Sunday, March 27, 2011


“I would like to check your teeth please,” she said, adding belatedly, “if you don’t mind, of course.”

“Excuse me?” he looked as bewildered as he surely felt.

“Ummm.....” She was beginning to have second thoughts about the entire thing. Surely he was handsome but this was a strange place. “Never mind,” she said. “Some other time, maybe.”

“Whoa. Wait.” He caught up with her at the door of the restaurant. “I don’t mind some other time but you do have me curious. Did you just ask to check my teeth? Are you a dentist or....” he trailed off as if another thought had struck him. He smacked his forehead. “Oh. Now I see.” And he gave her a mischievous, knowing grin.

“You see what?” She was indignant now.

“Never mind. But I think we should at least introduce ourselves.” He leaned forward and spoke in a voice so soft that she could hear him only by reading his lips. “I am Vlad.”

She flinched and he laughed so loudly that people around them turned to stare.

“You should see you face”, he managed to speak once he had controlled his mirth.

His voice broke her stupor. “I am glad you are finding this highly amusing”, she said in a chilly voice and walked off.

He stood there and watched till she surreptitiously quickened her steps, refusing to even look back, hailed a cab and drove off.


She did not even look out of the window. He was joking, right? Of course, he was. She was just being silly. She must have lost her marbles to have asked him the question. It was stupid how her friend’s joking words popped in her head the moment he came in all his good-looking glory and said “Hello”. And how quickly he had figured out her reasoning. Of course, he couldn't know. He was clearly American, not East European with a fetish for innocent, young things and their fresh, unmarred throats. Well, she did not know the last, did she. After all, he did not let her check his teeth, did he now?

Stop it. She ordered herself. You are talking in circles. It was a chance encounter. Maybe you made a fool of yourself. Maybe it was a chance to know an interesting man that you lost. But it’s all done and over with. You go back tomorrow morning. You will probably never meet him again. So, just chalk it down as an experience that you will tell your grandkids as an anecdote.

With these thoughts firm in her mind, she hopped on her plane next morning and returned home.


Back in his hotel room, he looked in the mirror. He bared his teeth. He had just brushed them. They were even and white. Funny woman she was to ask such a question in this day and age. Silly chit. Or maybe not, he thought to himself, as he smiled and his canines elongated subtly to become two points. He poured a large glass of whiskey and raised it in a silent toast to lucky escapes. Noroc.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Teach Me If You Can

I am writing this post from a hotel room in Delhi / Gurgaon (not too sure where does it technically fall). I am here to attend a two-day training on “Creating Client Value”. It’s been an interesting day so far, fun in parts and relatable and useful in others. Plus, I had attended another training with largely the same group of colleagues around 4-5 months back, so there is none of that initial ice-breaking hiccups – a really big issue with me – here. We have another full day tomorrow and it promises to be useful.

Today has caused me to reflect back upon the various trainings that I have undergone in my professional life. There have been several of them on various topics over many years. One thing that my experience has reinforced is that any good training is only as useful as the trainer – be that it in school / college or corporate world.

I have always believed that teaching is one of the most important and most difficult jobs in the world. I can never see myself teaching annoying little students like myself in school or college. Even in my current role at my organization, I am sometimes required to take workshops / training sessions and find them more challenging and draining than actual projects. Because when you are a teacher / trainer, no matter how much you underplay it, you are viewed as an expert on the topic, a maestro so to speak. It is never a comfortable position to be in, regardless of how confident and self-assured you might be. You feel as if you are constantly being evaluated and judged. Good teachers are those who can ignore the scrutiny and yet deliver something of value, which the students / trainees can take home and remember.

In school / college, my favourite teachers were always those who could engage my attention even through the most boring of subjects or topics. I remember, we had this one play by John Osbourne called Look Back in Anger. When I had first read it before the classes had commenced, I totally hated its depressing tone, its obnoxious hero, the spineless heroine and the two side-kicks. Luckily, the play was taught by one of the more senior teachers of the English department and in her hands, it became such an intriguing piece of human drama that we all could spend hours discussing its every nuance. That’s the power of a great teacher.

Even in various corporate trainings I have attended, the ones that I have found most useful are the ones that have been most enjoyable too. It is a wrong notion that if training is intense and serious, it cannot be fun. As a trainee, I can refute this with authority.

Take for example, an extremely intense corporate training that I underwent towards the end of last year. It required us to stay up till 11.30-12.00 at night with little breaks in between. It was supposed to prepare us for our next role. The intentions were correct and the content too, perhaps. Where the trainers went completely wrong was in execution. You do not expect people who are no longer students to spend 12 hours straight listening to lectures, jargons and doing role-play. The result? None of us found the training to be of great value though it could have been.

