Monday, March 31, 2008

The Zahir - Paulo Coelho

I read this book for only one reason; once I start reading, I cannot leave a book unfinished. This is one of those books which should never have been written in the first place. I am here to retaliate by writing a really critical book review.

Zahir means obsession.
The book is about a man whose wife leaves him without telling him about it, his brooding about her and his meeting her after 2 years.

There is no plot. 350 pages wasted with cynicism and pointless philosophy. Too many generalizations like, “Nobody is really happy in this world”, “Everyone is pretending to be happy”, “There is an absence of love everywhere” and the substantiation is very very weak.
There is no story at all. It’s merely a chain of this event and that; no two events related to each other or leading to anything and there is no cohesion between the events.

Toooooo many unwanted, uninteresting details throughout the book. Gory details of the protagonist’s monotonous daily life, observations that drive home no point and to make it worse, the supposed climax is no climax at all!

It’s not a work of creation but a work of construction.
When you mix all the left overs of last night, forget to add salt, sugar, pepper, lemon and have it without even heating it, this is what you get. A dish that has no taste and no name.

My only take away are certain quotations and a few interesting English words.

Freedom is not the absence of commitments but the ability to choose and commit yourself – to what is best for you.

When someone leaves, it’s because someone else is about to arrive.

An interesting Epitaph – He died when he was still alive.

Mediocrity and anonymity are the safest choice. If you opt for them, you will never face any major problems in life – This is so true.

Our true friends are those who are with us when the good things happen. They cheer us on and are pleased by our triumphs. False friends only appear at difficult times with their sad supportive faces, when in fact, our suffering is serving to console them for their own miserable lives. – This I thought was so contrary to what all of us believe…but rings as very true..

Did you know that
1.There are 4 cats and 11 lamp posts on a 10 dollar bill?
2. In French law, anyone can legally move into a building that is not being used by it’s owner?
3. There are only 30 places in this world where the sand dunes sing?
4. Napolean, Alexander the Great, Dante, Van Gogh, Lewis Carroll (who wrote Alice in Wonderland), were all epileptic. I hope the author has his facts right.

There are some interesting theories too like the importance of deleting our past history, stop trying to control love etc…but since the story he uses to bind them all is so weak, the theories don’t make an impact.

If you are like me who cannot leave a book unfinished, don’t start this one.
Revenge taken.

Monday, March 24, 2008

If Not For Clouds...

Bangalore skies this March have inspired me to write this poem.

What is Sunrise
If not for clouds in the skies?
What is a clear sky?
An endless monotony of blue void..

With a silver lining
Dividing the Sun into
Infinite beams and shafts of light

An extensive group of tiny feathers
Well marked in their arrangement
Like the scales of a fish
Giving the sky a name - Mackerel sky

Ah! The pattern!
Like foamy ripples on the surface
Of a tranquil lake
Adorning the naked sky
With ornamentation

Ah! The purpose!
Trees in heavens
Thick and dense
Casting shadows
The size of mountains and kingdoms
Giving respite from
The tedium of the Sun

Ah! The colour!
Soaked in honey, milk, rose water and sandal
Drenched with silver, gold, saffron and lilac
Sprinkled with turmeric, lavender and vermillion
Against a canvas of ink, cobalt, ashes
Or a solution of copper sulphate

What is Sunrise
In an empty sky?
And what is the drama of Sunset
If not for embellishments of clouds on the sets?

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Bourne Identity - Robert Ludlum

It’s about a guy who has lost his memory partially, trying to discover his identity in 500 pages. The story is gripping and the book, unputdownable.

This guy is one who is being hunted by several nations and some very able soldiers. He makes them all bite the dust. But the fact of incredible accuracy in spite of amnesia is what makes the success of the character somewhat fictitious.

The success of the protagonist depends too very much on instincts right from the beginning till the end. The lost memory keeps coming to him in flashes at the right times which is quite coincidental.
His instincts tell him exactly who the enemy in a crowd is (as in a fashion store in Paris), exactly where the trap is, exactly guess the next move of the enemy. A lot of skill! But as I said, his instincts never fail him and guide him in the right direction every time he needs them, which is too very coincidental.

The plot is made of a million moves all of which HAVE to be right. Even if one move went wrong, the game would be lost. But that’s how all suspense thrillers are I guess.

I, the unintelligent one would have (to be able to appreciate the plot better) preferred the author to explain more clearly the Medusa operation and Normandy invasion which seem to be central to the story.

