Monday, March 27, 2006

The Storm - A Short Story (Final Part)

As the car turned in to the little road leading to the mound, Bob quipped
"You really think your car would still be where you left it, after last night's storm?"
"Well, it survived because the storm was in a hurry to go to the top. Pity the barn was almost razed" Kelly said.
"What barn?" Bob was surprised.
"Old Rupert's barn. That's where I spent last night, and that’s how I survived the storm. The old man's a nice guy, although you wouldn’t know by looking at him" Kelly smiled.
"I have driven by this road several times, and I don’t remember seeing any barn. Are you sure?" he asked.
"Of course, but I have to ask Rupert about Joe's garage. There is no such place" she continued.
"Joe's Garage? That’s where my dad used to work. But how do you know about it?" he was surprised.
"I went looking for Joe's Garage off the first exit, and couldn’t find anything. Just an old house. And the old lady doesn’t even talk" Kelly complained.
"That's Joe's wife Martha. She used to be a nice lady, but now, she's so old that she hardly understands anything. After Joe's death, she closed the Garage and it is now just a small little house" Bob explained
"Oh, so Rupert wasn’t lying. But when did the garage close?" Kelly asked
"Right after Joe died. About 14 years ago" Bob answered.
"14 years? I wonder why Rupert didn’t know that" she was surprised.
"We'll ask your old Rupert when we get there. How much longer?" Bob was growing impatient.
"Almost there. I think I can spot the car" Kelly screamed.
"But shouldn’t there be a barn right about somewhere around here, as you have been claiming?" Bob asked, with a smirk on his face.
"Oh, but it is, right here, on that mound..." and she turned around towards the empty space where the barn had been the previous night.
"I don’t see anything there. Is that where you survived the whole of last night?" Bob quizzed.
Kelly was in a shock.She had spent the whole night at the barn, and now, there was no sign of the structure!
"How can it be? I swear there was a barn here last night. And now it’s gone. And what happened to Rupert? Where did he disappear?" Kelly turned to Bob in disbelief.

Bob's face had turned pale. There was an unusual quiver in his voice.
"What did you say Rupert's last name was?"
"Jones, I think. The family photograph that Rupert had framed had "Jones Family" written in bold" Kelly remembered.
Bob was sweating profusely, and a strange fear was written all over his face.

"There was a series of twisters that hit this town 17 years ago. Several houses and families perished to the storm. I had read that one of the families that got washed away included one Rupert Jones, who lived on a barn up the mound"

Kelly looked one last time at the barn that never was, as she got into the tow-truck. She knew her life had changed forever since then. A dead man had come back only to save her. She felt a strange sense of security. That someone up there cared for her. A lot of things had happened in her life, but this one incident put everything in perspective.

A dead man, who she had no connection to, had crossed the dimensions of death, to save her.
Although it raised a lot of questions in her head, she had a strange feeling of calmness.

Of someone assured with the knowledge of life. And beyond.

The Storm - A Short Story (Part 3)

It was almost an hour till Kelly finally spotted the highway. She had hoped to hitchhike a ride till the highway. But had ended up walking all the way till the highway since she hadn’t come across any motorist on the desolate service road. Her daily routine of morning jogs had come of great use to cover the 6 miles to the highway.

When a trucker finally stopped to offer her a ride till the nearest Auto Service center, Kelly realized how tired she was when she gulped down an entire bottle of Gatorade to the amazement of the kind trucker.

"How did a girl like you end up on that weird road leading to the old mound?" he questioned her.
"I am looking for a mechanic to fix my car. Could you drop me till Joe's Garage, by the next exit?" Kelly pleaded.
"I could, if there was any garage there. I don’t think there is any garage for the next 4 exits" he said.
"Oh, I am told there is. So if you could drop me off at the next exit, I will find my way" Kelly suggested.
"Alright, I will help you find the place if there is one where you say it should be" he agreed.

