31 December 2009

उत्प्लावन का सिद्धांत

This piece was written when I was in LA last year:

I have come US to spend 3 months for some work. I've bought few things for my friends and family members as 'America ki Nishaani'. For myself, I decided to take back to India the kind of memories that would never fade with time. इसे अभौतिक होना चाहिए.. So I decided to learn something.

I chose Swimming.

It is said that cycling and swimming, once learnt can never be forgotten in your entire lifetime, even if you don't practice.There was a big swimming pool here in our apartment complex.I had only weekends to learn this. So the time and effort to do swimming had to be more compared to if I'd been practicing on a daily basis. It is really a tiring job initially. I started work out in Gym during weekends and soon after used to go to swim. That decision effectively meant getting out of the weekend comfort zone. Initially, I found it very very difficult to learn swimming. My trainer got tired of me; all this made me a frustrated learner.

Then I realized that I was practicing in the side waters of the pool, holding the platform on the sides of the pool. Anytime I got tired I caught hold of the platform and rested. Once again, the comfort zone was the biggest obstacle. If I had to learn swimming, if I had to take an unforgettable, unfading, non-material memory with me I had to get rid of comfort zone again. I had previous experiences of leaving comfort zones and the recall of those times helped a lot.After all confident steps taken once, make you more confident next time.I left the sides and moved to the middle, and even though the water was only as deep as on the sides (5 feet), I found that I was learning more quickly. The mind was the enemy; it was proved again in the pool.There was no platform nearby when I got tired so I had to be in water while trying to take rest. This constraint helped me make the water my friend.

So now, if I got tired of swimming I lay flat in water and took rest. I looked like a log floating effortlessly on water.The trainer was none other than my colleague Angom. He has the habit of speaking in formulae and avoids explaining everything in full detail. The learner has to understand/ interpret the formula and work according to his commitment. I started with swimming only with my feet. After my feet started to move my body through the water, I added hand movements. The feet had to work like the back fin of a fish and hands had to move like the oars of a boat or side fins of a fish; cutting the water as well as pushing the water behind. In the combined movement of feet and hands you start feeling two forces. One upward and another forward.

I was still poor in combining both movement at a time.Sometimes I concentrated on the feet and sometimes on the hands. The third stage required me to learn breathing. This is the most important thing, because 'if you do not breath you can not live and living is first condition to swim :) When you are rowing with both hands your body tilts ninty degrees everytime you stretch a hand forward. And during this time you have to take a quick stock of oxygen via mouth. Exhaling can be done anytime you're done with the consumption of inhaled oxygen like you do while standing on ground..........keep on doing like this and sing "मछली जल की रानी है, मैं भी जल का राजा हूँ "
After 8 swimming sessions I could proudly say "I CAN SWIM". I had learnt the free style. I also started learning 'backstroke' as well as 'breast stroke'...but only started, ok? No more ceiling high expectations.  Alongwith I started working on my feet to be able to improve my stamina for doing more chap-chap in water.

Can any reward compare the satisfaction achieved after this confidence building? In future every time I feel low, I'll recall this learning and will be able to regain my confidence. No need to go out for confidence building workshops.It is exciting to imagine that everytime I would swim in India, I'll recall two A's: Angom & America. In this way I'm taking the most precious gift from here that can never be separated from me....Confidence brings best out of you. When you achieve something just by force of your will, the self-congratulations are more precious than any reward from the outside world.

30 December 2009

परदेस में आहार: कभी खुशी कभी गम

ईमान से कहता हूँ, विदेश में खाना खाना एक बड़ा ही रोचक, यादगार एवं शानदार अनुभव होता है, किंतु साथ ही कभी कभी ऐसा भी लगता है की कहाँ आ फंसे। ऐसे में आप बच गए तो आपका भाग्य अन्यथा दुर्भाग्य। भाषा की समस्या पहली समस्या है, परन्तु सिर्फ़ बोलचाल भर का ज्ञान कभी कभी मुसीबत में डालने वाला हो सकता है। आखिरकार आपको सिर्फ़ अपने कार्यस्थल पर ही नहीं अपने दैनंदिन कार्य के लिए विभिन्न प्रकार के लोगों से भी मिलना होता है।
मैं Bacon शब्द से अनजान तो नहीं ही था, बस इतना जानता था कि पुनर्जागरण काल में एक महान लेखक और दार्शनिक हुए थे जिनका नाम था Francis Bacon । इस से ज्यादा इस शब्द की सार्थकता के बारे में तब तक कल्पना भी नहीं थी, जब तक मैं अपने ऑफिस के कैफेटेरिया में उस दिन नहीं गया था। उस दिन का व्यंजन था Navajo Chicken Sandwich । इसके बारे में विस्तृत विवरण तो देखा , उसमे ये शब्द भी पूरे तौर पर विराजमान था। शेफ ने बड़े ही प्यार से बनाया और जब मुझे परोसने लगा तो मैंने बस उत्सुकतावश पूछा "भाई साहब, इन के नाम भी आप बताएं तो मेरे ज्ञानकोष में कुछ वृद्धि हो। मसलन वो लाल लाल सा टुकड़ा क्या डाला?" उसने भी बड़े ही प्यार से फरमाया:
" Hey ! you don't know this? this is Bacon. Bacon. "
मैंने कंधा उचकाते हुए अनभिज्ञता जतायी।फ़िर उसने कहा:
" Bacon you don't know? " लगा जैसे मैंने जीवन के मूलभूत ज्ञान से वंचित होने का-सा पाप कर दिया हो।
मैंने फ़िर अपना सर ना में हिलाया। फ़िर उसने समझाया:
" See this is side part of the pig. Very tasty. Yummy. You'll love this.Try this today and say thanks to me.okay? "
भगवान् का लाख लाख शुक्र था। मेरे माता पिता एवं गुरुजनों का आशीर्वाद था की समय रहते मेरी बुद्धि चेत गई और मैंने उत्सुकता दिखाई।
उसने बड़े ही प्यार से अपनी तरफ़ से मुझे अच्छा खाना परोसने की कोशिश की थी। लेकिन दुर्भाग्यवश संस्कृति एवं संस्कार का अन्तर हो गया। उसकी भाषा में वह एक लज़ीज़ व्यंजन था Bacon । मेरी भाषा में वह था सूअर । खैर जो भी हो, मुझे इनकार भी करना था और ये भी देखना था कि उसे बुरा न लगे। किसी तरह से इनकार किया। फ़िर धन्यवाद के साथ आग्रह किया कि बिना Bacon के बना दे। अंततः खाना मेरे अनुसार ही बना और फिर इश्वर को धन्यवाद देता हुआ बाहर निकल गया।

29 December 2009

बुलंद भारत की बुलंद तस्वीर ?

It is about Ruchika.
When news channels and newspapers started shouting, and candle-marches started showing up on busy landmarks I found my conscience choking. Day by day. It had been condensing gradually. …and one day my friend Jyoti sent me an email. He was equally disturbed after knowing the developments of the case. His mail, sent to all of our friends, urged for partnership in initiating action against such incidents for the sake of our own conscience. Here is an excerpt from his mail:
ONLY PLEDGE that I do make, is, if I come to know of any child (less than 18 years of age) being molested, ever in my life, irrespective of offender's position in society, family, neighborhood, that person WILL be punished... no matter what!
I WILL MAKE SURE I AM A LITTLE BETTER...next time the punishment will be harsher and faster than what we saw in Ruchika case and also will make sure offender won't have smile on his face ever in life.
I offer 3 options to ev'one on this mailing list....
If you go for option 3, then, I NEED A FAVOUR, if you know of any such CONFIRMED incidents(where child sex offender is going unpunished and child is tormented continuously), JUST INFORM ME, I can make arrangement for best level of punishment(per law of land) for such offenders.
Neither myself nor anyone who informs about incident will ever be made public or known for the action(unless they want).
for GOD sake, don't sit silent....children are best gift God can grant...and someone molests them and nobody does anything...I am not sure what do we aim to achieve in life by killing own conscience even in the event of heineous crime of this degree.
Note of Caution: DO NOT provide the wrong information...make sure you confirm it solidly, as truth will be known during course of investigation and ANY act of misinformation will be detrimental for ev'one.
PLEASE let me know, if you are willing to get up and ready to act! It just takes a bit of courage, ev'thing else will follow... believe me! Look at Madhu and Anand Prakash, they had nothing in favour, still they have won……….”
I’ve collected the chronology of events in the Ruchika Girhotra molestation case from the Internet. I have put my comments in Red just to point out where, I think, lapses had occurred which ultimately culminated in such a shameful development of the case. If you ask me, the ultimate responsibility lies with :
  1. The Government which not only dropped cases against Rathore but promoted him several times,
  2. Then with Police department which lodged 11 car theft cases against Ruchika’s brother’s to harass the family at the behest of Rathore,
  3. Then with the CBI court which took 9 years to convict even after charge sheet was filed in its court.
  4. The school was also pressurised to expel Ruchika who was in the same class as Rathore’s daughter.

