Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Adieu to the Maharani

I was in my seventh grade, if I remember correctly, when I came across the name Maharani Gayatri Devi for the first time. It was on this show Rendevouz with Simi Garewal, Amitabh Bachhan was asked to name who, in his opinion, was the most beautiful woman in the world, and he answered, Maharani Gayatri Devi. I asked my mom, she told me about the Princess of Cooch Behar who went on to become the beloved Maharani of Jaipur, smashing several stereotypes along the way. Coincidentally, the India Today edition of that week carried a piece on her and I saw the above picture for the first time. There was something about her mannerisms, the air of sheer dignified grace about her that made me wish I could hold myself like that. I later learnt of how she was different despite being royalty, how she didn't stick to prescribed norms. I also remember this coffee table book, her memoirs, A Princess Remembers, at an Uncle's place and I distinctly recall a conversation which explained why it was so daring of her to play polo wearing riding breeches. I have talked about how rare such grace is today in one of my previous posts. She was an extraordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life. Here's my personal farewell to the Maharani.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Cut-Off

Today's Sunday supplement of Hindustan Times, Brunch, carried a short story by Chetan Bhagat. Titled The Cut-Off, it is the account of a school topper who plans to take his life because he will not be able to get into SRCC or Stephen's despite scoring 92% in his CBSE 12th Board Exams. "Everyone tells you how to live your life. But no one ever tells you how to end it.." is how the narration starts. It goes on to talk of the burden the eighteen year old carries from having made one calculation error in the exam. While he does draft a letter off to the Education Minister complaining of the lack of enough universities for even the top 5 students of every major school in the country, he eventually ends up blaming himself for not having worked enough to earn that extra 3 per cent that could have gotten him into SRCC. The expectations of parents, neighbours and relatives, disappointment at not living up to your own expectations, the futility of scoring 90% in boards, everything has been brought out in a way that it grips your small intestine, pulls it out and wraps it around your throat. The Hindustan Times E-Paper carries the story. Would recommend a reading, I'm sure most of us shall identify with at least parts of it. I know I do.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mr Sibal, You Reading??

While the HRD Ministry is busy making plans for further expansions of IITs, students are busy sending out signals begging them to stop. Over 500 students this year have refused to take admissions into the seats alloted to them at the new IITs (a reference article can be found here) .And I dont really blame them. Institutions do not become premier centres of excellence just by sticking labels on them. Though I agree that the chief reason for the global respect for IITs stems from the rejection rate and the selection process, what follows post admissions is considered equally crucial. The new IITs can be cited as case studies in frugalism and minimalism as far as infrastructures as concerned. A dearth of good or for that matter any faculty is something I am sure even they can't choose to ignore. Why would students want to risk their futures through such a compromise. They got through the toughest undergrad filtering examination on the planet, naturally they understand that a four room structure holding the Indian Institute of Technology Indore sign is not going to guarantee them a better future and definitely not enrich their education. They are aware that the nation has institutes other than the IITs which are highly reputed and house facilities to help their intellect grow. If enhancing the quality of education in the nation was the primary agenda of the Human Resources Development folks, why do they not consider it more worthwhile to spend a comparable amount on bettering the infrastructure and research facilities at the existing institutes. If I remember correctly, demand for more IITs was projected as the chief reason for their creation. Sorry to point it out to you sirs, but the numbers don't really support your claim.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


There is this game that I have seen people play on the blogosphere, usually when they are out of topics to rant and rave about. Called Tag, it asks you to blog about something in particular, favorite songs, disastrous dates etc and then you pass the baton on, asking others to do the same. The rules of this one are as follows:
Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Tag up to 15 friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose

