Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Book Review 2008

A new year has arrived and brought with it more time to read wonderful books and know more about the world. Wishing for all good things to come your way this year and after…

Here is a summary of all that I read in the last year. I warn you this will be long... :)
The following books have been reviewed here:
  1. The Secret - Rhonda Byrnes
  2. Into The Wild - Jon Krakauer
  3. A Flight of Pigeons - Ruskin Bond
  4. Juggling With Tigers - Neil Kelly
  5. P.S. I Love You - Cecelia Ahern
  6. Notes To Myself - Hugh Prather
  7. The Last Lecture - Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow
  8. It Happened In India - Kishore Biyani with Dipayann Baishya
  9. The Other 90% - Robert K. Cooper
  10. It's All A Matter Of Attitude - Justin Herald
  11. Screw It, Let's Do It - Richard Branson
  12. Ginger Soda Lemon Pop - Christina Daniels
  13. The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell
  14. Garden Of Earthly Delights - Indrajit Hazra
  15. Everything Happens For A Reason - Kavita Daswani
  16. If God Was A Banker - Ravi Subramanian
  17. The Notebook - Nicholas Sparks

The Secret
Rhonda Byrnes

This book was a suggestion from my friend Sagari whom I met while welcoming the year 2008 in Sakleshpur. I had seen it in stores and on shelves and had been interested in it but for some reason never picked it up until Sagari spoke about it. In fact she carries a copy of it with her at all times! And now so do I : )

The Secret is a phenomenal book for those who choose allow it to work wonders for them. If you read it just as a motivational book you might not be impressed. The language is simple and the entire book, which is quite expensive by itself, talks about the same thing throughout. But if you choose to read it as a revelation of some sort of tool or technique and try and relate it to the examples presented or to your real life, you will appreciate the book. I think it works best for people who already know the Secret subconsciously…and they will be awed by the book because at every step they’ll find themselves saying ‘I know what you’re talking about!’ A novice has to exert his mind to believe the idea and let it work…which is where the entire effort lies and sadly fails. Most of us find reason and doubt shroud our mind way too soon.

The Secret works for me. It always has and I realized it upon reading the book. So my prejudiced opinion is going to be that it is a great book. You have to read it to see how you feel about it. But do give it an earnest chance. That is all I can say.

Into The Wild
Jon Krakauer

This movie first and book later caught my attention after the song Hard Sun by Eddie Vedder started doing rounds of Youtube. When I saw the book on the shelf of Crossword, I realized it was by John Krakauer…a mountaineer I ad read about in Mariah Coffeey’s book Where The Mountain Casts Its Shadow. And I picked it up before watching the movie.

The book is part factual and part emotional. It definitely leaves you affected with the way Chris’s life progressed, the way his beliefs formed and deformed and the tragedy his life ended in. But the impact is much lesser than when you watch the movie as the movie shows you only Chris’s perspective while the book tells you a more complete story. In fact the book left me taking Chris for an estranged American teenager with an identity issue…someone who was trying to find out who he was and paid a heavy price in the process.

The book makes good reading though as the author switches between facts and Chris’s story. It also has instances from the author’s life where he recounts some of his mountaineering misadventures. The book has definitely been written with a strong inclination for Chris’s cause and that is quite evident in the writing. But for that he was, Chris leaves you affected at the end of the story. This one is recommended reading.

A Flight Of Pigeons
Ruskin Bond

I picked up this Ruskin Bond masterpiece while perusing shelves in Crossword. It is not a very long read, which is sad because the characters are so endearing you never want the story to end. The book is based on true events and gives insights into life after the First War of Independence. It focuses on how we are all the same under the surface irrespective of the religion we belong to and leaves one with a warm feeling at the end. It is a must read for those who enjoy good literature.

Juggling With Tigers
Neil Kelly

I had read Holy Cow by Sarah McDonald earlier and this book seemed like the precursor that came a decade earlier. Written by Neil Kelly, an ad guy who had the opportunity to work in India for a while, the book recounts his experience and presents a view of India and Indians from a Westerner’s eyes. The book is hilarious for most part and is an enjoyable read while it simultaneously shows us the mirror.

P. S. I Love You
Cecelia Ahern

I was browsing in Shankar’s at Rangashankara in a terribly upset mental condition while my eyes fell on this one. I liked the title. I liked the blurb (sometimes life is living one letter at a time). For the letter-writer in me, this was perfect invitation to buy the book. But I disliked the book. The story revolves around Holly who has lost her husband Gerry to Brain Tumour. But Gerry has spent his last few days writing letters (more like small notes) for Holly that will help her cope with his death…they have childhood and he knows it will be difficult. All these letters are signed ‘P. S. I Love You’ at the end and that’s how the book derives its name.

Many parts of the book fail to strike the emotional chord they are meant to. And at the end, after reading all the letters, Holly is still not ready to move on…made me feel like Gerry’s effort was wasted on someone who considered her own grief more important than her husband’s dying wish to see his widow happy and move on.

Anyway, maybe its just me. You might like the book. It’s an easy-chair/hammock read for a lazy sunny afternoon and can be picked up if you want a mushy read.

Notes To Myself
Hugh Prather

I have a sweet memory of this book. KC and I were treasure hunting in Blossom’s on Church Street and at the end of a two-hour exploration we had found enough jewels. At the cash desk, KC asked me if I had read Notes To Myself and when I said no, he immediately asked for a nice clean copy and gifted it to me.

