Tell Me Your Dreams

The great long distance swimmer Diana Nyad once said – “You tell me what your dreams are. What are you chasing? It’s not impossible. Name it.”
Also, the great humorist Erma Bombeck once said – “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.”

There is one amazing thing which is common about both these women. And that is, that I have absolutely no idea who they are.
I first came across these quotes while browsing and then checked for their owners.

However, these women have inspired me too much today, so I decided to:

  1. Name my dream
  2. Tell them to someone else i.e. you and prove that I have a ‘lot of courage’

Though I have had lot of dreams in my long and illustrious sleeping career, today I shall only dwell upon the dream which I love the most.
My favorite dream is also my most common dream. I have had this dream about 10-12 times.
The name of this dream is “The Hole of Fortune”.

The opening scene is a sand quarry, not unlike the ones Gali Janardhan Reddy has in Bellary. In the middle of the road is a deep hole, roughly 20 feet. A frail but well-dressed old man is inside this hole.
He is terrified.

Outside, on the ground the hole is surrounded by scary looking goons. Nearby, a large crowd of spectators was gathering to see the unfolding events.
All the goons are dressed in identical white shirts and lungis. Except their boss – he is in formal clothes with his Infosys ID card hanging around the neck.

The goons are all restless. They are waiting for the boss to give them the go ahead.
The boss waits for a few minutes and then walks purposefully towards a nearby gate. The gate has a black color box attached to it. The boss places his card near the box. The beep sound confirms what everyone was waiting for. The swipe in is complete.
“Now,” says the boss.

Suddenly each goon pulls out a worn-out copy of Java: The Complete Reference, Fourth Edition by Herbert Schildt out of nowhere. The first goon throws his book into the hole. The others follow suit. The old man yells in pain as each of the books lands on his head. Even though there were only a few goons they had an unending supply of books. It was clear that they planned to bury the old man under an old version of Java.

The old man understood that the situation was hopeless. Apparently, he knew that in times of distress, Java was never reliable. And so, he screams out in grief – “BHAGAVANTHUDAAAA!”

And then – suddenly the wind intensifies. There are close-up shots of several Gods. A grizzly looking Sadhu blows a conch shell striking fear into everyone’s hearts. More close-up shots of some flags and temple bells. The wind intensifies even more.
In a flash, a huge wooden pestle – the one used to make Idli Batter in south Indian homes – flies through the air and hits the goons right in the center of their chests. The goons and the pestle fly together for about 100 meters and fall on the ground. The goons scream in agony.

Everybody wanted to know who threw that pestle. Who is this hero? Who is this God?
A few more temple and wind shots later, my face is finally revealed. With a cloud burst and thunder as background and a devotional song as background music.

All the spectators fold their hands and do Namaskaaram to me out of respect. I have no idea who they were, or why they respected me. But that doesn’t matter, because they clearly knew that I was somebody awesome.

I wipe my batter-stained fingers on my jeans and proceed to have one-to-one meetings with each of the goons. With a single punch per goon I immediately dispatch them to hell.
Five minutes later only the boss is left.

The boss yells at me – “Who are you? What is your caste? Developer? Lead? Manager? If you have dum in you, tell me your caste!”

I do not reply and calmly walk over to the hole. I stomp my foot on the ground. The earth shivers slightly and the old man flies out of the hole. I carry him in my arms and place him safely inside an ambulance waiting nearby.

And then I go to meet the boss.
First, I yank the ID card from his neck and put it in my shirt pocket.
Next I catch his collar and say it loud and clear for everybody to hear – “I am an employee first!”

The crowd roars in delight. They chant “Employee! Employee! Employee!” while I execute a perfect Roundhouse kick which deposits him into the Java filled hole in the ground. His last words vaguely sounded like ‘Class Cast Exception’.

The media had arrived by then, and they were ready to take my interview. But I ignore them and walk over to the main gate and do swipe-out for the dead boss.

A skimpily clad lady from the crowd comes running towards me in slow motion.
“Now that the fight is over, I am here to do the item song with you!” she says.
I shake my head. “The only item I know is the ItemListener interface in Java”

Crowd: “Employee! Employee! Employee!”

java-book

The scene then changes to a hospital. The old man is in the ICU, all kinds of tubes protruding from his various holes. The doctor thanks me for bringing the patient at the right time. A millisecond late and we would have lost him. He also does a Namaskaaram.

I go to see the person whose life I saved. He pulls two tubes out of his mouth and thanks me for my heroics. I wave a ‘It was nothing’ type wave.
“I don’t know how I can ever thank you for this” he says
“Are you rich aa?” I ask him
“Yes, but I want to give you something more valuable than money”
“You must be a HR manager.”
“What?”
“Nothing. What do you want to give me?”
“I am the owner of Anis Hyderabad House, Saint Louis, USA and I hereby give you lifelong unlimited free meals pass in my restaurant.”