As the truck got off the exit, Kelly could spot only a small old house a few yards from the road. She got off the truck, and walked to the house. She spotted an old woman, in her 80s, sitting on the porch reading her bible. Kelly walked up to her, and introduced herself

"Hello, I am looking for Joe's Garage. Could you direct me to it?
The old lady looked up for a moment, but went back to reading her bible the next moment.
Kelly tried talking to the lady, but to no avail. Finally, Kelly gave up, and walked back to the truck.
"Guess you’re right. There is no garage here"
"Let me take you to the Jiffy Lube at the fourth exit. They should be able to send a mechanic to fix your car" the trucker insisted.
"Thanks, I really appreciate your help".

The Storm - A Short Story (part 2)

Kelly got up, and walked up the dungeon. Her morning alarm had woken her up at sharp 5 AM, as had been her regimen everyday for the past 5 years.

The storm had passed, but had left a wreck in its place. The whole cabin had been ransacked, and furniture thrown everywhere. She could see that the little cabin had put up a fight against the might of the storm, but had finally given in. The storm had reduced the place to a few standing walls, amidst a wooden wreck of debris. The roof had been mostly uprooted, and there were gaping holes in the few walls that had survived the storm.

Rupert slowly managed to get up, and walk up to see the damage to his house. Unusually, his face did not betray any emotion. He seemed least bothered about the fact that his house had been wrecked.

"This doesn’t look good Rupert. This place is gonna take a while to be restored. Maybe you should live in the town till the barn is rebuilt" Kelly tried to comfort him.
"Don’t worry about me. I have friends around here. I will manage. What's more important is that you are fine" Rupert said.

Kelly knew from the look on Rupert's face that there was no point in trying to make him change his mind.
Dawn was about to break. Kelly walked down the mound to see if her car had still stood its ground after the previous night's storm. Luckily for her, she had parked the car at the lowest point below the mound, a little away from the cabin. The storm had ascended too fast, and had therefore, miraculously missed the car.

"If I start early, I could still make it on time for that meeting" she figured.
Rupert was visibly tired after all the intense activity, and his old frame looked rather pale.
"Well, since I am alive, and all my bones are in place, I think I should start early, and go to the town to find a mechanic " Kelly said.
Rupert just nodded his head, with a wry smile on his face, which failed to betray his frail state.
"Joe's Lubes is just off the first exit on the Highway, when you get on it. And it's open all night".
"Thanks Rupert, I am really grateful to you. And I didn’t mean to be, although I came across as rather rude" Kelly said, ashamed at her preconceived perceptions about the character of an old man who had saved her from a certain death.

The Storm - A Short Story (Part 1)

"Think it's going to rain real bad", Rupert observed, looking at the dark clouds looming large in the evening sky. The mountains overlooking the horizon had become blurred, indicating that the clouds had already precipitated in the hills. The green view of the hills had turned into a mild shade of silver, due to the pouring rain.
"Looks like the floodgates to heaven have opened", quipped Kelly in reply.
"Did you say heaven?" he asked with a wicked grin.
"Huh?" shrugged Kelly, almost disinterested and lost in her thoughts.

It had been a long day for her. She had driven the whole day to get back to Albany, from Orlando. Her best friend Kate had finally fallen in love, and had decided to marry Steven Bloom, the suave Television anchor on Fox. The wedding was a grand affair at Steve's private ranch in Orlando. She was still reeling from the late night partying that followed the lavish wedding. Steve had just been confirmed for a reality Horror show, and had therefore based his party on the same theme. Dressing up like a Witch had been Kelly's favorite Halloween pastime, and she had enjoyed all the scares that she attracted at the party for her act.
The only complaint had been that she had had very little sleep since she had to start at 6 AM in order to be able to make it to NY in time for Tuesday's meeting at work.

"This place is getting eerie" she mumbled incoherently.
"Shouldn’t that be my line?" Rupert grinned sheepishly, pointing at Kelly's mascara smudged eyes.

Kelly cursed herself for not being careful enough to remove the Halloween makeup. She had overslept due to all that alcohol, and had not had enough time for a decent shower. The wiry, permed hair and the dark mascara had looked funny in the morning. Not anymore, thought Kelly.

Kelly had been fortunate to have found shelter at Rupert's barn. Her 1986 Oldsmobile had died on her right in the middle of a desolate jungle. She had strayed off the Highway on a shorter road that allowed her to skip the Toll gates. And as luck would have it, her car had broken down right in the middle of nowhere. Rupert had seen her blinking lights, and had walked down to her from his barn up the hillock.

