Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Emma – book review

The book might seem like a tame romance but when taken in the context of the social make-up of the highly traditional and conservative society of the early nineteenth century, this can be considered a very bold and daring portrayal of a woman’s sensitivity and a touching account of the finer sentiments of romance. Jane Austen, the author of this novel is, as always, very engaging. She captures the reader’s attention with her classic and beautiful narrating style. The language is flowery and captivatingly simple and impeccable. Come to think of it, the story stripped of its frills is no different from a modern Mills and Boon romance but the feature that distinguishes this book and makes it a world apart from an M&B is the author’s impeccable English, her attention to detail in her portrayal of the characters and the fantastic build-up of the story to its climax and the inevitable and predictable “and they lived happily ever after” ending.

In Emma, Jane Austen portrays very beautifully the trials, tribulations and the triumph of love. The protagonist, Emma is strong willed and independent. Although she is a little haughty and proud, she is very lovable and intelligent. She is the mistress of the Woodhouse household, rather spoiled having gotten used to getting her own way. She is forever trying her hand at matchmaking to see her friends happily settled although she is not interested in getting married herself and, more often than not, she does not succeed in her matchmaking attempts. The other principal characters - Mr. Knightley, Emma’s critic and well-wisher whom Emma finally realizes she is in love with, Mrs. Weston, formerly Miss Taylor and Emma’s governess and Emma’s father Mr. Woodhouse and his idiosyncrasies have been given a lot of thought and attention. These characters and the powerful writing style will hold your attention throughout the book.

Jane Austen transports you to the nineteenth century characterized by the leisurely pace of people’s lives, by mothers whose only mission in life seems to be getting their daughters married to the most eligible men, by the balls and dances, social gatherings and outings and by the simple and uncomplicated country life. It is as if you were peeping through a sky-light or window into the houses and into the lives of the characters. This book is a good remedy for the sickness that most of us, modern working men and women suffer from – of being caught up in the daily grind, of fighting daily traffic nightmares and impatient drivers to reach work half dead even before the day begins and of being too busy and stressed out balancing work and home. If you are ever in the mood for a book that is light and simple and yet interesting, Emma is highly recommended and is definitely a good read.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Reality Shows - Are they real?

Reality shows are catching up in India big time. They are considered a welcome change from the daily soaps, chat shows and film-based entertainment shows and enjoy a huge following, a loyal audience and a die-hard fan club. I have not been a big fan of reality shows, not having watched the popular American reality shows like “The Apprentice” or that show that promises a scholarship to an ivy-league school to the deserving school or even those old Indian “Swayamvara” style shows where you choose your life partner among the contenders after dating, dining and wining them.

I had my first taste of these reality shows during the past six months when I have watched and kept track of the much advertised and awaited Indian version of the UK reality show, Big Brother that made headlines in India because of the racist comments purported to have been made against one of the show participants, our very own Bollywood actress, Shilpa Shetty.

“Bigg Boss” was a change from the usual shows that I had been used to after having literally grown up on DD’s Hindi serials and Chitrahaar and my first taste of American serials coming from “Street Hawk”. Whether it was a welcome change or not is of course open to debate. After watching the first few episodes and satisfying my initial curiosity, I got skeptical and began to have strong doubts on whether it was really a non-scripted show. The more I watched it, the more this suspicion turned into certainty. Are these reality shows really and truly “real” as claimed by the show producers and participants or are they scripted albeit to a lesser extent compared to the traditional TV shows?

“Bigg Boss” had lots of drama, fights, politics and tears. It even had an element of romance thrown in with Aryan Vaid and Anupama Verma’s friendship showing signs of becoming more than that. All this looked too good to be real. The flying rages, conspiracies, constant bickering and bitching seemed to be done to attract an audience. With the celebrities being paid very good money to be a part of the show and the kind of publicity that they were receiving from just being on the show, would winning the show really matter so much that they would resort to plotting and sketching against their fellow housemates? It is really hard to believe that the producers would want nothing to do with the TRP’s and would be comfortable with the uncertainty surrounding a format that primarily depends on the show stars to drive the ratings. I strongly believe that producers decide what happens in the show and when. But, of course, unlike in the other shows, stars here will have more say on how it happens and it will mostly be left to their discretion to decide the ‘how’ part.

