30 January 2009

An Artist's Dilemma

I have always loved to write and my burning ambition is to publish a book someday. On the advice of a well-meaning friend, I created this blog a couple of years ago. I intended it to be sort of a net-practice to hone my writing skills until I was ready to pen an entire book. And so began this saga of blogging.

Strangely enough, whenever I told any of my colleagues or friends about my blog, the first thing I was asked is what do you write about? The second question was how popular is your blog? Another thing was that whenever a life-changing event occurred - e.g. 26/11 in Mumbai, my friends wanted to read my views about it on my blog. Frankly, I had never bothered about this. Blogging gave my creative juices a release and also gave me a platform to reach out to others in a quick and easy way. I had not started writing to cater to other people's demands but to satisfy my own creative lust. However, this was not enough anymore.

I began to browse through other blogs to check out their popularity. The number of comments in the other blogs soon had me thinking of ways to increase the readership of my blog. I was curious to know how many page hits were tracked for my posts everyday. I explored on the 'look' of my blog to make it less boring and run-of-the-mill. I played with html and xml code to add new widgets, fonts and layouts. I began following other blogs and commenting in them. The by product of all this was that I came to know what the other bloggers were writing about. It taught me what I'd need to do to make my blog more interactive and far-reaching.

I suddenly realized that this is probably what happens to all artists. They start off with showcasing their art to please themselves. At some point, this is not enough; they crave external feedback. Soon that becomes an obsession and they enter into competition with other artists. This competitiveness dilutes the art somewhere along the line and it becomes a game of power and fame. This is what happens with our TV serials & our films. TRP ratings and box office collections become the barometer of success. Human need for applause and greed overshadows the honest-to-goodness art.

Not succumbing to the rat-race is also perceived as 'selfish' or 'non-conformist'. After all, all artists crave acknowledgment of their work; hence they must take into account what their patrons desire. They must cater to the public or utilize their art to serve the society. Artists need to walk the thin line between being accused of being too selfish or too commercial. But one must remember that no matter how selfish or commercial, no artist can survive without the basic talent in his particular art. Without talent there is no soul to any art.

I too am struggling to achieve this fine balance.

28 January 2009

Pickle politics

The other day I went vegetable shopping. Usually this is my husband's domain as he is the one who fetches the veggies armed with a list from me. Since I was not restricted by a list, I decided to let my imagination run wild and get something different. I noticed some fresh gooseberries (amla) and had a sudden craving to make pickle out of them.

However, once I returned home, my bravado failed me and I desperately needed some directions to proceed with my task. I had once tasted amla pickle made by one of my lunch group member's mom and it had tasted good. The amla had been grated finely. This was something that could be achieved easily albeit with some effort. So I set out to grate the half dozen amlas. Once that was done, I put it aside with a sense of achievement. I'd do the rest tomorrow I told myself confidently.

In the morning, I asked my cook if she knew how to make amla pickle. "Bibiji, I make very good aam ka achar. But, I've never made from amla before. If only you had told me yesterday, I'd have asked my neighbor - she makes all sorts of pickles. She left for her village today and now I can't ask her. I'll make it once you tell me how to prepare it." Frankly, I'd expected her to be a little more experimental and use her extensive culinary skills to recommend me a recipe. She had however smartly avoided a loss of face by throwing the ball back in my court!

I didn't lose hope. That day I met a couple of friends at lunch. Both of them are proclaimed good cooks and usually discuss recipes at length whenever we meet. I asked them both about the recipe for amla pickle. One of them quipped - "You know what, why don't you dry the amlas in the sun, then simply put some salt and make it into an after-dinner mouth freshner!" It was her way of admitting that making pickles was not her cup of tea. I looked to the other one. She looked at me with woe-be-gone eyes and said "I never have the freedom to use our kitchen at home. My mother-in-law monopolizes it completely and I only ever get to make tea or cook rice." She then launched into a woeful tale of how difficult it was to share a kitchen with the MIL.