The scene always blurs at this point in the dream for a few seconds. Possibly because of the tears of happiness in my eyes.

“You are too generous. I can’t accept,” I say saliva dripping out of my mouth.
“No, no, I insi-“
“I accept.”

The dream ends with me in my house watching Friends. A knock on the door. I open it. A smiling delivery boy with 2 full plastic bags and one bottle of coke.
“Dinner ready sir!” he says.

anis-hyderabad-house

Over the last 10-15 years, I have had this dream several times – once every year maybe.
There have been variations of course. The fight at the beginning differs. The Legend quarry is replaced by a Pokiri car shed or a Shankar Dada warehouse. Java becomes Oracle or Cold Fusion (but never Dot Net). Friends becomes House Of Cards or Dexter or HIMYM.
The hospital remains the same.
The restaurant usually changes depending on where I lived at the time.
12 years ago, it was Sagar Dhaba, Abids, Hyderabad.
8 years ago, it was Barbeque Nation, Indira Nagar, Bangalore.
5 years ago, it was Oh! India, Bellevue.
And now, it is Anis, St Louis.

Like Sigmund Freud, I have tried to analyze and make sense of this dream. Why do I see it so many times? What does it tell me about me?
Few things are obvious. So many people Namaskaaram-ing me clearly proves that I am destined for greatness. The fact that I didn’t ask for wealth or the old man’s daughter demonstrates that I value food above sex and money. Also, what better example of my discipline than the scene where I swipe-out the villain boss, right after killing him?

I agree that still a lot of mysteries remain. Why was I making Idli Batter in that quarry before the fight began? Why is Java Complete Reference 4th edition still in circulation?  What task code did the boss plan to use in his time-sheet for murdering the old man?

Maybe another blog post when I figure these things out. But for now I leave you with two words – I’m sleepy.

P.S. – There have been times when this dream ended up becoming a terrifying nightmare for me. The restaurant turned out to be Rajdhani pure vegetarian.

Fifty Shades Of Great

Dear Shah Rukh,

I was an Akshay Kumar fan when I was 9 years old.

I had seen Khiladi on pirated video cassette, and I knew that he was the best ever. He was tall and good looking. He knew Karate. He beat up the bad guys and saved the heroine from her evil uncle. And he married her in the end. Was he awesome or what?

A few months later my dad took me shopping. We went to buy some jeans for me and I insisted that I wanted Ruf and Tuf jeans only. Because Akshay endorsed them, yes. I got two pairs of Ruf and Tuf jeans that day.

Source: AkshayKumar.org

Source: AkshayKumar.org

I remember this well because that day evening, clad in my new jeans of a color unknown to me till then, I sat down and watched a movie starring an actor unknown to me till then.

The hero of Baazigar was short and he had hair like a bear. He didn’t know any martial arts. He dropped women from buildings or otherwise stuffed them in suitcases. And he didn’t marry the heroine. He died a bloody death in the end.

I had never seen anything like that before. The film haunted me for days. I was scared of the hero. I wasn’t even sure if the hero was indeed the hero. I didn’t even know if his name was ‘Shah Rukh Khan’ or ‘Shahrukh Khan’. Everything was so confusing and that was why it was so awesome. I later found out that my new jeans and the hero of Baazigar – both were grey shaded.

Ever since then, I have followed your career with much interest. And today I shall attempt to list three scenes here. Three scenes, I think which define your career and also your journey in life till now.

Scene 1
Though I loved Baazigar, I did hope that someday you would get the girl in the end and you wouldn’t kill her. The next three films of yours which I saw were Darr, Anjaam and Raam Jaane. The worst, worst, worst set of films possible, considering what I was hoping for. They made me very sad and depressed. With each film you continued to die and you continued to fail in getting the girl.

And then a friend recommended a film called Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa. My favorite performance of yours till date, at that time I didn’t know the monumental importance of this film in your career. Maybe you didn’t know it either.
For a change you didn’t die in it, but this film left me completely miserable. I don’t cry easily but Chris and Anna broke my heart by getting married at the end. And anybody who breaks my heart pays for it sooner or later. Deepak Tijori and Suchitra Krishnamoorthy never amounted to anything after that film. They ended.

And you Shah Rukh, you began.

