Thursday, 24 December 2009

Our Pot of Gold

A few days back amidst all the news flow that kept coming, one of them was –GOLD crossing 1200 USD/ounce. It had been on a continuous uptick from the start of the calendar year. And a thought just occurred to me. “How much would a pot of gold be worth? And how would I feel if I had it with me?”

It was almost 7 ‘o clock that May evening, 27 years back in a small sleepy town about 200 kms from Madras. The young crowd including me were all highly thrilled. We were having the water connection being given to us which would mean uninterrupted water supply from the Govt. fitted taps. The two Sarkari[govt.] men who were digging up the ground to lay the water pipe were working nonstop and wanted to wrap up the whole job as soon as possible. But at the same time they took their own sweet time to start it. Anyways we’re not complaining, but thoroughly enjoying the new connection. After getting the connection we got drenched and played in the mud till we’re left with no energy. Over the next few days everybody found a greater convenience in the new connection and were gracious to the folks to have provided the connection –until one week later…

We were playing some outdoor games when one of them –Mani came running looking for my dad.

“He went away… took all of it with him.., I was the one who found it... I hit it first… but he took it away from me…” he said this while panting for air and deliriously searching for my dad.
“What happened Mani?”
Mani was still short of words and just collapsed on the ground; it seemed as if he’d run a long distance. He was given some water and sweets while we all gathered around him to listen to what he had to say.
With tears in his eyes and looking like a man who’s lost everything in life he started, “Anna, I was the one who spotted it, but he cheated me. I found it right there” and pointed to one corner of our compound where the pipes were laid. He was still dazed and there were a lot of people gathering outside so Anna took Mani to his office room. We were not allowed to enter his study so we waited outside the window.

“Mani what are you talking? What did you spot?”
“Anna, GOLD!!! The pot was full till the brim. Full of big gold coins” while he showed with his hand how big they were. And our eyes just popped out!!! Even though we’re kids but still knew what gold meant.
“Anna, I found it while I was digging to lay the water pipe… I hit the bronze pot with my pickaxe… I was confused by the sound that it made –Thun, that of metal hitting metal. I was curious then so I continued digging but carefully. At the same time I was getting excited and couldn’t control it myself so called Ponnu over.

“It was heavy… very heavy. We hid it as soon as we realized what it was and finished the work and hurried to his home. There we closed all the doors and windows and emptied the contents of the pot. There were about 450 gold coins and one gold chain with 7 gold coins fixed to it.
As Mani continued his story there was pin drop silence in the room. We always heard stories from grandma of gold being buried inside our houses, but dismissed them as children stories. Now as she heard Mani, she couldn’t believe her words coming out to be true. All were still, wanting Mani to continue the story. Anna found it difficult to control his excitement as did everyone else and asked him to carry on.

Mani took another sip of water, “That night we were completely blank. God had blessed us with our hard-work and we had no idea what to do with it. We divided the gold among ourselves and wanted to leave for Madras. We were dreaming of leading a life like that of wealthy… we would buy land, house, motorcar… have servants… [and he went back to his dreams]

“So why are you here?” There was a trace of anger in Anna’s voice now. After all it was our gold and he stole it. The question brought Mani back to reality and he felt guilty for having been greedy.
“Anna, we were supposed to leave for Madras tonight. Over the last few days we’d enquired here and there and almost everything was as planned. Yesterday when I went to his place he showed me where he had kept the gold. It was in two bags inside the trunk under the bed in the inner room. I asked him to show it and found that both the bags contained equal amount of gold. We again spoke of how life will be no more same for us and vowed never to leave each other and be friends for life. Today morning after I got the tickets for the bus, while I came to his house I found it vacant. The front door was open and everything was there except for Ponnu and the trunk. I searched every corner of his house… even the house owner does not have any idea about Ponnu’s whereabouts. I felt cheated; I did not want to believe that it’s true… I wanted this to be a dream… but he has left. I’ve searched the entire town and asked every possible person… no one has seen him since morning. Now I do not know where to find him and so I’ve come to you.

Silence... And finally everyone came to brace the truth –the stories were true. We had gold and lots of it.

We belong to this rich Brahmin community which had owned hectares and hectares of land about some 400 years back. The income was good and with no banks being available in those days, the money used to stay close to the owners. Over the years business kept on growing and never was there a need to dig up the gold which was hidden away for a rainy day and so generations after generations almost forgot about it. Until the water pipes were laid…

Well that was almost three decades back but the incident is etched in my mind as if it had happened only a few days back. Though the gold is gone and by god’s grace we never had felt a need for it, there is just one question that I have in my mind –If it were me, I would not risk my stake and bury ALL the gold in one place. And that would mean…

“Hand me the pickaxe… ”

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Onsite... Finally Gotcha!!!

