Monday, December 14, 2009

Looking the part - My issues with Age

People tell me I look younger than I am. Normally I'd be thrilled to hear that, but not when it comes from a client in a professional context. This has happened to me at least 4 times in the past month.

I was in KL a couple of days last month on a few meetings. At one of these meetings, when I was introducing myself and talking about my near 10 year experience, one of the ladies quipped “You look like you have just passed out of college. You don’t look like you have been working for all these years”. And the guy along with her added, “Are you counting your part-time on-campus experience as well?”. If you have interacted with Chinese people, you’ll know that they betray zero emotion when they speak. More so with Chinese from Singapore/ Malaysia who are so “kiasu” that they are very measured and economic even in showing emotions. Which is why I am unsure if all the comments on my age were intended to make me feel good or bad. I was, therefore, left wondering and had to excuse myself with a sheepish grin that gave away as much emotions as I received from both of them. I can be kiasu too, you know, when I want to.

Next, I had a meeting with a Malay gentleman who, while talking about his family, enquired about my personal life. When I told him I have a 2 year old son, he said “It’s good to have young-age kids”. I almost retorted “I know, and always wonder why some people have old-age kids”, before coming to terms with our “me vendor, you customer. Customer is God, and vendor is crap” equation. He continued “In our community, we start having kids very early” . I am sure he also wanted to add “And we never stop”, but left it at that for brevity. Anyways, the point is that he also felt I don’t look my age.

I am sure many of you would think that’s not a bad problem to have, and that I am just blowing my own trumpet here. Something like the clich├ęd B-school interview situation:
Prospective Employer: What, according to you, is your weakness?
Well-rehearsed B-school Student: Well, I think my biggest weakness is my obsession with perfection. I like everything to be perfect, and cannot understand compromises. Unfortunately, the world is full of mediocre people who are limited by their own capabilities, and as a perfectionist, I find it difficult to accept mediocrity. As a result, I know I will never be the most popular boss around. Sigh, this is my gift, this is my curse. Who am I? I am Spiderman….oops, sorry, I got carried away, but you get the drift.

Now, I am not being that conceited student on B-school campus. I used to be one, but I have out-grown that stage. I honestly feel, in my profession, one needs to look older. In my case, at least, I need to look my age. I always believed that "Age is about putting mind over matter. As long as you don't mind, it doesn't matter". But the Asian mindset demands that you have to look old enough to be able to talk to senior stakeholders. In fact, recently during a proposal presentation, we were shot down, as we later found out, for fielding “not so senior” people. They meant we didn’t have any gray-haired, pot-bellied person on our team. And we didn’t lech. Damn.

I need a make-over.
I am losing hair, and doing nothing about it. But that doesn’t seem to be helping much. I have started to wear ugly, oldish looking spectacles as well. To no avail. I have even tried sporting a beard. I was, instead, made fun of for trying to look like a punk.

Maybe I’ll stop my tennis sessions, and drink myself silly till I get that much-desired pot-belly. Or I’ll go for a hair-transplant procedure and then apply gray hair-dye to look “distinguished”.
Or maybe there's some cream that helps people look older- a "Wrinkle Free" cream that helps people with some free wrinkles for special occasions. I can imagine the ad:
Aamir Khan's 12 year old kid coming out of an adult movie theatre, talking over phone to his friends: Dude, this movie is called Reshma ki Jawani. There's this aunty called Reshma, and she develops an allergy to clothes because of which the poor aunty cannot wear anything. Then one day, when it is raining heavily and Reshma aunty is shivering in the cold (you'll remember she's allergic to clothes),one saintly man helps her stay warm
Friend on the phone: I also wanted to watch the movie, but the man at the counter said I look too young to watch such movies.
Aamir Khan's kid: I have the perfect solution for you. S'Oreal Wrinkle Free cream. Makes me look older than my dad. And we are the same height anyway.

