Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Year

After a long time, a new year celebration that brought with it everything I like.
  • Highland Single Malt on the rocks - with Talat Aziz playing in the background
  • Sumptuous dinner - mainly comprising of slain live-stock, whose supreme sacrifice made my day, errrr... night
  • A drive down the scenic beach road and beer on the sea-side cafe
  • To top it all - a prolonged overnite game of 29
Here is wishing the regular readers (whose total number on the last count was one, including myself) and the casual passer-bys a very happy new year.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

A Humble Thank You Note

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Thank you for paving the way for me to be born free and live freely. For the gift of independence, that all of us take as a granted birth right.

Thank you for removing the burden of servitude from the shoulders of my forefathers.

Thank you for leading the biggest mass uprising in human history, for showing how a nation can stand up & defend itself against an imperialist superpower.

Thank you for making the Indians believe in themselves to achieve what was deemed impossible.

Thank you for the pride that makes my chest swell, at being branded as a citizen of India.

Thank you for the visions of society, economy & nation-building – that has inspired countries and generations for the past half century.

Thank you for giving us the courage to raise our voices against the corrupt & the unjust in our daily lives. And the belief that our voices can make a difference.

Thank you for the absolute gem called The Story of My Experiments With Truth.

Thank you for the eye-openers on religion, God & spirituality. For teaching us the virtue of loving our fellow human beings.

Thank you for leaving behind the Gandhian Legacy.

Contrary to what ignorant critics say (and leave one wondering about their credibility to do so), You are the greatest human being & leader of masses, to have walked this earth in flesh & blood.

On this day, I show you my gratitude and pay a heart-felt tribute to the father of our nation.

Update: While most of the blogsphere is hell bent upon tearing apart Gandhian Policy on this day, some of them even acting wise guy to denounce Gandhiji completely - Gawker's post makes me hopeful that there are still people around, who undestand the greatest leader of the masses.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Discriminations on the Home Front

Being born an Indian gives me the distinct advantage of being able to live in the best place on earth. The flip side is, I have the inevitable brown skin, which almost always puts me on the wrong side of racial discrimination. While abroad, the discrimination results in several culminations; thankfully most of them physically harmless. Ugly stares from ignorant bums who think all brown-skinned dudes are terrorists by default, extra number of friskingsat the airports - we have experienced all these and have come to accept it as common place.

In a nutshell, facing discrimination outside your country of origin does not appear to be such a big deal, considering the enormous ignorance prevalent in the western world.

But what is unfortunate is the kind of discrimination we face at home front, as compared to people with non-brown skins. Have you ever tried to enter one of those pubs, which has a strict "No Stags" policy on weekends? We, the brown skinned SOBs don't get to enter these watering holes on weekends (that is, unless accompanied by a member of the fairer sex). But when a couple of white skinned dudes walk in (of course, as stags), the burly bouncers bow reverently and let them pass. Not sure about other cities, but I have seen this happen a lot in Chennai & Bangalore. When questioned, theie responses are the same. "No stags allowed for reasons of discipline & security". What the heck does this mean? What makes the foreigners more disciplined and less disturbance-creating as compared to us, to earn them this special privilege?

Makes me wonder, how can these pub/club/bar owners discrimate against brown-skinned Indians, inside India itself and get away with it? India, by constitutional decree, does not allow or encourage discrimination. If at all there is any discrimination in India; I, by virtue of my brown skin; should be on the right side of it and definitely should not be the one being discriminated against !!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Loser vs Loser

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Bollywood at its Worst

Rediff has started a message board for the worst ever movie you have seen. Readers’ opinions were solicited and they seem to have got quite a good response, going by the dozens of pages of comments they have got. It appears to be a rather belated attempt on Rediff’s part to educate its plethora of Movie Critics, Reviewers & Editors – who often appear completely clueless about movies. I hope they learn some lessons about movies & the art of movie reviewing, as a result of this exercise. At least, they should be able to differentiate the dung from the dahlia or vice versa – a quality, as any discerning reader & movie buff would know, they lack severely.