Not to be distracted by these digressions, I called on my neighbor who is the proud owner of a stack of cook books and loves to refer to them whenever she cooks. I thought she might have the recipe by heart. However, she pricked my balloon by reprimanding me for grating the amla. "You should have talked to me first, you know. You need to first marinate the amla in salt water and then cut it finely. Also, where did you get the amlas from? I know a vegetable vendor who sells them for dirt-cheap prices. As a matter of fact I got 2 dozen amlas from him just the other day. If you had told me, I'd have got some for you too. I think that the best thing for you is to buy amla pickle from the xxx store." By now, it was clear that she was rambling on cos she didn't have a clue to my question. I deemed it wise to admit my folly and retire gracefully.

However, my neighbor had given me a brilliant idea. I dropped by the local grocer's and got Kepra's lonche(pickle) masala. I then followed the instructions and made my very first amla pickle. In the evening, I proudly served it to my husband with dinner. Smacking his lips, he commented - "So this is your new recipe? It look a long time, but turned out well. You should patent it before it gets stolen by others!"

I decided to keep my secret. I too had learned a bit of politics by then!

23 January 2009

Outlook for 2009

The 2009 outlook is grim
Has been the hue and cry.
For the last few months,
the economy's been going dry.

Inflation is up,
The stocks are down,
Unemployment on the rise
Has made everyone frown.

Terror on a rampage,
Some nations verged on war;
Banks have collapsed and
No signs of revival from afar.

Multi-million scams afoot,
Oh, what a shame!
Jobs are becoming scarce
Wonder who is to blame.

There is one shining light
Amidst this gloom,
Will the historic Obama
deliver us from this doom?

Time to take stock,
To sharpen one's skills
And bide the right time
to move in for one's kills.

So lets wake up and smell the coffee
Take the longer route to work,
Let us ride this wave with a smile
And not respond with a jerk.


A parable
Two shoe salesmen are dispatched to the depth of a third world continent. Upon his arrival, one salesman calls the home office and screams, “Bring me back. No one here wears shoes.”

The other salesman calls the home office and screams, “Send me all the shoes you have. No one here wears shoes.”

This story is a primer on how to deal with disaster. Some see disaster. Others see opportunity.

Happy 2009!

19 January 2009

Its good to be alive!

Early this morning my husband informed me that his colleague's wife met with an accident while driving to office. She had to be rushed to the hospital. It was only in the afternoon that I came to know the true extent of her injuries - a fracture in the knee and her leg would be in a cast for 2 months. My husband and I went to see her in the hospital. Though she looked fine overall and seemed to have miraculously escaped any serious injuries, the fact remained that she would have to rest her injured leg for the next couple of months. The threat of surgery loomed large if there was no real recovery by then. Till then, she'd have to take a break from her job and stay home. That itself would not have been a problem except for the fact that they have a 10 month old daughter. To top it all, I learned that today is the patient's birthday. Well, this is one birthday she's not likely to forget in a hurry. All thanks to a auto-rickshaw driver who overtook her from the wrong side of the road which caused the accident.

The entire incident reminded me of my own such accident when I was in the 2nd year of college. I had come to this city to visit my grandma in the preparatory holidays. She had come to receive me at the railway station and we were going to her place in an auto-rickshaw when it collided with a scooter. The auto lost its balance, I was thrown out and the auto landed on top of my hand. I suffered multiple fractures. Thanks to the presence of mind of my grandma, who was miraculously unhurt. She rushed me to a nearby hospital and I got adequate care. The auto driver had run away from the scene and she got some bystanders to help carry me to the hospital.

Such incidents remind you that we tend to go about life in such a supercilious fashion. We make elaborate plans, secure in the knowledge that things will happen as we plan them. However, God always has other plans for us. We are but puppets in the hands of the Almighty. In the space of a second all plans go haywire, schedules get disrupted and the course of our life changes. Why does this happen? Perhaps it is to remind us of a higher power who is the ultimate planner. Or maybe these things happen to test one's fortitude and strength. Yet another view is that these things happen to preserve us from a worse fate that might have awaited us had the accident not happened. Or perhaps all of these theories are just for humoring the victims.

One thing is clear though. Such incidents do reinforce the feeling of gratitude that we are still alive. That we can still enjoy the trappings of life, the beauty of all creation and make more memories to erase this one. It also makes one humble in that our plans are never foolproof; we are but a minuscule part of the universe subject to the whims and fancies of a much greater force.

