Monday, March 21, 2011

Gurur Devo Namah!

Beads of sweat trickled down my face as I waited in the staff room for the mother of all disciplinarians, English professor Usha Nair. Our class wanted to skip English lessons to watch a Bollywood blockbuster and since I was top student, we voted 59-1 that I was to secure my teacher's approval.

After what seemed like eternity, Prof. Nair appeared. ‘Hi Anjana’, she said, ‘need help with your lessons?’

‘N-n-no’, I stammered. Her mouth tightened as I said the words movie, skip and class. I now had visions of 'detention' written all over my record.

Then a miracle happened. She broke into a smile and asked, “Can you make that 61? I’d like to go too!” In that moment of immense relief, I knew Prof. Nair would be among my favorite teachers.

What made Prof. Nair different was that she saw in each of us great possibilities. Here we were a bunch of clueless teenagers from low-budget families, in search of our life’s mission and fearless in our youth. We worked equally hard at academics and mischief! Rather than label us a bunch of loonies, she took the time to look into our souls and understand the path that each of us was taking.

‘You must write’, she told me one day as I described an accident I witnessed. Before I could tell her I wanted to be an engineer not a writer, she had already asked that I submit a write-up of the accident on her desk next morning.
That write-up was the beginning of several articles and poems. Prof. Nair spent countless hours of her personal time critiquing and refining my essays, stories and poetry. I even wrote a poem about her! When the inter-college arts competition was announced, she declared I was going to be in our writing team.

Food and accommodation arrangements were notoriously dismal at art festivals. As we students shivered in the cold while practicing dance, music and drama (she had identified and groomed most of us), Prof. Nair was there - as our coach. She gave up better food and air conditioned lodging for teachers choosing instead to eat with us and sleep on a narrow wooden bench for the entire week. We will be champions, she repeated with such conviction that all of us wanted to prove her right.

And so we competed with all our might against students from across the state. Prof. Nair was more energized with every prize we won; she kept pushing us further. ‘You’re ready’, she told me. ‘Pray for a moment, then give it your all’.

I did give it my all – bringing in prizes for poetry, essay and story writing. With 21 points, I was set to be declared ‘Sarga Prathibha’ – the best writer of the festival. However, a multi-lingual writer emerged on the last day with 22 points, stealing the title from under my nose.

Prof. Nair was right; we were champions by a huge margin. We lit a celebration bonfire and carried her on our shoulders shouting ‘Our college rules!’ On our ride home, she came up to me and said ‘I know you’re disappointed. View this not as failure but as an indicator of how far you’ve come. Keep writing.’

Fifteen years have passed but memories gatecrashed as I bumped into Prof. Nair last week. ‘The movie I saw with your class was the best ever’ she said patting my cheek. As I touched her feet to seek her blessings, she put her hands on my head and simply said ‘Keep writing’.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Of 'This is It'

Despite all the media hype, Glasgow's welcome to MJ (or whatever is left of him) has been rather lukewarm.

I've always loved the man's work and have looked forward to watching him onscreen, so when I showed up in Glasgow during the very week of this movie, I had to go see it.

The movie is not a real 'movie' per se, it's just a collection of recordings of MJ's rehearsals for his supposedly-last tour. So, one must know the songs, dances and original videos to appreciate the mammoth efforts that were put in for this tour.

As I watched the man working behind-the-scenes, I was enthused to see the real person behind the personality. Somehow, it was like getting to know what it took to become a legend. The following are my conclusions:

1. Search for the very best professionals: There was a nation-wide hunt for the principal dancers for this tour. The auditions were massively attended, and MJ himself supervised the entire process. The whole idea was to identify those people who had 'the spunk' and 'pushed the boundaries', because that was what MJ was all about. Similarly, the vocalists and the orchestra team were geniuses. Once he selected his team, he spent plenty time and money to make sure they were physically and mentally in great shape.

2. Ability to 'really' involve people in his journey: MJ realised that his staff needed opportunities to showcase their talent. Though the whole show was about him, he needed to get the very best from his team. Hence he tailored the show to ensure that each instrumentalist had atleast one opporunity to shine, and to display hard-core talent. The final product was music quality beyond anyone's imagination.

3. Thoroughness: MJ's music director said in an interview that MJ knew every word, every musical note and every single rhythm of each song he recorded. He was an extremely hands-on guy, and was able to connect with each musician in his/her terms. For example, he would speak out the chords and notes to the guitarist and keyboardist, he would play the beats with his mouth to the drummer. He would sing high and low octaves with the vocalists. A lot of them said on interview that this level of thoroughness made him someone that 'could not be fooled, ever'.

