Is it evil?

In the last few weeks, I have come across three somewhat disturbing stories. All relate to start-ups in Mumbai.

 

In the first one, someone told me that a co-founder X of a successful start-up A was involved in a car accident. He was driving. There were three other people (employees of the start-up, I think) in the car. One died on the spot. Another one died couple of days later. The driver (X) was booked by police for rash and negligent driving. He was later released on bail. The start-up otherwise receives a fair bit of media attention these days. Except that this one news item did not get as much coverage. Interestingly, the “add-on” I heard was that X was trying to flee the scene after the accident, after the car apparently hit the divider and went towards the other side of the road. It was only after some passer-by saw what had happened and reported it to the police that X was booked for rash driving. Apparently. Last heard, X was out on bail. While it is not exactly clear why the accident happened, but “fleeing the scene” bit makes you wonder.

An important thing here – Those who are in the front seat typically have their seat-belts on. That explains why 2 of 4 survived the accident. Those in the back seat were the ones who did not make it through the accident. Remember that when you’re in the back-seat the next time. Accidents don’t happen with a lot of warning.

 

In the second incident,  a young, struggling but passionate group of individuals running a start-up (Startup A) have found it difficult to hit the big league. They work in a niche space. And in that niche space, they recently came up with a great proof of concept. This idea, they knew could work well for another company, a successful and well-funded startup (Startup B). So, A went shopping for their first customer B. A knew that sooner rather than later, B would want to have such a solution in their portfolio. One of the guys at A knew a senior guy at B. After showcasing the solution, which the big boys at B liked, the big boys at B decided to ask their in-house team to make it on their own and (additionally) try to poach the team-members of this struggling start-up. Individually, all the co-founders of A were approached for a job, so that they could build this idea inside B as part of their job, and for a better “salary” than what their struggling startup was making.  And lest I forget, B had only recently gone through a phase of screaming rats on another start-up a few months back for apparently stealing their idea. A is working on the idea, but has been reasonably scarred by the experience.

 

In a third incident, the CEO of a successful and well-funded startup run by a very young team sent a rude and profane letter to a VC big-shot calling the VC unethical, inhuman, etc. The context, at least, as explained by the VC later, revealed a “perceived” poaching of an employee from the start-up by the VC. The letter/email was apparently leaked by an insider on the internet (one can keep wondering about the reasons why it was done). Several questions emerge – Irrespective of the truth behind poaching, was the CEO right in sending that email to the VC? If he indeed did send that mail to the VC, what made him copy some of the other folks in his organization? Or, was it the VC who got someone else to put that letter on the internet? The VC by the way is not invested in this particular start-up. The world at large had a field day reading the shikwaa and jawaab-e-shikwaa. But in the process, a large majority agreed on a few things – the brashness/foolishness/ arrogance of the CEO, and the potential impact this action may have on some of the outcomes around that startup being not so favourable for the CEO.

 

 

All these stories are about young guys who have hit the big time very early in their life. One of the things that I remember from a Harsha Bhogle speech at IIM-A (search for the youtube video – its a gem) is that one should never grudge anyone their success.

Are they  idiots? Are they evil?

One can not help but feel that they have not been able to handle this huge success, this fame and this over-exposure. Or, maybe, these are just growing pains/ stretch marks that come when you grow too fast. That adrenaline rush of Virat Kohli? Or, maybe, they live a life which is infinitely more stressed than mine.

However, it raises another question – do these young high performance individuals need mentoring? To be under the wings of seasoned CEOs who can tell them all about weathering the lows that eventually do happen, or about grace under fire, while enjoying the highs that life has to offer, and without losing their sanity in this joy ride. There is no doubt that these are very very high performance/ high talent individuals.

 

At a personal level, the second incident bugged me the most. Accidents do happen, even when people are careful. There are moments when you fly off your handle. You can patch up some times, and some times, you can not do much move on. But nothing justifies why you should try to steal someone else’s idea. Not when you were in a similar boat a little while back. Not when you know what it means to be young and struggling. Not when you know what it means to get a fighting chance for your idea. That, to me, is evil.

 

 

 

Book Review: City Adrift – A Short Biography of Bombay by Naresh Fernandes

I take my words back. When I referred to the book earlier, I had mentioned that it was a dry read. I take it back.

CA1Summary: Go read it.

Back in the early 90s, when I was a school-kid in Ranchi, I was fascinated by some of these guys who’d know fairly great details about the girls they had a crush on. They’d know the typical schedule they keep, their walk and talk times, their teachers, friends and foes, where they lived, where they ate, their parents’ history, blah blah blah. How? That’s the question I always struggled with. What I knew for sure is that their crush was supported by a huge volume of research painfully collected and organized over days and weeks and months of following the girl everywhere. On a cycle. On two feet. On a scooter. In the morning. Or the evening. Effort. Love. Dedication. Single Minded Focus. Oh… and there was heartbreak too!

City Adrift gives you a feeling that Naresh loves “Bombay”. He still doesn’t like the city being called Mumbai.

Over the years, I have had several fascinating conversations about the city of Mumbai/ Bombay with several people, most of whom I believe knew a lot more about this city than me. The landmarks, the emotions, the stories behind the daily places, and what-nots. And like most great cities’ history, Mumbai’s history is fascinating. And most of these conversations often become a rant about how bad things have become, and how the city is doomed. We, the all knowing, take prophetic stands, based on all the wisdom those conversations bestow upon us.

Alas, I knew not much.

