Tuesday, March 30, 2010

He redefines cool!

I find it very courageous on Chetan Bhagat's part to pen a book where he describes his in laws in such detail. And live to tell the tale! So I decided to take a deep breath and follow suit. Its interesting how sometimes people connect not merely due to relationships but merely a similarity in nature.

I write about my father in law not to earn brownie points (though those wont hurt:)) but simply because he 'gets' me. A fighter pilot by training (how cool is that) he could easily have retired from the Air Force and stayed at home doing what he likes best - reading and writing. Except that he realized that they come a close second to what he truly likes best - flying. So here is the next contender for my series on people who reinvented their lives. At an age when many choose to sit back and reap the benefits of a lifetime of work, he went and signed up with Air India. If you ask him why he chose it over doing the PhD that he's been thinking of, he would softly smile in that you-have-so-much-to-learn way and say it was simply because they let him fly for another 6 years.

So he went and moved literally to the other end of the country - Cochin. The beauty of the place may be lost on him due to his schedule. He flies 4 times a week, usually to the Middle East and back. His flights are at obscene hours in the day, 2am or even 9pm. His body clock has probably given up and decided to follow his mind. But his absolute dedication to the thing he loves is what keeps him going. He diligently studies for the exams pilots have to continuously pass and needless to say, he gained the reputation of being one of the fastest growing ranks in this organization as in the Air Force. He redefines cool - he can pull off a leather jacket with the same élan as a business suit. And if you ever saw him on the dance floor with his son, you would gape in awe, unable to pick a favorite!

But this is not why I connect with him. Like me, more often than not, he prefers his own company to that of others. He will be content in spending an entire day with his book and not get flustered. His vast repertoire of knowledge will not be shared with you unless you specifically ask him - he is not one to give unsolicited advice. And years of introspection have given him what many of us aim to get - peace of mind. He is one of the most content people I know. At peace with himself, who he is and what he has.

There are not too many people I admire. But a lot of what he is, I would love to be. Cheers, to a father in law many would envy me for!!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Few of my Favourite Things

Tapping away on my keyboard, waiting to board my flight home from Bangalore. I love travelling per se, and travelling on work aint a bad deal at all! But I have come to realise that it really is the people who make a city and not the city in itself. Bangalore to me just wouldnt be the same without V and even though I offer a severe deviation from her socially hectic life, I know she loves my random trips as much I do. Its not so much of what we do, its just the fact that I can be a complete bore and say I prefer to stay home and eat her biryani while we chat rather than go to the very exclusive After Party of IPL..and she wont hate me for it nor think me a freak!

And I have also come to the profound conclusion that dogs are an absolute delight to come home to! I always knew this, but the sheer joy on a doggie's face when you come home, no questions, no grieviences, just plain adoration - its worth the world! I cant wait to get our doggie and hopefully in a few months, I will have my gorgeous pup to pamper silly.

As much as I hate flying, I cant wait to get back home. Home is where the heart is and no other place in the world can ever feel the same. So, adios for now, I sign off with a smile on my face - for I may not be someone for a lot of people...but I'm blessed to be the world for a few.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Live before you die

Just when everything seems to blur around, god throws you a line, cuts you a little slack, gives you just a little more belief and strength.

This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005. I would recommend hearing it from the horse's mouth here, but if you dont have the time, here is the transcript with my favourite portions highlighted:

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Its now or never!


Of all the things that keep changing in our lives, I think the one constant that remains is fragility. Fragility of life, of lifestyle, of jobs, of relationships, of health and of wealth. One of my favourite uncles once said something. And he said this in a passing sort of way, not a grave tone where you want to hang on to every word of wisdom. This is someone who has seen a lot in life, who at the age of around 50, picked up his entire life and moved lock, stock and barrel to USA to be closer to his children. He had a lavish life here working in the Indian Railways, with bungalows and the works. He went and started from scratch and in 10 years built back his life by founding a construction company there. He reinvented himself, much like what management books tell us to do but we often ignore in the garb of complacency. He said “There is only one surety in life. And that is that you have no idea what it’s going to throw up on you the next second. Just when you think you have it figured out, it shows you how naïve you were to think so”.

