Movie Review: Agneepath works… and quite well too

The first 15 minutes of Agneepath set the pace of the movie. Right from the idyllic Mandwa, to masterji and viju’s relationship, to viju’s deep rooted anger, and the two key lesssons – Pehelwan, and Ageneepath. Things happen fast, and then Kancha enters the screen. Kancha is a villain of the Gabbar Singh era. When he walks in, there aren’t too many other people that you notice on the screen. He is huge to the point of being grotesque, evil, insane, and cunning. He would not stop at anything to get his way. Things happen, and Viju is now in Mumbai. Now comes Rauf Lala. Its difficult (for me) to imagine that the ultimate candy star who survived the eras of many superstars can be made to look so mean and gross. You hate him. You hate his character. And in the middle of all this, the biggest thumbs up goes to that little boy Vijay (Arush Bhiwandiwala) who beats the crap out of Hrithik Roshan’s Vijay Deenanath Chauhaan. The anger, resentment, fearlessness of younger vijay overshadows the sad and despondent anger of the older Vijay. That does not mean I have anything against Hrithik’ portrayal. This would probably be one of his best performances till date (I haven’t see Guzaarish). But, this was one place where Amitabh’s Vijay was difficult to carry off. Amitabh’s Vijay was angry. Hrithik’s Vijay is as angry as he is sad and melancholic.

Agneepath of 2012 had a lot of weight to carry on its shoulders. Much like that scene where Hrithik lifts the bulky humongous frame of Sanjay Dutt. I read somewhere that he “really” did lift Dutt while doing that scene. I saw yesterday that Agneepath 2012 did lift the weight of Agneepath 1991. Commendably so. I would be a prude if I were to intellectualize the whole experience and find flaws with this version. Bottomline was that while the movie was on, I really enjoyed it. Agree, it’s a little long drawn, but hey!

The movie has its share of flaws. Few more loopholes than the earlier one. The 1990 version was a very intense movie, which but for the couple of Mithun-Neelam moments was fairly charged. This movie makes the same mistake, in somewhat greater proportions. The Romance of Mithun-Neelam is replaced by the Hrithik-Priyanka romance and the birthday song was definitely avoidable. Also, based on what I’ve seen of Hrithik so far, he can pull of the torn/sad hero quite well, but he is not the “angry young man”. On hindsight, I can picture Ajay Devgan do a better job of that. One sequence where the entire audience holds its breath in the 90 version, is when Shiksha is abducted by Shetty and Vijay runs through the narrow lanes of Dharawi to get to Shetty. That scene, despite a far more powerful Rishi Kapoor this time, does not have the same intensity. And the end, dramatic as it was in the earlier version, is a lot more idiotic this time (and I don’t meant Sanjay Dutt on top of Hrithik, literally speaking true though)

However, it’s a movie worth watching. Excellent performances from the lead cast including Priyanka Chopra. Arush (younger Vijay) is absolutely top class. Dutt and Rishi Kapoor are exception. Hrithik is brilliant and Priyanka is just about right. Zareena Wahab, Om Puri, Kanika Tiwari (Shiksha, played by Neelam in 1990 version) are all well-cast. The editing is good except for a few places and the movie moves at a very engaging pace. Some of the sequences are beautifully shot (especially the Ganpati Visarjan shot and the scene where Sanjay Dutt is dragging Master Dinanath Chauhan). Music, except for a couple of unnecessary songs, does not hamper the pace of the movie. Background score is good.

End Note: Brilliant masala movie with a lot of entertainment and some absolutely brilliant performances. 4 on 5 for me. Watch it, I say. 

डर और उम्मीद (Fear and Hope)

आज की रात
हवाओं के परों पर
गिरती दिख रही है
कोई परछाई…
मुझे अँधेरे से डर नहीं लगता है.
मगर ये जानता हूँ
अंधेरों की परछाइयों को
कितना वक्त लगता है…

ढलने में, पिघलने में.

नहीं कोई घर बना है
मेरे डर का.
न कोई उम्र बाबस्ता हुई है
मेरे डर की.

मैं ये भी जानता हूँ कि
सुबह की रौशनी
अब उस किनारे है
जहां कुछ लोग
आवाजें दिया करते हैं उस को
जिसके ये सारे इशारे हैं.

मैं उन आवाजों में
ढूँढा किया करता हूँ
कुछ गजलें.

जिन्हें तुमको सूना कर
कुछ नए से
रंग भर दूं.
अपने डर में
अपने डर को
काबू कर लूं.

कोई कहता है की हंस दो
डर पे या मुश्किल पे …
वो डर जाते हैं.
उन्हें लगता है की
ये कैसा दीवाना है…
कितना सयाना है…

जो मुरझाए हुए फूलों को
दे के
उस सनम से कहता फिरता है.
की ये ले –

इनमे न ओस की बूँद
न खुशबू का शुमार है.
मगर ये सच की इक डाली है,
इक पुरकैफ बहार है.

की जिसको थाम कर
तुम से समझ जाओगी की
नहीं होते हैं पाँव
डर-ओ-मुश्किल के
नहीं होते
नुकीले हाथ उनके.
उनका तो बस होता है
धुंधला सा चेहरा.
वो चेहरा
जिसको उस रब ने बनाया है.
और चेहरों से क़त्ल नहीं होते,
तुझे किसी ने उल्लू बनाया है.