As you flip through pages, the first few pages worry you. It seems like Naresh is building up on a rant about a depressingly true facet of the modern Mumbai– the real estate prices and the emerging “townships”. However, the deftness with which it starts unfolding layers after layers of the city’s evolution is remarkable.

Naresh takes you through the key moments in the coming together of the seven islands that form Bombay, the reclamation of land that’s still not complete, the cultural and ethnic evolution, the insiders and the outsiders, the haves and the have nots, the current and the forgotten, and the now and the future – with stories and anecdotes that only someone who’s done extensive research on the subject can provide. It manages to avoid the possibility of the book becoming a long rant about the current state of affairs. At the same time, it never gets stuck so deep in a piece of history which has become irrelevant that it remains of interest only for people who love history. The book is surprisingly contemporary in its coverage. One of the fun references in the book – the average speed of cars in Mumbai often is less than 10kph, which is about half the speed of the winner of the annual marathon in the city. And yeah – all the digs on the real estate adverts are fun.

As he navigates from the then to the now, you understand better what he means by the city being adrift – a tiny goal-less, direction-less, vision-less, rudder-less speck in an ocean of humanity – and a terrible heartache is all that you are left with. Like the cliche goes – beautiful girls marry dumb jokers. Mumbai has had her share of administrators and politicians.

Pick it. Read it. Enjoy it. Great investment if you want to understand the uniqueness of this city… And the uniqueness of its challenges.

Theater Watch: Aadhe Adhure is a tragic and touching play

Aadhe Adhure is a brilliant play by a brilliant author – Mohan Rakesh. You have to read some of his works to understand what you might be missing out on by not having read enough hindi literature.

The play was staged by Prime Time Theater Company and stars Mohan Agashe, Lillette Dubey, Ira Dubey, Rajeev Siddharth and Anushcka as the Nath family – Mahendra, Savitri, Binny, Ashok, and Kinny, a family torn at the seams.

Binny ran away from her home at a tender age with a man she thought she was in love with. Ashok is an aimless young man. Mahendra himself has been an unemployed man, and is a house husband. Kinni is a 14 year old girl not happy with making so many compromises in her everyday life, and crossing the threshold of being just a kid. And Savitri is the bread earner of the family, a woman with many wishes and desires from her and a woman who is perennially unhappy with the fact that the others in the family are not doing their bit. Not enough.

The first half of the play takes you through the threadbare relationships in the family, with Mahendra deciding to leave the family one day (which he does quite often apparently), and Savitri deciding to not care about anyone else’s but her own wishes. The number of times things are left half said makes the plot intriguing and you keep looking for the dirt that has been swept under the carpet. The secrets that every family has, the unexpressed emotions that often explain the expressed ones better.

The second half introduces two new characters – Jagmohan and Juneja. Jagmohan is from Savitri’s past and Juneja is a friend/mentor of Mahendra. How the endgame takes you to a very subtle understanding of human desires and how people keep looking for something more than what they have. The meaning of “Aadhe Adhure” is revealed here. That is what the play is all about.

As a cast, Mohan Agashe who plays 5-6 different characters (including Mahendra, Jagmohan, Juneja, etc.) , Lillette playing Savitri and the Rajeev playing the son are the pick of the lot. Rajeev has the angst of KayKay Menon, the way he carries himself. Lillette is the center piece of the play and is wonderful in her portrayal of a middle class woman, conservative in her life but liberal in her mind and actions. Mohan Agashe, with his subtle changes across the different characters that he plays is phenomenal. The personality swifts from the forgetful but lecherous boss to the playboyish Jagmohan, to the pedantic Juneja, and to the broken/frustrated Mahendra are extremely well played out.

It’s a two act play, and the set (which is the Nath household) is detailed but static. In fact, it is one of the more detailed sets that I have seen in recent times. Maybe, because, it must be a fairly old play. And the set is true to a low income household from a few decades back.

This one is not a comical fun play. Rather, it’s a play that makes you think too hard, and I am sure the Experimental Theater at NCPA (especially the side balcony seats) is not the best place to enjoy it from. But it’s an excellent play and must be enjoyed.

 

I would strongly recommend watching this one.

Day 8: Talegaon (Goa) to Mumbao – RoadTrip Conclusion

When we got up in the morning, we fell in love with the place. R&S live in a row house and in the morning, with a bit of fog still hanging in the air, their backyard opens into a field. The greenery, the freshness in the air. Oh it was so great. Last question was asked to confirm that the cost of living is actually very low. Biwi is seriously thinking about Goa as a settlement destination! But all business ideas in Goa end up vacation themed.

The drive started somewhere between 9 and 9:30 and ended at ~7:30-8:00PM at home. Distance covered -~600 kms. Route taken – Talegaon, Panji, Sawantwadi, Amboli, Kolhapur, NH4, Pune, Mumbai. The last 400 odd kms were on NH4 which made it quite a fast drive back to Mumbai. Quick queues – during the monsoon, Amboli and Sawantwadi should be beautiful destinations to relax. Even otherwise, driving through the desolate ghat roads here was good fun. On the other hand, crossing Pune was a bit of pain, as well as a sudden realisation that the city is changing or has changed dramatically. It is no longer the small beautiful town that seemed a good settling city given its lifestyle, development, education and so on. Right now, far as you can see, you only see construction happening. Apartments, complexes, malls, etc. The entire highway is surrounded by them. And their ad hoardings, of course. Somewhere, the small-townness of Pune has gone AWOL.

