Thursday, 30 December 2010

Life's paradoxes

A child longs to grow up quickly
For then the whole world can be fixed seamlessly
A grown up longs to turn back the clock
For then there is a whole new world to unlock

A student longs for that very first day at work
For there doing something meaningful is a perk
A working person longs to go back to student days
For there is fun and learning in lots of different ways

A small town dweller longs to move to the city
For then there can be found opportunities aplenty
A city dweller longs for a quiet small place
For then there is plenty of peace and solace

An ordinary man longs for the glittering world of fame and glory
For then of luxury, comfort and recognition there is a flurry
A famous person longs for those days of anonymity
For then solitude is really that welcome feeling of gaiety

Life is full of paradoxes
If everyone’s wishes were named boxes
It would be just a matter of making choices simple
To enter that elusive world of happiness eternal

Monday, 27 December 2010

Lo and behold, the new generation poets and linguists are here

In school, we have all learnt about great poets, their command over the language and their remarkable skill of using a very few words and yet conveying a wealth of meaning. We looked forward to the language classes where we were mesmerized by such literary geniuses as William Wordsworth, S.T. Coleridge and R.L. Stevenson. The present day Wordsworth and Keats can now be spotted among the SMS generation. College kids lead this new wave of wizards who economize on words and they can be recognized by fingers flying at supersonic speeds on the keypads of their mobile phones. They don’t let the surroundings and company intimidate them. You can find them tapping away furiously on their mobile phones in restrooms, movie theaters, restaurants (where they manage to talk to their partners and also type at the same time) and public transport (with one hand holding on to support for dear life and the other hand typing away). U hv 2 c it 2 b’lieve it. Dis is a lingo dat sum hv bcum xperts @. Dey r quik n use sml vords. 2 b loyal 2 dis lingo, dey hv 2 vork @ it n pick da rite vords. Dis cums wid time. Sum vords rnt realy shrtnd by da lingo but dis is der uniq styl.

Then, there is the acronym bug that has bitten most of the IT world. This group has devised another innovative way of being sparing with words. They don’t want to waste email and virtual paper space on unnecessary words – and so you see mails where you can PFA the POC doc, commitment from colleagues that they will revert by COB or EOD depending on their work style and MOMs after meetings. BTW, these traits are IMHO unique to this group.

Use of acronyms in chat also needs a mention here. When you are going away from your machine for a while or want to avoid chatting with someone on IM, you inform the other person that you will BRB. When someone says something funny, you respond back with LOL. When you can’t go to office on some day, you inform everyone through a status message that you are WFH.

At the other end of the spectrum, the corporate world has introduced us to a new language “Management Speak”. This group possesses the unique skill of using powerful, multifaceted and convoluted sentences to convey a simple meaning. This is just so that the reader is blown away by the clever use of dynamic words and mesmerized by the powerful language. An example is the letter/mail sent to candidates informing them of their failure to get selected in job interview – “After unbiased observation of the skills you exhibited in the interviews and careful consideration by the various interview panels, we believe you bring in a very special skill set and diverse experience. However, we regret to inform you that your skill sets don’t match the requirements for our current job openings.” This art is predominantly seen in the middle and top management and the HR managers of every organization.

All those hours in school spent on learning Shakespeare and Mark Twain have not gone to waste after all. Our language teachers would be very happy that their continuous efforts to instill a deep appreciation of language have borne fruit.

For the uninitiated:
PFA – Please Find Attached, used when you are attaching a document in your mail. This was formerly the enclosures section.
POC – Proof of Concept, used for vetting out a concept to determine the feasibility of its implementation, the look before you leap concept
COB – Close of Business, generally used to postpone your deliverable to the last possible minute of the office closing hour.
EOD – End of Day, generally used when you want to postpone your deliverable to the last possible minute of the day.
BTW – By The Way, used to express your afterthoughts and generally to be a pain in the neck.
IMHO – In My Humble Opinion, used to express a strong opinion and cleverly hide behind the humility façade.
BRB – Be Right Back, generally used to escape from something difficult, for example, when your boss calls you for a one-on-one meeting a.k.a. giving a dress down.
LOL – Lots of Laughs, used to express your delight at something funny
WFH – Working from Home

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Cup full of Wonders

Dressed in faded jeans and a worn red blouse
With a strong purpose I leave the house
Walking past the bakery and the bus station
I finally reach my favorite destination