There are frequent mentions of the mastery of an assassin. One or two episodes of killings, illustrating that mastery would have made the reading so enjoyable…

Anyway, pick your copy today and read it…..

And now, the language itself….(typical me :-))

There are more preposterous vicissitudes in life than a single philosophy can conjure – How true!

The wash of the street lamps on the wall, the wash of the moonlight on the shore- I loved the expression.

“The bottle of alcohol, his chemical and psychological appendage” - expression describing an alcoholic.

The profit motive is inseparable from the productivity incentive. – Nice one!

As the traffic lights changed, the row of vehicles lurched forward like an elongated insect pulling it’s shelled parts together – I love this simile. Slow moving traffic could not possibly have been compared to anything better!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Musings From My Evenings

I have realized that sunset and sunrise are made beautiful only because of clouds in the sky. A clear sky is an endless monotony of blue void. It’s the same in every direction you look. It’s the cloud patterns that make the sky beautiful.

The clouds with a silver lining.
The clouds that divide the sun into beams and shafts of light.
An extensive group of tiny cloud balls well marked in their arrangement that look like the scales of a fish….making the sky a mackerel sky. That’s got to be my favourite.
Clouds that are ripples on the surface of a tranquil lake.
Then there are large clouds and the mid size clouds.

Clouds soaked in honey, milk, rose water, silver, gold, saffron, turmeric
Against a background of powder blue, ink, a solution of copper sulphate, cobalt, ashes…

Sometimes, at the same time, you can see patches of all the different patterns here and there. Indeed, sunset and sunrise are made beautiful only because of clouds in the sky.

Coconut tree is the most photogenic of them all…. it’s the shape that’s makes it so attractive…. fifteen to twenty fronds held together by a slender looking stem… resembling the petals of a lotus flower or water from a fountain or fireworks in the sky.….the symmetrical fronds, gently swaying in the air, the glistening leaflets reflecting sunlight, partly yellowish, partly green…the leaflets themselves, parting now, joining now as if they were one…..fluttering, like the wings of a butterfly... the older fronds bending outwards to make way for the younger ones at the center…. The tree is never bare….the older fronds dry away but there are enough younger and greener ones to keep the tree perennially beautiful.

Although we want to be delivered from suffering, we unconsciously hold on to them, recall and recount them, take a kind of pride in them. That’s why cynicism appeals more than the philosophy of optimism to most of the people.
This is called masochism. Deriving pleasure from one’s own suffering. It is the opposite of sadism.
A profound thought is forming in my mind. :-) I have done my best to phrase it well. I just realized that Masochism is a waste of life ..except when the cause of suffering is Love. Love is likened to sweet poison. How true! The suffering is sweet. It at least gives your heart something to toy with… I would rather hit the rock bottom than try to swim up.
Woh Dil Hi Kya Jisme Dard Na Ho! Every poet will vouch for it..and everyone who has been in love.

There has been some success in life. There are friends trying to make me believe I am very good. But why is there a doubt? Once in a way, when I read this article by a fellow blogger on the subject of finance or economy or stock market, all of which are Greek and Latin to me, when I have read twice a poem composed by a friend and still haven’t understood what it means,….my confidence becomes shaky, there is a feeling of inadequacy, out of which stems my biggest fear ….The fear of being a success among the mediocre. I DON’T want to be a success among the mediocre.

Watched the starving, hungry, thirsty kids in Somalia …..imagined how ecstatic, overjoyed, they would feel even if you gave them a piece of bread. How thankful they would be. Hunger is probably the worst cruelty of life. Whether hunger for food, or hunger for love.

I had emailed someone. I received a generous response that I had not expected. Can’t tell you how happy I became. It was as little as an email. An email that perhaps meant nothing more than a gesture of politeness...and I could not sleep the night out of sheer joy….I was consumed in self pity at the realization of how much starvation there has been in my own life… for love…

Most of the wounds have healed. Its time to flush out that last ounce of vehemence which swells to become a gallon every now and then. Put down the baggage I have been carrying for so long and be relieved at last. A few battles are always there to fight. But the war is over. Discard the weapons. I am only a few steps away from freedom. I am on the runway, picking speed gradually. I need to shed the last burden and then the flight will happen. The blue skies beckon.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Friendship Notwithstanding

“No one is completely unhappy at the failure of his best friend. – by Groucho Marx, who was an American comedian and a film star.

Came across this quotation some time ago. At first glance, it seemed like an unreasonable generalization. But as I write this, I believe that it is quite true.

