Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010 will be the year of....

1. Showing you care for the environment

I have always cared for the environment, but 2009 has told us, in no uncertain terms, that you have to walk the talk. Terms like 'carbon footprints' have become part of normal usage. The recent (near) non-event in Copenhagen has shown us that while nations slug it out over coming to a common understanding over carbon emissions, it is we ordinary people who have to make a start, whether it be reducing our fuel consumption, conserving power at home or exploring alternate sources of energy. For me, this means watching my carbon consumption closely and seriously evaluating solar-powered appliances at home.

2. Writing more often

I started the year with a target of 50 blog posts for the year, and have been spectacularly off the mark, this being my 36th and last post of 2009. Hope that next year is better both in quantity and quality. And hopefully, I will actually write my first genuinely funny post !!!

3. Eating healthy

2009 has been an entirely forgettable year in terms of health. Have been down with fever on four separate occasions. And the cause in two instances was stomach upset. So this year will hopefully see me cutting down on the roadside vada-pao's and instead opting for more of home-made food, which leads me to.....

4. Cooking a few dishes

For a foodie like me, I hardly know cooking, besides tea/coffee and Maggi. This year, I resolve to make atleast five dishes at home (not the simple variety). Who knows, some hidden talent might come out ? ;-)

5. Working out

This has become almost a passion for me and this year will be no different. Have set myself ambitious targets at the gym, and the forthcoming half-marathon will tell me where I stand.

6. Being discrete in cyberspace.

Many of us fail to realize how time flies when we are hooked on to the Net. Whether its checking the latest score or chatting away with friends, it is mostly unproductive use of a wonderful medium (besides earning the wrath of my wife). So this year would be all of making more productive use of my time online, exploring new worlds and learning all the time. Even one article a day on Wikipedia is good enough for me !!

7. Being aggressive with finances

I have realized that this is the age to be aggressive with your investments. To take small but calculated gambles as far as money goes. If one does not take risks now, it will be never. After all, how else would your dream retirement holiday fructify ?

8. Learning a new language

I strongly believe that learning a new language broadens your horizons, besides giving you an unparalleled sense of fulfillment. And with so many learning resources (books, CDs etc) avaliable on the Net, it has become much easier than before. So here's to getting to know a new language this year. And that one of my blog posts in 2010 would be in that language.

9. Read 10 books

To many, it may sound like a ridiculously easy target to set. But for me, getting quality time is a challenge. So finishing ten decent-sized books in a year would be a challenge, The list is almost ready, have to get cracking...

and last but definitely not the least,

10. Learning Swimming !!!

Something that I should have done long time back, but better late than never !!!. This is one resolution I will definitely keep. After all, who knows which would be the day when it can save me ?

See you in 2010..



Sunday, December 27, 2009

3 Idiots: An endearing experience !!

I start with a question to all engineers reading this: Can you truly claim to have seen this movie and not felt, somewhere deep down, a tinge of sadness thinking about how those four years could actually have turned out ? Rajkumar Hirani's latest offering definitely touched a nerve somewhere. And which is why I, an engineer having a degree that says 'passed with distinction' but who does not do much beyond changing light bulbs at home, call '3 Idiots' an endearing experience.

More than a laugh riot, it is one of the first movies that takes on India's illogical, high-pressure, learn-by-rote centric higher education system. A system that venerates the cuckoo who begins life by destroying his competition. A system where the teachers pet is the guy who can reel off text book definitions without even pausing to think on what he is blabbering. A system into which many people end up trying to like what they are doing, rather than doing what they like. Into this system, at one of the country's premier engineering colleges (located at our IIM Bangalore campus ;-)) comes Rancho. A non-conformist, an iconoclast. Right from the beginning, when he wards off his seniors at the ragging sessions (seems to have become a Hirani patent) with an ingenious use of common physics (hopefully it will not be repeated at engineering hostels across the country), he comes across as someone who does not want to be part of the rat-race, even though he ranks first. Someone who is at the college because his heart wants to be there. And it is this that endears him to his two room-mates, Raju (who is one of the millions of young men for whom an engineering degree is the passport to prosperity) and Farhan (who has simply been bulldozed by his father into studying engineering while his heart lies in the jungle). But this also causes Rancho to cross swords with the tough-as-nails dean of the institute Veeru (Boman Irani in another repeat Hirani character). What follows is a sequence of events through which Hirani addresses various ugly facets of higher education in India, whether it be the unfortunate student suicides, or the emphasis on learning by rote (the hilarious teachers day speech).

For me, what stood out about the movie was that Hirani gets his message across without restoring to melodrama or heavy histrionics. In fact, there is always the danger of the audience missing the message amidst all the gags and comedy. For example, he could have ended the movie with Rancho delivering a lengthy monologue on the ills of the education system. Instead, he chose to portray the ultimate triumph of the protagonist, who, as a scientist, not only opens a school with a scientific bend of mind for young children, but also acts as a consultant to the firm in which his former geek batchmate works. And throughout the movie there is a strong undercurrent of the serious and contemporary (note the jibe made by Rancho about engineers going on to do MBAs and then working in banks - am sure quite a few would have felt offended). And the cast supports him brilliantly. Sharman Joshi is outstanding. Boman Irani, as expected, is first-rate. The newcomer Omi registers a strong impact. Kareena stands out in a brief role. And which other seasoned actor would have got away with playing a character half his age ? Anyways, I need not comment on Aamir's performance here.

To be fair, the film is not without its flaws and exaggerations. Veeru Sahastrabuddhe, I thought, was badly caricatured. Made almost stereotypical of senior professors: curly-haired, eccentric and wearing trousers upto his belly. And a new born baby responding to 'All Izz Well' was pushing the limits of cinematic liberties a bit too far. But these are minor blemishes in an otherwise superior product. In fact, the government can do well to screen this as a part of the induction of wannabe engineers at all institutes. Even if a few 17 year olds get inspired by it and choose to be Idiots - I Do It On my TermS, the movie would have done its job.

Till then, if you havent seen the movie already, go ahead and be inspired. While all of us might not build schools in Ladakh, at least some of us can be in the place where we want to be, rather than the place where we have been pushed to.

All Izz Well...........

~ Amit

Thursday, December 03, 2009

AR Rahman : My top 5 !!!

Ever since that March night in LA when AR proudly held aloft the Oscar (for admittedly a below-average number) have I been wanting to write this. Today, when he has been nominated for the Grammy for Jai Ho, I have finally decided to take the plunge and list my all-time top 5 AR Rahman favourites. So after spending a few hours listening to a shortlist of 20+ songs (And yes, Jai Ho was not amongst those :-), here are my top 5. Feel free to shoot your agreements and disagreements :)

1. Dil Hai Chhotasa (Roja - 1991)

The gem that started it all. The first AR composition that I listened to. I clearly remember the day. I came back from school (must be in 8th grade then) and my elder cousin had bought an audio-tape (remember it ? :)) of Roja and told me it contained music of a kind that was completely unheard of and refreshing (those were the days of Nadeem-Shravan and Aashiqui). So I played it, the first voice was Chitra starting this wonderful number and the rest, as they say, was history.

2. Bombay Theme (Bombay - 1994)

By a distance, the best theme score for a movie. Right from the first few seconds (when the flute begins) this haunts you. Then suddenly in the middle, the flute gives way to a more disturbing kind of sound (indicative of the riots) and then a fantastic violin crescendo. This theme touches you straight at the heart.

3. Ishq Bina / Kahin Aag Lage Lag Jaye (Taal - 1999)

AR and the showman of Bollywood combined for the first time and came up with a classic. All songs in Taal were hits and I have taken two of my favourites. The first one, because of the soothing effect it had on me when I heard it the first time (and it came when I was in college, when you identify better with these things). On the other hand, 'Kahin Aag Lage Jaye' was A-A-A magic (AR, Asha Bhosle and - even though I am not her greatest fan - Ash). Also, it still holds a place in my heart.

4. Chale Chalo (Lagaan - 2001)

If 'Chale Chalo' cannot charge you up for battle, very few other things can. While his other compositions in Lagaan were also good, this made it to my list because of its attitude ('dharti hila denge, sabko dikha denge, raja kya praja kya ho.'.) and, of course, AR Rahman the crooner.

5. Title Song
- (Rang De Basanti - 2006)

The song that proved AR could do bhangra-style as good as anyone else. A fantastically infectious number, gets your feetitapping almost by themselves :).

Note that this is AR Rahman's top 5, hence I have omitted gems like 'Tu Hi Re' (Bombay) and 'Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera' (Swades), wherein I felt that Hariharan / Kavita K (in the former) and Javed Akhtar (in the latter) were the men-of-the-match. Some others that were worthy of mention were 'Humdum Suniyo Re (Saathiya)', 'Piya Haji Ali (Fizaa)' and 'Kehna Hi Kya (Bombay)'.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Play a sport, reveal your character ...

For a long time, the sports page of the Times of India had a line on the top 'Sport does not build character, it reveals it' (I do not subscribe to the Times, so do not know if the line is still there !!!). But it still remains one of my favourite lines. And I was reminded of it on reading about the infamous Thierry Henry goal that propelled France to the 2010 World Cup on the back of a hugely controversial win and knocked Ireland out of the sport's quadrennial extravaganza.

