Turning 25!

Dear 21 year old self,


I know you are doing pretty good, rather brilliant, if I may say so at this moment. You just got your first credit card, which is a big deal to you, a job you are proud of and most importantly, good people around you. The friends you are hanging out with right now are going to be an important part of your time to come, some of whom you will call up at 4AM and say “Listen, I screwed up”. The surprise 21st birthday party was killer and the dinner that followed it too. Now you may wonder what wisdom I have gained in a period of four years that I will share with you. It’s not much but let me assure you, you will not be disappointed where you have got.

Chicago is beautiful; its suburbs are calm and serene. New York City is breathtaking to say the least and one needs to spend a year of his life there, well I definitely intend to. And my good old Bloomington, of which you have never heard of before and where I am right now, is a small student town, lively as hell and filled with activity. Let me tell you that for a person who has never left Hyderabad in 21 years for more than a 2 month holiday now and then, the next 4 years of your life is filled with a lot of travel. Some of it alone, some to really far off places and some to a point of no return and you will enjoy each one of those.

So, that brings me to the point of this letter. Sitting at coffee shops and working on case studies, roaming around a small student town and its downtown and attending random music events are some of the things that have been a fascination for a long time and I assure you that most of these small things have been accomplished. Over the last four years, apart from fulfilling all these childhood fascinations, and adding a few more to the to-do list, you have sort of a clearer picture of what to do in life, which had always been a puzzle all through.

We are fascinated by numbers, especially us Indians. The very idea of putting a number next to every little thing in life is something that comes naturally to us. Creating pointless milestones out of irrelevant entities is a common pass time, Sachin’s 100th 100 being a clear example here. Living half the world away from the homeland has not taken an iota of Indianess out of me. I strongly believe that biryani and pani puri can bring about world peace and the Golden Gate Bridge is nothing in front of the Tank Bund back home. No arguments on those. Similarly, I still love numbers and turning 25 is a big deal. Turning 21 was a big deal as well, in a good way, but 25 is weird.

The first 21 seemed like a lifetime. That was the only time when you naively trust people to be as nice to you as you are to them. You make a ton of friends, become close to some and lose a lot of them as well. With every friend you lose, you lose a bit of yourself. Some memories, activities, that you associate with one cannot be repeated with anyone else since the effect is just not the same. You will realize that some friendships last for a reason, some for a season and very few for a lifetime. Believing this lessens the pain of the ones that can’t go the distance.

This letter is not an expression of rebellion or sadness but of optimism. We are all born with the innate ability to rise above all the pain and suffering that life constantly brings. We are all born with a glimmer of hope, that maybe we can change things for ourselves if we really tried. I know I can overcome adversity because there is a part of me that will never give up. Here’s to overcoming our greatest obstacles.

All things considered, you have done a fairly decent job so far. While I am really glad to turn 25 in six months, there are certain things I miss about being 21; things that have withered with time just the slightest bit. The idealism I had, the pure belief that time is the best equalizer, the self-righteousness in decision making and a few other things. I have often wondered the very purpose of life and the comic strip below is the closest I have come to believe.


P.S. The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences. True Story. Here’s to Supertramp! 

“He gave grit a good name” Rahul Dravid about Steve Waugh

It is only fitting that Steve Waugh had requested Rahul Dravid to write the foreword to his autobiography, Out of My Comfort Zone. Following is what Dravid has written:

“I was 14 years old –sweating at the nets and dreaming, like schoolboys do, of playing for my country – when I first saw Steve Waugh. It was the 1987 World Cup in India, which Australia won, and while Steve was in his early twenties he had already caught my eye. This was not merely because of his ability with bat and ball (his slower deliveries bowled with various actions would soon be replicated in nets around India), but also for his grit under pressure. Steve appeared to relish the big occasion, seemed to thrive in such situations, but I had no idea back then that it would be this characteristic that would become his signature or that years later I would be privileged to see it first hand.