Sam was highly excited when he came to know about it. This was something he had always dreamt of but some or the other hurdle would bounce up and delay the good news. But this July afternoon it was final. Sam was leaving for Brussels for a couple of months and after that for a year working out of the Eiffel Tower City –Paris. His designation would be that of an onsite coordinator for his account. He would be finally living the dream of every IT worker… working at client location, in a different country, seeing a different culture and earning a better currency than what he’s earned for the last three years. Finally the future was looking bright for him… Or is it just a mirage? Hiding the real life and giving a phony one?

Not all was hunky dory for him… his travel plan had to be shelved by a week due to administrative issues… Think about it… you’ve got the work permit, the visa, have informed friends, thrown advance parties and still you’re on hold. Anyways, Sam’s on hold status was only for a week.

I have known Sam for more than 9 years and so was surprised to find a long long email from him once he had reached Brussels. It was surprising because it was longer than all the emails he’d sent put together. He shared his thoughts –right from packing his bag to wiping his as*. Welcome to no-water-in-toilet-land my friend.

To give you a brief background of Sam, he’s the happy go lucky type of person –very simple and a down to earth guy; non manipulative and straight on the face –all the skills which you should NOT have for an onsite coordinator… but he’s a fast learner and is single.

Though I had prepared him for the culture shock once he steps out onto the streets, but it was nothing close to what actually had happened with him. You of course cannot blame him, after-all it’s the summers and these Europeans just love the sun.

Well, Sam’s travel was a mixed bag of emotions… Yes he wanted to go and work at onsite, but at the same time he dreaded the moment… the final moment. You know its coming, you know only a few hours are left and you know you cannot do anything to stop it. It’s a strange dilemma. The thought of leaving back the people with whom your day started and ended and knowing that the next couple of days onwards this day would be history –and still not being able to do anything to stop it. The streets, the cafes, the gali, the nukkad –all would become history and this gives you a strange sense of loss… a loss which you keep hidden under the “Good Things” of onsite… a loss, which you knowingly want to embrace because there is something better –onsite. But ask them, whom you leave back home. Well, time stops for them… till the day you come back. Well, not actually, but they miss your presence in the initia few days, but then time is a great healer.

Sam’s parents and siblings came to see him off… after-all it was a very proud moment for them as well. They tried to look happy… they were, but deep down, they too knew –only a few hours are left and then their son would be away for a year. Though Sam stays hundreds of kilometers away from his parents, but still the thought of him being completely unavailable in person is something that would take time for them to understand… but again, time is a great healer.

Now talking about Sam, he was busy with his last minute packing but that did not sway him away from the small emotional and sentimental incidents that were happening. Like all happy Indian families –everybody wanted to drop him at the airport and a funny incident made the tension a bit lighter –but not for long. It was finally 3 hours for his flight to take off –time to enter… time to face the final moment. Like all good boys, Sam bid an emotional adieu to his near and dear once. For those couple of minutes when Sam held his parents in his arms for the last time that evening, he just wished a small wish: God please make it a dream, wake me up… I don’t think that I want to leave them back. But there was not enough steam in the though… it left him as soon as it had come and Sam was ready to face the future. Atta boy!!

As he turned and pushed his trolley through the security check in, he turned for one last time –his family, all standing speechless and facing the reality, wanting to see Sam for one moment more and waiting while Sam took in the picture of his family in his memories. It was time to move on...

But like I said, it’s over in a couple of minutes. Once you’re in there, its back to business –your visa, passport, boarding pass, baggage, weight issue. Once those got resolved Sam settled down to gather his thoughts –and focus on the good things that were waiting for him. Now its one year of away-from-India time while he shifted his thoughts to work. He’s waited for this one moment for a long time –now it was his time to prove himself.

His clients, his work, life in a new city, new people –a totally new experience and Sam just smiled to himself. Though I had asked him to get a window seat just behind the wings, he was too lost to have asked for that and was blessed with the sixth seat in the 3+4+3 Airbus A-340; one of the worst seats!!! And to add to it, he had an aunty [old] and a grandpa for company. And our man made the most of the situation by watching an old movie from the B&W era. Being a staunch vegetarian [only while taking food] Sam had his share of troubles while the airhostess tried to come in terms with the thought that such [extreme veggies] still exist. Finally Sam also did something that he would have laughed at –eat idly with knife and fork. There were a few other incidents which I am keeping away –Sam is a good friend of mine, and I want to keep it that way. Anyways, while all the drama happened thousands of meters above ground, Sam finally reached Europe.

