Dating and work

Pre-script: Don’t judge. At least, not until you’ve read the whole post!

There are some stark similarities between the two areas of life that take up a large part of our lives: Work and Marriage. Preposterous, some might say, as I compare a holy institution with a platonic one. While some others ponder which one is which. Allow me to explain!

Living in India and seeing the generation before ours, the similarities are sure there. In the olden days:

  • Marriages were arranged by parents, jobs were arranged by placement departments in college
  • It wasn’t rare to see one marriage and one job see you through the entire life.
  • To consider another partner/job made the society look at you strangely
  • Both alliances were holy and YOU were the one who had to make adjustments and adapt.

Fast forward a few years, aspirations have grown, and so has restlessness. And where does the comparison stand:

  • The arrangements are starting to be made consciously by people, after they finish their engineering and are figuring out what profession to choose 😛 (Sarcasm Detected!)
  • The mortality rate of jobs has fallen steeply. The number of unsuccessful marriages has increased too but not as steeply.
  • There is realization that people make an organisation, and not the other way round. Both companies & marriages are not holier than thou anymore, and people are truly trying to find their match in both.
  • When marriages and work relationships hit turbulent times, you still try to adapt but it’s now a two-way street. Employers are more flexible and provide options like lateral movements, sabbaticals etc. And if it still doesn’t work out, you part ways.

Funnel1

In case of a relationship, you would typically go through phases as you get to know the other person better. Initial phases of filtering might be against some set criteria. If things progress well, the dating phase would allow you to know each other better and evaluate compatibility. Some might go into the living in phase. And eventually, if there are more things looking good than not, then you would commit and get into marriage.

Visualise these stages like a funnel with validation and filtering happening at each stage. And this is for a decision which is more heart-driven than mind-driven. Agreed, Indian society is still largely far from the validation funnel, but I see things moving more and more in that direction.

In contrast, think of choosing a company/employee, which is supposed to be driven more by the mind that the heart. There is a filtering stage where companies and people eliminate. Subsequently, there is an interview stage where you talk, discuss and get to know each more (A lot of companies still don’t see interviewing as a dialogue but that’s a complete topic in itself). Some companies like to do a 360 degrees interviewing, which lets you meet the people you’ll be working with.

Funnel2

But then, if you make it through, you’re suddenly faced with the marriage question and you have to decide based on the information you have. At this stage, the information you have is either from your interviewing phase, where the company is often putting it’s best foot forward. Or it’s based on what people on the internet say (Glassdoor), which could be stage managed to protect a brand. There are answers around, but they might not be for the questions that YOU have.

And that’s where the biggest disconnect lies. There is no Dating or Live-in phase in Work.

The side effect? You might start working somewhere, not like it and decide to quit after a short duration. But it’ll show on your record, like a failed marriage. Too many of these and it might become difficult to explain.

These failed alliances are expensive for companies too. There’s a huge cost associated with hiring, training and if an employee churns before they’ve contributed enough to break-even, then you lose what you’ve invested and are forced to incur that cost again.

Sure, there are some forms of dating equivalents in the work industry, but this is why they don’t work.

  1. Internship: could be seen as a way of trying out a job, but it’s only there for fresh graduates, and not experienced people.
  2. Sub-contracting: you could be employed or for an intermediary company but working for their client. And if it works well, you could convert to a full time employee for the client, and the client needs to pay the intermediary some compensation. There’s often a clause in employee agreement which forbids them from quitting the intermediary and joining the client company. This form of arrangement is often tilted in favour of the intermediary company since that’s what their business and margins are. And most employees would find themselves in this arrangement by chance, not by choice.
  3. Probation periods: Again, they are part of the employment contract and insures the company against severance cost in case of a bad hire. Probation period is actual employment, so looks like a shirt stint for an employee.
  4. Hiring from Hackathons: companies conduct Hackathon which are open to the developer community. Gives companies a chance to see the engineers at work, and the companies can contact them to explore hiring them. Again, a good option for companies which limits the risk of a bad hire. But for an individual, hackathons don’t really give the feel of how it would be to really work for the company.
  5. Contract to hire: people could be employed as contractors, and if things go well, they could join as permanent employees.This option provide a trial to employees, but it exists to protect the company against bad hires, severance cost, and liability. It’s often seen as an inferior choice by employees since the durations are long and it’s seen as actual employment. This is the closest option we have right now to trial employment but sadly, it doesn’t have equal rights for employees and employers.

I wonder wouldn’t it be great if you could truly ask out and date companies? Where you could choose to go work for a company for some time, maybe part-time, and then decide whether you want to join them. Of course, there are thorny unknowns like employee contracts forbidding double employment, and non-disclosure agreements which would need to be addressed. But if something like this existed, wouldn’t it help you find your true work match rather than jumping from prospect to prospect, relying on luck, and be tagged as a job hopper?

If you’re here reading this, do comment and share what you think!

