Friday, March 25, 2016

#ThatDay .....

I attempted one-liners for this prompt. The second on is personal, while the other two are based on some harsh realities many people face. Do leave your feedback. Thanks!

That day, it rained so hard, not a drop of water was left to drink.

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That day, I bid final goodbye not just to my father, but to my childhood as well.

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That day, I couldn't stop crying as I saw the child-bride say goodbye to her toys.

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Written for IndiSpire #110

Saturday, March 19, 2016

पाठ पढ़ो और याद करो - Learning to be learned

Once upon a time, there was a teacher who decided to go to the market to buy some goods. He had four disciples who eagerly followed each and every word of their master. They tagged along with the teacher to the market. The teacher instructed that they would not stop on the way at all or else they would be late. The students said, 'Ji Ha...'.

They started sitting on a bullock cart. The teacher fell asleep. After some time, a group of naughty monkeys interrupted their passage. The cart swerved and the teacher's 'pagdi' fell from his head. One student thought that they should stop to get it but others refused since the master had instructed them not to stop, come what may. Hence, they kept going on. After a little while, the master felt the hot sun on his head and got up. In a rage, he asked, 'Where is my pagdi?' The students told them what had happened. 

'You fools. Turn around and get me my pagdi. And from now on, if anything falls from the cart, pick it up.'

'Ji Ha', said the disciples.

The master fell asleep again. After some time, the disciples, to their utter horror, discovered that the bullock had pooped. The students looked at each other and realized that their teacher had asked them to pick up anything that fell from the cart. So, they stopped, picked up the droppings and started again.

The master got up after sometime and smelled the dung. He was angry and asked what happened. 

'You said that we were supposed to pick up anything that fell from the cart'.

The teacher shook his head in rage.

'You fools. Throw it away and wash yourself.'

Then he wrote a list. 'Pick up these things only if they fall - Jar of rice, basket of fruits, pitcher of water'.

'Ji Ha', the disciples nodded.

The master fell asleep again. 

It so happened that there was a big pit ahead and the cart toppled throwing everything and everyone on the ground. The teacher fell into the pit. The goods were scattered everywhere. The students got up and checked the list. They picked up the basket but left the fruits, the empty pitcher and the jar of rice, leaving the rice on the ground. That was what the paper said.

The teacher cried for help. The students were confused. 'He said we are supoosed to pick up only that which is in the list and nothing else,' one said..

'Yes, he is testing us. We must score well.' Others agreed.

A woman was watching all this from a distance. She took the list and threw it to the teacher who then wrote his name on the paper and returned it to his dedicated students.

The students then helped the master out of the pitch.

'We will go back home now, you fools'. The teacher thundered.

'Ji Ha'. The disciples agreed and turned back.


The story in a very humorous manner tells us what happens when students are expected to follow certain styles of instruction without asking questions. Getting good scores is the end each one aspires for. Real learning is lost along the way. It is not necessary to have good scores and be an excellent knowledgeable person in life. Rote learning is shallow learning. It can get good scores but can in no way ascertain a good understanding too.

I wrote a poem on this, which I am sure all kids will love.

पाठ पढ़ो और याद करो 
अच्छे नंबर से परीक्षा पास करो 
जब मैं बोलूं तो उठ जाओ 
जब संकेत करूँ तो तुम बैठो 

प्रश्न पूछना मना यहाँ 
टीचर को गुस्सा आता है 
पर मम्मी कहती बिना प्रश्न 
सबक निरर्थक हो जाता है 

काश कभी ऐसा होता 
किताब के पन्नों से बाहर 
सम्राट अकबर ही आ जाते 
कुछ किस्से बीरबल के हमें सुना 
बुद्धि का पाठ सिखा जाते 

उत्तर तो हम सब रट लेंगे 
पर तर्क न जब तक आएगा 
जीवन में शिक्षा का उपयोग 
साकार नहीं हो पाएगा 

अंकों से नहीं खेलना हमें 
चलो बाहर हम चलते हैं 
एक हाथ में रहे किताब 
और एक हाथ में रहे कलम 
कुछ कक्षा में किया पठन 
कुछ स्वयं निरीक्षण करेंगे हम 

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Written for IndiSpire Edition#109 #Education System