It took him a couple of days to adjust to the new surroundings and as I gather from him, our Sam has started working, enjoying the new neighbourhood, the new way of life. And deep down, he also knows –one day he would have to leave all this and come back home. And I am sure even at that time he’d have a mixed bag of emotions… just as he had when he was starting for Brussels. Good Luck Sam. We wish you success. And yes, do not forget that we hope at least you’d do justice to the Indian tricolour.

Jhanda uuncha rahe humara !!!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Kundu Sourav aajkal aapka padhai likhai mein dhayan nahin lagta

It is very rightly said that every teacher leaves a part of himself in the students that he teaches. And years after years we would still remember him. Different students get impacted by different teachers as per their temperaments and frequencies. But there are some teachers who [due to their wide range of frequencies] leave an imprint across all who come in contact with them; and believe me, it’s not an easy feat. The teacher continues to live in our thoughts, our memories, our gossips, our laughters and our anxieties.

Let me narrate an experience spanning three years in the sleepy city of Allahabad where life seemed to be active under the watchful eyes of our remarkably[R] severe[S] Par(n)e.

Identify any, any student of BIT, Allahabad and that individual would have a memorable incident to gossip over hot chai at Ram babu’s –be it the topper [sorry, “tapper” as pronounced by His Highness] or the dud, the smarts or the silents… Even a dumb guy would speak up if asked his views on His Excellence… Such was the impact!!!

I still remember my first encounter with HH, a pleasant one though. We were in our first semester and our Computer Science teacher aka PC[I don’t remember how she got associated with that name… was it Personal Computer ;-) …] had dawned upon a brilliant idea of conducting frequent tests [and the frequency was only one, yes for all the three years only one class test!!!]. After the marks distribution, HH entered the class –with his customary style -one of its kind- right hand rubbing his tummy while the left hand inside the left pant pocket–probably it was his class to conduct when he found the class in a remorseful state. Now this is what he loves… it sets the stage for him to be Devil’s advocate. HH loves to humiliate. Don’t read me wrong, his intensions are to correct the individual but as HH is an emotionally charged up person, he always goes overboard. On enquiring he was informed that the marks were just distributed and the casualties were high… well, for HH the less the merrier. HH in the mood of adding insult to injury started asking our marks. Can you believe it?? It was the first semester… the hunks were gearing up to impress the chicks[ok, I know that’s a lie. For the time being lets assume there were chicks] and HH comes out with his spoil-sport plan. Eventually it turned up that me, of all the intelligent species in the class was the topper [oops. Tapper, though later over the years the title was more synonymous to Madhurimaji]. Believe me it was such a embarrassing moment when the ones who had helped you clear the test watch you getting their share of accolades and mouth unheard words. But at the same time once HH came to know about me and my community aided score –believe me, life became quite simpler. Over the next few weeks HH treated me as the one-who-topped-the-test. Ok, I know am being a bit candid, but nevertheless he had booked a not so harsh corner for me… the soft corner [HH pronunciation: carnar] were for the fairer sexes, the more fairer the more softer.

Like all remarkable gurus HH had a lot of qualities… one among them was his command over the computer language –C. I mean, I don’t think there would be anyone who in his honesty would want to admit that HH was not a good C teacher. I for myself would rate him as the best C teacher I’ve ever had [actually the only one also, but that’s something different]. HH with his homegrown accent over the English language had a very active time on the dais explaining the various intricacies of our programming language. The best however would be the loops. HH would show it by rolling his arms in front of him as if he’s put his hands inside some invisible cylinder from both side and trying to roll the same. What a perfect way of explaining loops!! I never needed to go through the concept twice. Jokes apart, whenever I had any doubts in the algorithms or in data structures I used to shamelessly ask him to explain again even if it was the nth time and he’d do it dedicatedly as the first time. In fact there is no doubt about the fact that if you are serious with your studies you’ll find HH very amicable… and the reverse is also true.

I also remember HH being very considerate towards the womankind… those who study of course. HH would consider it his privilege to be their body-guard and ask all the girls to travel in the college bus [Tata 407] with him obviously. In fact his bravery reminds me of one such incident. Shaurya also has a song dedicated to the incident.