यही कह कर वो छोटी से परी
आँखों से ओझल हो गयी है.
वो बादल की परछाई
आँखों से उतर कर
झील के पहलू में
सूरज का नया इक अक्स ले कर
इस सुबह फिर
ढल सी गयी है.
जिंदगी फिर से
सहल सी हो गयी है.

Book Review: The Wednesday Soul by Sorabh Pant

It’s been a while since I reviewed a book. But the blogadda.com book review program and the fact  that I signed up for reviewing will make me come out of my slumber. And the book getting unveiled is “The Wednesday Soul” by Sorabh Pant, who is also a stand-up comedian by the day.

Plot Summary: The book is primarily about the afterlife experience of Nyra Dubey, a female vigilante , Chitr Gupta, a higher mortal/ demi-God, and their super-powered nemesis, Kutsa. The broader blurb is available on the publisher website. But in short – Girl is a vigilante, meets and likes an interesting guy one night who’s apparently invulnerable and can read people’s innocence in their eyes through a score, has a nemesis who’s despatched a few too many people to the nether world. Girl like guy, nemesis kills girl, guy and nemesis die in a clash. A whole battery of support characters come into play as the afterlife world is constructed, while the broken fragments of the mortal world come together as well. Etc Etc.

The concept of a “Wednesday soul” or “Sunday Soul” though, I believe, is driven off our expectations and evolving lifestyles. The mid-week peaking frustration making people suicidal to the Sunday being the most sacred of all days. Nyra, the central character, is a Wednesday soul, people who subconsciously drive themselves to death (say, by overworking, over-eating, putting themselves in the path of danger).

Liked : Many of the jokes and potshots. Right from Lenin spewing Russian comedy to Indian PhD in queues, to Agatha Christie connecting with Inspector Sharma in Sanskrit. The pace is fine, if not submerging. You can finish off the book in one go (or two). Its not a very complicated story, and you can get the sense that there are several ideas introduced in the book that can easily help you create more stories/ books around them. The book is irreverent and there are no holy cows in the book. And that’s where the books biggest strength is. The funny potshots at everyone and everything.

Did not like: The story at large and the narration leaves much to be desired. Far too many loop holes in the story (the character of Harithi and her ability to score cadavers for instance), and fairly incoherent storyline (Inspector Sharma’s character, or Agatha’s link with the world starting off with British English in Harithi’s head and Sanskrit instructions later), the idea of “Thinkers” viewing what’s going on in the world, but not being able to locate the Third, and the missing Sunday Soul. However, the thing that really got me was the editing and printing of the book (at least the edition I have in my hands). It’s a mess. So much so that it reminds me of Times of India. For instance – the editing jumps refers to a flying eledactyl (an elephants -pterodactyl) as Air-Awat, Ayr-Awat or Ayrawat at different places. Insignificant editing errors such as these are present in significant numbers across the book. The bigger peeve I have against the book is actually the quality of editing. The narration and character sketch is hardly consistent. Inspector Sharma graduates from good English to grammatically incorrect English in the later half. The beings do not exist in the same plain consistently. A weird character (in the earthly sense) like Chitr Gupta, fighting off goons in a lowly locality of Delhi thinks of Grey’s Anatomy and Literary Jokes in his head. There’s a subliminal level of awareness that makes most characters speak in the same language/style and intonation and binds them to the same awareness about different things, issues and people. 87 rewrites do not seem visible from an editing lens I think.

End Verdict: At 250, this one session book seems very steep. For an INR99 kind of price established by Chetan Bhagat, this book could have been a passable read. It’s a book that showcases Sorabh’s abilities as a funny person, but not as a narrator/ story-teller. What really works is that Sorabh is a stand up comedian, a funny guy, in short. What really doesn’t work is that the book does not go much beyond that. It’s a series of gags, puns, pot-shots woven together. The book has some extremely funny moments, or gags as I’d rather refer to them as. But I wouldn’t mind missing out on this book. The book is like a DJ mix of spoofing and puntastic commentary on the world beyond and the powers that be. You may dance the night, but you won’t remember why.

********************

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

Wake Me Up When You’re Done

(Warning: long post.
Disclaimer: Views are completely my own and independent of any of my personal and professional associations)


Another season of recruiting is almost about to come to an end. And this season again, I had the privilege of interacting with our bet for the future (the IITs, IIMs, etc.)

Lest people call me a pessimist, let me call out the positives first. The resumes and the interests these young students have are a lot more varied. The number of funny little clubs and posts held by students has increased too. And I have been pleasantly surprised to find a large number of them actually doing some work as part of those responsibilities. People have, generally speaking, started being better at speaking the working language- English. Their spoken English has improved with the advent of sitcoms like Friends and Two-and-a-half-men. They are more ambitious. And now, I think I am stretched too thin.