Thursday, March 10, 2016

तुम मुझे सार्थक कर देना

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कुछ रातों से तुमने मुझे बहुत भिगोया 
कभी मसल कर कभी कुचल कर 
कभी यूँ ही उछाल भी दिया 
मैं सुन रहा था वो दर्द जो कहीं चुप-चाप तुम्हे सताता रहा 
तुम अकेली नहीं थीं 
जब कभी मचल कर मुस्कुराती थीं तुम तो तुम्हारी ख़ुशी भी जी थी मैंने 
आज तुम्हारा दर्द भी जी रहा हूँ 
वो कांपते हाथ 
वो आँखों से गिरता गर्म पानी 
वो सिसकियाँ 
वो माथे पर बनी चिंतित लकीरें 
वो थकी हुई निगाहें 
जो नींद को ढूंढ रही हैं 
मेरे पास ले आओ उन्हें 
क्या पता उनकी तलाश यहीं खत्म हो जाए 
जो चैन जो सुकून वो आँखें खोज रही हैं 
कौन जाने उन्हें मेरे स्पर्श में मिल जाए 
और क्या पता तुम्हारे सपनों की थमी उड़ान 
को यहाँ पंख मिल जाएं 
आओ तो सही 
बस एक बार 
मैं भी तनहा हूँ तुम्हारे बिना 
तुम्हारी आदत सी हो गयी है मुझे शायद 
सिंगार रहित 
बिन आभूषण
उलझी उलझी ही आ जाओ 
फिर मिल कर कुछ सपने देखेंगे 
मैं तुम्हारे आंसू पौंछूंगा 
और तुम मुझे सार्थक कर देना ...... 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Good Daughter

Three cups of tea lay on the table untouched. The cookie jar sat next to the cups, undisturbed. The chirping of birds outside was crisper, owing to the silence inside the house. Meera wondered what to do. Her husband was out of town owing to some office work. His job was very demanding. Her daughter Naina left yesterday for her first job to the States. Meera had been so busy packing up everything for her - from her tooth-brushes to her dresses, from her shoes to everything she might need for the kitchen.

"It would take time to settle in Naina. You must have everything when you land so that you don't have to run here and there for small things." Meera had told her daughter.

"You worry so much Mom. I will be fine." Naina had protested just like any other girl her age. But she knew deep in her heart that her mother worried for her since it was the first time she was going so far from her.

The farewell was heart-rending for the mother. She had spent her entire life around her only daughter. As the plane took off, Meera remembered the umpteen lullabies she had sung to Naina. She recollected the many times her daughter fell while learning to walk. She relived the many moments they would look in the mirror admiring each other in their new outfits. Her first smile, her first tear, her first accomplishment, her first failure, her first love, her first heart-break, her first mistake - Meera had lived through it all. And now, she stood there waving good-bye to her little bird as she flew in search of her dreams.

Meera had returned to the empty house. Her past two decades of life had been her daughter's. She opted out of job as she wanted to give in her hundred percent to her little star. She would prepare breakfast for her, and wake her up for school or college. She would make her favorite dishes, buy things as per her daughter's tastes. Her friends were treated with some luscious delicacies. It was fulfilling for a mother to see her daughter smiling.

But now, what was she going to do? She had no appetite. She did not prepare breakfast. She looked out the kitchen window. This was the place where the two would often stand and talk for hours, watching the outside world go about its business. They would crack jokes at some weird sight, and have some serious discussions too. Today it was all silent. No-body was there to talk to. 

Meera cleaned the last night's dishes. She wiped the kitchen counter clean. Then, she went to the bedroom and straightened up the pillows that she had tossed here and there thinking about Naina. She looked at the watch and wondered how long she would have to wait before Naina's plane landed. She switched on the TV and incessantly changed the channels. Then, she turned it off. She went back to the kitchen window and stared blankly. She turned and headed towards her daughter's room. Th door was ajar. Meera peeped in, as if hoping to find Naina inside. All she met was nothingness. She traced her steps back to the kitchen. She started peeling some potatoes absent-mindedly. "What will you eat today Naina?" She muttered to herself in the dead silence. Just then the phone rang. Meera ran to pick it up. Naina had reached safely.

"There is something in the drawer for you." Naina told her mom.

"Stay safe Naina. Eat well. Take care of your health. Keep calling...." was all the Meera could say.

The call ended. Meera was relieved. She started chopping potatoes at a faster pace. Suddenly, she remembered the drawer. She ran to open it up.

There lay a letter, a pen and a book.