Contrast this with another soft skills training that we had. The aim was to help us understand as relatively new team leaders, how should we deal with our sub-ordinates. The session began at 9 sharp in the morning and ended at six. There were role plays and activities that broke the tedium. We did a paper tower building exercise post-lunch to chase drowsiness away one day and on another, we played ball games. There was time set aside specifically for us to talk amongst ourselves and we found that our situations were not unique but we all could benefit from specific advice that our counterparts gave. Both the ladies who had come down for the training were competent yet so much more approachable.

The second training took place nearly four years ago and yet I use it to this day. The first training I have almost forgotten except when we are discussing the gruelling schedule.

The point is that not everybody can be a trainer. A good student need not be a good teacher. So just because somebody is excellent as a consultant does not mean that he / she can train others on how to be one. And therefore, I have always had great respect and admiration for those who take up teaching / training as a vocation. In this profession, it is not enough to merely like what you are doing but to love it.

On that note, a grand salute to all the teachers who have every taught me in any manner. Without you, I still might have been here. But the route would have been more arduous and longer. So, thank you.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Through the Looking Glass: From a Car

I look out of the car window and see so many people milling about – in cars, on foot. Standing, walking. Talking on phone, staring in the distance. Smiling and brooding. Children and adults.

And I see possibilities. So many stories – they could have been mine if Providence had so chosen.

There’s that woman in a saree leading her son by hand to school. I wonder how old is she. I try to judge from her face. Not too lined. Her son also looks to be a pre-schooler. May be she is my age. Is she happy to be who she is? Is she content? Would she have been happier, if she was I? Would I have found her life better? Perhaps the answer to all the questions is “Yes”. Who knows? But speculation is interesting.

Then there’s this old gentleman sitting by the road on a stool, soaking in the winter sun. He is dressed in a white kurta and pajama. His beard is white with age and perhaps wisdom. He seems serene as he slowly discusses the matters of the world with a young man. The latter does not seem to be his son or any kind of relative. Perhaps, he is a neighbour. Maybe, the two meet every morning in this same spot to share their first cup of tea and exchange greetings. The younger man on the way to work. The older looking only for that conversation. I try to gauge whether the old man would be my grandfather’s age. I wonder what he would be like as a grandpa. He seems to be benevolent and the kind who would spoil his grandchildren. I think I would have liked him in that role. But my grandpa is fun too. I smile and move on.

At the crossing, the light turns red. A swanky red car comes and stops next to mine. A very young man seems to be driving it. Only a teenager perhaps. He seems to be concentrating hard on the road. Who knows what’s on his mind? May be a date with his girlfriend. Or the Saturday night party. Or may be the upcoming exams. Would he make it to that coveted college? Would his dad be happy with his decision to join an acting school or fine arts? There’s so much pressure on him to do well. This car was a gift because he had managed to stay at the top of his class. But it seems like blackmail.

I can make out the music is blasting in the car, even though the windows are rolled up. I cannot make out the song but the beats reach out to me in waves.

On the other side in a very dashing black Honda City, a man in a pinstriped suit is very seriously reading the Economic Times. Not for him the frivolity of music. But I am probably being unkind. He could be a great lover of music. Only it does not suit his mood today. For all I know his work life balance is better than mine. He has hobbies, he keenly pursues. He is a lover of arts. Can play the guitar himself. Loves reading books and debating. A loving father and devoted husband. Then my thoughts take an uncharitable turn. What if he is a total snob? His polish and sophistication only a veneer to hide an acute lack of self-respect. I would not like him for my own boss. Thank god, he is not. And the signal turns green.

Oh, look. There’s that bunch of college girls. They probably go to the same college as I did. Was it so long ago? Do they talk about the same things as we did? The same giggling and conspiratorial tones. Plans to bunk college and bitching about the rigorous attendance requirements. Exchanging notes and planning get-togethers. College fest coming up – so what about the dress code? There’s a sale on in the nearby malls. Maybe they can find some good deals – mix and match clothes and jewellery to put together a cool ensemble.

They walk on towards that mall and my car travels the really short distance left to office. And there ends my imagination’s hour out. Until the evening.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Faithfully Yours

What do a Jain nun, a low caste theyyam dancer, an upper caste idol maker, an illiterate folk singer from Rajasthan and another from Bengal and an HIV+ devdasi have in common? Not their language, not their nationality, not their religion. Faith – that’s what makes them alike.

If you have read William Dalrymple’s remarkably written and extremely relevant Nine Lives, you would have come across the stories of all these people. If you have not read it, I would strongly recommend it. It is a simply written book, objective yet understanding. Never judgemental, never harsh but always insightful.

The book reaffirmed what I have always believed – that it’s the Faith that matters. Nothing else. Religion is just an outer shell. A name given for identification. A protocol that one can follow. But at the heart, Faith is the bigger and truer emotion. Everything else is incidental.