The office door that splits us

There’s a fine gentleman I know at work, he’s soft spoken, well mannered & very courteous. He acknowledges people around him, never cuts them short & seems to give everyone their space. I saw him at the supermarket the other day, and though he looked the same, he seemed quite different. He was pushing his shopping cart through a crowd of people, was rude & I saw him shouting at the Billing clerk. I think he might have a Split | Personality!

Sounds familiar? Ever observed someone you know at work, outside of the work environment, and felt they’re different, more like the rest of the people. I have, many a times.

In India, there are two cultures at play in our daily lives.

One is the real culture that’s out there on the street. The culture that’s come about living with inadequacies for the population. Not enough space on the road. Not enough seats in School. Not enough space on the Bus. In a culture like that, it’s Survival of the Fittest, with no regard to fellow men & women, They’re simply Competition. In a culture like that, a human is simply Demand, and there’s enough of it. In a country of over 1 billion, there’s definitely no scarcity of people, and what’s not scarce is often taken for granted.

The other culture is what the companies are importing from foreign shores, and individuals are adopting as they travel more & more. In that culture, people are well behaved, courteous, polite, acknowledge people, hold the door for them. Acts that exhibit selfishness are looked down upon. A kind of culture that comes out from abundance. There’s enough for everyone, so there’s no real reason to not treat fellows humans well.

Not to say that there’s anything Right & Wrong about these, both are appropriate for their individual situations & settings. In the first culture, Push & Shove doesn’t mean you bear ill intent for those on the receiving end, they are merely casualties of your selfishness, which is the popular way of life. On the other end, in the other culture, if someone holds open a door for me, it doesn’t mean it’s a heartfelt gesture. The gestures itself have become a norm in the society and a lot of times, are just followed for the sake of conformance.

The interesting thing is how living in india, we casually switch between these two cultures as we step in and out of our offices (and some other controlled environments). I might cut into someone’s lane, honking, on the road, but hold the door for the same person as he walks into the office*. This creates a weird duality of behavior, where it becomes difficult to gauge intent from action.

* But not do that for an access controlled door to avoid unauthorized tailgating 😛

Let’s look at four (theoretical) behavior sets someone could exhibit outside & inside controlled environments.

# At Work Outside Analysis
D-D Discourteous Discourteous Probably someone who doesn’t believe in courtesy, or maybe in acts of courtesy that are done without meaning them. Someone very practical. Might get strange looks at work. 
C-D Courteous Discourteous While in Rome, Do the romans … Err, I mean Do as the romans do. Most commonly observed behavior amongst the 4 buckets. On the side of practicality & conformance. 
C-C Courteous Courteous The idealist. A lot of people moving to India from West fall in this category. Gets strange looks outside work, and often people think he/she is going to pull some prank & might search for a hidden camera. Or, people might think it’s someone gone Bonkers, or visiting from SatYug. Once the initial apprehension fades, the courtesy shown by these individuals is misused, abused & taken advantage of, in full measure. People in this category often decide to convert to C-D. Some get really pissed off and convert to D-D.
D-C Discourteous Courteous Is a strange combination. Someone who loves fellow humans, but hates his Job & cowerkers. Individuals sometimes move into this bucket just before they are about to quit, or while serving their Notice period. Defiance!

Ok, so which bucket do I fall in? I’m not sharing that, you’ll have to stalk me to figure that out.
This post just ends here. If you’re looking for a logical conclusion or recommendation, I’m Sorry I have None. This is just about some things I’ve observed, and tried to analyze. No right & wrong, black & white here. Just shades of Grey that we can reflect on individually, so we understand ourselves better.

Buying an apartment in Bangalore

Have been thinking of writing this up for some time now, as a logical companion to my “Renting a house in Bangalore” post. These are some questions I had, when I decided to explore buying an apartment. I hope these would be useful for someone in a similar situation. An entire book can be written on this topic, I don’t intend to be that comprehensive. So, I’ll just model this post as an FAQ, to keep it crisp.

Disclaimer (upfront): This is based on my experience, and at the end of the day, it’s just my opinion. I’m not a lawyer & I don’t claim it’s 100% legally accurate, so please do your due diligence. It’s not going to cover all possible cases, because I don’t have experience of all possible cases. Caveat Emptor!

Q. What is the scenario you have experience on?
A. Buying an apartment, not a house. From a seller (resale), not from Builder. Ready to move in, not under-construction. Some processes/documents could be common though. This is for Bangalore (India), I’m not sure of processes in other cities.