Of course, this one show is not enough to make a judgment on all reality shows in general. But, if the other shows are anything like Bigg Boss, I would bet my bottom dollar (actually, it has to be rupee in my case) that they are manipulated, scripted and doctored to win TRP’s just like any other TV show.

Privacy vs. Security

Privacy is fast becoming a rare commodity. Constant vigilance is much more prevalent in developed countries like US. It is believed that an average American is caught on video at least thrice a day –once at the ATM, once at the tollway and again at the office. Security at airports has become tighter after a terrorist plot to attack US bound planes using liquid explosives was foiled in the UK recently. People of Asian origin and of particular races come under greater scrutiny. Innocent people get caught in the midst of this sorry mess with unwanted security checks, long queues and huge delays. Flying is no longer a fun experience. On the contrary, it has become a nightmare that frequent fliers thoroughly dread. Who would enjoy the experience of getting to the airport at least two and a half hours ahead of the scheduled departure time even in the case of domestic flights and being subjected to the ordeal of long queues, tired security personnel, inconsolable babies and harassed fellow passengers? Add to that, unavoidable flight delays due to bad weather playing spoilsport and you have the perfect recipe for a nerve wracking experience.

This raises a serious debate on the issue of invasion of privacy vs. fight against crime, which is touted as the reason for such stringent security measures. On the one hand, increased security is for the benefit of the mankind. But, on the flip side, terrorist attacks seem to continue unabated. Terrorists bide their time and use the element of surprise to attack when it is least expected and when people are least prepared. Recent terrorist attacks in Delhi, London and Bombay have severely dented people’s confidence in government attempts at thwarting anti-social elements.

No one likes to be kept under constant surveillance. No one would like their precious personal space invaded. Recently, Google announced its plans to enhance its Google Earth tool by having entire areas including houses and their backyards photographed in an attempt to help realtors and people looking to buy houses. This helps prospective buyers do the initial short listing of their favourite localities online without having to go through the hassles of visiting tens of places before finalising their home or piece of land. It thus saves them precious time and reduces inconvenience not to mention that it is pocket friendly. This has however raised some serious objections from few who believe this is an invasion of privacy. There is also the element of danger associated with such an approach that allows thieves and hoodlums to have a heyday. With all the required data available online, it becomes child play for them to plan their best attack strategies at the click of a few buttons and from the comfort of their homes. A lot of questions still remain unanswered - Does government or any organization have the right to infringe on this sacred space in the name of security or of greater good? Should common people like you and I have any say in this matter? Who decides what is best for mankind?

Entrepreneurship in India

Everyone embarks on the journey from student life to their first job with enthusiasm and a rosy picture of making an impact with powerful decisions along with path breaking and intellectually stimulating work. Pictures of board rooms, influential contacts, travel, meetings and important decisions flash in front of us and we see a successful career ahead of us. Some cherish the secret desire to earn enough money to start their own business. Reality sinks in quite soon and we realize that we are very small pawns whose moves are in the hands of the company management. Many people give up at this stage and resign themselves to a mundane career that promises job security and a steady income. But, hopes shouldn't die that soon. After all, this is just the beginning and once climbing up the corporate ladder is successfully achieved, it will indeed be possible to have a greater role in business decisions. If the role models from the business world like Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Jack Welch and Steve Jobs were to compromise their dreams and reconcile themselves to the fate of being small fish in a big pond, would global and successful companies like Microsoft, Google, Reliance, Tata, GE and Apple have existed now?