Any other suggestions, anyone?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Kaminey- The Critique

Kaminey has easily been the best reviewed movie of recent times among the Bollywood lot. Almost all the reviewers have been unanimous in their rating of the movie, and have been unabashed in their praises. Clearly, everyone seems to agree that Vishal Bharadwaj has a masterpiece on his hands. And Shahid Kapoor has arrived.

Amidst all the euphoria and with great expectations, I watched Kaminey here in Singapore. Incidentally, this is my first movie in a theatre here for over a year, thanks to our little son who threatens to embarrass us every time we attempt to parade him in public.

Since the plot and the characters have been described in lurid details in myriad reviews, I’ll save myself and the readers the trouble. Instead, I’ll play the critic.

The movie, undoubtedly, is in a genre of its own. Or if you include Hollywood, this would be the Quentin Tarantino genre. Slick, crisp, pacy, hard-hitting and very contemporary. The movie runs at such a frenetic pace that you don’t want to even sneak out for a toilet break, lest you miss the excitement. Shahid Kapoor as the lisping Charlie is a revelation. His “mein fuh ko fuh bolta hu” is seriously funny, because of the nonchalant dialogue delivery. The character has a certain consistency which very few other Bollywood characters have had. Including his twin brother Guddu, the stutterer.

Guddu, at times, seems to forget his stutter, and cannot convey his angst effectively enough to convince the audience why he detested girls “because they made fun of him”. And Priyanka Chopra’s Sweety, as sweet as she is, seems contrived in her attempt to pretence-stutter to gain Guddu’s love. The whole sub-plot seems inane. Especially Guddu ranting away on Sweety soon after their marriage when he discovers she never really had a stuttering problem.

Despite these minor shortcomings, the movie manages to keep the audience’s glued to their seats, thanks to the eclectic mix of characters that contribute to the plots. Tope Bhau as the gangster-aspiring-to-be-politician is an interesting take on the Raj Thackeray brand of “Marathi Manoos” politics. The Portuguese (or was he Latino?) drug lord and his African henchmen, at best, add to the melee in the end. The Bengali brothers provide some twisted humor, and also jump in to the fray along with everyone else, and their dads, in a “Priyadarshanesque” climax. Which I personally felt let down by.

All in all, a dark movie in the Tarantino mould, with in-your-face dialogues and dance-along music, aided by a sharp story-telling style and crisp editing. If only the director had resisted the temptation to make caricatures of the characters, and cleaned up the cluttered plot just a bit, Kaminey could have gone beyond being just a good film and qualified for a classic.

Alas, it doesn’t, and you come out of the theatre with an empty feeling.

My verdict- Kaminey is like a racy One Night Stand. Been there, done that, walked away, blanked it out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Michael Jackson- The Legend

As I saw the news flash at the Breakfast Buffet on the 26th June about Michael Jackson's death, I went blank for a moment since this was truly shocking. But that momentary feeling of loss passed, and I continued with my hectic activities for the day. I was in Chennai for a series of meetings and seminars, and I had too much on my mind to keep me occupied. That, and also the fact that my memories of MJ had, over the years, been relegated to my subconscious mind.

Over the next couple of days, the media went berserk with tributes and dedications to Michael, bringing back the memories from the days when Michael Jackson was a God. Slowly, but surely, the memories that long been banished to the lesser used confines of my mind assumed center-stage. And then it all started coming back.

The King was Dead. Gone forever. Gone too soon.

As a child growing up in the 80’s, I couldn’t escape the Michael Jackson magic despite the fact that I spent most of my early life in a non-descript town with absolutely no exposure to any Western influence, including music.

The year was 1989. One of my friends had accidentally found a 100 rupee bill in the community garbage bin, and to avoid being found out, he was desperate to spend it all the same day. As his partner in crime, I got to accompany him in his spending spree. After treating ourselves to all the chocolates and cool drinks that we could have, we headed to the HMV House to spend the rest of the loot on buying English music cassettes. As we made into the shop and were approached by the store salesman, the only name that came to our minds was Michael Jackson. He was the only name that we knew, since we had heard the older kids in school talk about how “bad” his music was.