For the next 20 years you took sadistic revenge for KHKN. You married and married and married. You married single women (Karan Arjun, Josh, K3G…). You married divorced women (Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna). You married widowed women (Koyla, My Name Is Khan). You married more than one woman (Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and KANK). You married dead women (Mohabbatein). You married the same woman twice (Paheli). You married way younger women (Rab Ne Banadi Jodi and Chennai Express). And of course, your favorite fetish, you married engaged women (DDLJ, Dil Toh Pagal Hai, Pardes, KKHH, Chalte Chalte, Veer Zaara and Jab Tak Hai Jaan).

All these films were to come over the years. But through each film, in a weird way, you were telling the audience to always root for you. You were telling them that in the end you will always win.

This desire to win – unlike others, you wore it on your sleeve. When you won the critics award for Kabhi Haan…, you said “I’ll keep coming back.” That said everything about your belief in yourself.

And coupled with that, you didn’t have a producer or an actor for daddy. You made it on your own – how could one not root for you?

My first scene is about your burning desire to keep winning. You weren’t a mega star when Yes Boss released. You were just 5 years into the job. But you sure took a white piano on to a race course and sang your plans to the world – “Jo bhi chahun woh main paun, Zindagi mein jeet jaun…”

SRK_YB

Scene 1

Today when I listen to this song I can’t help but smile. Everything in this song came true. Except the chaand, taare and sone ka mahal parts of course. But these were only due to physics and income tax limitations. Definitely not your fault.

Scene 2
It was the late nineties and like every teenage kid in India, I was your biggest fan. You told me that an eight year old girl can understand the complexities of love and relationships, and get her dad married to his best friend in college (KKHH) and I believed you. I even wore this thing to my college for a month. I had to stop after a friend bought one for his pet Pomeranian.

SRK_Cool

As the millennium turned, everything you touched was turning to gold (Mohabbatein, K3G, Devdas). But then anything you made was turning to dust (Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, Asoka)

You were only doing love stories but it was easy to see why. You lost money in both the films you produced and you couldn’t afford any more failure. You continued marrying. You continued winning.

In the rare scenario that you did not win, i.e. you don’t get the girl – you died. Plain and simple. (Dil Se, Devdas, Kal Ho Naa Ho and of course Baazigar, Darr, Anjaam and Raam Jaane from before. Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa being the only exception in your career and hence monumental). As Cersei Lannister said, “In the game of thrones you win or you die.” You became King Khan, first of his name.

SRK_Cersei

On a side note, there is this one little thing which surprised me. Everybody hates his films, but I would definitely like to know how Sajid Khan convinced you to do a special appearance in Heyy Babyy where you were to marry Vidya Balan, but the guys convince you to leave her.

Kudos Sajid. You can stop making films now. Should.

Kudos Sajid. You can stop making films now. Should.

May be you did it just for giggles. Anyways, that was not my second scene.
My second scene is from Swades.

SRK_Sw

Scene 2

The village elder, Dadaji (played by Lekh Tandon) on his deathbed, says to you: “Jis din tum aaye, mujhe laga kuch alag hai tum mein. Ab tum aa gaye ho, main chayn se mar sakta hoon”

I know there were people in the audiences who believed this. Of course not the chayn se marna part but everything else. If the film was boring, they waited for Shah Rukh to come along and make things interesting. Only one other actor had symbolized hope and joy to the audience before – in the 70’s and 80’s, a tall man with a deep baritone. And you had reached his league.

Scene 3
What goes up must…?

You should try this. Go to any educated, thirty something person in India and ask them this – “When did I start messing it up?”

Chances are they will say 2006. The last decade has seen tremendous changes in technology. Everyone had internet at home which meant everyone had torrents. Bollywood could no longer ‘get inspired by’ films from the west and get away with it. Of course, the films might make money but the audience would know. Add social media to that and the ones who know will tell the ones who don’t.

Things slowly went south. Your attempts at peddling infidelity through KANK and at being Bachchan in Don did not work. Your tribute to Gillette Mach 3 razor and Set Wet hair gel in Rab Ne… made us roll our eyes in disbelief. Like everyone else, you played the ‘hero with a condition’ in MNIK but we had already seen both Rain Man and Forrest Gump a million times before. Om Shanti Om, Happy New Year and Ra.One you said. Madhumati, Oceans and countless better super hero films we said.

Yes. One could argue that all these films are still blockbusters and they made loads of money. To which I would quote from DDLJ, your biggest blockbuster till date. Whenever we see any of these films we say to the film: “Aisa lagta hai maine aapko kahin dekha hai”.

In between all this, you did do the beautiful Chak De! India, but that only reminded us of what you are capable of. And that you choose not to try. The generation of teenagers and twenty somethings which loved you had grown up now. And we were waiting for you to grow up.

My third scene is from Jab Tak Hai Jaan. You get hit by a van and wake up in the hospital. The doctor diagnoses you with retrograde amnesia and asks you the year to check.