And what a valuable gift it was! This is more of a collection of musings by Hugh Prather and many of them are radical…things we all wonder about sometimes but never dare to ask or discuss. It is a comfort to know someone else thinks about them too. And it is a great book to carry around to Sunday breakfast and start a discussion based on any page you take…you will always find something to think about. Thanks KC…I treasure this one.

The Last Lecture
Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

Many authors in the past have tried to delve into this question – does staring death in the face alter the way one lives and how? Be it through fact vis-à-vis Tuesdays With Morrie or fiction vis-à-vis Veronica Decides To Die, authors have tried to offer their perspectives on this question. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor who died of Pancreatic Cancer on the 25th of July 2008, falls in the same category.

The book is a handy guide to getting your priorities right in life. But more than that, it is about making your dreams come true and helping others to do the same. It also talks about how changing the way you react to certain situations can sometimes change a lot of things, the foremost example of this fact being how Randy handled his terminal illness. In fact the blurb of the book quotes Randy as saying, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt. Just how we play the hand”. And that is really the essence of the book and Randy’s life.

The language of the book is plain for most part, which is not a surprise given the fact that it has been written not by a professional writer but by a well-meaning professor who just wanted to give a message to the world and most of all to his children. The book is sprinkled with small life lessons that we all can pick up, about inter-personal interactions, parenting, love etc. The quote that stands out through the book is, “Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something”. This and many such stark realizations delivered by a dying man so that we don’t have to wait for our final moments to discover the same make The Last Lecture essential reading for all.

It Happened In India
Kishore Biyani with Dipayann Baishya

The story of Future Group narrated by the creator of the phenomenon himself, ably assisted by people who helped him or saw him work his way up. Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, we cannot ignore the phenomena that Pantaloons or Big Bazar have been. And this book uncovers what it took to build Future Group. In addition, it is a stark insight into the psychology of the Indian consumer and this book cannot be ignored by anyone who getting into the hot waters of entrepreneurship and will deal with the Indian consumer. If one is able to overlook the language and format of the book, this book is a good business read.

The Other 90%
Robert K. Cooper

This was part of one of the mass buys at Crossword at a point when I needed motivation in life. And did it provide that well! The book talks about uncovering your hidden potential as most of us use only about 10% of our vast potential. It offers philosophical insights into life propped by practical suggestions that we can all implement. The author liberally uses personal stories and lessons from his life and builds them into lesson for all. The book is neatly divided into four sections and does not go all over the place. It is a structured, practical but lengthy read for anyone who is willing to do more in life…who is willing to really live.

It’s All A Matter Of Attitude
Justin Herald

This is more of a pocket book by a very successful entrepreneur. It is a collection of quotations from T-shirts that his company manufactures, all of them related to attitude and each is accompanied by Justin’s views on the quote in short. Some of these quotes can be a great kick and can immediately change the way you look at things. Very enjoyable and a quick-read.

Screw It, Let’s Do It
Sir Richard Branson

This book too is focussed on the attitude one needs to have in life and has personal instances from Sir Richard Branson’s life. He might seem to be a rash maverick but upon reading the book one realizes he is quite different than his image. It is a very motivational book and is equally light although it is sprinkled with business and life lessons. Recommended for sure.

Ginger Soda, Lemon Pop
Christina Daniels

I picked this book up because the author and I had been part of the same travelling group for one trip. I read in the newspaper later that her book was being published and was super-happy for her. This book adorns my shelf more as a reminder that dreams are achievable than a good book. It is a symbol for me and means a lot.

The book has been written from the perspective of a child and is in first person narration. The events understandably centre around children and the dilemma they face in interpreting the world. But the thoughts echoed at the end of each chapter are universal and very stark…some of them left me dazed for a while. It is a great book that takes little effort to read as the language is that of a child. But it will leave you thinking and wondering for sure.

The Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell

Honestly speaking I did not understand this book as a whole. I had read Gladwell’s Blink earlier and that is a much better work…in fact it is great. But throughout Tipping Point I found myself looking for a common thread to relate the matter to…and I did not find one. I can summarize Blink’s underlying theory in one or two statements but not so with Tipping Point. Even if I do not compare with Blink, I have trouble remembering the most important take-away from this book.

But in parts, in chapters this book gives you quite a few insights about social epidemics and how to make phenomena tip. It takes practical examples and derives conclusions systematically from them. And in those parts you learn quite a bit. So although this one is not that promising a read, you can use your discretion to pick it up.

Garden Of Earthly Delights
Indrajit Hazra

This book was recommended to me by a good friend and I picked up a hardcover of it for just INR 99 in the Landmark sale! (I love Landmark!!) . The book focuses on just two characters Manik and Hiren and chapters run alternately with each of their names and sketch their apparently unconnected lives. It is only in the last two chapters that the common thread hits you and the entire picture becomes clear…and it hits you hard.

The book talks about how being alone changes you as a person and is dark literature for most part. I personally did not like Hazra’s style too much in that the analogies he uses disagree with me as a writer. But it’s the story, the fear of loneliness most of us have, the subtle madness woven into the story, the arson….it all definitely keeps you engaged.

Everything Happens For A Reason
Kavita Daswani

I took this book from my dearest Pushpa (she is the sweetest) and read it on the way home for vacation. It is a perfect read for those kind of times – vacations, easy reading. And it reads fast too…I could finish the book in about 5 hours of continuous reading. The story is delightful and it makes you want to believe in goodness in life. The central character Priya is very endearing and the story progresses like a fairy tale making you smile at many points and choke with a tear at others. All the girls will surely love this one!