Sample this. Rediff’s star Cine Critic happens to be one Raja Sen. Read his reviews of Sarkar and Paheli, and you will know what I meant in the above paragraph. Anyone, with a semblance of sense around him, would have done a far better job!

Like the Rediff readers, I too have a sudden urge to document the forgettable movies that I have watched in the past few years, which I won’t watch again, even for a cash reward of thousand bucks. (Might do so for two, but only if the survival of the civilized world depends upon it). Unlike the readers, I thought of utilizing my blog space, rather than cluttering up the message board. Considering the quality of bollywood movies made in the last few years, the task appears as tough as finding a football in a bathtub.

The following movies appear in no particular order, except for the first one, which will retain its lead position – even after another century of one million crappy movies.
  • Boom (2003) – The unofficial crown prince of forgettable flicks. Wonder what Kaizad Gustad was smoking when he went on to make this one? The tagline might read “The fashion world meets the underworld”, but in reality, it’s a path breaking initiative on how to make a total cropper with a big star cast. Variously taunted as “Amitabh’s biggest career mistake” and “Kaizad’s preamble before his entry to mental asylum” – this one epitomizes the degree of avoidability of a movie.
  • Yaadein (2001) – Famed director, promising actors (who lost their respective promising characteristics soon after the movie saw daylight), exotic locations – all these don’t necessarily constitute a winning formula. On watching the movie, the first reaction was incredulity on how a talented director could go ashtray in a short span of time; which soon gave way to suicidal tendencies of the third kind. Jackie Shroff features in the top two movies in my list. Coincidence or causation?
  • Hello Brother (1999) – If there is a course in the acting institutes, titled “what not to do in a comedy movie”, probably showing this movie to the students would suffice. This movie reaffirms my belief that comedy is not everyone’s cup of tea, definitely not the forte of Salman Khan and his loser brothers. Capital Punishment should be doled out to those who indulge in making a comic movie, without having the slightest talent for it.
  • Hum Saath Saath Hein (1999) – This movie was a learning experience. If the starting sequence of a movie shows a big joint family clustered together in the Pooja Ghar, singing Bhajans, walk out immediately. Or else, it might prove torturous for your sanity. And if you seriously like the kind of stuff this movie is made of, go watch any sitcom on Star Plus.
  • Saathiya (2002) – The great movie, which effectively (and thankfully so) grounded Vivek Obroi’s movie career, which seemed to have take off with his debut movie “Company”, which on hindsight appears to be a fluke of a success. After a few initial moments, the movie turned into a chronicle of the plights of a newly married couple. The tear-fest became so intense; it almost swept me out of the theatre in its wake.
  • Devdas (2002) – To put it mildly, never in the history of Indian Moviedom has such a huge investment (50 Crores) disappointed in such a big way. The movie, despite all its grandeur, appeared to have cast all the wrong actors in the right roles. Shahrukh, in the title role, appeared about as comfortable as a whale in the midst of Sahara Desert. If Sharat Chandra were alive today, he would have got the shock of his life witnessing Bhansali’s screen rendition of his masterpiece. I wonder how this movie did so well among the NRI audience!
  • Dhadkan (2000) – Another step in the learning process – never go to a bollywood movie for the first show on first day. The star cast featured the two top action heroes of the 90s and that’s what took me to the theatre. But alas! Those two spent their entire on-screen time competing with each other on who can shed the maximum amount of tears. I got so miffed that I decided to ‘highly recommend’ the movie to a group of my friends. After all, they too deserved their shares of the pie. And after the unsuspecting lot got pranked into the theatre, I had to remain in hiding for over a week, for fear of dear life.
  • Mela (2000) – The uninitiated among my friends simply suggested that the movie should have been named “Kela”, and forgot all about it. But I have patented the movie as the most potent weapon of torture for one’s adversary, to be used only when the maximum amount of sadistic pleasure is desired. I am still looking for that adversary. Anyone game?
  • Main Hoon Na (2004) – Yet another Shaharukh Khan blooper, in the form of an immense intellectual insult for those with a level head on their shoulders. Fifteen years doing choreography should not automatically qualify someone to become a director. Or else, we will end up having stupid movies with asinine stunt scenes, where a cycle rickshaw chases and outruns a SUV on a country road. And no, there aren’t any patriotically motivated terrorists in India, not yet at least.
  • 1857 – The Rising (2005) – This one can’t simply be summarized in a paragraph. It deserves an entire post, for the dubious distinction of being the biggest highly-expected disappointment of the lot.
I am sure there are many more, who can make it to the exulted list. But hey, weekend is starting and for sure, there are more positive things in life.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Happenings at Home