***

In the morning, after getting enough overt and covert abuses from R&S about the #eipcfail-ness of our plan to drive back to Mumbai, rather than stay over for another day to chill out in Goa, we left their place around 9:15 or so. And this was the first time in the trip that we actually left something at some place. My watch, a phone charger, biwi’s scarf, and my bluetooth headset. Why? Even I am not sure. I know that we wanted to leave in time, since the prospect of a 12 hour drive at this instant was not really appealing to me. The back had started troubling. Biwi wasn’t that well this morning either. And a day at Goa would have done nothing really to make the rest of the trip easier. Yeah. I know. Our fitness levels are at an all time low.

Till you exit Goa, the traffic continues to bother you. Its only as you start getting closer to Sawantwadi that the driving eases up. From Sawantwadi, you take the exit towards Amboli and enter the ghats. There is hardly any traffic on this road. This moves towards Gadhinglaj, Nipani, etc. before merging into NH4 between Kolhapur and Belgaum. Some of the road around Gadhinglaj etc is not awesome. The last stretch just before you hit NH4 is especially painful. And it lasts about 15 kms I think. Nevertheless, you hit the NH about 40 odd kms before Kolhapur. We stopped for a quick bite at McD on NH4 just before Kolhapur. Biwi casually remarked about the freedom with which four college students (girls) drove in on scooties to hang out at McDonald, and how that was so completely unimaginable back in the days.

From Kolhapur to Pune is a reasonable breeze of a drive. Pune was a little painful. We hit Pune at about 5PM, and had to brave part of the office traffic on the highway as well. It took us about an hour to cross over and hit the Mumbai-Pune expressway. After that, as you know, hitting Belapur is rarely ever a problem. Thankfully, today, even Belapur did not pose a problem. The only jam as we headed towards Powai was the road that connects this Thane highway to Airoli bridge. There is some construction work going on, and it took us about 25-30 minutes to finally get on the Airoli bridge. The Powai gods were smiling on us. They did not give us traffic today. In lieu of that, they gave us a scratch on the car as delivered by one of their devout bhakts – a cement mixer truck. It wasn’t major, and I was sapped out to get into an argument at that point. Plus, the car had to go to the body shop for some pending work anyway. We took the scratch prasadham and reached home.

A total of 2920kms over 8 days.

As biwi summarised – Excellent scouting trip. Gave us a lot of places to reflect on and plan vacations for the rest of our life around. Not the best leisurely vacation she has had, but she can live with the fact that this was required to plan the next one better. Biwis and planning, I tell you!! But for once, I actually agree. I guess I am getting older. Wait. I am sure I am getting older.

In a nutshell –

  • Everyone should do it.
  • Everyone should learn from our mistakes and plan the timing and duration of driving better. Avoid driving after sunset.
  • Unless you are four guys who don’t really care where you sack (including the possibility of spending a night in the car itself), make your hotel bookings before hand. Forces two things – quality as well as schedule.
  • More than one pro-driver is a good idea. Message for biwi – more practice and more practice before the next trip. Message for self – if not, identify which driving friend is also a good road trip company! 😉
  • And identify significant break points. Places where you will break for at about 36 hours. Helps “see” things.

As RoMa’s email signature said – Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead.

And yeah. Its December 13th – Happy Budday Didi!!

Next up – a back to back movie marathon featuring Hotel Transylvania, The Hobbit and The Last Act. Show Timings have been checked. Thursday the 14th, here I come.

Day 2 : Hubli to Bangalore

So, we stayed in the Deluxe room at Tirumala Classic (also known as Dhammanagi Comforts) at Hubli. Breakfast was included in the rack rate. And the biwi and I had crashed rather early last night. Getting up at 4:30AM in excitement of starting this trip was finally hitting us, apparently.
We got up rather in time this morning (as planned) and were ready to leave Hubli by 7:30ish or so. Except that the breakfast would get served not before 8, which soon became 8:15 as per the best guesses offered by the hotel staff. Rather than spend another hour or so all decked up to leave, we decided in favor of checking out. However, the hotel staff was very friendly and offered to send the breakfast to our room right then. The offer was availed, but the delivery happened at 8:10 or so anyway! Indian hospitality has a way of biting you on your backside, you know. More often than you realise. Like that extra mithai that you eat on Diwali.

So, by the time we left, it was 8:45 or so. And this time round, we asked for the way to the highway rather than depend on google maps (our yesterday story on gmaps is in writing and shall be shared in due course of time). We hit the highway at 9:05 and started breezing through Karnataka after that. The destination was Bangalore – 403 ams from here. The next 250-300 kms were a breeze, and I think we were averaging 100+ kms an hour till then. Things slowed down once we reached Chitradurga. Work on the Golden Quadrilateral is not yet complete here onwards. In layman terms, it means that every 3-5 kms, you would be getting off the highway to drive a km or so as a diversion. Anyway, to cut the long chase short, we took about 4-4.5 hours to reach Bangalore outskirts, and another hour or so to cross the last 30kms or so to reach Whitefield where we are being graciously hosted by dear friends Amit and Shubha. After resting a bit, we had an evening bite at Alila and dinner at Chez Mariannick. Both the places are strongly recommended. At CM, you should go with the La Bergere pizza. Their chicken pizza was not that awesome. The veg one (La Bergere) was brilliant. Desserts are mindblowing too.