I have gradually come to hate campus recruiting. Companies have lost it (with 10-minute interviews to select, hoarding students in a corner so that other companies cannot meet them, etc.). And students have totally lost it (most of them come unprepared, with a lot of attitude, and want life to served to them on a platter). But most importantly, it reinforces my belief that our education system has become dumber since I graduated (and it wasn’t smart then either). The number of students who walk in and give you the impression that they are a mistake (on the part of their campus and their own self) and that they just don’t deserve to be sitting in that room has increased. I remember back in 2004-05 or so, campus interviews used to be more exciting and challenging, because the choice between really smart cookies who are passionate enough to give it their best shot was an interesting problem for us. It was a problem of plenty. These days, we have loads of people who might have been smart in 2004-05, but have since decided that they are done being smart or hardworking. Now they want things to be served on a platter to them, by Google or Facebook preferably. More people retweet than have their own share of links to share.

Anyway, based on the last few years, here is what I would suggest to the future breed of students. Assuming that they are not all about – I am god’s gift to humanity and I need to be treated such. And that being someone who looks at them from the other side of the table, I might have a couple of valuable inputs to offer.

1. Be realistic. Consulting/ Private Equity etc. are glamorous, but across the premier firms, the best case scenario is that some 60-80 people from your campus are going to be placed in these firms. At an IIT, it means only 8-10% of the people. And that’s the best case. Are you likely to be one of them? What have you done to deserve it? Before you ask questions like “why do you only look at grades?” and reveal that you don’t have good grades, ask yourself questions like “what have I done that tangibly differentiates me from others” or “What are the three reasons that a company X should hire me for?”. And, those reasons need to be NOT something that your entire campus will quote as differentiators.

2. Prepare. If it isn’t too much effort, do not watch the 55th rerun of Friends or Two-and-a-half-men or something like that. Instead spend an hour talking to your seniors about the interviews they had and what worked and what did not work for them. If you follow step 1 well, then your target list of companies cannot be more than 15-20 company long. Across 3-4 years, taking out 15-20 hours to read about these companies should not be a big effort. Assuming that the games, and EPL/F1 schedules allow you to. I know there is so much to invest time on and so little time.

3. Prove that you are smart enough to not repeat like everyone else – I want to do consulting because I am a good problem solver, and it offers me a lot of variety. The number of times field consultants may end up being at the same client for 3-5 years is not funny. Many senior Partners build successful careers by helping grow relationships at a single client by being that credible partner who is not bored of going back to the same client and solving their problems. Also, many-a-times, the job is about doing things right over and over again for a very long period of time, without losing your patience with a client, and that problem solving that gives you the kick in consulting, may end up being about 10% of the first 5 years of your life. Possible. Thought about it? Never? Why?

4. Learn to speak well. That guy next to you who occasionally talks in good and proper English (even on Facebook) is not pansy. Not even a “chom”. He or she probably has a better chance of having a more client ready conversation than you. Unfortunate, but the fact is that your ability to have a good conversation is about two things – listening first, and speaking second. Not speaking first, and not listening because you are the smarter one and can get away with not listening properly. Practice. In front of a mirror at times. Take those opportunities to be in front of an audience. And don’t worry too much about the “accent”. Even your bihari or tamil or bong or gujju or dally accent is fine, as long as you speak slowly, and clearly.

5. Be humble. God, in his infinite wisdom, has let so many people take birth that most of us have not bothered to keep the count of (unless we are doing market sizing). And while most of us are so, there are precious few of us who deserve to be treated as god’s gift to humanity. The person who is interviewing you from the other end has almost as much a right to be that gift, as you do. And both of you have no such rights, by the way. A 5-50lakh job does not make either of you extra special. So, stop acting like a snob. Give respect, get respect. That open button, that loose tie (bad knots), unclean shirt, unshaven look, punk dishevelled hair, etc. – yeah, we all were thirteen once!

6. A job is a relationship. If you did not get through, the company did not deserve you (in a good or bad way) and you did not deserve the company. If you want it badly, analyze and prepare again. Keep knocking politely. If it was just a backup, move on. Companies act big because you’ve made them something bigger than what they are. Just as IIT/ IIM students tend to act big, because companies have made them bigger than they are. In a relationship, both the parties commit and invest. Show your investment first before you expect the other party to invest.

7. Likewise, a job interview is an interaction. People ask you cases because they experience cases. People ask you mundane questions because life, in general, has a lot of mundaneity. Do you know how many times a Partner in a consulting firm might have to answer that dumb question – tell me something about yourself” in a day? With new clients, to new people, at new forums, without being prompted with a question, they always introduce themselves in a way that makes it interesting and relevant for starting a good conversation. Give a cue. Get people interested in your story. It’s your chance to sell your abilities and fit with your client (the interviewer). It’s ok to flirt without being cheesy or corny. Show your wit without rubbing it off snobbishly. Be relaxed, but not frivolous.

8. PLEASE set right expectations with your parents and yourself. Those newspaper articles that suggest a 70L salary to a B.Tech graduate etc, we know the truth, right? 2 people across forty three thousand five hundred colleges mass producing over a million engineers every year? Dollar salaries multiplied by 50? Median salary of the batch is still 6-8 lakhs at an IIT, I believe? On an average, an average person cannot be better than the average. Also, you were better than the average to get inside a premier college. That does not mean that you are still better than the average in the lot that you are studying with now. Chances are that more than half of you will be below average (not median), assuming pareto rule applies. So, if your parents and your society is going to harass you because you did not make the headlines, the real answer is that IT’S ABSOLUTELY FINE IF YOU DID NOT!!!