“2002” you tell her to the sheer joy of thousands of Modi haters.

SRK_JTHJ

Scene 3

This scene ironically explained your choices in films. India had moved on to new age cinema like Wasseypur, Kahaani, Madras Café and Shahid, but you were still chasing chiffon. Like Rajdeep, you were still in 2002.

So there. Three scenes. To be fair what is happening to you has happened to every great actor. That point in their careers where they reinvent themselves and flourish or they run the risk of become irrelevant. For baritone man it was in ’97 when he did Mrityudaata. For you it is now.

And you obviously have been aware of this for a long time. Deep down you always wanted to adapt for the India of today. So then what happened? Why couldn’t you? I think the answer to this is the most common dialogue in middle class Indian homes: “Our boy is smart, his friends have spoiled him”, No truer words in your case. You are a damn good actor and you have immense potential to do a variety of roles, but you could never get past Farah Khan, Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra and they held you back by giving you the same shit again and again. And you put the hit in shit.

As you quoted from Spider Man, back in 2005 when you received the Filmfare Power award, with great power comes great responsibility. Today with films, endorsements, an IPL team and a production house you are one of the biggest stars on earth and everyone from governments to universities to conglomerates all over the world have paid you homage. You sure owe it to yourself to do cinema relevant to the times we live in.

And surely things are looking good for you now. Your next, Dilwale is Rohit Shetty yes, but it also is Kajol. So, I am guessing much nostalgia and laughs in there. Also Fan looks very intriguing and even seems a little offbeat.

And then there is this other film set for Eid 2016, the one which Salman Khan announced in a series of five tweets – R, A, E, E and S.
When I saw the trailer and poster of Raees, my first feeling was Déjà vu. And then it was goosebumps. Because I realized I was seeing something which I had last seen 22 years ago. That maniacal glare, that chilling intensity. It was back. It was finally back.

SRK_BR

As you turn 50 today, here’s wishing you a very happy birthday and hoping you do memorable films and continue to entertain us – us, the thirty somethings – the first generation of your fans. And surely I can find a pair of grey shaded Ruf and Tuf jeans somewhere and enjoy your movies again?

Baahubali – Not a Review

There is a scene in Baahubali where a prince disguised as a thief asks a wine merchant for a glass of wine. The merchant gives him wine in a small tumbler which the prince throws away without drinking.
“Bigger!” the prince says.
The merchant gives more wine in a bigger tumbler which the prince again rejects.
“Bigger than this!” says the prince again.
The merchant gives him wine in a huge pitcher which the prince again tries to discard.
“Much bigger than this!”
The merchant is perplexed. The prince says:
“Much, much bigger! Do you have anything so big, that it is enough for everyone here?”

The merchant stares at him for a moment.
And then the merchant delivers.

It is hard to miss the Quentin Tarantino style reference here, but this one scene perfectly describes what Baahubali is all about.
It is something so big, so spectacular and so awesome that everything we have seen till then pales in comparison. It is bigger than fans and records, than collections and hundred crores, than languages and states.
Because collections will be made and records will be broken every week. But not every film will make the world sit up and take notice.

Ratings

True story. I went to watch the film on Sunday and while I was waiting for the theater doors to open, I heard the following conversation between 2 ladies.

L1: I heard it is very good. War scenes are awesome!
L2: Yes, too bad the Hindi version isn’t playing in Seattle.
L1: My roommate told me to watch the original version only. That is why I booked tickets for the Tamil one. Plus there will be subtitles anyway.

I wanted to tell them, but another guy standing in front of them turned around and did it.
“Madam, this is the Telugu version. Not Tamil.”
The guy then turned back and left with his group.

The ladies were silent for a bit. And then,
L2: What was his problem? There will be subtitles no. What difference does it make? It’s Sauth only no? Anyway, Telugu is which state?
L1: Kerala I think.

I briefly considered pushing them down an escalator nearby and screaming ‘Jai Mahishmati!’, but decided against it.

I had met enough of these kind of people in my life and they don’t bother me as much as they used to. From “All south heroes are fat and old” to “Rajni is that ugly Kannad hero right?” to “Mallu movies are all porn” to “Pokiri is the remake of Wanted!” to “Telugu films are all about flying Scorpios and flying people.”

I have seen and heard them all.

Which is why it makes me happy to see this film being universally loved and accepted. For the first time people (especially from outside south India) have come out and openly supported it. Not only in the film fraternity, even outside it. The film industry in a way is obliged to say something nice whenever a big film comes along, so it doesn’t really matter. But to get the appreciation of the common man, that is the true measure of this film’s success.

