Friday, May 27, 2011

Trembling At The Brim

So much to ask
So much to say
And yet, nothing will be asked
Nothing will ever be said.

Two destinies
One, more cruel than the other
Will be borne in silence
By two beings made of the same soul
That have just found each other,
A few years too late.

As they stand on either side of a chasm
A foot wide,
But an abyss deep,
Tears and words,
Breaths and bloods
Rise to fill the brim of their beings,
Eager to spill, to flow and mix,
And become one soul again;
But hold back and tremble
Forever at the brim
For the waters of forbiddance
Are rising in the chasm below,
Intimidating their advancing steps.

Above the waters, a sky of silence prevails
Between two storm-filled hearts.

A sprout is stifled and smothered,
Just as it has taken it's first breath of life.

Elsewhere the world extols and applauds
The promise and fruitfulness of true love.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Morbid Fascination

I was reading this work published by an author, an acquaintance of mine.
Shy, polite, bashful and restrained as he is, I was disappointed and surprised at certain gross descriptions he had filled (unnecessarily) into a few pages.

There was some attempt at double entendre and below the belt kind of humour.
Though it was not in his nature, he had attempted such writing, probably because at least half the humour has its source in such matters.

And the use of the four lettered F word in dialogues was profuse. Perhaps it helps the present generation readers relate to the book better, degenerate and debauched as their own vocabulary is.

This vocabulary has made its way into theatre as well. Actors on stage send out a stream of ‘F this’ and ‘F that’ and ‘F u’ and all other kinds of unspeakable profanity, while spectators, young and old, men and women, married and single, even children watch them without batting an eyelid. If the same profanities were translated into regional languages, say Kannada or Tamil or Hindi and thrown at people, they would grimace. You would hear them whispering ’third class’. Don’t know why people’s reaction to the same becomes one of eager welcome when the language is changed to English!, I mean, American!

There is the argument of ‘we give people what they want’ coming from writers, poets, movie makers, editors of newspapers and magazines and playwrights. Whether it is ‘we give people what they want’ or ‘people take what you give them’ is the eternal, irresolvable question of “who came first - hen or egg?” and the moral police can go on beating their foreheads.
Meanwhile, in the name of presenting ‘contemporary art’ or presenting ‘reality’, isn’t it a smart thing to do to make some money, even though at the expense of legitimizing the dissolute and giving sanction to the decadent?
Yes, you effectively give your sanction. If one artist has done it, many will join soon and then it will become the norm.

While the above(dilution of standards in art) is still understandable (though not pardonable), what I don’t understand(and this was what I was referring to in the opening sentences of this article ) is the morbid fascination that writers, artists all over the place seem to have developed for another four lettered F word; the one people use to refer to intestinal wind.

The very first time I came across the use of this word in literary field was, I think, when I read a work of Khushwant Singh. He had dedicated one whole chapter to intestinal wind and like a true subject matter expert, he had expounded on various aspects such as, the attitude of different cultures towards wind, and then… oh, forget it.
I had, diligently written in my review of the work that, ‘this author has an incredible capacity for distasteful writing’.
While I wondered what sort of a person writes such things and how he faces friends, family and the world, having written such things (I said he, not she; women will take some time before they equal men), while I grimaced at the tip, the rest of the iceberg started looming before me even as I winced.

People were using the word shamelessly.
This guy, who was introduced to me by a friend who was trying to solve my single status, greeted me with flowers (hmmm… gentleman) and within a few minutes of settling down in a restaurant where a play was just about to begin, having heard some sound in that pin drop silence, whispered in my ear that someone behind him had ‘F @#$%^’ aloud!
(disguised as a gentleman….). Sorry friend. You will have to find me a better one.

Before I knew, fellow bloggers had started using the word in their articles.

And then authors. They have been using it generously too.

I fail to understand why this morbid fascination for the distasteful.
The popularity of the rest of those profanities can be explained.
The F word that I first mentioned makes you look ‘cool’, modern and all…(or so the perception is). All the other below the belt talk and double meaning jokes give you some titillation.
But this F word? Just how does it appeal to people? It does not titillate, and it’s just not cool. It’s plain disgusting and loathsome.

If you observe the pattern, right from naming of certain rock bands, like ‘Witches Sabbath‘, ‘Bhayanak Mauth’, to writing lyrics of rock music, to turning our film heroes to negative characters - in one of the movies, both heroes are shown debauching with a dozen women, now smoking, now drinking, now playing Tabla on the posteriors of those dozen women, to using coarse slang in our speech, to projecting ourselves as ‘I am not a Gandhi’ type of a person, to making a mockery of the sober, innocent, honest, decent ones by calling them ‘Gandhi-like”, we display such fascination for the morbid, for the evil and a repulsion towards the good!

