DBC – Death By Choice

As instructed, everyone stood in silence as a mark of respect towards the departed soul waiting impatiently for the silence to end and the work to resume. Oh, one minute never seemed so long. With deliverable planned for the day, the sound of siren exactly after a minute seems relieving for everyone standing in uncomfortable silence. One minute over and the life is back to coding, meetings, phone calls, emails and office gossip.

One moment of silence and life is back to usual business for the rest of the world except the near ones whose life changes for ever. Death being the only certainty in the world is not tragic; the tragic is the way it is sniffed out by choice.

What comes into the person when h/she decides to cut short h/her life? Why no thoughts come to the person’s mind about what will happen to those who are left to cry and fend for themselves, to those who are dependent on you physically, emotionally and financially? Can a temporary grief over a failed love overpower you so much that you let go of everything, everything else seems worthless? That talent, industriousness, friendliness , creativity to pen out of the box scripts, great shots , amazing illustrations … what good were all these?  The same could be used to enhance others’ lives. What a waste of talent? What a waste of life?

A Pi(e) of English Vinglish

Usha  and Soundara
The article was published in Star of Mysore on April 14,2013. 
Usha, Soundara Rajan’s better half greets me with an infectiously warm smile as she ushers me into their modest apartment in Mysore.  For the uninitiated, N.S.Soundara Rajan is Mysore’s connection to the Oscar winning movie Life of Pi. I am greeted with an equally contagious smile when the man in question enters their simple, but aesthetically done up living room. We exchange pleasantries and the conversation obviously rolls into his days on the sets of Life of Pi.
 “Ang Lee is a perfectionist. He wanted the actors to narrate their dialogues with typical accent of the particular state like how Tamilians speak English that’s the reason a person like me was hired,” tells Soundara. Our Mysore man had the task of teaching English with Tamil and Gujarati twang to the coveted star cast with the focused emphasis on perfecting their accent. The offer landed in his lap through his son’s actor friend Thilothama who had auditioned for the role of Pi’s on screen love interest. Though Thilothama didn’t get the desired role, Soundara became the Tamil accent guy for the Hollywood crew. For this septuagenarian, Life of Pi was his first tryst with films where he also doubled up as cultural coach for the crew. 
“It would be an understatement to admit that I was nervous. I was extremely nervous and highly pressurized because the expectations were high and there was no one to give directions. On the first day, I was given a file of all the dialogues which had to be spoken with Tamil and Gujarati accent. After that it was on me to deliver,” Soundara explains, flipping through the pages of the file which now equals a pride souvenir for the family. “I was the final authority in my area of work with no interference or micro management from Ang , actors or anyone else. The renowned director had complete trust in the people he had hired which made us bring our best onto the table,” he raves.  “As I look back to those moments of shooting of the film, I can only have immense admiration and respect for Ang Lee and his wonderful team that worked in this magnificent movie. The amount of focussed energy and commitment to professionalism and realism that has gone into making this epic of a movie is indeed very remarkable. I am proud to have been a crew member of Life of Pi, truly, a once-in-a-several-lifetimes opportunity,” he beams.
With Ang Lee
There is no stopping Soundara when he talks about Ang Lee, the man he is in awe of. Talking about Ang’s professionalism and perfectionism, he recalls a scene from the movie where actor Tabu is taking out colours from an old Bournvita dabba to draw rangoli designs. Ang sourced an old worn out Bournvita dabba from Pondicherry for this scene; every scene had to be closest to reality.
“How was it working with the big names in film industry?” I can’t help asking.
 “Since Ang Lee didn’t have any star like tantrums, the others in the crew too followed suit.  Ang was always the first one to arrive on the sets,” he tells recalling his sixty days at Taichung in Central Taiwan and Pondicherry where the shooting was held. Rightly said, a good leader always leads by example. For sure, Ang should be the right pick to give lessons at our management institutes. “Coaching Tabu and Adil Hussain was not a problem as both of them are versatile actors, but it was extremely challenging to coach Suraj Sharma who played the role of Pi. Here his TGI method, short for Transformation Guided Imagery, came in handy. TGI is a motivational technique where the person is made to visualize success and the final outcome of the task in hand. “I asked Suraj to imagine that he was receiving Oscar and it worked well both ways; Suraj picked up proper diction and we won four Oscars,” Soundara says gleefully. Young Ayush Tandon who plays Pi as a school going boy and a few others were also coached by him.
“Do you have any future plans for more such film projects?” I ask. “I don’t have any plans, but life does strange things so you never know,” he replies philosophically. 
 “Why don’t you pen a book about your experiences?” I prod this former Electronics & Radar Establishment (LRDE) staffer who is now a visiting faculty for Communication and negotiation skills at SP Birla institute in Bangalore, Manipal University and Bhavan’s Priyamvada Birla Institute of Management, Mysore. He evades my poser and expounds on how knowledge of English can change the employability of our youth. Why do students of 10th grade need to study Oscar Wilde and Shakespeare? He questions. They only need to communicate in English which is the key to success. English language should be taught from the usage perspective just like the mother tongue, without bothering much about grammar. In fact, teaching grammar scoops out the fun from learning a language.
 Point to ponder, but that would be another story, another day.
He lovingly calls his wife to join him for the photograph when I take out my Sony Cyber – shot from my handbag for the photo shoot.
“Why my picture, what have I done?” she laughs. 
“You were my unflinching support throughout the journey. Can a man be successful without the support of his wife? ” he asks.
Well, I couldn’t agree more.
Some facts from Life of Pi (Source: The making of Life of Pi by Jean Christophe Castelli )
·    Almost 86 percent of the scenes featuring Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger were shot using a computer-generated tiger.
·     Most of the time, what you thought was the vast sea was not actually a sea but an enormous pool- 246 ft long by 98 ft wide by 10 ft deep- holding about  1,860,000 gallons of water . The waves were generated by a system of blowers stored inside a row of twelve boxes- “caissons,” in tank talk – that had a cumulative 2000 horsepower.
·    The entire ‘sea’ shooting was done indoors in Taichung. Imagine your own indoor sea.
·    The post production period of the mega movie was one and a half years
·     The total budget of the movie was $ 120 million.