News channels all over India aired reviews and opinions about the film all weekend. Office coffee rooms buzzed with conversations about it. Girls wanted to know more about ‘Prabhash’. Social media timelines were flooded with posts about the film. An average user posted the following updates:

  1. Check-in at theater with photo of tickets.
  2. One line opinion after the film was over.
  3. Couple hours later, their review of the film.
  4. CNN review
  5. BBC review
  6. Hollywood Reporter review
  7. The Guardian review
  8. Forbes review
  9. Facts about the film
  10. Box office collections usually with a picture of the Khans crying

But my favorite posts have been those of married couples in the theaters with pictures of their babies. Because it was the baby’s ‘first movie on the big screen’.

People are loving a Telugu film and for the first time, they aren’t shying away from admitting it. They are proud of it and they have made it their own.

Even before it released, people knew that it wasn’t something to be taken lightly. BBC made it part of its documentary  before the film released, usually ego-filled Telugu ‘superstars’ postponed the release of their films, even people in other states waited for it.

That the film has made 100 crores in 35 hours, that it has broken every record made by previous films, that it has crossed IMDB ratings of some Hollywood flicks, that it has everyone swooning over it doesn’t really surprise me. Or for that matter anyone from the Telugu film audience.

Because we have been fortunate enough to see S.S. Rajamouli from the beginning and we know what he is capable of.

He showed us that he doesn’t need a superstar hero to make a successful film (Sye).
Then he showed us that he doesn’t even need a hero (Maryaada Ramanna).
And then he showed us that he doesn’t even need a human being (Eega).

So when he set out to make India’s biggest motion picture I wasn’t wondering if he would be able to do it. I was just waiting for him to.

Because I knew that he would succeed. I knew that the merchant would deliver.

Untitled-1

Also Rajamouli has managed to do what no one has done in recent times. To make a blockbuster with zero controversy. There were no fringe groups taking objection to the title or poster, nobody trying to stall the release because it hurt their sentiments, no #BoycottBaahubali twitter campaign. Wait, the last one did happen. Some people in Bangalore tried to start it because a local film was removed from some theaters to screen Baahubali. But the protest ended up like Bhallaladeva’s statue in the Interval shot.

Other than that, today everyone claims that Baahubali is their own. AP and Telangana say it’s a Telugu film. Karnataka, TN and Kerala say it’s a South Indian film. North India says it’s an Indian film.

And everyone’s right. Baahubali belongs to everyone.
It also means something to everyone.

For Karan Johar, it is Christmas. Santa came from South India instead of North Pole.

For Rajeev Masand it is vengeance. It is vengeance against all the ‘stars’ he silently hated all his life – the Khans, the Kapoors, the Kumars, the Karans and the Kashyaps – “500 crores my ass. Can you ever make a film like this?”

For the Telugu audience it is a message. That a film is successful only and only because of the vision and execution of the director. And that worshiping and boot-licking heroes at audio functions won’t make an iota of difference.

For Bollywood it is a Wake Up call. One which tells them they are not the entire Indian film industry. That a man from the ‘Sauth only no’ can make a film far bigger than they can ever dream of, and without having superstars, without doing guest roles on CID, without being molested by transvestites on Comedy Nights with Kapil for publicity, still achieve incredible success.

For India it is a moment of immense pride. We’ll never be able to make the money a Hollywood film makes. But we too can make spectacular epic films, and we can make them entertaining.

Waterfall

For me…for me, it is a triumph. A triumph against everyone who thinks that Telugu films are only about fights and dances and about flying people. Oh we’re flying alright. We’re flying so high, to even look at us you’ll need to crane your neck really, really … ‘Sauth’.

Up in the Air

Appraisal meeting, 2008.
My manager was lecturing me.
“See onsite role is different from here. It is a client facing role. Your client should be like your guest. What would you do if guests come to your house?”

Hope they would leave soon so that I could go back to watching Laughter Challenge on YouTube was the right answer, but I said nothing.

He tried again.
“Ok, what do you know about the responsibilities at onsite?”

I remembered reading the job description document of one of my team mates when she was applying for her visa. So I immediately tried to recall the side headings from that doc.
Turned out it was unnecessary.
“The most important responsibility at onsite is information gathering,” he said. “You gather the information about what the client needs. The information may be functional requirements, technical requirements…”
For the next ten minutes he give me a lot of information on information gathering.
I asked him about my US visa again.

“Have you heard the word called recession?”

Ten more minutes later the meeting ended. No visa that year.
“We will try for your visa next cycle. Meanwhile you learn about information gathering. You might be traveling abroad soon. Very soon.” he promised.

Four years later, I reached the Bangalore airport at 3:30 AM on a cold Monday morning. Turned out I was carrying 8 kilos less than the limit, so my mom frantically searched for more food to stuff in my bags. My brother was busy going through the checklist of checklists which contained the list of things I should be having with me during the journey. My dad wanted to know how far Seattle was from Universal Studios.

