. I picked up the call. It was from a colleague of mine who said he had got new kinda weed and wanted me to try some. Although one part of me wanted to say him no and proceed to meet my love but another part of me wanted to puff the magic dragon. I thought a slight detour to reinvigorate myself would cause no harm. Instead it could make me more accommodating of Ragini's whims.In the end, before the traffic cop could give me ticket for talking on cell phone while driving, the mysticism of dragons reigned over yearning of love and as if a magical force turned my bike towards the home of my colleague and in  no time i was seeing people walking over buildings and hear distant birds singing Bollywood tunes.
I don't know how much time passed, but when i came to my senses i saw my cell phone had no network coverage and the clock on the cell phone showed 1:57 PM. I removed the battery and put it back again on the cell phone. Still no network I went out and looked for the nearest one rupee coin payphone box. I wanted to dial Ragini's number but i feared a heavy backlash. So i put the coin in the slot and punched Amir's number. Each ring made me anxious and my ears just wanted to hear the beautiful sound of the coin being released.