Greatness is a label easily bestowed in these ‘exaggerated’ times, but Steve earned such high praise. History will remember him as one of the game’s finest practitioners. He averaged over 50 in Test cricket, the mark of a superb batsman, and played a significant role in two World Cup victories, 12 years apart. As captain, he inherited a gifted Australian team from Mark Taylor and forged it into an even more aggressive and successful side. He was influential beyond his shores, a man looked up to.

Steve was a hard man and respected because he had done it the hard way. Greatness wasn’t handed to him; he pursued it diligently, single-mindedly. Dropped from the team, he worked his way back. The story of his resolute journey, among other things, makes for interesting reading.

With 32 Test centuries, there is no shortage of impressive innings to remember, but the one that stands out for me is the 67 not out in 273 minutes he made against us in a one-off Test in Delhi in 1996. On a turning wicket, alive with uneven bounce, he constructed an innings that was masterful in both its technique and its complete concentration. Watching it from silly point as he fended off gifted spinners like Anil Kumble was an education, a lesson for a youngster like me playing his first season of international cricket.

For me, when Steve batted, a couple of things stood out. There was the infinite care he put into his defense, each ball carefully watched and played as if his life depended on it. The acceleration of his bat was interesting as well, for sometimes you thought he was going to be late for the ball, but then his bat would descend at tremendous speed to meet it. Most of the time we left him alone, not speaking to him on the field, for we knew he fed off any conversation, and enjoyed confrontation and challenge that came with it. Australia was never beaten while he was there at the crease.

Off the field, his manner was introverted, his emotions tightly locked. He appeared to live the cliché of ‘No quarter given and none asked’. But off the field, if you sought him out for a chat, he was never reluctant to share his thoughts.

On Australia’s 1998 tour to India I was keen to pick his brain on batting and cricket in general, and Steve promised to let me do so once the series was over. But Australia lost the series and he was injured and missed the last Test, in Bangalore. I would have understood if he had forgotten about this eager youngster, and I thought it was inappropriate to remind him, but on the third day of the Test, unprompted, he called me and we met for dinner. It was a discussion that would have a lasting influence on me.

His ruthless style, combined with a passion for the game, has won him a staggering, almost unrivalled, following in India. But this is a reverence that does not only stem from cricket but also from generosity of spirit. Steve’s work with the children of Udayan in Calcutta has been widely admired, and he has also sought to discover India, to learn about us and go beyond the tired, stereotypical image of this beautiful country that so many visiting cricketers carry with them.

Steve’s legacy is hard to define, but I will remember him because he gave grit a good name. He proved that it is not only the pretty player who can capture the imagination, but also the tough and determined. Suddenly these qualities became as vital, as spoken about, as silken grace and sublime timing. He was leathery tough, played the game aggressively, and would do whatever it took within the rules to win. He built a team that has achieved legendary status, raised the level of young cricketers who played under him, and also embraced the traditions of the game and highlighted their importance.

I will remember the pain of not beating him in that last Test of his, in Sydney in January 2004, but also recall fondly his final innings in cricket against us, for it was a typical Steve Waugh innings: mind over matter, a man not in form but soldiering on, taking his team to safety. I will remember, too, that when I hit the winning runs in the Test at Adelaide n that same series, Steve found the ball and handed it to me. I have it still and is signed by him.

Steve Waugh is an interesting man who has lived an interesting life; a man of cricket but not just of cricket. For 18 years he has traveled the world, won and lost and learnt and led. He has faced cameras, critics and fast bowlers, and he has brought to it all a commitment to excellence.”

The book is available at flipkart here – Out Of My Comfort Zone

Image Source: Cricinfo

Foreword Source – http://mayesh.wordpress.com/

God, it is killing me!

Some things should never end and somethings should never change. Like the sunrise & the sunset, the taste of filter coffee, the humor in Tom & Jerry, the wordplay of Wodehouse. Imagine the plight of a filter coffee addict when he is forced to drink a cup of instant coffee from a lousy coffee vending machine forever. Imagine how the world would react when the sun doesn’t rise on a given day. Imagine the gloom on the face of a Calvin and Hobbes fan when he does not find the strips funny and insightful anymore. That is doomsday!