I was cool. The itinerary was simple. Flight to London, then to Chicago, then to Seattle. And then cab to Bellevue. I had everything I needed. Plus more importantly, in case if anything went wrong I was armed with a very powerful safeguard.
An Excel sheet printout which had four columns – Serial Number, Name, Phone Number and US Address.

Check-in and security didn’t take too much time. My flight to London was two hours later. So I decided to make the best use of my time.

I soon found what I was looking for. I ordered a chocolate doughnut and a Cafe Frappe at the airport Coffee Day.

Usually during times like these, the mind goes into the ‘I miss home already’ mode. But for me that was not the case. I had recently watched the Telugu film, Businessman starring Mahesh Babu. In that the hero goes to Mumbai and becomes a crime lord. I was also thinking on those lines. Won’t it be awesome if after reaching Seattle, I skip going to office the next day and instead meet the local gangs? Unite and mobilize them? Sell marijuana and soon move on to cocaine? Diversify my interests to money laundering, extortion, murder? Maybe a few assassinations? The possibilities were endless.
To quote Mahesh, ‘Seattle ko su-su karaane aaya.”

I got an aisle seat which was perfect. Not wanting the window seat in a flight is the ultimate sign of growing up. I fell asleep even before the flight’s take-off. Even though I wasn’t in the office, it was still Monday morning so my body was programmed to sleep. It was late afternoon when I woke up. I spent the reminder of the flight watching the Hindi movie, No one killed Jessica.

The flight reached London on time. The stopover was less than two hours. So I had no time to waste.

I quickly found a restaurant and made myself comfortable. I scanned the menu for the vegetarian items, just to make sure I didn’t order any of them by mistake. I finally settled for a healthy lamb sandwich with fries and soda.

After the meal I found an ATM to withdraw some dollars. Not that I needed them, I just wanted to check if the international travel ATM card given by my company was working or not. Experience taught me never to believe when the company says it is giving me money.

I couldn’t sleep during the London to Chicago flight. I read the first two hundred pages of Michael Connelly’s latest book ‘The Fifth Witness’ and watched an episode of some TV show called ‘The Big Bang Theory’.

Chicago was my port of entry into the United States. This was where forever angry officers would ask me about my visit to the country. Who are you? Why are you here? How long will you stay? Where? Show me your documentation. I hate your face.

I was prepped for this thing a week before my journey. The rule was simple. Answer truthfully.

I hadn’t watched Game of Thrones then, but my officer looked a lot like Tywin Lannister.
His first question was ‘Where you going?’ but it was clear he meant ‘Where do you think you’re going?’
He followed it up with how long, which company and what kind of work.
Throughout the entire encounter his face had a constant smirk which was clearly saying what Tywin once said to Joffrey Baratheon.

I don't care if winter is coming. I'll send it back to India.

I don’t care if winter is coming. I’ll send it back to India.

Next was documentation round. He asked for the work permit which I showed him.
Tywin didn’t look happy with the document. Not happy at all.
He returned it to me and after a long, long stare, finally said “Welcome to the United States.”

This stopover was 2.5 hours.
No, I did not eat anything at the airport.

The flight from Chicago to Seattle had in-flight Wi-Fi. I felt the itch to check Twitter but I was too tired to even pull my phone out of my jeans. I badly needed some sleep.
The guy in my neighboring seat was Indian.
Name Naresh. Coming from Chennai. Okay, talk to him for five minutes and sleep.
Working with Infosys. Going to Bellevue.
Uh oh. Sleep vanished.

It was my turn to ask questions. The remainder of the journey, I found out everything about Bellevue. The apartments, the Indian stores, the restaurants and most importantly the movie theaters. I also learnt about the public transport, the weather and about his roommate, someone called Kamala Kannan.

My very first information gathering exercise in the USA was a success. I was ready for onsite.

I landed in Seattle around midnight. It took 45 minutes to go to the main terminal and collect my bags. I found a luggage cart stand nearby and went to get one. To my horror I found that to use a cart I had to insert 4 dollar bills into the machine.
My mind did what every recently-arrived-to-USA-Indian’s mind usually does.
Multiplied each dollar by fifty.
I paid the two hundred rupees and loaded my bags on to the cart.
All set. Now to the cab stand.

“Mr. Deepak.”
I turned to see who had called my name. Standing behind me was a stranger.
For a second I was blank. I tried to place his face.
Could this be an imposter here to kidnap me? Or did the FBI have some very advanced technology which reads the thoughts of every person entering America, using which they found out about my plans to become a crime lord? Was I going to be arrested?
Then it hit me.
He was Indian, and only one Indian in America knew that I was landing in Seattle at this time.