Entrepreneurship and the desire to try new business models has not caught up in India as much as it is prevalent in the western world. There is no better way to gain the power and status that everyone craves for than to build your own business and turn it into a success. The money and fame that come with success of such an endeavour is definitely much more valuable than any fancy salary that you earn from your employer. Indians are still wary of taking big risks. It could be partly because of our upbringing where we see our parents opting for security and a steady income that comes from a job rather than face the apprehensions, uncertainty and risk of failure of new businesses. Traditionally, in India, children are supported by their parents until their marriage. This probably reduces the pressure on them to be financially secure at an early age. The environmental and social influences prevalent in our country that shape a person's attitude to life and to work are partly responsible for squashing the entrepreneurial spirit of the Indian youth.

Indian companies take a very cautious approach to new business ideas. Although companies like Infosys, Wipro, TCS and Satyam are well known names in business circles, they are known more for offering IT services at competitive prices than for their research and development, new products and innovative technology. Let us however not take away the credit these companies deserve for making India a haven for foreign investment. Their efforts are commendable as India has come a long way and established itself as a successful economy. It has the fifth largest GDP in terms of purchasing power parity. The expected growth in economy and the political stability that comes from its being a democracy have given the confidence and incentive for foreign investment. However, I believe that only when Indian companies start investing in research and development and come up with innovative products at par with, if not better than, those offered by foreign companies and market them successfully is the battle truly won. Indian entrepreneurs should rise to the challenge and strive at achieving excellence with new business ideas, new products and powerful marketing for India to be become a global super power and an extremely strong economy. I am sure that they will rise to this challenge and put India right on top in the global business arena.

Chat with the Neighbour

A couple of days back, I was going for my customary evening jog - I am trying very hard to lose a little weight and with not much success so far, I must add - after returning from work. I saw my neighbour outside her house and we exchanged the usual pleasantries. Then started the fun part. She looked around furtively and sensing that there was no one around, all but whispered in my ears "You know what I heard? That good-for-nothing girl who stays next door to Mrs. XYZ, yeah, that X! She is getting married." No one seeing the two of us talking would have been left in any doubt in his/her mind regarding the nature of the conversation. She glanced around again, looking for whoever it was that she was trying to avoid, and satisfying herself that there wasn't anyone, she continued in her characteristic whisper "I have seen her with a few guys from time to time. I thought she will hook one of these poor chappies when the time comes. And, guess what! She is not getting married to any of them. My god, you youngsters are incorrigible. No morals, no ethics, no values, no principles (They all sounded the same to me but I didn't dare question her lest my head or some other part got bitten off)." Starting a debate on this issue was not what I wanted at that moment. It was getting dark and I had to start soon if I really wanted to get some exercise. I started looking at my watch and pretended to be in a tearing hurry knowing what was coming next and in no mood to listen to it. She was way too clever to buy that trick of mine and gave me a good dressing down "Yeah, now you are acting busy just to avoid me. Being an elderly person with more experience than your age, I have the right to correct people when they are wrong and put some discipline into them whenever possible. Youngsters these days have absolutely no respect for their parents and elders. They think they are the smartest and that they are god's gift to earth. Look at that Z! He got married against his parents' wishes and before we could even blink an eyelid, he got divorced." She continued after her customary ten second interval peek "And, the reason being cited is that they had a difference of opinion. Is that any reason for a divorce? Gone are the good old days when we stayed with our husbands even if they beat us up. Nowadays, a slight misunderstanding is a good enough excuse for a divorce. I say, someone has to put some sense into these hot headed youngsters." And, out came the famous lines that I was dying to hear "Anyway, it is no business of mine. I am not the type to poke into other people's affairs and intrude when I am not wanted. I have so much work to do at home. You see, my son's wedding is coming up in a month's time. He is getting married to his colleague from work. I will visit your place soon to invite your family for the wedding. Don't miss it, ok?" She then bid goodbye and went back indoors.