His lean frame looked weathered, yet his eyes had a distant sparkle of a man who had once seen a lot of joy. His face and hair were unkempt, but still left him attractive in a weird way. Beneath his rough exterior, his eyes seemed to betray his soft self. Kelly had almost immediately agreed to his offer of shelter in the wild.

Rupert had looked down the bonnet, and had pronounced the car "Impossible to fix". Kelly knew better than to believe him, but she knew that her Olds had run beyond its norm, and she had been pushing her luck. But nothing that a mechanic in Albany can’t fix, she thought.

Rupert's barn was a huge cabin like structure built on top of a mound, just behind the peak, such that it would be completely hidden from the road. The dense vegetation also added to the anonymity of the place. Rupert must like his privacy, she thought.

Dinner was a badly cooked barbecue, which he claimed to be his game. Kelly hated the food, and therefore, seemed disinterested in discussing about his hunting habits. Must be a rabbit, she thought.

As the rain started to pour, the barn became very cold. Kelly was trying to keep herself warm by moving closer to the barbecue flames which were fighting a lost cause against the calamitous winds. Rupert had disappeared into his dungeon, right after dinner, and had not re-emerged for the next two hours.

When he finally came out, he had a coat of fox fur which he offered to Kelly.
This should keep you warm" he mumbled, and then disappeared into his dungeon.
Kelly tried to sleep, but had weird nightmares every time she sank into slumber.
She kept herself busy thinking about the great time she had had at the wedding. But somehow, there was always an uncomfortable feeling that she was being watched all the time.

She found an old radio on the corner table, and decided that it would keep her company till morning.
"Anything to keep me awake in this weird house" she uttered to herself.

The newsreader on radio was announcing that the storm had worsened and a blizzard was heading south. There were warnings issued for people to take refuge in concrete, blizzard-proof structures. The announcement on radio worsened Kelly's fears since the barn did not look to be the safest place to be in, when the blizzard came visiting. She spent the next few minutes praying hard when Rupert re-emerged from the dungeon with a worried look on his face.

"You know the twister is headed our way" he spoke, almost startling a half-asleep Kelly.
"Maybe you should help me carry the food stuff down into the cellar, rather than just sit there and give me those looks" he continued, with an irritated shrug.

Within the next 10 minutes, Kelly and Rupert managed to stock the cellar up with food, warm clothes, and water. The radio predicted the twister to hit the jungle in another 20 minutes.

"This should last us for a couple of days, although am not sure if we would last till then" Rupert joked, pouring himself a glass of wine. Kelly noticed that the cellar had several bottles of wine stored.
"At least something good about this place" she consoled herself, while pouring herself some wine too.

The next 30 minutes were spent in silent anticipation of the twister. At 3:20 AM in the night, Kelly could feel a sudden stillness in the air. She knew right away that they were just seconds away from the twister.
And then it arrived.
The whole house began to shake due to the sheer force of the twister. Kelly could hear the thumping noise of the furniture being dashed against the floor of the house, from beneath in the basement. Everything above seemed to have been thrown about by the mad rage of the twister. Kelly and Rupert hung on to the iron hoops along the walls of the cellar, chanting silent prayers to allay their fears. The next few minutes seemed like an eternity, with the ravaging storm growing seemingly stronger in its pursuit of destruction, with every passing minute.

And then it all suddenly stopped. The madness. The rage.
"She's gone, and we’re still alive" Rupert sighed in relief.
"Thank God the dungeon held up against the brute force" Kelly mumbled.

She was, grudgingly, grateful to Rupert for saving her from an almost certain death.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Goodbye or Good Riddance?

Yesterday, I finally resigned formally from the organization that I had given my blood and sweat to for the past 6 and half years.

There was a strange sense of loss even as I was filling in the Separation Form. Having started my career as a junior software engineer, I graduated through the ranks to finally end up where I did. The journey, despite all the shortcomings and the denied opportunities, had its good moments. So many experiences. So many memories. So many changes that my life went through while I was part of this organization.
Surely, IBM will remain very close to my heart.
It wasn't the perfect organization to work for. But then no organization is perfect. The fact that I didn’t ever seriously think about quitting in the past 6 and half years is proof that there was something innately good about working for this organization.