One of my friends had left her laptop on the table for sometime and the screensaver appeared - a phrase floating against a black background, moving all over and seesawing. You remember those screensavers?
I looked at it. It read ‘Sexy Naughty Bitchy’.
That was her office laptop. When I asked her if she would change the screen saver when in office, she replied in the negative, to my shock.

Wasn’t it embarrassing, I thought.
Oh! I got it later. It was meant for all to see. And take notice of.
That was the image she wanted to project of herself. Sexy naughty bitchy!
‘I am not a boring conservative good girl. Make no mistake’!, the three words were supposed to convey. And sure, they did.

Coming back to my author friend, I was disappointed when I saw that he had made a mention of that other loathesome F word, quite needlessly in his book and without relevance (he was predicting how a certain character in his story would react if he broke wind in public. My advice to the author - try astrology, but people would want to know about more important events in life.)

When I saw that this morbidity had gripped even my gentlemanly, soft spoken, well mannered, strong willed friend, who is not easily influenced by ‘social trends‘, I knew, we had made the U turn in civilization.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What You Speak Is Who You Are

13th and 14th May 2011
Venue: Infosys Campus, Mysore

Two things that made my journey from Bangalore to Mysore as well as my absconding from work, worthwhile were the simply GREAT Infosys campus and the world champion of public speaking (1999), Craig Valentine’s speeches, nay, his performance on stage.

The below is the best I could record between attentively listening, watching, laughing and (of course) applauding through the sessions. As I wrote this article, I realized what a big chasm there was between witnessing the speaker himself and writing about the experience.

Don’t miss the learning below, if you like public speaking. Or writing. Or theatre. Or even simply conversing with people. Or Living!
It was specifically addressed to aspiring speakers but I believe there’s a lot that all of us can take away from his words.

“What’s the number 1 thing that stands between people living their dreams?” he began the session with this question.
“Fear’, ‘lack of confidence’, ‘destiny’… came the answers from us all.
No it’s not a negative thing. It’s a good things that come in between you and your dreams.
This he illustrated with his own story.
He walked to his employer and said he wanted to quit, because he wanted to be the world champion of public speaking. The employer immediately offered him a hike in salary. He shook his head and said he wanted to pursue a career in public speaking. The employer hiked his salary again. And again. And again. When the employer said “I will give you one hundred thousand dollars, he said, “I will ask my wife”.
He went home, told her about it and asked what he should do.
“Take the money fool” said she at first.
And then she said, “wait a minute… this is what you have wanted to do all your life.” Hmm…. Craig, YOUR DREAMS ARE NOT FOR SALE”.
He went to his employer, and without making eye contact, said “My wife said, my dreams are not for sale” : - )

If he had chosen the employer’s offer was definitely a good thing, he would not be living his dreams.
It’s the good that comes in the way of the great.
More often than not, following our dreams means letting go of our chosen safe path and taking risks – risking the good things we have. One who has nothing to lose can do absolutely anything. Isn’t it?
Don’t let the good get in the way of the best.

He told us of the first time he went to a bookstore. And how important it is to read.
“The people you meet and the books you read make you”
He recommended the book “Live Your Dreams” by Les Brown.

The full act on day 2 which followed the trailer on day 1 also began with humour.

“Sales blames marketing. Marketing blames production. Production blames engineers
When the engineers learn to talk, they will blame someone!”

Average leaders blame. Exceptional leaders accept it.

With a few demonstrations involving audience participation, he drove home important lessons.

We were asked to stand up face our immediate neighbour and turn the other way.
Then we were asked to change 12 things about our appearance…
After a few seconds, he said ‘OK, change two things…turn to your partner and find the change”
We did. The glasses were taken off, or the cot was removed, dupattas worn differently, hair let down…
And then again we were asked to turn the other way and change one thing and repeat the process.
We did.
Moral: Change small. Change often.
True. When we were asked to change 12 things, we simply stood thinking. Changing 1 or 2 things at a time was so much more easier.

How to craft/deliver a good speech:
1. Breathe life into a speech
2. Bring the audience to you
3. Build a message – tell a story, make a point

A foundational phrase is important. It is the ‘Take away’ phrase for your audience. It should be fewer than 10 words.
“No phrase. No stage. Don’t talk if you don’t have a take home value.”

He illustrated it with much humour.
Story: A man bought a bug bear (for those to whom this is not clear may think of a ladder instead of a bug bear). His little boy started climbing it. He went to the boy and warned him – you are too young for this. You will hurt yourself. Get down…”
The next day he went to the thing and the little boy was still on the top of it.
He said, “I told you not to climb, what are you doing up there?
To which the boy said “I am still getting down”
What’s the foundational phrase of the story?
“Sometimes you have to ignore your parents to get to the top.”