4. Innovation: This one really takes the cake. MJ had re-recorded the videos of Thriller, Smooth Criminal and the Earth Song in 3-D. He even starred in the Smooth Criminal video. The final effect was that when MJ and his team performed on stage, the demons in Thriller (for example), would walk right out of the screen behind and into the audience ! Another interesting element was the use of pyrotechniques for visual impact. Chase scenes were shown using fireworks onstage. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

5. Painstaking attention to detail: This is similar to #3, but not quite. Though MJ knew his craft like the back of his hand, it was important to get every little element of the show in perfect order for his magic to happen. This meant stopping the song several hundred times over, and giving instructions - wait for my cue, fade the music to create a simmering effect, volume control and so on finally saying 'So let's do this one more time'. And this happened over and over and over again. Similar attention was paid to costume, gadgets (like cranes) used during the concert and so on.
and finally,

6. Leadership: In this context, I mean his ability to hold it all together. At any time, several hundred people were asking him questions ranging from trivial to strategic. He took his time with each one, did his homework and answered every question. He motivated the team often by helping them relax, using his oratorial skills to connect with them and letting them know that he valued their contributions. He positioned his role in such a way that others naturally wanted to give their very best to him.

Personally, I found the movie very good value for money. It was like watching the whole O2 show originally priced at £60 , at £4.90. Now that's a bargain.

PS: And I don't believe the 'sensitive' crap that the media comes up with when they talk about MJ. Though he was a humanitarian and has helped a whole lot of children enjoy this beautiful world of ours, he was by no means a silly, feminine, lovelorn person. What I saw on that screen was an astute businessman who was driven, had the talent and the guts to get what he rightly deserved: the title of 'the best entertainer of all time'.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Of Obama and his new toy


Saw on the news yesterday that our man Barry has been selected for a 'surprise' Nobel Peace Prize. Aha.

I've been curious about the world's reaction to this declaration and have been following discussions in cyberworld. News channels are abuzz with so-called experts pouring in their 2 cents in little TV boxes titled 'London' or 'New York', while an Indian journo with a typical desi accent occupies the rest of the TV screen and interrupts them every 2 seconds.

In as much as I admire Barry Boy for what he has achieved in his life, I don't believe it warrants a Nobel Peace Prize. One for literature, maybe (I quite enjoyed his books). I mean, c'mon, who can't see that this move is so intensely political? The powers-that-be who determine these things know what America's handshake of peace and friendship could mean. The 205 people who nominated him for the award are, oh surprise !!! mostly those non-White people who he got into high positions. The Muslim countries of the world now have a benchmark to hold him to: Mr. Barry, act like a Nobel Prize winner !

The Nobel Prize is to be given to outstanding achievement in the area of world peace. This does not include declarations or promises. Yes, there was an iftar in Trichur (a town in Kerala) - and many more in other places - sponsored by the White House, but those are not considered significant contributions to world peace. This is not to say that Barry cannot make a significant contribution - he sure can and is in the most powerful position to do something about violence, provided he has a little more time.

The politics involved in the Nobel committee's decisions has been obvious awhile. Gandhiji was nominated 5 times over a period of 5 years. Here was a man who changed the course of history through his approach towards peace and ahimsa. Even the unforgettable Martin Luther King referred to peace as 'Gandhi's way'. And the best the Nobel Committee could come up with, was to not award anyone the prize in 1948 when Gandhiji was assassinated. Shameful.

This Nobel Prize would have made heaps of sense if it had been given when Obama's contribution had been proven beyond doubt. As it stands, Britney Spears would've made a better recipient.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Of relief and jubilation

I did it ! I received my MBA degree with flying colours (and a distinction to boot).

Thank you God. Thank you Mother. Thanks to the others in my family who have been instrumental in my education. Thank you (some) classmates who taught me valuable lessons I incorporate in my daily life.

Thank you to all those who've helped me achieve what I have achieved today. My success is to your credit. Any failures along the path are my own.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Of being inspired

I have made a few friends in the MBA program.

Whilst some have taught me how not to be, some have shone the torch to show me one or two things I must learn and integrate into my own life. Some examples:

X who did not write any exams because 'he wasn't in the mood'.

Y who chose to not graduate because he thought exams were about war and he just didn't have an armour.

S who said she watched movies and porn, shopped, did other interesting stuff and finally managed to 'squeeze in 1 or 2 hours every week to study'.


A was so methodical he had differently coloured folders for each subject and painfully wrote down every point made by every academic in class.

K was just so nice (and not stupid) that she spent a whole lot of money on others in class with zero expectations of any return in cash or kind.

R was so disciplined he would cycle 7 miles to class daily come hail or highwater (both of which were common in Glasgow) to be in class or at groupwork on time every time. He also studied like crazy in the early hours of the morning after putting his 2 young kids to sleep.

M who was just way too intelligent for this school. There was little this guy hadn't done. He rattled statistics on any subject off his head, scored the highest in class, authored books and tested MS products professionally whilst sponsoring his and his girlfriend's education.

And I wonder....what would they say about me?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Of random musings

It's great to be back blogging. The hiatus has been long, insightful, introspective and enriching.
Now to put my head down and start to type sense...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Of marriage

Man to man conversation overheard in class:

Man 1: So you're looking to get married ?! Congratulations man !

Man 2: Thanks dude ! It's about time, don't you think?

Man 1: Of course, of course. But always remember. Don't marry a woman that's very intelligent, social or outgoing. Those ones tend to have minds of their own.

Man 2: (nods in silent agreement)