Saturday, June 25, 2005

Qualification (To Love ) ---- A Short Story

Rukmini came out of the temple and as she put on her slippers, she tossed a 1 rupee coin to the beggar in front of the temple. Rukmini was 73 years old, grand mother of 4 children. Today was an important day for her. Her family had been looking for possible suitors for two of her grand daughters. Janaki, was her son's daughter, who was turning 22 this year. Chitra, was her daughter's first child and had turned 25 this year. Her son Srinivasan ( works for Union Bank as a Senior Accountant) lived in Mahadevan street, which was about 5 minutes walk from Subramaniam street, where her daughter's family lived. Both Janaki and Chitra were to be visited by possible suitors today. The family who were to visit Chitra had confirmed that they would be visiting Chitra's house at 4:00 PM. The other boy's family would be visiting Janaki's house at 8:00 PM. It was Saturday and Rukmini had performed archana for Lord. Sathyanarayana. Saturday was for Sathyaranarayana, she had reminded herself before she visited the temple. Poor Lord.Sathyanarayana had been harassed by Rukmini for the past 5 years. He had so far watched, with a lot of mirth and sarcasm, his collegue and co-diety Hayagreevar being tortured and pounded by Rukmini for 20 years until both her grandsons completed B.E and went to the United States. Now for the past 5 years it has been his turn. And frankly it had been exasparating. Rukmini always prayed to him to somehow make Chitra say "yes" to the visiting suitor. He seemed to remember dicussing with Goddess Mahalakshmi " Chitra simply doesn't say yes! does she? she has been saying NO for 5 years. What is it with girls nowadays?". Normally one visit from a boy's house would see 12 paradakshanas and an archanai by Rukmini. Today was a double-bill and Sathyaranarayana had to endure a ghee bath, curd-bath, milk bath and 24 pradashanams before Rukmini decided to leave him alone. He was quite shaken by all this attention. Next week was Public Board exam week and the Lord was expecting quite a lot of visitors. So he decided to take some rest as he saw Rukmini finally leave the temple. She felt she had done her part by requesting to Him 728 times to somehow make Chitra say "yes" today. He was thinking "I heard her the first time. What does she think? I can't hear properly?"

Rukmini walked towards her son's house. She lived with her son. Janaki was B.E from Eswari Engineering College. A fair bespectacled girl who could sing in 6 octaves and an employee of Sathyam Software. She had been class first and college first for the past 10 years. Everything from DOTE admissions to campus interviews clicked for her in the first attempt. They had advertised in "The Hindu" classified only last week (while it was Janaki's first advertisement, it was Chitra's 3rd advertisement in matrimonials) and they had got an agreeable response for Janaki very soon. The boy, Sundaram, was a rich industrialist's son. He had worked in Pune for 2 years before moving to Bangalore 3 years before. He also wore spectacles, but that was okay he was going to be promoted to a Project Manager soon. Rukmini was happy at the prospect and then she thought of Chitra. "Contrast this with Chitra" she said to herself sadly and angrily. Varadarajan, Rukmini's husband, sat in front of the house talking heatedly with Guru Moorthi. She didn't like the looks of it. Varadarajan was saying " oye.... Om-namo-bhagavathe-vasudavaya was not in the original version of Bhagavad Gita. I do not know why Sankara Bashyam of Vishnu Sahasranamam decided to include it". To which Guru Morrthi angrily replied "when Adi-Sankara visited Govindacharya in the 6th century...". Rukmini decided to hear no more. She was completely bored by their discussion. Varadarajan and Guru Moorthi were friends for 30 years. They had never agreed on any topic and fought on issues from Indian cricket team selection to Jayalalitha. She wondered how they managed to still be friends. They couldn't live without each other. Men confused her. She would never talk with her friends if they disagreed with her on a single issue. This argument meant Guru Murthi would stay until coffee time. She did not have decoction for an extra person. She wished the her husband would concede defeat and end the argument soon.

She changed her saree, took her bag and decided to leave to her daughter's house. Her intuition said Janaki's alliance would click. According to Rukmini, the only weakness in Janaki's repertoire was that she wore specs. But the groom wore specs too. So, she said to herself "it wouldn't be problem". Chitra was the problem, as she had been for 5 years. She had to go to her daughter's house with all the prasadams and somehow make this one click. On her way out she said to her husband " Neither Adi-Sankara, Ramanujar, Sachin Tendulkar nor Jayalalitha will lose a minute's sleep because of your arguments. But if you are not there in your daughter's house before 4:00, you may lose your leg". She was in her daughter, Vasantha's house in 10 minutes. She asked her daughter, Vasantha, if the soji-bajji's were all done. "No tiffin for the groom," said her daughter. "The boy does not want to eat anything it seems. He does not even want his parents to eat anything. They feel it is indecent to eat this way when visiting a girl's house. The boy's mother specifically said this". Rukmini sighed "Modern World" as Chitra entered the house after a chat with her friend. Before Rukmini opened her mouth Chitra (and much to the relief of Lord.Sathyanarayana) said "Okay Patti... this time I will wear a Saree". Chitra was a complex person. She had done M.Com. She worked in a Auditor's Office for sometime and then got a job in a private bank and has been working there for 3 years. When she was in 11th Std, her brother begged her not to take Commerce group. At that time she thought, she knew everything. She refused to listen to anybody and took Commerce group. Then later she changed her mind and thought M.Com and not C.A, was what she wanted to do and once again, she went against everybody's wishes and joined M.Com. Her brother repeatedly said " You dont have long term vision Chitra. A M.Com will make you un-marketible for good alliances. Everybody wants professionally qualified brides these days. Nobody looks for beautiful girls or girls who know classical music anymore. If you are not professionally qualified, you will marry an average person and lead an average life. Everybody around you will be visiting various countries and enjoying life, even me. while your biggest joy will be that your husband bought a Pulsar Bike. Is this what you want? This decision could cost you a good life.". She didn't listen then. Now, ofcourse she secretly regretted her decisions. Her friends had all been married and were working in U.S, U.K and Australia. Her close childhood friend now worked for Microsoft, was happily married and she had seen 7 countries so far. Her brother had been right -- as he always was. Looking back she couldn't remember why she thought Commerce in 11th std or M.Com was right for her. Why didn't she do C.A? she asked herself. She had secretly confided to her mother " yes! I don't think people know what they are doing when they are in school. I should have listened to my brother". But that didn't dampen her spirits. She said to herself "one mistake will not kill a person". If I am not professionally educated, at least I will find someone who is very well educated. And so she rejected anybody whose education did not meet her expectations. No matter if they came loaded with gold, she did not care. Money did not mean anything to her. Rukmini was bewildered by her principles. Chitra did not want a person, who owned two houses or looked after 27 acres of agricultural land. She wanted an educated person. A PhD perhaps. Much to the consternation of many, especially her Grand Ma, She rejected Lawyers, Bankers etc. She decided she will develop her own proper vision as her brother had suggested, even if it was too late. It is tough when one develops late realization, but she decided to grit it out, no matter what. Thank god! her father supported her. "Being an M.Com does not mean, I will be condemned to an average life. I will get a good alliance" she said, as she waited for Mr.Right.

The boy who was supposed to visit her, Srikanth, was a PhD in Micro Electronics from University of Pennsylvania. He worked for IBM's Research Lab in New York. His only condition was he wanted to talk to the girl, understand her as best as he could in the 1 or 2 hours given to them and then decide. He knew he couldn't find out everything in 2 hours, but what he wanted out of a girl, he thought he could find out in 2 hours. He said "if I can't find out about a person in 2 hours, I wont find out anything new in 20 months". Chitra always requested to talk with any prospective alliance (much to Rukmini's irritation) in any case so this was nothing new for her. It was 6:00 PM. Chitra and Srikanth were talking for close to 2 hours now. Rukmini was convinced Chitra would ruin everything by talking about her stupid philosohphy and ideas. "He is so welll educated and he has consented to come and see her even if she is not qualified at all. How dare she ask so many questions. The girl has no sense", thought Rukmini. Varadarajan had finally torn himself from Guru Moorthi and had entered 5 minutes after Chitra and Srikanth starting talking in a separate room. Rukmini had given him a cold glare when he entered. His daughter too had refused to give him his evening dose of coffee. He felt a little guilty. Now the families had exhausted all small-talk about weather, mega serials, movies, cricket etc. The boy's father had become silent 25 minutes ago. He was now only saying "uhms and aahs" to Varadarajan's comments on Alwars and Divya Desams. Varadarajan was getting a feeling they weren't that interested in God. Rukmini had dialled Lord.Sathyaranarayana's number 2000 times since the boy and girl started talking. It was busy tone up there. Finally they finished talking. Both of them came out and after 5 minutes they got ready to leave. The boy's family left saying they would call soon and tell their decision. It was 7:30 PM. Time to rush to Srinivasan's house for Janaki's alliance visit. Nobody even asked Chitra what they had talked for so long.