If God Was A Banker
Ravi Subramanian

This book was my prize in the Toastmasters Area Level Humorous Speaking Contest. I had heard the name and it had always sounded interesting, so I was quite happy to receive the book. But what a disappointment it turned out to be! The story is meant to give you an insight of the Investment Banking division as seen by an insider. But it reads like the plot of a Bollywood Masala Movie (it is probably meant to be one) and a lot of unnecessary sleaze has been knitted into the story. It becomes very predictable at many points and towards the end I was dragging on with the reading only because I had come so far. I would not recommend this one.

The Notebook
Nicholas Sparks

The Notebook is my best friend Sneha’s birthday present to me. She loved it. The world loved it. I just about liked it and somehow I am feeling guilty about it.

I don’t know why I could not connect to the story. I have seen ‘U, Me aur Hum’ which is loosely based on this book and I thought the story was nice. But I just did not connect to this book. It just did not evoke the right emotions. It is a sweet story…a man trying to hold on to the last moments of togetherness with his wife who has Alzheimer’s. It is even heart-breaking in concept. But I just did not feel it. I wouldn’t say anything about the book because maybe I am not getting it right and would leave it to you to read it and judge.

So that was all the reading in the last year. I wonder how people manage to read 50 books or more in a year. I managed a measly 17. Maybe I can try the 50 Book challenge this year and experience how it is done first hand. Please drop in any recommendations in the comments…would be glad to read what you have read…

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Lot Like Love

The unsaid…that fragile form of thought. For most part, made of glass – destructive at times, decorative at others. Nevertheless, not something that can escape notice. It calls for attention louder than what was really said and heard… like how a piece of art in glass reflects sunlight from an obscure corner of the room and catches your eye even from that location. It is the more important part of the conversation – the ripe silence – that is hard to not read into and guess what was implied, what possibility lay ahead…

The unsaid can be hurtful things that the eyes convey while the lips have stopped saying long ago what they set out to say…like the scattered pieces of broken glass that make you bleed, like the mirror that shows you who you truly are when it comes as the unsaid and seen through another’s eyes.

But more often than not the unsaid is the things that bring beauty to your life like glass artefacts that decorate tastefully done homes.

It is a fragile vase. It can hold in it, flowers that can light up the day.

The unsaid is like those artfully crafted bottles of perfume. It is elegant and graceful. It holds a connoisseur’s dream inside. The unsaid can contain fragrance that would linger long after had it been said.

It is a glass windowpane. You can see right through it yet it prevents you from touching what is on the other side. You have to open the window sometimes…you have to say it. It is the vision that the unsaid brings upon parting the curtains that can make life beautiful. The window from where sunlight streams through into life…

It can be the glass prism that holds within itself the power to transform this ray of sunlight into colours. It takes just one unsaid potent thought like that and one beam of hope to fill someone’s life with colours.

The unsaid is a beautiful chandelier hanging from the ceiling…intricate in design, with so many angles to it, so many aspects. It holds all the light in the world within it and becomes awe-inspiring when lit. It is there for the people to see and to derive light from. It can spread light in life when it glows.

In this way of being a chandelier and in all the ways above, the unsaid is a lot like love… fragile and hurtful sometimes but mostly joyous, fragrant, colourful and the source of light.

In life, most things unsaid and very much the things that matter relate to love. What needs to be said remains unsaid with all its possibilities while we all make small talk with the ones we love.

And tonight as we make do with the artificial fluorescence of harsh white light in life, the beautiful, complex and the unsaid hangs in the room waiting to be lit and to illuminate our lives…like love… a lot like love.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hello Stranger...

He looked familiar.
He looked different…from the lot.
He looked like us.

He walked into the floor today and sat at the desk closest to the entrance…a place that I had occupied for the past two weeks. I had never seen him before. We exchanged polite smiles and I continued with my work while he started to get things in place himself. Upon finishing two calls he decided to get introduced and spoke out his name. I spoke my name out in return…he glanced at my colleague and confirmed if we were from India.

A smile appeared on his face and he proceeded to say in clear Hindi – “Then we can talk in Hindi as well”

Hello Stranger…

He is Asian and has the best of two worlds that should have been one…he has an Indian mother and a Pakistani father. We spoke for quite some time and he did not seem to be a stranger anymore. We spoke of our countries, of our customs and rituals – he got married recently, and there was a blatant commonality to it all. We spoke in a common language and although I haven’t felt alienated at all in Slovakia so far, that sound loaded with undertones of Urdu and a Punjabi accent was music to the ears. It brought a comforting familiarity in a strange land.

Three seas and a continent away from our homelands we were just two human beings who had found something in common and it was not a piece of land to fight over. He was stranger in a strange land who turned out to be a friend.

We are all friends if we look inside our hearts. It is ok to draw borders on the land. But when we start drawing them on our hearts we rob ourselves of the joy that can come from interacting with beautiful people. On an ordinary day, two ordinary people from across the border are just that…two people.

We are one world after all. It is time we acknowledged the fact and opened our minds…opened our hearts…to friends…in the guise of strangers.

It is time to say Hello to Strangers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Roots & Wings

In these times of changing family structure and work culture, the tenets of parenting need a fresh look too. From assuming that we know the right way of parenting as soon as we become parents to understanding that we might need to look at our parenting style anew, there is a change in perspective that we all should embrace. And to help bring this change forth easily is a book that will go a long way in helping new-age parents be effective at what they do.

The book is 'Roots And Wings' by the author Raksha Bharadia. Raksha already has the book 'Me: A handbook for life' under her belt and is the co-author of 'Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul'. She has contributed features for Times of India, Femina, Gurlz and Life Positive. In addition to writing, she indulges in Kathak and is learning the art at present. She also works with a few NGOs in Ahmedabad and conducts parenting workshops too. She writes at . Do take time to go through her writings.