Q. What’s the high-level process of buying a home?
A. Here’s a 30,000 ft view of the typical process:
  • Choose a property
  • Indication of interest: Pay a token amount
  • Get copy of property papers from Seller
  • Get property papers verified by a lawyer
  • Negotiate price, Sign a Sale agreement, Pay an advance
  • Approach bank for Loan, pay fee, get approval
  • Sign Sale Deed, Register it, Pay seller (with Bank’s help), take possession of house
  • Bank takes Sale Deed, provides you a copy
Q. What’s the high-level cost breakup?
A. Here are some heads to consider:
  • Base price
  • Stamp duty
  • Registration charges
  • Brokerage, if an Agent is involved
  • Bank legal & processing charges, including Stamp duty for agreement
  • Khatha transfer fees
  • Residents Association membership transfer fees, if applicable
  • Renovation costs, if applicable
  • Monthly maintenance charges (recurring monthly/quarterly)
  • Property Tax (recurring annually)
  • Loan EMI (recurring monthly)
Q. Do I need to get papers verified from a lawyer? Wouldn’t the bank do it before approving the loan?
A. You don’t have to, but it’s strongly recommended. Reason: you’re buying the home, you should be aware of risks, if any. Bank does run some checks before lending money, but the liability is yours. You can ask your lawyer to provide a written report that lists all documents, with key dates, and calls out what’s missing. This report is quite useful as a lot of property papers are in local language (Kannada). A written report does cost more than a verbal report.

Q. How much do lawyers charge for verifying papers?
A. It varies, depending on whether its a house or an apartment or a land, new or resale. Also varies from lawyer to lawyer.
TIP: For new apartments, most (if not all) set of papers are common for all units in the complex. So, you could get in touch with other interested buyers, and share the lawyer fees.

Q. Is there a standard list of documents required for an apartment?
A. The most frequent question amongst the FAQs! No, I found many different checklists on the internet, for lands, apartments & houses. Finally went with the checklist provided by the lawyer I consulted. It was quite comprehensive, and practically, not all of the papers in the list were available. Not all of the papers were applicable too. But, it was a good list to start with.
A lawyer would know best, which documents are important. And lawyers would be aware of the applicable rules/laws. So, it’s recommended that you consult a lawyer & ask for a checklist. Depending on how important a document is, your lawyer might indicate whether it’s required before signing sale agreement, before Registration or just a Nice to Have. If he/she doesn’t mention it, do ask. It’s confusing just picking up a checklist from someplace and going with it, as not all documents are equally important. There’s a chance you might ignore an important document, or let a deal fall through for lack of a less important document.
So, I won’t mention the list here, but here’s a categorization of the nature of documents you can expect in the checklist.
  1. Documents related to agreement/arrangement between the land owner & builder (examples: Construction Agreement, General power of attorney, Joint development agreement etc.)
  2. Document relating to sanctions by Governments bodies (examples: sanctioned plan, layout map, approvals from NHAI/AAI, BESCOM, BWSSB, work commencement certificate, completion certificate, occupancy certificate etc.)
  3. Ownership documents: indicating chain of owners & current owner for apartment (example: Khatha, Encumbrance certificate, BESCOM bill, Sale Deed, tax receipts, any backing documents for Parking etc.)
  4. NOCs for Sale (examples; NOC from Residents welfare association mentioning No Dues & any fees you’ll be expected to pay, NOC from Seller to Bank incase of mortgage)
  5. Documents related to Land (examples: Mother deed, Survey documents, conversion documents incase of agricultural land)
  6. Ownership documents for land (examples: Sale deeds, Khatha, encumbrance certificate, tax receipts)
  7. Documents relating to Builder’s company
  8. Documents supporting any special cases (example: any minor claims, pending cases, ownership change by gift/partition/will/death certificates etc.)
For the documents relating to land, it’s good to go back 30 years. It’s important to keep in mind though, that these checklists are non-standard, & seller might not have all documents ready. For some, he/she might have to go back to builder, so be patient & considerate to see the deal through.
Also, for documents where a seller has physical possession of original documents, it’s a good idea to have your lawyer accompany you to seller/builder & inspect the originals.

Q. Why is a Sale Agreement needed? Is there a standard format for it?
A. A Sale agreement is a formal agreement between the buyer and seller on the terms and conditions they agree upon for selling/buying a property. There are standard formats available online, but I recommend using them only as a starting template. It’s good to document everything that you’ve agreed upon. Ideally, there should be no verbal clauses that are not contained in this document. A bank typically asks for the copy of the Sale agreement when you approach it for a loan, and the original before disbursement. Here are some things that this agreement typically contain:
  1. Names and addresses of buyer & sellers
  2. Address of Property
  3. Details of property, like Khatha numbers, super built-up area, built-up area, common area, parking spaces included, undivided share of land
  4. Mention any change in ownership between original owners and current owners
  5. Price agreed upon (Base), not including Registration and stamp duty
  6. Assumptions of sale: state things like all taxes are paid, the seller is legal owner, there are no legal cases pending, seller hasn’t entered into agreement with any other buyer etc.
  7. Advance paid, along with mode of payment (Cheque/DD details)
  8. List of documents that the seller needs to provide to the buyer, with due date
  9. Maximum time by which sale must be completed, failing which the agreement would become null and void and seller would have to return the advance paid by buyer. Factor in the time it’ll take for seller to provide all documents and time it’ll take for buyer to get the loan approved.
  10. Any other Exit clauses
Q. Do I have to take loan from the same bank that the seller has a loan with?
A. No, but if your loan is with a different bank, it often leads to the following Catch-22 situation: Seller’s bank won’t part with the original papers/sale deed till the seller’s loan is Paid. The process could take a day or two. Buyer’s bank will ask for papers at the time of disbursement. In this situation, either buyer has to come up with the funds to payback loan & get Sale Deed released, or one of the banks has to agree to break the deadlock.
This situation gets eased if you go to the same bank that the seller has a loan with. In that case, seller provides NOC to the bank to process your loan on the same property, clear his loan using part of your disbursement, and transfer papers from his account to buyer’s account