Early morning we had just crossed the Naini bridge when one half drunken gentleman boarded the bus. HH [though scared till the bone] politely asked the gentleman to alight from the bus since it’s a college bus with students and ID cards. The guy misinterprets HH’s speech and brings out from his pocket an ICard showing him to belong to the Govt. Of India. While he fumbled in his pocket he also brought out a few pics [dirty ones] and HH on seeing them became so over excited [hold on guys, not that way] that he sternly asked the Govt. of India to step out of the bus or HH will step out and the bus will not move. Shaurya was so moved that he’d have given a Veer Chakra to HH but instead dedicated a song which I remember as “… aate jaate subse kehte… college ki bus mein nahin aate. College ki bus mein nahin aate”. Those of us who remember the song, kindly utilize the comments section.

Sometimes I felt that HH was not only living in a separate generation but sometimes in a different century. HH used to hate seeing one boy-one girl together. For that matter any boys-one girl also used to hurt him… As soon as that happened, HH would take them for a ride which would start casually with a statement like “Kundu Sourav aajkal aapka padhai likhai mein dhayan nahin lagta.” Not to be bogged down so easily I would offer just the right kind of resistance so that we could kill 15-20 mins of the 45 minutes class –“Aare sir aisa kaise, hum to dhayan de rahe hai”
“Naa! Aap to bus apna scooter chalate rehte ho yahan wahan” and the bantering would continue. Agam Prabhat and Kunal Bhalla were his favourite students when it came to “aajkal aapka padhai likhai mein dhayan nahin de rahe” attitude.

If there was somewhere HH was not comfortable –it was the A section [all boys section]. In fact, not only HH but even PC also kept her book close to herself as if the 30 pairs of eyes were enough to…
Well, if there was one person who was perfectly able to tackle the crowd with intellect and humour it was Rani Mukherjee… guys remember our Semester One, Maths -1 teacher? I still remember how many hearts were broken on the 5th of September when she walked in for the Teacher’s Day function with a 5 year old son. So much we told ourselves that it must be the neighbour’s kid. Anyways, coming back to Section A, HH had a set of folks to have fun with. But come what may, HH was a man of rules –separate rules for separate people. Another incident…

HH was teaching something and a sharp tap on the door… HH looks at his watch and finds only 15 mins left for the class to end and tell himself –whoever it is, he’s had it!! On opening the door, he find that it’s his set of favourite students –Bawa and his team. HH goes after each one of them firing with all sorts of threats as his tongue and gut would allow, of how he will not repeat what has been taught, and that they have started taking the course to be a child’s play. The group stands motionless with head bowed down or looking here and there. Bawa would generally give a blank expression while HH would be fuming red with anger. After 5 minutes [only 10 mins left now] of pants down session, HH turns to the teaching board when another equally sharp tap follows. HH will not tolerate this anymore. He is going to manhandle whoever it was. He’s cared enough for the dignity of the students but then there is a limit. Telling himself these things HH this time himself opens the door. What follows is Guinness Book of World Records for the fastest transformation of facial muscle to show profound happiness from murderous disgrace “Aare aayiye aayiye Aushotoshji… Kahan reh gaye the aap…” Ashu looks up a bit hurt from this question… “Aare koi baat nahin hum dobara padha denge…” All this while Bawa and his gang look at each other in speechless awe… well such is the power of HH 180 degree Twist.

I can keep on writing about His Highness because the more I write the more I feel of having missed a lot and I’m sure those who’ve been nurtured by him would also agree. Years would pass, then decades… we would have seen a lot of life, met a lot of people from various walks of life… a few would be in our memories till the very end. But would HH remember roll count BCA 2047/2000? Though not till the very end, but not quite forgotten also… And me, well I shall remember the lines –“Kundu Sourav aajkal aapka padhai likhai mein dhayan nahin lagta.”

PS: In case any of the BITians are commenting, kindly metion your roll count, makes us feel connected. Just a suggesion though...

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Rains, garam chai and masala dosa...

19th of April 2009 was not the first rain of the season nevertheless it has brought out a much needed relief in the hearts on the millions of Bangaloreans.

Over the evening the dark clouds had gathered but a strong wind was blowing, which made me feel that a heavy downpour was not happening. Of course I was wrong. It was sudden… it was impressive… it brought down the mercury… but most important of all was the fact that I enjoyed myself. I did not realize the transformation from 27 years to 7 years…the rains made me forget 20 years.

I am sure everyone enjoys the gradual approach as we get close to a heavy rainfall:
-the gathering of dark grey clouds overhead
-the wind with the smell of fresh wet soil from nearby lands
-the sudden chill and the freshness in the air
-the gradual rumbling in the clouds
And then after some moments, big uneven drops make it to the earth. Over the next few seconds the frequency of the rain drops keeps increasing at an exponential rate and before we know, its all set for a heavy heavy downpour. Moreover, within 15 minutes of this we’d have fresh streams of rainwater making it to lower ground.