We bought “Bad”, and it felt good. After a couple of days of incessant replays of the tape, it felt great. Soon, we were hooked. MJ was God.

During the next 7 years, I must have heard “Thriller”, “Bad” and “Dangerous” at least a few thousand times each. And I truly believed Michael was incomparable. With the advent of Satellite TV in India, MTV made its way into our houses. The very first MTV transmission that I saw way back in December 1991 was, incidentally, the “Black or White” video. The video simply blew my mind. Subsequently, there were new videos from the "Dangerous" album released every 2 months, and I remember staying glued to the TV for hours before an impending new video release for bragging rights next day in school.

When MTV ran a Michael Jackson month in 1993 culminating in a Top 25 Michael Jackson hits, I remember opting out of the rare family get-together at a fine-dining restaurant, not wanting to miss the "Smooth Criminal" video which was aired only on very special occasions. Watching him do the vampire act in “Thriller” or the magician in “Remember the Time” video was truly “edge of the seat” television. The “Smooth Criminal” song and the “Moon Walker” short movie rank as the best ever music video ever made. The 45 degree lean, and the Moon Walk were sheer genius. Those were heady days if you were a MJ fan.

As the years passed, and as my exposure to Western music diversified, I discovered other genres of music which were more fashionable and eclectic, and therefore, Michael had gradually been banished to the archives, and no longer figured in my playlist. Michael Jackson, by then, had also started getting embroiled in the child-molestation scandals, which further alienated him from popular mainstream. His musical career, despite the occasional chartbusters like "Earth Song" and "Blood on the dance floor", had been on the wane, and he was nowhere near as popular as he was during the heydays in the 80s. Most of his albums after "Dangerous" were commercial failures, and the recurring child-molestation allegations exacerbated the situation for Michael further. The tabloids, as always, loved the controversy, and Michael's increasingly odd behavior further fuelled the controversy. Very soon, the media had successfully branded MJ an "oddity that you should protect your kids from".

Although the courts acquitted Michael of the charges of child molestation, Michael was always on trial in the media. And the constant pressure eventually caught up with Michael, and he started to crumble. His face too. The countless plastic surgeries, the nose that just wouldn’t stay stuck, the speculation about the real father of his kids, the failed marriages- everything just seemed to fall apart for Michael.

Unfortunately, the fans that swore undying loyalty, yours truly included, during his hey days simply stopped caring. Although most of us deep down believed that Michael was never guilty of all the child molestation crimes that he was accused of, we just didn’t care to come out in support. And the media, therefore, hounded Michael till it drove him to a drug overdose (unless investigations reveal otherwise) and a tragic death.

The fans, ironically, came out in support of Michael at his funeral in what was probably the biggest spectacle in recent times, bringing an entire city to a halt. The various home videos of Michael playing with Prince Jr, Paris and Blanket, that found their way to YouTube after his death, showed a side of Michael that would have significantly swayed public opinion on his side if only they had been released when he was alive.

Alas, that was not to be, and a beautiful talent just wasted away. The legend, however, lives on.

And I'm sure, in some other world, he is making music in his own special way.

The Pursuit of Happiness

All your life, you struggle and strive to achieve your goals. And you think that, and only that, is the key to happiness.

You set lofty targets for yourself, and spend your entire youth slogging your butt and selling your soul to get there. For happiness awaits you there, or so you believe.

You forget to stop and smell the roses. You don’t have time for a whiff of fresh air. A casual stroll in the evening is too much time wasted.

An evening with the folks is an opportunity cost.

If you are not living on the edge, you sincerely believe you are wasting too much space.

Relationships are transactional for you, and you do whatever is necessary to keep them alive. Barely.

And finally, you reach there. The happy place.

But alas, there is no happiness that you feel. You are contented. There is certainly relief. But no happiness.

And then you realize happiness does not await you at the destination. It was with you all along the journey. You realize that it is not about the pursuit of happiness, but it's about the happiness in the pursuit.