9. Use common sense. If you can. You have it. Just learn to use it.

10. Lastly, use your five sense. If you’re boring the person in front, stop. Right there. And adapt. It’s a date going wrong. If the interviewer has lost interest in your story, there could be a chance that they have lost their interest in you.

Otherwise, just wake ’em up when you’re done boring. You might’ve hit some oil that they failed to notice.

Aapki Yaad Aati Rahi (Makhdoom/ Chaya Ganguly)

Here is a ghazal by Makhdoom Mohiuddin and beautifully rendered by Chaya Ganguly.

What follows is my feeble attempt at a literal translation (hoping that I don’t add my interpretation to it)

Aap ki yaad aatee rahee raat bhar
Chashm-e-nam muskaratee rahee raat bhar

The night was haunted by your memories
And my teary eyes smiled all night long

Raat bhar dard ki shamma jaltee rahee
Gham ki lau thartharatee rahee raat bhar

The candles of pain kept the night awake
And the flames of sadness kept flickering all night long

Bansuri ki surilee suhanee sada
Yaad ban ban kay aatee rahi raat bhar

Ah, the sweet soulful yearning of the flute
Kept tugging at my memories all night long

Yaad kay chaand dil mein utartay rahay
Chandni jagmagatee rahi raat bhar

As the moons of a memory would set in my heart
The moonlight kept shining like a beacon all night long

Koee deevana galiyon mein phirta raha
Koee aawaz aati rahi raat bhar

A forelorn lover kept wandering the streets
And a voice could well be heard all night long

*************************************************************
When Makdhoom died, Faiz wrote the following lines in his memory (“Makhdoom ki yaad mein”–Faiz Ahmed Faiz)

“Aap ki yaad aati rahi raat bhar”
chaandni dil dukhaati rahi raat bhar

The night was haunted by your memories
And the moonlights made my heart bleed all night long

gaah jalti hui, gaah bujhti hui
shamm-e-gham jhilmilaati rahi raat bhar

Restlessly, it flickered at times, at times it didn’t
The flame of sadness kept shining all night long

koi khushboo badalti rahi pairahan
koi tasveer gaati rahi raat bhar

A fragrance kept changing its body all night
And a portrait kept singing all night long

phir sabaa saaya-e-shaakh-e-gul ke talay
koi qissa sunaati rahi raat bhar

And again, in the shades of blossomed tree
A gentle breeze narrated some tales  all night long

jo na aaya use koi zanjeer-e-dar
har sadaa par bulaati rahi raat bhar

The chains of the courtyard, with every call,
Sought him, who did not turn up, all night long

eik ummeed se dil behalta raha
ik tamanna sataati rahi raat bhar

A hope kept my heart at bay
And a desire kept burning within all night long

(Faiz–Sept 1978, Moscow)

Chapter 4: Iti Kaand (The Final Chapter): Boomerang

Finale of the story. Chapter 1, 2 and 3 posted earlier.

******

His head was buzzing. After trying to call Caddy for the last three hours for some work and failing to get through, he had called one of his reports. That’s how he came to know. He immediately checked in on the others. He could not get through to any of them. Sweating profusely, he checked the news articles from the local newspapers online. Four victims identified. Fifth not identified. But the photograph? No mistaking him. And her. All five of them were dead. This couldn’t be a coincidence. He immediately left the office. He felt like puking. But he had to get away. Before anyone noticed. He took a taxi to Marine Drive. On a weekday afternoon, it doesn’t take long to get there.

He had been staring at the ocean for the last eight hours since then. But all he could feel right now was a dark emptiness. And fear. He had gone through all the details a few times over. Finally, around midnight, he felt convinced that his living in a narrow street of Mumbai, as against the others being in different parts of US would make him untraceable. It was easier to track bloody Americans. Serves them right.

He took the last train back. Usually, these trains are deserted. The compartment he picked was quite, and there were 5-6 passengers sitting in different corners of the compartment. He stood closer to the gates trying to get some fresh air. The distance between Churchgate and Andheri can be quite a bit when time is not on your side. The world seems to desert you at Dadar. Or join you. Tonight, it didn’t. By the time, the train inched into the Bandra station, there were only three of them left. As the train left Bandra, the other two had moved closer to each other. For a moment, he wondered if they were after him. They were having a conversation in hushed voices. At Vile Parle they got up. By the time, the train left the station, they were standing very close to him. He could see that one of them had his hands in his pocket. His mind was playing tricks with him. Or not. The limbo can kill you, without really doing nothing. Or, by doing nothing. The train had gained momentum. The two had started necking. He felt comfortable. At Andheri station, he got down. They did too.

He walked hurriedly to catch an auto-rickshaw. Just as he was about to get down at his apartment in a not so dreamy suburb of the city of dreams, his cellphone started ringing. He hated the default ringtone. He did not know how to change it though. He took out his wallet with his right hand as he picked the call from his left hand. He did not recognize the voice at the other end. Just as the voice asked him to, he turned around. He could see two autorickshaws comings. Both of them stopped right behind his autorickshaw. From the first one, the couple from the train got down. They either were a couple that had a fight before they came aboard the train at Churchgate, or there was a price tag. It would be good to know the price tag. The other auto had an old men getting down. Is he the one? How long do I need to wait? “The couple”, the voice on the phone answered the question he did not ask.

