Sunday, 6 February, 2011

Reminiscing Hyderabad - The Arrival

The city lights light up your horizon as the plane circles around for its final descent. They look starkly different from the familiar densely packed Mumbai lightscape. The lights in Hyderabad are well spaced, clearly delineating the roads, the suburbs and the old city. The road leading to the airport is straight, long and wide, setting a benchmark that I hope the rest of the city will be able to live up to.
I am in Hyderabad for a fixed period of six and a half months, for my training stint in sales. Then I can head back home to Mumbai for at least three months if not more. Then I can be amongst friends, family and that comforting feeling of being in a place that has accepted you. That is but a distant dream. For now, as I tighten the seatbelt that I never once opened during the entire flight, I get ready for the Deccan. For the next few weeks, Hyderabad and I will get to know each other, like boxers circling the ring and sizing each other up.
The airport terminal does not disappoint. It is well-built, modern and welcoming in a way that reminds you of the staid, thick-mustachioed doormen of 5-star hotels. It does not seduce you with its marketing gimmicks or fancy artwork. Rather it makes you feel secure and valued.
The view of Hyderabad through the windows of the AeroExpress bus in the late hours of the night is comforting. Open spaces, large towering structures and huge water bodies characterize the ride from the airport. On a Friday night such as this, most people flying in are the ones coming back home. They wait in a very civilized manner for the last leg of their journey to end. Middle aged men, uninterested in the scenery, gaze blankly ahead with the only movement being the occasional peeping into their mobile phones to note the passage of time. Young women busy themselves in phone conversations so soft that they melt into the background. Such people ignore and ask to be ignored. And everyone chooses to turn their backs. On each other.
A newcomer to the city, on the other hand, is instantly recognized. He looks around intently, partly with awe, and partly with the anxious anticipation that often ends up in pointless conversation between strangers. I too came to Hyderabad with absolutely no idea of the city. As I gazed attentively to every detail of every road that the bus took me along, I hoped to find some conversation with a local. Someone who would give me some gyaan on what it takes to survive in Hyderabad. In the first few days here, I looked everywhere for a heads up on the place. And the people.
And I was lucky. The girl in the next seat was pretty much open to conversation. She had noticed my IIMK tee and she looked at me with the look that moms give we are up to mischief. She may not exactly know whats in our minds, but she knows that we don't mean serious harm. "First time to Hyderabad?" she asked, and then sat back, knowing very well that she had done what was required from her. From here on, the conversation would flow. That point on, baring the basic introductions, it was all about Hyderabad. Me asking, she replying. The weather, the roads, the localities, the rent rates as well as the best places to have Irani chai and biryani. And 30 mins later, I was ready to face Hyderabad. Only later did she tell me that she was from IIM Indore.
Nights in Hyderabad are a little funny. Unlike Mumbai, this city seems to actually sleep. People disappear from the roads and life seems standstill. You find yourself talking in a soft whisper lest you wake someone up. Even the autowallahs seem to be shutting shop! On one such quiet night, I came to Hyderabad.

Friday, 19 November, 2010

Why small towns rock!

1. A day's worth of food costs less than a packet of cigarettes.
2.  Public toilets don't have the 'Men' half. Men can piss anywhere that isn't a door, car or person.
3. You can ride 3 people on a CD 100 and 4 on a bullet. Pulsars don't sell for the same reason. They have a very low km/rider average.
4. The average man on the streets isn't gunning for six-packs. Being over-weight just means that you have enough to eat.
5. The movie theatres are all on the same street. If they didn't have fences, you'd have a huge multiplex.
6. You can go from one end of the town to the other in about 10 mins. No wonder there are no local couriers.
7. You can find spelling mistakes in all the sign boards. It makes you feel truly well-educated.

Inspired by Bhale's style of writing. He writes here

Thursday, 11 February, 2010

Whats all the BUZZ about?

This week, GMail users, on logging into their inboxes, were faced with a splash screen and the option of checking out Google's new social networking tool - Buzz or going straight to their inboxes. Very few, I gather, chose the second option.