Meet The Author of The Shadow Throne

The article was published in Star of Mysore on March 24, 2013.
 “Some people have to look for adventure where as adventure comes to some people like me,” Aroon Raman said light-heartedly, engaging the audience with interesting anecdotes from his own life.  The acclaimed author of The Shadow Throne was speaking to the audience at the Just Books Kuvempunagar library in Mysore on March 17. “This is the most awaited moment for Just Books Mysore. We had been looking forward to this session for a very long time,” said Ms Poornima V. Kumar, welcoming the guests at Meet the Author program.
The bestselling author has definitely a way with the words, not only written, but also spoken. He is an orator par excellence and is naturally gifted with the knack of making the day-to-day things sound fascinating.  He advised the audience to step out of the safe confines of their familiar surroundings to experience diversity in life.  “Story ideas are all around us, we only need to explore and, later build on them,” he advised to the wannabe authors.

The Shadow Throne is actually his second book which incidentally became his first when Osama Bin Laden was killed in his hideout at Abbottabad in May 2011.  The new book due to be released soon by Pan Macmillion is a book on adventure set in Mugal India at the time of Akbar. The book is a product of considerable research like any other book on History.

Talking about writing as a profession or a hobby, “Writing is a gift, for some it comes naturally where as some have to try really hard to make any headway,” opined Aroon.
He also answered rapid fire questions giving a peek to the audience about few of his favourites like favourite peek which undoubtedly is Everest Base Camp.  Not many know that his favourite adda during his days in Mysore was Ramya Hotel.