Q. In case of loan with the same bank, how do I make sure that the original sale deed is indeed transferred under my account?
A. After a month of disbursement, you can request the bank to provide a signed & stamped copy of the original Sale deed. Banks provide such copies on request. If you get the copy, the bank was able to retrieve the original for your loan account. Hope there’s no else here.

Q. After registering the property, what other papers would I need to get in order?
A. Apply for Khatha transfer, BESCOM meter transfer in your name. Get Apartment association membership transferred in your name.

Q. Compared to renting, what are the factors to check while buying?
A. A lot of things are common. The key difference being: there are some things that can be changed easily, and some can’t be. Things that can be easily changed can be ignored when you’re buying. Anyways, here are some important things I recommend checking:
  • Woodwork present? Is it good enough to retain, or will you have to re-do? Factor in costs.
  • Availability of water supply
  • Power backup, check if it’s minimal or partial or full
  • Reserved parking. Open or closed?
  • Association membership transfer charges, factor in costs
  • Monthly maintenance charges, factor in costs
  • Condition of doors
  • Check if there’s any seepage present, this could be a deal breaker
  • Check for any major structural deviations from apartment plan
  • Natural lighting in apartment
  • Vastu compliance, if applicable
  • Check for recent sales in the apartment complex to get an idea of baseline rates. Mark up/down based on condition of apartment.
  • Security in area
  • Factor in all renovation costs into the price and evaluate if the price is still good.
  • Check water pressure.
  • Check condition of bathroom and kitchen fitments
  • Check for any termites around woodwork & kitchen sink
  • Get an feel of the kind of crowd in apartment complex
  • Visit the apartment at least twice, once during day time and other in the evening, take notes (unless you have a photographic memory)
  • Ask yourself: Does it feel good? Do you see yourself happily living there? There are some intangible things that the mind cannot measure but the heart can feel. Listen to the voice inside!
Q. Any other tips before moving-in
A. It’s easier to get renovation and painting completed before you move in. Keep some spare paint and brushes to touch-up, in case shifting causes some marks on walls.
Also good to get pesticide/insecticide treatment done before your stuff moves in.

Hope this is helpful … All the Best!

[Trivia: This post comes 953 days after my last post, I thought of waiting till 1000 days but couldn’t]

Honkless in the city (Learning to drive again)

Last month, I returned home to Delhi having been away for 9 months. One of the things I had been silently worrying about was reviving my “Delhi” driving skills. Arriving at the airport 2 hours late and 1 bag less didn’t lessen the enthusiasm and I chose to take the front passenger seat in the cab; THAT gave me the front seat to the roller coaster ride that driving in Delhi is. The cabbie was my teacher & so that was the first step: Learning by observation. I watched as the driver made the cab twist, turn and squeeze through narrow spaces to get me home.

Next in my agenda was a hands-on session and chose a small car for it, the advantages being that a hatchback is easy to park and of course the maneuverability. The BIG disadvantages of my choice: the car has L (Learners) signs on the front and back [how apt, or so I thought!!!] and the horn wasn’t functioning. I wasn’t sure then what I was getting into. When driving in Delhi, the horn is one of the most important tools in your toolbox, probably even more important than brakes. Being honkless would mean that you’re in a boxing ring with no gloves, or like being on a stock exchange trading floor and not be able to shout, its like being on a fast the day you have a team feast.

Initially, the experience was frustrating, being a mute spectator in the chaos, the hand would reach out & hit the horn with intensity but there would be no sound. Add to that, the Learners sign, and that adds 10X hostility when you’re on the road. People don’t honk when they see a L sign but immediately try to overtake you. But then an interesting thing happened: I started to slow down, give way more and observe a lot (by force rather than choice); it gives you a different perspective and makes you less aggressive. That ring of wisdom didn’t last for long though, and evaporated as soon the horn was repaired. Soon after, I regained my Delhi driving skills and re-graduated to my own car.

And thus returned the sweet sound (ahem!) of the horn, and so I was able to contribute some musical notes to the orchestra on the street.