On the letter were the words:

When it rains outside and there is no umbrella, I will imagine you covering me in your aanchal. When I feel hungry, I will eat thinking that you are feeding me with your hands. When I look out the window, I will talk as if you are standing next to me. When I sleep, I will hold the pillow tight as if I am holding your hand. I will take care of myself for you. Promise me that you will too, for me. I want you to write, every single day, a letter for me. I want you to take up all that you gave up many many years ago. It won't be easy, but as you taught me, it is not impossible to do something if you have a heart in it. Read every night, as if you are reading to me. Begin with the book I am leaving. I know you will like it. And please Mom, take care of yourself, for me. I will miss you.....

Meera's hands were shaking. Her eyes all welled up. She took a few deep breaths. Then, she looked at the book. The title brought a faint smile on her face. It read : The Good Daughter

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P.S. - Three Cups of Tea is a book written by Greg Mortensen and The Good Daughter is a memoir written by Jasmin Darznic.

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Lata Subramanian's A Dance with the Corporate Ton - Reflections of a Worker Ant

My first glimpse at the title of Lata's debut book A Dance with the Corporate Ton filled me with anxiety. I wondered if the book would appeal to my mind. I imagined entering a clueless world dominated by finance and its correlates. The word 'corporate' conjured up an image of formally clad, high-heeled, 'properly'-attired, 'airy' individuals speaking in a jargon unintelligible to me. The word 'Ton' reminded me of 'automaton' and everything it symbolized - automatic, mechanical, artificial, unemotional, rigid and unpliable. With so many misgivings, I started reading. But then, there was no looking back. I thanked my stars for having picked the book.

Buy here

The book can be categorized as a memoir as well as a case study on behaviors in the corporate world. It can also be read as a diary of a doting daughter. It can be a metaphor for an ambitious bee fluttering from one flower to another in search of an elusive nectar. It looks into the notion of invisible power structures that dominate us from within and from outside. We are very social beings. And in order to avoid ostracization, we try to fit in. We are molded willingly or otherwise, into certain structures and hierarchies.

A worker ant looks at it all. She observes, participates, rebels. But she cannot get away from the colony. She is, after all, an ant.

The book's cover design and the title are well-matched. The 'cloned' individuals tap their feet, hand-in-hand to a common tune. They are 'dancing'. They are so straight it seems as if they have starched their clothes while wearing them. Stiff, standoffish, eyes closed in indifferent oblivion. The book is an exploration of this dance, and the background tune. The 'ton' or the "elite of the Georgian society" have found home in the contemporary corporate houses that cater to certain mannerisms.

Lata introduces herself as hailing from a Tamil Brahmin family - 'Tam Brahm' it becomes for whatever reasons. Her parents have a volatile temper. They are rebels to a certain extent, but they are also careful carriers of the legacy they have inherited from their parents. The culture Lata grows in, is a mixture of freedom and restraint. She goes to school, oily-scalped, dreams of Prince Charming, reads Enid Blyton, watches Hollywood movies and listens to the Beatles and Saturday Night Fever. Troubles brew at home. She mentions some bluntly enough to catch you off-guard. Other times, like the corporate boss, she decides how much you 'need' to know, with a terse
"Never mind why. That's not the point of this book."

Humor forms a significant part of the narrative Lata weaves. It is evident in the jokes she cracks at her own expense. Speaking of meritocracy in a world that is pigmentocratic (society where wealth and social status are determined by skin color), she watches herself in the mirror and accepts her not so fair complexion.

"I discovered that I wasn’t good looking when I went out into the world to look for a job."

" Well, will you believe me when I tell you that the interviewer in question pointed to my one crooked tooth and said, “You have a crooked tooth? Our requirements are that crew must have straight teeth.

Her look seemed to say,Who is the idiot who thinks she can work in advertising”?

Her being a woman, working at a time when not many of her sex were in the 'higher' rung of the corporate world, helps her see the politics of patriarchy at work. The objectification of the female body, the use of heels, her own 'voice' that is her succor, are actually ways to control, and employ assets to their best advantage. Bemused over high heels which are an important part of the formal attire, Lata asks

"Or were the confounded instruments of torture designed by devious men and women to keep women off balance and always in their place?"

The use of language and actions/gestures are also crucial in the grooming of the corporate brigade. As the worker ant climbs up the ladder, her increasing dissatisfaction arises from the widening gap between her 'natural' behavior and the highly polished coatings of corporate cultivation.

"We all wear masks. The few who never quite get the hang of the art, I’m afraid, never quite fit in."