Aroon is truly a versatile personality and dons many hats – a successful entrepreneur, a bestselling author, trekker, tennis enthusiast, keen traveler and of course a fine orator. He is of the opinion that the authors, even the successful ones need to have a bunch of beta readers who read their book and give feedback on what works and what doesn’t. Your critics are your best friends. They keep you grounded and help you in improving your own work. “My wife is my best critic,” he admits.

Asked whether Aroon the author or the entrepreneur, which one he would prefer.

“Now I prefer author, “he replied candidly before signing off.

Hebbal Lake: From Picturesque to Eyesore

Published in Star of Mysore on 27th March 2013 : 

The swaying trees around the lake on a pleasant summer evening. The cool breeze lovingly slapping both your cheeks.  High pitched calls by migratory birds perched on tree tops. If you are lucky, you might spot the female guarding her nest.  Her human counterpart sitting on the lush green grass nearby gazing at the nature’s bounty.One little boat tied to a tree.Couples waiting for their turn at the boat station. The children playing in the vicinity… Hello, come back from your dream world. With most of the lakes in Mysore left at the mercy of poor governance and unmindful industrialization, the birds chirping and waterswaying find mention only in the poetry.

If you are asked to name the lakes in Mysore then in all likelihood most of us will say …Kukkarahalli (known more for controversies than its serene water body) and Karanji. The survival of the only two lakes has nothing to do with the K factor. Did you know that there are 30 lakes in Mysore? And if all these lakes were allowed to bloom to its natural glory, then Mysore could have been a close contender to Udaipur for the city of lakes tag.  It is different that unlike Udaipur most of the lakes in Mysore are man made  but it is more traumatic to watch the man made lakes literally go down the drain than the natural ones as along with the lake, the substantial amount of money spent on constructing the lake also does a vanishing act.  Hebbal Lake is one such lake which is on the verge of dying a man made death. Most of the people do not even know the location of Hebbal Lake; it is shown outside Mysore even in the map of Mysore district. About one and a half century ago, Mysore witnessed development of many lakes. Hebbalkere was one such water body which was constructed to irrigate the green and flat land for cultivation.  It is a perennial lake with the objective to retain water the entire year. Spread over 30.3 acres in the heart of Hebbal area in north Mysore, the lake is fantastically engineered. There are high bunds (647 metres to be precise) and if you happen to take a walk on the not so narrow pathway, you cover a distance of 2 km.
About a decade ago, JNRUM carried out a study on the lakes of Mysore and emphasized on the restoration of lakes, but only two lakes K and K were restored. A few years later, during the tenure of Chief Minister Yeddyurappa ,  5 Crore were granted to each consistency for restoration of lakes. Eleven lakes were identified for restoration, but only six could be tackled. Those six are – Hebbal Lake, Bommanahalli lake,Bogadhilake,Hinkallake,Dalvoy lake[partial] and Kukkarahalli. The lakes that missed the bus due to official lethargy and ineptness are Lingamudhi Lake, Malalavadilake,Devnoorlake,Kyathamaranahalli lake, and  Hinkalrayanakere.
In the past, the Hebbal Lake witnessed people’s protest against development of industries by KIADB in the vicinity of the lake. Earlier both raw sewage and industrial waste used to pollute the lake. Industrial effluents, junk, waste – the lake became a dumping yard for all kind of industrial and human waste. The direct flow of raw sewage now stands diverted downstream, and only sporadic flows of sewage from blocked UGD makes its way through the storm water drains of Hebbal. Flow of industrial waste water into the lake continues unabated causing concern about the ecosystem health and quality of ground water.  “Unfortunately the money was there for the restoration of the lake, but the opportunity was lost in bureaucratic hurdles and lack of commitment for this cause. Today it is no one’s baby,” tells U.N.Ravi Kumar who has been involved in the restoration of lakes in Mysore.  Ravi is a professor by profession and environmentalist by passion.
Tragically and interestingly the lake is only a few notches away from its complete revival. If you visit the lake, you will see that most of the work has already been done.  Today with secured fencing in place, the lake is free from encroachments. High bunds were also erected later. De silting, widening of bunds and pitching is complete. The construction of Walkway wide enough for a sedan to pass was started with great fanfare, but it is still not complete.
“If the public is aware of its rights, anything is possible. The examples are in front of us. But for public outcry, the scenic view of the water body at the Kukkarahalli Lake would have been blocked by the barbaric fence. The stakeholders which comprises of industries and public mainly people living in the vicinity of the lake should join hands together to restore the lake to its past glory,” says Ravi Kumar.
A few likeminded Mysoreans who consider lung space as their right has been frequenting the lake on Sundays lately. The group is going to present a petition to the deputy commissioner seeking development and maintenance of the lake for the benefit of general public. If on a Sunday morning, you happen to pass by, you will find a bunch of enthusiastic men, women and children cleaning up the garbage around the lake with their bare hands. Join them. Save the lake, it is your right. With World Water Day just come and gone on 22nd March, it is never too late to begin..