* Aug 12, 1990: Haryana Inspector General of Police (IGP) S.P.S. Rathore, also the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association president, molests 14-year-old budding tennis player Ruchika Girhotra in his office room.
* Aug 16, 1990- Complaint made to chief minister Hukam Singh and home secretary.
* Aug 17, 1990- Hukam Singh asks Director General of Police (DGP) R.R. Singh to investigate the matter.
* Aug 18, 1990 - Police registers Daily Development Report (DDR) against Rathore wide DDR no. 12. : First lapse/ crime - FIR was not Lodged
* Sep 3, 1990 - DGP R.R. Singh finds Rathore prima facie guilty, submits report. Recommends FIR in the matter. Later, new DGP R.K. Hooda and Home Secretary J.K. Duggal recommend departmental action and chargesheet against Rathore.
* March 12, 1991 - Home Minister Sampat Singh consents to the departmental action. Forwards it to Chief Minister Hukam Singh.
* March 13, 1991- Hukam Singh gives his consent to the proposal.
* March 22, 1991 - Om Parkash Chautala becomes new chief Minister of Haryana. Hukam Singh leaves the chief minister's post. Chautala remains chief minister for 14 days amid political turbulence and instability.
* April 6, 1991 - President's Rule is imposed in the state. Governor Dhanik Lal Mandal takes over.
* May 28, 1991 - Charge sheet approved against Rathore during governor's rule.
* July 23, 1991 - Bhajan Lal-led Congress government takes over. Remains chief minister till May 9, 1996, during which time most of the alleged atrocities on Ruchika's family took place. : Second/ ongoing Crime when Politicians showed their nexus with Police
* April 6, 1992 - FIR against Ashu, Ruchika's brother, for car theft registered wide FIR No. 39.
* June 30, 1992 - Matter for registering FIR against Rathore taken up and Haryana legal remembracer R.K. Nehru recommended immediate registration of FIR against Rathore.
* March 30, 1993- Another FIR is registered against Ashu for car theft, wide FIR No. 473.
* May 10, 1993 - One more FIR is registered against Ashu for car theft, wide FIR No. 57.
* June 12, 1993 - Yet another FIR is registered against Ashu for car theft, wide FIR No.96.
* July 30, 1993 - One more FIR is registered against Ashu for car theft, wide FIR No. 127.
* Sep 4, 1993 - Another FIR is registered against Ashu for car theft, wide FIR No. 147. All the cases were registered under section 379 IPC.
* Oct 23, 1993 - Ashu is illegally picked by the Haryana police and kept in illegal detention for almost two months. Eleven car theft cases were registered against him. :Eleven Crimes committed by Police, obviously to put pressure on Ruchika family for complaining against Rathore. A total of 13 crimes so far.
* Dec 28, 1993 - Unable to cope with harassment imposed on her and her family, Ruchika commits suicide by consuming poison.: Fourteenth Crime by Rathore. Creating circumstances that forced Ruchika to suicide.
* Dec 29, 1993 - Ashu is released one day after Ruchika's suicide.
* April 1994 - The charges framed against Rathore dropped during Bhajan Lal's tenure, months after Ruchika died.: Fifteenth crime by BhajanLal govt.
* Nov 4, 1994 - Rathore promoted as Additional DGP by Bhajan Lal government. Sixteenth crime by BhajanLal govt.
* May 11, 1996 - Bansi Lal becomes Haryana chief minister. Remains chief minister till 23 July, 1999 during which period Rathore was promoted as DGP.: Seventeenth crime by BansiLal govt
* June 5, 1998 - Rathore suspended by Bansi Lal government in connection with a matter relating to a parole case regarding a detainee.
* Aug 21, 1998 - CBI probe is ordered in Ruchika molestation case by the Punjab and Haryana High Court.
* March 3, 1999 - Rathore is reinstated as Additional DGP by Bansi Lal government. Eighteenth crime by BansiLal govt
* July 23, 1999 - Om Parkash Chautala becomes chief minister.
* Sep 30, 1999 - Departmental enquiry exonerates Rathore in molestation case, he is promoted as DGP with effect from May 20, 1999. Ninteenth crime by Chautala govt
* Oct 10, 1999 - Rathore made Haryana's DGP (state police chief) by the Chautala government. Twentieth crime by Chautala govt
* Nov 16, 2000 - CBI files chargesheet against Rathore in Ruchika molestation case.
* Dec 5, 2000 - Rathore removed as Haryana DGP. Sent on leave.
* March, 2002 - Rathore retires from service.
* Dec 21, 2009 - CBI special court convicts Rathore in the Ruchika molestation case. Sentenced to six months imprisonment and fine of Rs.1,000.:TwentyFirst Crime by CBI court - taking 9 years from chargesheet filing till conviction.
Last updated on Dec 25th, 2009 at 17:42 pm IST
Source: --IANS
Therefore, according to me, there were 21 crimes done by a nexus of Police, Judiciary and Politicians. And Rathore was awarded six months imprisonment and fine of JUST Rs.1000. Sounds like a Joke. Maybe that is why the idiot (rathore) was smiling when he came out of the courtroom where the judgment was pronounced.
Short Term Solution: Punish all the culprits and Punish them really Hard.
Long term Solution: Moral khatam ho gaya hai bhai.Improve Moral of general public like one shown by Madhu and Anand Prakash.(Madhu and Anand Prakash are the parents of Ruchika;s friend. They are the ones who set the ball rolling - they moved the Punjab and Haryana High Court for a probe in the matter, after a police report had prima facie established Rathore's involvement). We should take care to impart moral values to our children who will create and be part of future India. Teach them to be Kaabil(capable) and not to do anything just for the sake of success. Competition is good but not at a cost that may leave you repenting for life.

24 December 2009

Puzzling Classified Ad

    Innocently Divorced? Huh? Can somebody explain this one to me, please?

Click on the picture to see it (& the circled comment) more clearly

22 December 2009

Dare to Translate - Some Untranslatables

कुछ दिन पहले हमलोग एक दोस्त के यहाँ गए थे, जहाँ मैडम, मतलब हमरी मेमसाहब नारियल बर्फी बना कर ले गयी थीं. पब्लिक को बर्फिया अच्छा लगा, उ लोग बर्फी बनाने का तरीका, कौन समान लगा है ई सब पूछना सुरू कर दिया. एक दोस्त पूछा कि गिट्स-उट्स के पैकेट से बनाईं है क्या. मैडम को ताव आ गया, तुरते बात काट के बोलीं, नहीं मैंने इसे scratch से बनाया है. समझे आप? नहीं समझे? अरे भाई, मेमसाहब हिन्दी में अंग्रेजी बोल रहीं थीं - 'I've made it from scratch'.

अनुवाद, ऊ भी घटिया शब्दशः अनुवाद से हमको बहुत पुराने जमाने से चिढ है. लेकिन का कहें भैया, आजकल तो रिवाजे यही है! तो हम कौन होते हैं इसका विरोध करने वाले? हम तो आपके लिए कुछ और मसाला जुटाए हैं, शौक से अनुवाद कीजिये. तो लीजिये हाज़िर है:

1. Ball-Park figure - अब भैया, ई गेंद है कि पार्क है, कि किसी हसीना की कमर, हमरे समझ में तो नहीं आया, आपके समझ में आया हो तो तनि हमें भी बताइयेगा.

2. Blonde Moment - ई तो हमरे औकात से  टोटले बाहर है - आप ही लोग बताइये.

3. Cooking with gas -  ई तो बहुते आसान है, गैस से खाना पकाना, है न?

 4. Cover your ass - काहे भाई? गदहवा को ठंडा-उंडा लग रहा है का?

 5. Drop the ball - सिनेमा में कान पर बंदूक लगा कर बोलता है न - Drop the gun? तो gun के जगह ball है, और क्या. इसमें क्या भारी बात है? गेंदवा गिराइए, आगे बढिए!

6. Fresh pair of eyes - ताजी ताजी आँखें! आहाहा, आँख है कि फल-सब्जी, भाई? खाइएगा?

7. Heads up - इसमें क्या है, सर उठा के रखना है!

8. (He is going to) chew your butt - हे भगवान, कौन ज़माना आ गया है? ऊ भी कोई खाने की चीज होती है?

9. Kick butt - ई तो हमहूँ translate कर सकते हैं - *** पर लात! क्यों, ठीक बोले न?

10. Knock on wood - जब भी किसी के घर जाते है तो करबे करते हैं - दरवाजा खटखटाते हैं न, भाई?

11. Neck of the woods -ई का होता है?

12. Pain in the butt - हे भगवान्! अरे, ई सब पब्लिक में बोलने का नहीं है!

13. Peachy - ई translate करने का औकात नहीं है हमरा, मदद सरकार!

14. Potluck - बर्तन का किस्मत, और क्या?

15. Redneck  - और घूमिये धूप में कमीज़वा उतार के!

आज  के लिए एतने काफी है; आपलोग भी जानबे करते होंगे और. और एग्जाम्पुल (example)  होगा तो बताइयेगा.