Every day you come home to a healthy family, you came home to happiness.

Every time you hold your little kid in your arms, you embrace happiness.

Every morning that you wake up to a little kid sitting on your chest with a wide smile revealing all of his 6 teeth, you wake up to happiness.

Every evening that you return home to see your loved ones waiting for you, you come home to happiness.

I know I have many goals to work for. I know some of those I will achieve. And some I won’t.

But I know I am happy. Truly, madly, deeply. Thank you. Amen.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Shantaram- by Gregory David Roberts

 I finally managed to devour all the 933 pages of “Shantaram”, the “autobiography” of Gregory David Roberts. If it was even a part true story, the man is a miracle. Regardless, it is a very well written book, and as long as one doesn’t get too hung up on the veracity of the true accounts that the author narrates, it makes for fantastic reading.

 Gregory Roberts, known as Lin on the streets of Mumbai, was an escaped Australian convict, who found a home in Mumbai, where he could finally live a free life. During his years in Mumbai, he made many friends and several enemies, and lost quite a few of them. He also found true love, and lost it to the bitter games that were played in the Mafia background. He worked for the Mumbai mafia, but claimed to have never joined them since he did what he did for the people he believed in, rather than the cause that they represented. The book details Lin’s journey from his arrival in Mumbai, to his life in the Slums and his role as the slum doctor, his tryst with the Mujahideen movement in Afghanistan, and finally, his role in establishing the new Mafia in Mumbai. The last chapter, and the closing lines, hints at Lin’s disillusionment with the Mafia life, and his craving to return to his loved ones.

 Apart from the plot, what really makes it a worthy read are the little embellishments, the attention to detail, and the author’s way with words. “Shantaram” paints a surreal picture of Mumbai in the 1980s, through its plot and the various characters that appear at many points in the story. The Foreigners that thronged to the elite Leopolds and the slum dwellers have both been accorded equally significant roles in the plot. The drug culture and the Mafia rule during those dark days in the 80s have been beautifully described in near-graphic details. Each character in the story has a distinct personality, and the author paints such a vivid picture that you can almost visualize the characters in life. The character of Prabhakar, the lovable city guide-cum-Taxi driver-cum-best friend, is easily, the most memorable and interesting one. Karla Saaranen, the Swiss-German with a mysterious past, is another fantastic character in the story. Karla has some of the best lines and is easily, the most quotable. Sample this for Karla’s one liners – “Life gives you two choices, the one you should make, and the one you do”, or this - “Luck is what happens to you when fate gets tired of waiting”. Quotable, indeed!

 One of the sub-plots revolves around the Afghan Mujahideen movement during the cold war era, when the Afghans, with guerilla support from the CIA, went to war against the invading Russians. It evokes a deep sense of irony, due to the stark contrast with the current situation where the US is struggling to contain the terrorism emanating from the Afghanistan- Pakistan axis of evil. One is tempted to brand it as poetic justice considering the Americans are reaping what they had sowed years ago. Unfortunately, the whole world, and that includes innocent American civilians, are paying the price for the poor judgment from the powers that were in those Cold War years.  

 Remarkably, despite being a fictional autobiography of a reformed convict, there are some really profound concepts of philosophy and theology that have been discussed in the book. The Resolution Theory that Khader Bhai, the Mafia don and Lin’s Godfather, uses to explain his philosophy of life, and of all things Good and Bad, leaves an impact. The concept of the universe continuously moving towards increasing complexity, with the ultimate complexity being God, is fascinating. He also uses it to lend objectivity to the concepts of Right and Wrong. As per the theory, anything that helps move towards this ultimate complexity is good, and anything that inhibits it is bad. Simple, and yet, fascinating. Khader also delves into the concepts of “crime” and “sin”, and questions why the law-makers and enforcers are obsessed with the “Crime in the Sin”, rather than the “Sin in the crime”. He intelligently ties the two concepts, and explains why, as a Mafia don, he has to do the wrong things for the right reasons.