From the blurb of Roots And Wings:

As parents, our dreams for our children are noble. We do our best, even stretch beyond the available resources—time, efforts, finances—to provide an environment that would facilitate their optimal development. Yet more often than not we find ourselves at loggerheads; frustrated, exhausted and uncertain of the rightness and efficacy of our parental efforts and skeptical of the potential of our children. We find them struggling with low self-esteem, loneliness, boredom, obesity; suffering from stress, burn-out, depression. Kids do not come with a manual and the jargon of work on parenting is often conflicting and polarised.

Roots and Wings—A Handbook for Parents addresses parenting conflicts and dilemmas; how to manage the thin line between freedom and structure, space and control, being a mentor and a friend, our expectations of the child versus his native endowments. This book is about giving our children roots, so that they can stand firm; and wings, so that they may soar and achieve their potential.

With in-depth research and interviews with personalities such as Kumar Mangalam Birla, Jaya Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Jogen Chowdhary, Mrinal Sen, Hemant Trivedi, Kiran Bedi, Javed Akhtar and Sanjeev Kapoor, the book shows you ways in which you can help your children along the long and winding road of discovery—within and without, of the self and of the world at large.

It is time we came out of presumptions that good parenting is something we are naturally endowed with and that is it ok to read books about parenting. It is after all in good interests of our children. Pick up a copy of this book today to take that first step towards understanding parenting better and be the parents our children will be proud of. Sometimes, it has to work the other way round too.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Love Tag

I should be blogging about Bratislava if I am blogging at all. But here I am…tagged…and complying. Thanks for tagging me Philip. I’ll use the benefit of doubt and take the reason for being tagged as a compliment. So here goes my love tag...

RULE #1 People who have been tagged must write their answers on their blogs and replace any question that they dislike with a new question formulated by themselves.

RULE #2 Tag 6 people to do this quiz and those who are tagged cannot refuse. These people must state who they were tagged by and cannot tag the person whom they were tagged by. Continue this game by sending it to other people.

1. If your lover betrayed you what would your reaction be?

I would be heart-broken but I would leave it at that. If he betrayed me it would mean my love wasn’t strong enough to hold him back. I would probably learn to love better.

2. What’s it that you see in an ideal partner?

Everything else apart, I see see him as a person who brings a smile to my face and makes me close my eyes and say a prayer of gratitude ever so often because he is a part of my life...the rest will fall in place.

3. What, according to you, is the perfect date?

One where you know you are creating a memory even before it is over.

4. Would you like to have children soon enough? Or would you wait till your mid-thirties for the first child?

I think having children is a matter of being mentally prepared. When I feel ready to welcome even more joy in life is when I would like to have children, whenever that may be.

5. Will you fall in love with your best friend?

No. Best friends know you too well and from too different an angle for it to be comfortable looking at it any other way.

6. Which is more blessed: loving someone or being loved by someone?

Being loved by someone. It is a gift from above - the feeling of being loved.

7. How long do you intend to wait for someone you love?

If I am able to hold fort, emotionally and circumstantially, I would like to wait for as long as it takes.

8. If the person you secretly like is attached, what will you do?

'Like' is too frivolous a word. If its just 'Like', I think I'd be able to convince my heart to let go.

9. What do you think are the foundation stones of a good relationship?

Trust, first and foremost. And then respect.

10. What according to you is the most beautiful thing about relationships or marriage?

Having someone to come home to.

11. Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

At another one of life's bends...walking along with the one I love, in peace, in contentment, in joy...anticipating together what's around the's next surprise.

12. What’s your fear?

Not being able to tell the ones I love that I love them and exactly how much.

13. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is?

Humourous to an extent and very sensible.

14. Would you rather be single and rich or married and poor?

A person who has someone to love and who is loved back in return is rich enough. I would rather be married and have a rich life than be rich in concept.

15. If you fall in love with two people simultaneously who will you pick?

When it comes to that I'd rely on my heart to give me the right answer. And I am sure my heart would know whom to pick. There would surely be some sign from the universe.

16. Would you give all in a relationship?

Always. What you give is what you get. You give all and you get nothing less in return. If your returns are lesser, the equation is wrong somewhere and the variables need to be changed.

17. Would you forgive and forget someone no matter how horrible a thing he has done?

Yes. Life is too short and too beautiful for such things to be part of it. I wouldn't let horrible acts spoil the goodness in my life. Because they are just acts after all. They are not bigger than the person committing them. And my policy is - either remember the good times or don't remember at all.

18. Do you prefer being single or in a relationship?

In a relationship.

19. Your all time favourite song. Only ONE. And why?

In this context, What About Now by Chris Daughtry. Because love will find me :)

The baton of the tag is now being handed to:

Monday, November 24, 2008

No Rollbacks In Life

“A statement issued in different tones sends out different meanings. In order to get out the correct ideas ensure you have the right tone – tune your tone.”

KC is a philosopher. It does not matter that he is not an eminent philosopher. He will be soon. And those are the people who do not have the sole ownership over their knowledge. It is meant for dissemination. So I have taken the liberty to quote him…also because I think Tune Your Tone is a catchy slogan to live one’s life by.

KC’s Good Morning Message today made me ponder on some recent incidents and their ramifications. It reiterated the fact that there is no such thing as being too careful before you speak or act…like the proverbial bow from the arrow, the word or the act cannot be undone.

And I was left wishing, life would have so much simpler had it been like a Database. Pardon me if my work is percolating into my writing but my head is quite dazed right now…

If life were a Database, if you said or did something wrong, you could always issue a ROLLBACK statement that very moment before there was a COMMIT to memory and it would all be gone.