Sundaram, the boy who was supposed to meet Janaki, had not seen the girl's photo or knew anything about Janaki. Janaki meanwhile had seen Sundaram''s photo in Yahoo Photos a dozen times. She liked his smile. He had a dimple. For Sundaram, however, all this happened in a rush. His mother had told him the previous night that they were going to visit a girl the next day. When he asked her for details, his mother said " you can find out all the details when you see her tomorrow". Sundaram's family arrived at 8:00 PM sharp. They were always punctual. After the greeting and formalities, Janaki was asked to come to the living room, where everybody sat. Janaki had refused to wear contact lenses. "This is me grand ma" she had said. "I am person who wears glasses. I will not present myself any other way". Janaki was self-confident. Unlike Chitra, she was used to success. Janaki felt Chitra was too shy and lacked self-confidence. She never undertsood why. She had the "The world is mine" attitude. You could even say she was even a touch arrogant of her success. Sundaram looked at her and did not say a word. Janaki looked at him and did not say a word. Sundaram's mom wanted to hear Janaki sing and so she bgean to sing "Marugelaraa", which happened to be Sundaram's favorite song. At that time Chitra's father's cell phone rang. It was Srikanth's father calling to convey their decision. "So Soon??!!!" thought Rukmini. Chitra's father attended the call, kept it down and continued listening to Janaki sing without saying a word. Everybody's (except Sundaram's and his parents') eyes were on Chitra's father. But his face did not show anything. When Janaki finished her song, Sundaram's mother was beaming. She was surprised that Janaki's voice did not falter when it went to high-pitch. Then Varadarajan asked Sundaram if he would like to talk to the Janaki. Sundaram, looked embarassed, adjusted his 200$ designer made prescription glasses and politely replied "No". "He looked smart in glasses," thought Janaki. Janaki had no such preference of talking with the boy. Rukmini could feel magic in the air. " Clicked for Janaki in the first attempt again..she thought". As soon as the boy's family left, everybody rushed towards Chitra's father and asked him what was the call about. He looked at Chitra and said seriously " did you want to marry the boy ?". She didn't care now but she said sharply " yes! I wanted to". Her father then looked into her eyes and said "well.. then ..he wants to marry you too!!!!" and smiled. Rukmini could not believe her ears. Her joy did not have any bounds. She immediately thanked Sathyanarayana, who too was quite releived. For half an hour they talked and rejoiced the good news.

The phone rang again. This time it was Sundaram's mother. For Rukmini it would be two hits on the same day. Varadarajan finished talking, kept the phone down and said, " They do not want to proceed with this alliance. The boy wants a girl who does not wear eye glasses"

Thursday, June 23, 2005

What is your Salary? - II

Note: This blog is a sequel for this blog. So read this first.

Salary is one of those sensitive pieces information that nobody wants to talk openly about. People dont even argue/disccuss philosophies and issues concerning salary or revealing of salary information. People dont even blog about such topics because it can so easily backfire. When people are young and still in undergraduate college, job and job related things are vague subjects. Manager is a designation that everybody knows, you always have this position called "software engineer". Beyond this nobody knows anything about the job industry. At that time, I heard in my relatives circle about somebody asking someone his salary and then the someone got really offended and refused to say it and then later the sombody also got really offended. I was thinking, "whats the big fuss about?" Just tell some damn number and get lost. The higher the number the better. Well! it was easier said than done. Innocence is worse than virginty , there is no chance that you may not lose it.

I think the laws of life with sub-sections like growing up, experience, maturing etc are wonderful source of enlightenment. Many people try and avoid the learnings. I tried to side-step this like the way I cut classes in college. But it doesn't work. While you can spend time outside college, you can't spend time outside life. Once you step outside the country and spend 2 years as Grad Student, your eyes open up to a whole new world around you. The locals and other students you interact with -- stun you with their maturity and sense of political correctness. You don't get to meet well-oiled corporate employees here, you only get to meet raw students who are the same age as you are and from different parts of the world. Students were from remote villages in America, who have never seen a forigner before, students came from Kenya, Spain etc. It surprised me so much that nobody asked even a single question that could be construed as an invasion of privacy. While I was stunned by many Indians who asked deeply private questions (hmm.."is she your wife" is a private question ;-)). So I went on to investigate the psycological basis for (many if not all) Indians to be so intrusive and insensitive to personal space.

I compared this to my school-kid life, where on the first day of school, students were asked their name, their father's name and his employment. This was how we were asked to introduce ourselves when we were kids. So many times I have seen kids cringing with inferiority complex, when they had to say "un employed" or "mechanic" or "Tahsildar office pune". It became worse when they had to say " I don't have a father (and upon further pressed for info about their mother)... she does domestic work" . Looking back at that, it was the first time I realized "hey! that was wrong and very bad thing for the teachers to do". The very (noble) purpose of having uniforms in school was to make sure there is no differentiation. This "introductions" vitiated that intent. Thinking back friends-circle got formed based on these introductions. Students from poorer backgrounds developed complexes. People who were perceived as rich were surrounded with friends (because they would buy chocolates for everybody in canteen). This insulted the rich kid's intelligence also because they were pursued for their father's money. While this was not always the case, you can never deny the fact that this happens in school.

The same thing happens with grades. The bad manners of scolding students publicly in the class for bad grades. Openly comparing them with other students. How does this help the student? if at all it does anything, it reduces her self-esteem and makes her develop a complex. Thinking back, looking at classmates who got yelled at by the teacher, I developed a low opinion about those classmates and thought them as people who were bad and incapable. Most of my other classmates thought they same too. They once-in-a-while talked and moved with such students as acquaintances, but thats it. Because a judgement was implicitly passed in our minds. As a result academically poor kids moved only with similar kids. In my second year at college, they stuck our first-year mark sheets in the bulletin board. Everybody's mark sheets were on the publicly viewable notice board. I have to say that incident alone directly led to a mini caste-system in our college. In my 3rd year, a lecturer read out everybody's grades during class. We were a class full of people sitting and she read out grades like she was announcing election results. While, at the time I let out a huge whistle of relief that I passed in all subjects, I didn't really think about the people who did badly. They would lose out on friends and even a decent conversation because they did badly in an unrelated field. What has friendship got to do with grades? Even if you did not judge them based on their marks, s/he would develop the perception anyway. For the people who did well in studies -- they have to live with nonsense comments like "you are a big guy.. you have no are a brilliant person". While they can't reply anything but just give out a stupid smile, the "brilliant guy" begins to worry about a dispropotionate reputation and things like "drishti" etc.

The problem why asking for personal information is bad is because, people tend to transalate that into other unconnected fields." you said your father was some General Manager, but you don't know how to eat properly with a spoon". There are things like " you get college first etc.. but you dont know how to hold a cricket bat". Then comes " you are earning so much, you dont wanna spend more on xyz, you wanna split lunch as dutch treat. Why are you so stingy". Sometimes when you think of saying "thats bloody none of your business".. then you get replies like " oh!.. he is showing if he is the only one who is the son-of-a-GM/College-first/high-salary earner"

In a new place (like a foreign country), where your experiences is not normal or is just among one of the many alternatives, Your opinions (silently or otherwise) get challenged by your friends, room mates, and sometimes even professors. Suddenly normal is wrong here. You are now standing in a neutral ground, where you tend to question your education upto that point. I think this is true for everybody who falls in the grad student-work-GC formulaic category -- while we knew that discussing job offers in the final year of education with room mates and friends were okay, we sort of knew that -- that would be it. We woudn't be able to discuss salary with the very same people two years later. Side Note: (as a result of some comments in the previous post) For a person going to US as a so-called "H1-B party" or a "H4 Party" this "realization" could happen the first time they get snubbed/ridiculed when they ask for salary information from a collegue, which invariably is another Indian. I sometimes think the direct H1-B folks from India are unfairly ridiculed by the F1 (student) -> to -> H1B (work visa) folks. While students have had a chance to make mistakes and correct themselves in a relatively secure school environment, the H1B folks get exposed in a more volatile corporate environment. That is the big (if not the only) difference. End Sidenote

