Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Funeral for a Friend

A friend is dead. He is gone. He was alone in his apartment in the big city, found by his brother after he was incommunicado for a week. He was a really good person, much loved.

How do you honor a dead friend? I drank with him, I travelled with him, I slept on his couch, I cheered at the boat race with him, I spent many class breaks out in the cold rain and snow with him, I shared a few deep conversations with him, I laughed, I danced.

He was honest, kind, sweet. Always smiling, laughing. Genuine, passionate, helpful, generous. Loved his family, his friends, running, selfies, holidays, sports, beer, staying in peak physical condition.

I haven't lost a friend before. Close family, distant family, acquaintances, people within an extended friends' circle - yes. But this is new. You choose friends, there is a part of you within them, as there is a part of you in every choice you make.

So, how do I honor you, my friend? Maybe I will remember some of your favourite music and will think of you when I listen to it. Maybe I will be able to return to the cities we met in, the places we went, the things we did, and recreate some of those happy memories. Maybe some of us who knew you well will meet later in life, and I will make sure we raise a glass to you every time.

I will miss you.
Goodbye, Young.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Anna Hazare and the Armchair Philosophers' Stones

The New York Times, August 22, 2011

The largest mass citizen movement in India in decades is in progress. Today is Day 8 of Anna Hazare's fast unto death for the cause of the Jan Lokpal Bill. The core committee is doing a fantastic job of trying to keep the main thing the main thing, a herculean task in our country where all too often agendas transmogrify, not very unlike events in the Harry Potter world, into something completely different from the original. I was exchanging thoughts with a friend on that great sign-of-our-times Facebook and thought I might as well put them down here as well.

SG's point: One of the few sensible voices on the anti-corruption movement that are being lost in the mayhem:
http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-08-21/news/29909581_1_lok-pal-bill-end-corruption-indian-citizens

(Some others also linked Arundhati Roy's piece in the Hindu: "I'd rather not be Anna" - a reference to one of the slogans adopted by the protesting public, "I am Anna". http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article2379704.ece)


My point: I disagree to a large extent (and SG, you know I am not the kind of person who agrees with something just because it's populist). The questions raised in the article are important, no doubt, but the underlying rationale is sadly defeatist and narrow in vision. The hope from the movement, at least for me, is for PEOPLE to change their outlook and approach to everyday corruption. We need to start somewhere. I agree we will likely never eradicate it (and no entity in the world of even half the size and scope of India is without corruption), but all those villages suffering from poverty, illiteracy and the other issues mentioned will benefit immensely from even a few crores, rightfully theirs anyway, reaching them instead of being sunk in corruption. This movement is where the seeds of that goal are being sown. Also, this is just a scaling up of what has actually been already achieved on a small, realistic scale, by Anna in villages in Maharashtra. Agreed the methods may not be ideal, but there are few other realistic avenues left. Also, btw, I am not sold on the Jan Lokpal bill. I am more interested in the side effects of this spotlight on anti-corruption - hopefully, a fundamental change in ordinary people's approach to corruption (resist instead of submitting). There are many, many things wrong with the bill, but way fewer than the number of wrongs that can potentially be righted through this movement

SG's counter: Creating a mass movement and establishing Lokpal isn't going to solve the problem of corruption affecting the poor and villages. The real solution is to give them identity (read UID), give them bank accounts and transfer subsidies/loans directly to these bank accounts rather than distributing subsidises food/loans through intermediaries, thereby eliminating these intermediaries who are the cause of such corruption. Trust me, there are hundreds of other more realistic avenues to eliminate corruption than Lokpal or a mass movement

My counterpoint: I'm sure there are other ways to tackle corruption, no argument there and I am all for it. The problem is the inherently corrupt and the inherently corrupt system will find a way. In the bank account example, who will establish and govern such a system and ensure it is not touched by middlemen? My contention is the effectiveness of such a system can be significantly increased when there is a fundamental change in the mindset and approach to corruption in general. Like I said, Lokpal is not and will not be the most effective solution, and it too has the potential to go wrong (like anything else) but it is sowing the seeds for good stuff. The truly virtuous and the truly corrupt cannot be changed. My hope for the movement is to be able to convince the vast majority among us who are on the borderline (intentions good, but actions support corruption due to compulsion / convenience) to try harder to not support corruption. The idea among us that there is a support system now, and the idea among the corrupt that there could / will be negative consequences - for me, this is where the potential value lies and this is what I hope won't die out. The rest, especially the really good operational ideas, will follow soon enough.