Because what is Faith after all? Faith is knowing everything will be alright. Faith is hoping that your grandma is now a star smiling benevolently upon you. Faith is the child’s certainty that Santa would bring her gifts if she is good. Faith is praying so that India wins the match. Faith is adding your best wishes to Egyptian and Libyan revolutionaries. Faith is even building temples for Rajnikanth. Faith is being strong. Faith is simply believing in Him or Her or It – whatever suits you.

When I look back upon my own life, I find that while I always had a practising religion, it was my belief in God, a greater Providence or the Force, whatever you may choose to call it, that saw me through all the difficult times. Whether it was a spat with my closest friends or bad exam results. My first experience of seeing someone I care for die or my first day at work. At all these times, I believed and prayed that someone up there would guide me, keep watch over me.

And I like to think that this is true for all, or at least, most of us. Our prayers may take different forms and incantations but instinctively we are appealing to that entity or being beyond the skies. The blessings of our elders and the wishes of our friends are never directed by which religion they follow.

So many of my friends have found similar peace praying inside a church and inside a Buddhist temple. So many of us have travelled all the way to a dargah (the resting place of a Sufi saint) and asked for a mannat (a form of prayer, where the devotee promises the deity a comeback visit if his wish is granted). There are instances of temples which are maintained and revered by non-Hindu devotees.

Don’t these prove that it’s Faith and Faith alone that drives us when we pray? What does it matter whether you wear a cross or face west while praying? Who cares if you worship an idol and somebody else prays in front of a holy book? Who cares if you cannot recite the right shlokas or do not observe all the rituals?

I believe in angels and don’t care a whit whether they wear halos or wings, whether they speak Arabic or Hebrew, Sanskrit or Greek. Whether they carry an ektara or a harp. Whether they are white and golden or dusky and dark.

That is why it comes as such a shock when people persist in classifying people by their religion, race, caste, language etc. Everyone feels that their community is wronged and that their people who are victims of prejudice. But who are these people – ours and theirs? When would we realize that all of us have more in common than we give credence? If we were all the same, would we not become robotic and mechanical? Something straight out of a sci-fi horror novel.

But we may yet learn to see our Faith reflected in others. Maybe we can begin a quiet revolution for that. Amen.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Packing the World

Zzziiiipppp!!!!!! And at last the suitcase is zipped with all the things vital for my existence for the three day trip out of town. Have I got everything? Hmmm..lemme see.

Two saris. Check. Their blouses and petticoats. Check. Matching bindis and jewellery check.

Requisite number (at least half a dozen) of salwar suits. Check. Casual wear (jeans and t-shirts) – two sets for two days of travelling plus a couple of back-up. Check. Two new pairs of sandals. Check.

Make up, assorted lotions, lens case, spectacles. Check.

Books. How can I forget them? Check. But wait. They can’t go into the suitcase. How will I read them on the plane then? Take them out and pack them in the handbag.

But damn. Now the handbag has become too bulky. It’s probably going to dislocate my shoulder. And there are my PJs and the jacket and shawl that my sister has informed that I might need. I have not been able to pack them in the suitcase and the warm clothes will have to easily accessible anyway for the trip. Aarrgghhh.

I will have to carry an extra back pack and tow it in the overhead area on the flight. I hate doing that. But there’s absolutely no help.

Where can I find a backpack? Rummage. Hunt. Consider calling mom. Ah. There’s one hanging behind my door. This will do nicely. No, wait. The zip is stuck. Murphy at mischief again.

So, as a last resort, take the laptop out of its bag and stuff all the extra things in it. Maybe, I should get rid of the handbag and dump all its contents (some two kilos of it) in the back pack. Nah. Bad idea. Will have to keep the two separate.

Perhaps I can do without some of the things in my handbag. Which ones? Wet tissues? No. Comb? No. Wallet? You must be mad. iPod? Definitely no. Hand mirror? Painkillers? Lip Balm? Hand sanitizer? No. No. And, no.

There you have it. I will have to maintain status quo. A suitcase. A handbag and a back pack.

A better packer would have managed with just one piece of luggage. A light traveler would not have needed so many things in the name of essentials.

Unfortunately, I am neither. I belong to the class of people who need to carry their world with them regardless of the duration of the trip. I suspect that I have got it from my dad. So, not my fault, you see. And ergo, it would not be possible for me to reform my ways.

Not that I have not known sterling examples of excellent packing skills. I have an aunt who can make even the smallest suitcase look like a bottomless well. You can keep on throwing things for her to pack and they all end up being neatly organized in the single suitcase. I have seen her perform miracles with my spilling and splitting at the seams luggage. And on such occasions, I have stood aside, with mouth agape and eyes shining with reverence.

Anyway, no use ruing the lack of packing flair. At least, I have managed to cram my world in a suitcase, a handbag and a back pack. Surely, that calls for a round of applause.

Until next time, adios. 
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