So, what’re the key takeaways from today –

  • Outer Ring Road is a colossal mess.
  • Some idiot has taken a lot of pain to design the speed breakers in Bangalore. They have been designed for the sole purpose of damaging cars and ensuring that no one even thinks about spending a lot of money on cars like Lamborghini or Ferrari. Those poor bottom feeding vehicles wont last a week in this city.
  • Also, in addition to the fuel expenses, you need to budget almost one rupee per kilometer on this highway as the toll fee that you’d pay at great frequency.
  • (This is for Mumbai folks only) – The houses and apartment complexes in Bangalore are huge!
  • And lastly, Bangalore is the only city where there are hundreds of Kebab and Biryani corners that specialize in Indian Chinese or Chinese Tandoori.

Mumbai Roads, Autorickshaws, and Zen

I enjoy driving. Much as the city has tried taking the joy out of any kind of driving, i still am in love with driving. How? I don’t quite understand myself. So, I can’t explain. What prompted this post? This, I can explain.

See. This morning I dropped the car for servicing. It has suffered some body damage recently, but due to some problems with the RTO, I was not in a position to claim insurance, and hence the delay. That RTO problem will require a separate post. Anyway, since no car and break time implies that I shall travel and little more around the city, and shall have to take the auto rickshaw. This post follows as a zen like experiential memoir. You SoBo snooties, don’t bother with this post. You have too much money to worry about the problems of the commoners. Yes, we can eat cake if we have run out of bread. Kthxbye.

If you have ever felt any doubts about the exact shape, contour, smoothness, friction, etc of Mumbai roads, you should take an auto rickshaw.

The backseat of an auto is Buddha’s shrine. Or the antithesis of it. There is no need to say Om loudly, and feel its vibration, hence. Every inch of your body feels every possible vibration every possible measurable unit of time. Sometimes, your teeth chatter long after you have taken the customary pissing break in the middle of the movie (assuming you took an auto to get to the theatre). The silence inside an auto reminds one of Kiron Kher im Devdas. Shotti. If you needed something to focus on, you could use the auto’s meter. These days, it moves at a pace that reminds you of stationarity in motion. And then there is the fluidity with which an auto navigates this congested traffic. Great way of learning how to deal with life. Rules don’t exactly matter. If you are smart, you can scare the big guys. You can brake to slow down. Or not to let the other guy slow down. There is no harm in taking the longer route. Because the ever changing customer’s loss is the stationary in time rickshaw driver’s gain.  The customer is the king that rewards the prajaa. And once you have been in there for a bit, the Mumbai auto rickshaw has the capacity to drown out everything else from your life.

Yet the thing that teaches me the most is the Mumbai road. Life will not be fair. Yet it can be called so. Its ok to get it 50% right. Because the optimist believes in a glass that is half full. It also tells you that – Traveler, there are no roads. Roads are made by Walking. That the journey is sometimes more important the destination. Every day a large sea of humanity searches for the road less travelled. And a few succeed.  You will encounter a road bump or a pothole when you least expect to. That these constant up and down movements that seem to break your back are a blessing in disguise. Because what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or stranger. That you can stop a cavalcade with the power of an outstretched hand. We don’t need roads that resemble hema malini ke gaal. We have hema malini herself in the city. So the road shall resemble not her gaal,  but her wholesome self. Smooth? Are the state operators. Those who plan skywalks that need to be demolished soon afterwards.

Musings: The Morning After the Blasts (13 July 2011)

We are the children of a comfortable generation. We sit in air-conditioned offices and houses, and we have quips for everything. And excuses too. And it includes me. And it includes you, reading this and making faces.

Around me, there is a lot of ranting. I don’t relate to it. Not much. Not anymore.

Though I liked the crowdsourcing effort that happened yesterday. Where individuals pledged help on a spreadsheet. I’d be curious to know if people were able to reach out to them and avail of the help. Financially, emotionally, locationally, whatever. My fear is that #here2help is a noble notion, but a rather useless one. I tried signing up. Someone a lot more cynical than I can ever be, had already shown (via @nithinkd) why he deserved to be spanked at the age of three, and why his parents should be sorry they didn’t do it then.

My cynicism has turned a new page. My resolutions today have nothing to do with the society. They only focus on me. Why? Because I don’t think I will compromise myself for others. While I am comfortable, I may host 4-5-15-20 other people at my place. So, I can sign up. If I actually do get 15-20 people over, I don’t know what I will offer. Do I even know the right words to say beyond – “I am sorry for your loss”?

It’s all momentary zingoism. You feel sorry for the grieving while you are not one of the grieving ones. If you are grieving, your grief is bigger than the social crisis. You want revenge. And that revenge has no desire to make the world a better place.

If you are safe, you want better systems because you are afraid you could have been on the line. Or, that you will be on the line tomorrow morning. Because, tomorrow morning, you would walk out, get drunk and debate about why you should not be allowed to drive a car and run someone down. Or, jump a light because you are in a hurry to get somewhere. Or, cut lanes. Or abuse someone because he doesn’t seem as smart as you think you are. Or, show utter disrespect to your parents because they just don’t get it. Or, think that you deserve a better salary because that fat lame idiot is getting it. Because, it’s about you.

Morality is the weapon of the enlightened who have not suffered a personal loss. At least, not recently. Several years of rationalization makes your personal revenge seem like a social goal. Eradicate this because it affects the nation, kinds. If it’s not true, then I have found God.  Forgive me for all my sins.

 

(Images courtesy: searches on images.google.com. Credit to the link owners. )

Last weekend, I was in Delhi..

This weekend, I was in Delhi. For my cousin’s wedding reception. 

Noticed quite a few things, much as I did not want to

1. The weather seemed less colder than the last year. I remember my brother’s wedding reception around the same date a few years back. And I am sure it was much colder that day. In fact, saturday afternoon was a bit sunny, and I was walking around with folded shirt sleeves. 