So here my friends, I give you Top 5 tips for driving in Delhi:

1. Changing Lanes
Active observer: When a car in front signals to change a lane, the driver following in the destination lane shall speed to not let the car change lanes.
Actor: If you need to change lanes, first safely get your car 50% into the destination lane and THEN signal. (Rule of thumb: signal after the remaining space in destination lane &lt width of the car that’s following)

2. The L sign
Active observer: L stands for Loser, not Learner. When you see a car with this sign, speed and get ahead as you need to be the Winner. Be a good citizen: don’t distract the loser by honking, let him drive at his own pace.
Actor: Try and get rid of the L tag ASAP. If you had applied a red plastic tape to draw the L, remove any remanents of it completely. An leftover impression of “L” on your car screams “Fresher”.

3. Overtaking
Active observer: Always drive in the fast lane and never give way to cars behind. If they really want to overtake, its their problem not yours. If you don’t like to be overtaken, speed when cars try to overtake you
Actor: If you’re trying to overtake, do so in a fashion and speed such that the driver you’re overtaking doesn’t notice you. Tip: use blind spots.

4. Traffic Signals
Active observer: If the car in front of you stops at a traffic light, honk repeatedly, the guy has no business stopping like that, the color red is over-rated. Also, research has proven that traffic signals change color in a few minutes if you honk.
Actor: Traffic lights and signs are suggestions really.

5. 2-way streets
Actor: On a 2-way street with no divider, be a leader…start a lane instead of joining one. If the lane you’re creating obstructs traffic coming in the other direction, well…a wider road is needed and should be built.
Active observer: If you’re in the traffic that’s coming from the other direction, relax, there’s nothing much anyone can do. Just utilize the lanes left so that no new lanes get created.

Disclaimer: The above is a work of fiction…..Of course I don’t drive like THAT!

The SQL query that made me smile

A few days back, I filed my income tax online. To many, that may seem like something ordinary but to me, being able to do that online was a milestone in itself. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that when I heard that taxes can be filed online, I started off exploring with a pessimistic outlook … maybe the website would be down … the system might be slow … will it be reliable … will it do what it claims. I had reasons for thinking this way, as over the years I’ve seen that these processes and the bookkeeping behind the curtains has been largely manual and on paper. And I’ve had my shares of experiences that have made me form my opinions … I’ve stood in queues for hours, I’ve visited the IT office(*1) and seen how much time & effort it takes to locate a physical file and have always wished that someday (maybe in 10-15 years), things would get computerized. I wasn’t expecting it to come so soon though.

The experience of filing my tax online was a surprise so pleasant, that I was actually …. QUITE surprised. I entered my name, date of birth and PAN number and the query pulled up my address on record. I’m a programmer myself and have written quite a few queries myself but let me tell you … no other query has given me so much happiness. For this query to be able to fetch data meant that the records existed in digital form and could be queried. That, in itself, opens so many avenues and limitless possibilities.

The overall process including registration, downloading and filling up the form and uploading the data took me less than an hour. The overall workflow was very thoughtfully designed, with a few exceptions which I’ll come to. I was able to file my tax from halfway around the world and there was only one manual leg in the process (since I didn’t have a digital signature).

These were my highs and not-so-highs..

The Highs:

  • Was able to file tax online
  • No attachments (Form-16, investment proofs) required
  • Non-proprietary software for filling the return Form. These days, Adobe Acrobat can be considered a standard software.
  • Query for PAN in registration process boosted confidence, was quite fast too
  • Website has an advanced users option (for programmers) where XML data could be edited manually
  • When filing tax without a digital signature, the acknowledgment form is generated as a downloadable PDF file (which has to be printed, signed and submitted in the IT department). Generating a downloadable PDF was a thoughtful design considering people want to retain acknowledgment in soft copy for their records and also may not have a printer at hand to print immediately.

The Not-So-Highs:

  • The name of IT website in digital signature didn’t match with site name verbatim due to which the browser gave a warning.
  • The completely automated option requires a digital certificate. Only certificates issued by one of the 7 affiliate agencies is accepted, even certificates issued by international issuing agencies aren’t accepted. None of these companies sell digital certificates online, so human interaction is required.
  • The return form gave a prompt for upgrading Adobe acrobat when it was opened in Acrobat version 6. When the upgrade option was chosen, Adobe Acrobat got upgraded to Version 7 and not Version 8.1. As per the IT website, the version needed Adobe 8.1.
  • The document opened up without any prompts/warnings when opened in Acrobat 7. While exporting to XML though, all dates in the form were getting dropped from the XML and was causing validation errors wile uploading. This problem was solved when user upgraded to Acrobat version 8.1.
  • IT department could’ve given a FAX number where the signed acknowledgment could be faxed directly. Or maybe an email address where you could send the scanned copy of signed acknowledgment. This would save a trip to the IT office (*2)

Overall, filing tax was a Breeze; IMO, the process isn’t perfect yet but it definitely a big step forward. Believe it or not, I actually jumped with joy after completing the process in less than an hour. And the SQL query for PAN, that’s brought on an instant Smile!