It has been ten long years, since I have been out of Orissa, except for brief visits, two or three times every year.The first four years were because of studies and the subsequent six for work. Yet, for all practical purposes, Orissa remains my home sweet home. The place which I adore and always wish to go back to and where I am going to be eventually.

Orissa never makes it big in the national news. The happenings in this quaint & peaceful state are often tucked in the middle pages of national newspapers and magazines, where they are likely to be overlooked. The news channels, with the possible exception of good old Doordarshan, completely ignore the state. After all, the news channels have their TRP and majority viewer-base to take care of - which for them takes precedence over authenticity and importance of the contents they broadcast. It is indeed disheartening when channels like
Aaj Tak spend the entire prime time talking of a vagrant bull that wandered into Connaught Place, New Delhi; scaring the shit out of the denizens of the national capital, while they don't even make a passing mention of the signing of the biggest FDI deal in the history of India.

FDI & More:

Yeah, the biggest FDI deal in the history of India involved an agreement between Pohang Iron & Steel Company (POSCO) of South Korea and the government of Orissa. The deal amounts to Rs 52,000 crores (US $12 billion) and involves the setting up of a steel plant at the port town Paradeep. As per this article in rediff:
"Posco signed an MoU for setting up a steel plant at Paradip in Orissa with a total investment of $12 billion (Rs 52,000 crore). It is the biggest foreign direct investment in India. The project will be completed in two phases. Each phase will consist of two modules of 3 tonne per annum. The first module is expected to be completed by June 2010. Thereafter, 3 million tonne capacity will be added every two years and the plant will reach its full capacity of 12 million tonne by 2016."
The state boasts of a huge & high quality reserve of iron ore, apart from the availability of cheap and surplus electricity. As a result, both domestic & international steel makers are making a beeline for the state. Among them are Posco, Tata Steel, Sterlite, Essar and the Murugappa group. The fact that the government of Orissa has received 40 different proposals for steel industry in the last one year, is a testimony to the potential of the state.

Albeit a little late, things finally seem to look good for Orissa, which has long been one of the poorest states in the whole country. Way to go, indeed !!

A welcome relief for children:

Those of us, who studied in Goverment schools, especially in small towns might have gone through a particular ordeal in our school days. What happens when a VIP visits the school or the town housing the school? The children are asked to present themselves in neat uniforms and are paraded in front of the visiting dignitaries. If not paraded, at least they were made to stand in queues to welcome the visiting dignitary, who could be anyone from a District Inspector of Schools to a State Minister. What added to the woes of these children is the fact that VIPs are almost always fashionably late and the kids have to sweat it out in the gruelling summer, while waiting for the visitors. Teachers used to encourage and co-ordinate such activities, to please the dignitaries as well as to show off the kind of discipline & obedience they command among their pupils. May be the dignitaries also preferred to see well-dressed school children in front of them - rather than the ugly face of poverty, which was an eye-sore for them.

Well, not any more. At least not in Orissa. So declared the Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. The school children will be completely exempt from doing the VIP duties. The executive order has banned parading children in front of VIPs and Orissa was the first state in India to bring such a directive into existence.

Bravo, Mr Patnaik !! You might not be the typical media savvy politician or a suave political player, but you do have a decency, which is almost-extinct among other indian politicians. I am sure the mantle of Orissa is in very able hands, with Naveen Patnaik at the helm of state affairs.

I wish Indian mainstream media , which seems obsessed with negative news, had devoted some time & space for such heartening pieces of news.