Blog …women only

Ladies compartment, separate queue for ladies, ladies tailor ( where the lone man is the ‘master ji’ himself),  salon –ladies only , even government college for women ( my alma mater) and women engineering college is all understandable , but all women bank – for women, by women… why? Does this mean poor husband is not allowed inside and has to stand outside the bank? Is this a baby step towards women empowerment? Does ‘women only’ bank ensure that all financial decisions will be taken by woman of the house alone? Will this encourage more women to open bank accounts and frequent the bank more often to withdraw the money for their husbands? Or does it mean that all the bank related work will now be done by women in addition to their other sundry responsibilities. 
Will it lend only to women run businesses or also to businesses run by men in the name of women, where the woman is like the president of India. If this step is towards women empowerment then why this can’t be achieved by all gender banks? Instead of this eye wash in the name of women empowerment , FM would have done  a real service to women by introducing a few self employment schemes for women, providing vocational skills to women. Anyway, here are a few more ideas after all women bank – women theaters only, restaurants by women, for women, shopping malls for women, women hospitals, et al. 
Happy Women’s Day!

Confessions of a respectable insider trader

Rajat Gupta, former Goldman Sachs board member had everything that a human being could dream of – good education, unmatched wealth, loving family, good character, respect, and that too earned through grit, hard work and brilliance. Not so long ago, he was hailed as the poster boy of Indian businesses in America and a role model for millions. He proved to the hilt that dreams do come true if they are peppered with focus and sweat. 

What came into him that he let everything slip away so easily? What took Rajat almost a life time to earn, was lost in a jiffy.  Right from the time when he was ranked 15th in IIT JEE exam, the spot light has always been on him; but this time it is for all the wrong reasons. For sure, it was not an instant decision to fall astray something like murder or rape which can happen in rage without understanding the consequences of the act.  What did he think that he was in India and never be caught or his good connections will bail him out if ever caught or it was okay to help a friend?  He was deep into American system and was fully aware of its laws. Still, he fell to the greed (was it greed?) or plain stupidity.
Rajat Gupta is doomed. He may live a normal life after completing his sentence and paying the huge fine which includes $ 6.2 million to Goldman Sachs and more than $30 million towards his own legal charges. Was it really worth it?  No amount of money, repentance, convincing, and explanation can get him back what he has lost – his respect. His friends, hundreds of charitable organizations and societies that he was associated with, will never look at him again with awe. No matter what, it will never be the same again for him and his family. Confessions of a respectable inside trader, is the only saving grace for him. He should come forward and enlighten people about what comes into a person’s mind when greed or stupidity get the better of him. Most of us would want to know. 