It got me thinking about the complex neighbour-neighbour relationship (I hope I am not the only one who has this unique love-hate relationship with my neighbours). I wonder whether neighbours are really concerned about our well-being or it is just their love for idle gossip that can't keep them away. Does a good and caring neighbour really exist or is it just a figment of one's imagination that just adds to the list of oxymorons? Anyway, I postponed thinking about it to another day, cancelled my jogging for the day and hurried home to demolish the ice cream that was waiting for me.

Abuse of Technology

Rapid advances and continuous innovation in technology have made the world a smaller place. Internet has made it possible to access information and to communicate free of charge to a person sitting at the other end of the world from the comfort of one's home and just at the click of a button. Gone are the days when one had to scream into the telephone mouth piece to be heard at the other end and ended up with a hoarse voice as a reminder of the ordeal. Internet has made it possible to do voice conferencing via messaging tools such as Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, Google Talk, Rediff Messenger to name a popular few. It is also possible to video conference with your loved ones using webcams.

It is amazing how technology has slowly sneaked into our lives and has become a part of our day to day activities even without our conscious knowledge. We have all seen the way cell phones are no longer considered a fashionable gadget for the gadget freaks out there to show off. They have now become an absolutely essential accessory for everyone to have. Carrying one brings us loads of confidence and security and the knowledge that our loved ones are just a phone call away and are reachable anytime, anywhere at the press of a few buttons. Long queues for making electricity, water, telephone and other bill payments are things of the past. Payments can now be made online. Online banking and trading are the buzzwords of today's generation. Online shopping is also catching up and busy working people having little time to browse stores for their favorite authors or buy their favorite labels can now order their favorite authors, favorite music and their favorite pair of jeans online and collect them at their doorstep without having to step outside their homes (they just need to make a teeny-weeny bit of effort, enough to answer the doorbell).

Sadly, this cutting edge technology and convenience comes with a few downsides as well. Information is easily accessible online. The other day, I got a strange call on my cell phone from a leading insurance company congratulating me because my "number" had been chosen for insurance coverage. Easy access to information has resulted in new kinds of crime such as cases of credit card frauds and password hackers. The stalkers of earlier times have now been replaced by the tech savvy "web stalkers" who follow and keep constant watch on people's every move online. Pedophiles are harassing teenagers across the world. It all starts with friendly conversations and innocent children doing small things for these people like, for instance, taking off their shirts and before they know it, they are literally caught in the "web" of abuse. Pornography has also found a new channel through numerous porn websites and online videos.

This abuse of technology and gross misuse of information has to be tackled and severed at its roots before it spreads out of control. Parents should educate their children on the kind of harm that could come from internet and try to restrict their online activities only to fun and educational websites. Software giants such as Yahoo, Microsoft and Google should make a special effort and pioneer activities in the area of internet security and come up with applications that make technology fun and safe. Cell phone companies should also strive harder at protecting their customers' identity. With a little education and awareness, technology can indeed be made fun, secure and useful.

Over a cuppa coffee

Coffee is a boon to mankind. Coffee lovers all over the world will vouch for the fact that its attractiveness is not just limited to its stimulating effect that fills one with energy and enthusiasm and prepares them for a day's hard work. It is much more than that. A coffee place is where one relaxes with friends and family after a tiring day at work. Coffee is an essential ingredient for brewing strong social ties (pun intended) and meeting new people. Having a refreshing cup of coffee while reading the morning newspaper is, in my view, the closest thing to heaven available on earth.

Coffee places in India have undergone a huge sea change in the past five years or so. Earlier, there were limited options to spend time with family and friends in soothing and pleasant surroundings. The few coffee shops present ran on a completely different business model and did not encourage customers to linger too long over their coffee. The emergence of coffee chains like Barista and Caf頃offee day has been embraced by one and all as a welcome alternative to meeting at friends' homes or at movies. Now, people can sit at leisure in comfortable sofas and plush surroundings and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. These coffee chains have shops in convenient locations spread across the city and are easily accessible from most of the business locations and residential areas. They are well decorated and inviting with comfortable sofas and chairs and pleasant salespeople who pamper customers and make coffee drinking a fine experience.