I have always loved the rains, though I do not exactly know what pulls me to the rains –is it the smell in the soil? Is it the cool breeze after a hot day in the sun? Is it the feeling of being under a huge shower of cool water where ever you go? Is it the promise of garam garam chai and pakode at home while it’s raining outside? Or is it the long hours of being in bed under the rug and watching the rain water fall on the greenery around? As a kid I remember getting wet [deliberately] while coming home from school. There would not be a single puddle that I would have left untouched on my way. And if it happens that I am at home while its raining, my mom has been kind enough to allow me to join the neighbours’ kids and get drenched… Skating, skidding and doing all sorts of crazy stuff in the rains. Of course a warm water bath and good food followed.

As the years passed by some of my companions preferred to enjoy the rains from the confines of their offices or homes while I was still fully ballistic under the rains. I sometimes wonder –What keeps us away from enjoying the things that we used to enjoy as kids? Try to answer that and keep it for yourself.

Later as the years passed, I was allowed to have a bicycle for my movements within the city –school, sports and tuition and this gave me a much needed freedom. Be it coming back from school or on the ground we never shunned the rains. The long stretch from school through the Refinery and IPCL townships with water on the roads used to be paradise. We used to deliberately ride through the water and sprinkle it on others. We were wild, we were free and we loved the rains… I still do.

I also remember playing cricket in the rains. Try it once… the rains had brought in a newfound passion for the game in all of us.

Similarly when I got a scooter, when in college the rains again, as usual, never stopped me…and my companion. It was kind of risky, but I loved driving in the rains. Who would want to deny a long drive with no traffic just after it’s rained? The cool fresh air would pump in life back in us…

Then over the past 5 years I do not distinctly remember getting wet by choice except for once. I thought times have changed… I preferred enjoying it from the confines of my room. But is it any close to being in the rain? No, not at all.

Come 19th of April… I was out doing some house setup shopping when the Rain Gods thought of playing a prank…and I had my time. I loved the cool air on my face, the rain in my eyes, the chill in the air… while I drove my Pulsar. I drove through the waters, sprinkling water or sometimes dipping my feet in the cold water while I was crossing a new stream on the roads…

I was free… I was wild… and I was savouring the rains, when I stopped near a Sukh Sagar [restaurant]. I didn’t even think twice and ordered for a Masala Dosa and a garam chai.

I had thought that over the years, times had changed. But I was wrong.
I had thought that over the years, I had changed… again I was wrong. The fun I had when out in the rains brought in the same adrenalin as it did when I was 15 years old.

But probably what has changed was from “Rains, garam chai, pakode” to “Rains, garam chai, masala dosa”. But that’s kind of acceptable… so much so for a change in geography. Try it once… it went well with the cool breeze and the chill in the air, while I wait for another shower.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Nano, A gift to the nation

If I am not wrong, the year was 2001. Ratan Tata, the chairman of the Tata Group of companies was having a business meeting on his way from Pune to Mumbai over the Expressway.

As the rains slashed on the window of his car, he felt warm and cozy to be safe. But not all on the Expressway were as fortunate. A family of four apparently was also on the same way but on a two wheeler. The kid in the front along with his father took the wrath of the rains while the mom at the backseat tried her best to protect the younger one. A typical Indian middle class family believing in the saying –Hum do humare do. A car [gadi] is still a thing of luxury in our country and not all can afford it.

That sight is supposed to have moved Ratan Tata. And he, as the Chairman of Tata Motors asked himself –What can I do for them? What can Tata Sons –as the biggest conglomerate of the nation- do for the nation? And Nano [‘small’ in Gujarati, the language of the founders of the Tata Group] was born.

Apart from the designing constraints one of the biggest challenges was the cost factor. A car for the Aam Aadmi [common man] needs to be affordable by the common man. And as time as taught us –cutting costs happens with innovation. Exactly 100 years back, Henry Ford used the assembly line to produce the Model T in 1908 which brought down the cost of car building. The question facing Ratan Tata was can The Nano with technology innovations bring it within the grasp of the Indian Aam Aadmi?

The development of the car finally kicked off in 2003 with design inputs from IDEA, Italy. To achieve its cost and design constraints Tata had simplified the manufacturing process, sought new design approaches from the suppliers [Bosch, Germany] and emphasized innovation. Such was the shock at building a car at so low cost that there were thoughts that Tata Motors should patent the technology being used in Nano. But Ratan Tata pointed out that none of these is revolutionary or represents earth-shaking technology and most relate to rather mundane items such as the two-cylinder engine’s balance shaft, and how the gears were cut in the transmission. The innovation however is the utilization of compressed air as fuel.