Well, considering the fact that I have just spent close to two months here in a practically deserted hostel ( you know, haunted would have been better, I might have at least had the ghosts to talk to), books are what have kept me sane or close to sane. Anyways, this asks about the books you think will always stick. So, here I go:
  1. Harry Potter series: Nearly everyone loves them and I'm no different, happen to belong to the class of people who used to draw the lightning scar on their foreheads with sketch pens and henna dyes and can recite anything related to the series, from the method of brewing the Draught of Living Death to Mrs Weasley's favorite song, A Cauldron of Strong Hot Love by Celestina Warbeck.
  2. The Diary of Anne Frank: Someone rightly said that if marooned on a deserted island, he would like to have a copy of this book with him. A ray of sunshine bringing hope in the darkest times, Anne has always been a faithful companion since I was 15.
  3. Chicken Soup Series: Not really putting them out as separate books. Love the simple, enriching, heartwarming stories that help me kinda keep faith in life, in others and in myself.
  4. Pride and Prejudice: The first love story I ever read, the first crush I ever had, my notions of love, sharing and bonding all seem to stem from this classic.
  5. Little Women: Another warm family bonding book that I love to this day and don't mind re-reading.
  6. Freakonomics: A wonderful set of case studies about the hidden hand of economics in a host of world phenomena.
  7. India Unbound: Probably sprung to mind because I recently heard Gurcharan Das speak at the E4SI workshop last weekend
  8. What They Dont Teach You at Harvard Business School: An amazing insightful book on management skills by Mark McCormack. And no, HBS bumping me has got nothing to do with this choice.
  9. Love From Your Friend, Hannah: Wow, don't really know how that came up. Was among my favorite books when I was 13. Its the story of a lonely young girl, growing up during the Great Depression, who finds unlikely friends in her pen pals which includes President Franklin Roosevelt.
  10. Power of Positive Imaging, by Norman Vincent Peale: Describes a wonderful and strong motivational technique called imaging, which I would recommend all to try.
  11. Strong Medicine, by Arthur Hailey: The protagonist in this book on the pharmaceutical industry, a strong ambitious woman named Celia Jordan somehow was one of my initial role models (as my sister likes to allege and she does know me).
  12. Lisa's Story: The diary of a girl dying of leukemia, its a story of hope, of bringing in happiness in spite of what life offers, something I hope I never forget.
  13. Why Do I Love These People: A book on helping understand family better, I guess its somewhat responsible for me loving mine, despite the stories they make me listen to during Diwali (sorry Ma, I told them it was Nani's).
  14. Like a Flowing River: Beautiful short stories about life. Well I guess I love most of the books by Coelho, this one is special for a different reason, being a birthday gift to my best friend (who would also respond to the name of Mr Philosopher).
  15. Catch 22: The book is by all means a classic satirical piece, but is extra special being a gift for my 21st birthday and the copy has motivational messages scribbled on over 20 percent of the pages by my friend.
I guess I could still go on, but the rule says 15 so 15 it is. By the way, I was Tagged by Pratik/ Punchar. Passing on the baton, I tag Nitin, Apurv, Sirisha, Aniket , Bhondu, Bhale, Hula, Abhi, Aruna, Tarun and Mrugen.
The game's on..

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Bhai Dooj Tales Recounted

The festival of Raksha Bandhan is approaching. While this festival celebrates a brother's eternal vow to protect his sister and safeguard her honour, there exists a variant that extols a sister's commitment of protecting her brother. Called Bhai Dooj, it is observed a couple of days after Diwali. In my family there has been a tradition of telling stories where a sister had saved her brother's life. Given the fact that this entire exercise happens at the Puja Mandap, it is extremely hard not to laugh or smirk. You would know why:
Once upon a time, long long ago, there was a brother-sister pair. The brother was married to an evil woman who was having an affair with, wait for it, a snake. The brother, his sister, his wife and her lover the snake would henceforth be referred to as bhai, behen, bhabhi and saanp respectively during the course of this narration. This is to help you understand better what it was like hearing the story at the Puja for each Diwali of my last 16-17 years of recallable existence.
Now the bhabhi wanted to kill the bhai so that she could be with the saanp. So she plots with the saanp and asks him to bite the bhai when he goes to the fields at dawn because its dark. The lucky bhai escapes because he sees the saanp. Again the lovers plot and decide that the saanp should hide in the turban as the bhai doesnt shake the turban before wearing. Lucky bhai (un)fortunately shakes the turban and escapes again. Then the saanp decides to hide in the shoe and this time the bhai gets suspicious and kills the saanp. He brings the body to bhabhi tells her how the saanp had been trying to kill him. Bhabhi pretends to be relieved that bhai is fine but then goes and cries infinitely when alone.
Now bhabhi cuts the saanp into 7 pieces and hides one each under the bedposts, one in her cupboard, one in her earthern lamp (diya) and one in her sindoor daan. She then says to bhai, "I have a riddle. If you can solve you throw me into the fire else I throw you into the fire". Bhai is astounded but she insists and he has to reluctanly agree. Here's the riddle:
Piyu more khatiya, Piyu more machiya
Piyu ka tel jale saari ratiya
Piyu sindoore lal

Stumped as he was, bhai admits defeat and requests bhabhi to allow him to visit behen one last time, especially since it was Bhai Dooj the next day. He meets her, behen does puja and all but she senses something amiss and insists on accompanying bhai back to his place. They are tired during the journey and rest under a tree where bhai falls asleep. Now this wasn't an ordinary tree, it was the meeting place of household earthern lamps or diyas. Of all the diyas assembled, there was one that was smelling a lot. On being asked by the other diyas he mentioned that his mistress kept a piece of her lover, the saanp, in him and he was smelly therefore. He also recounts everything bhabhi had tried doing to bhai, including the riddle and the ensuing punishment. For some reason (I never asked my grandmother what), behen realizes its her bhai-bhabhi being discussed. She wakes bhai and lands up at his house and says that she wants to take the riddle bhai couldn't decipher with the condition that if she fails bhabhi can kill both. Bhabhi agrees, behen pulls all 7 pieces out from their hiding places and assembles the saanp and then kills bhabhi and hence saves bhai's life.
You felt like pulling your hair at one reading, I have had several years of maintaining a straight face while the same thing was being narrated. By the way, I could really benefit if any of you knew another story for Bhai Dooj. Please.. Cant bear another Diwali with this one.