20 December 2009

Lay back, relax & enjoy the show

Watching Shahrukh Khan promoting DishTV (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7AJj5aDhXc&feature=related) set me back a quarter century.  My parents did not have a TV till the time I left for college. In those days Doordarshan was the only broadcaster – it had one terrestrial and national channel for the country. Doordarshan had another channel too, but that was only for the (four) metros. Yet, most of the country did not have even a ‘Door-se-Darshan’ of TV; there was a lack of transmission towers to broadcast the signals and besides, TV sets were very expensive, out of reach of most of the middle-class.
Subsequently/ consequently(?), when I reached Delhi for my graduate classes, the TV in the Hostel common-room enthralled me. You must have heard jokes about people watching Krishi Darshan and Doordarshan news; believe it, for I am one such living sample! Nevertheless, the novelty soon wore off and TV became just another attraction/ distraction for me. I became possibly a more discerning viewer and definitely a more detached viewer.
However, the detached viewer is a rare phenomenon. In college, we used to rent a VCR on some weekends. To cater to all tastes, we would generally get 3-4 movies – a couple of Hindi or English movies and a couple of x-rated movies. The regular movies didn’t get much of an audience, and the common room would be generally less than half-full. Most of the Janta knew that the x-rated movies would be started in the wee hours of the morning. This was for two reasons; one , the audience that watched the regular movies wouldn’t let go of their quota of entertainment. More important, though was the second reason - most of the Janta was out in town and would be back only around midnight. Around midnight, the serious viewers would start trooping into the common room and soon the common room would be chock full. Lights would be turned off, smokers would be turned out or asked to extinguish their cigarettes and the movies would be put on. All conversation would cease and all eyes would unwaveringly focus on the screen. Such concentration! Such focus! It would put even an Arjun to shame. The environment in the common room would be electric; the tension unbearable – people would be constantly shifting positions, seemingly to get more comfortable but in reality getting more uncomfortable. I was generally a part of the pre-midnight audience; I had a standing ban on being part of the post-midnight audience. The main reason for this ban was my being the detached viewer. I could not be a silent viewer; I wouldn’t let go of my wisecracking ways. Also, I was in the habit of observing, not the TV screen, but the other viewers. I would be constantly disturbing the most focused (!) viewers, and, therefore, I was generally turned out of the common room at the start of the movie sessions. A lot of pleading and cajoling was necessary to allow me into the common room, only to be turned out within a maximum of 30 minutes.
Some years later, I had moved on to another hostel, the post-graduate hostel. The students were from different departments and got to meet only for breakfast and dinner. Dinner was invariably followed by an extended session the common room. The common room was much bigger than the college common room, but could get really crowded when all the students decided to congregate there.  That used to happen when there was a cricket match featuring India. Those were the days that Ravi Shastri was found not in a suit but in cricketing whites/ or India blues. Vengasarkar, Srikanth, Siddhu, Srinath et al were the other stars. Tendulkar was around, but he still hadn’t started carrying the team on his shoulders. Indian cricket was still more about misses than hits. That didn’t deter us from crowding the common room whenever India was playing. Woe be to the maverick who, even in jest, would support the other team. Cuss words flew like confetti and with the same abandon; they were directed at all and sundry. At an Indian fielder if he missed a catch, or gave up extra runs. At the opposing team’s players, for just being in the opposing team. And, at any member of the audience for disturbing the rest of us. For disturbing, mind you, a horde of screaming maniacs in which you could not hear even your own voice at times; and a crowd, which would number 300 at the maximum, but would give the outsider an impression of being in a 100000-strong stadium. It really felt like being in a stadium; we would cheer the (Indian) bowler starting his run-up and every ball was expected to fetch a wicket. On the other hand, when the Indian team was batting, every dot ball was met with groans and cries of “Pandu” . (As true-blooded Delhiites would know, Pandu is a not really a cuss word; the real cuss word rhymes with Pandu). Every ball was expected to be dispatched to the ropes, even if Narendra Hirwani was batting.
I never met a bunch of more involved viewers. Never, until I got married, that is. My two daughters are the most involved TV viewers that I have ever come across. We have so far avoided the multiple TV routine that is prevalent in most homes these days. Consequently, it’s an ongoing battle between them and me for control of the remote. However, when my in-laws had come visiting us, I was totally out of the picture. The battle for the remote was fought between grandma and the kids. They reached a compromise; grandma would have control at primetime and in the afternoons, when the kids were in school. The rest of the time, the kids had the field to themselves. My mother-in-law was a lesson in involved TV watching; she would abandon everything else that she was doing and take her place on the couch at the appointed hour. Needless to say, she followed, with ease, the numerous twists and turns that Hindi TV Soaps these days offer – like the guy who dies and is resurrected just a month later, presumably because his salary dispute with the producer has been resolved. Or the couple who have been married, divorced, remarried, re-divorced more times than Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. And then there were the sarees and the jewelry. No matter the level of emotional turmoil in the story at that time, she would never miss the intricate embroidery on the fancy sarees that the ladies on screen were wearing, or the jewelry. One comment on either would be enough to bring forth the attention of my hitherto busy wife. That meant an extended session of oohs-and-aahs  over the sarees and jewelry, the on-screen shenanigans forgotten, if only for the moment. However, the children beat everybody hands down; it’s a knockout, a walkover, a no-contest. Call it whatever you like. I am afraid of being around when Jerry being followed by Tom; I run the danger of being hit if the woebegone Tom manages to catch Jerry. However, every time Jerry tricks Tom I could be rewarded with a hug; the joy of my younger one’s face is spread all over her face. Every frown on screen is mirrored on their faces; every gag on screen brings forth cackles of laughter. Every commercial is met with impatient channel switching, in the hope of catching the action on some other channel. When they are watching TV they are totally oblivious to the world around them; calls to finish their homework, or some other chore – are met with unhearing indifference. At times, too many times if you ask me, they bring their food over; and, it is as if their motor co-ordination is lost. The spoon could as easily go to the nose as it could to the ears, anywhere but the mouth. I can, and have done so, even remove their food and they don’t notice. At times, we have used the situation to our advantage, to push some of the more unpalatable foods. They eat it without any protest; they do not have the time to protest. However, I am not unduly worried. If a TV-deprived person like me can grow out of it, then surely they can.      

04 December 2009

From New York to Atlanta - in a marathon and a half

Seven summers ago, I moved from California to Atlanta. In addition to my meager belongings, I brought really aggravated allergies with me. Atlantans affectionately call their city the allergy-capital of the world. It was a classic ‘from the frying pan to the fire’ move. Atlanta was not kind to me; sneezing and wheezing were my byline(s). When you are sneezing and wheezing all day, you suddenly discover that breathing is a much underestimated art.

I had been very active playing lots of sports and leading the life of a semi-invalid was not exactly my style. To try and get back to a semblance of normalcy, I joined a gym close by, and started to run. Running was not fun, I could not run even for a minute without huffing and puffing. And, I wasn’t really running – my top speed was 4 miles per hour. It was a proud day for me when I could run continuously for 10 minutes @4mph. A little digression here - I don’t know what getting an MBA does for your career, but I do know what it does for your thought process. It makes you think and act jargonese. So, I decided to set myself a ‘stretch goal’. You don’t have to be a nuclear scientist to guess my ‘stretch goal’. I had decided to run a marathon.

I started some research. Most of you know that the best, only(?), research tool these days is called Google. In the best traditions of my Indian heritage, I prostrated myself at the altar of Google Devta; Google devta pointed to me some local running groups. However, there was a catch there – most of them were ‘run for XYZ charity’ groups. You are required to raise a certain amount of money for the charity – usually USD 5000. I do not have much confidence in my selling/ marketing skills – I cannot sell even the best made product, forget the shoddy product that most marketing professionals con you into buying (ouch!). The charities said that if there was a shortfall, then I could contribute the shortfall from my own funds. That clinched it for me - being lowly paid and also being a cheapskate made the decision very easy for me.

Back to Google again. I found a website which offered free training advice and training schedules. life was uneventful – work was based on a regular schedule, no traveling, no overtime, no ‘on call’ et al. So, training was regular and I made steady, if very slow progress. At the end of 2002, I could run(?) close to 3 miles, albeit at a very slow pace.

And then Murphy struck. I found a better job opportunity in Knoxville, Tennessee. Initially, it was designated as a short-term opportunity and I commuted to Knoxville every week. I stayed in a corporate apartment and drove back to Atlanta every Friday. I tried to run as much as I could but I didn’t have access to a gym and I tried to run on the road. One month of running on the road and my knees started to hurt. That, coupled with my weekly commute, totally wrecked my training schedule. Thankfully, within three months, my client decided to extend my contract and I decided to move to Knoxville. In June of 2003, we moved to Knoxville.

I had, earlier in the year, applied to run the New York Marathon. The New York marathon is held every year on the 1st Sunday of November. Because of the large number of potential participants, the organizers conduct a lottery.In June I was informed that I was one of the selected participants. The move to Knoxville put my training back on track, or, to be precise, back on the treadmill. But I had very little time left – the marathon was only 4 months away. And, I was still running only 4-5 miles a day, and a total of up to 20 miles per week. I had to go up to 35 miles per week. I continued my training as best as I could. Come October, and my longest run was still a meager 12 miles – with breaks for water, for Gatorade, to breathe! I had absolutely no hope of making the 20 mile long practice run before the marathon. The good thing, though, was that my speed had improved – I could run at a little over 5 mph, for 30 minutes continuously. I was hoping to complete the marathon in 5 hours – that’s what I had put on my marathon application. A marathoner reading this would have laughed at this claim/ hope.

My brother-in law, who is a talented young actor, came to visit us in October. I took a two-week break from training and we took a trip to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. After we came back, we took another week off to take in the local sights. Could I have done any better sabotaging my own training?

The Friday before the marathon, we started the long drive to New York – about 700 miles away. After an overnight stay with a friend in Washington DC, we got to our hotel in Rutherford, New Jersey with only an hour left for me to go to the race expo in the Jacob K Javits Convention Center in Manhattan to pick up my timing chip and my bus ticket. I had a car, but there was absolutely no way I could have made the 8 mile trip across the Lincoln Tunnel in less than 1 hour. We took a cab; our cab driver turned out to be a Polish immigrant with a PhD in Physics.

On race day I took the bus to get to the starting point on Staten Island. Staten Island was teeming with people. The marathon allows 37000 people; imagine that many people in one square mile, or even less! I felt like I was on Victoria Terminus or Mumbai Central! And guess who I came across? Fauja Singh, the 92 year old sikh marathoner! He started to run after the death of his wife and he ran his first marathon at the age of 89. This was his first, and turns out to be his only, marathon in America; he had a large team of much younger runners running with him. I had absolutely no relationship with him, apart from our shared Indian-ness (incidentally he was running on a British passport), but I felt incredibly proud of him; at the same time, I felt incredibly humbled.