So what is this Buzz and what does it hold out for you?
At first look, its Facebook minus the Mafia Wars, Farmville and Which-LOTR-character-are-you quizzes. Forget also the clean white-blue UI as well as the eminently lovable 'Poke'. You stop to wonder why anyone would even want to use Buzz as long as FB exists. Many technocrats think so too.

The most common complaint is that its just a medley of FB and Twitter adding no extra value to the user, rather confusing him/her with too many social networking tools.

Then you have Buzz's 'Auto-following' feature. The top 40 people that you have chatted or mailed in the recent past have been automatically added to your 'you are following' list. And this list is public. Imagine your wife checking this list and finding that your high school girlfriends have made it to the list but not her. Oops!

In spite of all the 'integration' talk, Google has done a pretty good job of ignoring FB. And apart from the option of your tweets being posted in Buzz, theres not much with Twitter either. You can't add your twitter friends to buzz, nor can you use the lists you so painstakingly created there. Read more here. And here. Or here.

But don't write off Buzz yet. Heres why I think it makes sense despite a bland, cumbersome interface and numerous issues:-

1. You will probably never get out of GMail. After mail, chat, blogging, reader, photos, google docs, you now have social networking just a click away. (And we thought Google was about search !! )

2. You get through your unread mails. But what are you going to do about those 'unread buzzes' just below it. Don't tell me its not tempting!

3. Earlier you changed your Gtalk status, then tweeted it and then changed your social networking(read FB) status to match. Now you just change your GTalk status and before you realize it, someone has already liked it.
4. Buzz on mobile. Apart from what you're up to, we also know where you are right now! Check it out here.
4. Its Google! Don't expect them to not learn. As you are reading about the problems with Buzz, probably someone in GooglePlex is already working to remove them.

Tuesday, 29 December, 2009

Coming Home ... From Home

Bunking 16 classes in 3 days and liable to get a medical certificate for it, I ate lunch under constant envy. The three busiest days of the last term at an IIM and I was going to get away with sleeping in my room and watching movies. Envy is not what you expect after 3 days of 'malaria-like-symptoms'. But life's not fair. 25th, 26th and 27th of December. A major festival, my parents' anniversary and a close cousin's birthday - all spent sleeping. I had had enough. I was bored of bunking classes, of watching movies and of getting envied for it. And then my past caught up with me. A few days ago, I and Sanket Bhale had planned to go home to end the year. We'd even gone a step further and booked tickets.

As I sat in the auto taking me to the railway station with barely minutes to catch my train, I so joyfully exclaimed - I'm going home! So much for the classes, so much for the globe and so much for the envy. Home was where I was headed. Finally, after an inspired run across almost the entire length of each of Kozhikode's railway platforms, I finally sat down and let the sweat and the thoughts pour.
Calicut, or Kozhikode, as I know it, had been home to me for the past 18 months. Every time I went to Mumbai in a term break, home meant Kozhikode. Kerala, the lush green country, the backyard economy where the easiest way to have coconut water was to climb a tree with an axe. Where a two-laned road that could barely accomodate your bike and the oncoming bus was called the National Highway. And where you would get fined for overtaking on a right turn but not for having 2 pillon riders. That is what home was. Now, something was changing. Mumbai was home again.

Kozhikode was special. Everytime we returned, we'd laugh at the arbitrariness of the shops. Chit funds had proper offices. Some were Hilarious, literally. Chit funds being what they are, based on trust and the fear of social stigma, 'Hilarious Chit Funds' seemed like a very audacious name to give to your company. But over 18 months, it had only grown if nothing else. Kozhikode, where everything lay on one road, so you were either going towards your destination or directly away from it. Villages would pass by on such journeys, much like two rows of houses on either side of the road, like somebody forgot that you could build perpendicular roads. Bylanes were a rarity and driving skills ever more so. Where the Highway Patrol actually patrolled and the Traffic Police would rather find an excuse to let you off than accept a bribe.

Coming home from Mumbai was always an experience you didn't want to miss. The airport had thrice as many international flights as domestic ones. The houses, resplendent in their violets, mauves and bright yellows, always managed to stand out against the tropical coastal vegetation (which is mostly coconut tree trunks). So did the long queues in front of what we thought were Government Ration Shops. It only took one trip to shop for liquor to correct us.