(*1): The best part about visiting the IT office at Mayur Bhawan in Connaught Place, New Delhi … getting to have the Special Choley Bhature/Rajmah Chawal/Kadi Chawal at Shankar Market…Mmmmm, I can smell those bhaturas from here
(*2): Maybe that trip really is worth it (Refer *1).

My Review: Anwar

I’m glad some film makers still put their money in projects like this. It keeps the non-commercial stream of Cinema alive, the stream in which artistics decisions are backed by artistic reasons, rather than by mass-Junta’s acceptance. In short, Anwar is an artistic expression that doesn’t conform with typical cinema but is a pleasant change from the routine.

The movie is set in Uttar Pradesh and the storyline is a simple one: a muslim youth (Anwar) stops to rest at an old temple and is wrongly perceived to be a terrorist holding up a Hindu place of worship. The narration shuttles between Anwar’s present and past, between which there’s no connection apparently. In snapshots from his past, we see his relationship with a Hindu friend (Udit) and how his friend looks at his community, as an outsider. His past also has a failed love angle, and also his relationship with another friend (Master Pasha), who’s happens to be a struggling actor. His present is focussed on the scene of action: a temple where he’s sought shelter, surrounded by media, politicians and the police who all believe he’s a terrorist. The movie also has some sub-plots going on, in the politician’s, journalist’s and the cop’s lives.

There a sequence in the movie which appears between scenes and shows Anwar dressed as Krishna running behind the girl he loves (Mehru), who’s dressed as Radha. This scene has been shot very artistically and creates a good hand-over between Anwar’s past and present.

But it isn’t these plots (which are simple everyday stories) that make a statement, it’s actually the backdrop against which the film is shot! The movie takes a bird’s eye view of current times, and shows the idiosyncrasies of today’s society. The reflection, in my view, is a tight slap on our faces, well deserved by today’s media, politicians and citizens. Realization is the first step to corrective action, and reflections like these are ugly but most effective.

The movie in its backdrop covers multiple topics:

  • Attitude towards minority communities
  • Politicians and political groups creating News for gaining mileage, making issues where none exist
  • The Media reporting what the perception is, instead of digging up what the reality is
  • The cops who’re puppets in hands of politicians and their goons
  • Moral policing by political groups

Sidharth Koirala, as Anwar, looks more pretty than his sister Manisha Koirala (LOL), who plays the role of the jornalist Anitha in the movie. Sudhir pandey does an OK role as the politician. Vijay Raaz (as Master Pasha) and Yashpal Sharma (as the cop) are brilliant, as always. Nauheed Cyrusi plas the role of Mehru, who’s the girl Anwar loves.The only thing I didn’t like in the movie: certain dialogues and sequences were stretched too much beyond what was required, which was breaking the flow. I expect movies like these to be very concise and crisp, which wasn’t the case at several points in the movie. Also, Rajpal Yadav’s character (Gopinath) wan’t needed at all in the movie and was irritating.

Overall, a beautiful movie, Go watch it!

Festive Blues

Oh it’s a time for joy & happiness
….Of celebrations, parties and letting go
But my heart, it seldom obeys rules
….It wants to let Joy decide when it wants to flow

If joyous times and sad times were in our hands
….We wouldn’t ever want to undergo the latter
But life’s not like that, it’ll give you a taste of all
….To life, your preferences don’t really matter

And now the festive wave has passed
….Souls like me can breathe easy then
Emotions can flow again without guilt
….And I’m free from expectations again

The holiday season is officially over, it’s Jan mid and it’s back to business. And I’m happy to be free again.

“Free? Weren’t you free till now?” …. you may ask.
Well, not quite, I was in shackles for a few weeks.
“What shackles?”
I was in the shackles of people’s expectations.
“What did the people expect from you?”
Well, people expected me to be happy all the time
“What’s wrong with that? Is that too difficult for you?”
Letting people’s expectations drive my emotional state is what’s difficult
“But everyone is happy, you should be happy too”
I “might be” & “can be”, but the problem arises when someone says “should be”
“I don’t get it”
OK, tell me this, who created a second?
???
I mean, who came up with this concept of a second, a pal, a shahn
Maybe some man long back
And who said 60 secs=1min, 60min=1hour, 24hrs=1day and 365/366 days=1year?
Probably some mathematician long long ago
OK, and why do you think the guy did that?
To divide time into finite parts
And why would someone want to divide time?
To plan better
Plan what?
Hmmm, to plan things better, things like when to wake up and when to sleep, when to plant crop
Ya, but what is the planning with reference to
The Sun?
Yes, and more actually. The sun, the planets, the solar system, the cosmos
Ya, Ok, I’m with you so far
OK, so time was divided to align man with nature, you agree?
Yes
Now lets come back to 1 person, any one person. Can you define when he’ll be happy and when he’ll be sad in terms of a formula?
Hmmmm
Ok, think of astrology! Astrology is all about finding that formula for each person, based on date and place of birth, and using that formula to predict the future.
Ok
And what else is the formula based on?
Planetary positions at time & place of birth and at time & place when you’re predicting.
Right, so we have nature again playing a role here.
Right.
OK, based on this, different people will experience phases of joy and sorrow based on the relative planetary positions between their birth time and now.
Right.
Now, let’s talk about festivals. Who created festivals?
Our ancestors, and festivals are region-specific.
And what were the festivals based on?
Different things, some season changes, some based on lives of great men who lived centuries ago
And what do u do during festivals?
Different things for different festivals
What’s common between festivals?
Everyone is supposed to be happy?
Now, keeping in mind the (probable) driver behind human destiny (phases) and emotions (fluctuations between those phases) and the fact that man created months, years etc. to divide time, Do you think the entire population of a city or of a religion or of a country can be going through a happy phase at the same time?
Maybe
But how fair is it to expect everyone to be happy?
I dunno
Most probably, just some of the people in the group are happy
And the rest?
They’re puppets of other peoples’ expectations. They’re happy because everyone is “supposed to be”/”should be” happy.
I get your point.
Some people are artificially happy due to this expectation/pressure. Some others who don’t want to force their emotions go into a shell during festive times
Ok.
So the festive season is over, I’m free from expectations and it’s time to come out of the shell.
Welcome back.
Hello World!