Considering your feelings on Anna Hazare's movement? Don't think it involves you? Remember the crores of YOUR and MY tax money amassed by Raja, Kalmadi, and almost any other politician. Hard earned money we give up everyday without a fight and they take without conscience. Money our families and our lives deserve. Just taken, for (relatively) nothing in return. It's when there's actually an inkling of a chance for change that passion should be ignited. This is that inkling. There can be no doubt- it's Now or Never, to quote another of the popular protest slogans of the day.

Corruption is as much a devil-figure in India as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt or Muammar Gaddafi in Libya (whose empire is toppling as I speak - Tripoli was overtaken by the rebel forces yesterday). To exaggerate a bit to prove the point, Ramlila Maidan in Delhi is our Tahrir Square. Common people in Egypt fought through peaceful protest, as we too, incredibly, are doing. I can't think of the last time a mass movement in India did not result in the destruction of public and private property.

We are witnessing something special - lakhs of people all over the country coming out in support, of their own volition and not through political influence (in Hyderabad at least, politicians were being booed away and refused entry into the protest gatherings. Truly amazing considering how much importance and status they are accorded otherwise); protest / support gatherings of Indians all over the world, from New York to Auckland; one small suggestion of Anna's during a speech, almost an aside, resulting in people sitting in peaceful protest outside politicians' residences. The movement attacks corruption from the top (through the bill) and is igniting (at least the desire and encouragement to) change from the bottom, at the common man level. For all the flaws in the nature / methods of protest (a fast unto death in a democracy is practically blackmail - although it can be argued that our democratic system is largely a failure, and the common man has almost no other avenues of protest left if he wants to effect change), the Lokpal bill which has the potential to create the greatest power centre in the country (thus with theoretically the greatest potential for corruption itself), and a fickle public known for reverting to life-as-usual all too soon, this movement is something special.

And yet, the armchair philosophers throw stones. Not that long ago, I was one of them. Throwing not so much stones, but the usual pebbles of resignation ("nothing will happen eventually, it will all sink, as always, into the morass of our political system"). The counter-culture among the facebook intelligentsia is tom-tomming articles against the movement. All too often, we fixate on black or white. With or against. As even the Harry Potter saga shows in its darker second half, things are usually mostly grey. The pure fight the good fight and win in the end, if they remain pure. And with a little help from their friends. And then everyone wins

Be that friend and help Anna Hazare. As Airtel never tires of telling us these days, har ek friend zaroori hota hai.

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

There's 2 entities here: Me, and My Life.
At any given point, one is saying a big "Fuck You" to the other.
And trying damn hard to execute upon the threat.

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In the darkest hour, the writer inside doth return.

It's like schizophrenia - always yet never alone. I always have the writer. The last resort. The one piece of me I can keep, hidden if needed. Every great alter ego, every Mr. Hyde, every bad side of the schizo needs a fuel to feed off of. The writer's is pain, of course.

You know when something or someone dies. There is a sense of finality about it. It takes some time to come to terms with it, understand and absorb what it truly means, but some part of your consciousness knows it / they ain't coming back. Ever. I think it starts out the exact opposite when it is something inside. You know something has died, some part of you. But the first reaction is drama - 'this has changed me forever. I will never be the same person again'. But one does revert, even if only partially. Some things get lost forever, but some come back.

Who knows, eh, what goes and what stays?