One you step into a corporate environment, it is almost cast in stone that asking for salary information is bad manners. In the eyes of others it is uncivilized and reflects poor upbringing. I believe it is true to a great extent. 9 out of ten times, people ask salary for the wrong reasons. Yes! sometimes it is genuine, elders want to know how times have changed ( but then in that case they should get it from their sons/grandsons etc). I have been advised by some good friends, that I am capable of earning more and I should negotiate better. I have told some other friends that they are underpaid and they should look around for better options. These are the right reasons. But it is in minority. For two people, to exchange salary information, there should be mutual trust. Otherwise it could lead to huge problems. For example: One of my relatives was paid very well, he told his father his salary and his father told his friend whose son was working in the same company as my relative. That "son" found that he was getting paid less and argued with my relative as to why this was happening to him. So sometimes if you see someone refusing to divulge information to his own parents don't judge him so soon. For example 2: On my first week at my current company, an unknown person (who I later found out to be an idiot) asked me "what is your salary?". I was new and in a moment of weakness, I told it. But I lied and told a lesser number. Then he went on a long lecture about how he was grossly underpaid. Later everybody he talked to knew my salary. A degree of closeness is also required to discuss salary. Me and my friend "Thanga Balu" have argued many times on whether it is appropriate to as for peer salary information, just to know if you are being paid on-par. I was naive then and thought this was okay. But it is wrong. It is NOT right to find out if you are being paid on-par by directly asking others. You have to work for it. You dont go to a good looking girl and ask her if she would like to go to bed with you and have sex with you --straight away. There are guys who are helping chics do groceries, walking their moms, running up astronomical restaurant/movie ticket bills, learning poems, starting and arresting gossip -- just to acheve the same objective. What do you think -- those hard working guys are idiots ? :-)

There maybe many motivations to ask for a person's salary information. Not all of them -- in fact most of them -- do not justify really asking them. 90% of the time it creates jelousy, unwanted competition even animosity. The two factors "fathers employment" and "grades" in the examples above. Remove them and replace them with "salary" and read this blog again. The results would be the same. Salary is just the same shit but goes by a different name. It causes the same problems and creates the same polarity those two factors created. To me -- asking for such salary information is like asking a guy's underwear size or a girl's cup size. There maybe 1000 reasons why you want to ask that. It maybe sexy to know even if you aren't doing anything with that info. Just don't ask it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What is your Salary?

Note: If you came looking for the Michael Jackson post its here.

Long long ago, I completed Engineering, stepped in to this independent life thing and into the big bad world of graduate-students-in-the-USA. Having been spoon fed by mom and grand ma' for a big part of my life, I was incorporating unnecessary and unwanted knowledge of Rasam Podi, Samabar mix, etc into my life. In about 2 months, I learned to differentiate between different varieties of oil and began to appreciate the "making of the food that appears in your plate while you were in India". While it was good for the boy-grows-into-the-man philosophy, I didn't care. I didn't wanna grow up (because it didnt seem to help me acheive anything in particular) and I certainly did not want to be responsible for anything. So anyway the anecdote I was trying to narrate is -- one fine day, as we grad students called it - it was my cooking turn. This cooking-turn is the round robin system created by room mates. This system decided who will cook when. In our little heaven, we were 5 students, each from completely different backgrounds. Four were garden variety engineers, one extremely rich and influential in India, one who worked like a horse and even slept in school, one extremely geeky and serious, and finally one extremely lazy and irresponsible (that would be me). The fifth guy was an architect and he was the only non-science-based-engineer in our team. He was the only guy in our house who thought algorithms and logrithms were the same, thought programming languages also had swear words and gaped in surprised whenever printf's spit out a simple "hello world" ( He even said "wow" the first time he saw such a thing happen).

So I had come back from my school early, at around 4:00 PM to start my cooking. Since nobody else made potatoes that week and boy! did I like potatoes, I sat with a knife, a cutting board and a bag of potatoes by my side. I switched on the TV and started the hour long peeling and cutting process. In came the geeky dude with a handful of letters. It was that day's postal mail, something which I had never picked up from the mail box all my life. He said to me "bharath don't you ever get the letters from the post box". I was thinking " wow! we have a letter box and we get mail too..what else dont I know about this place". So geek boy begins to triage the mail and separates the mail due to each person. He hands me over a letter from my university and says "here are your Autumn grades in post". I again went "wow! they send grades via post too" ( I already got em via email). So I went back to my potatoe peeling. Now the fun begins, the geek-boy wonders if he should rip open the envelope containing grade information due to the architect and see his grades. Among us four engineers the rich-guy, geek-boy and myself were in the same batch, and so one way or the other we sort of knew each other's grades. The workaholic stopped taking courses eons ago and so we didn't really care about him. The architect guy was a surprise packet. So when geek-boy asked me if he should rip open the envelope, I knew instinctively that there was something wrong about doing it it. I couldn't articulate what was wrong about doing so. I had to cut potatoes, which was proving to be very difficult. I wanted to make them small and tiny'ly cut - just the way my mom did. I didn't know how many horizontal Vs vertical cuts I should do to get there and didn't have a clue whether peeling was good or not for this kind of an ambition. So I said to him, " I am not really interested..I am kinda busy now. You do it if you feel like.. its upto you". He paced for about 10 minutes up and down the hall in a Gollum like fashion saying, "should I.. should I not", while I watched him from the potatoe peeler point of view. While I listened to his rhetorical debate, I was trying hard to keep the cut potatoes from dropping out of the cutting board and into the dirty carpet. Shheeesh! how could women do this in the kitchen for a lifetime, amazes me. In the end, he finally succumbed to temptation, ripped open the envelope, and saw that guy's grade. Of course I made him tell me what the grade was :-). But then again I wasn't really that interested in the grade as opposed to what was going to happen, when this act became known to the architect guy. The Geek-guy probably realized the same thing and left the house immediately.

At about 5:00 clock, the architect guy came home. I had changed TV channel to HBO and they were showing some movie that had nude scenes. So we were both staring at the TV for sometime and thought "wow! porn during the day.. what else should I know about this country?". After the scene got over and we had finished paying respects to what we had just seen, archi-dude began to sift through his mail and saw that his grade-envelope had been torn and opened. He asked me intimidatingly " who the fuck opened my mail?". I became scared. My brain was already clouded. Porn does funny things to me. I was just cutting potatoes. All I wanted was a hearty meal. I managed to live a dreamy existence for so long and the only serious debate I had until then was regarding Aishwarya rai's hip size and Sushmita's silicon implants. The last thing I wanted was to get involved in a serious ethical debate that really didn't concern me. I was in a new territory called seriousness. But still, I managed to spit out 3 things quickly -- "geek dude bought the mail. nobody else came home after the mail was bought into the house. i did not open your mail". As archi-dude's face began to compute what I just said, his face went red. I was even willing offer my envelope to him and ask him to tear it to his heart's content if that would appease him in anyway. Right at that moment geek-dude walked back into the house. Archi-dude turned towards him and growled " did you open my mail" and geek-dude sort of bent his head down in shame and said "yes! I did". And then the real fun started. Mr.Architect sent out some swear words that would make some sailors feel shy. I was surprised by his rather extensive vocabulary. He must have interacted with rickshaw people a lot. After dissecting and critiquing geek-dude's family lineage from various perspectives, archi-dude said something I will never forget all my life -- he said -- " Why do you have to judge me based on how some one else has judged me on a completely different field".

Today when I think about it, I can't help but realize how true it is? So how is this anecdote related to the blog's topic? Talk to anybody who has lived for a reasonable time outside India and returned back to India. Ask them how their return-to-India experience has been? Whether they may appreciate or critisize India on any other topic, you will certainly hear them say 1 BIG HUGE critisism about India. "Why does everybody whom I talk to want to know my salary". This will 100% be part of anybody's return-to-India experiences. Then comes "What is the price of your car, How much rent do you pay? What is the cost of your house?". These are parameters that a person asks so that he/she can calculate your worth as a person. Based on my experiences and those of people whom I have talked to -- this bad habit is an undeniable tradition of India. No matter how much patriotism you have for India, even if you drape yourself in the tri-color and go to bed everynight this is something that will never go away. While salary is calculated based on your skills, your marketibility and your usefulness to the company, you often wonder how this factor should influence the people who are unrelated to all of this. Is the psycological basis of asking for salary information connected to what my room mate had so profoundly said years before? Why do they judge you based on a factor that is decided by completely unrelated parameters? The answer... same Bat channel..same Bat time... well.. er... More on this in the sequel blog :-)

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Movie Review: Anniyan

Anniyan What Shankar has done in Anniyan is, he has taken an Ambassador car and gone on to compete in Formula-1 with Schumi et all. As funny as it is to watch an Ambassador car compete poorly against the Ferraris of the world, I kick myself and think "He is in F-1 while all the other directors in India are driving autos in gopi-chetti-palayam".

Anniyan should certainly be considered a path-breaking movie in Indian cinema. Like Mudhalvan, this gets credit only because of what it tries to do than what it actually ends up achieving. The movie has logical flaws. Several of them. It is almost as if Shankar's fantasy story that is full of ambition is competing with the huge craters like holes in his script. Like Mudhalvan, this is a very bold movie, which only a director like Shankar has the guts to make. But this movie is unlike Mudhalavan in one aspect. Mudhalvan, like any other good movie, laid down certain rules for the movie ( "antha padathirku undaana thanmai" ) and followed those rules to a reasonable extent. That is what a good fiction should do -- set some logic at a fantasy level and follow that logic even if it doesnt confirm to the real world ( e.g Crouching Tiger, Matrix, Batman, Spiderman etc). Anniyan does not do that and that is its biggest flaw. Barring this -- Anniyan is simply a great movie. Almost as if Shankar has said to the rest of India, " I have raised the bar this high .. now you guys see if you can beat this". This movie is the costliest movie by South Indian standards -- but Bollywood has made several rich movies, albeit none of them this good. This movie is an instructive lesson to everybody in Kodambakkam as well as Bombay as to what a little ambition can do.