P.S: Festival blues or Winter blues is a milder form of Seasonal Afflective Disorder (SAD) , which is a psychological disorder in which the patient suffers from extreme depression during the winter/fall season.

Some links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seasonal_affective_disorder
http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/11/not-in-the-holiday-mood-it-might-be-the-blues/
http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/11/beating-the-holiday-blues/

A matter of respect

Theres always an argument when we compare culture of India with that of the West.

The general perception is “kids in India are taught to respect more than those in the West”. I dont agree; in fact have beliefs to the exact contrary. I believe Indians respect age while in the west, individuality is respected. Indian kids are taught to bow and touch the feet of elders. How many children actually know the reason behind that action? Very few (I didnt)! Still, kids grow up touching elders feet and then they pass on the tradition to their kids, minus the reasoning*. Dont get me wrong here – I dont have anything against age-old customs and am sure there would be valid reason behind the action. What Im against though is respect with too many “where” clauses.

Lets take some examples:
In India, if you meet an elder (outside of the workplace) whos not related to you, you would probably address them as Uncle/Aunty. In the west, you would address them by their first name. By placing elders on a pedestal, we cage them in our expectations. Elders in India are expected to conform to a typical image set by the society. We start setting standards for what an elder should or shouldnt do. In the west, everyones privacy is respected and what they do in their life is no-ones business but theirs.
An example: A person in their fifties remarrying in India would raise quite a few brows in India, whereas in the west, no-one interferes.

Indian society tends to set the norm for “when” people should do “what”. Out here, if youre 30 and still single, your relatives would be very worried and would express their concern at every possible opportunity they get. If you married for a few years without kids, people would be curious about “whats going on”. And you get asked over and over again till you come up with something that satisfies their expectations … for the time being that is.

I once attended a session on cross-cultural sensitivity and was delighted to know that in America, its considered rude to ask someone whether theyre married. Wow, I wanna go to the US of A!

We tend to judge people by their profession and tend to look up to people or look down upon them based on what they do. So, a driver, a steward, a cleaner would be treated like an untouchable, someone inferior whereas an executive as an equal or superior. In the west, people arent judged by what they do, no work is considered low. Its nice to see people interact freely with people they meet in their daily lives with no hang-ups about what they do. People are not afraid to take a break from work or to try a different profession after a few years.

In the west, basic courtesy is shown to even people you dont know. People wait for pedestrians to cross streets, people give way to others in lifts, corridors, even on busy roads. If someone snicked against your arm by mistake, most people would be courteous and apologize.

People are disciplined and respect queues, rules, protocol. Often, youre delighted when strangers smile and say Hi as they walk by. In India, there is major havoc on this front too. Rules are broken without much thought, we jump queues, push our way through anything and everything: buses, lifts, roads, malls, restaurants. Look around consciously and you will see even the so-called-“educated””creme of the society” honking on roads, driving on high-beam, parking in reserved slots, grabbing seats for the handicapped in buses and trains.

Lives are lived selfishly, oblivious to the existence of other people around. We feel pride in saying we are religious but if you go to any popular temple, youll see people pushing other people aside to pay their respects to The Almighty, to reach Him, to touch Him. What about the divinity that lives in each one of us: in you, in me and in the person you pushed aside to speed up your “darshan”?

Then, thinking of all this, arent people in the West more respectful than we are?
Is touching elders feet any good if we dont have an iota of respect for people we work with, live with, travel with? Arent we in shackles of other peoples expectations? Is respect for an elder any good if we cage them with our expectations and refuse to treat them as individuals?

I guess each one has to figure that out on their own!

