Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year - 2012

So, another year goes by.

A year when the winds of change blew hard. Tough times were followed by even tougher times.

But you know what? I roughed it out.

I might have taken a couple of blows along the way but that only makes the will and resolve stronger.

And so here I stand at the start of another year.



Willing to take on whatever destiny has in store for me and doing what I do best: being me.

Happy New Year everyone.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Kabuliwallah Stories - Rabindranath Tagore

I'll be honest, the only reason I bought the book was because of the story which is the centerpiece of this collection: Kabuliwallah. Anybody who has read it or seen either the Bengali or the Hindi film adaptation will understand the emotional tug that the story has.

Kabuliwallah tells the tale of a migrant trader from Kabul who befriends a little girl in Calcutta. The mismatch is most accentuated by their physical appearance: the dainty 5 year old Mini, a non-stop little motor-mouth who has a question ready for everyone she meets and the giant Afghan trader in his huge robes, carrying a giant sack on his shoulder, bemused by this little girl's frankness and jovial nature.

But this book does have other short stories worth mentioning too.

The Living and the Dead is the unfortunate story of a widow who must prove to the world that she isn't dead yet herself. Skeleton is a fun ghost tale that has been thrown into the mix. Fury Appeased is the tale of a beautiful wife who must deal with her husband's negligence in her own way. Guest is a wonderful story about a young man and how he doesn't wish to be tied down to the world's understanding of love. The character of Tarapada, a pleasant young man who strangely moves away from all relationships which tend to hold him back, reminded me somehow of Krishna. Wishes Granted is a funny little story of a father and son wishing that their roles be reversed and kaboom, it so happens that a Goddess decides to grant their wishes. The hillarious results which follow form the rest of the story. The Hungry Stones is another ghost story with a slightly unconventional end. The Gift of Sight is about the insecurities and the tribulations of a woman who loses her eyesight because her husband's negligence.

All in all, a decent book to read if you don't mind sad endings.

Guests for Christmas

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Books I read in 2011 - Part 3: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I have just finished reading Steve Jobs' biography written by Walter Isaacson. Like I had mentioned to a few of my friends, no biography / autobiography had gotten me this interested since I read Jack Welch's "Straight from the gut" when I was in college.

My one word review of this book: awesome.

Agreed, the author had an interesting subject. An adopted child, a Silicon Valley whiz-kid, an entrepreneur who over the span of two and half decades revolutionized not just the computer industry but also the music, retail and animation industries.

What makes Isaacson's effort spectacular is that after reading the book, you feel you've been witnessing Steve Jobs' life unravel right in front of your eyes. The creation of magical products, the frustration at doing things wrong, the fights and the celebrations... all come alive.

The book does not intend to be a publicity gimmick for the hero who has passed away (it would've been had they stuck to the title 'iSteve: The Book of Jobs') but an honest narration of one of the most amazing CEOs of the modern era. Jobs was no saint and he knew it. He threw tantrums and hurled abuses at people. But all of this stemmed from the fact that he was a perfectionist. The same passion for excellence that led him to sometimes delay product launches also led him one time to take eight weeks to decide which washing machine to buy. There is no doubt about it: the man was a genius. Albeit, slightly flawed, but genius nonetheless.

Another great feature about Isaacson's book is that it is honest. Not only are there conversations with people who revered Jobs' but also from his troubled past. Mona Simpson, his biological sister; Lisa Brennan-Jobs, his illegitimate daughter; Tina Redse, his one-time girlfriend; and of course, Bill Gates, the man who grudgingly accepted that Steve Jobs had a habit of pulling off the impossible.

This book is a great read not only for those who wish to read the biography of one of the best CEOs but also who want to find out more about a fascinating man who had an incredible passion for excellence in business, just as in his personal life.

(image courtesy: Little, Brown book group)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Throw your past out of the window

Sometimes, life just seems mundane. People and places pass you by in a blur. Daily events become a punishing routine which become a matter of going through the motions. You are expected to live, work and perform based on how you have lived previously. In other words, people expect you to conform to the world that you have always pretended to conform to.