The darker side:

Unfortunately, all the news about Orissa are not equally heartening. The story of Mamta Nayak, a dalit (scheduled cast) student, who was banned from cycling to her school in a village by the upper cast people, makes us wonder if we are indeed in the twenty first century. During my stay & visit to several small towns & villages in Orissa, I found that the cast system was pretty much prevalent. But it seldom took an ugly turn like this particular event. The Panchayat (village council), comprising of members of higher cast, had asked Mamta not to cycle in the premises of Narasimhpur village. Mamta had to travel 14km either way, every day to attend school and uses her bicycle for the commute. But she was asked to get off her bicycle when she neared the village, and walk along with it, while crossing the village.

These things are bound to happen, when a place remains under-developed and under-educated for a very long time. What is important here is the steps that we take to tackle such issues. In a typical situation, probably Mamta would have abided by the edict and would have embraced her misfortune with quiet tears. But, I am glad to see that Mamta has very bravely defied the village council's decision and has decided to resume cycling to her school. The local administration had come to her aide, after a NGO took up the issue, and have provided her an escort (a lady police officer) to accompany her to school and back. Of course, the government can't provide escorts to hundreds of Mamtas, who are being victim of cast discrimination. But surely the courage & determination of Mamta would go a long way in resolving the age old problem of cast disputes.

(This post is on the occassion of my long awaited trip to home, which starts tomorrow. Hope to come up with more such posts on my home state in future.)

Politically Correct Pizza

During a recent visit to Pizza Corner (the Indian & very much Indianized Pizza Chain) at Chennai, came across a signboard that said the following:
"Our pizzas don't contain Beef or Pork. We only use Halal meet in our pizza. Our pepperoni is 100% chicken. " (duh ??)
Being politically correct is good, but what about making some good pizzas, which at least don't taste like a culinary experiment gone awry?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Rising or The Downfall ??

Watching "Mangal Pandey: The Rising" was a disappointing experience, to put it mildly. If allowed, my actual reaction would be to hold the producer by the scruff of his neck and demand my money back. Dont have any intention of writing a review (as I did for "Sarkar" & "Bunty Aur Babli") - simply because its just not worth the effort. However some ideas crossed my mind while I was watching the movie and immediately thereafter, I would like to put them forward.

  • A period movie need not and should not contain item numbers. Two ravishing babes in skimpy clothes, swinging provocatively to the tunes is not the way street performances happen in India. And surely it did not happen that way back in 1856.
  • In a historical and patriotic movie,, the patriotism & historical moments should take the centre stage - not two half baked love stories running parallel to each other. If the director has any talent, he can successfully direct a period movie, without having to resort to the masala movie formula. On the other hand if a director seriously belives that movies can't be made without a love story as the central angle, he should refrain from attempting period movies.
  • In a historic movie, characters, time & place are of the paramount importance. If you mess them up, the movie is screwed beyond repair. So it challenges the tolerance of serious movie goers when you show a small town (Barrackpore) in Bengal in 1856 and the sign board on a shop is written in Hindi in Devanagari script.
  • If someone gets shot in the chest on 29th April, he can't be healed up enough to attend the military court in person (and walk into it on his own feet) on 5th of May. Definitely not a century and half ago, when the medical facilities were still in a primitive stage.
  • Rani Mukherjee should rechristen herself as Roni (crying) Mukherjee. In the scenes where she is not actually crying, it seems as if she is going to. So big is her propensity for tears that she spent most of her on-screen time crying, even when in her previous movie, the character was called Babli (Bubbly). I wonder if she gives some kind of discount, when the movie-makers cast her in crying roles.
  • A movie set in 1850s need not have all the female characters showing off thier cleavages. At least while making period movies, the director should have restrained his urge to be an exhibitionist.
  • Mangal Pandey might have raised his voice against the British officers. But how feasible it sounds for him to have a good knowledge of the parliamentay democracy system in Britain, and preach Gordon about it?
Mangal Pandey, in my opinion was more of a "thought process" (what we call "ek soch"), than an actual hero of the freedom struggle. Let me explain. In real life, the man might have been a hero or an accident, it hardly matters. What matters is, whether through his sacrifice or otherwise, he did inspire the great Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Mangal Pandey, as a person might not have achieved much. But when he became a thought, as the talk and inspiration of mutineers, he did show us that an armed struggle could be mounted against a marauding & occuppying foreign power.