"The spatial and mental distance between employer and employees is not new. History is witness to this management philosophy existing since time immemorial."

There are normative rituals that help define a company's mantra. They intend to keep the workers secure in their place. Their ambitions are kept under check too, as happens in the Gulf-Air case. The workers act as pawns, protecting the king like in the game of chess, an analogy Lata uses later in the book. Even the culture of perks and applaud is strategic. It ensures the engagement at the lower level, while instilling a false sense of indispensability and hard-work in the minds of the worker-ants.

Lata's book ends with a note on the 'ton' that will dominate our lives soon - The Robot. In the book, Lata has painfully recollected the incidents of handing 'pink slips' to people who have become a liability or no-asset to the company. When individuals are laid-off, without prior notice, when internet wrecks havoc, so to say, in the lives of the hitherto employed families, it indeed is a bitter pill for her to digest. But now, with the arrival of robots, things appear even gloomier. While Lata hopes to see more 'Mindfulness' in the current business affairs, she also wonders, given the facade of the advertising industry, if it will end as a gimmick too. And when the artificial intelligence takes over the human mind, will creativity and compassion breathe their last?

There is a story towards the end of the book - The Robotics Emperor. It is a sharp commentary on the world that is taking shape. Driver-less cars, people-less streets, vanished empires - is it a modern rendering of the old Midas story? The ruminations of the Robotic emperor are partially a saving grace. Its ability to think on those lines leaves room for hope, but this is just a story. Will reality nurture such possibility? It is hard to answer that question.

The social conditioning on the human mind  that ( as Lata realizes) has been an important player all through her life, is a given. It is a given for all of us. The trappings we fall for account for our failure and success, both of which are measured by the same 'conditioned' mind. Dreams of a unicorn in the business world are deceptive but have stayed put in the present world. Are they going to end up as wild goose chases for the ambitious but blind and aping youth? Lata ends on a questioning note.

As I finished reading the book, I remembered Somali's words. Somali observes that this book is "a must read for young professionals, particularly for women professionals" as well as "Senior Management Professionals". (To read Somali's article, click here) I concur with that view. But the scope of the book does not stop here. It can be read as a commentary on the way power works in various strata of our society.

Power is, as Foucault has observed, "a complex strategical situation in a given society". It works implicitly by evoking a response of acceptance. Discourses are created, language employed towards that end. Institutions dissipate knowledge that make current ideas synonymous with truth. Discipline is a tool that only endorses domination. The corporate boss knows everything. He can see everything. He functions like the 'Panopticon', "to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power". (Foucault, Discipline and Punish) Training institutes are nothing but grounds for 'grooming' and 'breeding' - metaphors used extensively throughout the book to stress on the fabricated identities of the modern world. The subject, that is the employee, is unable to see through the sham. Brands shine so brightly, they blind the eye. There are perks handed out, there is "Management Cat Walk" where students "auction themselves off to the highest bidder", willingly singing the "dum laga ke haisha" mantra. You "instill a feeling of pride" to "encourage" the employee to "contribute". That is the spectacle of power working internally. The parade of perks is a puppet dance (remember the title of the book!). The employee is the puppet.  

"When you are too young to know any better, the acquisition of symbols of success tend to serve as markers of that climb, signalling to yourself and the world that you have arrived or are on the way to doing so."

One final word on the illustrations. The serious issues raised in the book are deftly balanced with its brilliant illustrations. A look at just the artwork drives home the many points raised here. And come to think of it, they are very much in keeping with corporate humor. The black and white cartoons are evidently satirical. They are also in keeping with the office humor comic strips popular in the corporate world. Remember Dilbert? I am not sure what prompted Lata to use precisely these cartoons to enrich her book. Was it to lighten up the dark mood or was it a 'marketing/advertising strategy', I wonder.  Was it a deliberate adoption of the 'language' used and understood within the corporate walls, just like the French words that pop up in the 'ambience' of worker ant colonies? 

Do you use the right words in office?!!! (Image Source )

Lata hopes to see a change in the corporate world. She hopes to see resilient, aware employees and more involved bosses. She hopes to see all this leading to "real life gains" for all. Will it be possible given the unstoppable robotic era we are entering? Will it be possible to create "a habitat of happiness", as Chip Conley speaks in this extremely interesting talk. (Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile) Will it be possible in a world of automatons, devoid of feeling, hell-bent only on performance and excellence?

The answers are not easy to find. 

The review has been accepted as a Guest Post on Marketing Buzzar. Click here.