It is at moments like these when you need to step back, take a deep breath and analyse which direction your life is headed in. Maybe you need a break. Maybe you need a cup of tea. Maybe you need a hot shower. Maybe... all you need is a clear head.

Sometimes, all you need to do is throw your past out of the window. The past got you to where you are now. Great! But what next? The destination you choose to achieve tomorrow is decided by the path you decide to take today.

My mind has been pretty occupied with similar thoughts this past one week. Its as if the mind decides to numb the body and instruct it to go through the daily activities, all the while trying hard not to focus on the past and peer into the future.

Interestingly, today I came across something which appealed to me on similar lines.

I'm currently reading Steve Jobs' biography by Walter Isaacson. Here's an excerpt from an interview that Jobs gave in February 1985 around his 30th birthday (Bear in mind, his 30th birthday was a milestone for him as it signalled that he had grown older. Also, it was around this time that Apple started facing real trouble on a grand scale and Jobs began having major difference of opinion with the CEO, John Sculley. Soon after this, Jobs had to quit Apple and start over at NeXT):

"If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you've done and and whoever you were and throw them away.

The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to say, "Bye. I have to go. I'm going crazy and I'm getting out of here." And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently."

Friday, December 16, 2011

Books I read in 2011 - Part 2

There is special joy reserved for "discovering" books; books which you wouldn't have normally read. These are the ones that you stumble across unexpectedly at a bookstore, at a second-hand book shop or are a recommendation from a friend you haven't spoken to in a long time.

The Goodreads suggestions section has become one such source of joy for me. I was searching for good novels in the detective genre when I came across "The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins.

By the time I reached the end of the prologue, my nerves were already tingling as the build-up for a great mystery novel had been set.

The book is set in 19th century England, although the events in the prologue take place slightly earlier in the faraway exotic country of India. The prologue, ominously titled "The storming of Seringapatnam", describes how an officer of the East India Company comes in possession of a valuable diamond through thievery and murder right after the fall of Tipu Sultan of Mysore. The diamond, originally placed in a statue of the Moon God (hence the name) at Somnath, was sworn to be protected and restored by the priests of the temple at all costs.

Cut to half-a-century later when the said officer has been alienated by his family. To get back at them, the ailing old man leaves the diamond in his will to his niece on the day she turns eighteen. As it happens, the birthday party is also visited by three strange Indian gypsies. Later that night, the diamond mysteriously disappears. The theft, the search for it and the ultimate recovery of the diamond forms the rest of the novel.

Apart from the spine-chilling narrations at various parts in the book, the most interesting feature of the novel is the manner in which various chapters have been narrated by various characters in the book. The author's brilliance in eliciting humour and suspense from the narrators who speak in different styles is one of the highlights of the book.

Widely considered as one of the first mystery novels ever written, "The Moonstone" is a classic which you must read if you like reading Poe, Eliot and Doyle.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The debonair duo

One had an impish grin, the other had a cherubic smile. The one with a slim frame swayed as if his moves were inspired by the wind, the other jumped about with his full weight on shikaras while wooing the love of his life. One had a hair style which people said was inspired by Gregory Peck; at the same time, girls across the nation screamed for the other since he seemed to emulate Elvis' style of dancing.

They redefined suave. No, let me rephrase that. For the newly independent India, Dev Anand and Shammi Kapoor did not redefine suave... they defined it first-hand.

What I liked most about the films of these two gentlemen was their light-hearted nature. Not for them the pathos-filled heavy films of Dilip Kumar or the look-into-society Raj Kapoor films. These were two young boys about town, looking for a good life and a great life-partner (Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, Jewel Thief, Kashmir Ki Kali, An Evening in Paris to name a few).

Their songs remain etched in our memory. Whilst most of Dev Anand's famous songs were sung by Kishore, Shammi Kapoor and Mohammad Rafi complimented each other perfectly, right from that old black & white film "China Town" (remember 'Baar baar dekho'?).

One is spoilt for choices when trying to choose *that* one song by which one would like to remember each of these princes by. For Dev Anand, although 'Hum hai raahi pyaar ke' (Nau Do Gyarah) comes very close, the prize shall definitely go to 'Main zindagi ka saath nibhaata chala gaya' (Mohd. Rafi singing for him in "Hum Dono").