To a fan, Federer not winning the Wimbledon is more than all of these. On that day, no other news can be worse than that. The match and how they played are inconsequential. The result hurts and no matter how hard the fan tries to justify to himself that it was a one off game, it is difficult to look forward to the US Open believing that Fedex, its five time champion, is not the favorite again.

For someone who has grown up watching an agile Swiss tennis player make mockery of huffing and puffing man beasts, making us smile and wonder with his effortless and graceful shots and finally fall on the center court of different grounds, a record 16 times, it is difficult to watch him lose. Especially, if it is not the finals. Especially, if it is the Wimbledon.


Dhobi Ghat

Ala Modalaindi, Dhobi Ghat and my thoughts on Modern Indian Cinema

So we have seen a lot of new age Indian romantic movies or, as the west calls them, rom-coms. Consider a movie made in the 90’s. The story of any these movies starts off with an arrogant girl and an equally arrogant boy hating each other, who end up falling head over heals about each other. Essentially, the story writer then could not take any liberties in modifying this plot and all he/she could do was to modify how/why/where/under what circumstances these two, in some cases three or more also, met, fought and ended up liking each other. The reason I mention the brief history of rom-coms is that the next day after watching Ala Modalaindi, the movie was still making me think of how we have evolved. It made me think of how movies today, the good ones, do not have silly songs where couples keep running around the bushes anymore. It made me think of how the nakhre-waali ladki is no longer the heroine and instead we have a self-confident girl who is clear about her career and decisions. Look how far we have come in terms of character development!

Ala Modalaindi

We rarely see a college student based love-story, like Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, thanks to Dil Chahta Hai which started the trend that a story involving folks who work makes more sense. Cinema is truly an reflection of our times. I am not talking about the outrageous southie movies, and Salman Khan movies too, which involve one guy bashing up a hundred goons but the ones like Wake Up Sid and Bommarillu. These did not really have a lot of content and story, like Pyaasa or Don, but the way they presented the protagonists, their confusions and habits, are something at least people from my generation can relate to.

We see more movies these days with the absence of typical love triangles, factionism, fights and stupid dances. Movies today have real-life scenarios like mis-understandings, failures with absence of out-of-the-world coincidences. It is refreshing because any movie which surprises it’s audience, in a pleasant way of course, is what we all want. Don’t we like it when we subconsciously guess the story and it turns out to be something else? Usual Suspects?

Another important improvement has been in screenplay development. We see voice-overs being used in a good way and one of the best examples is Being Cyrus. If you haven’t seen it, give it watch and also listen to it carefully. Even Last Lear had very good voice over effects. We also have non-linear screenplays, the ones flipping back and forth, the ones in which the audience is assumed to understand how the story is going without being told too much, like Johnny Gaddar.

Dhobi Ghat

Last and probably most important is the increase in the number of women behind the camera and this brings me to Ala Modaliandi. At the intermission of the film, my friend casually mentioned, don’t movies with women directors have more mature stories? This movie had many ups and a few downs but on the whole was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The humor was witty and the characters had more off-beat jobs, like reality TV directors, veterinarians, social activists amongst others.

Another movie in the same style is Dhobi Ghat, which was relaxedly paced as if the director was in no hurry to tell the story, sub plots into which she did not dwell too much and the best of all, usage of songs only as a background music.  A trend which Rang De Basanti had set, where the song is either a part of the story or is just something in the background. I would love to see more of that, where I cannot fast forward the songs and not miss anything, irrespective of the nature of the songs. Telugu films of the 60s used songs as the only mode of expressing romance. There rarely were any dialogs/proposals etc as  a part of the dialogs and this made the songs more meaningful and also more enjoyable.

So, I believe that the day is not far when we can stop bothering about the star cast and look at the makers of the film to decide whether to watch it or skip it. And one of these days, we might also not have any hype around a movie and have to see its cast on every reality show a week before its release. Hopefully.

P.S. By no means am I criticizing the movies of the old, but am appreciating the improvement in the quality of Indian cinema. Also, technical details like cinematography and art direction are not relevant in this discussion since they would not make a difference in the quality of cinema.