'Sport does not build character,it reveals it'. How very true !!. Sporting history is full of instances where controversial incidents have played important roles in deciding the outcome of matches, careers and tournaments. Whether it be Maradona's 'Hand of God' in the 1986 World Cup, or the controversial catches claimed by the Aussies on the last day in Sydney in 2004 or yesterday's night most shameful incident, we always have occasions when individuals (or even teams) have behaved in the most un-distinguished manner. And frequently, the mis-deeds by the sportsmen have got to do with their character. This, of course, is not to say that Henry or others of his ilk have a fundamentally bad character. But the question now being asked is, how will be look in the mirror henceforth ? In a few seconds, he has lost much of his reputation to his millions of fans and has also bought disrepute to his national team. To me, that is the beauty (or tragedy depending on how you look at it) of sports. They frequently test your character and reveal it. And most often than not, you have absolutely little control over your actions that come back to haunt you later. To give Henry the benefit of doubt, he would have thrust his hand forward almost instinctively, since the pace of the game gave him absolutely no time to think. So the bitterness against him, as against other sportsmen who have been accussed of similar acts, is not that he handled the ball. The uproar is over him not admitting his guilt then and there, especially since it was so blatantly obvious and seen by millions on live television. He can apologize a thousand times now, but that is not going to take the Irish to South Africa next year. So while committing the misdeed is not an indication of your character, since even the best of people can fall prey to temptation,especially when carrying their nation's hopes on their shoulders. But realizing their misdeed and then trying to correct it whatever way possible tells much about the true character of the sportsperson. And while that character is largely a function of the values and upbringing that each one of us have, in no other facet of life is this character so much tested as in the sports arena.

Which is why the line is my favourite. Of course, I missed the chance of playing any sport with any distinction when I was young. But one thing is for sure, my kids will definitely be encouraged to play one sport at a competitive level. Hopefully, it will help them mould their character.


PS: I read one article which said that apparently Henry told the referree that he had handled (not sure when) to which the ref told them 'I am the ref, not you'. If that is true, then I take back some of what I said above.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stop making mountains from molehills !!

As my recent status messages on Facebook indicate, I am quite disappointed at the recent controversy involving Sachin Tendulkar and the Thackerays. The disappointment stems not just from the statements given by the two 'opponents' in this controversy, but more so from the needless manner in which the media has not just ignited the fire, but also fanned the flames.

So how did it all began ? It began with the press conference held to commemorate the Master Blaster completing two glorious decades in international cricket. It was meant to be a QnA session related to Sachin's glittering career, his achievements, his favourite moments etc etc. So ideally it was meant to be cricket and life related to cricket. But the media could not hold themselves asking Sachin the question of how he felt about the Marathi-Mumbai-Indian debate. And for one who has always been at more than an arm's length from any political statements and controversies, Sachin un-characteristically edged the wide swinging half-volley bowled by the media. That is where I am, frankly, disappointing with Sachin. I buy the point that he, like all of us, is entitled to a point of view and the freedom to express it. But then, is Sachin like all of us ?? A celebrity as revered as him should know that each statement of his is like gospel to his millions of fans. Hence, someone like him has to use his words carefully, especially on issues as topical and sensitive as these. Two words, "No comment" would have helped.

In any event, he just mentioned his point of view, which happened to be different from that of Raj Thackeray. The media got what they wanted. Now the headline that appeared in the media was to the effect that 'Sachin snubs Raj'. Now tell me, if you have a different view point from me, does that mean that you are snubbing me or vice-versa ? Or that one of us is more right than the other ? But the media portrayed it as if Sachin had virtually shown the finger to Raj, much to the delight of Raj's blood-bayers. If this is not fanning the fire, then what is ?

Then, just as everyone was waiting for Raj's reaction, there appeared a riposte from a different, though not entirely unexpected source, the Shiv Sena. Not wanting to be left out of this opportunity to get some political limelight, the Sena supremo replied through the Samna editorial. Now I have not read the editorial, but the statement that was highlighted on NDTV last evening was that Bal Thackeray had advised Sachin to 'stick to the cricket field and not play on the political field'. Leaving emotions aside, is that so wrong a thing to say ? I suspect that Sachin's coach might have said something similar. And not suprisingly, all sorts of political leaders jumped on the 'anti-Bal Thackeray' bandwagon, including the Maharashtra CM who appeared on NDTV yesterday for his reactions, as if he had nothing better to do.

All in all, a needless controversy !!. One only hopes the next time the media goes to Sachin for his reaction, he leaves the ball outside the off stump in the finest traditions of his batting.


PS: I read in the DNA today that Marathi bloggers were divided on blogosphere in their support of Sachin and Thackeray. Wonder if that was the media's intention ??????

Monday, October 12, 2009

No longer a 'crack'ing Diwali !!!

The year's biggest festival is around the corner, and the festive spirit can be seen and felt everywhere. Most shops on the street are all lighted up, displaying a range of dry fruit boxes and lanterns outside. Shopping malls are choc-a-bloc with people making their Diwali purchases and I am currently getting a SMS every couple of hours or so informing me about the latest deals and discounts on my credit card purchases. Closer home, we spent the Sunday on the traditional Diwali-eve cleaning of the house and Mom has started making the Diwali menu ('pharaal'). All in all, Diwali has well and truly arrived.

But amidst all this, there is one notable difference that can be observed. And that is, the relative in-conspicuousness of fire crackers. And it is not just this year, but has been there for some years now. The DNA newspaper yesterday carried a news story about how the younger generation has turned 'green' and is keeping away from fire-crackers altogether. In fact, it mentioned about how a kid actually did not allow its parents to buy crackers for themselves (the parents !!), much to the latter's annoyance. Not surprisingly, such behavior has badly affected the fire-cracker industry, with a wholesaler estimating sales to go down by as much as 50% this year. In a few years, we might no longer have a fire-cracker industry the way we know it today.

I, for one, welcome this change in attitude in today's generation (quite a change from my generation that pestered their parents to buy the latest atom bombs and flower pots and which started off as early as 5 am on the first day !!). For me, the most beautiful sight in Diwali is to see a home lit by dozens of earthen lamps ('diyaas') and having an even more beautiful 'rangoli' drawn at its entrance. Add to that the wholesome 'pharaal' and other Diwali sweets, and my festival is made. The one Diwali in recent times I remember was during our first year at IIM Bangalore. Then, we had an inter-hostel block decoration competition and about twenty of us spent all afternoon adorning the hostel block building (all three floors of it) with literally hundreds of small 'diyas' and some big ones. The more artistically inclined ones made a lovely rangoli at the block entrance. And then, as the day gave way to the twilight hour, we lighted all the diyas and the hostel was a memorable sight. (unfortunately, I have misplaced the snaps :(. This was followed by a sumptuous dinner at the mess to round off a wonderful day (What is your favourite Diwali moment ??).

So, Diwali has never been about crackers for me. Whenever I have burst crackers, I have always felt that they were, quite literally, like burning hard-earned money in thin air. Their light and noise is fleeting, not to mention the disturbance they cause to elders , babies and animals around us. Contrast this with the glowing light emitted by even the smallest diyaa, that spreads happiness in the heart of whoever sees it. Bring many such diyaas together, arranged in a variety of shapes and positions, and you get a sight to behold. What better way to light up your Diwali ??

So before I sign off, here's wishing a Happy Diwali and Prosperous New Year to all my readers and their families and friends. May you all have a safe and fun-filled Diwali and a fantastic new year ahead !! And yes, try and stay away from the crackers ;-)


Saturday, October 10, 2009

The race to Mantralaya !!

Under 72 hrs to go before the first vote is cast in the Maharashtra assembly elections, and things are hotting up. All major parties are having their last election rallies in Mumbai this weekend (Shivaji Park has suddenly become the epicentre of all Maharashtra politics) and we are hearing the familiar noises (having said that, as compared to the slogan-shouting of yesteryears, this hardly seems like an election campaign). The tiger continues to roar, albeit not as forcefully as he used to do a decade back, and the hand is back asking for votes in the quest for a third successive term (a rarity in modern-day politics). But the one gathering the most steam, and therefore chugging along to forefront of the political stage, is the railway engine.

Whether you like him or hate him, you cannot ignore him. And whether anyone living in the state (Maharashtrian or otherwise) likes it or not, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the keys to the next Vidhan Sabha are firmly in the hands of Raj Thackerary. Even though he has fielded only 145 candidates (half of the assembly strength), he is virtually certain to get the third lagest number of seats. And the quantum of seats he gets (opinion polls predict anywhere between 10 to 35) will probably decide the composition of the assembly and more importantly, who will form the next state government. And the man is certainly basking in the limelight. Yesterday's speech at the Shivaji Park was vintage Raj Thackeray and his uncle's stamp could be seen all over (especially when he spoofed Sonia Gandhi). In fact one smart thing that Raj is doing is sticking to Marathi in all his interviews, even if it is with NDTV 24*7. It was quite amusing to see Rajdeep Sardesai interview Raj, both of them knew each others language fully well and yet both were speaking different languages without an interpreter !!. Seeing Raj speak in Marathi (and thus reinforcing his Marathi agenda) would have surely made a small portion of the Marathi electorate see him in a new light (I confess I was impressed !!). As the 13th of October draws close, he is likely to steadily pull many more Marathi votes.