The race started around 10:00 am. It took me about 10 minutes to reach/ cross the start line and then just a half-mile ahead was the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Going up the bridge, it felt like I was running the 14th or the 18th mile – such was my lack of training for hill runs. That meant that by the time I reached the top of the hill, the crowd had thinned and I had an almost free run downhill! The downhill run proved to be my downfall; once again my lack of hill running showed – I ran as fast as I could, and immediately pulled a hamstring. It wasn’t so bad that I fell down screaming or anything like that. It was more like a niggle, but it was bad enough to slow me down. Thoughts of pulling out crossed my mind, but were overpowered by the thought of not letting all the pain of the past year’s training go waste. I decided to continue; I was not even two miles into the marathon yet.

I do not remember much of the initial 7-8 miles of the marathon; I was still within my comfort zone and was intent on running. By this time, we were in Brooklyn and the crowds were out in full force. And the bands, too! The NYC marathon, over the years, has become an event and many bands provide live entertainment along the course of the marathon. The crowds and the bands took me through Brooklyn to Queens. I had done 12 miles now and was getting tired; my body was not responding to my brain! The crowds of spectators in Queens came to the rescue once again. The spectators there were wonderful. There was this old lady standing with plates and plates full of orange slices, there was another person with bananas, or there was another person with cookies. The ones who did not have any eatables still had their unlimited warmth and cheer to offer. There was this girl running next to me from the very beginning – she was wearing a t-shirt with her own name on it; the spectators could see her name clearly and kept cheering her on by name. That positively egged her on. I had laughed at her when I had seen her putting her name on her T-shirt, now I was envying her. The 16th mile got the marathon into Manhattan, but not before crossing the Queens Bridge. My feet felt like lead going up the bridge! The finish line was still miles away but Manhattan offered flat roads, with no more hills. It also offered large crowds – It was still early afternoon and the crowds were out in full force to egg us on. Two/ three miles into Manhattan and I hit the proverbial Wall! The wall is where your body’s store of energy runs out and you have to depend on your body’s stored fat to provide you with more energy. Stored fat I had in plenty, but I didn’t have the oxygen required to turn all that stored fat in to energy. I do not remember how I got into the Bronx and how I came back to Manhattan; my feet were refusing to move, my eyes were unfocused and my mind was wandering. However, coming back to Manhattan brought the finish line closer and I started to (try to) run again. By now the crowd of runners had thinned considerably and there were very few runners to run with. There was this 73-year old man running beside me – he was running his 17th New York marathon and his 43rd marathon overall! I ran with him for about 4 miles, and then I couldn’t keep up with him anymore. I focused on a group of Indians – three boys and a girl; they seemed to be office colleagues. The boys were tired too, but they were taking turns to cheer, and physically help, the girl on. I ran the last two miles with this group; by this time we had entered Central park where the marathon ends. The last two miles were a blur; and I somehow stumbled across the finish line!

I finished in 06:28:39 hrs, but my net time was 06:16:07! Remember the (almost) ten minutes that I took to cross the start line? The timing starts only when a runner crosses the start line. Of a field of 34729 finishers, I was the 33459th finisher; from a field of 23014 male finishers, I was the 22441st finisher. The person who came in first, ran the race in 2:10:30, almost three times faster than I did; I was placed in the 10th percentile. Yet, I felt proud of myself. Crossing the finish line/ running the marathon was not just a physically draining experience, it was a emotionally draining experience as well. I remember exiting Central Park and, not finding my wife and daughter at a first glance, across the waiting crowd, brought tears to my eyes. And then again, when my wife expressed her concern at my bloodied t-shirt (the shirt had chafed my nipples to the point of bleeding), that brought another round of tears.

The New York marathon is an experience I will forever cherish. New York is a truly incredible city. You can actually make do without knowing English in this truly multi-cultural city, not being white does not make you feel like an alien – the city welcomes all and sundry with open arms; not just for events like the marathon but at all times. Of course, you require a fat wallet to live in New York, only then you can get a taste of the ‘big apple’. But the marathon itself is something worth going back for. The people make you feel like a champion even though you know that you are dragging your feet, trying to put as many miles behind you as you can without falling down tired. And they do it in a manner which does not have a trace of condescension; the champion is greeted with the same enthusiasm as are the lowly finishers. If I get a chance, I’ll go run the New York Marathon again.

If you want to run the New York marathon, you can get more details at http://www.nycmarathon.org/. If you want to see some wonderful pictures of the marathon, especially of the runners on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Google will surely give you more than a handful of results.


Running the NYC marathon got me hooked on to running. For one, it gave me a new found respect amongst my peers, never mind the 06:16:07. I had achieved something that not everybody does. I had also gained some self-respect, but more importantly, I had started to see the health benefits from running. The aches and pains of advancing age were still there, but their frequency was coming down and the rate of fat gain had started to slow down.

I continued to run on and off, more on than off and every year I applied to run the NYC marathon again. It looks like my (eventually false) claim to run the marathon in 5 hours still rankles in the organizers’ (or their computers’) minds; for they have not given me another chance to run in the NYC marathon again. I decided to find another marathon closer home this time; and I chose to run in the Atlanta half-marathon on Thanksgiving.

My family and I moved back to Atlanta in December 2007. Ever since moving back I have been traveling every week to my work and joining a Gym for two maybe three days a week, and paying the dues for an entire month, has not appeared very attractive to me. These days I have become a road runner.

Road running is not as scary as many runners, non-runners and doctors make it out to be. I remember, one month on the road in Knoxville had started my knees paining. Now, I have been running on the roads for almost two years and I have been fine. Road running has its own benefits. For one, you can time your runs to coincide with the neighborhood hottie’s runs. This will definitely make you a faster runner; you will be forever running to catch up with her. Jokes apart (this phrase is actually a CYA phrase, just in case my wife is reading this), road running has resulted in an increase in my stamina and also I have gotten more used to running hills. Also, it has exposed me to the vagaries of the weather; this has had two benefits – one intended, the other unintended. First, I have gotten used to running in all kinds of weather, from the dog(jog?) days of summer to the balmy days of spring to the icy days of winter. Second, and this is more a psychological and a more personal thing, it has made me a more disciplined and regular runner. I get only two days a week to run on the road, the rest of the week I run on hotel treadmill. So, I run despite what the weather looks like. Only if it is raining like crazy do I not run out on the road.

Hotlanta summers are crazy; although they are no match for sub-Saharan Africa or even the summers of Delhi, they can still be brutal. Lowest morning temperatures can be as high as 74ºF and maximum day temperatures can go up to 100ºF. In the summer, Sirius, the ‘dog star’ rises and sets with the Sun. Sirius is the brightest star visible to the naked eye, and in the old days it was believed that its heat, added to the heat of the Summer Sun, is what resulted in the hot and sultry weather of July and August. Whatever! I do run like a dog during those months though. Tongue hanging out, panting for breath, looking for the closest tree! The brain gets foggy and I have really fought many battles in my mind on many summer morning runs asking myself if it is worthwhile to die every day before death actually comes to you. On the other hand, winter runs are fun. The mind is perfectly clear and I can run for miles and miles without a drop of water with nary a bad thought crossing my mind. In fact, on some of those runs my mind (the space between the ears, you know) has been so clear that I can actually feel the wind whistling through it!

The fact that the weather would be more conducive to running on Thanksgiving in late November was a major reason for me to choose this marathon. I was at such a juncture in my training schedule that I could run the half-marathon without disruption to my training schedule. I applied to run the half-marathon. I am running approximately 35 miles per week these days, with my long runs hovering at 10-11 miles. My average time per mile in the summers was 10 minute per mile going up to 11 minutes per mile for the longer distances.

The Atlanta Track Club, that organizes the Atlanta marathon and half-marathon, has a very useful tool for prospective runners – the pace teams and practice pace runs. They had a practice pace run scheduled for 3 weeks before the marathon. The pace groups are for different times, based on your anticipated time to complete. I chose the 2:15 pace team, hoping to complete the half-marathon at an average speed of 10 minutes per mile. The pace run was my first opportunity, outside of an actual race, to run in a large group. The pace run was for 11 miles and part of it was along the actual course of the half-marathon. I did complete the pace run in the 1:50 that I was hoping to complete it in. I was as ready for the big day as I could be.

On the day of the race, I reached the starting point much before the scheduled start at 7:00 am. It was quite cold – around 38ºF and it was the best temperature to run in. But the start was still about an hour away, and I joined almost 2-3000 of the participants inside a Wal-Mart, close by, trying to stay warm. The Atlanta half-marathon has a staggered start, with the participants divided into groups based on their anticipated finish times. I was in the group expecting to complete in 2:15. I crossed the start line at around 7:10 am, and straightaway ditched my pace team. Much of the initial course was flat or slightly downhill, I ran the first seven miles faster than my pace group.

Thanksgiving is a major festival/ holiday in the USA and the environment was suitably festive. Most of the course ran through a mix of business and residential areas and there was a small crowd of spectators all along the way. Many of them held up posters encouraging their friends/ family members but they were nice enough to cheer on most other runners as well. There was no one to cheer me on, but I was doing well for myself - I had trained well, I had done hills, I had done long runs – I was feeling on top in this half-marathon. In fact, I tried to pull some of the people I was passing to run along with. Some of them practically asked for it – like there was this girl whose T-shirt read “If not for me, who’d you pass?” I gave her company for two minutes, and then I passed her. Or, there was this bald man whose T-shirt read “Go, Bald Guy, Go”. Then there was this young man whose shirt read “I haven’t really stolen anything, I am just running a marathon”. Then there was this old man whose shirt said ‘I’m slow, get over it”. There were many more, but I don’t remember more. What I do remember is that most of them brought a smile onto the face and/ or engendered a sense of community. You don’t know the person running along with you but you feel a sense of kinship, maybe just because of the singularity of purpose. If you have been on a trip to Vaishno Devi, you’ll probably have had that experience – everybody has the same purpose; and you can feel somebody else’s pain because you are yourself going through it.