His heart skipped a beat. The couple came closer. The man had his hands in the pocket. He could feel his heart beat louder, and the world around him slowed down to a dramatic slow-motion as the man started taking his hands out of his pocket. He was aware of everything. The old man moving towards the main entrance of the building, the red ford escort pulling over in a distance, the security guards sitting by the tiny fire not expecting any visitors at this time of the night, the girl chewing on a gum which had most likely lost its taste if one were to observe the the wider and rhythmic motions of her mouth, and pulling something out of the hip pocket of her faded navy blue jeans, his own autorickshaw about to take a U-turn and the driver bending down to spit on the other side of the road. He wanted to focus on the guy’s hand just as much as he wanted to run inside the building, but something about the twitch in the girl’s eye made him look at her. She was handing him a small piece of paper.

“Money was lost, Money was found.
What goes around, comes around.
1 played 5, but 1 played 6.
5 are dead. Are you in a fix?”

“Gotcha!”, the man said.

Chapter 3: Adi Ityaadi (Etc. Etc.)

Chapter 1 here, and chapter 2 here.

**

Adi had just turned around and left. His lack of bitterness seemed bitter than the anger that the others had felt. She watched him go towards the other apartment down the street. Just as she was about to close the door, she saw another person walk up to the doorstep.

“Found You!”

**

He turned around to leave. Lisa seemed to have left something unsaid. But he neither had the time nor the desire to know. It didn’t seem like anyone else was at home with Lisa. Adi had to hurry. And he hurried. The weather had not changed. The gloomy weather was not helping him at all.
He found 215 soon enough, across the vacant patch of land right next to 214. Just as he was getting inside 215, he thought he saw another man outside 214. He did not pay attention. He went in.
Thirty minutes later, he came out feeling better. He had got the job. Of a driver. Engineer by education. Driver. Seemed about right. As he walked past 214, his eyes followed the door of 214, and it was open. He looked down, to avoid making eye contact. The trickling blood was unmistakable. He traced it back to the door. Lisa was there. Dead. He couldn’t breathe. He stood transfixed for what seemed like an eternity. And then he noticed the guy coming out from the house.
“Gotcha too! Ain’t this my lucky day?”

**

Two men stepped out of a restaurant. As they walked down, they laughed at their shared joke. Happens a lot with people who’ve known each other for over a decade. Their jokes don’t seem funny to the man wearing the flat cap. The man in the NorthPoint jacket seemed to be smiling though. He would have plenty of time to explain/ tell the tales. Both of them, however, knew that they did not have time right now.

“Adi..”

Both of them turned around. Lifelong habit, this.

“Missed me?”, the man wearing the golf cap said.  Three muffled gunshots. Three dead bodies. And a flat cap by the pavement.

**

A cell phone was ringing somewhere. It was a distinct ringtone, the kinds that kids set up on their parents’ mobile phones when they are trying to record their own screams and shouts. He had three kids, most likely. At least, three young voices could be heard. He was a tall man. Wore Ferragamo shoes, swayed as he walked, expensive cufflinks on a custom stitched shirt. The carpet was an intricate Kurdish hand made work, which he had picked on one of his leisure trips to Turkey. He almost instinctively wiped his right shoe at the back of his left leg, arched his back suggestive of lower back disorders, and bent down to pick his mobile. He smiled as he recognized the number. He checked his watch, as he whispered dangerously.

“About time…”

The call lasted thirty seconds. He seemed visibly pleased. The only thing he said during the entire conversation was, “Make sure he knows…”

**

In the shadows of Mount Everest, there are several small villages closer to the India-Nepal border. These borders are so porous, that even the inhabitants don’t realize at times if they are a resident of India or of Nepal. People here will tell you that the mountains have memories. Elephants have long memories. Mountains, longer.

**

 

 

Tomorrow: The Final Chapter (Boomerang)

Cricket Can Be Like That

Long ago, I was working on a difficult project. The analysis had been difficult, the recommendations not too obvious, the storyline not so coherent. One of those engagements where V75 of the deck looks completely different from V01, and quite different from the final version of what is shared with the client. Intense debates happen. All the time.

At about 4 in the morning, we finalized the presentation. After 2 hours of going through pennies and dimes and the lines and the fonts and the colors and the boxes and the flows and words and the sentences, we sent it to the client. We were all sure about the great job we had done. We had couple of hours left to lighten up and get refreshed. We had a plan. And we felt good about it.

First 20 minutes were by the book. It was a good feeling. Then we hit the third insight on the sixth slide, which made us refer to slide 192 of the appendix section. That number was wrong! Shoulders dropped. We all lost a bit of our altitude and attitude. From that point onwards, for the next 1 hour 40 minutes, things were on the tenterhooks. We could not be sure any more. And the client was not sure. They double checked everything. They had a feedback about almost everything. We felt bad. We were not ready to concede our mistake so easily. They were not ready to acknowledge the work that had gone in. Everyone was unhappy. And we get into that mode of well, give us another chance and we will set it right. But some problems are just difficult. Sometimes.