I salute the great inspiring thought called "Mangal Pandey" and condemn the pathetic movie that could hardly be described as a tribute to the hero of India's first freedom struggle. The movie has its very few moments of glory. But as we know, we can't make a bouquet with some fresh and a lot of dried-up flowers !!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

I am an Espresso (lover)

You Are an Espresso

At your best, you are: straight shooting, ambitious, and energetic

At your worst, you are: anxious and high strung

You drink coffee when: anytime you're not sleeping

Your caffeine addiction level: high

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Engineers: Then & Now

Today when I look back at my professional life and the student life preceeding that, time seems to be flying in a jiffy, putting even the fastest space shuttle to shame. Seven summers ago, I was a final year graduate student, just one year away from getting my degree in Engineering & eagerly waiting for the culmination of four years of professional studies - landing a good job. Those days of anxious waits for corporate interviews, eager anticipation of to-be-announced results and the parties that were thrown by friends who got selected - still linger fresh in my memory. One of the best memories is that of my own interview, of course the one where I got selected.

Seven years later - the table seems to have turned, quite literally. I was again off to some of the reputed Engineering Colleges of south india - this time not to attend, but to coduct interviews on behalf of my employer. A chance to interact with young, entusiastic would-be graduates filled me with anticipation. Four engineering colleges and many dozen interviews later, I am rather disappointed - at the type of engineers we are going to get. In the words of a colleague, who was with me in this whole exercise, the whole experience was "nothing to write home about".

The first thing that an Engineering Course (or for that matter, any professional course), teaches a person is the right attitude. The attitude to explore life - not be a mere bookish creature. In a college in Coimbatore, when asked "What do you do after classes?" - the answers were rather cliched - "one hour of prayer, three hours of studies, five hours of sleep and so on". To be completely honest, I did not get a different answer from the twelve candidates I interviewed over the day. Is that all there is to life in an Engineering College? I think not, at least things were not so bad in my engineering college days. Read on and you will come to know why I am disappointed.

Most of the would be engineers did not have a hobby or interest to talk about. Some of them were interested in reading, but they were ill at ease explaining why a particular author or book happens to be their favourite. One of them tried his best to convince me that reading India Today can be considered as a "reading hobby", his constant banter about it came to an end only when I interrupted him to ask the name of the editor, to which he did not have an answer. One person talked about "Formula 1" as being his area of interest. For a moment I was thrilled, at the chance of talking to a person who shared my interest in something. Just to judge the depth of his interest I asked him what he thought of the fiasco at Indianapolis.The interview was only a week after the most forgetable event in the history of F1 took place. And the reply? "Sir, I just watch it, but don't follow it that closely."

There was this guy with interest in Automobiles. The question answer session with him went like this:
Me - "So, why do you like Automobiles?"

Candidate - "Well, I am an automobile engineering student, thats why."

Me - "Good, so which is ur favourite car?"

C - "Mercedes, Sir"

Me - "Which model?"

C - (After furiously scratching head & chin) - "Hmmmmmmmm, Errrrrr.. Mercedes Sir"

Me - "Yeah, I got that. But any particular mercedes model, that you like most?"

C - "No model sir.. Mercedes in general, Sir .."
Then came a Mechanical Engineering graduate. A guy with a rather arrogant attitude. Not the type of arrogance that comes from a thorough understanding of a topic, but the kind of arrogance which is born off ignorance. Lets call him X.
Me (after the initial pleasantries) - "So X, why did you select Mechanical Engineering?"

X (after 5 minutes of waxing eloquence about Mechanical Engineering) - "Sir, may I give two reasons why Mech is the best?"