I had seen my onsite manager only once, and that too it was two years before when he visited Bangalore. I didn’t remember his face that well, because when he was there I was busy looking for chocolates with work. I only remembered his voice because it had haunted me on daily calls every morning for the past 3 years. I was pleasantly surprised that he had come to the airport to receive me.
We spoke for a few minutes. But I was still not sure if this person was my boss. In my mind, I was trying to recall the face.

He asked me if I collected all my bags and completed all the other formalities. We walked to the car parking lot. Seattle airport was alive with people even at that time of the night.

“So all set for tomorrow?” he asked interrupting my thoughts.
“Actually I am still jet lagged. Can I sleep tomorrow and start from Wednesday?” I asked.
“You must be joking. You have to do your I9 in the Infosys office first, and then I will introduce you to the client team at 10. Next Ratna will start the KT sessions with you. Also you need to get your badge from the Renton office ASAP.”
Definitely my boss.

Performance In'cent'ive

Performance In’cent’ive

We reached his car and put my bags in the trunk. In the parking lot, there was a stand to return the luggage carts. Returning the cart at the stand will get me a quarter dollar, my boss told me. Twelve point five rupees, my mind said immediately.
I walked to the cart stand and pushed the cart in line. The wheel got jammed in the railing, so I pulled it back and tried again. It worked this time. I went to the coin return box and checked for my reward. Nothing. I tried adjusting the cart again a few times. It still didn’t work.
I had wasted enough time with this thing and it was hopeless. Maybe the wheel had a problem. Or maybe the coin box. Or maybe me. I was too tired to find out plus boss was waiting. I let the quarter go.

And that, was how I failed at my very first attempt to make money in America.

Four days, five nights

Four days, five nights

On the way to the hotel in Bellevue, I learnt a few things about Seattle. In a nutshell, Seattle was scenic. Lots of beautiful sights to see around.

We reached the Days Inn hotel a little after 1:30 AM. I took the key to room 344 at the reception. On the way to the room I learnt that US buildings don’t have a ‘ground’ floor – floor numbers started at one.
I hadn’t even seen my room properly but I already loved the hotel. Because right next to it, I saw the most beautiful sight in America.

Seattle was indeed scenic.

Seattle was indeed scenic.

Before leaving boss told me to be ready by 9 AM and reminded me to wear business formals. The first of many, many times.

I didn’t go to sleep immediately. I first dutifully checked the hotel Wi-Fi connection, updated my Facebook status and then finally tucked in. Office in a few hours.
I postponed the crime lord plan to that coming weekend. The first of many, many times.

It’s time to wacup!

The other day I saw this teaser from the International Cricket Council and realized that the world cup is just 100 days away.

Cliche dialogue alert.
It seems like just yesterday that our men in blue lifted the coveted prize that historic night after a gap of 28 years.

When a world cup is on, our lives are in a different mode. Movies aren’t released. People fall ‘sick’ regularly. Even Kejriwal doesn’t schedule Dharnas.
And every world cup has memories. We remember exactly where we were during India vs Pakistan, Bangalore ’96. We remember Lance Klusener starting that disastrous run on 49.4 and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at Edgbaston, ’99. We remember Telugu film hero Dr. Rajasekhar cheering for India in the final by doing an open top jeep rally at Tank Bund, Hyderabad ’03. Lovely memories.

Rajasekhar

Although having followed world cups (except 2007, for obvious reasons) since 1996, 2011 was the cup which I enjoyed the most. Right from Sehwag’s four off the first ball of the tournament to Dhoni’s six off the last it was a whirlwind of a series.

We saw Yuvraj’s roar when he destroyed Ponting’s pride in the Quarter Final. We saw the end of legends – Muttiah Muralitharan and Shoaib Akthar. We saw the birth of new legends – Kamran Akmal and Ashish Nehra. We saw a lot many things. But on the day of the final, when we saw that short little man sitting on the shoulders of Yusuf Pathan, holding the Indian flag and waving to the crowds, we knew that we were all experiencing a life event.

The only blemish on the moon was this world cup had introduced Poonam Pandey to us.

This cup was different. This was the first time we saw a world cup on ‘TV + Social Media’, watching the game on TV and simultaneously posting/reading the reactions on Twitter. It was a whole new way of watching a match and it helped when the match was slow. There was always some interesting observation from someone on the timeline even during the dullest moments.

I had recently bought my first smart phone (HTC Desire powered by Android 2.2) and was going through the ‘can’t get enough of it’ phase. So it was too much fun following the game on TV and Twitter.