I crossed the finish line in 2:11:42 – 42 seconds off my target of 10 minutes per mile. 8581 runners finished the half-marathon; I was finisher number 4958. Of the 4313 men to finish the race, I was finisher #3020. I was not in the bottom 10th percentile! And the top finisher was only 2 times as fast as me.

I felt good after completing this half-marathon; I had made progress! Next target, a full marathon in March! In a time below 04:30:00. After a week of rest, I am back running on the road. If any of you would like to give me company, I’d welcome the opportunity.

29 November 2009

Bollywood is dead, long live M-Town!

A friend of mine once asked me to point out Bollywood on a map of India. My answer, that Bollywood did not exist in the real world, and that Bollywood was a media creation, did not go down well with her. She thought I was lying; worse, she thought I was making fun of her.

But that set me digging. The parentage of Bollywood has been attributed to three people – Bevinda Collaco, HRF Keating, and, Amit Khanna. Here are some of the links which point to these connections:



Bevinda Collaco is an Indian journalist who used to work for Cine Blitz in the late 1970s. I managed to contact her and even got a response from her. Here’s her response:

Hello Alok,
The thing is I am not sure.
I thought up this name in 1976 or 1977. Rita Mehta editor and owner of Cine Blitz wanted me to do a column called Studio Beat and fresh from Junior Statesman Magazine which had just closed down I wanted something more spectacular. I thought of "Flopping Around Follywood" and was just batting the idea around in a producer Johnny Bakshi's office at Mehboob Studios and a scriptwriter Suraj Sanim told me not to ridicule something I knew nothing about.
I disliked the open copying that the Hindi film industry was doing with Hollywood movies and music. I marched back to Johnny Bakshi's office and Sanim was there with Amit Khanna and I told them I was going to call my column On the Bollywood Beat. They laughed. Now I hear Amit Khanna claims to have coined "Bollywood". Now THAT is plagiarism.
About six months later it came into print. It was actually meant as a derogatory term, and later I was ashamed of it, because I saw some really good Hindi films, but the column became very popular with the stars and turned into a studio beat cum gossip column.
I cannot claim sole ownership of it, because a British author H R Keating, I am told, came out with the term Bollywood in one of his books. Cine Blitz ex-editor and owner Rita Mehta and my old colleagues insist I coined it. I feel I did too, but it was an easy word to think up -- the Bombay film industry copying Hollywood, ergo, Bollywood.
I was not proud of it. Now it just cracks me up that it's even landed in the Oxford dictionary. If you can lay your hands on CineBlitz of the 70s between 76 and 77 just calculate six months before that and you'll get the date I thought it up. Again, I cannot remember the exact year, so I cannot claim to have coined it if others are saying they did.
It's too boring to fight over it because it is an easy word to hit on, so maybe more than one person could have coined it. If you can contact Keating, he would tell you if he read the term in my column, because Cine Blitz used to be sold in England too in the 70s. If he did I coined it. If he thought it up himself, it's a question of who got it published first. I'm not interested in hunting for it.
Hope you do find out, but I reiterate, I am not proud of the word. The Hindi film industry has come out with some excellent and original films. It was mean and small minded, but I always had a weakness for alliteration. On the Bollywood Beat.
Bevinda Collaco

The second person credited with coining this term is author HRF Keating. Keating is a well known crime fiction writer; in India, Keating is best known for his Inspector Ghote stories. In fact, one of the Inspector Ghote books, ‘The Perfect Murder’ got made into a movie with the same name. The movie was made in 1988 and starred Naseeruddin Shah and Amjad Khan among others. I wrote an email to Mr. Keating; I also left a comment on his website. Mr. Keating was very prompt with his response; here is his response:

Dear Alok,

Just to say that I certainly do not think I invented the term Bollywood: I would not have dared. When I came to write Filmi, filmi, Inspector Ghote, the title in the Inspector Ghote series that was published in the UK in 1976, it was after I had been treated most generously by the Indian film industry, touring the studios and meeting the people involved there, but the industry was already saddled with the, opprobrious if you like, but possibly affectionate, name, Bollywood. Possibly emanating from the Bombay,as they were then, gossip journalists. Bavinda Collaco says she invented it in 1976/77 but to fit my writing of the book and its publication date she may have had to coin it before that date. I may have helped to perpetuate the name but I make no claim to its invention

……………………… Yours, Harry

“Lyricist, filmmaker, cinema scholar, industry spokesperson and the president of the Film & Television Guild, Amit Khanna is the man who saw Bollywood’s future” is how Subhash K Jha, an Indian film journalist, describes Amit Khanna in a story (http://sify.com/movies/bollywood/fullstory.php?id=13713296). Amit Khanna is currently the chairman of Reliance Big Entertainment.

I contacted Mr. Amit Khanna via his facebook page and he, too, was very prompt in responding. He was emphatic that he coined the word Bollywood when he was writing his column for Filmworld, a film magazine published in the 70s. He could not recollect the name of his column, but he was sure that Cine Blitz was not around when he coined the word ‘Bollywood’. Cine Blitz started its initial run with a story on Protima Bedi’s (naked) run across Juhu beach in December 1974. Even Keating points to the same thing – that ‘Bollywood’ had to be in existence in 1976 or earlier.

As is evident from Bevinda’s response (quoted above), she is not very proud of the word. On the other hand, Amit Khanna is certainly not ashamed of it. In the same story by Subhash Jha, referred to earlier, he is quoted as saying, “People still have a problem with the word ‘Bollywood’. But the whole notion of what’s pejorative has changed. We’ve to see the Indian film industry as a brand. To say Bollywood is demeaning is to question a brand name like Coke or Macdonalds”(sic).

I, for one, do see that as demeaning. And that is not just because of nationalistic feelings. From a person purporting to be at the front lines of taking Indian (Hindi) cinema global, that certainly is a dampener. Reliance Big Entertainment, the same entity that Amit Khanna currently heads, has signed deals with Steven Spielberg and his Dreamworks team. If you are not proud of what you represent, how do you promote it day in and day out? And ‘Bollywood’, most certainly, does not manifest that pride in what Amit Khanna represents.

I am, in the words of my lovely wife, a cinemchee – somebody who loves cinema. I am not an expert on cinema, I just love cinema. Cinema fascinates me. So strong is my fascination for cinema that I can, and I do, even watch movies in languages that I do not understand. I have watched several Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam movies – I do not understand any of these languages. I have also watched Italian, French and Swedish language movies – without subtitles. Of course, I watch a lot of English and Hindi movies. I have even watched most of the old movies – the ones that were a part of popular lore before my time.

While Indian Cinema in general and Mumbai Cinema specifically may lack the technical brilliance of Hollywood, it certainly leads Hollywood as far as influence and representation is concerned. To my mind, that is what matters in popular culture. Hindi films are wildly popular; any film with a recognizable cast of characters is assured of recovering its money. Their influence on society and culture can hardly be overstated. Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, and Madhuri Dixit and their cinema have been the subject of much popular fascination and even of doctoral theses.

Lest the English-school educated, MBA types turn their noses up in disdain let me clarify that it’s not just the masses who act crazy under the influence; Madhuri Dixit even drove M.F.Hussain crazy. And I don’t know about the 4 Ps of marketing, but I do know about the three Cs of marketing in India – Cinema and Cricket pave the path to the Indian Customer. Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan have what marketers call mass connectivity, and are often referred to as walking billboards. They endorse anything and everything.

While the average Indian does not break into song and dance at the slightest pretext, as shown in the movies, Mumbai movies are still representative of Indian society. A 1990s Shahrukh Khan movie is markedly different from a 1970s Amitabh Bachchan movie. While a Amitabh Bachchan was equally apt to dance and sing in his movies, most of his movies represented the angst of the 1970s. Shahrukh Khan’s movies have him playing the computer-savvy, branded-goods loving, yuppy that he really is.

And, while they may not be the top revenue earners, Mumbai Cinemas are still India’s top export. Well, maybe they rank after the I/T professional. They are the prism through which much of the world sees India. In fact, a non-Mumbai film like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ had to fall back on the Mumbai formula to be ‘representative’ of India.

That brings me to the issue du jour. Let us kill Bollywood. We are not Hollywood’s poor cousins; why show a poverty of ideas by being Bollywood? So what do we call the Mumbai film world? How about M-Town? People living in the Northern suburbs of Mumbai refer to it as going to ‘Town’ when they go to South Mumbai/ downtown Mumbai.

I am aware that I went up against the establishment the moment I decided to kill Bollywood. This is not the movie establishment – Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan, among others, are on record with their aversion to Bollywood. No, this is the media establishment – made up of both old and new world media.

I need help – who better than you to help me? Let us kill Bollywood. What can you do? You can stop referring to the Mumbai film world as Bollywood. You can convince five friends to do the same. If this blog has in any way influenced your thoughts, you can forward this blog to your friends, nobody would be happier than me.

24 November 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Reduce, reuse, recycle – this is the topic of a science fair project that my 6th grade daughter just completed. Reduce, reuse, recycle – this is also the mantra of those who want to leave the planet earth for their progeny in better shape than they inherited it in from their progenitors.

Reduce, reuse, recycle – this is moving away from being a fashion statement to be a way of life in many developed countries. It has moved from the seminar halls of academia and high-brow think-tanks to the living rooms of ordinary folks.