Me (getting prematurely optimist, without knowing what was forthcoming) - "Sure."

X (confident as hell) - "Sir, I am sure u have heard of Vinod Khosla, the guy who started Oracle. He was a mechanical engineer by profession.."

Me (Trying desperately to hide my disappointment through gritted teeth) - "I always thought Mr Khosla was a co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Anyway, whats your next point?"

X (with a knowing smile) - "You know Tata Consultancy Service has got a contract from Ferrari.. You know how they got it? They recruited a lot many mechanical engineers and showed the list to Ferrari. Ferrari became happy and granted them the contract".
I was just sort of pulling my hair out in frustration. My co-panelist, sensing that the candidate was probably a bluff master, and not exactly the kind of material we were looking for, informed him that the interview was over. The saga of disappointment did not get over there. There was someone (another self proclaimed voracious reader) who thought Sidney Sheldon was the best author in the world, and deserved at least the Booker prize!

When it came to talking about their favourite technical subjects, things only got worse. A person with "Engines" as his topic of interest, could not provide an example of an External Combustion Engine". Someone with "Data Structures" as the core topic of interest has never heard of a Doubly Linked List. Someone who just loved "Power Electronics" had no idea what a Thyristor is. So on and so forth.

The crux of the situation came in the next round of interviews, that succeeded the technical round. The candidates who did moderately well in the first round, had to face two of our HR Managers. My HR manager made it a point of asking everyone one question. The question was pretty simple.

"Who is the vice-president of India ?"
To his utter disappointment, not a single person could answer it. Not only that, the question was asked for the first time at 10 am and for the last time at 6pm. Still nobody could answer it. What surprised us more is the fact that these guys apparently never discussed with their friends what transpired inside the interview room. What happened to the so-called camaraderie among engineering students? Finally, when we did announce the result, there were only the selected candidates present to hear the result and accept the offer letters. No large group of friends, no hooting, no hip-hip-hurrahs, no nothing.

Things were very different, and I must say, way better seven years ago. My batchmates, barring the few toppers, were never exceptional at studies. (Toppers are a different lot and I am not discussing them here. I am talking about the common lot of engineering students.) However, when someone asked them about their hobbies/interests, they had the ability to take the interviewer for a ride. I remember one incident involving a friend, whose interview was mostly an hour-long discussion about which is the better book between "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead". We were never technically so good, but if we had a favourite subject, we made sure we had at least average understanding of it. I can't think of anyone in my whole batch, who would have had "Refrigeration" as his core competency and yet, not know what a coolant did !! And the camaraderie? Well, if an interviewer asked a question (technical or otherwise), he better not repeat it during the course of the day. Because if he did, he would find the next candidate (who had had a thourough discussion with the previous one) rather well prepared for the answer. And the scenes after a company announced the list of candidates? Well, there will be serious celebrations, ass-kicking (those who have been through it, will know what I mean) and parties after each such selection. When the results were announced, assuming ten candidates appeared in the interview, at least another fifty will be accompanying them to hear the result. Yes, thats what my engineering life was all about - cultivating great friends and a good attitude.

I can't blame the young graduates for this debacle. The fault lies with the system. Once upon a time, only those who came through the competition of entrance tests, did get into engineering colleges. Only the brightest could go for the best technical education the country had to offer. But now, we have various management & payment seats (more prevalent in South India, than elsewhere), where a student gets into an engineering college, without even having to appear for an entrance examination and with very poor grades at the intermediate level. As a result, those without the necessary caliber get into professional courses. If someone does not have the basics right, then the best of faculty and infrastructure can do little to hone his/her skills. To make things worse, engineering colleges are being operated only for profit, sometimes by reputed commercial establishments & even by religious trusts, without the necessary infrastructure in place. Anyone, who can cough up a few lakh rupees (often masked as a donation), can get into such a college. Good students and good educational facility, can together create a good talent pool in the country. On the other hand, what will be the outcome from such institutions?

I am not against the privatization of education. But surely the time has come to curb the unscruplous mushrooming of such institutions and restrict the availability of technical education only to the deserving.