The Girl Effect

Came across a fabulous pitch. Called the Girl Effect, it re-highlights the adage of improving the life of a nation by improving the life of the girl child. Tries to get the message across pretty effectively. Must Watch.

Ayan Sarkar: 7 Things I Wish I knew 10 Years Back

As I mentioned in my previous post, the E4SI workshop was mind-blowing. At the risk of infringing intellectual property, I would like to iterate the most valuable lessons from a talk by Ayan Sarkar (Associate at McKinsey's NY Business Technology office) at the workshop, which incidentally were not about social enterprise models and change making in particular but about living life in general.

1. Life is not a Sprint, its a Marathon
2. Life is 80: 20, only 20 per cent of things are actually important and worth worrying about.
3. Make Mistakes, dont be afraid.
4. Have Fences, clear notions of whats wrong and you absolutely cannot and will not do.
5. Stand Up
6. Question the Known
7. Do Well, Do Good

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Two Days at TransIndus

Back from Bangalore after spending the weekend attending the E4SI concluding workshop. The heady cocktail of funding models, impact models, double bottom line, triple bottom line, microfinance and a host of other insights and tips about the citizen sector space, just leaves you high and motivated to make a difference. Featuring experts like the renowned author Gurcharan Das, Bindu Ananth from IFMR, Laura Perkin from NEN, Harish Hande from SELCO, Ayan Sarkar from McKinsey and others, together with over 20 motivated peers, the weekend helped cement whatever had been floating around in my head for sometime now. More on that to follow.
PS: Got bumped by HBS. Aah Never Mind ;)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Satyamev Jayte eh?

A hugely popular game show in the West, Star Plus, in an attempt to salvage its plummeting TRPs, recently bought the format of the show which involves hooking the contestants up to a polygraph and asking questions which are scandalous to say the least. Not sure, however, if the Indian audience is ready for something of this sort. Oh yes, their taste in voyeuristic entertainment would not be an issue, given the success of Splitsvilla, Big Boss and Rakhi ka Swayamwar. Still there does exist a probability that the format might be too bold for the Indian audience to swallow. Anyways, my sister and I compiled a list of questions that we would have liked to ask people, living or dead, on such a show.
  • Pranab Mukherjee: Was CII influential in drafting the 2009 Union Budget?
  • Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose: Did you really die in the 1945 plane crash?
  • Shahrukh Khan: Have you and Karan Johar done it?
  • Sonia Gandhi: Did your decision to decline the Prime Ministerial post, after having been the Congress candidate for the job, have to do with the Bofors case?
  • Bill Clinton: Were there more before Monica?
  • Pravin Mahajan: Was there external influence in your brother's murder?
  • Marylin Monroe: Did Robert Kennedy discuss classified information?
  • Amelia Earhart: (Not really a Moment of Truth format question, but one I have wanted to know all the same) Where the hell did you go?
Further suggestions are welcome...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Triumph of the Nerds

An account of the rise of one of America's largest industries, after automobiles, arms and illegal drugs, the personal computer industry. Cringley, who prefers to be called an explainer rather than a historian, attributes the growth of the PC industry to accident. He describes the brains behind personal computing giants like Apple, HP and Microsoft as people who had just been trying to find ways of amusing themselves and giving themselves a sense of security from the bullies in the park who used to push them around when they were wiry, gawky, bespectacled kids. Focusing not on the companies but on their founders, the man builds a caricature-ish picture of each one of them. While he portrays Bill Gates as a megalomaniac, he paints Steve Jobs as a sociopath. Anecdotes of how kind Lady Luck and Lord Murphy had been on these amateurs are interesting and also helpful in understanding America's last great success story. The book also explores the new baggy tees, soda cans, basketball playing corporate culture that Apple, MS etc spawned as opposed to the suit-and-tie, coffee, golf playing cultures of IBM, Ford and Citicorp. Full of juicy insider gossip, the book is an OK/Globe for tech-buffs.

Friday, July 10, 2009

And The Good Shall Triumph

Wonder why so many works of fiction, be it science, fantasy or crime, from Star Wars to Harry Potter to Hardy Boys, are all about the victory of the good over the evil. Why? Because people are essentially good people. They would always want the good to win, they believe the good shall win, even if they themselves indulge in bad practices once in a while. Coming across stories with the triumph of Good over Evil only reaffirms their faith in goodness.