Or you could always devise a datafix to replace what had been committed to the memory of the listener or observer. And then you could just UPDATE it all. The person would never know or remember it happened.

Everyone could have periodic PURGE programs that would purge unnecessary things like old emotional baggage, grudges, regrets of the past and unpleasant memories. We would all have Beautiful Minds without having to bring them back from the dead like John Nash’s.

But as Ben, the protagonist, says in the movie Cashback – You can speed it up, you can slow it down, you can even freeze a moment; but you can’t rewind time; you can’t undo what is done…Sharon had seen the wrong second of a two-second story. But she wasn’t listening.

In life, you can never go back to that one moment that became your Butterfly and caused that Chaotic tornado…wrecked it all…a good friendship, your perfect relationship, a lovely conversation, a moment, a lifetime…anything, everything.

You can regret it, you can relive it…you cannot reverse it.

What is committed to one’s memory once is irreversible. You have got to live with corrupted data for life. The human brain has no purges. It has an amazing amount of extendible memory. It will retain that corrupt data and reconciliation will become close to impossible…

Because there are no ROLLBACKs in life…

Maybe there are archives…and they are the only hope.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Best Things In Life Are Free...Like Love

It’s A Wonderful Life…

This is a 1946 classic starring James Stewart and Donna Reed in the roles of George Bailey and his wife Mary, around the both of whom the story revolves. It is one of the most endearing films I have seen to date…it warms you up to the core.

What I want to talk about today is what the character of Mary in the film embodies.

Mary likes the protagonist George since childhood and once whispers in his defective left ear “George Bailey, I will love you to the day I die”…a promise she keeps upon growing up to be a beautiful young lady. She loves George despite his part handicap. She stands by him in the darkest of times and maintains the most cheerful demeanour. She makes a home out of a run-down house and raises a family lovingly there. Mary is the epitome of the now-forgotten idea called Unconditional Love.

Most people do not believe in this idea now. Today there is a motive and agenda behind every action. Things done without reason and gain are considered a waste of precious time.

So when someone loves you unconditionally, wants to see you happy and smiling, wants to see you comfortable, prays that you find joy in life, watches out for you on sleepless nights, you question it with a “Why?” You do not see a reason. Sometimes there are no reasons. Sometimes the reason is as simple as love. At the cost of inconveniencing oneself, sometimes the reason is just love.

Unconditional love is never understood. It is not appreciated. A mother’s love…most people undervalue and underestimate it. It is only when it is gone that it is missed. We need to lose something to value it better.

Love needs to be expensive…

Love needs to come with a price tag. It needs to be the trophy acquired after winning a contest, upon working hard to earn it, upon living up to the standards set for it. Somewhere I think such a conceptualization of love helps you maintain your sense of self-worth and self-esteem. As if you were worth something just because you had love that was so difficult to achieve.

If you don’t love yourself it becomes even more difficult to receive love…more so unconditional love. Standing examples are the characters of Dev or Maya from the movie Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. Their entire problem in life was that they were unhappy with their own selves. And they kept finding faults with the ones who loved them the most and excuses to believe that no one loved them.

Unconditional love makes it more difficult because such people tend to look at it as a favour and not as a gift. They can almost become angry that someone loves them so much for no reason. They are convinced that they do not deserve it.

Love is not a trophy…

Love is a gift from above. It is blessing. It goes to the special and chosen ones. It is to be received with closed eyes and open arms.

But when you receive unconditional love you shun it…you find reasons to drive unconditional love away…it was too easy…it was too available…it was free…

Like most other things that are free, you think it must not be the best in quality. You think it must have just been lying around and needed to be discarded. You refuse to accept it because it does nothing to your status and ego. So you throw away the rarest gift life can bring your way.

Everyone wants a Mary but Mary’s George today will drive her away even if she said “I’ll love you to the day I die” in his right ear out loud. Unconditional love has no value.

And the ones who stand like tall Sunflowers offering this glimmer have no option but to wilt slowly as the ones they love block the sunshine with their bare hands.

If it is free, it is probably there for all to have and receive and there is nothing special about it.

Sadly it does not work that way for love…the best love is not expensive...the best love is free.

Monday, October 20, 2008

With A Little Help From My Friends

The envelope is frayed at the edges. But the contents are intact – a letter, a page from the college magazine of Thapar Institute, and a paper with the lyrics of a song…With A Little Help From My Friends.

From one 15-year old to another, the song came signifying the truth of their lives. It is always with a little help from our friends that we have gotten by…

The one who took the pain to select not one but two beautiful cards (one of them HAD to be a Hallmark card…she has always been the Hallmark girl…I am the Archies fan) along with a gift that I couldn’t have loved better, the gift of books, and send it a whole 3 days in advance.

The one who asked an unsuspecting me what my favourite quote was and designed a special magic mug for me…to remind me constantly of the magic of our friendship.

The one who lit up midnight with a birthday wish sung in her lovely voice, like every year…year after year.

The one who self-confessedly forgets most things but remembered to wish me at the start of my day.

The one who wished for things to work out well…that wish, that hope and the reassurance that came along with believing in those words were the essence of the what a birthday is…as you looked back on the years of existence you realized you wouldn’t have had it any other way but you wondered if you would have the privilege of saying the same thing some years down the line…suddenly you knew you would…because it wasn’t your sole wish.

The early-to-bed one who hits the sack at 10 PM but stayed up till midnight to send wishes my way.

The one whose call was a heart-warming assurance that not much has changed between us although so much has…after all the ones who care for each other care regardless of what they call each other.