And what about the two main alliances ? The Cong-NCP combine should count themselves extremely lucky (did someone say third-time lucky ??) if they somehow manage to squeeze their way to the 145 mark. A decade of largely unimaginative and ineffective state governance (no major industries coming, farmer sucides, power problems, the vexed migrants issue in Mumbai) has led to a significant anti-incumbency wave. Now, in most cases, this would have meant that the opposition gallop towards the seat of power in Mantralaya. But is the Sena-BJP combine ready to get power ? More importantly, will it get somewhere close to a majority ? Its biggest challenge, of course, would be to reclaim Mumbai, Thane and Pune, on which it has been steadily loosing its grip. If it can achieve that, it can justifiably harbour hopes of forming the next government. But for those hopes to get translated into reality, they would need that man again. And so too would the Congress. And Raj Thackeray has kept his cards close to his chest, only revealing that he will support any one who forwards his agenda. If he is true to his word, and if it does transpire that the next government would be dependent on him, he is very likely to demand more than his pound of flesh for himself and the 'Marathi speaking public of the state' (note carefully that he does not say Maharashtrians, thus presenting a more inclusive agenda). Of course, what all this translates to for the Marathi speaking public on the ground after the next government is formed remains to be seen.

With the counting votes to happen on 22nd October, it is going to be a nervous Diwali for politicians and their supporters all over the state. But maybe one man will sleep more peacefully than the others !!.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

A week straight from heaven !!!

Am thankful to the Almighty for this week, which seems to have come straight from heaven !!. I am attending a training program the whole of this week, which itself is reason to rejoice. But to top that, I can leave home after 8 am (instead of around 7.30 am normally), reach Hotel VITS (earlier Lotus Suites) in Andheri before 8.45 am (thankfully, the traffic on Andheri-Kurla road is not that bad. Then I find time to got through my mails before the training starts at around 9.30 am. The training itself (on Enterprise Process Management) is also quite good. Of course, the best part of the day is the lunch at VITS. It is, by a distance, one of the best buffet lunches I have had. Lots of variety (Indian, Oriental, Continental) followed by plenty of desserts (ice cream, cakes, brownies n all that). In fact on Tuesday, I had just too much which kept me drowsy almost till dinner time !!. The afternoon sessions of the training typically involve some practical excerise instead of a long monologue and this helps to keep the juices flowing. And surprise surprise, the day is wrapped up at 5.30 pm. This allows me the opportunity to beat the notoroius Andheri E traffic on my way home and be back by around 6 pm. Then finally, I hit the gym at around 6.30 for an hour and a half to round off an almost-perfect day !!. After posting this, I will be off to the gym for a fourth straight day, a near-achievement for me.

Next week might turn out to be bad, but what the heck !! Live in the present and savour the good times !!!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Come September !!!..

It has not been the greatest of months, and thankfully its going to be over in a few hours !!.. What a relief !!.. Its been a month of travelling and more travelling. I have been away most of the month, visiting our manufacturing facility in Ankleshwar, Gujarat on a process improvement project. And while I have managed to come home during weekends, thus becoming a regular on the Mumbai - Ahmedabad Shatabdi Express (the new rakes are quite sophisticated by Indian Railways standards), the thought of being away from home and family was depressing. And not to forget the fact that daily routines are completely disrupted. I have to now re-start my workouts and my preparation for the marathon (less than five months away) has taken a couple of steps back. In addition, reading has taken a hit. With a pile of books now on my reading agenda, hopefully I will get more time to pursue one of my favourite hobbies.

There is, of course, another reason why I look forward to September. The start of the month is marked by a family dinner to celebrate Mom's birthday !!! For most of us, unfortunately, it is the only the day where we really honour the lady who has shaped our lives like no-one else. So here's wishing Many Happy Returns of the day to the most sweetest lady on the planet !!. And here's raising a toast to the month of September, in anticipation of more visits to the gym, more of catching up with friends, more of gorging on books and more of generally having good and productive days. Cheers !!!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Swine Flu and the failing monsoons...

So there are two immediate crises facing the country today, which therefore find a lot of mention in the media and daily newspapers as well as in random conversations. While one crisis is more direct and has people worried, the other is slowly looming in the background. Of course, I am talking about the Swine Flu crisis as well the monsoons, which now seem to be well and truly deficient.

Till a few weeks back, many people, including me, used to think that swine flu was a epidemic mostly confined to those travelling to the West (Mexico) and hence common people need not worry much unless they came into contact with such persons. But the last week has shaken that belief completely. Ten deaths and counting is India's toll today. Suddenly, it seems that no one is immune. And the government seems to have been caught napping. Our honourable Health minister, fresh from his insights on how to control population growth via television, now has a growing problem on his hand. Especially with huge congregations of people expected in Mumbai and Pune in the coming Ganesh festival, one can only hope that things do not get much worse from here. Pune especially, is in danger of turning into a ghost city if all public places start to close down. As individuals of course, all we can do is to take adequate precautions.

The other crises is the monsoons, or rather the lack of it. This could have significant medium-term ramifications. In the twenty odd years that I remember of, I have never seen such a dry August in Mumbai. And currently I am in a town called Ankleshwar in Gujarat. This time last year, the place was full of muck on the (so-called) roads. This time around, the roads are completely clean and dry and the sun beats down like any other summer day. While the lack of rains is already affecting parts of Mumbai (30% or more in water cuts), the more significant implications would be reduced agricultural output, resulting in higher prices and smaller rural incomes, with potential downside for many industries. Already the stock market is nervous thinking of this possibility. If that comes anywher close to a reality, we are sure to have a wider crises staring at us.


Friday, July 31, 2009

A tale of two movies... !!

In the past month or so, I have got the opportunity of watching re-runs of two of my favorite Hindi movies. Of course, I have seen and loved them in the past. But then, there was no blog to pen down your thoughts about them. But now, one just needs to start putting (digital) pen on (artificial) paper. And the fact that the two movies are as different as chalk and cheese made it all the more imperative that I write about them. So here goes...

The first one is Yash Chopra's poetic 'Kabhi Kabhi' (1975). Actually this movie is actually a series of different stories that merge together at the end. At the start of the movie is the unforgettable sight of Raakhee reciting 'Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Main' on her wedding night. A poem that is symbolic of her past and of the man she loved, the poet Amit (one of the Big B's most understated performances). Then who can forget her husband ??. One of Indian cinema's most endearing characters is Vijay Khanna (Shashi Kapoor). A man that lives life kingsize and has a heart of gold. One who is unapologetically flirts with his to-be samdhan (Simi Garewal) and tries his hand at poetry ('Aap ki aankhen itni haseen hai jaise.... garib ke ghar main lantern jalta ho !!'). Then there are the love-birds in Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, whose romance provided Yash Chopra the opportunity to capture the stunning beauty of Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh like never before. And to add further spice to the surroundings was the immortal music score by Khayyam. Whether its 'Kabhie Kabhie mere dil main khayal aata hai' or 'Main pal do pal/har ek pal ka shayaar hoon' or 'Tere chehre se nazar nahi hatati', Sahir Ludhianvi and Khayyam(along with Mukesh, Lata and Kishore's vocals) simply create magic. In my books, one of the best music scores in Hindi film history. And a must-watch movie as well !!!

If Kabhie Kabhie had sublime poetry and romantic moments in plenty, the other movie that I am talking about is almost diametrically opposite in content (though it also has decent music). Violent and hard-hitting, N Chandra told the story of the transformation of a bright and idealistic young man to a gangster, who then, by the end of the movie, expels all the acid inside of him and returns to his rightful place in society. And quite fittingly, the movie was called 'Tezaab'. The reason I liked that movie was because it somehow exuded a raw and no-holds-barred energy, that was evident in the fantastic dialogues written by Kamlesh Pandey (even Madhuri had lines that were too rough for the leading ladies of that time). Each of the characters in the movie were well etched out, whether it be Chunky Pandey (the scene of the marwari at the restaurent is still remembered), or Lotia Pathan (Kiran Kumar) or Anupam Kher or Suresh Oberoi playing the good cop. To add to that was Madhuri looking a million dollars and 'Ek Do Teen'.But the film, of course, belonged to Anil Kapoor. Right from his entry ('Tumhari zindagi aur maut ke beech ka faasla Munna ki chaaku ki dhaar se zyaada nahi hai'), Munna dominates the movie. And Tezaab still remains one of Anil Kapoor's best performances. In fact, Tezaab was one of three very good movies of the same genre but dealing with different topics within it, that released around the same time (1988-89). I have already written about Parinda in a previous post, and the third movie was JP Dutta's little-known gem 'Hathyar' (Dharmendra, Sanjay Dutt and Rishi Kapoor). Though I remember little about the movie (except Sanjay's death at the end in the toy shop surrounded by all the guns and pistols that, during his childhood, prodded him onto the road of violence), it somehow has stayed with me and I will watch it in full someday.

So that was about two very different yet very good movies in their own right !!


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Four Years on ....