Critics often remind me of clients. They are the gatekeepers of the collective insights, through their (right or wrong) opinions. A mistake, that nudge or that poking of that ball that you should have left, the ambitious loft, the failure to get your act together in the face of crisis, are dissected in every possible way. And if nothing else, the leader. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown.

What did I do when it was all over – I was terribly upset. I got all defensive initially. Angry in a bit. And finally… I don’t remember :-).  I would have liked to remind myself – Shit Happens!

Chapter 2: Adi Kaand (The First Chapter)

Continues from Part 1 here
Note: I had earlier thought of leaving Part 1 as a standalone. But I felt like adding more to it. So, it is no longer a short story 🙂 ).

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“So, you shot her?”

“No. I only agreed that I had good enough reasons. That does not mean I did. I have reasons to lose weight. That does not mean I have gone ahead and done anything about losing weight.”

“Funny?”

“Nah. Problematic.”

“Hmmm… Let me…”

He interrupted, “Let me complicate things for you a little more. There were five of us that night. All of us, potentially, have a motive.”

He hated his pedantic style. “Five? I thought only three…”

“Three were in the city that day. OR, so you thought. Way I see it, you were able to trace three of us. I was sure of the fourth being here as well. Fifth…”, his dramatic pause seemed like an eternity as he picked up the cup of coffee offered to him, took a long swip, and then slowly wiped the foam of his moustache, and slowly spoke, “ is here. Now I know it.”

He took a look around the room. He liked the cabin. He would have loved to have such an office. The large wooden desk, the expensive stationary, the digital photo frame on the right side of the table where he could see the entire family history of the man in front of him (not that he needed to). The ceiling was high enough, and the ambient lighting lit up the chestnut brown and white texture of the room quite adequately. This cabin was a geek paradise. With the exception of a neatly coiled power cable for a laptop vanishing into the recesses of his desk through a tiny carved out hole, he could see the entire room being completely wirelessly equipped. Expensive audio visual equipment, videoconferencing systems, a large LCD television, a zeppelin dock, a 20-inch screen connected to the laptop docking station, a gaming console and a neatly laid out stack of games, a duplex color laserjet printer,…

“Hmmm. And here I thought I was about done for the day. I know you’re not married. So, I don’t think you understand why I need to get out of here. And anyway, why the hell should I care?”. That seemed like his longest rant in many years. To his own ears. Once more, he wondered, how much he had changed in the last three years.

He did not like the interruption of his admiration.
“Well… sadly, you do.”, he coughed. And his voice trailed a little, “ And that’s your problem, not mine. My problem right now, is that you’re holding me up here. And so, let me just add one minor thing Adi.”

“Don’t call me Adi!”

You are a suspect as well. You can act all high and mighty right now with your attempts to trace a few things. But deep down, you know as well as me, that you are one of the five. Had you not called me here today, I would not have met the fifth, would I?  Yes Sir. Now the benzene ring is in place. I wish I could smoke here……. So, what were you asking me then?”, he continued as if he did not hear his protest.

“How did it start that night? I want to know the details Adi. Everything.”

“Funny you’d call me Adi. Far as I remember, there was only one person in our group who’d call me that. I prefer Maddy. Still. To your question though, that’s gonna take some time”

“Now that my Friday is screwed anyway, shall I order more coffee? Or, something stronger?”

“Do you want to do it here? On that, why would you call me to your office?”

“Can you make it work?”

“Can I smoke?

“No”

“Then….. NO!”

“…”

“Lets go get some dinner Caddy. You prefer that, right? From me?”

“From you …. ”

Three hours later, in a quieter corner of a high-street restaurant, two shadows were hunched on a table. In the fashionable dim-light that creates a wall of apparent privacy, a waiter had just refilled a wine-glass, cleared another glass, and replaced it with another – scotch, most likely, and was setting the plates for the main course. Just as the waiter left, he got a glimpse of them. It was difficult to hear anything, but he was sure of one thing. They were smiling. That same smile. He knew what that smile meant. They’d found the answer. At least they thought so.

He smiled.

 

(Coming soon: Chapter 3: Adi-Ityaadi (Etc Etc.))

Short Story: Ittefaq (Coincidence)

He had been carrying it around for the last three years. He had given up all hopes of meeting her. Ever again.

The alley was dark and the fragrance of small town summer rain was hanging in the air. It was a melancholic mix of a green life and urban aspirations, as the smell of burning gasoline mixed with the freshness of wet tropical soil and the sweet smelling leaves of a eucalyptus tree. As he turned into the alley, he was still not sure if this was the alley he was looking for. Looking for Apartment number 215 in a street where houses are not necessarily numbered in a sequential manner or properly (or both) on a day like this was not going to be easy. The thing he knew, though, was that he could not afford to be late. He hadn’t been successful in keeping a single job for the last 3 years. All because he could not be on time. All because he always had a lead that he wanted to check on.

He hurried forward. Someone looking at him from a distance would have found him to be suspicious. The way he was looking at the houses. The way he would walk up to a door, and then suddenly turn around and leave. He seemed anxious, desperate, in a hurry, had unkempt looks, wore a ragged overcoat, sported a rude and partially grayed out beard, and his winter boots had long outlived their utility. But then, there was no-one on the street to suspect his motives.