The introduction of Nano received huge media coverage due to its targeted low price. The most common question [even I remember to have asked this] was –“Is it really possible to build a car that low in cost?”

The Financial Times reported –“If ever there were a symbol of India’s ambitions to become a modern nation, it would surely be the Nano, a tiny car with an even tinier price tag. A triumph of homegrown engineering, the Nano captures the dreams of millions of Indian groping for a shot at urban prosperity.”

But not all was hunky dory for the Nano. The earlier identified site of Singur in West Bengal went through a lot of controversies and finally amidst a lot of drama, the Tatas pulled out of Singur and went to the land of dreams, where visions are shaped into realities –Gujarat. Within five days of Tata’s decision of pulling out it was announced on the 7th of October, 2008 that the Chief Minister of Gujarat has signed a MOU with Tata Motors for allocating land for the Nano factory in Sananda, Gujarat.

Tata Motors has commercially launched the Nano on the 23rd of March 2009 with bookings from the 9th to the 25th of April 2009 and sales from July 2009 onwards. Finally the Indian middle class will have an affordable car[gadi] of their own.

Ratan Tata, a shy man who rarely features in the social gatherings has lived for years in the book crammed, dog filled bachelor flat in Mumbai’s Colaba area. JRD Tata built Tata. Now his grandson builds Tata Nano. The Tata group of companies with their extremely high standards of ethics has played a huge role in creating the modern India. Air India was founded by JRD Tata in the year 1932 as Tata Airlines, which was later acquired by the Govt. of India. I’m sure a lot of us were not aware of this.

Tata Steel is the cheapest producer of steel in the whole world. It was not possible to reach such heights without an eye for innovation that is so much a part of the Tata Group. With Corus in their kitty, they’re the 5th largest steel producer of the world.

Tata Consultancy Services is the largest IT exporter of the nation with unbelievable profit margins.

And now Tata Motors joins the bandwagon with Nano.

Apparently Tata Steel, Tata Motors and TCS forms the largest contributor the profits of Tata Sons in the conglomerate that has 100 companies. Yes you heard it right, The Taj Group of Hotels, Tata Tea, Tata Communication, WestSide, Tanishq…. Phew!!!

Ratan Tata has definitely brought us one step closure to comfort. Over the next few years, when Ratan Tata conducts meetings enroute over the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, he might not be any lesser glad.

Do not be surprised if next time you’re behind a truck on a highway and read “Hum do humare do aur Nano” being written. By the way, try to look at the make of the truck, chances are it might be TATA.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Slumdog Millionaire or Conviction calling?

How many of us would take the route of plunging into deep shit to get close to our heros in life? And hold out his photo [while we are inside the shit] to save it –from getting spoilt?

How many of us would not take the bait of selecting the option: Ricky Ponting when the answer is made available to you and when 1 crore is screaming at you?

How many of us would go the extra mile and wait for our Latika? And more significantly –take her back, even after whatever she has been through?

And how many of us believe in destiny, our destiny that is written?

We’ve read a lot about Slumdog Millionaire. It’s won the Golden Globe, the Bafta and recently the Oscars. Some have praised SDM while some have cursed it. An iconic actor of the 70s-80s eras has said that it’d be better if SDM does not win the Oscars. Why? Is it because it showed the India which we do not want to believe is true? Your guess is as good as mine.

Whatever are the views of these demi-Gods, but the fact remains, –whether you like it or not –maiming small children and making money out of begging is a thriving business; -the gangsters, the kothas, the easy money via theft is very much there. But then, so is Jamal –the truth. Why did we fail to appreciate that fact? After-all he is the protagonist in the movie and is shown as the truth. Why have all the critics forgotten to look at that side? We go overboard to react saying that the “Goras” [whites] like and want to see India as dilapidate third world democracy and hence all the awards. I cannot comment on that, and having watched SDM, I find no reason as to why IT should be nominated for Oscars, leave apart winning it. Probably they are true, probably the Goras DO want to see India that way. So if I am to give my views about SDM, I’d say it’s an intelligent movie but worth the Oscars? ...Naah, not even the National Awards!!!

The storyline is nothing remarkable. A smalltime kid makes it to Who Wants to be a Millionaire and out of sheer luck and a few coincidences, wins it as well… but not before raising a lot of eyebrows. In fact the whole nation is shown to be on the standstill when Anil Kapoor asks the final question and Jamal takes his own sweet time, looking as casual as can be [which I do not thing anybody would be while sitting on the hot seat with a million rupees just out of reach] to go for the Dial-A-Friend option.