The ones who called through the day…the warm comfort that came with the calls knowing that they hadn’t forgotten and maybe you meant more than you thought. The ones who tried over and over until they got through to you. The ones who fished out your lost phone number just to be unable to reach you. Yet a message meant just as much…they were thinking about you.

The ones who kept promises at the cost of time, crossed the town to get to places they thought you’d love, brought you your favourite flowers in boisterous colours so the cheer crossed over into the next day, brought friends along so it was the more the merrier, took so much care of you that you wondered if you had known these people only for so long…some ties continue from the past birth. The ones who gave you the gift of their time and company.

The ones you missed even as you had a good time. The ones you would have liked to see there. The ones who always fill the space, either with their presence or with their thoughts.
The ones who kept a midnight snack ready for you as you put your feet up while staying over for the night and as you chatted late into the night about common interests, things that matter…sometimes about things that don’t matter…what mattered all the while was the camaraderie.

As the first day of a new age closes, one only feels gratitude and joy, affection, aspirations for the future…after all, our aspirations are our possibilities.

And they will be achieved…with a little help from my friends…because…

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tears In Heaven

I was a thought. In the mind of a young man. In his heart, he always knew the thought would materialize one day…because he had already chosen a name for it. And sure enough it did…the universe brought him his thought…it was called Anupama.
I turn 24 tonight at midnight. And as I face the mirror tonight, to accuse, to defend and to finally judge the figure that stands in front of me, there will be evidence presented of what was won and what was lost to aid the judgement. And the balance might not tip in favour of a clean chit. That remains my greatest apprehension as I enter the courtroom of life tonight.
For tomorrow, a new year, a new age and a new life will begin. And tonight it will be decided if this form will enter that life scot-free to commit more crimes or if this form will go to the gallows and tomorrow will be rebirth.
If there is conviction, there will have to be correction – in the way one speaks, thinks and lives. Fewer words, saner thoughts, a more careful treading of the path of life…but is that living at all.
In fear…
Of getting hurt…
Of being misunderstood…
Of opening up to the wrong people…
That is a cell of a life from where there is no redemption even if one digs for eternity. It is the mind that needs to be opened for escaping from this prison. It entails taking risks – with thoughts, with people, with life. It entails being true to oneself before anyone else lest the regrets of a lifetime suffocate you in the enclosure one has built for oneself. It entails getting out of all sorts of comfort zones, having the courage to say “I was wrong. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way” and moving on with the lesson. What it really entails is choosing between the safe cocoon of a manicured and perfect life and the wild world.
I would choose the wild world any day of the week and twice on a Sunday.
Because that is what the young man’s thought was. It was a child of fearlessness and it was brought up to be that way. To betray its purpose is to kill the thought. It is to bring the young man tears in heaven.
People are there to love and to be loved.
They hurt and get hurt, but the heart was given the power to feel the pain because it was a very real possibility.
Words are there to be said (as a friend told me yesterday – its what you don’t say that REALLY gets you in trouble)
They lead to misunderstandings, but they are there in turn to be cleared, not to eclipse relationships.
Life is there to be lived, not waited upon for it to get better.
It goes awry sometimes, but that’s where the adventure is.
The choice is ours to choose between the adventure and the glass cabin that we make life out to be, safe and watching from the distance. The real thing is to get in the game.
I am the adventurer…and I am here to live.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Ring Of Life

The lazy December Sun removed the black coverlet it slept under and as it yawned, the first rays of sunshine peeped into Firozabad and hesitated to announce the arrival of the day. It was a new day in the December of 1985.

These were also the sunrays of hope for two families in Firozabad – Isha brought joy to Mr. And Mrs. Sinha, then childless for 11 years; Asha brought another bread earner to a five-member family of Bangle makers. And both began their journey towards their destiny…

Isha started growing up with the entire household dancing attendance upon her at every instant. Asha was another burden on a family already struggling to make the ends meet. There was no food in the house on most days and not enough clothes for the baby. So, there she was – a hungry, naked baby – whose only purpose was to grow up and get to work.

As a toddler, Isha disliked milk and would make every attempt to avoid that glass of milk every night. Soon she discovered a way that saved her the trouble of downing that liquid and yet remain the apple of everyone’s eyes. On the pretext of having milk in the garden, she would take the glass and empty it the nearest rose bush. Somewhere, not very far, a hungry wallowing Asha would have just cried herself to sleep.

Soon, it was time for Isha to join Kindergarten. She liked school, they taught such fun things there – poems, games, craft and colouring…she loved colours. Asha had grown up too by this time…watching her two sisters join the glass coils together in the flame of Kerosene lamps to form bangles and her mother, colouring and polishing the bangles. She would watch her mother for hours…Oh! How she loved the colours!

When she joined Primary School, Isha turned out to be a very bright and active student. She would score well on all the exams. In addition, she started training to be an athlete. She liked to run…she liked that swiftness. She would run so fast she felt like she would start flying any instant. In no time, her coach took her to an inter-school athletics meet and she won the first prize in the 100 metres race. The Chief Guest awarded her with a Gold Medal strung in a Blue Ribbon, she was showing it off to everyone the rest of the day.

That day was also the day when Asha made Bangles out of one whole glass coil all by herself – 312 of them. She had aligned them, joined them, painted them Blue and then polished them all by herself, sitting in the same crouched position for 2 days. She was fast, her mother had told her. Today, Asha had fulfilled her purpose…the family would get an additional Rs. 3 for the glass coil that Asha had completed. She was showing off the bunch of bangles to her siblings the whole day.