He gave us a story about a plane journey when this guy was sitting next to him for 4 hours without saying a word to him. When the journey was almost over, he said ‘hello, how do you do?”
Our man asked him, “I have been here for the last four hours next to you and you did not even as much as greet me and now you talk to me!”
To which the man said “I was afraid you would bore me. So what do you do?”
“I aspire to be a professional speaker”
‘And what do you do?”
“I am a professional speaker. I am the number 1 gospel comedian in the world”
“I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a gospel comedian”
“That’s why I am number 1”!

We were asked to come up with a foundation phrases for this one. Some of the responses were:
To be number 1, you have to be the only one.
Understand my silence to understand my words.
Your niche can make you rich.
What’s the prize. It’s a surprise.

Moving on…
It’s important to combine verbal with visual.
“What you say is not always what they hear.
People won’t remember what you say as much as what they’ll see when you say it.
The book is always better than the movie because people create the picture when you don’t give them the complete picture. People buy into what they help create.”

Speak to one. But look to all. Everyone in the audience should feel the speaker is speaking only to him. Never address them in plural. All of you, many of you, some of you.. STOP. SIMPLY YOU.
Public speaking is one on one enlarged.
Use the Hallway test – if you would walk to someone in the hallway and say it to him, you could say it on stage?
Would you walk to someone in a hallway and say “Have you all been to San Francisco?” NO. You say, “Have you been to San Francisco?”
And what happens if you say the former? You don’t get a response!

BODY LANGUAGE: This was a learning for me. I had witnessed too much irrelevant movement, noise and histrionics on stage by these speakers who had completely misunderstood the use and necessity of body language. Some of them jumped around like monkeys on stage and other almost danced during every speech they delivered. It was such a fall from dignity and grace that I had denounced the movement on stage entirely.

I learnt in these two days that movement could be relevant and enhance the impact of a speech manifold.

“Move on stage to make a transition.
Move when you change location in your story (action drives the movement in your story)
Timeline – create a time line – past – present – future – move to three spots on stage – 2 spots 2 feet apart. Avoid running too far between characters.
This creates a reference point to a particular time
But remember where you placed everybody and everything on stage.
A certain speaker created a reference point on stage to a part of his speech where the uncle died and he was cremated. Later, having moved here and there, he returned to stand at the same spot and had lunch.
Don’t have lunch on your uncle! ”

Always occupy center stage in the beginning

Be an excellent tease to be an excellent speaker. Make them wait to hear, say, the most important line in a dialogue or the last line of a conversation.

Check the VAKS
“I and my wife, were sitting on this leather sofa listening to Beethoven and the smell of cookies baking wafted through the open window.”
But don’t narrate a novel (while setting the scene). Just Speak (hurry up)!

Don’t tell. Ask. No person, no audience wants to be told about themselves.
How many of you sleep till late in the morning? Instead of Most of wake up late in the morning.

When you narrate a story, structure it in the form of “Conflict, Cure and Change in character”
That’s how story must develop. And, never be the hero of your own story.

Non verbal body language of listener/speaker is important. Focus on your own when speaking/listening. Public speaking is one on one enlarged.
Remember the acronym – SOFTEN.

S – Smile when appropriate
O – Open posture, not a closed one - Having anything between you and your audience is a closed posture (podium or lectern too) or hands folded instead of being open.
F – Forwardly – don’t recline in your chair- sit straight or lean forward
T – Touch/territory - What you do to one side of the audience, you do to the other
E – Eye contact - Scan and stop
N – Nodding - nod and acknowledge

“How many of you would like to add humour to your speech?”
All hands shoot up.
“Never ADD humour to your speech. Uncover the humour already present. Never add humour.”
In his earlier story he had done that
“Take the money fool” (his wife reacting ) was uncovering humour in the story, not adding.
He went to his employer, and without making eye contact, said “My wife said, my dreams are not for sale” – that was uncovering humour, not adding it.
Someone asked Craig, “When are you free?”. He said, “I am never free. I am available” : - )

The heart of any speech is in its dialogue. (stories, characters, dialogue). include dialogue in your speech.

Specifics stick. Be specific in your message. Don’t meander.

Never end your speech with a Q & A. people always remember what they heard first and what they heard last. (primacy and recency)
Have a scale. You master what you measure.

Help them grow and let them go. I don’t remember the context in which he said this but it applies so much to parenting!

“Tap and transport” – again, forgot what exactly he was referring to. I think it was about bringing the audience to you having won their attention (and respect) and then taking them to your message.

Do visit I just checked. Some stuff there is for free!