Thinking of some of the people in my life now… roommates, friends. We belong to different schools of thought. Or do we actually? But they are dear to me. I care for them. I have stood by them in times of their need. We have done movies, dinners, shopping together. But once in every while, I see that sarcastic, sardonic smile on their faces, giving me a fleeting glimpse of a secret hatred they are breeding for me of which they probably are unaware themselves.
My only fault is that I am a good debater and I won’t give up easily. My only fault is that I have had the last word(incidentally) in most of the arguments I have had with them. Not because I wanted to, but because I feel strongly for the causes that I feel for and never tire of talking of those causes.
I have a strong conviction and I know my mind too very well, which may not be well received by all. When I say something irrefutable, they accept it but grudgingly so.

But honestly, my winning or loosing an argument does not matter so much.
It’s the beliefs that I am trying to endorse unrelentingly, it’s an idea or a value that I am trying to uphold.

But they probably think otherwise. They are watching me closely. Every time I talk, they are watching for a contradiction, for a weak point, for a trap they can drag me into. See if they can make me put my foot in my mouth. They ask my opinion about every damn issue and make me talk only to contradict me immediately. They won’t let go a single opportunity to disprove me. Not that they succeed, and that makes it worse. They counter argue just for the sake of counter arguing. If I say two plus two is four, they say it’s five. They question and cross question me often. And once in a way, when they win, they give each other high fives and loud laughter follows…to a point of disloyalty. This is their way of getting back at me for not being able to prove a point in a previous argument.

All these days I have been a fool, taking all of this. Feeling hurt.
Arguing passionately as if I get paid for distributing free gyan. I am so easily provoked! I will have to be more diplomatic now on. I will refuse to subject myself to their interviewing, or ask them if they are going to pay me for it. I will simply shrug if they try to provoke me. You are welcome to your philosophy! I am welcome to mine! No explanation please! Let’s not argue.
Sometimes give them a taste of their own medicine. Interview them for a change! Do some counter arguing and exasperate them!

These are people who are my friends. I still like them. I know they are good people. But there is a devil inside everyone that is dormant. It awakens and surfaces once in a way. A streak of disloyalty. A shade of jealousy. An iota of vendetta. A patch of sadism. I will have to make sure these remain buried deep within. That will be good for all of us. And our friendship.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Donkey in Horse's Skin

The sum total of intelligence on the planet is a constant and the population is increasing.

This is true not only of intelligence but also of character, of decency, of decorum and probably of all other things.

Gone are those days when job seekers had to study voluminous books to sharpen their aptitude, English, go through several rounds of interview, group discussions to land themselves in a good job.

“Good afternoon ma’m. I am calling from IBM. We have an opening for this position. Our compensation is the best in the industry. Would you be interested in attending an interview this Sunday?”

The competition among recruiting companies for resources is so severe that it would not be wrong to call it “hostile poaching for resources”.

Anyone and everyone is being hired. Literally. Choose any of the thousand software companies. Simply walk in. It’s as easy as that. The doors are wide open.

It is needless to say that quality has been compromised.
The population in IT is no longer the CREAM.
There is too much hype about IT. But that’s that. HYPE.

I went to the HR department after joining this company for some paperwork. This HR guy who was responsible for attending to me was reclining in his chair, talking on his cell phone. I stood right in front of him trying to get his attention. He looked at me casually and then turned to resume his conversation as if he was in Lalbagh at leisure. I did not understand what he was talking since he was speaking in Telugu. But I deduced that it was nothing more than a casual chit chat with a family member or a friend because of the way he was giggling every now and then. Once in a while he would guffaw loudly not caring a shit about his surroundings. By this time a few more people had gathered with papers in their hands waiting for this guy.
I don’t care about the fact that he was conspicuously engaging in personal work during office hours. But how could he be so rude, so indifferent to people waiting in line just to get his signature? While hiring this guy did they not train him on the basics of manners and etiquette?

Every time I go to the finance department, this woman is busy working with some excel sheet. I can understand. Invariably I have to wait for 10 minutes for my turn. I don’t mind. But what the hell is stopping her from offering me a seat? Why can’t she excuse herself and tell me how much time it is going to take? Why can’t she turn to me for a second and say “give me 10 minutes please”?