Isha was a sturdy child and remained so while she was growing up. But she would get a bad bout of cough and cold every time the season changed. Her mother would prepare some Kaadha* for her and she would be alright in 2-3 days. Asha would keep coughing too…now and then…but nobody ever noticed. The cough would subside by itself and Asha would get back to work.

Asha’s cough got worse and often she would be in bed for 3-4 days away from the Kerosene lamp and the bangles. She would feel better soon and get back to work. The bangles continued to be made and sent to Bangle Sellers in the City Market. She could not afford to be away from work for too long.

Even as Isha was about to graduate from college, her parents were receiving alliances from prospective grooms, all asking for their beautiful and talented daughter’s hand in marriage. One of the alliances, which came through family friends, was from an Engineer settled in Canada. Isha’s parents thought it would be a good match for their daughter and invited the boy’s family over to meet Isha. The rendezvous went on till late in the evening at the end of which the alliance was finalized. The marriage was to take place within a month as the groom was flying to India for a very short period. That night, Isha went to bed blushing deeply and dreaming of life in Canada.

Asha was on a bed in the Government Hospital that night. She had coughed up blood that afternoon while working. She had been coughing very violently and almost constantly of late. The doctor asked her mother some questions, drew a blood sample from her left arm and returned some time later to announce that Asha was suffering from Tuberculosis. Asha sobbed herself to sleep dreaming scary dreams.

On one hand, preparations for Isha’s marriage were in full swing; on the other, Asha had been in the hospital for almost 3 weeks then. The shopping for the marriage was almost complete with only accessories remaining to be bought. So, Isha called up 2 of her college friends to accompany her. They arrived in the City Market to buy fancy footwear, trinkets and bangles to match her ensemble. They went to the Bangle Store just before leaving and started to look around.

Isha was to wear a Blue coloured Sari for the reception and she picked up a dozen Blue-coloured bangles. She felt the glass to check if they were strong enough. In a hospital room, a grim doctor felt Asha’s dropping pulse. Isha held them against the light to see if the colour was consistent…the blue sunrays filtered through the glass and fell on Isha’s face. The doctor checked Asha’s eyes but they were dull, devoid of all light. As Isha was checking the bangles for size, she heard the musical jingle of the bangles. The doctor heard Asha’s laboured breathing. The bangles were perfect! Isha decided to buy the blue-bangles. As she handed the bangles to the shopkeeper, one of them hit the counter and broke into pieces. Asha stopped breathing. Isha picked up another similar bangle, paid for the bangles and walked off. Meanwhile, another girl, another bread earner was born somewhere in Firozabad who would make more bangles.

They were two children, born at the same moment with the same stars in their horoscope…one died uncared for in a Hospital bed; the other followed her destiny to Canada. They were two children, connected by more than their stars, connected by a fragile glass ring…the ring of life.

*Kaadha: A medicinal preparation of herbs that relieves cough

Approximately 20,000 children work in the glassmaking and bangle-making business in Firozabad. Children as young as five work for eight hours or more in the dark rooms of their homes. Girls are usually involved in the first step of the process called “aligning”. They use kerosene or gas to apply heat to the ends of the bangles, staring into the small flames for hours and breathing in the gas fumes. The boys work mostly on the next step of the process, called “joining”—using gas or heat to complete the round shape. They, too, spend hours sitting in crouched positions, working with flames and breathing in unhealthy air. Together, the families turn the coils into bunches of bangles. Each coil makes 312 bangles for which a family earns 2.25 rupees—just five US cents—for aligning and joining.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Carnival of Rust

“Everyone is not as strong as you are, Anu.”

My best friend said this to me two years ago when I was at a very low point in life. At the time, it had felt like a slap in the face from the tone he had assumed. It had felt as if he were trying to imply that being strong was bad. Two years later, I realize it is.

It is not the weak ones that people hurt. They think a million times before doing unfavourable things to these people because they are not sure how it will be received and in the heart of hearts none of us wants to be responsible for anyone else’s misery. So the softies, the whiners, the cry-babies always have it easier.

It is the strong ones that bear the brunt. Primarily because I think they have the ability to bear the pain. Have you ever seen a donkey being used to haul tree trunks? That kind of work is always reserved for the elephants…because only they can handle it. It is a fair distribution of load based on who can take how much.

So all the eccentrics and the eccentricities of life fall in the share of the strong ones. Because only they can handle it. They have the ability to make a sacrifice and live with it. They also have the ability to speak for themselves at the risk of appearing arrogant & bull-headed and live with that too. They have the ability to go through a great deal of pain before it starts to break their spirit and hence they get all the dirt life can throw. It is almost a punishment for being strong.

“I have known you as very strong, lady”.

When these words were uttered to me, the hope was that my regression to life as I had known it earlier will be handled well. After all, I was strong. So, because one is strong, people will say the nastiest things and know that you will just buy band-aid for your heart and carry on, they will make living hell out of your life and hope that you will stick around because your strength of material is high, or they will just walk out on you and not even look back because they are certain that you will survive even that. You are, after all, strong.

Sometimes we call such people the iron men, the iron women. The ones whose spirits are unbreakable. The ones who believe in the eternal goodness of life and people even after meeting embodiments of exceptions. The ones whose will is so strong that life has to engage in a duel to see who breaks first. It is not that life does not pull them down. But they never stay there. They resurface with vengeance. And the combat continues…

I perceive only one problem with being made of iron. The short time when life does overwhelm you and you are down in the dumps is the time when tears flow freely. They cleanse the soul…but they they are not very good for the iron spirit…you see water and iron have never had a good relationship. And that is when the spirit starts to rust. At the edges, around the corners, sometimes at the core…it starts to eat in and make you weak. So that when life makes the next assault you are less capable of bearing it.