Lastly, when you open your mouth, you tell the world who you are. I couldn’t agree more. I sincerely hope and wish people paid more attention to what they said and how they said it.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Yercaud - Day 2,3 - Lady's Seat, Church, Lakeside, GRT & Return

We were taken to what is known as Lady's seat. Apparently, some lady (probably a white woman) sat here and wrote (donno what) for a long time...

This is where she wrote.

While the others rested in the car, tired as they were, I stepped out for a quick visit to this church, a glimpse of which I had had as we had driven past this to the Lady's seat.

It was closed. But a peek through one of the windows revealed the below...

A small garden by the lake.

2 years ago, I had visited GRT Chennai on business. They had mentioned GRT Yercaud while briefing us about their various branches. I thought of the exotic stuff we had eaten during our stay in their hotel. So it was decided that we would have dinner that night at GRT. We left early - in the evening itself.

When we reached, we learnt that the place offered much more.
My father, standing at a vantage point facing the setting sun in the west.

When I reached the spot, I saw that the point offered a sort of panoramic view - the valley below and unobstructed sunset.

They have attempted the sky walk! My brother's standing on one!
The first time I heard of it was in 2007 - when I was in the US planning to visit the Grand Canyon.

Its kind of eerie...

A longer stretch of the skywalk leads to the roof of the hotel adjoining a banquet hall and the restaurant.

This is where we would spend time until dinner was ready to be served at 7.

Part of the hotel as seen from the roof

Sunset reflected on the glass finished banquet hall.

The valley below.

Is there any camera that can do justice to the setting sun?

The restaurant. I liked the food. Especially the starters. Try the pineapple starter. its seasoned and finished with bay leaves.

The crescent. With such difficulty, I got it right. Almost!

Salem city lights from GRT.

The return next morning. Part blue. Part golden - washed with the rising Sun.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Transcending Intellect

As five hundred people sat in rapt attention before the guru of a popular cult, one hand shot up and the girl asked, “Guruji, How to transcend intellect?”

When an answer was given, it turned out that the question itself was more interesting than the answer. To me.
Of course, those among the gathering - which meant most of them, who had gotten used to spoonfeeding by now and had found it so convenient! and hence had lost the habit of and the taste for, thinking and analysis, swallowed the answer, without digesting it, for application in all future contexts indiscriminately.

I for one, dwelt upon the question and tried to see the reasoning underlying the too simplistic, yet obscure answer, which had been “When you say yes, when you accept, you transcend intellect”.

If what I realized after a while was the result of the same understanding of ‘transcending the intellect’ as the Guru’s, then I had a reason to smile at the calculated obscurity in the answer.

I realized that all of us transcend the intellect; each one of us. Everyday.

When we fall in love,…
A well cut nose and a well defined jaw line; taller than you, at least one day older than you; vegetarianism was non negotiable, poetic and romantic. That was your kind of a guy.
Yet, when you fell in love, it was a man who was an inch shorter than you, 2 years younger, loved chicken, scoffed at romanticism and mushy talk, and thought a piece of Java code poetic. What do you think you were doing?
Your intellect clearly told you this was not your kind of a guy. And yet you fell in love. How? By transcended intellect.

When we love our children,…
When those neighbour’s kids were howling, you were irritated. When they barged in and broke your precious chinaware, you were angry with the mother for not giving them a good spanking but jut a gentle slap on the shins.
Today, what about your own kids? Your intellect clearly tells you, they are not pretty, they are stubborn, they fight for the possession of the same piece of chocolate although there are two, they are well past childhood and yet they do what you forbid them, just to defy you.
Yet, you love them. How?
You transcend intellect. Your intellect tells you of their many flaws. But you transcend intellect and love them in spite of all their shortcomings.

When we love our parents,…
They embarrass you. In front of your friends, your classmates, the restaurant waiter. They could change, but they wont. Their ego is more important to them. ‘This is how we are’, they say. ‘Elders don’t need to adjust to children. Children should learn to adjust.’ They burp aloud. Eat clumsily. Talk loudly. Expect you to defer to them no matter how old they become. Give you needless advice.
Your intellect tells you they are so unbearable. Yet, you love them.
Because you transcend intellect.

All of us transcend intellect. Everyday. If we could not, we would all behave like programmed machines. Like computers. Because computers cannot transcend intellect. They can go only as far as intellect can take them.
How sophisticated and far fetched the concept sounds! ‘Transcending Intellect’! Indeed!
And how simple it seems when we realize ‘that’s what we do everyday‘!

Explanations make things incredibly simple.
Which is why scientists don’t have as many followers as Godmen have.
Unwise as they are, (though intellectual!), these scientists don’t know the art of keeping things shrouded in mystery, the beauty of obscurity.
The ‘art of leaving’ certain details to imagination!