*****

The national anti-terrorism revolution has not seemed to affect Delhi that much. Life, sentiments, and rationalizations are very different when you talk to Dilliwalas. I guess there are some like me (with stakes in both cities) who tend to get emotional with Connaught Place blasts as much as they get emotional with the CST blasts. In the last week or so, all that I have talked about, when I would meet friends and acquaintances, was the recent terror attacks, and how it affects that Indian sensibilities now.  However, the weekend was a rude and real reminder that life has already moved on in almost all the other cities. People are still talking about the day, but they are not as frenzied as mumbaikars. 

 The question came back to haunt me – This thinking, upheaval, revolution and resolution… its all restricted to the upper middle class. I am hard pressed to find poor and lower middle class folks participating in this jingoism. 

*****

 Delhi had a favorable poll turnout.  So did the other states. I am quite sure that not too many people were seen asking for Rule 49-O. Otherwise, it might have been in news… 🙂 With the ridiculousness typically associated with all  jingoism, I guess people are realizing how idiotic the whole idea of jumping for 4-9-Oh is! First, it an urban (and in this case, educated) legend. Second, undermining democracy is not the solution to the problems of democracy. 

As an afterthought, the results have been a bit of a surprise for others, not that much for me. I could see Delhi and Rajasthan being the results that they were. MP was also pretty much a given. Mizoram, somehow, i have never followed the politics there. I shoult take some more interest. My IIM-Indore interview in 2001 is a rude memoir that I carry with me!

Heroes At The Taj – Michael Pollack in Forbes.com

Got this forward from Rohit Mathur. And I must say, I love our politicians! 

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

Heroes At The Taj – Michael Pollack in Forbes.com 12.01.08, 7:40 PM ET

My story begins innocuously, with a dinner reservation in a world-class hotel. It ends 12 hours later after the Indian army freed us.
My point is not to sensationalize events. It is to express my gratitude and pay tribute to the staff of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, who sacrificed their lives so that we could survive. They, along with the Indian army, are the true heroes that emerged from this tragedy.
 

My wife, Anjali, and I were married in the Taj’s Crystal Ballroom. Her parents were married there, too, and so were Shiv and Reshma, the couple with whom we had dinner plans. In fact, my wife and Reshma, both Bombay girls, grew up hanging out and partying the night away there and at the Oberoi Hotel, another terrorist target.

The four of us arrived at the Taj around 9:30 p.m. for dinner at the Golden Dragon, one of the better Chinese restaurants in Mumbai. We were a little early, and our table wasn’t ready. So we walked next door to the Harbor Bar and had barely begun to enjoy our beers when the host told us our table was ready. We decided to stay and finish our drinks.

Thirty seconds later, we heard what sounded like a heavy tray smashing to the ground. This was followed by 20 or 30 similar sounds and then absolute silence. We crouched behind a table just feet away from what we now knew were gunmen. Terrorists had stormed the lobby and were firing indiscriminately.

We tried to break the glass window in front of us with a chair, but it wouldn’t budge. The Harbour Bar’s hostess, who had remained at her post, motioned to us that it was safe to make a run for the stairwell. She mentioned, in passing, that there was a dead body right outside in the corridor. We believe this courageous woman was murdered after we ran away.

(We later learned that minutes after we climbed the stairs, terrorists came into the Harbour Bar, shot everyone who was there and executed those next door at the Golden Dragon. The staff there was equally brave, locking their patrons into a basement wine cellar to protect them. But the terrorists managed to break through and lob in grenades that killed everyone in the basement.)

We took refuge in the small office of the kitchen of another restaurant, Wasabi, on the second floor. Its chef and staff served the four of us food and drink and even apologized for the inconvenience we were suffering. Through text messaging, e-mail on BlackBerrys and a small TV in the office, we realized the full extent of the terrorist attack on Mumbai. We figured we were in a secure place for the moment. There was also no way out.

At around 11:30 p.m., the kitchen went silent. We took a massive wooden table and pushed it up against the door, turned off all the lights and hid. All of the kitchen workers remained outside; not one staff member had run. The terrorists repeatedly slammed against our door. We heard them ask the chef in Hindi if anyone was inside the office. He responded calmly: “No one is in there. It’s empty.” That is the second time the Taj staff saved our lives.

After about 20 minutes, other staff members escorted us down a corridor to an area called The Chambers, a members-only area of the hotel. There were about 250 people in six rooms. Inside, the staff was serving sandwiches and alcohol. People were nervous, but cautiously optimistic. We were told The Chambers was the safest place we could be because the army was now guarding its two entrances and the streets were still dangerous. There had been attacks at a major railway station and a hospital.

But then, a member of parliament phoned into a live newscast and let the world know that hundreds of people–including CEOs, foreigners and members of parliament–were “secure and safe in The Chambers together.” Adding to the escalating tension and chaos was the fact that, via text and cellphone, we knew that the dome of the Taj was on fire and that it could move downward.

At around 2 a.m., the staff attempted an evacuation. We all lined up to head down a dark fire escape exit. But after five minutes, grenade blasts and automatic weapon fire pierced the air. A mad stampede ensued to get out of the stairwell and take cover back inside The Chambers.

After that near-miss, my wife and I decided we should hide in different rooms. While we hoped to be together at the end, our primary obligation was to our children. We wanted to keep one parent alive. Because I am American and my wife is Indian, and news reports said the terrorists were targeting U.S. and U.K. nationals, I believed I would further endanger her life if we were together in a hostage situation. 
So when we ran back to The Chambers I hid in a toilet stall with a floor-to-ceiling door and my wife stayed with our friends, who fled to a large room across the hall.