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Monday, January 10, 2011

The Old Man and the C

For two days, Santiago struggled with the marlin. Learning about it and himself.

It has been just under a year for me, doing this crazy little thing called Consulting. And I feel quite old. An utterly transformative year, this past one. Jumped headfirst into a new career, and a new life. Matching wits with highly talented and intelligent young ‘uns – amused and inspired in turn. Working at this level of intensity is not new, but for such long periods of time at a stretch, possibly. Consulting has changed the way I think and approach everything. Everything is now a problem to be solved. This intellectually challenging approach does quite well at work. Nay, is the lifeblood of my work.

It does not do so well at home.

Lifeblood becomes a very gory reality – always a high risk to life or blood when I use this approach. But what to do, maaki? If I do, problem, if I don’t do, I lose the habit and then again problem. In our induction session, the Grand Poobah had warned of this. Kiddos looked on in incomprehension, while old timers like myself nodded in sad acknowledgement. Some giggled. Come to think of it, the induction session was much like a cult initiation. Cut a true-blue consultant in non-consultant company, and he will bleed, in some combination, arrogance, intelligence, impatience, condescension, and (maybe) pity for lesser mortals who cannot say posh things like strategic rationale, value added inputs, and such like. I may be letting out some real secrets here (ah, but what is this blog if not for its invaluable readers), but here is a list of important terms we use to earn us the big, big bucks. I have a long way to go before I can spew these on demand (I notice some of the newbies talking like this in normal everyday conversations, almost like describing the act of getting a coffee, or taking a leak. Smooth as frictionally minimized, high currency-converting, value-chain ranked fabric). And I hope I never get there.

Having run consulting down, I must also say it is extremely rewarding to work constantly with people so high on intellect, energy, drive, capability, leadership and teamworking skills. Exhausting, but rewarding. Working anywhere else now would be really dull in comparison. Sometimes I wish for that dullness in life, but then I start wondering how much more frustrated I would be working with relative morons. I am severely allergic to morons.

Late in the year, the old man crossed some water bodies and went to New Zealand. Not much surprises the old man anymore, but NZ was truly awesome. Such natural beauty and variety in such a small landmass, relatively speaking. In this day and age, it was refreshing to see a country which cares next to nothing for jobs, careers and ambitions, and is still squarely focused on quality of life. Changed my perspective on a lot of things. The old man came to see.

Oh yeah, and I got married. Nothing ages a man faster than that. As vast as the sea, a marriage is. Sometimes, I can almost step outside myself and watch and wonder at this changed man, watch the rise and fall of everything, with the waves. The surf of confusion, the splash of reality…and the constant search for the strength in the arms to hold the ship steady. Old as I am, she will be the one thing keeping me young.

The old man is consulting today and may continue to do so for a while, but this C is no match for that sea.


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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Blend

Minutes, hours, days, nights.
Sleep, insomnia, the daze of the in-between.
Health, sickness, hunger, pain.
Love, hate, indifference, annoyance, exasperation.
Company, The Coccoon.
Excitement, ennui, stimulation - mild, strong.
Faces, images, thoughts, actions, emotions.
War, peace, uneasy calm.
Life, Death.

All blend.
See all the colours bleed into one. Yes, I'm still running.

As I do from time to time, I ask myself more and more these days - how did it come to this?


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Friday, December 25, 2009

Naa Hyderabad, Mana Andhra Pradesh

Remember the classic film, 'Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron'? The scenes where the pandemonium on stage has begun and the 'blind' and confused Dhritarashtra is constantly yelling 'Yeh sab kya ho raha hai Duryodhan?'? Makes me think of every single normal, sane resident of Andhra Pradesh today. Or my beloved Hyderabad, torn between 2 sides, one a blood relation, and the other a heart and soul relation.