Tomorrow, it will be four years to the day. But it does not seem to far back in the past. The day that brought my city to its knees. While the other tragedies that Mumbai has witnessed in the recent past have been far more heinous and barbaric (they were man-made after all), in terms of the casualties and the breadth of people that it affected, there is quite nothing to rival what happened on 26 July 2005. After all, Mumbai received the highest recorded 24-hour rainfall for a metropolitan area in human history. And I vividly recall the day....

In fact, I recall the day before that as well. I had gone out with friends to a dinner party and came back late and crashed. Following morning, I was ready to face a fresh day at work. Outside, there was the typical July shower. One which the city had faced thousands of times before. Outwardly, there was nothing to suggest that the day was going to be any different. People rushed out, caught their daily lifelines (the local trains) and went to work like any other Tuesday. The drizzle continued, slowly increasing in intensity but never ceasing. By early afternoon, as we finished our lunch and got back to work, there were the first indications that this was not the usual monsoon day. The showers refused to subside and suddenly multiplied in intensity. This went out for about a couple of hours. By around 4 pm, offices had started shutting down. We were asked to leave at 4 pm. Even then, people did not anticipate what was in store, since there are always a couple of days like that every monsoon. But as we were leaving, news of a massive traffic jam on the Western Express Highway trickled in (our office is in Santacruz East). With no foreseeable alternative, me and a colleague set out of office on foot. And before we knew it, we were in waist deep water in Vakola (to put things in perspective, when our office closed early a couple of weeks back, the water at the same spot barely covered my toes !!). The highway was a sight to behold. Cars stuck bumper-bumper, abandoned by their owners and pedestrians wading along the divider in waist deep water. As the sun went down, power went out in most areas, giving the surroundings an eerie look. The rain, of course, was relentless. In fact, about three hours later, as we reached Andheri, it was raining so hard that the rain drops started hurting. With all shops closed, it was tough to even get a pack of biscuits. Finally, after nearly five hours of walking through mostly knee-waist high water, I reached home at Goregoan (about 12 km in all). There too, it was a dark reception.

For a city that prides itself on getting back to work the day after any tragedy, Mumbai was completely shut down for two more days. In fact the power in our office was not restored even on Friday, hence we got the rest of the week off. And the tragedy affected everyone, from the rich and famous stuck in their cars (some even lost their lives) and going without power and essential foodstuffs for three days right down to the less-fortunate slum dwellers who watched helplessly as their houses, belongings and their very lives were washed away by Nature's fury. Nearly 1000 people were killed in Mumbai and other areas in Maharashtra on that fateful day. The Mithi River, till then regarded as nothing more than one of the many nallahs that wind their way through the suburbs, suddenly was the center of all attraction. Mumbai's century old drainage system, rather the inability of the authorities to suitably augment it, came in for much flak. Four years down the line, while some things have changed for the better, there is still that lurking fear, exploited to the hilt by the media, in the heart of every Mumbaikar each day the monsoon showers appear heavier than usual: what if today turns out to be another 26/7 ??. All I can answer to that is, if there is ever another 26-7 in the city, then the phrase 'lightning does not strike twice' would have proven false !!.

So what is your 26/7 story ?


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Face the truth !!.. Indian television enters taboo territory !!

In a couple of hours from now, Star Plus airs the debut episode of its much-hyped reality show 'Sach Ka Samnaa' and with it, Indian television enters into completely virgin territory. Readers in India who regularly watch the idiot box need no introduction to the show. But for the benefit for people abroad, here's the deal in this reality show (it is the Indian version of 'Moment of Truth') :

Contestants will be asked, off-line, a set of questions. Now the questions are not GK or primary school arithmetic. These are real questions of the 'ouch' variety ("Have you ever thought of cheating on your spouse ?", "Did you ever feel jealous of your brother's/sister's success?" etc etc). The contestants will be wired to a lie detector while answering , so that their 'real' answers are recorded. Some of these contestants will then be asked the same questions on live television. And, the person who can completely bare his/her soul on live Indian TV (with their near/dear ones in the audience) and give the same answers as what is there in his/her heart wins. So the ones most likely to win are the ones either with the blandest lives or the ones with not a tinge of remorse or hesitation !!. And is there any one of us who belongs to either of this category ?? That is what the shows seems to ask us.

Already, the show has raked in controversy even before the first episode. Vinod Kambli apparently has revealed his not too friendly side with Tendulkar, causing a media storm. Of course, much of the show itself might be staged, but the thought of other people facing their inner demons on live television is an enticing one, sure to get eyeballs. It would seem that Star Plus has a winner, provided of course, it is sustained after the initial hype.


PS: I do not intend to follow the show, in case anyone was wondering :-)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Sa Re Ga Ma Pa.. !! Another season, another grand climax !!

Another season of the hugely popular Marathi musical show 'Sa Re Ga Ma Pa' is coming to an end with the grand finale scheduled for next Sunday (12th July). I had written about the same show in its last season (read here), in which the hunt was on for the voice of the future. This time around, the focus is on the present. For those who, for various reasons, are not able to follow this season, this season has seen ten of the brightest professional singers take center stage with two stalwarts namely Pandit Hridayanath Mangeshkar and Suresh Wadkar judging them. And with ten talents to start off with, we are now down to the last three, who will fight it out (doesn't it seem to harsh a word to use for a singing competition ?) for the right to be called 'Maharashtra cha aaj cha awaaz' (Today's voice of Maharashtra). And the final three are Madhura Datar, Amruta Natu and Hrishikesh Ranade. My previous favourite, Vibhavaari Apte, was the last to get eliminated last week. But all three of the finalists do pack a serious punch. Check out some of their performances on You Tube (search for 'srgmp aa') . Especially do check out Madhura Dataar (who seems to hold a slight edge) in 'Mi Radhika Mi Premika'. While the last season was made memorable by the young prodigies, this time it is nothing but raw talent that has viewers glued to their televisions every Monday and Tuesday evening. And as the show approaches its finale, one can again hope that the best person finally emerges as the voice of Maharashtra. All the best to all the three !!!..


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Raigad: In the Chhatrapati's Kingdom - Part Two

After a good afternoon's rest followed by refreshing cup of tea (machine tea I might add, since there is no kitchen at the top - everything is bought from the foothills), we set out to further explore the fort. After about an hour of revisiting the 'Balle Killa' and the market place, we rested for a while to catch the sunset. And it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The pictures,of course, speak for themselves. By this time, the clouds in the sky had cleared, but the clouds below had not, giving rise to a fabulous sunset in which the sun setting over the hills was actually above the clouds in the valleys below. Not many places where you would see such a sight. Totally transfixed, we simply kept clicking, not wanting to let go the opportunity of preserving the moment for posterity. Once the sun went down, it was time to beat a hasty retreat back to the rooms since there are no lights inside the fort. So once it gets dark, it can be quite scary even with a torchlight (not to add the frequent steps where one can easily trip). We, of course, were back in our rooms in time. A typical 'thali' dinner followed (served quite early at around eight). After that was a 'gup-shup' and a card session that went way past midnight. After that, we resolved to go back to the fort in the pitch of darkness with nothing but a small torch. After going up about a dozen steps, we looked back to take a picture of the resort amidst the darkness, with the clouds still giving us company. We sat their for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the clouds deprived us of a chance to do some star-gazing, so we returned to the rooms to hit the sack.

The morning was clear as we woke up just before and set out for the Shivaji samadhi and the temple adjoining it. As if to show us the way, the sun rose almost exactly behind the samadhi itself. Reaching the samadhi made one's heart swell with pride and emotion. To offer homage at the place honouring the great warrior was a moving experience. Besides the Chhatrapati's samadhi was the memorial of his favourite dog. The last major point to visit was the Takmak Tok. Set apart from the other attractions on the fort, the Takmak Tok was used to throw off serial offenders during Shivaji's reign. Once I reached the place, I understood why. The steel fencing on both sides offered some comfort. But take them out of the equation and it is a scary affair. At the furthest point, the 'tok' (edge) is barely a couple of feet wide with deep ravines on both sides. Reaching there without the comfort of fences would have taken some courage three centuries ago.

After a breakfast of 'Pohe', it was time to leave the fort with fond memories. The return trip had a detour to the village of Pachad near the foothills, where the samadhi of Shivaji's mother, Jijabai stands. The trip to Raigad, apart from offering a much-needed respite from the daily routine, was also a throwback to the great history and legacy of my state. !!


PS: Dear Reader.... This marks the 100th post on my blog !!!.. With your continued patronage, hope to score several centuries more !!.. Thanks a lot ;-)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Raigad: In the Chhatrapati's Kingdom - Part One

There are some places that you visit just to get away from your daily drudgery. Such places may not have the best sights in the world, but that is never the point. With nothing really particular to visit, all you plan to do is relax, take a stroll and generally take whatever comes your way. On the other hand, there are some places that you visit with a pre-determined purpose. Such places have a particular magnetic attraction and an aura that invites thousands from near and far. For me, and most people in Maharashtra, the fort of Raigad is one such place. The capital of our state’s favourite son, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, has long held a fascination for me and last weekend, I finally managed, along with my B-school group, to reach the fort, which is literally the heart of Maratha pride.