For the next seven hours, I lay in the fetal position, keeping in touch with Anjali via BlackBerry. I was joined in the stall by Joe, a Nigerian national with a U.S. green card. I managed to get in touch with the FBI, and several agents gave me status updates throughout the night. 
I cannot even begin to explain the level of adrenaline running through my system at this point. It was this hyper-aware state where every sound, every smell, every piece of information was ultra-acute, analyzed and processed so that we could make the best decisions and maximize the odds of survival.

Was the fire above us life-threatening? What floor was it on? Were the commandos near us, or were they terrorists? Why is it so quiet? Did the commandos survive? If the terrorists come into the bathroom and to the door, when they fire in, how can I make my body as small as possible? If Joe gets killed before me in this situation, how can I throw his body on mine to barricade the door? If the Indian commandos liberate the rest in the other room, how will they know where I am? Do the terrorists have suicide vests? Will the roof stand? How can I make sure the FBI knows where Anjali and I are? When is it safe to stand up and attempt to urinate?

Meanwhile, Anjali and the others were across the corridor in a mass of people lying on the floor and clinging to each other. People barely moved for seven hours, and for the last three hours they felt it was too unsafe to even text. While I was tucked behind a couple walls of marble and granite in my toilet stall, she was feet from bullets flying back and forth. After our failed evacuation, most of the people in the fire escape stairwell and many staff members who attempted to protect the guests were shot and killed.

The 10 minutes around 2:30 a.m. were the most frightening. Rather than the back-and-forth of gunfire, we just heard single, punctuated shots. We later learned that the terrorists went along a different corridor of The Chambers, room by room, and systematically executed everyone: women, elderly, Muslims, Hindus, foreigners. A group huddled next to Anjali was devout Bori Muslims who would have been slaughtered just like everyone else, had the terrorists gone into their room. Everyone was in deep prayer and most, Anjali included, had accepted that their lives were likely over. It was terrorism in its purest form. No one was spared.

The next five hours were filled with the sounds of an intense grenade/gun battle between the Indian commandos and the terrorists. It was fought in darkness; each side was trying to outflank the other.

By the time dawn broke, the commandos had successfully secured our corridor. A young commando led out the people packed into Anjali’s room. When one woman asked whether it was safe to leave, the commando replied: “Don’t worry, you have nothing to fear. The first bullets have to go through me.”

The corridor was laced with broken glass and bullet casings. Every table was turned over or destroyed. The ceilings and walls were littered with hundreds of bullet holes. Blood stains were everywhere, though, fortunately, there were no dead bodies to be seen. 
A few minutes after Anjali had vacated, Joe and I peeked out of our stall. We saw multiple commandos and smiled widely. I had lost my right shoe while sprinting to the toilet so I grabbed a sheet from the floor, wrapped it around my foot and proceeded to walk over the debris to the hotel lobby.

Anjali and I embraced for the first time in seven hours in the Taj’s ground floor entrance. I didn’t know whether she was dead or injured because we hadn’t been able to text for the past three hours. I wanted to take a picture of us on my BlackBerry, but Anjali wanted us to get out of there before doing anything.

She was right–our ordeal wasn’t completely over. A large bus pulled up in front of the Taj to collect us and, just about as it was fully loaded, gunfire erupted again. The terrorists were still alive and firing automatic weapons at the bus. Anjali was the last to get on the bus, and she eventually escaped in our friend’s car. I ducked under some concrete barriers for cover and wound up the subject of photos that were later splashed across the media. Shortly thereafter, an ambulance came and drove a few of us to safety. An hour later, Anjali and I were again reunited at her parents’ home. Our Thanksgiving had just gained a lot more meaning.

Some may say our survival was due to random luck, others might credit divine intervention. But 72 hours removed from these events, I can assure you only one thing: Far fewer people would have survived if it weren’t for the extreme selflessness shown by the Taj staff, who organized us, catered to us and then, in the end, literally died for us. They complemented the extreme bravery and courage of the Indian commandos, who, in a pitch-black setting and unfamiliar, tightly packed terrain, valiantly held the terrorists at bay.

It is also amazing that, out of our entire group, not one person screamed or panicked. There was an eerie but quiet calm that pervaded–one more thing that got us all out alive. Even people in adjacent rooms, who were being executed, kept silent.

It is much easier to destroy than to build, yet somehow humanity has managed to build far more than it has ever destroyed. Likewise, in a period of crisis, it is much easier to find faults and failings rather than to celebrate the good deeds. It is now time to commemorate our heroes.

 

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Gateway Experience 2: My Rants

[Warning: Long Post]

I have a variety of mixed emotions as a landmark day in the history of Mumbai, and India comes to an end. During the day, I did my bit to spread the word of the event around. I sent out mails, twitters, facebook status messages, etc.  While I was doing it, I was not sure what the impact would be. I was expecting a large number of people. But my definition of large was a few thousand people. But the day turned out to be something else.

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This Sunday, Gullu and Shivani had come over. Despite Shivani being -x days into her due date for delivery (they had a beautiful baby girl the night before gateway), our topic was largely around the state of affairs and what “we” can do. We also agreed, like probably thousands of other people across the city, that the time to stay silent was passe. It was high time we did something. After a lot of debates and discussions, the only thing we left the day with was that if nothing else, we need to show that we are alive, awake and together. That we are in it together, and we are ready to fight this time. We may not have the final solution yet, but we need to show that we all are collectively thinking about it, and that we cannot be taken for granted. That day, I started writing a mail to Amit Varma, Prem Panicker, Ideasmith, Patrick, Greatbong, Kuffir, Sakshi Juneja, and several other prominent bloggers. The mail was around organizing a daily 1 hour silent protest at the gateway. To start a movement that does not die down after one candle vigil, one silent march, one round of slogan shouting. A movement that goes on till we get an answer. That mail is still saved in my drafts folder. 