My family, like so many others, has deep personal connections with the formation of the state, and the Telangana agitation of 1969. Horror tales of the Razakars brought closer home by the fact that my grandfather was a member of the forces fighting them, the family living in an area waiting to be overrun, and saved from certain death, in the nick of time, by the Indian Army. The 1969 Agitation critically damaging career aspirations of some among the next generation. And now here I am, about to return to my homeland, facing the same old story. 3 generations, same old story. Such a tragic legacy.

As a child, the Razakars and Telangana agitation were terms I heard only in hushed whispers, part of family lore relayed in tones that pre-empted small, nosy children from asking too many questions. Which is why I had absolutely no clue about the history of my state, and the city I so proudly proclaimed to be from. Over the past month, I have read up a bit, understood a little more about the places I passed through on all those bike trips - previously just names and markers on my routemaps, now little pieces of history.

Simultaneously, I have been fortunate in that my flatmates are two highly politically aware people, with open minds and 'debative' attitudes. This has forced me to relinquish what has been a much-cherished, much-used, and sadly all too common middle class escapist logic for political ignorance and non-involvement - ' Sab chor hain saale, so it doesn't matter and there's no point thinking about it. So by extension, there's no point even knowing about it. Since I don't know, there's no need to do anything about it. I have bigger things, like life, to worry about. Whatever I get dished out, I have to just work my way around, or through, it.'

Not much has changed, really, except that I have tried to educate myself a bit more about the history of the country, and our political parties. So let's say I now know a tiny bit more. Not much has changed, except that knowing a little more, the 'saale' has been upgraded to insults involving other family members also. Also, there is a point to thinking about it, because I now see how understanding national and local politics helps me contextualise more of what I see happening around me, affecting my everyday life. And lastly, I do sometimes feel an extremely strong need to do something about this, something along the lines of constituting a force of highly-trained mercenary assassins, who will pick off the bastards one by one. Not cheap-ass suicide bombers. Assassins. The mandate of this force will subsequently be diversified to include people like SPS Rathore, Manu Sharma, Santosh Kumar Singh, Monu Mittal, Sanjiv Nanda, Vikas Yadav, et al. Torture will be optional, dealt with on a case-by-case basis. In the words of Dexter Morgan, "Fear is a powerful motivator" - think of what it can achieve. Also, since this will be a 'related diversification', there is every chance of strong growth and success (ah, the benefits of a business education...). This is a fairly realistic solution, there are hundreds of people willing and able to be recruits for this special group. Who says terrorism is bad, just that we need to pick the right targets to scare the crap out of.

(Aside: as kids, we always wish our superheroes were real. And sometimes, they really are, in our heads. Strange how today I find myself wishing even more that certain fictional characters were real. When I'm ill, I'm convinced I have a really rare disease and I'm dying and I want Dr. Gregory House, NOW dammit! When I am feeling murderous and have political blood on my mind, I want Dexter Morgan.)

And yet, not much has changed, really. Our politicians are still mostly thieves, it doesn't really matter, and I am still likely to try and work around/through whatever I get dished out. This is the argument I put to 3 of my friends, all Oxford classmates, one of whom had just returned to London after supporting his uncle in elections in North India. He confessed to being flabbergasted at the scale of operations and corruption, subversion of the electoral system, and the real power of power.

We tut-tutted a bit, in true armchair philosopher style, discussed how we need young, uncorrupted blood in politics, and how the young guns paraded around a few years ago, the Deoras, the Pilots, the Scindias, have disappeared into obscurity. I asked them what they would do, and all 3 were unanimous in saying they would love to go into politics and effect real change. Now, I must state that these are 3, young, highly intelligent, highly educated men with global exposure and some understanding of our political situation, good friends who I rate highly in several parameters. And the first thing I said when I heard this was 'bullshit!' This remains my confidence in the chances of 3 people I would really trust in power, to save my country. People I know so well. What can I say about the people plotting now to carve up my beloved Telugu land? Loathsome, disgusting people like the fast-until-juice-break opportunist and his opposite number, the Deathbed Sprinter?