Saturday early morning saw us (Anjali and me) jumping in the hired car and, picking others along the way, off we went on NH-17 towards Raigad. With the monsoons especially playing truant this year, we all were sceptical of the weather we would get there. Nothing we saw on our way there really gave us any relief. It continued to alternate between sunny and partly cloudy, with not a drop of rain in sight. And we could see many fields, all ploughed and sowed, ready for the showers. We were praying for the rains to give us relief, they were praying for their livelihood !!. We reached the foothills of Raigad by around noon, after a five hour drive. There we went to the base station of the famous Raigad Ropeway for a quick ride to the top. One tribute to Raigad’s prowess as a fort (it is sometimes called ‘Gibraltar of the East’) is that there is still no motorable road to the top. And before the ropeway started, the only way to reach the top was to walk the 1500 odd steps, as in olden days. Two of our group members did take that route, whereas the rest of us took the easy way out and were at the top within five minutes. Contrary to what I had read beforehand, the ropeway ride was a smooth one (though thankfully there was no wind at that time). And by around 12.30, we had reached the back door entrance of the fort.

The operators of the Raigad ropeway have accommodation facilities (strictly functional, I might add) besides the ropeway station. Hence, we checked in, freshened up and went off to explore the fort. And it is a big fort to explore!! It was certainly one of the biggest forts that I had visited (a walk from one end to the other is a good couple of km). And literally, each square foot of the fort smelt of history. The ‘Balle Killa’ (Main Fort) had the main ‘darbar’ with the Chhatrapati’s throne at the head (with his statue still proudly holding court). One could easily visualize a court session in progress, with the ministers deliberating over matters of strategic and social importance along with Maharaj himself. Behind the darbar were Shivaji’s main chambers and behind that, the chambers for the queens. Walking further ahead from the darbar, we saw the main market place of the fort. The market place consisted of a wide walkway in the middle flanked by shops on both sides. Again, the scene of a typical market day with traders (who all used to endure the three hour climb of the staircase everyday)* selling their stuff to the fort occupants arose vividly in my mind. At around this time, the weather started changing for the better !! Grey clouds started building up, the wind picked up and the approaching rain could be smelt. We stopped by at one of the few huts on the fort for a quick meal of traditional ‘zunka-bhakar’ prepared by the locals. This again was different experience for us. Sitting in that dark hut (no electricity at the top except for the two ‘resorts’), with eyes watering because of the smoke of the ‘chulha’, we had a satisfying lunch. And as we left their hut to return to our rooms, the rains hit us, with the clouds in tow. And within a few minutes, the entire scenery was transformed. The market place suddenly seemed a different place with visibility reduced to not more than 15-20m (see pic). The rains had finally come to our rescue !!!. Enjoying ourselves in the drizzle and feeling on top of the world, we returned for a good late afternoon rest.

- More to follow….


* Regarding the traders, the most famous story is that of Hirkani, a lady living at the foothills of the fort who used to come to the top everyday to sell milk. One day, she was late in finishing off in the evening and consequently, when she reached the gates of the fort in order to go back to her place, she found that the gates had closed for the day. With her infant waiting in her village at the foothills, she scaled the fort walls and then literally descended a steep cliff and got back to her village. Shivaji Maharaj named the cliff ‘Hirkani Buruj’ in her honour and looking at that, the mind boggles as to how she could have even attempted it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Random thoughts on today's headlines !!

With my blog being dormant for nearly three weeks now, and with nothing really particular to write about, I figured out the best way to keep the writing habit alive is to comment on some of the day's headlines. Not only is this a good way to ensure that newspapers are read (I subscribe to four different ones - including two business dailies - and hardly read anything), but it also a good way to develop your writing skills, especially for first-time bloggers. So on a lazy Sunday morning, I finally got down to reading today's DNA and found some really interesting articles, some of which I thought of commenting on (after all, dont we all have an opinion on everything ?).

Mirch Masala in Australia: This, of course, was the front page headlines and talked about how Indians down under are arming themselves with chilli powder and pepper spray to fight off potential attackers (taking a cue from Ketan Mehta's movie in the 80s). I really think this is getting uglier and scarier by the day. A few days more of this senseless violence and we would have a full fledged diplomatic row between the two nations, spilling over to all fields. Already, some bars in Mumbai have stopped selling Fosters beer and more are expected to follow suit !!! And while the Australian cricket team's tour to India is some months away (October), if this continues, their team can expect more than a hostile reception here. The other thing, of course, is that an eye-for-an-eye policy rarely brings with it any positive results. So here's hoping that all this hostility on both sides quickly becomes a thing of the past, else we might have to see full-blown clashes on the streets of Melbourne and Sydney.

Black Leopard spotted after 67 years: This was the headline that really cheered me up. To think that a species of leopard, hitherto thought of to be nearly extinct, can be seen after so many years in the Sahyadris is quite heartening. Just goes to show that there are still tracts of forest here in India that can still harbour big animals like this without the outside world seeing them for so long. This, in itself, is fantastic.

Call of the Sahyadris: With the monsoons round the corner (and hope they finally arrive this week), the Sahyadris is the place to go. With a myriad of forts dotting the landscape, the onset of monsoons signals the start of the trekking season. Especially during the first few rains, when the ground is still not soft enough to be dangerous for trekking, there are plenty of opportunities for avid trekkers to enjoy nature at its best. This year, I hope to have a few weekend outings there, starting with a visit to Raigad coming weekend.

Want your area cleaned ? You can make it happen !!. This is another novel idea to improve our local governance. Once this act is passed, each polling booth will have an Area Sabha with the councillor as the chairman. All registered voters would be members of this Sabha. This Sabha would have the right to suggest priority of schemes and development programmes to be implemented in the area. The only question is, who is going to listen and take appropriate action ??. Also, as with most good intentions, the success of this idea lies in its execution. For example, in any case only half (or even less) of the registered voters actually vote. So how many of them will voluntarily turn up to be members of this Sabha and, more importantly, participate in it regularly. I do not mean to sound pessimistic, but I do sincerely wish this idea a lot of success, since it is neccessary to give more teeth to the lowest level of the government that most directly interacts with the general public.

So these were some random comments of today's headlines !! Hope to make this a regular feature henceforth...


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Even the mightiest fall !!!!!!!!!

Today, I heard those lines again. And as always, they bought a lump to my throat. Forget even hearing, even when I hum those lines in my mind, they touch somewhere deep down. But today, I also read a complete translation of those lines. And in the midst of reading it, the view of the screen got blurred… So here is my tribute to probably my favourite poem of all time.

The opening lines go like this:

hue naam warr benishan kaise kaise
zameen kha gayi naujawan kaise kaise

aaj jawani par itaranae wale kal pacthtayega - 2
chadhta suraj dheere dheere dhalta hain dhal jayega - 2
dhal jayega dhal jayega

“(See) how the famous have now lost their signatures
The earth has eaten up quite a few heroes..
So (you) who today prides himself on his youth, will regret it tomorrow..
The rising sun will eventually set”

At this point, readers who have listened to this qawaali need not read further. Since having once listened carefully to this masterpiece in shayaari that is so depressing yet so very true, no one will ever forget it. But for those who have never heard of it, I will just sample a few verses, though listening to the entire eleven-minute narration will drive home (very badly, I might add) the point. Of course, a slight understanding of Urdu would definitely aid.

So here are some other gems from ‘Chadta Suraj Dheere Dheere Dhalta Hai, Dhal Jaayega’ (pardon my inaccurate translation in some cases)

maut ne zamane ko yeh sama dikh dala
kaise kaise us gum ko khak main mila dala
khak main mila dala khak main mila dala
yaad rakh sikander ke hausle to aali they
jab gaya tha duniya se dono haath khali they
dono haath khali they dono haath khali they
apna woh halaku hain aur na uske saathi hain
jung ko chu woh porus hain aur na uske haathi hain
aur na uske haathi hain aur na uske haathi hain
kal jo tanke chalte they apni shano shaukat par
shamma tak nahi jalti aaj unki purbat par

“(See) what seasons has death shown the world
(See) how it has reduced the once mighty to dust
Remember that Alexander was the greatest
But he was empty-handed when he left the world
Neither was his strong army around nor were his comrades
And neither did he leave with his enemy (Porus) or his elephants
(The person) who till yesterday was proud of his fame and power
Today not even a candle burns on his grave’

And sample another one…

maut sabko aani hain kaun isse chuta hain
tu fana nahi hoga yeh khayal jhutha hain
yeh khayal jhutha hain yeh khayal jhutha hain
saans tutate hi sab rishtey tut jaayenge
baap, maa, behan, biwi, Bachhe choot jayenge
bachhe choot jayenge Bachhe choot jayenge
tere jitne hain bhai waqt ka chalan denge
chin kar teri daulat do hi gaj kafan denge
do hi gaj kafan denge do hi gaj kafan denge

“Death has come to all, no one has escaped
That you will not be destroyed
Is but a delusionary thought
The moment you take your last breath, all relationships would snap
Father, Mother, Sister, Wife and Children, you would leave all behind
Your so called ‘brothers’ will quietly bid their time
And then (after your death) steal your wealth
And leave only two yards of grave for you”

Of course there are several other such profound lines in this qawaali, so go ahead and listen. If you cannot find it, you can always mail me at, will send the MP3 version.