18 January 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

I just finished watching this movie. The concept is original, the direction is tight and the movie is superb!

Jamal Malik is a mere chaiwala and has just won a million rupees in the "Who wants to be a millionaire" show on TV. At the beginning of the movie he is being questioned by a couple of policemen as to how he knew all the answers to the questions inspite of coming from a Mumbai slum. The story slowly unfolds in flashback as Jamal narrates how he related each question in the show to incidents from his life.

The TV show soon becomes the backdrop for the true story of the movie - Jamal's own life. How he learns life's harsh lessons from a very tender age and the loss and resurrection of his true love. The movie teaches about the shallowness of human beings, the depth of love whether brotherly or romantic, the greed for money and power, and the manipulations for fame.

Through each frame of the movie, the characters of Jamal, his brother Salim, his lady-love Latika and the game show host - Anil Kapoor evolve. Some dialogues in the movie are priceless - viz. when the inspector asks him whose picture appears on a Rs. 1000 note, Jamal doesn't know. But he knows that the picture of Benjamin Franklin appears on a $100 note. When the game show host asks him if he has ever seen a $100 note, he remarks that it is the minimum amount of his tip!

The story is basically that of rags to riches journey of an ordinary guy but it has been woven into the fabric of the millionaire game show so cleverly that it seems extraordinary. The typical Hindi-film happy ending too does not feel contrived even though in the end Jamal risks his luck on the last question. By then the viewer is hooked by his honest and uncomplicated character and is doggedly determined for his victory. So upright is he that he even refuses to take the bait offered by the game show host to win the show.

Its a movie that reinforces the belief that truth does triumph in the end and that every dog has his day! It also reiterates the lesson that success is not coincidental; it happens because it is written in your destiny.

16 January 2009

Cool quotes from poetry

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Robert Frost


"You're everything I never knew I always wanted"

Lit


Dreams are the eraser dust I blow off my page.
They fade into the emptiness, another dark gray day.
Dreams are only memories of the plans I had back then.
Dreams are eraser dust and now I use a pen.

Kelli Schmidt-Bultena


To open your eyes and see the sky is not enough. To open your ears is still not enough. For only if you open your mind will you hear the clouds whispering love's sweet songs and dancing together across the noisy sea.

Lennox, SD


I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.

Billy Joel


Only when I grew to love you did I understand the relativity of time; then, I wished to embrace you forever, hoping that eternity would last just a few minutes more.

Anthony Constantino


Today is only yesterday's tomorrow. Don't be too sure that things aren't what they seem. Alternatives are hard to find for sorrow. So use your head to muffle all your screams.

Lothar and the Hand People


What is that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the words I have read in my life.

Walt Whitman


And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said: The words of the prophets are written
On the subway walls and tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence

Simon & Garfunkel, Sounds Of Silence


God bless our good and gracious King, Whose promise none relies on; Who never said a foolish thing, Nor ever did a wise one.

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester


"Remember everything", she says when only the memory remains

Counting Crows


It's no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest
It's no secret ambition bites the nails of success
Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill their inspiration and sing about the grief

Bono, U2


When you come to the end of everything you know, and the next step is into the depths of darkness of the great unknown, you must believe one of two things: Either you will step out onto firm ground or you will be taught to fly.

Patrick Overton


A true friend is the one who knows the song in your heart and sings you the song when you're torn apart


Love isn't like a reservoir. You'll never drain it dry... Its much more like a natural spring. The longer and farther it flows, the stronger and deeper it becomes

Unknown


Society is an eternal night
pierced by single stars glowing in a
never-ending Darkness

Ben Rifkin


If you love something, let it go.
If it comes back to you, it's yours.
If it doesn't, it never was.

DMX website


I hope everybody can find a little flame
Me, I say my prayers,
then just light myself on fire
and walk out on the wire once again

Counting Crows, "Goodnight Elizabeth"


I couldn't tell fact from fiction,
Or if the dream was true
My only sure prediction
In this world was you.
I'd touch your features inchly
Beard love and dared the cost,
The sented spiel reeled me unreal
And I found my senses lost.