Image Courtesy: Random “Watch Movies Online” sites, found via google, which promote piracy and do not deserve to be linked.

English, August – Book Review

“The mind is restless Oh Krishna”, Agastya Sen reads out frequently from the Bhagvad Gita with scant respect for both Krishna & the Gita. Covering the life and confusions of the son of Bengal Governor who gets posted to a fictional town of Madna, the hottest town in India, as a part of his IAS training, this book explores the thoughts of its young protagonist Agastya Sen who calls himself August.

The primary reason why I found “English, August” original and refreshing is because of the absence of any sort of romance. There is lust that Agastya has, for several women in fact, but the absence of  melodramatic love keeps the book natural and believable. The bluntness is impossible to be disliked “About sixty-five per cent of the population of the block of Jompanna–a block is roughly one-sixth or one-seventh of a district–is illiterate. But one doesn’t need to be brainy or literate to watch a blue film on video.” Add to it, the subtle way in which Upamanyu Chatterjee projects the fascination of most urban Indians to ape their western counterparts, giving themselves nicknames like August and Mandy, is awesome.

Chatterjee expresses Agastya’s confusion with honesty, in an as a matter of fact way, with the tone never even remotely offensive, as if it is a natural thing to feel confused and shallow and allows one to relate to August. “There wasn’t a single thought in his head about which he didn’t feel confused.”

Lack of self-importance and indecisiveness towards one’s career, an extremely common syndrome in young Indians, the latter more significantly, makes this a true Indian story and a must read for everyone. In a land where son of a doctor is a doctor, son of a lawyer is a lawyer, this son of a bureaucrat showcases the frustration at having chosen a career which doesn’t appeal to him in a genuine way but chosen only because it is an easy way out. Witty and cynical English,August, written over 23 years ago, with all its cultural references of that age intact, appealed to me and I guess will appeal to any Indian brought up in a city.

To sum up the book, I will quote what I found the most impressive revelation:

Doesn’t anyone understand the absence of ambition, or the simplicity of it?

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia Article on English August

The Uncommon Men

Arpit Shah was blushing. He was not doing a good job at concealing that smile which he wanted to hide and the anger he wanted to portray. He moved away from the group and sat in an empty seat on the bus, right behind the seats reserved for women. After some whistles and chants of “Aye Haye. Kya sharmaraha hai dekho“, he broke his silence. “Ab bas bhi karo yaar” he said, no longer concealing that smile. From the last seat of the bus I could not see much of what was transpiring there. So I went and sat next to one particular gentleman of the group, who was the most talkative and was also sitting alone.

After a few pleasantries and micro introductions here and there, in which I had claimed I am a software engineer, my neighbor, Bhavesh, started telling me why they were teasing their friend. These gentlemen, still in their olive green uniforms, were going home after 8 months. After their earlier posting in Rajasthan, they had to come directly to Secunderabad, thereby missing a break to go home. I was tempted to ask about the working conditions of Army Jawans in Rajasthan but decided not to, since that might spoil the cheerful mood of the group. So instead I jumped directly to the topic of Mr. Arpit Shah.

While everyone was going home for a holiday, Mr. Arpit here was going home to pick a bride, preferably his neighbor’s 18 year old daughter which he had confided to me later. The very next day after selecting his bride-to-be, he will get engaged to her, marry her and then come back to Secunderabad. The time duration he has for this whole sequence was 6 days since it takes him 3 days to travel to his home town and three days to come back and he has a leave of only 12 days. I felt slightly embarrassed when Bhavesh said all of this with no hint of a complaint in his tone. I have attended weddings where the wedding itself lasted a minimum of 4-5 days, leave alone the engagement and holidays before and after the event.

For my question on why Arpit was being teased since getting married is a fairly common practice around the world, he replied that Arpit was the first amongst the group to get married and had very eagerly responded to the marriage proposal too. The rest either did not get any such offers or declined whatever came their way. I went up to Arpit’s seat to congratulate him and to also ask him his opinion on the whole ongoing scene and how he felt about it. He removed the big suitcase on the seat and offered me place to sit on the seat and started off.