Vishwaroopam 2

The movie has no preaching, no patriotism; it is only about Al Qaeda terrorists from Afghanistan then why the ban in India?  Well, for a film any kind of publicity is good – negative or positive. Everyone wants to taste the forbidden, even if it means sitting in the  very first row and staring at the screen with head slightly bent backwards, missing out on your sleep and watching the 9.50 pm show. 
The movie starts with Pooja Kumar as Kamal Haasan’s young but not youngish looking wife narrating to Zareena Wahab the logic of her infidelity.  Don’t try to understand what was Zareena Wahab’s role in the movie.  The next scene shows KH as a classical dance guruji.  Haasan ( I noticed for the first time that there are two a’s in his name) is not only a versatile actor but a very graceful classical dancer too. If you compare Haasan’s performance with his earlier flicks then this one is a damper.  The story line in Pushpak , Sagar, Chachi 420 and Ek Duuje Ke Liye gave him immense scope to showcase his acting prowess whereas this one is mainly about stunts.
Rahul Bose as hard core Jehadi is very impressive.  The story takes you to the violent tour of Afghanistan, Pakistan and US. Switzerland is known for tourism, Holland for tulips, Afghanistan thrives on terrorism and terrorism alone. And India? It thrives on bans, fatwas and controversies.  The barbarism and the plight of women and children in Afghanistan does leave a bitter taste and makes one wonder -Jihad for whom?
KH didn’t leave any scope for imagination about its sequel.  Race 2, Dhoom 2, Dabang 2 (I suppose) then why not Vishwaroopam 2 which will be all about terrorism in India.  Well, the movie will surely have something to ban about.
Another ban, another controversy and another box office hit.  

Did I forget to count my blessings?

These spectacles suck.  My nose bridge where this pair of glasses sits has developed tiny dents just like the soft potholes on a newly constructed road.  To avoid further damage, these dents now get double dosage of moisturizer and two drops of imported olive oil daily but I know these stubborn marks won’t go away and will worsen with time.  A well wisher suggests light weight rim less frame or better still contact lenses. Wow, every problem has a solution!

‘Only far sighted people can wear contacts. You require only reading glasses,’ informed Dr Pallavi. Surgery is another option but that is expensive and no surgery is 100% safe. What if!! Thoughts of what if linger on in my mind and I give up the idea of an avoidable surgery.  That implies I will have to wear these thick horrible looking glasses all my life to even read the headlines. The day is not far off when like my 75 years old dad, I will be carrying two pairs of specks, one for reading the seat numbers on the ticket and one for watching the movie. Oh God, these specks make me look so old and it is so cumbersome to wear and remove them every two minutes. Reading is so much enjoyable if the glasses don’t come in between. 
Leaving my train of thoughts behind, I remove my glasses and rush to the meeting room. I have an appointment with one Mr Balaji, a gentleman in mid thirties who wants to meet me regarding financial assistance for his trust. When I enter the room Mr Balaji is already waiting for me. He rises from his chair to greet me when he hears the click clack sound of my heels.  ‘Good afternoon Madam,’ he says cheerfully with his hands folded in polite namaste. I plank myself on the chair opposite him and he starts off about the activities of his trust and how he wants to help other people. The office boy enters and keeps the coffee in front of him. Mr Balaji is so engrossed; he does not notice the coffee. After some time, my colleague takes Mr Balaji’s hand to the edge of the cup to indicate that it is time for him to finish his coffee and end the meeting.  All along Balaji looks in my direction but fails to notice the olive green color of my sari.  In between he turns his head to address others in the room; he brings his attention back to my face when the tiny bells on my earnings in the matching shade make a tinkling sound when I shake my head in affirmation or negation.  I keep the necessary documents in front of him to have a look. As an afterthought I take back the documents and read them aloud; Balaji could not read what I had kept in front of him. He was blind.
Balaji was not born blind. Glaucoma was detected when he was six years old.  Not the type to be dissuaded by such handicaps, he did his education till PhD and now he has formed a trust to help visually challenged people.  He uses public transport to commute. ‘The bus stop is 400 metres from my office,’ I had mentioned while explaining to him the directions. ‘Don’t worry, I always find my way out,’ he had replied politely. 
As I come back to my desk after requesting one of my colleagues to accompany Balaji to the bus stop, I make an attempt to visualize the daily routine of Balaji, his daily struggle for things which we take for granted.  I try to but I fail.  After a few thoughts, I give up. I pick up my glasses to look at my screen. 