Wrapped in layers of warm wool
I look around casually and feel quite cool
Sitting in a cozy corner near the warmth of a fire
For its warmth to take away the chill I aspire

Caught in the harshness of the cold breeze
I rub my hands to not let them freeze
Cutting through the throng trying to warm up
There comes the man with a steaming cup

With a nod and a smile, he walks away
Taking in the sweet aroma, I gently lift it from the tray
Drinking the first sip and slowly savoring the taste
I promise myself not to finish it in haste

Feeling the warm liquid trickling down my throat
In a cloud of happiness and optimism I float
Enjoying the last sip, courage and strength I get
To take on the world, I am now all set

Monday, 20 December 2010

What you see is what you get

Back in my childhood days in the eighties, Television was a luxury only the rich could afford. Good quality TVs were generally imported from Singapore which was the electronics haven in those days. Singapore flight passengers could be seen, surrounded by a minimum of 4-5 huge boxes, standing in long queues to clear customs at the airport. There were also the Desi brands – the Dyanoras and the Solidaires that were owned by people who couldn’t afford a trip to Singapore to get a international brand TV.

In my small hometown, there were only two TVs for the entire neighborhood and the Indian government controlled Doordarshan was the emperor of the TV world. TV antennas would literally reach the sky. We would be especially friendly with the kids from these houses in order to wheedle an invitation to watch some TV. Returning home from school, I would dump my school bag on the bed, quickly change out of the school uniform, drink the dreaded milk and gathering all other friends, run to meet my “TV friend” in the pretext of asking her to join us to play “Gilli-danda” or “Am I right?”. If we were lucky, we would get a glimpse of some interesting program on TV that would be switched on at all times in her house. Programs were telecast only for some part of the day. Chitrahaar – a half hour Hindi movie song program, Rangoli – theme based old Hindi movie songs, Quiz Time with the stylish Siddharth Basu and children’s programs like Street Hawk were my favorites. Picture and sound clarity were complete unknowns. We played guessing games on the song that was playing in Chitrahaar, the actors who were in that movie scene and India’s cricket score. When there was a major event, there would be a special TV telecast which meant more TV time. I remember going to my friend’s place to watch the last rites of singer Mohammed Rafi and a special program featuring his hit songs. I also distinctly remember going to my cousin’s friend’s place (we would dig up some link to get invited) to watch the live telecast of the last rites of Indira Gandhi.

We finally got a TV at home (bought from Singapore when we visited our uncle). Now, I could watch TV at home without having to come up with silly excuses to visit my friend. I liked some of the programs on TV but wasn’t a movie addict like all of my friends. Most of the movies that were telecast had way too much drama, crying and dramatic music for my liking. In the hope of seeing at least one of my friends outside their homes so we could play, I would go out only to be greeted by unusually quiet streets with hardly a soul venturing out of their house. The frequent power cuts and transmission problems were my saviors. I would pray for one of these, so that the kids would come out of their houses and we could have some fun.

Although power cuts and transmission interruptions were welcome during movie times, I cursed them at other times. In the middle of an interesting children’s program, the “Sorry for the Interruption” and “Rukhavat Ke Liye Khed Hain” message beaming continuously on a rainbow stripes background and a constant metallic squeaky noise was the most hated of all TV messages. A slight change in color of the background image or the squeaky noise would raise our hopes that transmission was back only to be dashed most of the times. To add to our woes, death of eminent personalities meant no TV programs on the mourning days. Although schools would declare a holiday, there was no TV to keep us entertained. The 9 O’ clock Hindi news closely followed by the English news were much awaited by the men in the family. Each of us had our favorite Hindi and English news readers – the dashing Uday Bir Saran Das, the smart and chic Neeti Raveendran and Gitanjali Iyer, the serious looking Salma Sultana, the Hindi newsreader with arched eyebrows (I forget her name). There was also the most famous mythological TV program of all times – Ramayan. Those days, there were no TRPs but I am pretty sure that none of the current programs has come anywhere close to the kind of viewership commanded by Ramayan.