It was a different home from the one I'd grown up in. But the short while that it was home, it was a solace to return. On this afternoon of 28th December, this journey with Bhale and Saxena, from Calicut to Mumbai, is different. I'm going home, from home.

Friday, 31 July, 2009

The Socioeconomics of Humour...

You are in Nigeria. Dazed and confused at how different the African heartland looks from home. A group of Nigerian girls pass by, looking at you with the look of visitors in a zoo. Then one of them comments "Oyimbo" (Yoruba slang for 'foreigner')and they all burst into loud giggling.

You are at a bash thrown by your boss. He introduces you to his boss. In the middle of the conversation, your boss pokes fun at the way you wear your tie. You are forced to laugh because everyone else is.

You go to a stand-up comedy. You sit in the first row. The comedian decides to take on the typical dresses of Africans and their apparently futile designs. You are laughing till your stomach hurts. Then he does a mimicry of how bosses act. He walks up near you, and in the manner of a stereotypical boss, pokes fun at the way you wear your tie. You laugh out gaily, planning to gift your boss a ticket to this place on his upcoming birthday.

Different situations give rise to different versions of humour. But what purpose does humour serve? Why has it survived so long in the evolutionary process? Why did it originate? Do other species crack jokes or attempt comic relief?

Chemical Psychology says that humour releases certain endomorphins that lead to reduction in the stress levels. Laughter clubs springing up all over the world subscribe to this view.
Sociology explains that laughter leads to bonding and establishes group membership. Remember the Nigerian women who laughed at you for being a oyimbo. They might not have known each other before, but all it takes is sharing a joke.
Anthropology insists that humour helps spread goodwill. Isn't that why we smile when introduced to someone.

But look around you. Are the people who crack the most jokes and think they are funny always the most stress-free or better team players or share a more benevolent personality. Most likely not.

With the evolution of our species, humour has also evolved. From being a stress-reliever to a group bonding tool, it has evolved into a superiority assertive. Don't we laugh at those weaker, worse off or more unfortunate than us. Don't we accept the ridicule of those stronger or higher up than us, even though its not really funny for us. Don't we relish the thought of being able to tell our boss, " I don't need to laugh at your jokes any more. I resigned this morning."

Look around again. And who better to look than men when it comes to domineering attitudes. Don't the macho males ridicule the not-so-macho ones and establish their superiority. Don't the beta ones get back at the alpha males by using humour. Don't women indicate who they think is the stud by choosing whose jokes to laugh at. Is ability to ridicule the new pecking order. Or is it overcompensatory behaviour for lagging elsewhere. Does the ability to make fun of someone give one an added survival advantage. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn't.

Friday, 10 July, 2009

This, Here, Now...

As the darkest hour of the night comes to pass, and as the sky readies itself to welcome the sun, the willowy fog of clouds and mist continues its journey across the valley. Rising from the foothills and onward across the green expanses on inclines, the fog makes its way.

A calm serenity this valley exudes. A home among the heavens, at the top of the world. The peaks of hills stand tall amongst the clouds. A few hours ago they lay at the mercy of these clouds as they rained down upon them. But now, they tend to the mist like guardian angels.

The mist and cloud speak of the dark past. In the past tense. A sense of hope and reclamation springs forth. Just like the billowing smoke in the aftermath of a war. When all that could be done was done. When houses were razed, and people were razed and everything that could be razed was razed. When the perpetrators were left powerless, bereft of anything they could destroy, bereft of anything they could take away. When all that remained was time. And hope. For things could only get brighter, sunnier and better. The smoke stands testimony to the helplessness of the destroyers, of the healing of time, of the impermanence of the worst. The mist and the clouds speak the same language.

The never-ending, limitless expanse of mist across undulating land stands as steady as time. Continual, steadfast and careless to a whim. Careless of what happens around. Of what it passes. Of what it has passed. Of what it will come to pass. Composed and unfettered, it glides along. Giving hope wherever it goes. Whenever it goes.

If there is a thing to be, it is this.
If there is a place to be, it is here.
If there is a time to be, it is now.

Sunday, 5 July, 2009

Mumbai Uncorked...

