Monday, June 27, 2011

Stilettos In The Newsroom: An Insider's View

Book Source: Author

Media plays an all important role in today's world. Each person is indebted to news in TV, internet, news paper and many other sources in forming their ideas, making their choices. So naturally we all will have a curiosity to know what goes inside a newsroom. Rashmi Kumar's debut novel, Stilettos in the Newsroom tries to give an inside view into the operation of newsrooms. As the author is a journalist having first hand experience of the plot, the reader expects a lot of whistle blowing, which the book provides to some extent.  

Radhika Kanetkar, enters the magical world of journalism as a rookie subeditor, in a Pune newspaper. After eight years, she has become a features editor in a Delhi based journal. The book chronicles the journey of eight years, laden with friendship, love, jealousy, hatred and office politics. A whole lot of characters who plays important roles in Radhika's life, positively and negatively are introduced. Each chapter deals with a new lesson learnt to survive in the whirlpool. 

The novel is simple, straight forward, short and immensely readable. Any reader who has worked in a corporate office can identify with the protagonist, as she fights an every day battle to stay up in work. The love life of the lady is very subtly revealed, without falling into the pit of sentimentalism which is primarily associated with the stuff. The language is easy to follow and identifiable to the upper middle class urban youth, whom I feel, the novel is targeted. The incidences described are of a varied and contrasting hue- funny, sad, revolting, romantic...

On negative sides, the novel has a very loose plot. It follows a non linear time line sometimes, which is not handled as effectively as required and may baffle readers.  Many a times, I do not feel much for the characters except the lead one. Also, as the story takes place in a  newsroom, you expect some uniqueness of the place to crop up in the novel. But after reading the novel, one has a feel that the newsroom is not much dissimilar from a regular office, although as I told before, it helps us to identify with the struggle of Radhika. I would say, a much more tight plot, an in-depth characterization and an extra 150 pages would not have harmed the book in any way.      

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What's the Opposite?

"Hey, What is the opposite term for Like?"
"For Soft?"
"I am writing?"
"I am not writing."
 "You are quite good in English! One last question. Tell me the opposite for Nagpanchami!"
"What the ...!"
"Wrong answer."
"Ridiculous question!"
"Give the answer or agree your failure."
"I don't know, you give the answer."
"Nag did not punch me."
"Is this sk ill of making bad jokes hereditary or you practiced it?"

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Inspiring Prophet

Al Musthafa, the prophet who is stranded in a foreign land for 20 years is awaiting the ship from his country to return back. And the day arrives when the ship arrives in the port. He bids farewell to the hosts, and they asks him to talk for a last time. He discusses with them about life. To different queries from people from different walks of life, he puts forward his thoughts on love, marriage, work, joy, crime and more.

This is the premise of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, a collection of many poetic essays that primarily deals with living a pure life, in tandem to the basic principles of nature. Kahlil Gibran is a Lebanese poet and artist who immigrated to USA when he was a kid. He is told to be the most widely read poet after Shakespeare and Lao Tse. The Prophet is an inspiring work of extra ordinary beauty and can be compared to mystical masterpieces like Tagore's Geetanjali.

"Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music."  

Friday, June 10, 2011

Attack of the killer cucumbers..!

The world is struck by E coli scare. Many European nations- Germany, France, Spain, Czech republic, UK... are in a state of high alert following the news of the outbreak that caused the death of more than 30 people. The shocking news to the vegetarians is that, they have to take care of the diet this time, for a change. Previously we had seen such a turmoil on the dinner tables of non- vegetarians when bird flu and  mad cow disease struck the world. 

And primary suspect among the lot is cucumber, which is a pity because it happens to be the most harmless looking vegetable in the whole world- tasteless (not in a bad way), odor less, watery (a summer delight)... there is no need to even cook it. Imagine someone wearing a mask while handling a cucumber. But as I am typing this word is coming out that may be sprouts or lettuce can be the culprit. 

Spanish MEP with cucumber
Spain is the worst hit. Whole Europe blamed Spain for exporting E coli affected vegetables, which resulted in tons of cucumber, lettuce and tomatoes being dumped by farmers. An angry Spanish MEP declared in European parliament that they have to restore the honor of cucumber. Ultimately Spanish cucumbers were tested and declared free of the bacteria though E coli strains were found in cucumber waste in trash bin in Germany. It is not yet established whether vegetable was contaminated  or it came from other vegetables in the bin. Every where in Europe cucumber sales have come to a halt. EU has offered compensation for the farmers who are the worst hit by the scare. Still experts could not specifically identify the real villain behind the outbreak. 