For Shammi Kapoor, while most would remember him with 'Yeh chaand sa roshan chehra' in "Kashmir Ki Kali", my personal favourite is him singing 'Aasman se aaya farishta' in "An Evening in Paris" (interesting how both "Kashmir Ki Kali" and "An Evening In Paris" are Shakti Samanta films). The madness of the romantic lover-boy suspending himself from a helicopter asking his lady love for another look while she is water-skiing in the lake below is exactly the kind of exuberance I would always like to remember Shammi Kapoor by.

RIP sires.

(image courtesy: The Hindu)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The magic of S D Burman

Brilliance need not always jump to the rooftops and shout in order to draw attention to itself. Sometimes, and as in this instance, long after the creative minds have left the world of mortals, it peeks out from the surrounding clutter to remind us of the sheer magic of simplicity.

Take for instance this ad for cooking oil which has been playing on TV lately.

For some reason, the voice of S D Burman kept playing over and over in my head. I inquired about the origins of it on Twitter and Mish was kind enough to tell me the song was from Talaash, a 1969 Rajendar Kumar film.

The song is 'Meri Duniya Hai Maa' (lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri) which plays over the opening credits of the film.

But wait! Hadn't Dada Burman sung another song which also played out during the opening credits?

The film is Dev Anand's 'Guide'. In the opening credits, as we see Raju "guide" leaving his known world behind and walk towards his transition to a 'spiritual guru', you hear S D Burman's lilting voice singing 'Wahaan kaun hai tera musafir jaayega kahaan' (lyrics: Shailender). The song has been sung which such pathos that you can't but have a moist eye when Dada Burman sings the words "koi bhi teri, raah na dekhe, nain bichaaye na koi... dard se tere, koi na tadpa, aankh kisi ki na royi".

But it isn't always that his voice will reduce you to tears... it is there to soothe you too just when you begin to lose hope. Remember the title track of "Aradhana"? As the mother's soul gets tormented over having lost her husband and then being separated from her son, S D Burman's soulful voice assures her... "Banegi aasha ek din teri yeh niraasha, kaahe ko roye? Safal hogi teri araadhana" (lyrics: Anand Bakshi).

Brilliance does that, you know. It can reduce you to tears as well as show the way ahead.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The yin-yang of self-confidence and humility

The other day I had an epiphany about the yin-yang of self-confidence and humility.

On one hand we have self-confidence. Too little of this and you end up being a mockery of the potential within you. Instead of dictating your own destiny, you end up being a pebble in the warpath of strong-willed neighbours. Self-confidence requires you to be convinced of your own arguments and reasoning; of being able to decide on the path that you wish to pursue.

Yet, too much of this virtue and the dangers of over-confidence and hubris can start ringing the death knoll of success. Let being overtly cocky be left to your so-called larger than life figures; they will see the light soon. Being "too full of one-self" and not being able to see the faults in one's own schemes is perhaps one of the most short-sighted things to do.

Which is where the beauty of humility sets in...

By learning to have a patient ear and listening to the opinions of others we gather the wisdom of the world. It is an attempt to acknowledge that the universe is a sum of many parts and you are just a part of the grand puzzle, a brush of colour on the master-stroke that is life.

However, too much of humility and you have the trap of not being able to listen to your own thoughts, drowned as it were in the multitude of voices that you've opted to surround yourself with. To be able to drink in the wisdom of the opinions around you and yet make your own judgement is the way of the wise.

Which is where the self-confidence sets in...

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Songs of the "black & white" era

Mom loves listening to the radio.

Not FM. Radio. For her, that means Vividh Bharti.

I credit my love for old (and when I say old, I mean OLD... as in, '40s and '50s stuff) Hindi songs to Mom's habit of listening to 'radio' before going off to sleep each night. It is this habit of hers which made me fall in love with the golden voices of Rafi, Hemant Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar long before I knew who they were.