Everyone who has lived for a considerable time in Mumbai knows that it is one of those things thats almost impossible to define. The feelings and the emotions that Mumbai arouses will never be felt elsewhere. It is these that bind all Mumbaikars well beyond the need of any geographical borders - Mumbai is open country.

No one is ever an outsider to Mumbai for too long. Mumbai accommodates. In its motley of local trains, in its numerous skyscrapers, in its share market rallies, in its Udipi restaurants and on its Chowpatties and Bandstands. Everyone is welcome. They always have been. An urban spectacle, conspicuous by its huge contribution to government revenues and by the miniscule amount that comes back, Mumbai carries on.

Sometimes, this treatment is humiliating, frustrating, even revolting. But, as Roark Howard would have said, '...the pain goes down only to a certain point, and then it stops...', Mumbai keeps at it. In the long run, the only competition will be with itself.

The rains lash Mumbai like a jealous mistress. She keeps coming back. Year after year, the monsoon keeps its date with Mumbai. And Mumbai welcomes it. Even though it hurts, Mumbai adores her. Amidst flooded roads and dank winds, aartis and pujas welcome the reunion. Even in the wake of life brought to a standstill, the tumultous relationship endures - welcomed and respected.

Mumbai may not be the most modern city, neither the most well-planned. But its magnificence lies not in what others did with it. It lies in what Mumbai does to itself every single day. Day after day. Without respite or let-back. Taking all in its stride. Mumbai goes on. Mumbai rocks.

Saturday, 6 June, 2009

Behind the Scenes of SANGAM - A sneak-peek into the life of an IIMite

The preparations start 4 months in advance. Brochures are designed, budgets are negotiated and the calender is consulted. Not that we believe in auspicious days and bad omens, but simply because everything must run to plan. Any oversight in planning and things could go sour. And nobody likes a sour taste, especially not corporate honchos. And especially not when there are 1500 of them.

All holidays are marked out. All major events and marriage seasons are doubly checked. And then a date is finalised. The date around which the lives and summer internships of 6 people will spin for the next 3 months. The date that has to be met at all cost. The date that once announced can not be taken back. And then, it is announced.

Now the countdown has begun. From now on, the clock only moves forward. Sponsors are approached, venues are looked at and people are motivated. Options are weighed at every stage and projections are made. Made and revised. Mails are sent. Shortlists are drawn up. Then further filtered. More mails are sent. And then one reads "Venue Finalised". 6 people stop to heave a sigh of relief. And then get on with it. Soon, 6 venues are in place. Even now the budget looks more like an astrological chart than an account. There are more variables than Dell offers on its computers. And many more permutations. The sponsors drive is pushed harder. Negotiations are pushed harder. 6 people push harder. Every single day. More is still less.

Contacts calling gives way to cold calling. And some more mails are sent. More. Some more. Then one mail reads "We are ready to not bust the bank". 6 people pause to heave a sigh of relief. One pause. Another round of motivating mails and they are back to calling. Now with a different tone, a different task and a different audience. Within a fortnight of the event now, every single Alum who can be reached has been called and emailed. Invited. Another mail. Another pause. And back again.

Lists are made again. Final projections frozen. Money moves across the vast internetwork of the Indian Banking System in little bits and bytes. 6 people brace for one last leg of the run - on the ground. From here on, everything can be seen and felt. Banners, check lists, decorations, gifts, mementoes, food, liquor, people, enthusiasm and a sense of achievement. What was only an idea till only some time ago has come to life. And in six cities across the length and breadth of the country, at 1930 hours, over 1500 corporate hot-shots remember their days at one of the most beautiful and effervescent campuses in India - IIM Kozhikode.

Sunday, 22 March, 2009

"Indian" Premier League?

As I proceed to eat my lunch on a typical calm-before-the-storm Sunday afternoon, a spam on the IP tells me that IPL is in the news again. Having gotten used to it by now, I fail to catch the details, but later realize that I should have.

A nice hot and steaming lunch awaits me at the mess(Yes, the lunch can be good if you're in time). Filling my plate, I take a seat near the TV, hoping to catch some news on the world around me. Maybe its just not my day.