Anniyan Anniyan kills people who violate certain rules for men that our mythologies have set. Garuda Puranam, is our ancient Hindu text for handing out judgements for the dead. This text has a comprehensive list of the sins men are not allowed to do and also prescribes punishments for such sins. These punishments are handed out by Yaman while Chitraguptan keeps track of all the sins each man does. Garuda Puranam also has the mantras that are to be read during the dying moments of a person. Anniyan simply saves a lot of work for Yaman by handing out punishments and pronouncing the mantras himself. He also writes in blood (like in the movie seven where the killer writes the name of each sin near the victim) the name of the punishment in a jumbled format. It is surprising to note that much like seven sloth(laziness) is a sin in our mythology too. There are six letters to every sin's name and as Prakash Raj, the cop calculates, there are 6! (six factorial) combinations to every puzzle. The police decode these while they pursue the killer. And there is a wonderful cameo flashback scene that Shankar is so famous for.

To enjoy the movie you have to set aside 3 of the major logical flaws.

(a) Having multiple personality disorder does not make one of the personalities - A Superman. Anniyan cannot fly around and kick people unless this was a Super hero movie. This is not. The first half kept this option (of this movie being a super hero movie ) alive. In the second half, we are told that this is not a super hero movie. Which means none of Matrix sequences fit in. And like most of Shankar's movies this has special effects for the sake of special effects. While you have to give credit that the Matrix tribute (where Neo fights 100's of agents) has been taken wonderfully well. The bullet-time sequences have been shot excellently. Almost as good as how it was shot in The Matrix ( considering that Shankar has much less money to operate with).

Anniyan (b) Having Multiple Personality disorder does not change your appearance beyond identification: If Sada (the female lead star) knows Ramanujam Iyengar for a decade, she would be able to recognize Remo is Ramanujam Iyengar just by looking at his face. C'mon after all the only change is to his hair-style and dress. It is very disturbing when she appears not to realize that Remo is Ramanujam and in fact she seems to fall in love with a complete stranger ( so soon and for no apparent reason). Which makes it even bad.

(c) This movie is implausible even in the fantasy world it creates for itself. There is absolutely no need for Prakash Raj and Vivek to be (so comically ) undercover. They do very little detective work to find Anniyan. Anniyan just shows up in Nehru stadium ( how and why media is assembled and public are assembled is a mystery). Why Anniyan wants to declare himself to the public is also a mystery. The Police just fill in the dotted lines from that point. Also at the time Anniyan appears in Nehru stadium, he is not yet a sensation or even a person who is know to the public. As to how a few posters can result in 50000 people assembling in Nehru stadium is also baffling. That whole sequence fails on the logical front. So do the multiple personality disorder explanations by the doctors. I felt they were feeble and so put-on. Indian cinema should really find out how to explain a concept without actually make it look like a gospel.

Anniyan If this movie is commercially successfull, it is a good sign. It means the audience are mature and willing to forgive all these logical flaws and are willing to go on with the spirit of the movie. So with all these "minor" problems out of the way, the movie is thoroughly entertaining to watch. I was especially happy because the movie talks about what I blogged here, here and here. It takes a neutral view of our country. This view is unflattering and thoroughly critical, as any good and mature opinion of our country should be. India is not as good as what it is hyped up to be and patriotism gets in the way of us seeing this point of view. Shankar's patriotism resonates so much with mine that I almost had tears in my eyes. This movie talks about some basic truths in a very effective way. It says to all the movie-goers that they too are corrupt ( the house-document scene alone covers the entire population of India).

I remember, when I was in college 2nd year, I was walking along the side of Doraisamy subway ( on the side of subway that leads you to the railway track from where you can board the train). There is an auto stand on that path and while I was walking an auto driver spit from inside an auto and the spit - naturally - fell on my arm. What later hppened was even better, in my rage ( I didn't know what I was doing) I smeared that spit on his face and shirt and much to his anguish spit on him. A sprawl ensued with the auto driver trying to wring my neck and I was spitting on his face and hitting him until some other people split us up. I felt then and still feel now that people who spit on the road should be handed out instant death sentences. But I also feel being an auto-driver by itself should make a person eligible to be executed without prior notice. Another pet peeve is driving on the wrong side of the road. While driving to get my tickets on saturday, I saw that as soon as one side of the road got jammed, the vehciles on the other side started to travel on the wrong side of the road, thereby exacerbating the problem. As the lone vehicle travelling on the side where people were driving illegally, I tried to threaten them by driving fast and pretending that I am going to bang those folks with my vehicle. It upset some people and I wonder why? They should be killed too. Shankar (almost) feels the same way too and I am glad. Shankar's anger against such people is perceptible and we can feel it. The real question is -- So why does Shankar make a movie like this where he has to marry small detail-oriented real world problems with high-fantasy commercial fare. How does he think this incongruence will work with the public ? The answer to this may not be difficult to guess after all. As anybody in the movie world will tell you, more than the story, the script, there is something called "high points" that actually decides the fate of a movie. The are moments in the movie that pumps up your adrenalin and make you feel high. It makes you forget the whole context of the movie and makes the tree blur the forest. So when Anniyan is in the middle of Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium giving out his lecture, we don't wonder why the police haven't nailed him yet or at least shot his head off (the police for some funny reason continue to be under cover.. why?.. this bugged me like crazy). Instead of thinking about this we actually focus on his films division style presentation of his view of India and we are carried away by the power in his speech. The instant narration clouds our sense of the big picture. These movie has tons and tons of these "high points". This movie infact overwhelms us with such moments. This should ensure that the movie runs in the villages, regardless of whether people there get the story or not (This is a city oriented problem, so I doubt if they would relate to it).

Anniyan The songs are nothing to write home about! They are mediocre for a Shankar movie. I said that before and I still think so. I didn'nt even want to hum any of those songs after I left the movie theatre. Yes the picturization is good and then there is the traditional Shankar's Andhra style song. It was colorful and creative as usual. But it stops there. As far as his establishment of characters goes, I feel he could focus on the details more. The Thiruman-Sricharanam, ( namam in colloqioal terms) which Iyengar's wear on their forehead looks pretty lame on Vikram. Kamal Hassan, for all his atheism, wore it authentically in Hey ram. Here... what Vikram and Vivek put is more like the emergency paint, people in Thirupathi, put on minutes before the darshan. These are details which are important for authenticity. Also, how many times should these movie people be told that the pacha kacham and the madisaar are dresses that married people wear and they are never worn by un-married folks. I also think Ramanujam Iyengar is a caricature than any resemblance to a real character. You walk into any house in Triplicane, W.Mambalam, Mandaveli or even Kumbakonam you wont find a person like Ramanujam. I think this character is more in tune with 1960's or 1970's than today.

Anniyan Ramanujam's father has given a good performance. Especially in the flashback scene. His arguments against the gross negligence of different functions of the government and state make your eyes swell. Vivek's comedy alone is worth the ticket money in the first-half. He has been given a good role in this movie. The train scene in the first-half reminded me of the other wonderful train-scene comedy in "Thillana Moganambal". I truly enjoyed the comedy scenes. The make-up and costume folks should also be given due credit. Vikram in some scenes is dressed almost Jedi-like. And in one song scene his hair-style so closely resembles Liam Neeson's Qui-gon hair style in Star Wars. Sada is saadha or sodha. The chick ain't impressive. Vikram's potrayal is good as expected. In some song sequences he does resemble Arun Govil, the yesteryear actor who played Rama in the the tele-serial Ramayana. The last scene where all his multiple personalities come one at a time involuntarily is a pretty impressive performance. Sujatha's dialog is pretty impressive. I thought the dude has lost his touch but he still has the spark. The dialogs are powerful and I loved the "Clark Table" " Logrithm" references. It was pretty cool and incisive at the same time.