In India, reduce and reuse are/ were a fact of life. I still remember that as a kid, I utilized used-stationery for my home work; my father not only got one-side-typed stationery from his own office, he used to ask his other colleagues to get it for us too. I utilized that till high school – as long as I stayed with my parents. My brothers and I used fresh unused paper only to submit assignments, we took notes on one-sided typed paper. In India, if an appliance fails, even if that appliance is an electric iron, people will try and get it repaired. Of course, the fact, that repair costs are a fraction of the cost of the new appliance, plays a big role. But what plays a bigger role is the mindset of the Indian people. We as a society were/ are not born into abundance. We still have to make choices, and these choices are not choices of plenty but of necessity.

You would think that the USA, with its leadership in ideas, would be leading this movement. Nothing could be farther from the truth. As a country, as a society, as an economy we have been conditioned to believe that it is our divine right to consume. There is nothing wrong with that. Only, we have been led to believe that the consumption cycle must never stop; you must buy the new appliance, even if the old one is functioning efficiently. You must buy the new car every seven years, even if the old one is running well enough. You, the consumer, are the engine of growth; and it is your national, no, patriotic duty to consume. This is what consumers have been led to believe; even though consumption is, or at least, should be a completely personal choice. There is this group of people in California; oh no, not those crazy Californians again, who resolved to not buy anything new for one year. You would be surprised by the venomous reactions that these people got on their website – they were branded crazies, lunatics, and even traitors to the national cause.

A couple of years ago, or maybe more than a couple of years ago, when Regis Philbin used to host ‘who Wants To Be A Millionaire’, he had on his show a young Chinese man – who was not born in the USA, but had migrated to the USA, possibly at a college going age. That young man had an ‘unusual’ hobby – collecting plastic store bags. Regis, and his ‘Millionaire’ audience could not understand the motivation behind this ‘hobby’. As a fellow migrant, from a similarly placed economy, I could very easily understand the young man’s hobby. Born into deprivation, not of the life threatening kind of deprivation, but the kind that makes you, no, forces you to make the best use of your available resources, the young man was merely trying to reuse those plastic bags.

My daughter had to submit her project report; the same one the focus of which was ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’. She did this project on her own middle school. One of the recommendations she made in her project report was that students avoid/ minimize printing. A related, follow-up, recommendation was that students utilize both-side printing for assignments. However, one of the requirements for the project presentation was that the report be printed only on side of the paper. At home, my printer is set to automatically print on both sides; when my daughter’s report started to print on both sides, she let out a wail and I had to cancel the print job. I restarted the print job, this time with only one-sided printing enabled. By this time, though, some sheets had printed. My daughter’s first instinct was to tear up those sheets and throw them in the general trash – not in the recycling bin. The recycling gene is perhaps alien to this country. I lived in large Tennessee city for more than 4 years; it only when I was leaving that city that I discovered that the city had one recyclable trash collection facility – for a population of 200000.

If the reluctance to ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ were not bad enough; the ease with which waste takes place makes me believe that we have an almost innate urge to waste. Recently, at one of my client sites, I went to the cafeteria to get some tea; I carry my preferred tea bags with me even when I travel. While I was in the process of getting my tea, I got a phone call and I stepped out to take that call. When I came back, my tea bags were gone, and the cup that I was using was gone too. I asked the cleaning lady if she knew anything about it; she confessed that she had thrown both of these away. The Cleaning lady did not appear to be a rich society woman working as a cleaning lady just for pure joy of working; she was a poor woman.

I firmly believe that we have to reduce the waste; the waste that is all around us – in our offices, in our living rooms, in our kitchens, in our hospitals. And this is not about the environment at all. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, it’s the economics, stupid. The waste is not free – it has an enormous cost. I believe that it is our reluctance to reduce, reuse, and recycle coupled with our tendency to waste that makes us one of the highest cost economies of the world.

What do you think?

23 November 2009

Another googly

Is it because M is on the road that Google news came up with this?
Disclaimer - the screenshot is more than a year old. You can see the dates on the picture if you click on the picture and zoom in. When I had first seen it, I'd thought it was crazy; I still think it is crazy. What do you think?
(Click on the picture and zoom in to see it more clearly.)

Find a BMW X6 in your neighborhood Target!

(Click on the picture and zoom in to see it more clearly)

12 November 2009

आप कौन सा वाद्य यन्त्र खेलते हैं?

ये उन दिनों की बात है, जब मेरी बड़ी बेटी पाँच साल की थी। मेरी पत्नी और वो इंडिया जा रहे थे, और उनकी flight अटलांटा से होकर थी। अटलांटा हवाई अड्डे पर एक बड़ा सा पियानो है, कभी कभी उसे बजाते हुए आदमी भी दिख जाता है। उस दिन एक आदमी था जोकि काफी प्यारी सी धुन बजा रहा था, हालाँकि धुन जानी पहचानी नहीं थी। मेरी बेटी भी उन दिनों पियानो बजाना सीख रही थी, और उसे अच्छी बुरी धुनों की पहचान हो गयी थी। मौका मिलते ही उसने मुझसे कहा, 'अच्छा खेल रहा है न, पापा?' एकबारगी तो मुझे समझ नहीं आया कि वो खेलने की बात तो कर रही है, लेकिन आसपास कोई भी कुछ भी खेलता हुआ नजर नहीं आ रहा था। फ़िर मुझे समझ में आया की वो पियानो बजाने वाले की बात कर रही थी। मैं अपनी हँसी रोक नहीं पाया, लेकिन मैंने उसे बताया कि वाद्य यन्त्र बजाये जाते हैं, खेले नहीं जाते हैं।

तब से लेकर अब तक में उसकी हिन्दी के ज्ञान में काफी बढोत्तरी हुई है, सामान्यतः वो हिन्दी सही सही और धारा-प्रवाह (बिना रुके) बोल लेती है। अब उसे ये भी समझ आ गयी है की अगर उसे कोई सही शब्द नही सूझ रहा होता है तो वो अपने से ज्यादा जानने वालों से पूछ लेती है, या फ़िर अंग्रेज़ी का ही शब्द बोल देती है। हिन्दी लिखना उसे अब तक नही आता, हालाँकि अक्षर जोड़ जोड़ कर वो थोड़ा थोड़ा पढ़ ज़रूर लेती है। मैं उसके सीमित हिन्दी ज्ञान से दुखी नहीं हूँ, बल्कि बहुत खुश हूँ। दिन के सोलह घंटों में से सिर्फ़ पाँच या छः घंटे वो घर पर गुजारती है, बाकी समय या तो स्कूल में या स्कूल के साथियों के साथ गुजारती है, जहाँ अंग्रेज़ी बोले बिना कोई चारा नहीं है।

माफ़ कीजियेगा, मैं विषय से भटक गया। मैं चला था कुछ और चर्चा करने, और लग गया अपनी बेटी की बातों में। मैं बात कर रहा था वाद्य यन्त्र खेलने की। यानी घटिया अनुवाद की। कुछ उदाहरण देता हूँ:

"दूसरी तरफ केन्द्र सरकार के अधिकारियों के एक वर्ग की चाल बेढंगी है। ऐसा लगता है कि वे गंभीर मामलों को भी ठंडे बस्ते में डाले रहते हैं।"
स्त्रोत: http://hindi.webdunia.com/news/news/national/0910/12/1091012110_1.html

"एक तरफ़ तो प्रधानमंत्री कहते हैं की सीबीआई बड़ी मछलियों को पकड़े, दूसरी तरफ़ सीबीआई, ईडी, डीआरआई छोटी मछलियों पर तो कार्रवाई करती हैं लेकिन शार्क मछलियाँ खुलेआम देश को लूट रही हैं। "
स्त्रोत: http://hindi.webdunia.com/news/news/national/0910/12/1091012110_1.html

अब आप बताईये की ये ठंडा बस्ता कैसा होता है? मैं तो जो बस्ता स्कूल ले जाया करता था वो ठंडा नहीं होता था। दरअसल ये अनुवाद है अंग्रेज़ी से 'cold storage' का। और शार्क मछलियाँ! ये तो पता था कि अगर पानी में मिल जाएँ तो दुम दबा कर भाग लेना चाहिए, लेकिन ये पता नहीं था कि आजकल शार्क मछलियाँ हमारे देश के शहरों में घूम-घूम कर देश को लूट रही हैं।

"दोपहर के समय जब यात्रियों का दबाब कम होगा, रेलवे अन्य गाडियों को भी इस ट्रैक पर चला सकता है"
स्त्रोत: http://www.amarujala.com/today/natnews.asp?nat=13khas2c.asp

समझ में नहीं आया कि ट्रेन में यात्रियों पर दबाब है, या यात्रियों का ट्रेन पर दबाब है, या फ़िर ट्रैक पर! शायद ज़नाब कहना चाहते हैं कि दोपहर में यात्रियों की संख्या कम होने पर
रेलवे अन्य गाडियों को भी इस ट्रैक पर चला सकता है। तो जो कहना चाहते हैं, वही कहिये न!

हिन्दी (एवम् अन्य भारतीय भाषाओं) की इस दुर्दशा की क्या वजह है? सच यह है कि हिन्दी समाचार एजेंसियों के द्वारा एकत्रित समाचारों का उपयोग कोई अखबार नहीं करता. विदेशी एजेंसियों से मिले समाचारों से ही भर जाता है उनका अखबार. और अगर हिन्दी का अख़बार है तो सिर्फ़ अंग्रेज़ी से अनुवाद ही तो करना है। आम के आम, गुठलियों के दाम। और अनुवाद करने वाले भी हिन्दी के ज्ञानी नही होते, वे तो बस वाद्य यन्त्र खेलना भर जानते हैं।

कौन है इसका जिम्मेवार? आप शायद कहेंगे कि अखबारों के मालिक. लेकिन मेरे हिसाब से तो हम सब ही इसके किए जिम्मेवार हैं। हम ने ही अंग्रेज़ी की इतनी शान बढ़ाई है कि आज वो हमारे सर चढ़ कर बोलती है, हम ने ही अपनी भाषाओँ को इतना नीचे गिराया है उन्हें छूने से भी हाथ गंदे हो जायेंगे ऐसा लगने लगा है। ये हम ही हैं जो इस बात में अपनी शान समझते हैं कि हमारे बच्चों का मातृभाषा ज्ञान या तो शून्य बराबर है, या फ़िर इतना ही है कि अपने नाना-नानी, दादा -दादी से नमस्ते बोल सकें।

तो अगर हमने ही इसकी जड़ें खोदी हैं, तो फ़िर शायद हमें ही उन जड़ों को फ़िर मजबूत करना होगा। क्या आप मेरा साथ देंगे? अगर आपकी हाँ है तो बोलिए जय भारत, जय भारती!