The property on the right side of the road as he took a left turn at the end of the alley caught his attention. The number was 214. But it wasn’t an apartment. It was an independent house, an odd presence in this apartment complex laden street. His Indian-ness got hold of him, and he decided to knock on the door and see if the residents here knew where 215 was. A habit his father had instilled in him. “Why waste time when you can politely ask?”, he would tell him in his gruff and muffled voice, a sound which seemed distant due to his constant paan chewing, beteljuice filled mouth. Good thing, this was largely an Indian locality. Wondering how he had never picked up that habit of his father, while picking up almost every other trait, he walked towards that house.

He wiped his face as he rang the doorbell. He could hear the footsteps coming towards the door. A lady wearing a gray dress and a pink scarf opened the door. She was in her early thirties.
“Excuse me, ma’m….”, he stopped abruptly in the middle of his mentally rehearsed question, just as he looked up to make eye contact with the lady.
A curious expression was on her face as she looked at him. It was a frown mixed with a smile of recognition. He, on the other hand, had a smile.
“What a coincidence, Adi!!”
“Lisa….”
“I just wanted to tell you….”
“I just wanted to tell you…”, they both stumbled on their confessions, but he continued, “that I love you. And I was there that night.”

His hands were inside his overcoat pocket. He took it out. And as he lifted it in his hands, every thought, every dream, every desire of last three years of waiting came rushing onto him. He could barely breathe. He braced himself.

No-one heard the gunshots. The man in the ragged overcoat turned around, and started looking for 215 again. He needed the job now.

 

 

(To be continued… )*

*T&C apply

Seeta Haran (2012 Edition)

Lady Seeta has just been abducted by Ravana. Ravana used his personal 747 to abduct her, an act he would describe later with as much pride as the counter-espionage stories of some intelligence operatives (once they retire, of course).
Jatayu, Lord Rama’s friend, spy and comrade, had sneaked in as Captain Jatayu on Rav Airways. However, Jats had no real flight time experience nor a valid CPL. He though, had an ipad, and he had pulled the wiki pages on “learn to fly 747 in 5 minutes”. Moreover, the real plan was to crash the craft over the ocean, with the hope that Ravana being a ten-headed imbalanced creature, will find it difficult to swim either free-style or breast-stroke (his heads are a hindrance for most swimming styles, he mused, unless he had learnt the dog style). Lady Seeta, on the other hand, born and brought up in and around Mithila (modern day Bihar) had experience of swimming during the annual flood season, so most likely, she will survive. At least till Lord Rama gets his cruise ship along. Worse case, Life of Piscean Seeta could be the next booker prize winner. Even worst, Lady Seeta’s latest cellphone is waterproof. She was just about showing how she picked it off ebay in an auction. She should be able to call for help assuming she is able to connect with the customer care agent (in time) and they understand what she is looking for (again, in time). Jatayu wondered for a minute whether the IVRs had put such help as part of standard navigation patterns.
In a twist of events, Ravana logged on to facebook from his seat (First Class privileges and all) and saw Jatayu’s status update – “Out to slay Ravana. Wish me luck.”. Ravana immediately liked the status and commented -“Wlcm bk. Itz bn sm tym luvrboy!”. Jatayu saw Ravana’s comment and started blushing immediately, much to the chagrin of his co-pilot Captain Sampaati. “Focus!”, he screamed. Jatayu immediately commented – “Ra.One.. delete the comment. Two. Spell properly. I am a #grammarnazi. Three. Can’t wait to see you. Four. I meant “slay”, not “lay””. Rama and Lakshmana liked Jatayu’s comment. By this time, entire vanar sena was unsure of Jatayu’s loyalties. He seemed like a double agent. At the same time, the possibility of Ra.Two to Ra.Four in 2012 made the Mayan prophecy seem true. It was going to be the end of the world. Sita’s hands were tied, and she wasn’t aware of this conversation. She was totally going to hate it later. She had tried using Siri, but Siri had not yet adapted to her Bihari English twang.