Criticism is mounting against the way Germans, who are the worst hit, are tackling the problem. No leads are made yet in asserting the real cause. Instead an international blame game is being played, where producer countries are defending their products and buyers getting paranoid and avoiding them like plague... 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Reading in Bangalore...

I have always been passionate about reading, which is evident if you have been visiting this place often. I should thank my parents and relatives who have brought me up by supporting this passion. If I get a book about anything, I will sit in a corner and devour it without caring a hoot about the world. In my childhood it was those Malayalam children's weeklies like Balarama, Poompatta and many of them like Chandamama that I used to satisfy my pang for the written word. In fifth class, I joined in two libraries near my home and serious reading began.

And what a coincidence! Now after decades, in Bangalore I have joined two fantastic libraries and am juggling my spare time between the books supplied by them. Both are professionally managed ones with an impressive catalog.

Before joining them, I had been getting my regular supply of books from peddlers on street. You can buy two books for Rs 140, and if after reading, when returned you can get half your money back or one book of your choice. Bargain was ok, but quality of books are really bad and the choice is limited to popular ones, which I do not have much interest in reading.

Then I happened to see the site of Librarywaala, and checked out the plans. I just tried to join and left half way. You have give some personal details and can join by paying through net banking. I just gave the details and left it there. Next week someone called from their office and they had a new year offer. So I opted for a 3 book plan per month and joined. Mr Manjunath came all the way (around 80 kms up and down) to my office to collect the payment and  deliver the first set of books. And from then on I am regularly getting 3 books every month delivered at my home. Service is good, you can order by internet, no fuss... The collection is also quite good. I especially love the non-fiction segment. They have a variety there! Fiction is also good, but limited to popular ones. I cannot get much of Camus, Kundera or Marquez there.  

Then I discovered that there was another library just behind my home. It is called Just Books. They too have a site and you can order books and get door delivery, but for preferred memberships only. I took a membership for unlimited number of books for Rs 150. The main attraction is the kiosk on the entrance where you can place your book and membership card and issue or return your books. You can search for titles and if they are not available in that branch, it can be ordered from any other branch, where it may be available. Here, non fiction department is not so strong, but fiction part is impressive. You name it and it is there. 

So things are going pretty strong in the reading front and you can see the result in blog. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Osho: A Spiritually Incorrect Mystic

Long back I had read a book by Rajneesh Osho. Normally all of his books are versions taken from the discourses given by him. What I liked about that book was, the clarity with which he explains things. Language is simple, straight forward and laced with humor. And when every other person either embraces or denounces spirituality, Osho opens a new path. His spirituality is bound to the world, giving all the importance to meditation, without renouncing the world and on the contrary embracing all the comforts of it.  He was against poverty of any kind. 

Last week I happened to read his autobiography, aptly titled Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic. It is again not a written one, but collected parts from 5000 hours of his talks. The biography part is a bit less and more are his explanations of his seemingly insane philosophy. 

Osho is not for any religion. He is against all kind of conditioning, that comes with any religion. He continuously urges his disciples to stop being his followers. He is against the miracles and magical powers of so called prophets. He claims he got enlightened at a young age, but then he says you need not believe it. He spend his childhood with his grandparents without any friends and without attending an school. After years, his grand father died and then he returned to his father's home. By then his character was totally different. He shown good skill in arguing, rather profound self confidence, found pleasure in questioning any religious authority  and would never obey any one or do anything against his will. 

His book From Sex To Super consciousness that was released in the end of seventies, was the most controversial and well read book of that time. His complaint was that people were annoyed when he heard a mystic speaking openly praising sex, but totally ignored the part about super consciousness. Later he came to USA and started a community called Rajneeshpuram, but was later deported following allegations of several crimes. But he got a cult following due to the effectiveness of his meditation style that was a mix of West and East. In USA, he owned 90 Rolls Royce cars, which he claims made him famous, by shocking the American community. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Spoilt for choice...

Last day the office canteen boy asked me, "Sir, when are you going to Kerala next?"
"Next week maybe, or the week after that."
"Will you bring banana chips for me?"
He was offended, though I told it in a light vein. If I say yes, and even if I never brought him the chips, he would have been happy. My telling no was unexpected and he was upset. But he also had to think that he gave me a choice. It was a yes or no question that he asked and logically he do not have any right to be upset when my answer is negative. He was supposed to be prepared for that. Because there was  50% chance for a negative answer.

So the moral of the story is that, never ever give a choice to anyone when you want only one outcome as an answer.

Speaking about choices, I wanted to write a post on them from long time back. But this incident last day prompted me to start it.