Shankar is a pretty good director with an eye towards detail and a lot of creativity. But he is also a wily commercial money-maker. He has an eye on the cash registers while making his movies. While K.Balachander and to some extent Manirathnam allow the story-line to dictate what the movie should contain. Shankar actually goes off track to deliberately put in some commercial elements to make sure the movie acheives some of its minimum guarantee. Also, while KB and Mani Rathnam are subtle and have an aesthetic quality to their movies, Shankar is blunt, crude and on-your-face. He does not waste time in eloquence and just gets right down to the subject matter in no time. In the first few nano-seconds after the movie opens Vikram and Sada are introduced and before the title sequence is over you know what kind of character Ramanujam is gonna be. Movies with such powerful social messages and ones especially dealing with issues that are dealt in this movie are always welcome. We must feel happy that somebody is actually concerned about such things. IMHO, 4 Tamil movies every two years are worth a trip to the theatre (While Bollywood provides 1 good movie every two years). Kamal Hassan, Manirathnam, Shankar and (sometimes) Gautham provide those four movies ( I will exclude Rajini movies as there are really few of them coming out nowadays and people watch Rajini movies for completely different reasons). If you go to movies that fall under these categories you will live thinking Tamil movies are in a good state. Otherwise you will learn the truth and feel sad. Like I did when I recently saw Sachin ( a pathetic yucky movie) which made me realize that I was not missing anything by not seeing any other Tamil movie. The last two years saw dissapointing-to-average fares by Kamal ( MBBS), Manirathnam ( AE) and Shankar ( Boys). Anniyan is an indicator that this year has been good start from one of the quartret. Shankar is back doing what he knows best and its truly Wonderful. The next movie that should be worth a watch is "Vettaiadu Velaiyadu" due to be released end of this year. This movie is a doubly whammy starring Kamal hassan and directed by Gautham. That should be a good movie.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Michael Jackson

Mchael Giving a Pose in the second segment of the B&W video He sat in the courtroom quiet and unemotional. He had come in 15 minutes before the verdict was due to be released. He knew walking into the courtroom that in 20 minutes, he could either be handcuffed and led to jail for 20 years or he could walk away a free man. There was no emotion in the man when the decision envelopes were handed over to the judge. His face did not reveal anything when the judge tore the envelope and started reading the verdict one by one. 10 envelopes were torn and 10 verdicts were read, this man never showed a tinge of emotion, did not speak a single word. We read about such things in books and watch stuff like this in movies. But this is real life. The prospect of facing 20 years in prison is something unimaginable to us. Us, the people who think giving answers to 3 questions in an American Consulate Visa interview or handling the stress/lunch interview for a job is handling pressure. I saw students with trembling hands take out and give their marksheets to the Visa Officer and then I saw the news report on Michael Jackson. The media people should hang their heads in shame. Most people would soil their pants if they were in a similar situation he was in. He walked in, heard the judgement and left. He was as phlegmatic as a piece of rock on the moon. He is the definition of cool. Not many will care/want to admit it, because this truth hurts their desire to mock at this man and challenges the caricature of him they have developed as a result of the false media reports. But to me he truly has gone where no man has gone before.

Michael Performing Dangerous in The Grammy's Note: This blog also Contains the Book Review of Michael Jackson: : The Magic & The Madness - J.Randy Taraborelli. A book that contains a stunning and comprehensive look at Michael Jackson's life.

After digesting just about every bit of news about MJ in the media for 15 years, I started on this book. This book put what I knew into a completely different perspective. Three things that contantly keep recurring to me while reading this book were : (a) Michael as a person and as a strategist is almost as ruthless, calculative, intelligent and ferocious as Al Pacino's character in the GodFather. This is directly related to the second reason which is (b) About 99% of what the general public knows about Michael Jackson ( also known as Makkan lal Jai Kishan in certain parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat :-) ) is false. And then (c) Michael operates at an emotional and ethical level that is slightly higher than the levels that regular human beings operate. Nevertheless, every upcoming artist, anybody who aspires for a career in the entertaintment industry must read this book. It tells you how the world works. It is an instructive guide on how to promote onself and more importantly how not to. It is a very interesting read for regular people too. To know and understand how a person from the streets of Gary Indiana made it so big is an inspiration in itself. As a disclaimer -- I am one of MJJ's biggest fans. I can rattle of the dates of his singles releases, album releases. From the fact that an artist called Casper taught MJ how to Moonwalk (Moonwalking was initially called backslide by Casper) to details regarding his current case, I have managed to absorb every little detail surrounding Michael. If you say any arbitrary line in the middle of a lyric in any Michael Jackson song, I will continue that lyric to the completion of that song and probably also say who wrote and composed the song. I have with me a scrap book collection of just about every news item about Michael that has appeared on print in India (in TN.. in Madras). I have the original release, millenium release and 25thanniversary release (which ever is applicable) for all his albums. In this blog, I will try and list the perceptions I gathered on these three broad topics from the biography of Michael Jackson. One blog cannot capture MJ entirely. But it could be a start of many other blogs to come on Michael Jackson.

Michael during the making of In-The-Closet A. The Myths and the Madness of the Fantasy World: When I think about Michael Jackson, I always think about the irony in his life. Pop Stars constantly complain about media invasion into their private lives. The problem they have is certain truths that are private to them becomes known to the entire world. While being the same in spirit, Michael's problem are entirely different. Michael created a fantasy world for himself and allowed the media into that world and made them believe that that was his private world. He created an aura for himself based on that fantasy world. The media walked into this, at first unknowingly, and then gleefully because they could make a fortune out of this concept.

Okay for starters -- Myth # 1: The Jackson 5 were not discovered by Diana Ross -- something for which she has so often been (mis)credited by the media. I mention this myth because the book and observers of Michael's history point to this myth as genesis of Michael's attitude towards the world. Michael was a boy living along with about 9 other family members in a 1 room shack. They were poor and couldn't afford decent living. His father Joeseph Jackson beat the crap out of children ("whooped us with a belt" as Michael puts it) to make them sing and get an entertainment career going. While his brothers endured the beating, Michael, it seems, was a completely different person. He resisted being beaten up by his father and sometimes even caught the whip. Even as a child of 5 he had enough spark in his voice to actually be spotted by a brute, which was his father, and made the lead singer of the Jackson brothers. Randy Taraborelli, writes a volumnious biography, that tells the story of Michael, along with the author's own career growth. It seems, when the Motown Record's chief -- Berry Gordy -- (who comes out in the book as a pretty sinister character) finally agreed to sign a Record deal (which happened after a lot of effort) with the Jackson 5, he decides to "create a story" on how the Jackson 5 were discovered. So he concocts a story where supposedly Diana Ross travels to Gary Indiana and discovers Jackson 5.

Michael with Slash during an On-Stage Performance of Black or White While this caused some awkward moments for the family to pretend accordingly, Michael was intrigued. He was not embarassed or angry or confused. He was curious. He tries finds out (from Diana Ross) as to why such a story was required and from then onwards understands the value of good publicity. Much much more Significantly, he learned the most important and long-standing lesson that he continued to use all his life. The "real" truth is not important -- what the public is told and what the public believes is the truth. Reality has no relevance.. This "Perception is reality" philosophy seems to have dictated the way Michael led his life. From then onwards during his struggle as a Jackson 5 band member, later a rising star and then as the King of Pop, he continued to use this weopon strategically. The "Michael sleeps in hypebaric chamber, Michael buys elephant man's bones" stories were carefully planted by Michael's manager, Frank Dilieo, through out the second half of the 80's as publicity stunts. This was done with the full complicity of Michael Jackson. Only in the 90's did he realize how these small games can backfire badly.

Michael Performing during the making of In-the-closet B. The Intelligent, Cold and Ruthless Career Promoter: This is the aspect of Michael, I loved so much. And this is an aspect of Michael that is unknown to the outside world. Frankly, to me, after reading this book, Michael makes Al Pacino's Godfather character a little lame. There is no doubt that Michael was a prodigy and exceptionally talented. I personally feel he was autistic. While he was talented in 1 particular dimension of life and things surrounding it, he was exceptionally naive about many other aspects of life. However, understanding talent, picking people and promoting his career was something Mike was brilliant in. While, he recognized that he was a special talent before he was ten years old, he also realized that he needed to be away from his father and brothers for him to suceed in his career. His vision was to be the most popular and successfull musician the world has ever seen. This vision, he had at a very early age. But how he got there was extra-ordinary by itself. Almost as extra-ordinary as his fall from grace. It is very intersting to see how he made moves and countermoves to extricate himself from the bond/contract his father blindly signed when they were young and naive. Every manager that he appointed and every move he made to start a solo career, change recording company from Motown to CBS and then Sony is simply mindblowing. His choice and decision making process while appointing media managers and lawyers shows some uncanny intuition. To this date (the recent Santa Barbara trial) he has continued his habit of strategically changing key people -- suddenly and out of nowhere. The people who initially thought he was eccentric in this aspect slowly started seing the genius behind his moves. Reading his biography, I believe his lawyer, John Branca, and his former publicist, Frank Dilieo, were the major people behind his atronomical financial success. He choice of appointing these two people was the first time he defied his father (who wanted to be his manager) and went professional.