For a generation which will grow up to Himesh singing 'Tera suroor' (Aapka Suroor) there was one which grew up listening to Hemant Kumar sing 'Bekarar karke hamein yun na jaiye' (Bees Saal Baad); today we think Mika's 'Main tennu love karda' (Desi Boyz) is fun.. some of us thought nothing could beat Kishore's madness in 'Jhoom jhoom kauva bhi dholak bajaaye' (Half Ticket).

This post is not to ridicule or challenge the 'like' factor of today's songs. Just to remind myself that the kind of music that I will hum ten years from now will most probably not be the ones that are recorded today.

Here are the top 20 of the most played songs from my 'Hindi B&W' playlist on my iPod:

1. Khoya khoya chand - Kala Bazaar (1960)
2. Chalat musafir moh liya re - Teesri Kasam (1967)
3. Yeh hai Bombay meri jaan - CID (1956)
4. Haal kaisa hai janaab ka - Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)
5. Bekaraar karke hamein yun na jaiye - Bees Saal Baad (1962)
6. Aaiye meherban - Howrah Bridge (1958)
7. Honton pe sacchai rehti hai - Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960)
8. Gore gore o baanke chhore - Samadhi (1950)
9. Dil deke dekho - Dil Deke Dekho (1959)
10. Maana janaab ne pukara nahin - Paying Guest (1957)
11. Tadbeer se bigdi hui - Baazi (1951)
12. Ek ladki bheegi bhaagi si - Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi (1958)
13. Jiya bekaraar hai - Barsaat (1949)
14. Cat maane billi - Dilli Ka Thug (1958)
15. Hum to mohabbat karega - Dilli Ka Thug (1958)
16. Hum bhi hain tum bhi ho - Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai (1960)
17. Chhod do aanchal - Paying Guest (1957)
18. Dil ka haal sune dilwaala - Shree 420 (1955)
19. Babuji dheere chalna - Aar Paar (1954)
20. Jaane kahaan mera jigar gaya ji - Mr. & Mrs. 55 (1955)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Books I read in 2011 - Part 1

Over the next few posts, I shall be putting up short reviews of some of the books that I read this year. Here is the first in the series.

The Ramayana Series by Ashok Banker: This 6 book series (a 7th book titled 'Vengeance of Ravana' was later added by the author) is a retelling of the great Hindu epic. Everyone has read / heard the story of the Hindu God Vishnu's avatar in human form battling the great demon Ravana. As I have noted previously on this blog, I was a sceptic when I started reading the first book 'Prince of Ayodhya' since most of my memories of Ramayana were tinged with the Ramanand Sagar produced TV series that we grew up watching on Doordarshan.

However, this series is a far cry from the soap-opera that I remembered. The book presents Rama, Lakshman and Sita well versed in martial arts and not shying away from taking up sword and spear to defend their land. Also, the country is not a "soft" state; it is a modern nation with highly evolved politics, military warfare and trade.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this series is that Ravana hasn't been reduced to a caricature. He truly emerges as a champion who won over the Gods with his devotion and defeated the humans in combat; an emperor who ruled a prosperous nation and a general who was brilliant at warfare. The sheer brilliance of his character lends a great deal of weight to the hero who must champion against all odds.

There are portions towards the end of the series where one feels the author hurries along and the narrative stumbles. Important battles within the great war seem to have been suddenly won without much explanation.

The reason why I loved this series is because it has renewed my interest in the Ramayana as an epic. It is all too easy to get carried away by the majestic Mahabharat, what with all the wars being waged and dynasty politics. But it took this version of Banker's Ramayana to remind me that this is also the story of a simple prince who loved his princess.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Being grateful

Sometimes, for no apparent reason, the soul demands that one be thankful and grateful.

To that Force that is Life.

For everything. And I mean... EVERYTHING.

For the simple pleasure of being able to breathe day after day.

To feel the joy of waking up to the sun shining in the morning when just the previous night it seemed there would be no end to darkness.

One can't be thankful enough to one's parents for shaping one's character.

Being grateful to our friends who are ever ready to share a laugh or eager to lend an ear in times of trouble.

Thankful to the world where there is music, song and laughter.


I am thankful.

May there be peace.