PS: Thanks for Amitabh Iyer's blog for a good attempt at translating this..

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dear Dr. Manmohan Singh !!!...

Dear Hon. Prime Minister


I write to you on a day that is perhaps the most significant days in recent Indian history. Over the past month, the people of India have, after nearly two decades, voted almost decisively for a pre-poll alliance. (In fact, I read on one television channel that this is the most decisive result since your party was thrown out in 1977!!). As a result, today you find yourself having an almost obstacle-free path to the PM’s seat. And I for one am pleasantly surprised. Yesterday, I wrote on my blog, fearing for the kind of games our politicians would be playing in order to get to that 272 mark. Thankfully, the nation would not be seeing those now and your party along with its allies (plus some minor support here and there) should be able to comfortably occupy the treasury benches in the Lok Sabha. Here I also admit that you are not one of my favourite leaders (though I have the highest respect for you from amongst your breed). But anyways, what I feel matters the least today.

But I am not writing just to congratulate you, your party and allies for winning the election. I am sure that you realize the enormity of the task ahead of you. By decisively giving you a mandate, the billion strong population of this country has placed the highest expectations from you. And I am no different. Your future government is already being called the first real Congress government since 1989. Meaning that you have now virtually a free hand in running the government, at least the finances. To add to that, the presence of a former finance minister at the helm will further raise hopes. One hopes that without the interference of the Left and other allies, your government would be able to carry out its financial agenda and tackle the real issues head-on. Of course, I am hardly qualified to inform you on the real issues that face us, but I cannot resist !!. Security of course has become numero uno for some time now and I hope your government is able to provide reassurance to its citizens that visits to shopping malls and travelling in local trains need not be accompanied by doubts on whether one would return home safely. On the finances front, its now time to reverse all those populist policies that have caused a nearly 10% fiscal deficit last year. With the Left and the others becoming less relevant, I sincerely hope that subsidies are reduced to the extent that people pay a fair price for the petrol they use and the power they consume. Then there is the question of bills in crucial areas like insurance, retail, women representation etc. that were stuck up because of political opposition within the former government. One last area that I would like to mention is agriculture. It is about time that Indian agriculture is made into an investment-worthy sector, so that one day people from the cities would look to the villages to invest, directly or indirectly, in agriculture. And while I do not expect your government to deliver overnight, you now have five solid years to deliver good, decisive and growth-oriented governance. The budget due next month would definitely be your first chance to make your intentions clear. The country would await that.

To sum up, today’s verdict has given birth to a new wave of optimism throughout the country, atleast amongst the urban sector. (CNBC is already predicting a circuit breaking rally on Monday !!). How much of that optimism is misplaced will only be clear in the following weeks. But it is now time to assert yourself (and I was pleasantly surprised to see you during the campaign, where you were unusually blunt, especially while reacting to LK Advani’s remarks). Now is the time to carry that decisiveness to the PM’s chair. Freed of the shackles of coalition governance, the years 2009 to 2014 have the potential to go down in history as the period in which India started its march from a developing nation encumbered by populist policies and underperforming governments to being one of the economic powerhouses of the world. And my generation, nearing or crossed thirty, eagerly look forward to these five years.

I sincerely hope that your government meets the expectations that the common people right from Mumbai to Manipur and from Srinagar to Sivakasi now have from you. All the very best !!!!!


Yours truly,

A common Indian citizen

Friday, May 15, 2009

Let the games begin !!!!!

Tomorrow dawns the big day finally !! When the bigger IPL (Indian Political League) is played out, captured live by the many news channels catering to the millions who would be practically glued to their television screens (I know I would be) since morning. And by all indications, this IPL is certain to match yesterday's IPL (the bat-ball variety) match for sheer drama and intrigue. With neither of the main alliances coming anywhere close to the magic 272 mark, it looks pretty certain that the formation of the next government could take a few days more. And in that interim, one has no doubt that all sorts of games (the good, the bad and the downright ugly) would be played. Suddenly, ideologies would take a backseat (if they haven't already), political pariahs would be sought after and each elected independent would be worth his or her weight in gold (and I daresay, might also be paid so !!). In all this maneuvering, the thoughts that would be the furthest in the minds of the netas and mantris would be on how to best serve their constituencies, whether in power or in the opposition !! So people like you and me who have cast their votes to bring these men and women to power would ultimately be at the receiving end of another five years of ordinary governance. 

So all eyes focussed on tomorrow morning when the grand finale of the world's largest democratic exercise takes place !! As for people like us, we can only pray that whoever stumbles across the finish line tomorrow would have a stable government to start with, since that atleast would enable it to take some strong decisions without having to worry about someone pulling the rug from under their feet. As they say, 'sar salaamat to pagdi hazaar' !!

And finally, hats off to those lakhs of returning officers and polling officials who have made such a mammoth exercise possible !!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

'2 minute' karte karte 25 saal !!!!!

Urban India's favourite snack is turning 25 !!!! And Nestle, rightly so, is celebrating it by inviting people from all over to write in their memorable Maggi moments.. see here. Looking back now, a childhood with Maggi seems almost unimaginable. Right from the time I used to come back from school and get treated to a bowl of piping hot Maggi Chicken by Mom to today, when my wife still serves up Maggi Masala in a jiffy for breakfast, Maggi has always been part of my, and indeed, all our lives. And all of us have our memorable Maggi moments. For me, the one I remember most was during my B-school stint, where Maggi was the hot favourite at the night canteen. Well past midnight, when the world was asleep, the hostels were buzzing with activity, and very few were as active as the guy at the night canteen. With an almost un-ending demand from the hungry night owls to contend with (till about 2 am), he used to simply process a batch of a dozen packs a time in a big vessel and around it would gather the students, eagerly waiting to lay their hands on those beloved strands of yellow flour. Just went to show how universally liked Maggi was, and still is. 

So whats your favourite Maggi Moment ???


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Post script to my previous post..

In my previous post, I had made the point that as a community, we Maharashtrians need to be more inwardly looking in order to address the shortcomings within us. Especially in the area of enterpreunership and running business, there is a lot that we need to learn. Two incidents regarding this which I myself have observed:

a. On more than one Saturday morning, I have got out of home trying to find a good Maharasthrian breakfast (Misal Pao, Pohe, Khichdi etc). Now there are three decent eateries serving the above-mentioned items (and more) within walking distance from my place. However, much to my dissapointment, I have discovered that these eateries do not open before 9 am, whereas the idli-wallahs and vada-pao stalls are out in force before 8 am !!!!. Surely, 8 am is not too early a time to expect people to have their breakfast at !!

b. Last Saturday, I encountered a unique incident. I had gone to a famous Maharashtrian restaurent in Girguam along with my wife. The restaurent had recently opened an AC section (presumably to attract more non-Marathi customers, since most of us would think twice before going to an AC restaurent, but that is a different point !!!). So attached to that AC section was the rest room, with tastefully designed wash basins and three toilets. However when I went to use the rest-room, I found out that the toilets were locked !!. On inquiring with the waiter, I could not believe my ears when he said that there was a common key to those toilets that had been misplaced !!!!. I simply could not comprehend why anyone would like to : a) Keep a loo under lock and key and b) have a single key for all. And if this story was indeed true, then god alone knows for how many days the toilets were lying unused while customers had to look to someplace to lessen their misery. And if this was a made up story, it is even sadder for it showed that the management was not keen on customers using those places. So why were they built anyways ???. Needless to mention, I left the place not wanting to return (even though the food itself was great) simply because of the complete lack of customer sensitivity on view. And I could not help myself wondering that such a thing could have been made possible only at a Maharashtrian owned business !!!. I hope so much that I am wrong !!!..


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Marathi pride awakened ??? Not quite..

The plot could hardly have been better.

- A community that has long felt marginalized and has been reduced to a minority in the capital of its own state.
- A community that has seen the winds of progress blow past it, while it has been busy leading a typical life: working in a bank as a clerk, earning enough to enable the family to survive, bringing up their children with all the right values, investing whatever little savings they have in good old fixed deposits and pension funds and then finally retiring peacefully.
- A community that harbours more than a grudge against the so-called ‘outsiders’ perceived to have taken over their city and livelihood but fails to realize that somewhere most of the blame lies inside
- A community that prides itself on its simplicity and loyalty but has somehow not really translated that into success and prosperity

So who better to awaken this community from its deep slumber than the person whom they regard as closest to God? A warrior, who by his exploits more than three centuries ago, still holds complete sway over the heart and mind of every member of that community ? In trying to bring this plot to life, ‘Mi Shivaji Raje Boltoy’ had everything going for it. However, to put it in a nutshell, while the movie does raise some valid questions, it does not go the full distance. And I, as a proud member of the above-mentioned community, confess to being more than disappointed.