Below are some of the better articles and comments I have seen on the issue.
First is TS Sudhir's article, 'Divide and Rule', on the NDTV website. Below are a couple of the comments on the page:

"
Posted by Prasad on Dec 18, 2009
The dominant people of a region should have distinct differences in language or ethnicity with the rest to ask for a separate state which does not hold good for Telangana where the dominant people are Telugu speaking and there is not any distinct ethnic differences with the rest of the AP. Dialectic differences should not be seen as basic differences. It would be very unfortunate to consider 200 years of tyrannical rule by the Nizams as the basis for separatism while a thousands of years old connection with Telugu runs through the people and ties them to one string. How can anyone say that the Telangana telugu is different... Potana's Mahabhagavatam composed with innate powers was composed in what we call Telangana and is a divine composition for every Telugu. It would be a sin to attribute regional character to Potana today which some of our 'writers' are doing. The divisive venom spread primarily by Congress over the years brought us to a stage that today some people has the audacity to see even Valimiki Maharshi through a casteist veil. Telangana State was just an agitation created by greedy politicians either in 1969 or now and this cannot be treated as 50 year old fight as some claim since this is not the same situation post the Hyderabad Police action. (If the basis were to be the east while Hyderabad state, the demand should be to create Telangana with aurangabad, Gulbarga, Raichur etc etc.,)Today Delhi leaders are just splitting a single Telugu speaking state much against the basics of creation of states. Further more if exploitation by the other region is cited as the cause, is it not the very same politicians of Telangana who have been allowing this to happen. They were in enough strength to stop any such exploitation. It would be wrong to assume that a region is separated out for exploitation. Politicians over the last fifty years have gobbled up whatever they wanted and they showed no favor or bias for people, but for creating personal wealth. A new Telangana state with the same leaders who are crying for more power only to grab more will not make any difference to the betterment of the region which could not be achieved being in a larger and powerful state. Reject the current political leaders lock stock and barrel and the entire state can regain greater glory. How else can we explain the self serving leaders of AP today that with 33 members in the ruling party we donot have single significant ministry in the Indian Government to do any good for the state. Does this not speak of their lack of interest in the state? They only want to get a new state or stop it only to serve their personal interest. This is evident in many ways...railway projects, language status for Telugu, automobile projects and what not. All Telugu speaking people should stay together and reject the self serving, teach a lesson to the mercantile politics of family rule. I think the young should see through the game of politicians like Sonia to divide Indian Society to perpetuate her family or many others around us in AP to amass public resources at the cost of the common good by playing with the sentiments of people like us in AP... For those sitting in Delhi Telugu people are like foot ball because our leaders are ready to give up our welfare, our pride, self respect, growth, justice and everything for sake of greed and personal aggrandizement. Let us stay as one and we can do far better by electing the right leaders at least the next time around.