Technology has made its presence felt and left its indelible mark even here. With the availability of free high speed internet access in most of the premier coffee chains, they make for good workplaces too. Many executives prefer conducting business, meeting clients and having brainstorming sessions in coffee shops where ideas can flow as smoothly as a soothing cup of coffee to conducting them the traditional way in closed conference rooms in their offices. They provide a calm place to do one's work without any disturbances and it is all the more alluring because they are minus one's bosses constantly breathing down their shoulder.

Coffee shops also promote social relationships. Friendships are formed and bonds are strengthened here. They are very good places to meet your date and get to know him or her better. There is no need to worry about privacy either because the music ensures that conversations are restricted only to the ears that they are meant for. In today's fast paced world, people lead very busy and stressful lives and there is hardly any time for themselves, leave alone family and friends. This is an ideal opportunity for them to not only wind down and pamper themselves but also to catch up with family.

With all these attractions that lure one and all and with the increasing consumerism and booming economy, coffee lives on and coffee shops continue to thrive and flourish in India and are as enchanting as the famous cozy Paris roadside cafes. So, what are you waiting for? Chill out at the nearest coffee shop and have fun.

Bangalore - Paradise on Earth?

Have you ever seen Bangalore city minus the hustle and bustle of traffic, with people walking at a leisurely pace breathing in and relishing the cool and fresh evening breeze, the soft rustle of leaves dancing to the sweet tunes of the cool breeze, tiny raindrops on the green leaves glistening in the moonlight, the air filled with the scent of freshly bloomed flowers, the sweet smell of earth after a light drizzle! Seeing Bangalore at its best, I liked every bit of it and was savouring every moment of it committing every detail of its scenic beauty to my memory until I was woken from my reverie by the blare of an impatient car horn and the loud screech of brakes.

Bang!! I was brought back to earth with a sharp knock on my head from the metal arm rest of my seat in the bus on my way to office. Bangalore was mocking at my silly romantic visions ? "Well! You have had your moments of quiet and tranquillity. Now, wake up and get back to reality". The angry blare of impatient vehicles, the traffic jams, the suffocating smoke emanating from the vehicles, the curt voices of drivers trying to negotiate the impossible traffic not caring for anything or anyone ? these were the familiar sights that I woke up to, and they were mocking me with a derisive smirk for daring to dream an impossible dream.

Bangalore is growing in leaps and bounds with a huge influx of people coming everyday to the hub of activity, the silicon valley of India in the hope of getting a job and a kick-start to a career of their dreams and ultimately settling down in Bangalore, smitten by its pleasant climate and hospitable people, thanks to the thriving IT Industry and the innumerable lucrative job opportunities in the offing.

However, this growth seems to have taken Bangalore completely by surprise. Not used to the busy life that is associated more with cities like Mumbai and Delhi, Bangalore is having major teething problems and is finding it extremely hard to cope with the increasing demand for better infrastructure and facilities. If something is not done about it soon, it will be extremely tough to control its rapid deterioration into a disorganised and chaotic city. We have already seen companies moving to other cities because of the increasing congestion and sky-rocketing real estate. It is time for the people in power to wake up, to rise above their daily squabbles, to start planning this much loved city and to improve its infrastructure to accommodate its teeming millions. I sincerely hope that the people in power, the people who can make a difference, care about this city enough to take up this challenging mission and work towards making Bangalore a better place to live, for us and for future generations to come.

Meanwhile, I continue to dream of a better future for Bangalore, a dream that I am sure millions of Bangaloreans share with me. Oh!! To see Bangalore back in all its resplendent splendour minus the blaring traffic and the mad rush, a Bangalore with calm roads and patient and caring people, a Bangalore embracing growth with grace, a Bangalore far from the madding crowd.