* http://www.swaminarayan.org/faq/charansparsh.htm

Pizza Do-Pyaza

I love Pizza, but I never used to find anything fancy about it. It was a simple recipe: grab a flat pie of bread circular in shape, spread cheese & tomato paste and throw in vegetables, maybe some processed cold meat too. Bake it in an oven and there you have a pizza. Well, not quite … you might argue! The pizza, in today’s avatar, is much more than just a simple snack. It’s a foundation on which innovative ideas are being applied, and a few million rupees of advertising bucks too.

More than a decade back, when I tasted the pizza for the first time, it was at a small bakery in New Delhi. When I took the first bite, there was lightening in the sky and time stood still. Well, not really! But yes, I had my first pizza at a neighborhood bakery and honestly, I don’t remember the experience clearly so I guess it wasn’t anything extraordinary. But I do remember that I grew to be very fond of baking pizza at home. It was a simple recipe and the end-product was interesting too. I remember treating my sister to many a home-burnt slices of Pizza. The microwave hadn’t come out in the market back then and we had the conventional oven in which it was difficult to figure out when the temperature got too hot.

Since then, I’ve seen numerous creative brains trying to do things to the good old pizza and making consumers pay for their creativity. The mission, should anyone choose to accept it, was to sell the Pizza in India. And so, the fun began.

First they saw the pizza base: plain Jane & not sexy at all. Mr. A attempted to change the pizza base from circular to square and renaming it to Pizza sandwich. It didn’t work. Then Mr. B figured that the pizza base lacked identity, and tried to stuff it’s insides with cheese. That impressed people but made the pizza base feel very sad & bloated. Mr. C took a clue from that and figured out that if veggies get to eat pizza base stuffed with cheese, non-veggies deserve chicken in the base. The bones were spoiling the shape of the base, so they decided to go with Chicken Ham. Mr. D noticed that the pizza base was putting on weight so came up with the idea of thinning it down, and so the Thin Crust was born. The pizza base today feels insecure in our country and is fast losing its original identity. Then they saw the cheese and tomato and alas, it failed to impress them much. They moved on to the toppings next and instantly saw vegetables. “If Vegetables are fresh, so will be the pizza”. A great idea, and they tried to create a brand called Freshizza. Then one fine day, a regular guy was cooking up a quick meal at home and realized that all he had in his refrigerator was a pizza base and leftovers from last night. He put his culinary skills to test & Eureka!!!: the idea of Indian pizzas was born … Tandoori aloo Pizza, the Murg Makhani Pizza etc. I’m sure that the road that lies ahead promises an adventurous ride on a plate (literally), the Fat Man predicts that Samosas and Dhoklas will soon make appearances on your Pizza.

Well, the Pizza is not a very complex product and numerous diversifications had been tried already. What remained was the price & presentation. Massive wars have been fought between competitors on these two fronts. Carefully laid out combo deals, discount coupons, Happy hours, guaranteed in-time home delivery: it’s amusing to watch that majority of the marketing campaigns don’t talk about the product at all. But they do guarantee that they will deliver in 40 minutes, whether or not the toppings arrive on the pizza base or piled-up in the corner of the box. They do claim that you will get 4 pizzas in 200 bucks, the pizza base may be stale though. There will be 9 toppings on the pizza, but did someone mention what quantity of each.

In the war for selling Pizza, each brand has established its own brand image and corresponding place in the market too. Some brands have the infrastructure to deliver a decent product at a high cost though, but they are too fascinated by Indianizing the Pizza. Someone else has an OK product but doesn’t offer a dine-in; home delivered pizza when reheated in a Microwave doesn’t taste as good. Someone else sells awful stale pizzas but priced cheap, if that makes you happy. When you find that the product is satisfactory, pricing is right, taste is authentic, you come to know that the chain doesn’t have a budget to print menu fliers; you have to take pains to connect to the Internet & refer the menu on their website while ordering for home delivery. Makes you wonder whether that’s a strategy too … working for their rivals maybe.

Marketing wars between competitors is expected and natural too. But, ruining the product’s identity in order to sell is pure manipulation.

One of the many definitions of Marketing is “the commercial processes involved in promoting and selling and distributing a product or service”. When marketing begins to influence the product’s identity, it crosses the line principally, even though it might manage to sell. The true test of marketing is to sell a product as-is, without distorting it. If we have to convert the good old pizza to a product that has a base stuffed with rice & rajmah and topped with daal makhni and shahi paneer …. well, then we should accept that either the product or the market segment being targeted is not quite right. If the consumer wants Rice, rajmah, daal makhni and shahi paneer, you can give the customer what he wants and save My-Dear-Pizza the sacrilege.

Look beyond the Pizza and you will start to see a similar trend all around. International chains like Subway & McDonalds have a prominent Indian section in their menu. Some see it as a positive thing for the Indian cuisine, but is it really so? An Indian restaurant becoming popular in the west may be something positive, but indianizing international cuisine to reach out to volumes: definitely not.

The Fat Man likes the good old pizza and loves Tandoori Chicken too, but Tandoori Chicken on Pizza, No Thanks!