Dinkar Bhosale epitomizes the middle-class Maharashtra community in modern Mumbai. He is a common man with not so uncommon problems in life. His ancestral bungalow in the heart of Mumbai has caught the eye of a builder who, of course, is willing to go to any lengths to get it. His nagging wife never ceases to remind him of their dull existence. His son resents him for neither having the will nor the resources to pay the donation required to get him into an engineering college. And his daughter is willing to get her ‘down-market’ surname changed so that she can be ‘accepted’ into Bollywood and fulfil her acting ambitions. And for Mr. Bhosale, his daily life is confined to dutifully going to his bank each day, longingly staring at the shirt in an upmarket store which he likes but cannot afford, bringing the same ordinary fish for dinner rather than the prized ‘paaplet’ and finally listening to his family members ranting about how insignificant their lives are. After one particularly rough night at the bar, Dinkar comes home bruised and beaten and longs for inspiration to rescue him from this non-consequential existence. And inspiration finally comes in the form of his namesake and Maharashtra’s demi-god, Chhatrapati Shivaji Raje Bhosale.

At this juncture comes the movie’s high-point. Dinkar is transported into the Chhatrapati’s darbar atop Pratapgad fort. And the Chhatrapati gives him an earful about how he himself is to blame for his ordinary life. There the king (and through it, the director) makes the right noises. One particularly hard truth is the fact that most Maharashtrian restaurants and sweet-shops take pride in announcing ‘Aamchi kuthe hi shakha nahi’ (‘We have no other branch’) where in fact, they should be looking at expanding their business and generating income. Having made these, and other, painful truths clear to the audience, one was hoping that the remainder of the movie could been utilized for sending a powerful and hard-hitting message to the Maharashtrians as to how their own lack of ambition is partly responsible for the state they find themselves in, and further forcing them to introspect and possibly revive the ‘Marathi asmita (pride}’ within them (albeit in a constructive way !!).

Sadly, the remainder of the movie does not have anything specific to Marathi or the Maharashtrian community. It details how Dinkar (taking inspiration from the deeds of the Chhatrapati) transforms himself to a social crusader, fighting the powerful builder-politician-goon lobby and of course, his own internal demons. The common-man-fighting-the-system plot has already been revisited again and again by Bollywood. Hence, to that extent, the post-interval movie does not have anything significant to offer. Both the Bhosales are reduced to just any other names. And that, to me, is the movie’s biggest letdown. The first half of the movie has a strong Marathi connection which is simply let go of in the crucial second half. I have a sneaking suspicion that the makers might have been unnerved by the strong political and social reactions that an out-out ‘Marathi awakening’ movie would have generated and hence opted for a typical common man v/s system saga with only the principal characters being Maharashtrians. Whatever be the reason, it finally diluted the impact of what could have been a great path-breaking movie into just another good movie. As for the performances, Sachin Khedekar is excellent as the protagonist, conveying both the pathos of the middle-class weakling as well as the steel of the born-again Dinkar in the second half, with equal ease. However, Mahesh Manjrekar does not quite look the part of the Chhatrapati. For one, the get up makes him look too old. A younger Chhatrapati might probably have looked better (remember that he was only 53 when he died). And it also reinforces the notion that known actors do not make good historical characters since the audience ends up looking at the actor rather than the character.

To sum up, ‘Mi Shivaji Raje Boltoy’ is worth a watch if you enter the movie hall with lesser expectations. And if you can leave the hall with a desire to awaken the Marathi manoos in you, it will be worth the experience.


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Wall Street in the 80s: unplugged and unravelled !!!

Wall Street in the 1980s was, by all accounts, on hell of a place to be in, provided you were at the right place at the right time !!.. Commonly reffered to as the 'decade of greed' , this was the heyday of new and esoteric financial wizardry (or 'conning' depending on where you stood) that seemed to engulf the American financial system. The "glory times" of the 80s have been portrayed in several forms of media, notably amongst them the 1987 movie 'Wall Street' starring Micheal Douglas and Charlie Sheen ("Greed, for want of a better word, is good") and in several books including 'The Bonfires of the Vanities' and Micheal Lewis's brilliant semi-autobiographical story ("Liars Poker") of his days as a bond salesman in Saloman Brothers ("Never before in the history of humanity have so many people become so rich with so little"). One amongst the several phenomenon that came into prominence was that of the leveraged buy-outs (LBO), wherein a group of investors take over a company using large amounts of borrowed money (hence leveraged buy outs). The second half of the decade saw numerous such deals, none of which was bigger or attracted more attention than the late 1988 takeover of RJR Nabisco. And the fascinating battle for control of RJR Nabisco has been chronicled in the all-time classic book 'Barbarians at the Gate', which I have just finished reading the second time (the first one was during my B-school days).
Written by then Wall Street reporters John Helyar and Bryan Burroughs, 'Barbarians at the Gate' has been widely regarded as one of the best business books ever. And few real-life events in the business world have been depicted so throughouly and thrillingly. However, along with the drame involved in the takeover battle, the authors also give us a glimpse into the mind of Wall Street in those days, where a number of so-called 'investment bankers', brokerages and lawyers made millions of dollars as fees advising Corporate America on everything including take-overs and LBOs. Also, it focusses on the king-size egos that the leading players in the drama had, none more evident that when the warring factions (the management team, Shearson Lehmann Hutton and Saloman Brothers on one side and Kohlberg Kravis and Drexel Burnham on the other) were close to joining forces, an otherwise minor detail on who should run the junk bond offering required to finance the deal resulted in a collapse of talks and resuming of hostilities. And as the hostilities increased, the bid value zoomed from $ 75 a share to almost $ 110, making it the costliest takeover of a company in American history (at $ 25 billion). All this and much more has been put to paper in a most engaging yet simple way, so that one need not be a finance graudate to understand the technicalities of the goings-on.

'Barbarians at the Gate' is one book that no one should miss !!..


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jaane Bhi do, a movie like this will never come again !!!!...

Very occasionally does it happen that some of the finest talents in any particular field (let alone film-making) come together to pitch in their collective expertise and create a product. Usually, such a collaboration leads to an outcome that falls way short of the sky-high expectations from it. However, in the rarest of rare cases, the outcome is nothing short of spectacular and becomes close to immortal. In 1983, a fresh batch of out-going students from the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) got together, persuaded their alma mater to fund a movie on a less than shoe-string budget and came out with a movie that is universally regarded to be one of the finest ever to grace Indian cinema.

Surely, the names that came together to create that cult classic called 'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron' is staggering. A bunch of remarkable actors (Naseer, Ravi Baswani, Bhakti Barve, Om Puri, Pankaj Kapoor, Satish Shah et al ) and equally adept technicians (Kundan Shah, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Binod Pradhan, Sudhir Mishra and Renu Saluja to name a few) blended beautifully to carve out a masterpiece of a movie (am sure it will appear on any movie buffs top 10 movies of all times). And if ever can one movie define a whole genre, then surely JBDY epitomizes the black comedy genre. In fact, making subtle comedies (as opposed to the usual slapstick fare) is such a risky business than there have less than a handful of such movies that Bollywood has made !! . Which makes you marvel even more at the subtle references throughout the film to social life and the corruption therein. For me, the greatest beauty of JBDY is that while you are bursting at the seams with laughter one moment, the next scene immediately drives home the pathos associated with living life as a common man amidst a web of deceit and corruption. For example, sample this: the climax of the movie, as everyone knows, is that classic 'Draupadi-Vastraharan' scene from the Mahabharat (kudos to Kundan Shah and Sudhir Mishra for this gem of an idea and for its execution that led to a scene that is unparalleled in movie annals). Now this scene of course, gets you ROTFL (to use the SMS lingo ;-). But after that climax is the final scene when the two protagonists are shown walking on the streets of Mumbai dressed as prisoners with 'Hum Honge Kaamyaab' in the background !! . That scene causes a lump-in-the-throat moment, reminding the viewer that finally it is the common man who always ends up on the losing side while everyone else goes scot-free (in fact, kudos again to Kundan and Sudhir for ending the movie this way instead of the run-of-the-mill ending in which the conspirators go to jail and the protagonists become heroes).

The other endearing aspect of JBDY is the liberal references to real-life characters (Bhakti Barve's character named and modelled on Shobhaa De) and incidents (the flyover collapse in the movie mirrored the collapse of the Byculla flyover in the 80s). These make it easier for everyone to identify with the movie. Also the subtleties in the movie are impossible to ignore, for e.g. the corrupt builder bribing the BMC commissioner while high up on the pickup crane and looking down on the slums of the city, the dog peeing on the street in the opening scene illustrating the plight of the common man etc etc. The power of the screenplay along with the performances make Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron a must-see for generations to come !!.


** ROTFL: Rolling on the floor in laughter

Monday, March 16, 2009

India Shining Again ?????

Recieved an SMS some time back from none other than the BJP !!! Yes, this is the new-age communication channel wherein political parties (though only the BJP so far has latched on it) reach out to their voters through the cellphone. Anyways, the SMS informed the voter that LK Advani had unveiled 'BJP's grand IT vision for transforming India !!'. And what does it entail ?

- Rs 10K laptop to over 1 crore students
- Internet-enabled education in every school
- E-Banking for every Indian
- 1.2 crore new IT-enabled jobs in rural areas alone

Now these are some numbers !!! And using IT, the BJP is all set to transform India (if it comes to power that is). Forget even how they are going to set about achieving this grandiose vision, one can legitimately ask where this is indeed the solution to the problems that plague the country ??