You may ask – why did I not send it? Because when I logged on to facebook, I noticed that there already are several protests that go on till the next week. Every day. The social media that I would have talked to, was already spreading the word around, but in an unorganized way. And it works fine for me. I am not one of those leader guys who can initiate a lot of these, unless pushed to the wall (at least not anymore). And I did not need to. Because my brethren were already doing what I had hoped to. 

Anyways, I have been getting active on twitter for the last few days. And following Prem Panicker, I realized that this rally at Gateway (and India Gate, Delhi) will become big if we all do our bit. And I started reflecting back on my conversation with Gullu. And I did my bit. For many’s surprise, I did not work after 4:30PM 😉

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So, back to the rally.

First reactions – AWESOME! Its like the people are  really reacting and acting. For a change. And not succumbing to the hogwash of “the spirit of Mumbai”.

Second reaction – Damn it. We are here. What next? The good or the bad thing was that there was no agenda. There was lots of anger, hurt and frustration.

Reaction when it was over – overwhelmed, emotional. I haven’t seen something like this happen ever before. The last time I saw the whole country “talk” about the same thing in the same emotion was the Kargil war. And I couldn’t resist a chuckle – This country unites only for cricket or war.

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Reactions now – ?????

Well. I will call the spade a spade. It was a huge turnout. For a change, a lot of people agreed on doing something together. But it was, end of the day, jingoism. Extreme aggressive patriotism. But it was directionless. Who is going to channel this energy? For long will this last? And a lot of frustrated angry thoughts crossed my mind –

1.       Who’s rooting? – In the last 7 days, I haven’t seen a single taxi driver/ auto rickshaw driver being interviewed about how they feel, and whether they are also party to such strong display of anger. Maybe, they need to keep their kitchens active. They don’t have the liberty to be online and plan a revolution. They need to keep earning their meager daily incomes.

2.       Who battle is it anyway? Is it, then, true that this is a battle that the elites are fighting against the polity? Is it true that we are hearing so much uproar because it’s the people who are close to the mouthpiece who are making the most noise? Because South Bombay was hit? Because Ratan lost 500 crores in those 60 hours? Because Shobhaa De was having dinner closeby? And a film director escaped by a whisker? Or a journalist died? Would the uproar be similar if 200 poor people had died in a bomb blast?

3.       Why now? Ideasmith’s tweet read –I bet there were no candlelight vigils for those who died in the #mumbai train blasts last year. I agree. And I wonder if we will have the same number of candle light vigils if a bomb blast happens in Assam or Sikkim. Or Bihar.

4.       Which way are we headed? Prem thinks that the direction will become clearer in due course. Under the leadership of who? Its basic mob psychology that he observed through his tweets during the rally as well. People want answers. They will turn to anyone who is ready to give one.  And it’s a mob. AT some point, the collective wisdom is the minimum of all individual wisdoms, if  it happens to be the loudest one. You need a leader to channelize the force. And what we don’t have right now, for sure, is the faith in any leader.

5.       Leadership? Why did we have only celebrities on the mike? Javed Akhtar? Alyque Padamsee? And the likes? Are they ready to leave the comfort of their day to day life and contest elections for a salary of a 30-40 grands? For that matter, how many of the 1 lakh people are?

6.       Political Change? If I look around, I see that one lampoon will be replaced by another one. Politics in India will continue to be the farce that it is. To be fair, I think we have brought it upon ourselves by letting them go unquestioned for long. But right now, the reaction against politicians seems to be the collective trying to shirk its responsibility. We brought them to power, by voting or by not voting. And we want them out. Lets wait till the elections, shall we. Or, has someone got a brilliant suggestion somewhere that I missed?

7.       Criteria for Politicians? One brilliant suggestion, which I fully agree with, is to have an age limit on politicians who serve the nation. The reason why firms/ departments don’t allow people to work beyond the age of 60, because you are considered a spent force by then. You start losing your mental and physical agility, and you are, thus, not the best candidate for running a ship. How come we trust the nation in the hands of people who probably won’t survive one tight slap from a fit 20-something guy. Agreed. What else? Criminal records? A mix of written, oral examinations, inter-party debates at local/regional level, followed by voting? Scores and everything shared with people? I will come back to this separately in another post.

8.       We’ll boycott! Let’s go 49-0 -? I mean, c’mon guys. If all of us go and vote for no-one, the elections will be considered void. What happens then? Re-election. New candidates? Do we again vote for no-one? What happens then? How do we pay for so many elections?

9.       Through our taxes?  I forgot! We are withholding our taxes. How, if I may ask? How many corporate, HR and accounts department guys are ready to pledge that their companies will stop depositing advance taxes? Or, are we talking about the billions that are anyways not paid as taxes by the big guys? Or, are we talking about the taxes that should have been paid for the billions that our politicians hold in Swiss bank accounts? And do we just stop paying? Or keep it somewhere? Who’s keeping accounts?

10.   Anti Terrorism Fund? And where does this money go? In some anti-terrorism fund? Who handles that money? Who is the signatory? On what basis? This is a leaderless and faceless revolution anyway, right?