 The book, however, has its flaws. The author tries really hard to make it seem like a true account of the tumultuous years of his life, and in the process, robs the story of its credibility. Despite being involved in many gang wars and of course, the war in Afghanistan, the author constantly claims that he has never killed another human. More than the claim, it is the continuous emphasis on the claim that robs it of its authenticity. The author also clearly reserves the moral high ground for himself, and is always shown to be the most virtuous, in a Bollywood Hero-like way.

 There is another improbable sub-plot about a crazed killer who calls himself SAPNA, and goes around the city chopping people up and leaving notes written in blood to claim the kill. Inspired heavily by the “Jack the Ripper” legend, the SAPNA character in this story is half-baked and delusional and is, at best, a poor distraction.

In conclusion, if you have a lot of time at hand, and are game for an engaging journey into the Mumbai of the 1980s, “Shantaram” is just the book for you. It is not perfect, and might not even be a near-true story, but still makes for compelling reading due to the graphic story-telling style of the author, and the roller-coaster ride that it takes you on.

Shantaram, incidentally, was the name given to the protagonist by Prabhakar’s mother, who he comes to love as his own, and is symbolic of a man trying to make peace with his inner demons. In the end, Lin does become “Shantaram”.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Pink Brigade

I was pleasantly surprised at how popular the “Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women” had become on the internet forums and Social Networking websites. “Pleasantly” not because I advocate the cause, but because it shows that the Indian Woman has finally come of age.  She is not afraid to express herself on a public forum, even if it means she has to abase herself as “loose”.

Many of my women friends, from academic and professional circles, have been very vocal in their support for the cause and have proudly proclaimed that they went to a pub on V-day and got themselves drunk silly. And that they sent a clear message to the Shri Ram Sena (SRS) that Indian women are not going to be confined to the age-old traditions of Hindutva by sending their “pink chaddis” to the SRS. That they are no longer a homely,  demure and soft-spoken tribe. As opposed to that, they are now a pub-going, loose and forward tribe. Cause for celebration..yippeee!

On a more pragmatic note, the Shri Ram Sena may have been wrong in their methods. They had no business to raid a pub and drive out the women inside. Most of us educated folks do drop in to a pub occasionally, along with our lady friends/partners. That does not make us any less civilized or anti-hindu. And if they are making such a generalization about all pub-going people, they deserve to be chided. And banned,  probably. However, based on what I have read, they were targeting the particular pub as it was known to be a popular drug–cum-pickup joint. And despite complaints to the police, no action was taken.  And therefore, SRS decided to take the law in its own hands.  These are two sides of the story, and therefore, opinions will always be divided.

The media, however, just reveled in yet another opportunity to prove just how bad the Hindus are, and how they are “Talibanizing” India. And the BJP government in Karnataka also had to receive a lot of flak for letting organizations such as SRS flourish in its regime. The public, and more specifically the “Intelligentsia” (you know the educated, pseudo-secular types), came out in support vociferously, asking for the SRS to be banned, among many other demands.

One of the other demands, of course, was the “Consortium blah blah”. And the pink chaddi campaign that followed thereafter. Interestingly, a couple of years ago, an author of international repute, a lady at that, was abused, attacked, molested and threatened with dire consequences if she ever dared to step in India again by a Hyderabad based political organization that works for the betterment of a “minority” community. The Indian government, led by the mighty Congress, cancelled her visa and asked her to leave the country immediately since her presence was disturbing the otherwise peaceful life for this “minority” community. To my knowledge, there were no such Consortium of Pub-going or Pink-chaddi throwing women that raised any voice against this episode.

What’s my point? Well, it is easy to raise a voice against a community that is civilized. Quoting from a recent Life Insurance ad, “Safety hai to sab hero”! But when it comes to standing up against a militant community, Ignorance is bliss. And inaction is a sign of protest, maybe?

Well, the Indian Intelligentsia has always baffled me. But then, I was never very bright.