Jatayu’s plan was good, but he left his ipad in the cockpit in a hurry to jump. So, Jatayu jumped off the plane, thinking the plane would crash. But two things went wrong. He asked Sampati to put the parachute on his back. Sampati instead, sensing dange, put himself on his back. “Blimey!” is all Jatayu could manage before crashing heavily on the water and sinking deep.
Ravana, in the meantime, picked Jatayu’s ipad and learnt all about “learn to fly a 747 in 5 minutes” and took control of the ship, put it on autopilot, and tweeted – “Jatayu crashed. I am safe LOL! So mch 4 spel prprly”. Ram tweeted, “-1 RT @Ravana: “Jatayu crashed. I am safe LOL!””. Ravana Replied, “@Ram_Original: Thrz nuthn lyk ‘-1’ on twitter U twat!”
Lakshmana was furious. He started a new meme – #RavanIsGay. People confused it with #RaOneisGay and Ravana became the next Kolaveri/ Wilbur Sargunaraj. Soon, everyone was tweeting about Ravana and the, by now, G.one Jatayu. The big parallel debate led by @BDutt, in the meantime, was – if Ravana and Jatayu are on, then why was Sampaati on top of Jatayu under water?
Ravana grew furios-er. He had this uneasy feeling of coming out of the closet. For centuries that alternate-universe hogwash of Sita not getting violated by Ravana because of some celestial curse was about to be exposed. But he wasn’t a n00b. He immediately tweeted – “I will post my nude pic with @ipoonampandey soon. Hang in there”. Some tricks never fail, he thought to himself.
Rama was besides himself. He knew that he had to win this social media war to get Seeta back. But these were modern times. So, he could not continue playing fair. To hell with the Maryadapurushottam bullshit. Desperate times need desperate measures. He invoked his crown prince status. From his pack of pokemon cards, he pulled out a Kapil Sibal. Immediately, Ravan was censored and taken off air. So much for the 747.
Once grounded, Ravana was as good as that poor south Indian kid with a 16 initials long name (and a cute nickname of Subbu) introducing himself to a glam mumbaichi mulgi.
Vibhisana warned Ravana. “Bhraatr! This is the time to accept defeat and cut down the losses. This is social media and we can always get back at Rama. We will humiliate him. So much that Sita might start to follow you and unfollow Rama. Maybe as soon as 5 minutes later.” All the heads of Ravana LOLed. Meghanaad ROFLMAOed. Everyone laughed, except Kumbhakarna. Kumbhakarna was a laggard. He was still proof reading his blog post about the tragic demise of Tataka and Khar-Dooshan, which he thought will generate a lot of traffic for his blog. And maybe some sympathy for the ruling party at Lanka-Shire. Somewhere, he still hoped to get rich using the adsense thingy he had learnt from a 5 year old blogpost at TechCrunch.

Do they even want to play?

Several years back, when I played competitive sports for the last time, I was still in school. I did not play a lot, but like every cricket playing kid in the country who focused on studies, I truly believed (at that time) that I sacrificed a fledgling cricketing career at that time.
Nevertheless, I was playing the school league cricket tournament back then. When I started representing the school, I was only a fringe player, waiting for someone to get injured or unavailable so that I could get a chance to play. Practice seemed a drab affair and the matches were the real deal. And occasionally I got my chance to play. It were those chances that I wanted to make my own. I knew that I would not be the strike bowler. And for most part, when I was playing the first match ever, people expected me to not bleed runs, rather than take wickets. However, on my part, if I wanted to play the next game sooner, I needed to be better than that. I needed to take wickets and not bleed runs. I was eager. I was tense. I had planned things in my head many a times and things were supposed to work perfectly. And I had no idea who I was bowling to. But as long as I bowl the perfect delivery I would get the wickets. I had a plan.
Except, the plan did not work. The plan was dependent on my ability to bowl a particular line and length with the appropriate amount of turn and flight and drift, and my expectation of what the batsman would do. First over, the plan did not work. For more than one reason. And that’s when I had my first realization. The need to adapt. The second realization came in a little later. You need to setup wickets at times. Its about playing it in the batsman’s head as much as its about planning it in your head. And more importantly, its quite possible that the dude on the other end is going through similar emotions. So, you will get hit. A swallow maketh not a summer. Neither a boundary destroys your career. However, with every run scored off me, I wanted to fight harder. I would sometimes flip into the run saving mode. At other times, I would want to get that batsman out the very next delivery. And I made mistakes. And of the many that I made, there was one that I did not make – I did not stop trying. I did well occasionally, and not so well on other occasions. But I was satisfied. Objectively speaking, I’d not have made a good cricketer, but I was not an unsuccessful one while I played (with all the boxes ticked while I was still playing).
Why am I writing all this today? Because when I watched the bits and pieces of the previous test match at Sidney and the one before that, it seemed like we had a perfect side capable of winning the test matches, but we were not trying. Not hard enough. And I know that’s not a good place to be, if you really want to win. It seemed like I was watching a team going through the motions. I remember a funny window. Gautam Gambhir in the second innings seemed positive, and got a few nice drives and strokes in. And then Dravid was clean bowled. We had a drought after that. For 50 odd deliveries, not a single run was scored. I can believe that the bowling was good (even though the pitch was flat and had nothing to offer to the bowlers). What I cannot believe is that if you want to rotate strike every now and then, you are not able to. Not the kind of batsmen who were on the crease at that point. We sent out a message. That we could be dominated. And we were dominated. Again.
Are we a bad side? I don’t believe it. Is Dhoni a bad captain? I really don’t believe that either. Let the analysis paralysis happen. I actually believe that he is a great leader, and there is more to come from him. Did we play bad cricket? Yes. Individual or collective? Collective.
My saddest observation right from the England series is that our team does not want to be on the field. The matches we won in India were also not because our team suddenly wanted to be there. It was because the other side was playing bad cricket. And with the crowd rallying, sometimes the theatrics kick in when they are playing at home. But, as a team, most of them would rather be at a beach drinking cocktails than be sweating it out. That’s a dangerous mindset. Oversimplifying it, it’s the same feeling that I’d have about going to office every now and then. But oversimplifying it again, I know that once I am on the job, I better be on the job and not elsewhere.
I really don’t see the team coming out of this rut for the next two tests. It will continue in the one-dayers as well. Once we are back home, we will win some. And we will lose some. But this team needs a psychological conditioning more than the athleticism that Harsha Bhogle is recommending. Or maybe, a break. Sometimes, you’ve got to let Lee Germon be the captain.

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