11.   Is this an opportunity? Bloody hell, this is! But I am still clueless on what next? Is it my fault that I cant help but think in a linear way. A leads to B leads to C. But here, the gateway is leading to another event at gateway. Gradually, the queues will start fading as the mundanities of day-to-day life set in. People need to earn their wages. Thousands of salaried people like me who must go to their jobs every day. Thousands of cabbies, vada pao sellers who must go back and earn their daily living. And thousands of students, who during the election month, must be preparing for their exams. And needless to say, that’s the fatalist in me talking.

 

There is another optimist in me, who does not care where it started, for whom it has meant a lot, for whom it has not, for what end are we doing, and how are we going to do it. THAT me believes that we will see change. Much before Obama made it his brand slogan, change was the only constant thing in life. But this time, we are talking about that point where a quantum change sets in.

Someday, we shall remember this day as the day the Kshatriyas of modern society were attacked, and that they took the war to the enemy. Someday, we shall remember this day as the day when the battle of a class became the battle of a nation, as the suppressed sentiments from three decades of tolerance give way to the enraged battle cries. Someday, we shall all look back, and say – Huh, so this is how it started!

 

Gateway Experience 1: A friend’s narration

This is what a friend wrote after coming back from the Gateway rally. And I think its definitely worth a read

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Just back from the show of strength at Gateway (not that I intended to go but happy that I happened to be there)

While we will know the number of people who assembled to show solidarity and demand explanation from media reports tomorrow, I would be surprised if the number is less than 25,000. College kids (both genders) stole the show but suede white collar workers and people on the wrong side of 50’s also made their presence felt. It took us a good 45 minutes to walk through a distance of 200 m. And I thought why should I care just because some smart asses in the media are trying to create hype to fill their pages and timeslots !!!!!!!

When I first saw the crowd I though it was a recipe for disaster. Too many people packed in a narrow lane with no directions (or anyone to direct…remember this was not an organized event but people gathering because someone forwarded them a sms or an email) and fire in their hands (relax, its candles). But wrong I was once again. People walked in orderly fashion, held hands and gave way to elderly. I never thought women could be so vociferous and men so creative with their slogans and placards. 

If you are thinking that it a typical throng gathering for a netaji zindabad rally, a performance by a Bollywood star or a game of cricket, you cannot be further from the truth. For a change people gathered against the politicians and shake hands of the otherwise ordinary policemen / military / firemen. A glance at the mass of people and you could feel chalta hai is chalta hai no more.  

I am smelling like a pig and my shoes and trousers are all soiled but I am feeling quite good none the less. I thought the country was going to the dogs, but wrong I was once again. 

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Are you ready for it NOW? Protest Against Inaction…

As a lot of you might be aware, there is a protest rally today at the Gateway (6PM). There is a similar rally at Delhi (India Gate, 6PM) as well. However, unlike the yores of yesteryears, we do no want this protest to die after a rally or two. We want to pursue this. Maybe it takes an accident for us to realize what we have done wrong, but we as responsible citizens of this country, need to be responsible for the country as well. 

There is a group of people that have taken the lead in this movement, starting with the rally today. It will be a form of civil disobedience movement. Check out the draft of the manifesto here –  http://www.scribd.com/doc/8620255/Draft-Manifesto

The idea is to hit with the two things that we can hit with – our votes. and our money. Versions of this manifesto will be released at the New Delhi and Mumbai rallies today. The group needs a lot of support in organizing this and carrying the momentum forward. Lets not forget that tomorrow might be the same as yesterday, if we do not act today. 

If you can help organize things in your city, drop a note immediately, and I will put you in touch… 

Cynicism Rocks

 

*****

An Olympic shooter wins Gold (Only a game) & Government gives him 3 Crores

 

Another Shooter dies, fighting with terrorists (Saving our country and our live) & government pays his family 5 lakhs.

[Fwd by: Anil]

News Roundup (02-Dec-08).. Mumbai Aftermath

link here 

Indian public beating Ajmal Qasab – the only terrorist to survive. This seems like one of the first user generated videos on the web…

In another news, India has asked Pakistan to hand over Dawood Ibrahim and Maulana Masood Azhar.

Emphasising that Pakistan must act on the promises made earlier not to allow the territory under its control for any terrorist activities against India, New Delhi also asked Islamabad to ban Jamaat-ud-Dawa, political outfit of Lashkar-e-Toiba, and arrest its leaders.

Needless to say, Pakistan government has agreed to it, and the world is going to live happily ever after. Following suit, Barrack Obama has decided to ask Pakistan to hand over Osama Bin Laden as well, while demolishing the Al-Qaeda outfits.

Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir summoned Indian High Commissioner Satyabrata Pal in Islamabad to give a “response” to the Indian demarche, rejecting New Delhi’s contention.

Ministry of External Affairs had summoned High Commissioner Shahid Malik in New Delhi to issue a demarche (protest note) for Pakistan’s failure to fulfil its commitment of curbing terrorism emanating from that country.

I love this. Such educated ways of dealing with terrorism. I say sir, we all follow suit. Lets issue a demarche by summoning the chief of Lashkar as well.

And today’s dose of terrorism has this to add –

1. Assam blasts – 3 dead, 30 injured.

2. 23 tonnes of explosives hijacked by maoists

Beautiful Suggestion.. to honor the commandos

I vote for Krish Ashok’s suggestion

A small request to the Taj hotel management. How about a one-week, all-expenses-paid vacation for these guys at your hotel? This was about the only time they could have afforded to sit in your reception

Do you?

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