Michael Jackson I loved the way he realized at an early age how stupid, rash and un-intelligent his father and brothers were. While they were happy to sign along the dotten line to get any kind of money, Michael had a broader vision. He never signed anything without consulting a lawyer. He wouldn't sign anything if he felt the deal did not have long-term value. Michael, from what I read in the book, had the intelligence/intuition to predict if a particular concept would work or not. Since his family made decisions based on votes (with his father and the 5 brothers having a vote each), most of Michaels objections would be overruled by the stupid 5-1 anti-Mike vote. None of his brothers or his father actually had the common sense to check if Michael's predictions on a particular bad deal they had signed, turned out to be true or not. While MJ's predictions were always bang on target (like doing the Jackson 5 series on CBS TV - which failed as Michael had predicted), they were busy counting the money. While Michael could refuse money that did not fall into his strategy, his brothers could not. Mainly his father could not. And they all depended on Michael's popularity to make that money. So MJ had no choice but to stratetize his exit from this pedestrian company. So he promised one last Jackson 5 reunion before going completely solo. Even when Motown Boss, Berry Gordy, held his brother Jermaine(who had become Berry's son-in-law) as a virtual hostage and blocked the re-union of Jackson 5, Michael's strategies and boldness in making an "offer he can't refuse" made the reunion possible. He, also, slowly orchestrated events and situations which would distance him from his brothers and more importantly his father so that he could focus on a solo career. Unsurprisingly, his father and brothers were completely against Mike going solo. But who could stop talent?

The high point of his character (something which may even today save him from his current financial crisis) was the way in which he learned the art of owning rights of old record labels from Paul McCartney. He learnt it from Paul and then single-mindedly hunted down ( with John Branca's help of course) the Beatles record rights and bought them. McCartney, who was an expert in exploiting other people's record labels, it seems, was pissed at this move by Michael. Paul has nobody to blame but himself. Michael, as a courtesy, gave Paul every chance to buy the rights. But the internal spat between Paul and Mrs. John Lennon was more important to Paul than retaining his own records. He has his chance and he blew it. Till date Michael owns the rights of practically all of Beatles records. Any movie or advertisement uses a beatles song, Mike gets the moolah. And so Michael exploited the Beatles record just the way Paul did to so many people. Michael's passion for music and his near ferocious ambition to succeed is also probably an intructive lesson on life to everybody. The challenges that he faced emotionally, personally and professionally is something one should understanding before really evaluating his true worth as a human being. Take this for instance -- After the Thriller recording was done, the producer, Quincy Jones, realizing that Michael is a sensitive person slowly tries to warn Michael that Thriller may not be as big as Off The Wall ( Can you imagine that :-) ??). Michael is apalled that the producer only predicts 2 Million Sales for Thriller. Michael trusts his intuition more than the experience of his producer and walks out vowing to make Thriller big. Nobody yells back at a producer in those days. We know what happened next. More important than Thriller's record breaking sales was Michael's attitude. He was quiet and unmoved when Quincy says to the media " I knew from the beginning this album is gonna be big. I knew this kid was brilliant". Needless to say the Quincy Jones was gone by the time Dangerous was released. Well! looking back thats no wonder given that Mike fired his long time manager Frank Dilieo out of nowhere too :-). He was completely ruthless when it came to his career passions.

The Sexy Cover Label of Dangerous C. Michael Vs Ethics: Many of us would probably develop an epileptic fit if we had to make a speech in front of a school assembly. Public Scrutiny is one of the toughest things in life. I know people who would avoid doing things just so that they wouldn't be exposed to critisism. Michael Jackson's life is somewhat similar to the life of Truman Burbank in the movie Truman Show. He was under the media scanner since he was 6. He lived a tough life in the show biz world, that was full of deceit, treachery and debauchery. He grew up in bedrooms where his brothers pushed him to a corner of a bed while they made-out with girl-fans in the same bed. He grew up seeing his father cheat on his mother by sleeping with Jackson 5 girl fans. Not to mention the way he was abused and beaten up by his father. All his life his main ambition had been to distance himself away from his father. In moves and sequences which would give our mega serials run for its money, while his father and brothers used his mother Katherine to make Michael perform for Jackson 5, he planned events which would make it impossible for them to persuade him anymore (even if they used his mother as a bait). Here was a son who loved his mother so much and one who didn't want to defy her but at the same time did not want to put up with the abuse of his father ( to him and to his sisters). In a evil world, lacking good role models, I still wonder how he developed any sort of ethics. Reading through his decisions, the way he behaved during family crisis and his overall attitude towards girls, convinced me even further that he is innocent of the crimes he has been charged with in the 90's and in this decade. More than that, Michael Jackson's life story has made me completely cynical and disbelieving, of anything that comes out in the Media. Sometimes there is no fire and no smoke but only a Media report saying somebody saw smoke coming out.

Michael Jackson in The-Jam single I guess I have rambled on too much. But I'll just close this blog with one parting thought. No matter what anyone says, Michael will always be one of the biggest performers on stage. He will continue to be one of the world's leading entertainers. Have this thought in mind - he made very good music, compsed music, wrote lyrics, choreographed his dance moves, coneptualized his one stage performances. He directed his life like a person would direct a movie. This is what he did to earn his money --all the above that I mentioned in the blog, were odds that he had to overcome, to do his job. Imagine that!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

A Windy Day in Madras Summer.

Madras hides a romance that is hard to uncover. But those who have seen and enjoyed the beauty of this place know to wait patiently and endure the initial resistance of the place before reaping the benefits. For me Madras has always been the home I loved(and still love). A home from which I have reluctantly trudged outside (sometimes kicked out by parents) as a result of career compulsions. Any place in any part of the world I go, I have always stopped and wondered how it would be like to stand in Marina beach or shop in Ranganathan street. There is an irresistable charm to the city that I cherish so much. The clash between the invasion of the modern world and the stiff resistance offered by the tradition steeped and conservative city has been quite a sight to watch. Madras has managed to remain the same inspite of allowing certain concessions that the modern world demands. There are the pubs and the dance floors for people who seek the material pleasures. But the city, from its splendid temples to the ding-ding mobile sompapodi (sonupapdi) sellers, has still managed to hold on to the meta-physical romance that has been its core charm for many years.

Madras summers are one of a kind. As my uncle constantly says, the graph-diference between post-bath, pre-bath and never-bathed-in-my-life converges to a single line in Madras. Because there is really no difference, three minutes after the bath you are sweating worse than the pre-bath stage. The humidity is so unbearable that it sometimes clouds your thinking. Which is why strangers find this city a tough nut to crack. The welcome into the city is so sweaty and unsettling that in 2-3 hours you are almost playing catch-up. You are trying hard to collect your thoughts, moping sweat off your forehead, first with the Hand kherchief and then preferably with a super-sopper. It is the folks who fight it out for the first few days (well.. okay sometimes maybe weeks) who actually live to enjoy the pleasure that the city offers. Which is why one day that happened two or three weeks before stands out. It was such an atypical summer day for Madras. Windy, no-sweat, pleasant days during the summer is such a rare phenomenon that it stopped happening since "Kodai Mazhai" bombed at the box office. The movie and the concept failed to find place in this part of the world. Well! we received a phone call from people in other parts of Chennai and we thought they were kidding, so we carefully switched off the AC's and peered out of the window. And to our surprise, it was true. It was whooshy and windy and surprise! surprise! - not sweaty. That was the day my wife decided that the time was ripe to raid Pothys. That famous cloth shop in the juction of Panagal Park/Usman Road/Doraisami Road.

The wind had a howl'sh note to it and was blowing the dry leaves from the ground like a mighty vaccum cleaner. I love riding a two-wheeler during such days. You know cyclists, bikists and all the other folks are trying to cover their eyes with one hand ( to protect from the dust) and then drive with the other hand. There is that smell in the air ( Mann Vasanai) that makes you feel it is almost ( almost) going to rain. There is a sudden activity among people in the road. As if they had been part of an ant colony that has suddenly been unsettled. Maybe its just me,but hey..I always feel people are doing things faster during a windy day than any other day. The auto's seem to cut the corners more sharply, the cyclists find gaps that are just angstorm units wide. There is general laughter in the air. It is pleasant. The weather that had seemed like hell yesterday is suddenly enchanting, even romantic. It almost as if everything is forgiven and yesterady's heat has been forgotten. It seems that even the person, hanging out of the PTC bus, one who is the last among the 15 people who have a foot on the last step of the PTC bus, is also having fun. Probably only 2-3 square cm's of the person is actually inside (or touching) the fast moving PTC bus. But the sudden coolness and the wind blowing around makes him feel as if this near-death commutting is a walk in the park. There is a spring to almost everything that people do.