Even so, I refuse to let life take me down. I know one day it will be ashes to ashes, dust to dust…rust to rust. But before that happens, I will take this iron spirit, the foremost element of fabrication used to build from weapons to the wheels that keep this world turning, and fabricate what it takes to make a carnival out of my life.

I will make a merry-go-round and spin my dreams on it. I will make a giant wheel for my life…going up and down. I will make a roller coaster for what life has been so far and get dizzy riding the memories…

And even when they are rusting, I will ensure I have the ride of a lifetime everytime I climb any one of those. Even if I die fighting life for getting what I rightfully deserve, I will die having fun. In fact, after one of my favourite song from my favourite band, I think I will call my life...the Carnival of Rust.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Triple Treat

Prologue: We had to work on one of the weekends last month for a production run and were entitled to two days of compensatory off for the same. I decided to take this compensatory off yesterday and today.

I saw three movies back to back yesterday and had one of the most fun days of my life! I have never enjoyed going to the movies better…

The three chosen ones were Kung-Fu Panda, A Wednesday and Rock On. And here are my thoughts…

Kung-Fu Panda: ****

This is an animation film that I saw a tad late. It had been recommended by quite a few friends and yesterday I decided to honour those recommendations. And I wasn’t disappointed at all.

The film is set in China and revolves around the search for a Dragon Warrior. Po, the Panda is chosen by a wise old Kung Fu master by the name of Uguay but Po is everything a Kung-Fu warrior is not – fat, clumsy, sloppy and gluttonous. But he eventually manages to get trained in Kung-Fu and set out to fulfill his destiny as a dragon warrior. The key message of the movie is delivered through a Dragon Scroll – to be read only by the Dragon Warrior, but which turns out to be blank…there is no secret ingredient that makes any of us special except for the belief that we are special. I loved the way that was delivered.

The animation in the movie is good (as is the case with most animated movies from the West) and the parts involving the super-fast Kung-Fu moves have been done especially well. I just think that the protagonist Po could have been much cuter…he wasn’t Panda-level cute. I liked Uguay the turtle much better…old, wise and toothless J . He is who you need to listen to for all the gyaan that the film has to offer.

All in all, a fun movie with a nice story and a good message delivered effectively. Definitely recommended (for the late-lateefs like me).

A Wednesday: *****

I am not going to give out any parts of the movie save for the following facts:
  1. The movie is just 1 and ½ hours long.
  2. It is a must-watch for the stalwarts Naseeruddin Shah and Anupama Kher, both delivering delightful performances as always.
  3. Jimmy Shergill’s performance in this movie is much better than most of his others. Definitely worth watching out for.
  4. There will hardly be any point during the movie when you’ll not be at the edge of your seat in anticipation. Fast-paced…does not waste your time.
There are certain parts that dampen the overall movie a little like VJ Gaurav’s (over)acting and the oh-I-wish-I-could level technology that the Mumbai Police has been shown to use (I just refuse to believe that they will ever learn to operate the kind of equipment shown in the movie), but try and overlook that. It does not come in the way at all.

In a nutshell, go watch it. You will not regret it.

Rock On: *****

Yesterday was the second time I saw Rock On and loved it all over again! A movie about dreams, passions and living life to the fullest. A movie about music (and hence very close to my heart…I was ogling at the snazzy guitars and the funky rockstar gear half the time…this one totally pampers the rockstar in you). A movie about pursuing what you start and seeing it to the finish…about the consequences of having regrets. But on a higher level and from an angle I discovered yesterday, a movie about interpersonal relationships, the dynamics involved and about handling them gracefully. This movie is going right up there on the list of my favourites!

What I also enjoyed was the styling, the wardrobe. I appreciate good clothes, good styling and good grooming and this was part of why I liked the movie so much. My favourite character in this aspect was Aditya Shroff with his perfect power dressing. The character looks equally good when playing the rockstar but does not beat the investment banker in any way!

The debutants Farhan Akhtar and Prachi Desai are both going to do really well in my opinion. Farhan is now a complete package – a good director, a good actor and a decent singer. He is not drop-dead handsome but he acts very well. Every expression has been brought out so well by him vis-à-vis the scene when he meets his band-members again and goes to freshen up – the trembling hand and the furrowed forehead were perfect, the scene where his wife is made to sing a song – the indiscernible approval in his eyes which is soon replaced by love and adoration…very well done. If Indian cinema has reached a point where it can appreciate performance over looks, then Farhan definitely has it in him to give the likes of SRK (whoever made him a superstar…ugh!) some good competition.

Prachi for her part essays her role very well. She looks glam and has loads of grace. Her acting skills are unquestionable – no melodrama in the emotional scenes even though she comes from the K brigade…and thankfully no dubbing required. She is definitely here to stay. I just hope she keeps choosing the right kind of banners and stays up there.

The music is enjoyable too. If one keeps the lyrics aside, the concerts are so much fun to watch. And the guys have done their homework very well. Very realistic performances that leave you wanting for more.

The cinematography is another thing to watch out for with the people invited from the West to work on this one. The concert in the end is a delight in this respect.

Needless to say, my recommendation is strong for this one. A complete entertainer!

That was the Triple Treat Sundae of movies that I relished yesterday. The cherry on top came in with a visit to the Annual Landmark Sale! I was so excited I could have lost my mind (well whatever little of it is left) …some gems were up for grabs for the price of pebbles! And I picked up quite a few to add to my trasure trove.

Could think of only one song while riding back home…U2’s It’s A Beautiful Day!