I started browsing through channels in TV last day and was flicking the remote for an hour or so without watching a program for even a minute fully. I see a movie playing and feel that on the other channel I thought I saw a better one, but by the time I reach that channel, advertisements had started. Then again I continue surfing.. Same thing happen when I am in the library. A long array of books and I keep moving from one rack to another, from one genre to another, takes a book at first and then browse some more. Put it back and grab another one... Making a choice is tough. especially for these small  things like watching a movie or choosing where to eat. Is it all the perils of modern technology? Bombarding our simple every day life with so many choices? 

Last day I watched this ad for iphone telling that if you do not have an iphone, you don't have one. (Of course I never bought an iphone, but after watching the ad, now I am sure I don't have one.) They say you can choose form 30000 applications!!!! 30000... What were they thinking?!!! Just to chose one or two from them will be like searching a  needle in Sahara desert. In my phone I have four applications, Opera Mini, Snaptu, Newshunt and Kakuro (a fine game that can give some good exercise to brain). Except for the first and the last one, I opens them only once in a blue moon... I cannot imagine what I will do after downloading 30000 applications... Same thing about that 5 TB hard disk my good friend boasts about. 5 TB is a lot of space. If I fill it with movies, I will not be even able to watch it all in my life time, especially being in my current job. 
So the world is hell bend on spoiling us with choices. Remember the good old days of Doordarshan? We used to wait for a week to watch a Malayalam movie, Rangoli or Chitrhaar! Once in DD national they started this top 10 song show called Ek Se Badhkar Ek. We were quite impressed by the show because all the popular songs were shown on a single episode. The hitch came during the second episode. My parents did not like it. They were asking what fun is there in watching the same 10 songs consecutively for two weeks. And next year we bought cable. Now around 5 channels played the same songs every half hour. And worst part is that we got used to it. 

You know what I am longing for now? A world that is not so complicated, giving us infinite choices for every options that we have. For important options, it is good, a better job, a better study course, I don't mind a lot of options for these things. But for trivial needs do we require these much? Call me demented. I don't mind. I want only one TV channel that shows one quality program at a time. A library that issues one book selected randomly without telling me to choose from 50 titles of fluorescent colored jackets written by Danielle Steel. A movie theater with a single screen. An election  candidate list with just two contestants to select from..  

Monday, June 6, 2011

Panda Fighting His Past...

Today I watched Kung Fu Panda 2, the sequel of the very funny movie about a Panda raising in the Kung Fu hierarchy to the coveted levels of Dragon Master. The sequel treads the similar lines of first part. But with some darker undertones. Still it is a fun watch and I will recommend it to any kid out there- from 1 to 100 year old!

This time Po, the dragon warrior Panda has to fight a peacock who is making evil scheme for domination! The Furious five constituting of  Tigress, Monkey, Swan, Mantis and Viper are there to accompany him on his mission along with Master Shifu and two new masters Croc and Rhino. What complicates the plot is the nightmares which occurs to Po that is some how connected to his past and his tries to find out about them. Finally he realizes that his past is linked with the mission that he is involved in. 

The animation is much more stunning than the first part. Fights are a treat to watch, plot and characters are well built. The cast is also too good. Jack Black, Jolie, Hoffman, Michelle Yeoh and Gary Oldman excels. But the other four in furious five, does not have much to do. It is a pity that Jackie Chan and Lucy Liu  has just two or three piece of dialogue in the whole movie. This time they got Jean Claude Van Damme to give voice for Master Croc. But he is also terribly under used.  

Another funny thing is that I happened to watch this comedy called Paul Blart: the Mall Cop today morning on TV, which is about an overweight security guard doing a Bruce Willis and protecting the mall that he is in charge from thieves. Kung Fu Panda 2 looks strikingly similar to this movie. Apart from the similarities of the leading characters, the vehicle that Po drives also seems to be inspired from the Mall Cop movie. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Chimeras: Stripping the legends

Chimeras is an English play produced by One dot oh! and directed by Shrikrishna S, based on three short stories by Shashi Deshpande, shown at Rangashankara last week. It is a fusion of Dance and drama, the dance part choreographed by Chitra Aravind of Rhythmotion Dance Co. 

All stories portrayed are derived from various instances in Mahabharatha, and in each one a character introspects the events unfolded in front of them, giving new insights into the epic. The dance performances interwoven in between, suitably adds to the narrative. 
In the first story, Draupadi ventures into the hall were Krishna and Pandava princes are discussing their strategy of the imminent war against Kaurava. Abhimanyu's wedding with Uttara has just been over, and the talk of killing, destruction and the biggest war mankind has ever seen provides striking contrast to the mood. All are unilateral in their opinion that before war is commenced, a peace talk with Duryodhana has to be done, to avoid mutual killing. They propose Krishna to meet up with them and ask for half the kingdom. If they do not agree, at least for five villages. Draupadi is devastated after hearing about the peace talk. She feels she was the real casualty of the enmity with Kauravas and her husbands are not ready to give justice to her. She makes a monologue, exposing the cowardice of her five husbands and Krishna's double standards. Many ghosts of past comes out from the open Pandora's box.  Her special love towards Arjuna, her disappointment when brothers decide to share her after hearing Kunti's words... But finally she comes to know of the futility of peace talk. She knows that they will not get anything out of that. She also comes to know that her husbands also know that and war is what they want. They are playing this game to make her and her revenge responsible to the imminent destruction. 