Homage to Mahatma Gandhi

Today 64th martyrdom day of Mahatma Gandhi’s is being observed in our country. A number of functions and prayers mark this day where distinguished personalities and spiritual leaders emphasis on imbibing the values taught by the father of the nation. All the halal shops are ordered to be closed because Gandhiji believed in non violence. On this day, do not kill the hens which lay golden eggs. Martyrdom Day was also observed in all schools today.

Nestled amongst tall Eucalyptus  trees,  the children of this school  like their counterparts in other schools were asked to maintain silence for one minute with their heads bent down as a mark of respect towards the messiah of peace. ‘Observe silence to pray for the soul of Gandhiji. Observe silence in respect of Gandhi so that we imbibe the values of non violence for which he gave up his life,’ the principal had repeated thrice in the morning assembly. The bell rang at sharp 11. The children and the students got up from their seats. Those who were already standing froze in their places like statues. One 10th grade child had just stepped out of the classroom to walk towards the rest room when the clock struck 11 indicating observance of silence by all true countrymen.  All the children in the play ground stood still with glum expressions, annoyed for obstructing their game. This mischievous boy was a man in hurry. Not paying heed to the shrill noise of bugle he went about jumping here and there. As he walked, he tried to jump higher in his futile attempt to reach for the roof of the corridor oblivious to the fact that PT teacher’s spy eye was watching him.

At the end of one minute when the silence stopped and children were allowed to come back to normal, PT teacher pounced on the boy and whipped him with the long thin tail of the whistle. The louder the child wailed, the harder were the thrashings. Other children watched and looked at the PT teacher with a gratitude for sparing them. What waste if these big boys can’t stand still just for a minute and that too in respect towards the father of our nation whose values the schools are trying to instil in them. If they don’t understand now, these children will never learn when they grow up and the teachings of Gandhiji will remain mere teachings in the text books.  
Violence in the name of imbibing non violence!  Haven’t we heard actions speak louder than words?
What would have Gandhiji done to discipline this child?  

Overtly Sentimental Indians

Salman Rushdie cannot come to India because twenty years ago he wrote something against certain Gods.  It’s different that most of these self appointed guardians of God  haven’t read the book and those who had the patience to read  545  page volume need to be applauded for their endurance first .  These people are very angry with Salman ( I mean Salman Rushdie and not our Sallu). They won’t allow him to enter mere desh ki dharti even if he says sorry.  What is done can’t be undone.  We Indians never forget and forgive, and we are overly sentimental and intolerant when anyone says anything bad against our Gods. Ours is a secular and tolerant society, we can tolerate anything but when someone speaks against our religion, our language, our caste, our God or our state then our blood boils.

I tried reading the book twice but could not read beyond chapter 2 but forget about me; I am not the intellectual type. Let’s not digress from the focal point of this piece.
We ban movies because some scenes and dialogues in the movie hurt our sentiments.  We Indians are very sentimental you see!  MF Hussain was forced to die in exile because he painted Gods’ pictures and some people didn’t like what he painted.  We can ban books, issue fatwa against whoever we want , burn effigies, destroy anything and everything we can lay our hands on when we are angry and our government allows us to do it because ours is a true democracy… the largest democracy in the world.  Article 19 -1 –a of the constitution gives us complete freedom of expression. Complete freedom you see … simply express madi !  It’s our right to express anger, disapproval, and disagreement and how we express, that is also our choice. 

We also don’t shy away from showing our displeasure when outsiders want to settle down in our state or don’t speak our language, at least that they can do it.  Why can’t they go back to the state of their forefathers and live and die there as if anyone cares.  Article 19-1-e gives all Indians the freedom to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India but we don’t care because we have the privilege to express our displeasure the way we want to, how we want to and when I want to ; after all we live in a free democratic society.

Since Satanic Verses is in news again. I will make another attempt to read it. I hope this time I can go beyond Chapter 3.