Flashback. Jamal is a young Mumbaikar who stays in Dharavi [the biggest slum in Asia] and loves playing cricket just besides the corner on the concrete strip of the Airport…The Mumbai Airport. If you remember, when you’re approaching the Mumbai Airport via air, we get a glimpse of The Dharavi.

The kid is shown to have lived through the Mumbai Riots where he sees his mom being hit [killed?] while he keeps running with his elder brother, Salim for safety, for food, for a living. It is here that he meets his childhood sweetheart Latika, another survivor of the Mumbai Riots. Being fascinated by The Three Musketeers they call themselves Athos-Porthos and Jamal wants Latika to be the third Musketeer, which Salim denies.

All of a sudden the surviving kids of the slums are taken under the care of a “God-man” who wants to make the lives of the kids better… But in reality he’s the conman who runs the business of crippling children and making money out of their begging business. When Jamal is being taken to him for the audition, a quick code word exchange [Athos-Porthos] with his brother saves them from a frightening future. While they make the escape, Latika is left behind. Jamal promises to himself that he’d come back for her.

In the months to come they make a living out of selling eatables and toys in the trains. Sooner than later the train takes them to Taj-land, Agra and he realizes that creating the “Jamal” version of Taj Mahal’s history and selling it out to the Goras is not a big deal –and we thought that the Goras are really THAT intelligent ;-). Having filled their coffers they make their way back to Mumbai, to find his Latika.

A lot of enquiry, catching up with old friends and he finally is able to find Latika; though their rendezvous lasts only for a few hours. This time it’s his brother to be blamed. Being the elder one, he claims his rights over Latika.

Jamal again goes away, away from everybody he knew.

Come out of the flashback. The present Jamal is shown to be working as a chai-wala in a local call center. A quick stroke of luck and he get access to one of the computers and is able to trace his brother and meet him up. Old wounds open up, but his brother does not have any idea of Latika’s whereabouts.

Again destiny plays its part, Jamal finds out Latika, but this time around she’s a mistress of a local goon, Javed for whom Salim works. She’s gone far, quite far… she asks Jamal not to return. But Jamal insists that she comes out of that dirty world and escape with her. She refuses his proposal though he promises to wait at the CS Terminal railway station daily at five in the evening for her. On the first day she comes to meet him there but is captured and taken back by Salim to Javed and one of the men slashes her cheek with a knife to scare away Jamal.

Jamal again loses contact with her, when Javed moves to another house. Having set his mind on the task Jamal tries to find out ways to locate Latika. And this is when he realizes that she’s a viewer of WWTBA-Millionaire show and if he has to get to her, the show is his platform.

Now is where intelligent direction comes to play.

As we all know, in the WWTBA-Millionaire show there are series of questions and on being able to answer one correctly, you earn the money and graduate to the next level. Jamal makes it to the final question though the host feeds him a wrong answer, which Jamal does not accept. At the end of the show, Jamal has only one question left to answer rightly to win the 2 crores rupees when he is taken to police custody. He is tortured there, because they believed that how much ever bizarre it may sound, a simple "slumdog," could never know the answers to so many questions.

On the next day Jamal answers the last question rightly and wins the 2 crores. Everybody is surprised. There are approximately 15 questions and he answers all of them rightly. Stroke of luck, eh? Well not really. All the questions have in some or the other way has been linked to his life except for one.

The direction of the movie is such that when Anil Kapoor asks a question to Jamal we have a flashback. And the incident related to Jamal’s life where-in that question has the answer is shown. The inventor of the pistol, the bhajans of Surdas, the face of Benjamin Franklin on the 100 dollar bill… every question has a relation to what has happened with him. This is the best part of the movie – the flashbacks and the strange coincidences. This according to me is the single USP of SDM.

Just when Jamal was about to be asked the last question, Salim helps Latika escape giving her his mobile phone and the car keys and asks her to escape and run away to Jamal while he would take care of executing Javed.

In the last question where he was asked to answer the name of the third Musketeer –though he never knew the name, he made a wild guess, but not before utilizing the option of Phone-A-Friend. This time he [first musketeer] makes a call to his brother [second musketeer] which was received by Latika [the proposed third musketeer]. He does not get an answer but again his destiny saves him; the correct name was Aramis.

And on the other hand, his brother having killed Javed is discovered to be lying on a bathtub filled with money and is shot dead, but not before uttering his last words, “God is great”.