10 November 2009

Life is what happens to you.....

“Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans,” thus spoke one of the great oracles of our times aka John Lennon. This is for some of you younger folks - John Lennon was one of the Beatles; he was the most prominent face of the Beatles.

Recently, I came across a blog post by an ex-IBMer; she provides some wonderful insights in her blogs. Here is the link to her blog http://whenfridayswerefridays.blogspot.com/2009/10/ten-things-to-do-when-you-leave.html

The ten things she has on her list:

  1. Go to the Gym
  2. Cook
  3. Read
  4. Master the laundry process
  5. Pay attention to what the kids are doing
  6. Annoy your spouse
  7. Learn what a savasana (shavasan) is
  8. Write a book
  9. Get some vitamin D – from the sun
  10. Watch Mad Men

This list is by no means exhaustive, and she acknowledges as much by asking her readers an open question about what is on their list.

This list is also not universal, some of these things may not apply to you at all :). I mean, what Indian man knows how to cook or how to do the laundry? Or, who, in their right minds would go to cramped, ill-equipped & astronomically priced gyms? After all that is not why you ordered the chicken biryani and Patiala Johnny walker for dinner, did you? And isn’t annoying the spouse something that you don’t have to learn – it just comes so naturally:).

It is the reactions which I read with much interest. Some of them felt that this was a superfluous list in that, except for numbers 7, 8, and 10, the rest should be done all the time – irrespective of whether or not you are a part of corporate America (or Asia, or Europe).

I happen to agree with this kind of reaction, while pleading guilty to neglecting some of these for some time.

I do not go to the gym, but I more than make up for it by clocking up some 30 miles per week on the roads of Atlanta. In the process, I also get a lot of vitamin D – from sunlight; in fact, despite being brown skinned, I have two distinct shades of brown on my body, the exposed parts of my body being darker than the covered parts. I will readily confess that cooking is not my idea of relaxing or spending my leisure time and that I never really picked up cooking as a child or as a young man. I also do the laundry at home, and I can say with some satisfaction, that I have really mastered the laundry process. I also practice yog(a) and I think I have mastered the Shavasan(a).

However, this is not about what I, or you, do. This is about what I, or you, do not do. As a young man, I used to be a voracious reader. Now, I just buy books and stack them in my bookshelf. In fact, I keep adding the names of books to buy to my list of to-do’s. Needless to say, the stack of unread books keeps growing. A long time ago, it seems like a lifetime ago, I would have finished a book in one sitting. I do not know when I quit reading books; maybe when I got addicted to TV; maybe when I go addicted to the Internet? I don’t know. I will not blame work, for that did not stop me from reading earlier in my life. I have now consciously started reading, even if it is only five pages that I can read before going to sleep.

Because of my traveling, I do not get to spend much time with my children. And, here is the sad part; even when I am home, I do not spend much time with my children. I have two very lovely daughters; I really love them very much. However, until this past semester, until my older daughter’s school started to put her assignments on the school intranet, I was not really aware of what she is/ was doing in school. I now, try to spend some time with her everyday, trying to talk to her. Not just about her homework, but about other stuff as well. In short, I am trying to be a Dad again. My younger daughter is still content to be cuddled and being told a bedtime story. I get the cuddling part, but I have not really mastered the art of story telling – not every night! Why? What holds me back? Once again, I do not have an answer.

I have also been planning to write a book. I even started on it, but, needless to say, it lies untouched and forgotten for the past one year.

Meanwhile, my list of to-do’s keeps getting longer. I sometimes, correct that to frequently, get the feeling that there are many things undone and life is passing me by. I do not know what I am waiting for to live the life that I had always dreamed of. The one in which I would be tending to the flowers in my garden, and the kids would be buzzing around close by, asking a million questions about all the plants and the flowers. Or, the one in which I would be sitting in my favorite chair and reading my favorite book, and the spouse would be hovering close by and trying to annoy me all the time. I am probably waiting for the dream home that I want to buy, or I am probably waiting for the vacation that I have been planning, the one in which I’ll have all the time in the world and I will not have to think about work. I don’t know!

This post has taken some time. For the simple reason, that in the time since my last post, I have decided to make, and have made some changes. I have now decided to follow the Nike slogan; no more planning, ‘Just Do It’.

I have started to read – I have already read one book and I am on to my second. I also got back to writing my book, but I didn’t make much progress there.

I will keep you posted on my progress, I’ll be delighted to share yours.

P.S. - I would like to thank my friend Sanjay Jha for the caption of this post; I have shamelessly stolen it from his gmail 'status update'. I'd also like to thank him for his insightful comments on some of my earlier posts.

04 November 2009

मेरे पापा और मेरी बेटियाँ

जब मैं छोटा था तो पापा और मेरी आदतों, पसंदगी-नापसंदगी में कोई मेल नहीं था, पापा बाएँ तो मैं दायें वाला हाल था। पापा को सुबह जल्दी उठने की आदत थी; मुझे देर तक सोने का शौक था। पापा सवेरे उठ कर थोडी ही देर में हम सारे भाइयों को उठाने क लिए आवाज देने लग जाते थे। उठने की इच्छा तो तीनो भाइयों में से किसी की भी नही होती थी लेकिन हमारे घर का माहौल ऐसा नहीं था कि पापा की बात नहीं सुनी जाए। बात काटने का तो सवाल ही नही था, अधिक से अधिक थोडी देर तक अनसुना करने का नाटक किया जा सकता था। मजबूरन उठाना ही पड़ता था, भले ही रविवार का दिन हो और कहीं आने-जाने का कार्यक्रम भी न हो। सवेरे सवेरे उठ कर नहा धो कर हमें पापा के साथ पूजा पर बैठना पड़ता था। जाड़े के दिनों में सीमेंट की ठंडी फर्श पर हाफ-पैंट में बैठना कितना कष्टकारी होता है,यह वही बता सकता है जिसने यह कष्ट झेला है।

पापा को खाने में हरी सब्जियाँ पसंद थीं, मुझे हरी सब्जी का कोई शौक नहीं था। पापा शाकाहारी थे, मैं मांसाहारी; हालांकि हमारे घर में कभी भी मांसाहार पकाया नहीं गया है।

पढ़ते वक़्त मैं रेडियो पर गाने लगा दिया करता था, इस से मुझे कोई समस्या नहीं होती थी। पापा के ये पल्ले ही नहीं पड़ता था कि पढ़ते वक़्त कोई गाना कैसे सुन सकता है। जहाँ तक मुझे याद है, पापा ने सिर्फ़ दो फिल्में देखी थीं; उसमें से भी एक फ़िल्म वो बीच में से ही छोड़कर कर आ गए थे। मेरी तो फिल्मो में जैसे जान ही बसती थी। यों बसती थी. कहना ग़लत होगा, मैं अभी भी बहुत ध्यान लगा कर सड़ी से सड़ी फ़िल्म देख लेता हूँ।

जैसे जैसे हम तीनो भाई बड़े होते गए पापा अपने अनुशासन की पकड़ ढीली करते गए और हमें काफी आजादी देने लग गए।

समय बदला, मेरी पढ़ाई ख़त्म हुई। मैंने नौकरी शुरू की और कुछ दिनों में मेरी शादी भी हुई। आज मैं उम्र के उस मोड़ पर खड़ा हूँ जिस पर कभी मेरे पापा थे। मेरी दो बेटियाँ हैं; बड़ी बेटी ग्यारह साल की है और छोटी पाँच साल की है। मेरी छोटी बेटी ने अपने दादाजी को सिर्फ़ तस्वीरों में देखा है, लेकिन मैं उन्हें पापा की कहानियां सुनाता रहता हूँ।

बड़ी बेटी छठी क्लास में है, और छोटी प्री-स्कूल में। दोनों को सवेरे स्कूल के लिए जल्दी निकलना पड़ता है। मुझे याद नहीं है कोई सुबह ऐसी गुजरी हो जब उन्हें डांट न पड़ीं हो। रोज सुबह थोडी देर तक मैं उन्हें प्यार से उठाता हूँ; धीरे-धीरे आवाजें तेज होने लगती हैं। मैं तो बचपन में बिना कुछ कहे उठ जाया करता था, मेरी बेटियाँ बिना शोर-शराबे के नहीं उठतीं हैं।

किसी तरह हाथ-मुंह धोने के बाद जब वो स्कूली कपड़े पहन कर नीचे आती हैं तो फिर एक और जंग शुरू होती है खाने को लेकर। दोनों शाकाहारी हैं, और यहाँ स्कूल में उनके खाने के लायक कम ही सामान मिलता है। इसलिए दोनों खाना साथ में ले कर जाती हैं। उनके हिसाब से अगर खाने में रोज बिस्कुट और चॉकलेट दे दी जाए तो सबसे अच्छा; उस से उनके स्वास्थ्य पर पड़ने वाले असर से उनको कोई मतलब नहीं है। कैसे उनको कुछ स्वास्थ्यवर्द्धक खाना दिया जाए जो उनको पसंद भी आए, इस पर रोज सिर फुटौवल की नौबत आ जाती है।

शाम को जब वो घर आती हैं तो होमवर्क किस तरह ख़त्म हो, इसके लिए मैं उनके पीछे पड़ा रहता हूँ। मेरी बड़ी बेटी को मेरी आदत लग गई है, वो भी पढ़ते वक़्त गाने लगा दिया करती है, फर्क इतना है की वो टीवी पर गाने लगाती है, और उसका सारा ध्यान टीवी पर ही रहता है।

आज मैं सचमुच उसी मोड़ पर हूँ जिस पर पापा थे। कूल डैड बनने के मेरे सारे इरादों पर पानी फिर गया है, और मैं रुल डैड बन कर रह गया हूँ, बिल्कुल अपने पापा की तरह। मजे की बात यह है की मुझे इसका कोई दुःख नहीं है। मुझे पूरा यकीन है कि पापा भी, चाहे वो जहाँ भी हों, मेरी स्थिति पर चुटकी ले रहे होंगे।

03 November 2009

Embedded Consultant

I have been working as a consultant for the past 12 years. I spent the first five years of these working full-time for three different employers, each of who sent me on client assignments ranging from 3-6 months. Business was good, the sales teams were doing their jobs and I did not have to worry about the next assignment.