I love being in Usman Road. The whole scene -- Usman Road, Ranganathan Street till T.Nagar Bus stand excites me. Usman Road is in someways the heart beat of Chennai. My friends tell me that it is among the top 5 places in Asia where the most money is transacted per day/Per square foot. Seeing Usman road, I am surprised why it isn't among the top 5 in the world. The Southern Side of Panagal Park/Usman Road/Durai Sami road Junction has so many businessmen per square inch that if you dropped a 1 lac bundle on the road, people may not have time to pick it up. Well mainly because they are looking to loot the money that is on the person that they arent really focussing on the road. I detest Pothys. These evil, powerful and rich people are almost representative of the Sith or the dark side. In my opinion, if you serve free food ( not crappy food but good food) in a Hall, you may not get as many people in the hall as much as you would get in Pothys or G.R Thanga Maligai ( It is a Gold Shop). The thronging crowd of people who are desparate to spend so much money never ceases to surprise me. People stand in lines for hours to throw away money in exchange for cloth or even worse metal.

This makes me laugh when they show India as a poor suffering country in the Discovery channel. When I am walking around in T.Nagar with a pepper smeared unripe ( Unripe with a captial U N R I P E ) Mango or guava in hand and doing my window shopping, I look at people standing in a queue outside Thanga Maligai, demanding to be let in. Once inside, there is a huge clamor to gain the attention of the sales person. You would be forgiven if you thought he was the Chief Minister or somebody who was giving out money for free. It does appear that way. But he is selling gold. Yes! GOLD! Those expensive pieces of metal blocks, that are malleable, ductile etc. These are the metal blocks that can be moulded into different shapes and sizes that fit punchered holes in the human body. Looking at gold ornaments, I always think, "isn'this the metal that is used fix/punchure the holes that human beings put on their body" . Women self-inflict injuries on themselves -- in their ears and noses in order to make it a Jewel-Stand. Sometimes men do it too. I have a ring and I always thought of it as a useless tool. Somehow hanging Metal Au (where Au = Aurum) in holes drilled into my body never appealed to me. The guard ( who also moonlights as a traffic cop) outside the Jewel shop, would ask me if I wanted to stand in the queue. He, sometimes, would advise me that if I wanted to get inside in the next one hour, I should stand in the queue now. I'd just say "No thank you! I just wanted to buy fried ground nut thats sold outside for a buck". I have thought Dubai airports displayed people's shameful lust for jewellery but Dubai is a road-side tea-stand compared to Usman Road.

Trying to find a parking space at 1:00 PM in the afternoon near Pothys was so unimaginably difficult. I parked right at the end of Pinjala Subramaniam street and Venkat Narayana road and walked back to Pothys mustering just about as much grumpiness as I could. This did not deter my wife though. She ran like a bee among flowers inside Pothys causing as much damage as she could. Even the drama show inside Pothys did not stop her. I stood there aghast. There is some theme that this shop doing now. There are a group of 50-60 actors inside Pothys and the whole shop has been decorated to make it appear as if its some medeival kingdom. According to my wife, not knowing about this concept when it was advertised on TV for so many days makes me an outcast. Maybe I dont watch enough of those crappy Mega Serials (it seems that the pathetic cry-athon Metti Oli is finally going to least I know so much) to catch the advts and find out what is going in town. But I was rudely surprised by what I saw. There is a throne at the end of the hall as soon as you enter Pothys. A king and a queen sit there. The King has a crown and there are two maids on either side of the crown with those huge feather fans, which they are waving at the bloody king's face in an AC hall. Feather fans in an AC hall!!!! C'mon ON!!! I am not sure what kingdom this king represents but there are a group of ministers sitting on chairs in front of the throne. Some drinking stuff is being served to everybody there by servant-like-people. They are seriously discussing something. I couldn't hear much of the dialogs. But I desparately wanted to be an "ayal naatu thoothuvar" (foriegn ambassador) and disrupt the proceedings. Maybe I could have told them that the enemy wanted to invade the kingdom. If that didn't cause any impact then maybe I could have said that the Income Tax officials wanted to raid the place. That might have set this sorry little kingdom on fire. My wife tells me that this is a new theme by Pothys as part of its new marketing initiatives. They are going retro. The filthy stinking rich bullies. So they have built a kingdom thing inside with kings and queens. It is supposed to be entertaintment for the customers. I was not impressed. People being treated like puppets is worse than that Laugh-dude in VGP Golden beach.

So I decided to enjoy the rare windy day in T.Nagar. Did I say it before ? I love being in this part of town. On a windy day such as the topic under discussion, the veshtis (dhothis) and sarees, worn by people, are flying uncontrollably. Its a struggle to pluck from a cotton candy and deliver it to the mouth. I saw one kid struggling to do just that and his mom tried to help him. Time wears by and she grows impatient of feeding it to him one strand at a time. So she plucks the whole darn candy and tears it into two. Stuffs some in the kids mouth and the rest in her mouth, picks him up and walks away fast. The shopkeepers who have illegally setup their mobile shops on the road are covering up their shops fast.The wind is disturbing the fake toys and the instantly breakable 10 paisa bangles. It is funny to watch people start their scooters when the wind is trying to part them of their dhotis. They have a bent head and an embarassed laugh as if they are actors on stage and suddenly they can't remember their lines. And there is some urgency to their actions as well. Why hurry when its windy and move like a tortoise when the heat is burning? I wonder. The lady who is also holding on to her fluttering saree is urging her husband to start the vehicle soon. I guess they are thinking if they dont get the vehicle moving in the next few milli-seconds -- all the 500000 people in Usman road will stop and watch them.

The landscape of this place has changed so much. Yet the emotions remain the same. Ofcourse there is a jarring note here and there in the melody of Madras. I used to go for my high-school tuition classes to Guntur Subbiah School, Venkat Narayana road from Doraisamy road. Cycling (Hercules RockShox.. eh :-) ) through Usman road -> Pinjala Subramaniam street and Venkatnarayana road was so pleasant then. I didn't even know/care if it was Summer or winter and never felt the heat. Seeing the New RMKV, the New Nalli and this giant beast called Pothys in Usman road, I reminded that times are changing. In those days cycling on Venkat Narayana road used to remind me of the Nizhalgal-hero waltzing around in the same road for the song "ithu oru Pon Malai Pozhuthu". Now the road reminds me of the software invasion, when I see a big Virtusa building raised up there. It has been a long time since I walked around in these parts of the city. I used to do it so frequently years before. Then, the summer heat did not deter me from just walkng around and enjoying the simplicity, the hustle bustle, of this place. Now that I am here after a big gap, I want to walk around these streets even more often. I just hope more windy days will come and cause people to enjoy Madras. The real romance of Madras hides behind the kherchiefs and sweatly towels. There is a pearl inside the ugly oyster known only to -- and cherished only by -- the people who actually look for it.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Book Tagged

George: She has my books Jerry ... I broke up with her and I can't get those books back.
Seinfeld: So you want me to get them for you.
George: Yes!
Seinfeld: (voice raised) Have you read them?
George: well.. yes!
Seinfeld: Then.. What the hell you need em' for?
George: (defensively) Well.. they are my books.
Seinfeld: (disgusted by the whole thing) What is with people and books? They display them like they were some kind of trophies. They are just books. Once you have read them what else do you need em' for?

There is a thing going around in the blogging world. A person tags 5 other bloggers asking them what books they love to read. I dont know the exact rules of the game. Karthick Narayanan has book tagged me.

I have listed some blogs about books here, here and here. So I dont have anything better to say and improve on those. But anyway I will follow the rules. I have a list of favorite bloggers I read. But some of them I would like to credit in a different context and not under this context so I would exclude them for now until the time is ripe. I will just list books that I love. Although I quoted the Seinfeld dialog above, I do own some books but ever since I heard Seinfeld say this, I have always laughed when I see my book collection. Yes! once you have read them you really dont need them!!!!

Anywho.. My list is as follows

1) Comic Books: Tintin, Asterix, Tinkle, Champak, Amar Chitra Katha, Superman, Batman, Spiderman

2) Childrens Books: Hardy Boys, Enid Blyton, Tom Sawyer, Famous Five, Sad Sack

3) Teenage Kinda Books: James Hadley Chase, PG Wodehouse,

4) Recent Reads: Ayn Ryand- FOuntain Head, Crichton - State of Frea, Paulo Cohelo - Alchemist.

5) Non-fiction: 7 Habbits of highly effective people, Warrior Unleashed, Business at the Speed of Light, Straight from the Gut, C.K Prahalad's co-creation & strategy related stuff ( from the web... not the book)

My Favorite books:
1) Treasure Island
2) Vulture is a Patient Bird - Chase
3) Lord of the Rings - Tolkien
4) FOuntain Head
5) Anything Sherlock Holmes.

This list may not be entire reflective of what I read. But its the best I can come up with given that I am extremely busy now.

I am not sure if everybody reads this blog regularly but I book tag Ram, Anti, Vasumathi, Ram Prasad, Arvind Ganesh, Harish.