In the second story, the war has come to a bloody end. All Kaurava princes except Duryodhana are dead. He fled the battle field and come near a dirty pond. His mind is all in turmoil. In the resulting monologue, he bears out his past jealousy and enmity towards Pandavas. And after he descends into the pond, a realization comes to him, that these are all superficial and what lies ahead is what that matters. That the real and final victory comes for the dead. Armed by this new found wisdom, Duryodhana comes out of the pond to fight the enemies and embrace death.  

The third story happens some time after the war, Dhritharashtra and Gandhari gets ready to go to the jungle. Kunti decides to accompany them much to the dismay of others. Along with Sanjaya, they embarks on Vanaprastha. One day Kunti decides to leave the old couple so that they can spent some time for themselves and goes for a walk with Sanjaya. She thinks of the past events, from the time she married Pandu, her loveless marriage, sharing her husband with the more beautiful Madhuri, her children, birth of Karna, the many hardships they had to encounter. She confesses that her words to share Draupadi among her five sons was not accidental and a well thought plan to avoid them getting divided. She is amazed when Draupadi shows more affection to Gandhari after the war than to her and realizes that it is due to the fact that both Draupadi and Gandhari are childless and Kunti still has her five children safe. Through her talk to Sanjaya, we come to know that Kunti is not that silent, all suffering mother who always get sidelined. It is infact, many of the clever decisions that she took shaped up the history. Play ends when a wild fire engulfs the forest and Kunti sees her old companions ready to embrace death. She walks towards fire to join them. 

The play is spell binding in many aspects. The acting, dance performances and stage setting all are perfect. The insightful dialogue makes strong impact. The play strips the mighty legends off the mystery that surrounds them and makes them share the pedestal with common people. The contemporary undertones of the play also cannot be ignored. Several parts especially in the first story makes you remember the conflict with our neighboring country.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Peter VS Dilbert: Principles Of Promotion

Last day I was reading this article, thanks to the link shared through my blogger friend Nona's tweet. At one juncture, there is a mention about Peter Principle, which is regarding promotions in work place. I found the thought very striking and then started reading some more on that from Wikipedia and some other sources. I thought I will share what I came to know about Peter Principle as the idea can provoke some thought process. 

Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull wrote a book in 1969, called Peter principle, in which they started a study of hierarchy or hierarchiology as they coined it. They came to this conclusion that, in any hierarchy every employee raises to his ultimate incompetency level. So after a period of time, the whole order will be a collection of incompetent members causing a downfall, unless fresh blood is not induced. 

Pic Courtesy:
Take the case in a work shop. A worker who performs very well in his job will be promoted to the next level, may be as a foreman. If he shows good skill as a foreman he will be promoted to a supervisor. But if he does not perform as a foreman, he will stay in that job for eternity. There is no way he may be willing to go back to his former level in which he excelled. So we have an incompetent foreman instead of a skilled worker. This same process happens in all levels. A good supervisor gets promoted to a manager, but gets stuck in the same level from then on, as he may not be having the guts to take a hard decision. So ultimately, promotions become a tool to lock people in a level where they are incompetent and employees in every level turns out to be people who are incompetent to perform. 

Some months back I was reading Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert comic strip). Dilbert principle postulates that promotions in work places are a way to take out incompetent people from the front line, pushing them to upper levels where they will not have a scope to inflict much damage, so that the work will be carried on without obstruction by competent personnel who will never reach any managerial positions because, 
in many cases the least competent, least smart people are promoted, simply because they’re the ones you don’t want doing actual work. You want them ordering the doughnuts and yelling at people for not doing their assignments—you know, the easy work. Your heart surgeons and your computer programmers—your smart people—aren’t in management.
 Pic courtesy:
The main difference between Peter and Dilbert principle is that in former it is assumed that a person was competent in doing some work in the past. But latter says that even without showing any level of competency in any past endeavors, one can get promoted and even goes as far to say that experts in a field will not get promoted as they are required to keep the work moving.   

I feel that Dilbert principle is one way to cure the harms caused by Peter principle...