Since the past 7 years, I have not had the luxury of a sales team to support me; I’ve had to undertake my own job hunt. I got my first independent assignment courtesy a friend who did his best to dissuade me from taking the job even though he himself had given me the job lead. The reason that he tried to dissuade me was that I was married and I had a young family. Consulting is not kind to family life, nor is it high on stability.

The project was initially scheduled to last 6 months; it went on for 3.5 years. I was contracted to work for the ‘direct client’; there were no middlemen involved. I worked almost like an employee – my commitment to the client was not less than that of an employee. In turn, the client treated me like an employee; my contribution was not measured by the time that I spent in the office at my desk, but by the work that I did and by the quality of that work. If I put any overtime on my timesheet, I did not have to have prior approval for that; my manager generally approved it without asking any questions. I was, as I call it, an ‘Embedded Consultant’.

In these tough times, I am sure that all independent/ small-business consultants would love to be embedded consultants. So, what is it that makes you an embedded consultant? How do you reduce your 'redundancy factor'? To zero, if possible?

The first thing, as I have already noted, is the commitment to your client. If something needs to be done, it needs to be done. Be prepared to go the extra mile; even if you suspect you are not going to be paid for it. Do it once, do it twice, and you’d have established your bona fides. The next time you are required to go the extra mile, it will not be the unpaid extra mile. Your client will definitely recognize your contribution.

Second, do not draw boundaries, artificial or real. Let me explain what I mean. My expertise (?) is primarily in the area of Oracle Applications. However, I have a ‘knowledge surplus’ in other areas as well; meaning that I know more, than the average Joe, about stuff in other areas as well. So, when average Joe walks up to me and asks me for help in formatting an excel worksheet and/ or plotting the data on a suitable graph, I try to help. Of course, I let average Joe know that (1) I am not an expert on Excel, and (2) more importantly, I am taking time away from my Oracle work to help him. Maybe, it just earns me brownie points, but these are invaluable brownie points that I earn. When the time comes to renew/ extend the contract these brownie points could suddenly be the difference between extension and termination of the contract. If I were to ‘jargonize’ this, I would say that it helps to have transferable skills and a ‘knowledge surplus’ in multiple areas.

What do you think? I’d love to hear back from you.

02 November 2009

Jai Ho!

I am working with a company which has an office in India. It is used mostly for work that involves technical development and support/ maintenance of existing systems.

This office is staffed by mostly junior level consultants who work under the guidance of a few senior consultants. Most of them have never been outside India, and the lure of being called onsite for short-term assignments is one of the factors that makes many of them stick with the company.

One of the main reasons for an India office is reduction in costs. However, another important reason is also to be able to provide 24X7 support to the company’s clients in the USA. Needless to say, this requires the consultants in India to put in very long hours every day; pardon me, I should say every night! The consultants are also required to get leave/ vacations approved beforehand – not only by the India Office manager, but also by the USA project manager that they are working with at the time of making the leave request.

One of the consultants working with me sent in a leave request recently. This person is a brilliant consultant; he finishes his tasks in double quick time, and then asks for more. However, despite being a brilliant technical mind, he, like many Indians, who have not studied in English-medium schools, writes better English than he speaks. However, he still writes ‘traditional’ English. So his leave application went something like this “Most humbly and respectfully, I beg to state that………………….”. Those of you who did not study in an English-medium school will recognize this style of writing applications as something that you also learned in your high school days.

I never wrote a leave application like this. In fact, I had a minor run-in with my branch manager when I was working for the State Bank of India; this was more than 15 years ago. The branch had run out of standard leave application forms; you just needed to put in the dates for your vacation on these forms and your manager would approve them. As I said, the branch had run out of standard forms, so I just wrote a one-line application asking that I be granted leave for one day for personal reasons. My branch manager was shocked to read that one-line application – it did not make a request; well there was the mandatory ‘Please grant me leave’ part, but there was no hint of a servile request at all in the application, which is what the branch manager was looking for. It was just a regular request; I have leave due to me, grant me that leave. What particularly riled the branch manager was that words/ phrases ‘humbly’, ‘beg to state’, ‘eternally grateful’, 'your most obedient servant' etc. were missing from my leave request.

My colleague’s leave application reminded me of this incident, but it also set me thinking about the origins and/ or possible reasons for this kind of behavior. What kind of behavior? Ok, here it is – that of treating the boss like God, the ‘sarve-sarvaa’ ( a typically Indian phrase which means one with supreme authority over all that (s)he surveys) of your life. Is this something that we have inherited from our colonial past? Or, is this something that has come from our own hierarchical society and the British merely strengthened it?

I believe that it is the latter, although the strengthening made it so much more institutionalized. The British had a vested interest in doing so. They had to rule and that required them to be treated like the superior race, the chosen people. It also required them to constantly remind the lowly Indian of his/ her place in the scheme of things; the closing phrase in application, “I remain, Sir, your most obedient servant” was merely one of the language tools that they employed to good effect. This is in stark contrast to the lack of hierarchy in the English language. Notice that there is no respectful form of ‘You' in English, like we have in many Indian languages, ‘Aap’ is the respectful form of ‘You’ in Hindi, and is used for elders and people who enjoy a higher station in life than you do.

So, what impact does this have in our regular day-to-day life? There’s no doubt that Indian society is still very hierarchical and that this hierarchy is all-pervasive – it is also here in our work culture. We fawn over our bosses, and generally do not question their judgment / decisions. As a result, the decisions made are not necessarily the best decisions. I am sure that there is much more; more on that sometime later.

What can we do about this? How do we make our society, our workplaces less hierarchical? How do we promote more open debate and less of reverential dogma that passes for good decisions?

Looking for answers.

20 September 2009

latest cricket scores

19 August 2009

Still haven't found any answers to my questions to myself, but I'm trying to let go of some of the labels that I put on myself.

That's not as easy as it sounds. I had always labeled myself as not very strong physically. And then, on Sunday August 16th, I ran 7 miles without stopping for even a second. I had never done this in my entire life, not even when I was in high school. I did not break any records, not even for my age group. In fact, earlier in the day on Sunday, a little wisp of a girl, a Russian named Olga Kaniskina walked(?) almost double that distance in marginally more time that I took for my 7 miles. I repeated that performance; no, I bettered that performance on Sunday, August 23rd - I ran 8 miles without stopping even for a second. I even managed to reduce my average time per mile. This gave me a lot of satisfaction and happiness. Not many people, that I know and who are in my age group, can do that. I have started to think whether I should peel that label off myself.

How do you get the labels that are assigned to you? In my opinion, most of these labels are self-assigned. If they are not self-assigned, they are actively sought. Most people use them as a door-opener, an introduction to a closed group. You go to your child's school picnic where you do not know anybody; you introduce yourself as your child's parent. Next picnic/ meeting onwards, that becomes your defining identity. In other cases, people use these labels to actually set themselves apart from a group that they are in. You go to a rock festival and proclaim yourselves to be a connoisseur of opera; next time you meet people from this group, you are labeled a snob. You didn't self-assign the label in this case, but you actually sought it by trying to actually set yourself apart from the rock lovers.

Do these labels serve a useful purpose? In other words, are they required? I believe that while labels do serve a limited initial purpose, they have a habit of outliving that initial usefulness and, therefore, ultimately become constraints on you rather than enablers. Going further with the examples that I just cited, your child grows up and moves on from that school to another, and ultimately to a job, but you will forever be defined as your child's parent by other people in that group. Same thing with opera lover; your tastes change and you start listening to rock music, you even start loving it, but you'll forever remain the stuck-up snob to the initial group. People's opinions, beliefs, judgments have a tendency to be inertial - they change at the rate that a glacier moves.

Moreover, most of these labels are defined by external factors. External factors have at least two shortcomings. One, they tend to be transient; two, a factor that may be important to one person, may not be important to another person. Most external factors can vanish any moment - a powerful politician may lose an election, and may be thrown out by his own party, or worse, be forgotten by his own party. A popular film star's movies may bomb at the box office, and her backers may start doubting her pull at the box office, whereas another generation never really believed that she ever had that pull at the box office. Beauty? Not only is it transient, but what is beautiful to one is plain to another. Wealth? In these depressing economic times, do I even need to talk about the transient nature of wealth?

Can we get rid of labels? To steal a phrase from Barack Obama's campaign, yes we can. I believe so, because I believe, in the first place, that I assigned that label to myself. I can refuse to assign myself a label. I am what I choose to be.