I travel by this air conditioned Volvo bus most of the occupants of which are IT professionals. Fortunately I get a seat after a long wait. But what the hell? This guy standing right over my shoulder is barking loudly into his cell phone in a local language. I hope that he will finish in 2 minutes. It has been half an hour now and he continues his barking. I turn to look at him with an annoyed look on my face hoping he will get the message but in vain. He is shouting into my ears now, discussing the silliest of matters … sambhar that he had this afternoon, a movie he is going to watch this weekend, his aunty who is visiting, an orkut scrap …. I look at him once again. He pauses and barks at me, “you have prablam if I talk?”
I give up.
All mobile vendors should include a copy of “mobile manners” along with user manual and warranty card.

Lunch in office.
The queue is not moving because the tray of Poori’s is empty. At least 20 people are waiting. The guy refills the tray with some poori’s, but not enough for the people standing there, leave alone people who were joining the queue. The guy standing first in the queue quickly grabbed 6 or 7 pooris and left! Couldn’t he have taken just one or two and come later for second helpings?

People standing in corridors and narrow passages with their hands on their hips, elbows protruding out is the most irritating of them all. Every time I pass through one of the corridors, I have to struggle my way through a dozen elbows saying “EXCUSE ME PLEASE”.
This one I am sure is documented somewhere. I clearly remember reading during my school/college days “DO NOT STAND WITH YOUR HANDS ON HIPS IN PASSAGES AND CORRIDORS”. Is common sense really that uncommon?

And then there are other things like people speaking broken English, people speaking in vernacular languages in offices……among other things. American slang in every sentence. The justification is a bloody cliché. “Language is a mere means of communication”. What the @#$%^&*!!

And all these people get away with it scot-free???

Which school did all these people go to? Did they finish college? Which slum did the HR recruit them from?? I grimace at the thought of the generation that will be born out of these people who constitute a vast majority! And having money is going to make it all the more worse.

Driving around in fancy cars, showing off in discotheques, designer clothes, possessing 25 plastic cards in their wallet, swiping them in shopping malls….none of these serve to prove a single point. The eyes of the truly cultured will be fooled by none of these… they can tell the wheat from the chaff…….just a single glance.

It’s time IT heads set aside a fat portion of their budget for educating their employees on the BASICS. Its high time someone put substance into the empty bottles with colourful labels.

Disclaimer : I am not perfect. I am not saying that I am perfect, but I know I am much better than at least half the people around. And when someone holds a mirror to my imperfections, I register them in my mind and consciously or unconsciously improve over time.

Friday, March 07, 2008

South Lake Tahoe - 17th Nov 2007

Nov 17th 2007

South Lake Tahoe…

That’s life. A journey of perpetual neglect towards what you have and unending pursuit of what you don’t have…….
That was a line from my own article…

In this case it was not neglect…but you may call it that…..

For three months, I stayed in Folsom, California. South Lake Tahoe was the nearest and most obvious destination from where I lived. 90 minutes drive. It was the first place I was told about only a few hours after my landing in San Francisco. I visited so many places; some nearby, some far off, but almost missed visiting this place which was “right in my backyard”.

17th of November was my last day in the US. I had so much packing to do, so much shopping…last minute chores.. but I decided that I would not return to India without visiting South Lake Tahoe.

A dear friend had a car and we set out early in the morning……

The drive to this place was very scenic..winding roads, pine trees with their glistening tops, mountains and hillocks, first appearances of snow of the season here and there….like sprinkled powder…

We made a short stop at a casino which was right at the border separating California and Nevada. Gambling is legal in Nevada but not in California. And this casino was right at the border, a mockery of sorts at the lawmakers. Me and my friend played at one of the coin booths and lost 20 dollars each. :-) That was my first gamble in life (only literally, of course :-))

After some more driving, we reached South Lake Tahoe.
Blue, very very blue, powder blue, sometimes, azure, some places ink blue, and some, navy blue...some aquamarine...some sea beneath blue, blue watres beneath blue skies....tranquil, vast, surrounded by mountains on all sides, I could not even get a perspective of it’s spread. Simply beautiful!

Some interesting facts about the lake

-Lake Tahoe is the highest lake of its size in the United States and the largest alpine lake in North America.
-Lake Tahoe's water is 99.9% pure. The water is so clear that a 10 inch white dinner plate would be visible at 75 feet below the surface.
-There are 63 tributaries draining into Lake Tahoe with only one outlet at the Truckee River.
-Maximum diameter: 22 miles
-Minimum diameter: 12 miles
-Maximum Depth: 1,645 feet
-Maximum Elevation: 6,229 feet

Let the pictures tell what statistics cannot……

South lake Tahoe - 17th Nov

The best photos were yet to be taken….... from a high vista point and the camera slipped from my grip and did not work again… :-(

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What Drives You in Life?