- Does giving Rs 10K laptop to over 1 crore students really help when a sizable proportion of them have to drop out of school because either their fathers have committed suicide or they are sucked into the family occupation to support a growing family ?

- Of what use is Internet-enabled education in every school when we cannot even find enough teachers to teach at those schools (not because we lack quality teachers but because teaching itself has been made into a singularly unattractive career option)

- How can a person who has not even completed basic schooling ever get on the Internet banking website and enter his account number and password ??

But it seems nobody in our political class has thought of this. Of course, you will turn around and say that this is all pre-election mumbo-jumbo and come June, everything will be forgotten. But then if this is so, I cannot comprehend whom the BJP is trying to win over by these announcements. Surely not the educated urban elite, who do not get to benefit by this and who, of course, can see through them anyways !!. Or is it India's 60 odd crore rural population, whom this vision promises to transform ? But then, I can hazard a guess that a school-going child in any of the thousands of villages across India will be more relieved to find a good teacher waiting for him/her in school rather than a laptop and broadband connection !! And a farmer would also be happier to get credit with reasonable terms from his neighbourhood bank rather than an Internet banking kit.

Hope the BJP realizes this or this might end up as another 'India Shining' campaign that cost them so much last time around.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Jai Ho, India !!!!!!!!!!!!!

It has been a remarkable week. Possibly each day of the week has bought, atleast for me, an event or a piece of news that in itself is significant enough for this country. And to use the flavour of the season, and the so-called 'anthem of the world' (as per NDTV yesterday), one can only say 'Jai Ho, India !!!!!'. Or you can call it the 'Jai Ho Bulletin' !!!...:)

Monday, Feb 23: Thousands of Indians awoke, switched on their TV sets (atleast the lucky ones like me who had a holiday on account of Mahashivratri) , tuned into Star Movies (which otherwise hardly 5% of u ever watch) and watched with bated breath the 'coming-of-age' of Indian cinema on the world stage. And when our very own Mozart from Madras won not one but two golden statuttes (and very deservingly so), the Indian media and the country celebrated in their own inimitable style. And the success of Slumdog Millionare was also celebrated in no less measure. In fact, I am surprised that no one in the government has thought of conferring the Bharat Ratna on Danny Boyle for 'successfully bringing the real India on to the world stage' !!. But atleast for AR Rahman, this was truly a 'Jai Ho India !!!' moment.

Tuesday, Feb 24: In another stimulus package, the UPA govt reduced the excise duty and service tax by 2% each. The media made it appear as if most things in the world were going to be cheaper (as if a 2% reduction in my mobile bill seems much). While this in itself is not objectionable, what went unnoticed is that the total fiscal deficit (centre+state) has now touched a disastrous 10% of the GDP. No wonder that the country was downgraded (in a credit rating sense) to a level just above junk !! Which now means that Indian companies will have to bear even higher interest costs for overseas loans. And while I am no financial expert, I can only say 'Jai Ho, India !!!' to the profligate spending policies of the government that has bought us this far.

Wednesday, Feb 25: Watched an NDTV report saying that the preparation for the Commonwealth Games 2010 in New Delhi are way behind schedule and at this rate, there is a very serious possibility that we would not be capable of holding the games at all. Now imagine if that happens. I shudder to even think of the thought. A country that bid and won the right to host the games, had more than 4 years to get the facilities in order but still could not deliver. That will some national embarrasement which, ironically, a completely new establishment would have to face !!!!. I can imagine the Royal Queen (head of the Commonwealth) saying 'Jaeee Hoo.. India !!'.

Thursday, Feb 26: Exactly three months since the day the country witnessed its most audacious and deadly terrorist strikes, the chargesheet for the same was finally filed. Now all eyes would be on the trial itself and how swiftly our famous judicial machine can get around to announcing a verdict and, more importantly, how quickly the verdict would be executed. Preliminary estimates say the whole process can take about 6-8 months (if this seems long, consider that the 93 Mumbai blasts case took more than 12 years to reach a conclusion). So if we can see everything done and dusted by the end of this year, it will be some kind of improvement and maybe some of us can say 'Jai Ho, India !!!'.

Friday, Feb 27: This is a personal incident and possibly the most important in my eyes. As I was going to work in the morning, the train stopped for its regular halt at Vile Parle station. In about half a minute, I saw five people spitting across the tracks. While I was walking from Santacruz station to my office (about a 15 minute walk), I saw another six people spitting on the road as if it was their own big bathroom (oh sorry, they must be keeping their bathrooms spotlessly clean !!). And atleast one of those was dressed in a crisp shirt and matching trousers, probably having a white-collar job. So if anyone is under the impression that lack of civic sense is synonymous with poverty and illiteracy, think again !!. I was so disgusted at the time, and when I saw a billboard announcing Rahman's achievement, the thought of writing this post occured to me. To the lack of civic sense in my fellow countrymen, I can only sadly say.. 'Jai Ho, India !!'....

- Amit

PS: Talking of 'Jai Ho'.. I have just finishing downloading the movie that first made those two words famous. Remember that immortal final sequence of the Mahabharat ???... 'Jai Ho, Jai Ho, aisi sati ki Jai Ho !!!'.. yes, it was that unforgettable cult movie 'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron !'.. more about that movie, in my next post !!..

Monday, February 16, 2009

PARINDA: Reliving a classic !!!!

In every genre of movies, there are some that stand the test of time. In fact, there are some that are ahead of their times, thus growing on their audience as the years roll by. The underworld has always been one of Bollywood's favourite themes. In keeping with the truism that movies are a mirror of social life, the 'gangster-n-underworld' movie genre rose into prominence in the 1980s, about the same time when the word 'underworld' itself became part of Mumbai life (movies like 'Mujhe Jeene Do', 'Zanjeer', 'Dharmaatma' etc before that were either 'daaku'-movies or Godfather wannabes). Once the genre started growing in popularity, there followed a flood of movies depicting the goings-on in the underworld. But one of the first such movies made remains an all-time classic. In late 1989 came Vidhu Vinod Chopra and his brilliant take on life in the underworld.

About two decades on, Parinda remains a classic not just of its genre, but in the annals of the Hindi movie industry itself. And for people of my age, who first saw it while at school (never mind the A certificate then ;-), seeing it again invokes more than a standing applause for Chopra and his team. At our age now, we are able to better appreciate the finer nuances in the movie which would have escaped us before. Of course, I hardly need reiterate the storyline !!. But what stands out about the movie is its technical brilliance (even when compared to today's movies) and the performances. Some of the scenes remain imprinted on your mind forever. Everyone remembers the final scenes of the couple's horrible end on their wedding night (when I watched that a couple of days back, I could feel the lump in my throat**) and Kishen's subsequent revenge on Anna. But some other gems are the killing of Inspector Prakash at the famous Kabutar Khana and the subsequent killing of one his assailants Abdul (Suresh Oberoi) at that very spot. The other scene that I absolutely adored is the Jackie-Anil confrontation scene when Anil asks his elder brother about his activities. The reply given by Jackie ('Bas us din jo bhaaga to aaj tak bhaag raha hoon'.. and some other wonderful lines) touches you deep down somewhere. Also, bear in mind that throughout the movie there are no scenes of groups of people weilding AK-47s and killing each other by the dozen. Apart from the pivotal killings that are integral to the storyline, there is hardly any graphic violence in the film. But still, the power of the movie hits you hard. In fact, forget the violence, the movie has one of the finest music scores ever for a gangster movie. RD Burman gives us wonderful gems like 'Tumse Milke', 'Pyaar Ke Mod Pe' and 'Kitni Hai Pyaari Pyaari Dosti Hamari'. Truly remarkable music tracks for what is neither a love story or a musical !!!

Of course, what elevate Parinda to its height are the masterful performances. It would still rank as Jackie's finest performance (he received his only Filmfare award for this movie) and you have to see him in the scene mentioned above. Anil Kapoor was also amazing, conveying not just the vulnerability of a young man coming face-face with the turbulence his life undergoes in an instant, but also the ruthlessness of a man taking revenge of his friend's killing. While Madhuri was relegated to the backseat, she still managed to leave an impression, while of course looking a million bucks !!!. The movie also boasts of splending cameos, right from Anupam Kher and Suresh Oberoi all the way to Sameer Khakkar (more famous as the 'bevda' from Nukkad) as the one-legged Iqbal. And how I can forget Anna !!!.. It still beats me why Anna is not spoken of in the same breath as Gabbar and Mogambo when one considers the best of the anti-heroes of Indian cinema. In his first major role in Hindi cinema, Nana Patekar announced himself in no uncertain terms as a talent to reckon with. Inspite of his subsequent achievements, Nana and Anna are linked together not just as anagrams but as a gifted actor and his finest portryal.

Are you still reading this post ??? If so, drop it and get the DVD of this awesome movie on torrent right now (I got it from there..) !!! Download it and enjoy reliving the experience !!..


** One of the nuance I missed earlier was that the last line spoken by Anil before the couple is massacred is: 'Siddarth.. (refering to his would-be kid's name)... woh is duniya main shaanti laayega'.. Dreams of a peaceful life in one instant, the elimination of life itself in the very next !!!!!...