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.