Posted by siva on Dec 18, 2009
The psyche of "Telangana" : Only Andhra have destroyed their culture, Only Andhras have looted their resources, Only Andhras have robbed them of Jobs. No matter whether many Marvadis, Marathis and others do any anything in Telangana-No problem!!. what a fabricated psychology.!?? Andhras are the devils who will take away everything from them, even after India is a Sovereign Country!! Andhras are devils in their children's stories who kill them as did the Razakars during the Nizam Rule, in erstwhile Hyderabad state. what a great attitude!?. For them 1956 is a sad year as they say they were forcefully married with Andhra state against the recommendations of SRC. For them , the Andhras are expansionists. After living together for 55 years together in Hyderabad as the capital of Andhra Pradesh, now they say hyderabad is theirs. Everybody's toil as combined A.P is only Telangana's fruit?! How many were there at time of merger at the time of merger of Hyderabad state and Andhra state in 1956, nobody knows, nobody knows the then Chief Minister of Hyderabad state Dr Burgula Ramakrishna and others in the Hyderabad assembly showed inclination in merger with the then coined "vishalandhra", not as exapansionsist theory but as unifying theory of Telugu Language. Now they say Andhra people/CMs have looted telanganas's resources. Think about this : When chance was given to Telangana CMS/PM , they did not do development to Telangana, then there was no Telangana Movement,ie, when in Power, they don't show oppression of Telangana (same case with Chenna Reddy) .After their tenure when Andhra CMs were undertaking development projects, all Telangana people say "Oppression of TElangana people". When chance is given to vote against Non-Telangana Parties in elections, They vote clearly against the Pro-Telangana parties at all levels_NAtional/State/Municipal. Still we should call that KCR's separarist attitude is correct?! According to KCR & others, there have been only separatist-movements throughouth the world. Poor KCR /supporters, what an ideology is he setting forward!? Then , as per this dubious theory we be united for separatism, and when development takes place, again start separatism until the whole system is broken, into disunified pieces. Remember Jinnah , until then when all were working for India's independence, suddenly he wanted separate country for Pakistan saying " Muslims will be illtreated and no scope for develeopment in hindu-dominated India". Then as per Pro-Telangana people let us open the pages of History , and claim "our own" lands. That would then bring the real patriotism in INdia?? All Telangana Parties have forgotten about the recent floods in mahbubnagar district. they did not have the guts to go and serve the people then. Now in The disguise, of satyagrahi (which has been defamed by his fast), he has brought havoc into the lives of all peaople. The solution is : NOT SEPARATE state, but good administrative system. Don't justify for smaller states by quoting high economy in Jharkhand and Chatisgarh. They are manipulated. The core issues of poverty, unemploment are still there. Go to root level.


These writings express quite well what I would like to say, and are just two of the several coherent and cogent arguments 'against'. The arguments 'for' are quite laughable in comparison.

I am a hardcore Hyderabadi and proud to be a Telugu. I love the irresistible and unique Hyderabadi hindi, or Deccani, and I love my broken and imperfect Telugu. Irrespective of where my family comes from, I love Telangana, Andhra and Rayalaseema equally. Because they constitute, together, what my travels (admittedly limited so far) have helped me graduate to: from Naa Hyderabad to Mana Andhra Pradesh.

Please, stop messing with it.


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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Two years

What if those you held most dear, but who are not in this physical world anymore, were able to return for a day? One day only?

Let's say this day can be predecided. What would I do on my day with you? I could keep telling you how much I miss you and need you, but you already know that because I tell you everyday. You could tell me you watch over me and I needn't worry, but I know that already. I could ask you for your wisdom and guidance on how I should live my life and if I'm living it right. But you've already told me and taught me all I ever need to know. I try hard to live that life, but I do fail sometimes and blame it on being human. It becomes easier and easier to forget and make excuses...so maybe our day together would help me put myself back together again.

If there's nothing much to say, I could just hold your hand and lean my head against yours, like I used to do most evenings. We could just sit there in silence and feel perfectly content, like we used to do more and more as you lost your sight and hearing, but not the sharpness of your mind. Actually, it was a bit of that amazing sharpness and intellectual curiosity, even at that age and inspite of rapidly diminishing faculties, that I was secretly hoping to absorb by leaning my head against yours.

But each minute that passes would bring the moment you leave again closer. I would start to worry, and every moment from then on would be increasingly tinged with sadness. Then panic, then a maniacal refusal to let you go. And I would waste those precious last minutes fighting, begging, pleading, arguing, bargaining. And then, you would smile and be gone. And I would be left with the pain. The same, unbearable, crushing pain. And then? Then what?

Would I be willing to bring back the pain for one more day with you? I would, but what would it achieve? What would change? We don't need to tell each other anything - we already know. The alternative is, of course, to realise in the morning that you will be leaving in the evening, and to simply enjoy every single moment for itself. But if I were that enlightened, I wouldn't be asking for another day with you in the first place. If I think I could do it on that day, maybe I can do it now too.

I love you. Always have, always will.

Until I see you again...


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"The poet Billy Collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. Then, Collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. It may be true with music, too."

- from this excellent article, based on an interesting experiment.


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