Bhai. Bore Lagta hain hume akele akele. Hindi Picture akele dekne mein kya matlab hain. Hume toh sirf kisika saath chahiye tha. Timepass ho jaayega. Isiliye, humne maa se kehdiya ki hume manzoor hain. Bas itnisi hi baat hai. Yeh Rajesh aur Bhavesh humesha aisi hi hai. Koi kaam nahi hai in dono ko”

At that moment, I could not help but smile at his honesty. Later, he asked me about my job and corporate life. I gave some politically correct answers, till he asked me something to which I had no answer, “Toh phir, yeh IT waalon ko intha paisa kyun dethe hain?” For all that I could remember, everyone always cribbed about their pay in every IT Company.

My stop had come and I had to get down. After wishing him and the rest of the group, I went smiling away into oblivion. It felt good to be in the company of men who had no idea of how great a job they were doing. Thank You Gentlemen.

P.S. Character names have been changed for the sake of national security. Otherwise, it is a true story which happened over a year ago.

Image Courtesy – The Hindu

“Boy… Of Dessstiny”

Once upon a time in a rented rickety college bus, a group of innocent young engineering freshers, full of energy, life and ambition, who probably celebrated their 16th birthdays just a few days before this incident, a bunch out of the 60,000 other engineering freshers in Andhra Pradesh, were traveling around 25Kms from college to home, beating the heat and traffic of Hyderabad and more importantly the erratic bus driver, nicknamed Schumi, who was speeding away with no mercy. They were on the Tank Bund at that time, which in those days was at its stinking best and since the traffic was pretty moderate, standing on the footboard was pretty comfortable. You have to understand that standing on the footboard is COOL and people actually fought to be there and in many of those occasions, your humble author also took an active participation. Totally, no discussions on that. Coming back to the story, it was one of those days when the seniors were not there. So, there was liberty, freedom and blah blah blah; basically – no ragging.

At that moment, one ultra organized boy took out a newspaper and started reading the editorial very religiously. Yours truly and another equally lazy brute, relieved that the magazine section was available, started fighting over its ownership. As it has always happened in history, here too a third person came in and said – SHARE. So, both of us, after coming to an amicable understanding in a fraction of a second,  jumped to the comic section first and decided to check out the awesomely infamous last page later at absolute peace.

So it was at that moment, ladies and gentlemen, that the second chap turned to the first and said –
“Saw this? ”
“Naah. I don’t read comics.” replied the first guy.
“Machan. This is NOT a comic. This is Calvin and Hobbes. It’s CULT.
“Whatever. Am not interested” said the first guy.
“Dude. Am serious. Try once na. If you don’t like it, I will buy you 3 plates of  pani puri at fighter Raju’s chat bandi and vice versa if you like it”.
Since the bet sounded so tempting, the first guy accepted it and this was the strip –

I lost 15 bucks that day but the rest they say, is history!

So, came home and browsed the net and went on to read more:

The one below this you see, is dedicated to another equally lazy brute who joined this club a year later – “Late Gaa Vachina Latest Ga Vacha” he said!

The one below this is dedicated to that 3rd person who owned that newspaper – a character, who in real life is very similar to DAD below 😀

So, ladies and gentlemen, that was a brief story of how one already incredible life just became more incredible. Hope the same has happened to you too – singing off with a few CnH gems-

“Do you like being a girl?”
“Its gotta be better than the alternative.”
“Whats it like? Is it like being a bug?”
“Like a WHAT?”
“I imagine bugs and girls have a dim perception that nature played a cruel trick on them, but they lack the intelligence to really comprehend the magnitude of it.”

“I want to be introduced as “Calvin, boy of destiny. But you have to say it right, pause a little after “boy,” and say “Destiny” a bit slower and deeper for emphasis. Say it, “Boy… Of Dessstiny, ” Like that!”

Yours Truly,

All characters are purely real. Any resemblance to the living or dead is totally intentional.

P.S. This post is dedicated to those two above mentioned folks and the chap who offered the bet. In a way to fighter Raju too – what amazing pani puri’s he had! tsk.

P.P.S. Now three of you go and buy me the complete hardbound collection.