Maya Angelou, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings


Deep hearts, wise minds, take life as God has made it. It is a long trial; An unintelligible preparation for an unknown destiny. This destiny, the true one, begins for man at the first step in the interior of the tomb. There he begins to discern the definite. The definite, think of this word! The living see the infinite; the definite reveals itself only to the dead. Meantime, love and suffer, hope and contemplate. Woe, alas! to him who shall have loved forms, bodies, appearances only. Death will take all from him. Try to love souls, you shall find them again.

Victor Hugo - Les Miserables


And he piled upon the whales white hump. A sum of all the rage and hate felt by his own race.
If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.

Moby Dick, About Revenge and how it corrupted him to sacrifice his crew and ship.


Well I've been bound and gagged and I've been terrorized
And I've been castrated and I've been lobotomized
But never has my tormenter come in such a cunning disguise

I let love in
I let love in
[...]

So if you're sitting all alone and hear a-knocking at you door
and the air is full of promises, well
buddy, you've been warned
Far worse to be Love's lover than the lover that Love has scorned

I let love in
I let love in

Nick Cave, "Let Love In"



08 January 2009

Communication

Communication - we come across this word many times a day. In our software field, it is used quite often especially by managers, HR and clients. Though we hear of it in the context of professional skills, it is a very important skill to lead happy, enlightened lives.

Sadly most people understand it to mean fluency over English language, or something that only managers or professionals need to cultivate. Even in our day-to-day dealings with family and friends, communication skills go a long way in bridging gaps in (mis)understanding and cementing relationships. Informing your spouse and/or parent(s) of your whereabouts whenever you know you are not going to be home as expected, thanking a friend for his/her kind action, acknowledging a sibling's somber mood and inquiring about it - all these are standard examples of good communication skills.

Most people are not aware of the terms - closing the communication loop, responding, assertive communication. I have a relative - whenever I call her she ends up doing most of the talking. Now, I'm considered a chatterbox in my own family, so to be rendered speechless by this person is no small feat. Initially I used to feel frustrated when the reason I had originally called her never came up as we ended up discussing something that she brought up. I then started interrupting her to get my word in. But I found that even my interruptions were ignored. Lately I've begun to be more assertive. When I call, I take over the conversation such that she is forced to respond in yes/no kind of monosyllables. Of course, having learned from experience, I do let her have her say once I'm done with mine.

When someone invites you over email or on phone, common courtesy demands that you let the other person know clearly if you are coming or not. Even if you know that your attendance is tentative for now, it is important to respond. Whether its a friend, family or your colleague in office- everyone deserves to be shown this courtesy. If someone introduces you to someone in order too help you out, you owe it to the first person to close the communication loop by thanking him/her for introducing you.

Being able to speak in fluent English, or with/without an accent, doesn't qualify one as a good communicator. For language or words are only a tool of communication. Even deaf and dumb people, animals and babies communicate. They use body language, sign language, grunts, cries, tantrums etc to communicate. Knowing which channels of communication(viz. mail, phone, meeting) to use when also helps. Spouses arguing with each other by leaving letters not only prolong the quarrel, but also leave evidence of the quarrel (the letter) for future reference. Conflicts, emotions and all sensitive communication should be addressed in personal meetings as far as possible - this is applicable even in a professional environment. Where one-on-one meeting is not possible, phone can be used. Mail or written communication should be used as the last resort as it does not involve major clues communicated via facial expressions, eye contact & tone of voice and are subject to frequent misinterpretation.

Silence is also a form of communication. However, it should not be used to mean negation by default. Not responding to a person's invitation does not mean that you will not attend. You need to specifically say no. In the same way, when a girl is silent when you propose to her, do not jump to the conclusion that she is going to refuse you. She is probably thoughtful about your proposal and needs time to think. Silence is best used in arguments for it is the toughest argument to refute!

And finally, a word regarding acknowledgment. When I write something in my blog, I expect my readers to acknowledge it by leaving a comment :)

Decision making - an underrated skill

Today, there is an article in Sunday TOI about maids and the rising class divide in the Indian context. Yet another context is the manager ...