For all the good things about this place, there is one big aspect where this organization is a big letdown. And I am not even talking about salaries here. The moment I told them I cannot be persuaded to stay back, there was a sudden chill in their attitude. Although I asked to be relieved only end of this month, or early next month, the direction from the management was very clear.

They insisted that I wind up my act at the soonest, and leave. Not just that, they are going to adjust my balance leaves against the notice period that I will not be serving. Sad, considering that although I was willing to serve at least most part of the notice period, the organization has forced me out by end of next week.

Anyways, I can't complain too much since this is strictly business. And they must have several such people to get rid off, and therefore, cannot afford an emotional farewell to every employee who resigns.

At least now, I won’t have the slightest guilt in not naming IBM as one of the companies that I would want to work for post-MBA.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

International Women's Day

A special thanks to the two women who define my very existence.
The mother and the wife.

It's amazing how easy it is to take them for granted, just because they don't mind.
Or even if they did, it doesn't matter since they will still continue to love us anyways.
It's funny how we know that we take them for granted, and yet don't do anything to change it.

But Men, being intelligent species, realized that sooner than later, it was inevitable that women would rebel. There was only so much that they would take, and once that limit was crossed, they would make life miserable for their men.

At this point, a genius among the male species spoke.

"How about setting aside one day in a year to appreciate the women of this world? That way they will also feel special, even if it's for only one day in a year".

Men being men, a few of them had apprehensions.

"That leaves us with only 364 days of bossing around in a year. Aren't you asking too much from us? Being magnanimous is one thing, but this is plain sacrifice"

The genius pacified the detractors again.

"Considering that there will be leap years, we will still have 365 days of domination once in 4 years. And if you want the bigger joys, you will have to be prepared for a few sacrifices, however tough it may be".

Finally, after a lot of convincing, all the men agreed to celebrate the women of the world on one day each year.
Today is that day.

Happy International Women's Day.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

More Chappells thrown at Ganguly

Greg Chappell's unprovoked statements against Saurav Ganguly re-ignited what most of us Cricket-lovers thought was dead and buried. Just like Saurav Ganguly himself was, in the words of Kiran More, who clearly mentioned that Saurav will not be considered for selection in future irrespective of his domestic performances.

Greg Chappell, in conversation with The Guardian, went on to talk about how important being the captain was to Saurav's life and finances. The not-so-clever use of the word "finances" triggered a whole new wave of outrage not only from the usual Saurav fans, but also from the Saurav bashers. Greg Chappell, through such unwarranted accusations, is proving himself to be the master of under-handed attacks. Remember, Greg Chappell was the captain who instructed his brother Trevor to bowl under-arm in an ODI against New Zealand some 25 years back. And we sure seem to be witnessing history repeat itself.

What this whole incident did was to infuse new life into Saurav Ganguly's chances of making it back into the team. Till a few days ago, everyone except Bengalis and die-hard Saurav fans had forgotten about Saurav in the wake of Team India's recent successes in Pakistan. Yuvraj Singh, the man whose inevitable inclusion in the team led to Saurav's exit, had played in such breath-taking fashion that people started asking "Saurav who?” But with Chappell's ill-timed, ill-witted statements, Saurav may just have won his cap back.

As if Chappell's foolishness was not adequate, Kiran More, the chairman of selectors, issued another inciting statement when he said that Saurav will not be considered for selection even if he performs extremely well in the domestic matches. That statement, in principle, amounts to an open admission of a completely undemocratic selection procedure. Any person, whatever his age is, if he is playing well, should be considered for selection. Please note that "Playing Well" includes all the aspects of cricket such as fielding and training too. If Saurav Ganguly can prove to be a good cricketer again, there is no reason why Mr. More should prevent him from returning to the squad.

Between Mr. More's lack of political correctness and Chappell's reluctance to get over his hatred for Saurav, the one man who has benefited the most is Saurav Ganguly himself. As a cricket fan, I would love to see Saurav earn his place back in the team, and return to the glorious form that he once displayed. However, I would not like him to be a part of the team for anything less than his best form. Unfortunately, due to the current sympathy wave that looks to be emerging in Saurav's favor, he might just be back in the team, albeit not on merit.