The first thing I see on the screen is the blaring headline of "IPL to be held outside India". I mentally shut my eyes and ears and hope that it will soon disappear. Then the presenter blares on top of his voice in a tone that would have been uncalled for even if some 'friendly' neighbouring country dropped a bomb on our capital. I look up dreading that I would see a horrible sight of yet another killing and massacre. Thankfully, that didnt happen. What I see instead is Vijay Mallya kissing one of the Ambani wives on the cheek and SRK, Preity and a few others walking into a nice conference room. The blaring headline hadn't gone away. It now read, "IPL had to be taken outside because of the Govt's attitude".

After showing me a motley of images of Lalit Modi, Mallya, SRK, Preity and a few other very tense fellows, the presenter decides to interview a few people. The first guy is related to, the same site that provides us live scores even in class). After Mr. X has hemmed and hawwed his bit about the abruptness of the decision, our dear news presenter connects to another fellow at breakneck speed and then another and another. I think they once even got Mallya on the phone. And another was asked, " What do you think will be the impact of this decision on the elections?" I wouldn't be surprised if he said, "Looks like we will have to postpone the elections till this matter can be sorted out with the IPL." National Emergency, you know.

Of all that I heard in the half hour that I had my lunch, the only sensible point mentioned was by one of the correspondents. She said that since the IPL's USP was its city loyalty and fan following, it would be difficult to generate that interest if played elsewhere. How would I expect Archana to jump up in joy when Dhoni plays the 'home match' against Rajasthan Royals in Bloemfontein. Or for thousands of fans in Mumbai to crowd the locals at all the wrong times to watch the match at DY Patil stadium. Or for our very own cricketers to carry around their dirty shoes and kit without any fear of being caught at customs. As Tapangshu rightly pointed out, its gonna be an Indian Premier League that didn't happen in India. Simply because ... ... the damned Govt didn't show the right attitude by postponing the elections.

Saturday, 21 February, 2009

K by night...

As I sit it out the night at the amphitheatre; the massive, yet beautiful and defining structure of the academic hill at IIMK, the surreal atmosphere engulfs me and rejuvenates me. For someone who spent most of his life in the din and smog of a metro, this is heaven.

When darkness descends, K springs to life. In the dying moments of the twilight, numerous joggers and fitness freaks descend down the hill to the lakeside and meet with the footballers replenishing themselves at the Amul store after a long day's play. Those untouched by the fitness craze wake up groggily from their afternoon siestas and sitcoms, rub their eyes and rush to the Night Canteen for a quick bite. Sleep does make you hungry around here. Mails start getting sent and mailboxes start ringing like cash registers at an Udipi restaurant in downtown Mumbai. Meetings are called and assignments are delegated. And before you know it, its dark and the moon has risen high in the sky. Those who eat at the mess have already done so and the others wait impatiently for 10pm. Post-dinner the meetings are held - Amphi, Harvard steps, B-block and the more popular Cross-roads get their share of attention. This time from 8pm till 2pm sees the most activity on campus. Then the night begins.

As people retire to their rooms to get past the ever-piling stock of movies and sitcoms, a new-found creed springs to life. Donning their new T-shirts, the Counter Strike players storm the LAN network with cries of "Go Go Go". Then the campus goes to rest. Or atleast pretends to.
Its 4am and I walk out of my room to the Moonlit Grove and pretend to study the stars. This place has personal memories for me. This is where I held her hand and gazed at the stars and the moon. Even then it was 4am. The feeling seems so distant now. As I search for the moon, I see a tiny sliver of orangish hue towards the eastern sky. I smile and walk on.

The sole light at the top of the Watch Tower sets the tone for the architectural beauty that surrounds me. Rows of columns in the A-block play hide-n-seek with the light and shadows. The library stands strong and robust like General of the Panzer division at Normandy. Its mere presence is assuring. An airconditioner from the Computer Centre hums away in the distance, much like the bees in the beehive that flanks it. A cricket calls out in the distance. And then all is silent. What remains is just that majestic, surreal feeling that wouldn't let me sleep, that says,' Why wouldn't anyone want to be here?'

I am reminded of Amir Khusrau...
'Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast, Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast.'
(If there is a paradise on earth, It is this, it is this, it is this)