Oh, I forgot to mention the best part – there was no fight over which program to watch as we had no choice. Those were the good old days of Doordarshan. What we saw was what we got.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Superstitions

Over the years, there are a lot of superstitions I have been told about, mostly by my grandmother and mother. The other evening, I was clipping my nails and my mother asked me to be careful not to let the nails fall on the floor. If someone steps on the nails, it is supposed to bring unpleasantness between the two people involved. The rational part of me says I should not pay heed to these superstitions, being a modern educated and rational woman. But there is this other part of me that feels there must be something I am missing in all this.

My grandmother was not very highly educated. She studied till tenth grade before marriage and children put an end to her studies. But I respect her for her intelligence and astuteness. My mother is well read and if she also believes in some of these superstitions, there has to be a reason. When she tells me to stop doing something and says it’s not good to do this or that, in true daughterly fashion, I think she is just trying to get me to stop doing things she doesn’t like and wants me to do things the way she likes. You know how mothers always want things done their way – “Oh my god! Why are you chopping the carrots like that? Hold the knife thus (suggesting some bizarre uncomfortable angle that is sure to get your fingers twisted forever) to get the right size.” “Oh-oh! You should use only 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds to get the perfect tasting rasam. This will surely spoil the taste of my rasam.”

But, as I have gotten older, I have also gotten wiser to the fact that our elders have a lot of experience and what they say, more often than not, makes a lot of sense. The same applies to the superstitions as well. With the right reasoning, they all make sense. In the nails example, maybe the reason was to prevent someone from stepping on sharp nails and getting hurt. There are a lot of such superstitions that live on because our elders put a lot of thought into the right way of doing things. Maybe, they attached a scary consequence keeping the stubborn and argumentative ones like me in mind. I wonder what our generation will teach our children. Will superstitions stop or will they continue as that's the easiest way to get disobedient children to listen to their parents? Only time will tell. I must stop now as I heard that it is bad luck to blog more than 450 words on this topic and I am safe if I stop now.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Pain Au Chocolat

Recently, when I was traveling back from US to India, there was a 4 hour layover in Paris Charles De Gaulle airport. The in-flight meals were not too great. The in-flight entertainment gave me good company. I had watched two back to back movies and was quite tired when we finally landed in CDG. I had managed just over an hour of sleep on the flight from Boston to Paris and was hoping to get some shut-eye in CDG. But hunger pangs voted out my sleep plans. We were down to our last few dollars and didn’t have much money to indulge in fancy food. We went in search of a café in the airport to have a light breakfast. We knew we could not rely on the meals served in the flight and needed some reinforcement for the nine hour flight ahead. We went to this café in CDG. I got myself a Pain Au Chocolat and Cappuccino with some reservations about my choices. But, the minute I bit into the bread, it simply melted in my mouth. It was truly delicious and the coffee was excellent too, worth spending our last dollars on. It also brought back nostalgic memories of my student days in France where my breakfast used to be either a croissant or a pain au chocolat with a café au lait bought at a boulangerie on the way to college. I have not found croissants like the French ones anywhere else in the world. When you are in Paris CDG, you must eat the croissants at this café (Café Ritazza – thanks to my company policy of requiring receipts for reimbursement that I have the name of the café).

Friday, 14 May 2010

Loves Music, Loves to Dance – book review

This is the second book that I have read by Mary Higgins Clark. I like her style of writing. The novelty in this book is that the killer is introduced right in the beginning and he/she talks about how the whole killing act started and what he/she plans to do next. Of course, the killer's identity is revealed only in the end although you can guess somewhere in the middle of the book who the killer is.

The story is about a couple of women (Erin and Darcy) wanting to help a friend who is doing research on the dangers of answering personal ads. They decide to answer the ads to contribute to the research. Erin goes missing and is found killed.

Darcy is the one who had suggested that they help their friend and also have some harmless fun meeting interesting people. She is driven by guilt and is determined to find the killer. Darcy discovers that Erin is one of many such victims. There is the usual whole bunch of suspects cleverly woven into the story based on the clues found and the common pattern in all the linked murders - someone who knew three of the victims, someone who loves to dance, someone who is good at sketching etc etc. The author maintains the suspense quite well although like I wrote earlier, if you are a thriller novel fan like me, you can pretty much guess who the killer is. You know the deal - the one who is portrayed as the most trustworthy of the many characters usually turns out to be the killer. I won’t spoil the fun for you all. All in all, a good read.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Wonder