These people should list they books the like. The last 5 books they read etc.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Doing Away with The TNPCEE Entrance Exams

The Tamil Nadu government had legislated that the common entrance exam (also called Common Entrance Tests) conducted for Professional courses will be abandoned. The recent entrance exam conducted for this academic year has also been invalidated. Previously the sum of Mathematics score (scaled to a range of 0 -100) , Physics, Chemistry ( Each scaled to a score range of 0 - 50) and the TNPCE Entrance exam ( score range 0 - 100) was calculated. The total score ( the maximum possible score is 300) for each student determines his/her engineering admission. This system is gone now. The XII grade results will now solely determine the engineering admissions.

There is no doubt that the recent Entrance Exam results, where many students fared abysmally, has triggered a big argument among the parent - teacher - student - political community. And this is the reason why such a decision has been made. Of course this is a political move. One that would please the parents of the average to pathetic range (more on this later) of students in the state and cause them to vote for this government. The DMK needn't smile too much, they would have done the same if they had the chance. You have to be terribly retarded to miss the opportunity to cash in on idiot votes.

Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are two states where there is high premium on *engineering* education. In the "quality of students" in the engineering category, these two states usually score over every other state in the country. In my experience, which is quite vast in these areas, these are the level 1 states. Followed by Level 2 states like Maharashtra & Kerala and level 3 states like Delhi & Karnataka.

Three of the top 10 engineering colleges in the country are in Tamil Nadu. 2 of those three are directly impacted by this decision. 100% of the seats in College of Engineering, Guindy (popularly known as Anna University) are impacted by this decision. The Indian Engineering Colleges rankings released this year tell me that outside the 6 IIT's, this college is India's top engineering college. Better than even BITS, Pilani. 50% of the seats in Regional Engineering College, Tuvakudi, Trichinapalli, the other top 10 college is also impacted by this decision. One only hopes that this decision does not kick out these two colleges from the rankings (more on this in the Pro section).

There are Con's and Pro's to this entrance exam system.

The Con: In my opinion, which is usually quite harsh on such issues, the entrance exam is superfluous. It is a repeat exam of whatever was covered in the Plus 2 syllabus. The idea of introducing this was mainly to alienate CBSE/ICSE students and give priority to people who took Tamil as first languages. The TN government which proposed this system believed that people who studied Hindi/Sanskrit/French usually preferred to remain in CBSE for their XI and XII grades. If there was an entrance exam introduced which was worth 1/3 rd of the total score considered for engineering admissions AND if the entrance exam was based purely on State Board Syllabus, the CBSE/ICSE students wouldn't stand a chance at all. Synching up with the State Board Plus 2 syllabus in 2 months is next to impossible. This entrance exam tilted the balance in favor of State Board students for more than a decade. This initial idea of an entrance exam to eliminate a particular category of students itself was unfair. CBSE/ICSE XII syllabus is far tougher than State Board syllabus. While ability is a completely different topic, I have to say worth-wise every point in CBSE/ICSE stream was worth twice as much as 1 point in State Board stream. The State Board stream was mainly dependent on the mugging-up philosphy and vomitting whatever was in the text books into the answer paper. It is precisely the syllabus practises that has given rise to the majority of blind i'll-do-as-you-say IT folks that are flooding the market now in India. Ya! there are always exceptions but as a general trend this is true. Any State Board student who disagrees with me is either Blind or worse "Patriotic" ( Disclaimer: I did my XII std in State Board Syllabus). The point is alienating CBSE students definetly resulted in some good students being denied an opportunity to get into top engineering colleges. This led to an overall reduction in engineering school quality.

Oh!I almost forgot. I don't think highly of people who take CBSE in their XII standard. I made a conscious choice to switch over to State Board after SSLC. The snooty folks (especially those from PSBB) who thought taking CBSE in XI & XII was reflection of some sort of high status, ended up in worser places than me. Thats what happens if you take CBSE in XI and XII! Taking CBSE stream in XI std, knowing fully well that the engineering entrance is skewed towards State Board Students is an idiocy many students can ill-afford. Not all CBSE students get into IITs and BITs. The rest of them (which is like 90% of the students) would have live and endure the agony of less intelligent and less capable ex-classmates walking into better engineering colleges. Since after the CBSE board exams there is only 2 months or less time gap to prepare for the engineering entrances, this time is not enough to synch up with a whole new syllabus. Added to this the total marks for Math Phy and Chem, in State Board Syllabus (all three are for a maximum of 200 points) scream out "Advantage State Board". Vision and direction is as important as hardwork and ability.

The Pros: Having said all the above, the entrance exam is a good starting point for multiple-choice objective type examinations. Tamil Nadu is one of the few states (if not the only one) to have such a system. I also think this is the reason why Anna University is so highly ranked in India. The students in this college are ones who have cracked objective type exams. This almsot parallels the US under graduate admission process where a SAT objective exam is taken in conjuction with the academic performance to determine college admissions. The only thing missing are the essays. The objective tests are the kind of exams, which a student will face many times over during his lifetime. With some exceptions -- Intelligent people should generally do well in this exam. These kind of exams are a reality in today's world and refusing to face such exams is lunacy. I would seriously advise the critics of objective tests to stop being a wuss, stop the critisisms and face the music. If you feel you aren't doing these exams well, then improve yourself. I agree sometimes the exams are overdone but don't critisize the exams unless they are as excessive as CAT. India is a country which obsesses on these kind of objective type exams so there is no escaping this. The problem with India is we either completely hype these sort of objective-tests like the stupid stupid CAT exam or completely critisize the existence of such exams. A middle ground is what is needed and such an exam with 1/3rd weight is not a bad idea. These exams if used correctly test analytical ability, performance under pressure and to some extent presence of mind. A majority (not all) of the people who feel that this exam shuld be abolished are those who have sucked badly in these exam. To those people -- ya! you may get away with this exam at this age but the world is waiting with many such exams. Think of this blog when you are blinking in your engineering college campus-interview placement exams. It is better you solve the problem right-away or you may have a career to pay for.

Why I said "pathetic" previously was because people who want an engineering career should bloody well be doing these exams well. Your work life (the one where you wont be "changing the world" ) will end up precisely testing the qualities that these exams test. These engineering entrance exams aren't as insane as CAT and are quite within the acceptable limits. Plus it counts for only 1/3rd of the evaluation criteria -- unlike CAT. There is really no excuse being 110 kgs overweight and still wanting to be Sachin Tendulkar. You may have the hand-eye coordination to drive the ball between the fielders but then how will you run between the wickets? This exam tested a specific aspect of your ability and you did not come out well. Thats an undeniable truth.

What this means to Various People ?

The Govt has claimed that it is abolishing these exams because the students in Rural areas are being put at a disadvantage. I am not sure why rural students should be alienated by these entrance exams when it does the opposite of alienating CBSE students to create seats for them. Rural students seem to constantly excel in Plus 2 exams ( statistics do not tell the whole picture but there is enugh evidence to suggest that rural students aren't pig-heads). Coaching centers or not, when the entrance exams are conducted according to State Board Syllabus, claiming that rural students are being alienated seems to be a silly political statement aimed at getting the village (idiot's) votes. No sensible person would vote for a person who claims such stupid things. Even if the actual change is good, it should be for the right reasons.

This year if anybody feels they have lost out on something because of this Goverment Order -- they are completely justified and they have all the right to sue the government. The people who find themselves lucky because these entrance exam marks have been erased -- may laugh now but pay later some other day. Anyway their admission into better colleges than the ones that the former category get admitted into -- is completely unjustified and against the natural principles of fairness.

It was known a year (or many years before) that Entrance + Plus 2 was how the engineering admissions would be conducted. This year's brochures have this information. To change the rules after the results have been announced is a crime. A sort of crime that can happen only in our country. If I had the power I would shoot down the idiots who perpertrated this crime. Any new changes should be made effective from next year not the current year. Well if a whole lot of students sucked in the entrance then there is no use punishing the students who did well in the entrance. This amounts to forgiving the students who did badly in the entrance exams and punishing harshly those who just did the entrance well (even after an average performance in the public exams). This is a huge crime. If there is a God -- he will offset the loss related to this crime.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Ugly Actors Who cant Act

List in decreasing order of incompetence/ugliness.

1) Ajay Devgan
2) Vijay
3) Sanjay Dutt
4) Satyaraj's son Sibi
5) Simbhu
6) Prashant.

It is interesting to note that most or all of these people are sons of person's who can easily get into the ugliest-men-ever list. IMO - Tamil movies industry has given up on good looking faces and compensates for it with above-average behind screen ability. For Hindi movies its vice versa. Given that fact that the future of movies would have more and more of actor children coming in - the possibility of good-looking heros in Tamil movie industry is doomed. If Hindi movie industry is to stop blobs and she-males from getting in - the Dutts, Kapoors and Devgans should be castrated. There is no solution for bollywood's behind-the-screen incompetence.

Someone showed me Kareena Kapoors boyfriend (some Shahid or Saed dude) on TV. I swear he looks like a woman. More feminish than her elder sister Karishma(n). I wonder why good looking women such as Kareena have 'feelings' towards other women. It is sad.