Think about that. Simple words. Words, we’ve heard so many times that they almost seem philosophical now. But words that couldn’t have been more true. As one grows up (what everyone always urges one to do, don’t know what the hurry is though), one realizes that life can change in the blink of an eye. So what do you do? Seize control of it…lunge at it, even if it is almost fanatically. Swerve it your way. Whichever way that may be. Want to get back into reading? Pick up that book that’s gathering dust since ages! Feel guilty for not seeing your relatives? Plan an impromptu trip. Spending too much time at work? Pick up the phone and randomly call your wife/ husband/ boyfriend/ girlfriend for no specific agenda, but well – just. I’m not talking big life changing leaps here. Small steps, but steps that take you on the path you choose. So that atleast for a few moments, you get what you want, do what you want. Before life takes you by your ears and changes your lane again!!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Because sometimes life is the greatest teacher - 'An Education' Reviewed


On its face, ‘An Education’ is a film set in the 1960s about a young girl Jenny coming to age. Her family or rather her father’s reason of existence is to ensure that she gets into Oxford, even if it is only so that she finds a suitable groom. Her life completely changes when she meets a much older man David who seems to charm everyone off their feet. David shows her a glimpse of the world of glitz and glamour which in comparison makes her earlier life so mundane.

If you look deeper though, ‘An Education’ is a film about education. In classrooms and outside them. It’s a film that weighs the benefits of a good degree with an uncertain and yet racy life of glamour. It is about growing up to understand priorities and more importantly that often it is not only teenagers who need growing up but elders too.

The leading actress in the film, Carey Mulligan has been recognized by award ceremonies across the globe with multiple nominations and a good number of wins including the BAFTA for An actress in a Leading Role. Her portrayal of Jenny is realistic and unpretentious. It is especially interesting to see how she changes from a shy schoolgirl who cant even stand up to her father into almost a rebel who is not afraid to speak her mind. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that she may just be the follow up to an Audrey Hepburn (her looks qualify her for sure), but she is someone we can hope to get some good performances from in the near future. She is ably supported by the rest of the cast, especially by Peter Sarsgaard who plays David, the man as smooth as butter.

The film is tightly packed with a screenplay that doesn’t let you wander. A film that deserves a watch, even if it is on DVD. And not just for the awards that brought it into the spotlight. But simply because it’s a clean, well made and sweet film.

Rating: 3.5 on 5
Paisa Wasool Moment: The scene where Jenny meets David for the first time and allows him to give her Cello a lift while she walks alongside the car.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Raising my voice against 'Brutality'.

I usually stay away from controversial topics in my blog and stick to entertainment like travel, movies, food etc. But something that I read in the newspaper today enraged me so much that I decided to do what I do best – blog about it.

The High Court today ruled that for a rape case to be given maximum penalty ie. Life imprisonment (20 years under Indian law which usually is brought down to 12-13 years for good behavior), the rape must be brutal. In this particular case, the man was a tutor for a minor girl and while her mother was out to the market, he committed the crime. In court, he had the audacity to ask for leniency as there was no brutality in the rape and despite evidence like the girl’s mother witnessing the act when she returned and positive DNA tests, the court agreed to give him 10 years (usually out in 4-5 years) as punishment.

What I would ideally like to know is whether the court bench that passed this order was made up of male members or female. How does one define brutality? Would it have helped if he had slapped her a couple of times? Inflicted some wounds? Drawn blood? Would that be enough to put him away for double that time?

What could possibly be more brutal than violating somebody forcefully? It is not just an act of physical violence, but one of psychological scarring. Imagine the life of that girl now, imagine her dealing with the shame that follows. Imagine the strength she will need to live when everone around her knows what she has been through and she will always be either an object of sympathy or taboo. Imagine her harassment on dealing with authorities, police, hospitals, courts, lawyers, media. Imagine what sort of impact this will have on her relationships, her school life, on her self esteem, on her will to live. Now put all of this together and tell me, what could possibly be more brutal than this? A murder in my opinion is not as brutal as rape. At least in murder, the victim’s suffering is over. In this case, the victim will suffer for the rest of her life.

Perhaps that is why the jury system works better than our court systems. Tell me one jury who would not give the death sentence to the recent case of a police official who not only raped a minor girl but harassed her family, periodically tortured (3rd degree) her brother in jail cells, got her thrown out of school and finally drove her to commit suicide.

Perhaps brutality of the act itself was much lesser than the brutality of the court verdict, and its leniency.

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