• If the proverbial six degrees of separation can be validated using social networking sites like Facebook. It should be easy to pick two random profiles in Facebook and see how many links it takes to connect them.
• Why the government didn’t choose the underground metro option in Bangalore given the recent statement by the transport minister that tunnels are cheaper than underpasses and bridges. This would have possibly avoided cutting down of the few trees that are left, avoided litigation from property owners whose property had to be acquired to build the metro, avoided disruption of businesses during the construction phase and would have avoided the narrow roads from becoming narrower.
• If admen deliberately make ads that irritate you so that they stick in your mind more than the interesting ones. I don’t know about you all but I don’t remember the products for the good ads. But, I definitely remember the product for the irritating ones – Saffola Arise and the latest Nirma ad top my current hate list.
• If any sport continues to be a true “sport” after all the controversies surrounding most of the sports like match fixing, sledging and using drugs to enhance performance. Given all this, when someone is asked to “be a sport” should that be taken as an encouragement to take things in a positive spirit or to be devious?
• Why Hindi moviemakers don’t take a leaf out of their English counterparts who make such diverse and thought provoking movies. Why do we always stick to romance, comedy, horror or the latest trend of movies with a “in your face” message.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Careers and hobbies

I was one of those kids who didn’t think too much about career while studying. Things just happened. I completed my 12th and for a majority of Indians, there are two popular choices - medicine or engineering. Hospitals and diseases give me the fright and it was a no-brainer for me to opt for engineering. I graduated at a time when software industry was booming and happened to get picked up by a well known software company. So, like most of the city dwelling Indians, I started my software career and continue to work in the IT industry.

If things just happen to you and you like what is happening, you are lucky. I am not one of those lucky people. My job is just that – a job. And, now that I am a lot more mature, I think about what profession I would have possibly enjoyed. A couple of careers that I envy – writers, hosts of travel shows, restaurateurs, food critics, movie critics, book reviewers.

But, grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I happened to read an article recently by a movie critic about his work. He writes that he has stopped watching movies for the pure fun of it. When he watches a movie, it is to look at the screenplay, editing, acting and the many aspects that go into a movie that will help him give a meaningful critique. Put like that, it looked to me like any other job. Another writer whose newspaper articles I enjoy wrote recently in her articles about the infamous “writers block” and how this has seriously affected her career. All this makes me wonder – when a hobby turns into a profession, does it stop being fun?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Outliers – book review

Outliers (Author: Malcolm Gladwell) is one of the very few applied psychology books of its genre that I liked. Over the past few years, my taste in books has changed. My initial love for detective novels and suspense thriller genre made way for fantasy and romance books for a while. I have also read a lot of self help, management and economics books.

I borrowed this book from a friend of mine with a lot of trepidation as I am now extremely wary of some of these business books. Some of the books I read recently that left a very bad after taste in my mouth are The World is flat, Tipping Point, 7 habits of Highly Effective People. I find them quite boring after the first 50 pages as I get the sense that the author is trying very hard to make a 200-300 page book out of what is merely a maximum of 50 page research paper. The stories and examples the authors give to substantiate their reasoning get quite tiring and repetitive after sometime. Either that or the book gets into a “preaching” mode which puts me off even more.

Anyway, getting back to Outliers, this book was a refreshing change. It is based on the simple theme that it is not just hard work or super brains and intelligence that separates highly successful people from the others. It is a mix of circumstances, environment, opportunities and also “luck” that makes one person a success while the lives of the rest of us are nothing to remember by. The author looks into the unique circumstances that have led to the success of some of the famous software personalities like Bill Gates, soccer players, musicians like Beatles and Mozart. He believes that it is not what they are like that matters but where they are from that truly makes the difference.

If you are like me, and if you go to work every day not because you enjoy the intellectual stimulation or challenge that your job offers but because of the paycheck that you get at the end of the month and to some extent because you can socialize and meet new people and if like me, you are always thinking of quitting the said job to do something worthwhile and interesting in life that impacts the lives of others in a positive way, this book is a true inspiration. At the end of the book, I was left feeling a lot of hope that there might still be some unique circumstances that might one day make me famousJ. I didn’t feel that much of a loser and my life didn’t feel that wasted either. I consoled myself that I am smart and I am also more hardworking than some of the people I have encountered in my life. It is just the lack of a unique set of circumstances and opportunities that is to blame for my mediocre work life.