“What drives you in life?” asked a friend a few years ago.
It was so difficult for me to answer that question.
I started talking about my hobbies, what I like to do in my spare time, my ambition, etc. Today when I look back, I realize that I gave him an answer that must have revealed to him a glimpse of my ignorance or a complete absence of self discovery.

When I look back at the years in retrospection, I observe (much to my regret) that for several years of my life, I was not driven. I did not even know what it meant to be driven.

Of course I had an “ambition” like all others; to get a job in Infosys (or an equally good software company).
I had desires. I wanted money, friends, a good husband, a rank in the university.
I had a few accomplishments in life. I was a successful debater; I had won the 1st place in a national level essay writing competition. I had also won a few personality contests.
I had talent too. I was artistic. I used to paint. I used to write poems.

But I was not driven. In spite of all the above. Why? Of course, there had been a few disappointments in life; but they are always there…for all of us. Isn’t it?

How do you decide whether you are driven in life or not?

After a lot of thinking, I came to the following conclusion.

I was not driven because there was no spring in my step as I walked the path of life.

I simply stood and life passed me by.
And what was I doing standing there?

Sometimes, I was regretting my past, wishing that I had a time machine so I could go back in time and correct certain things.
At other times, I was day dreaming, doing wishful thinking.
Sometimes I was blaming people around me and circumstances, for things that went wrong and other times, I was planning my strategy for my battle with life, carefully deciding what my next move should be.
I was certainly not driven.

After a few years, things changed. Cynicism faded away. Pessimism retreated. Life had improved in general. My ambition had realized. Some of my desires had found fulfillment. But I was neither too happy nor too sad. Life merely went on. What kept me going was a hope of a better tomorrow. But I was still not driven. I took longer strides than before, but somehow the spring in my step was not there. I was passively waiting for certain things to happen.

And today, nothing has changed drastically in life. But I feel as if I just awakened from a slumber. I feel driven. How?

I wonder if the hundreds of thousands of people around me are driven or they merely stand as life passes them by.

If you ask what is essential to being driven in life, you may get a variety of answers from different people.

Someone may say “Interesting Hobbies!” True to an extent. The image of a person who has no hobbies and has nothing to do in spare time does not quite occur to the mind as driven.
But I had more hobbies in life at a time when I was not driven than now!
And what about busy people who have no spare time? Are they not driven?

Someone may say “Ambition!” This is also true to an extent.
Wait a minute! What about the multitude of homemakers having no ambition who are happy to take care of husband or children? Are they not driven?

“Desires!” said another. So what about all those swamis/yogis who have no desires? Would you say they are not driven? Oh common, they are probably the most driven people!

Is a person driven because he is sociable and has a lot of friends and parties a lot? What about those introverted quiet people? Men of a few words? Would you declare that they are all not driven?

“Hope!” Sounds good to me. But what about those who live in today, who are very content and don’t need to hope for a better tomorrow?

While all the answers are correct, none of them is complete.

So what exactly is being driven in liven in life?? And why do I suddenly feel driven in life?

As I introspect, I see that I have most of what I want in life(as I almost always did). I also do not have some things that are important. But regardless of anything, there is gratitude in my heart, like never before. I have started to count my blessings.
There are a hundred reminders all around me of all the misery in the world. But I still think life is beautiful. There is positive thinking. I find myself saying “Chill! Life is unfolding itself as it should, whether or not you like it.”
There are no “high” ambitions. No desire for bungalow, motor car nor gold nor diamonds. But there is a zest for life. I am so excited about little things in life. A song that I heard, an ice cream that I am going to have….

I see that apart from things that I do out of sheer necessity, there are also other things I do because I enjoy doing them. I suddenly know what I want in life. I want to learn Music, Painting and Sanskrit. I want to read. I want to write. I want to read a lot. I want to travel the world. No confusion.

Therefore (perhaps), there is spring in my step!

Now I know.
Different people could be driven by different things.
You may take long strides. You may take short strides. You may be walking at a slow/steady pace or you may be marching forward. But only if there is spring in your step, you are driven in life. Most of them are merely standing or staggering or tottering as life passes them by.

Generalizations are difficult to make and more difficult to sell.
But for now, I shall be content with the simple generalization that,.............. "if you know what you want in life and you are walking towards it with a spring in your step, then you are driven".