At the beginning of the movie, a question was asked:

"Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it?
A) He cheated,
B) He's lucky,
C) He's a genius,
D) It's written (Destiny)."

The correct option is D, shown at the end of the movie.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Indian Coffee House

Bucking the trend [as the dictionary describes it as -to oppose directly and stubbornly; go against] has always been an eyebrow raiser. Be it a hefty hike in your paycheck when the world goes into recession or a stock hitting a 52 week high when the BSE is making its 52 week low.

Well for me, it’s neither of them. I should be glad if my paycheck stays as it is and as far as my stock portfolio is concerned, the scripts are on a race as to which one reaches zero first.

But life is not only about the sleekest cars or the latest gizmos. There is much to life than this. Some people find solace in gardening while some find it in going for a long drive early in the morning. I have a hobby of reading or writing and over the years have discovered a perfect place where I can laze along for hours and still not get bogged down at all. Coincidently this place happens to be in the heart of the city yet its so untouched by the latest in architecture and cost. Well, lets zero in – it’s the Indian Coffee House at MG Road, Bangalore.

I do not exactly remember when I started visiting the place but once visited I got hooked to it. Though it happens to be in THE place [MG Road], but yet it still maintains the old touch which we value. The way to the first floor of the Coffee House happens to be along a small short lane near the front entrance. This time when I visited it, the place had a feel of an old building; the walls, the stairs and the aroma from the kitchen. How much I loved that place.

The first floor is preferable because its less crowded and if you’re lucky you get the window seat. I have been lucky always. The MG Road promenade when it was there used to send cool breeze early in the morning while you savor the hot coffee along with your favorite novel. This was life for me: away from the chaos of the traffic, earlier in the morning when most of the city is sleeping, while I gain on life and live more.

The walls still have the age old advertisements of the Indian Coffee House. The food is good, the service remarkable. The reason why I loved it all the more is the staff is extremely courteous and understand the needs of a book lover. I have always been accepted with my long hours either reading or writing or at times casually chatting with the staff there. There have been times when I have spent more than a couple of hours having probably just a couple of cups of coffee and was not at all disturbed by the staff.

This time around when I went I had a reason; it was a visit to honour the Indian Coffee House. Yes, you must have also read it, the ICH, MG Road is closing down for good.

Though the promenade is gone, the cool early morning breeze has not, but yes the greenery outside is a thing of the past. Strange as it may sound, I was ushered into my favourite place by the same old ICH staff who has served millions in the decades past. The smile on the face of the old man has not changed, but the hair has changed its hue. The patience with which they carry out their business is still intact. Over the years the furniture has grown old, the uniforms stained, but yet the breakfast maintains its excellent standards. The masala dosa is the best in town, the omlette thin and the coffee masha-allah.

I have visited ICH innumerable number of times, sometimes with friends most of the times alone. And I have loved it more and more. Writing one of my blogs or probably my diaries and sipping coffee or at times just starting out of the window looking at nothing in particular and enjoying the cool early morning breeze… my time has been good in ICH.

What makes this “tribute” visit of mine last weekend all the more nostalgic is the fact that the same old man was there to welcome me, like he had when I first came in there. The smile was still there, I do not know whether he recognized me. Unlike the place, the crowd comes in all ages. I have seen old couples to college going crowd frequent the place. Many of them, like me, do not need the menu card to decide on what to order.

Peeking into the ICH while walking along the MG Road I have seen uncles huddled around a table and having discussions ranging from politics to cricket and consider the ICH as theirs. Yes it is theirs. It has stood there for decades and has grown old with them.
It has weathered the storms just as they have.
It has held meetings right from the time of our independence.
It has been the place when a friend needed a friend.
It has been the place where young couples visit just to hold hands, look each other in the eyes and say sweet nothings.
It has been the place where problems were resolved.
It has also been the place where elderly couples have had a quite time together and relived their past.

It has also been the place where young bulls have had stock discussions. Me and Bhav to be precise.

And now, like all good things in life, its closing down. When I came to know about it I was not sad. I was at peace. I knew I was losing a place so comfortable. I knew there would be no other place like the ICH. I knew that the smiling face of the old man would not be there any more. The long hours of hanging out with a book with continuous supply of coffee would be history. The promenade along MG Road is gone. Now it’s the ICH.

What is the price we pay for development? Ask me, I have lost something irreplaceable. I will always miss the Indian Coffee House at MG Road. Our days are limited, lets give the ICH a grand closure.

While walking out, I said a small thank you to the staff and well, what I then came to know, I could not believe.
Probably, someone has heard our cries.

Probably, the ICH may [and it’s a big may]…