In a nation that runs more on emotion than on reason, the biggest loser, if that happens, could be our beloved Team India.

Goodbye Vasanth

March 05, 2006. Sunday. Around 7 PM.
A family of 5 is driving back to Bangalore from Tirupathi, in their new car. A young man, all of 24 years, is behind the wheel, driving along the highway as he has so many times in the past. His uncle had bought a new car, and had planned to visit Tirupathi over the weekend with wife and twin daughters. Since he was known to be a very good driver, his uncle asked him to accompany them to the sacred shrine.

On the way back, about 10 kms from Kolar towards Bangalore, he is driving through a series of treacherous curves on the highway. To avoid the muddy lane, he steers the car just a wee bit to the right, almost to the center of the road. An oncoming tanker appears out of the blind curve. Before he realizes, it's all over.

A head-on collision so strong that it split the Santro into two halves. His uncle died on the spot with his skull busted open. He suffered internal bleeding, with ruptured testicles, and finally succumbed on way to the hospital. The 3 women in the backseat are seriously injured, and are being treated even as I write this.

The sight of a motionless 24 year old cousin, seemingly at complete peace with himself, was horrific. As I bent down to place the rice grains at his mouth, as per Hindu tradition, I saw his face from up close, almost without any visible injuries.

Visions of a 9 year old kid pleading with me to teach him to ride a bicycle flashed before me. It seemed like only yesterday that the two of us were at the annual fair at Ragigudda, trying to shoot balloons with an air-rifle, and attempting to carefully aim and throw the metal ring over that elusive box of Parle-G biscuits.
So many memories played in front of my misty eyes that I couldn’t conceal the smile on my face.

And then when all the mist cleared, I was again staring at reality.
A still, lifeless body being carried into the funeral van. For the last ride.
Goodbye Vasanth.

May God give your parents the strength to handle the enormousness of your loss, and the will to live on with your memories.

They say if you are genuinely missed by at least a few people after you die, then you have had a good life. Going by that measurement, you've had a truly great life.

Wherever you are, I know you will still continue to make a difference to everyone around you.
In life. And in death.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

To ISB or US-B ?

The scales have almost completely titled in favor of my joining ISB, irrespective of the verdict from the US B-schools. Unless someone makes a tempting scholarship offer, I won’t probably change my mind about ISB.

Despite the fact that it does not enjoy a global reputation yet, my reasons for preferring ISB are simple.

- 15 Lac INR is a much lesser gamble than 60 Lac INR that a top B-School in US would cost.
- That would also mean that I will have the freedom to take up jobs in India or abroad, since I won’t be buried in loans for too many years.
- I will have more creative freedom to take risks in the pursuit of my entrepreneurial ventures, which I would have had to seriously compromise had I joined a US B-school due to the sheer magnitude of the debt that I would have incurred for the education.
- Dr. R can practice her trade if I am in India, but can’t if I move to US. And as a responsible husband, I have to respect my wife’s career as well.
- Finally, ISB is a 1 year program, which makes life so much easier.

A few drawbacks though.

- Placements might not be as great since INR always pales in comparison to USD.
- Due to ISB being a fairly new school, the alumni network is not as strong as some of the other top B-schools.
- Bad publicity from some quarters about ISB being all hype and no substance.

Also, I have noticed a strong resentment among the non-IIM B-schools like SPJMR, XLRI, NMIMS, etc towards ISB. Most of them dismiss ISB as all hype, and too expensive. I can’t dispute the fact that ISB is way too expensive compared to the other Indian B-schools. But again, ISB is supposed to be an international B-school, and therefore, it is priced accordingly. Further, this being a 1-year program, the opportunity costs are that much lesser too.

About the general resentment that other Indian B-schools harbor against ISB, it is probably because these non-IIM schools, despite being extremely good, are still considered a rung below the big 4 IIMs, while ISB, within a few short years, is considered on par, if not higher, than IIMs.
Not surprisingly, many feel that ISB has had it a little too easy.

My take on this:
Kudos to the ISB Marketing team for having done such a fabulous job in creating a massive brand in such a short time.