The timeline showed faster mood swings than a pregnant woman. During our match with England, it went from ‘Another Tendulkar hundred going to be wasted. Indian bowlers suck!’ to ‘Zaheer Khan is God’ within a few minutes.

And the memes. Every morning we saw memes which summarized the match of the previous day. Sometimes they highlighted the most important moment of the match. Whether funny or serious, the memes were always thought provoking.

Yuvraj Ponting

And of course the quotes. From news channel tickers to SMS, the quotes were everywhere.

England receives the KO punch.

When Ireland’s Kevin O’Brien defeated them in a group match with the fastest world cup 100.

End of an Aus-some era!

When India knocked the Aussies out in the QF.

And my personal favorite:

Jagan Odarpu Yatra in Pakistan.

When…well, you know when.

Today when I look back at those days, it saddens me when I realize that a Ganguly or a Dravid or a Laxman did not lift the world cup. But a piece of filth called Sreesanth did. Life is unfair.

In the midst of all the chaos, to me the most memorable moment of the world cup (after the winning moment) was this:

FB Post

I was confident… ok wishful…ok desperately hoping, fine? – that I would be married before the next world cup.

Two days before the final my friends made a wager with me. They said that if India wins the final, I should get married to the first girl who walks into my street on my birthday which was in 2.5 months.
One of these friends wanted to know my bank account number so that she could return some money which she insisted she owed me. Several times I had refused to give it to her, so she put a sub clause to this bet.
If I fail to marry on my birthday, I had to give my account number to her.

Why we were like this, I honestly don’t know.

It’s been nearly 4 years since then. So much has changed during these 4 years.
Good things happened. Osama was killed, India got a strong government and the world didn’t end as predicted by the Mayans.
Terrible things happened too. Sachin retired, Steve Jobs died and ‘Businessman’ starring Mahesh Babu was released.

Personally for me these 4 years have been, how do I put it…eventful.
Though there are several events – both good and bad – which have brought me to this point in life, today I will attempt to choose 4 of them.
These 4 events are special because of one simple reason – they have made me wonder.
In no particular order:

  1. Moved to the USA – Having lived in Libya for 9 years, traveling abroad wasn’t exactly new to me. But on the day of the journey I knew it was the start of a new phase in life. My experiences in America would be several blog posts long. But for now let’s just say America has bored me enough to start a blog.
  2. Met a childhood friend – I hated Facebook because it made it impossible for us to let go of the people we didn’t want in our lives. But I would always be indebted to it for connecting me with all my childhood friends. Especially because they were in different states and countries.
    It made staying in touch so easy. Soon I got a message on Messenger that one of them was coming to India and that too to Bangalore to attend the Metallica concert. And so when I finally saw Ahsanul Bari walking towards me after a gap of 17 years I knew that at that moment life was awesome. And beyond that Nothing Else Matters.
  3. Watched Gunda – If you haven’t seen Gunda, it only means one thing. You haven’t seen it yet.
    Five minutes into this film and I knew I was watching something truly great.
    Two hours later when it ended I knew that my life had changed forever.Gunda
    I had become a new person and there was just no going back. Zalzala Jaag Utha Hai.
  4. As many of you would be wondering, the answer is no, I did not get married on my birthday to the first girl who walked into my street. And no, I did not give my bank account number to my friend.
    Yes, she was livid with me. So as a fitting revenge, exactly 7 months after the bet she married me and now has complete control over my bank account.

So here’s hoping we have a fantastic world cup and 4 more years of memories.

Image Sources: raagalahari.com, celebrityface.in

Open Letter to an Old Friend

Dear Santosh,

It is with great sadness that I write this letter to you. Like every weekend I was looking forward to our Saturday ISD call where we discuss our lives, dreams and aspirations for the first 30 seconds followed by an in-depth analysis of Telugu serial ‘Ninne Pelladutha’. But today you have ruined my mood by starting the call with some terrible news.

You informed me about your grandmother’s death.
I didn’t know she was still alive. Now coming to the terrible news part.

You said that you got a brand new SLR camera.

Why man why?! Why in seven bloody hells would you do such a thing?
Please do not tell me you like photography. We both know you don’t give a damn about it.
I’ve known you for a long time. You’ve never really cared for taking photos. If you want proof, check the camera you always had in your pocket. It’s called your phone. You’ll have very few pictures in your phone. You always had that camera but you rarely used it. Also you have a pretty good compact camera. But you rarely used that too.
And yet, you still got an SLR now because everybody else is doing it. I was appalled.

After abruptly cutting the call and crying for 15 minutes I regained my composure. I knew what I had to do. It was obvious that you committed a rookie mistake.
You needed help.
And I…I needed to tell you a story.

Listen to me son. And listen hard.
Once upon a time there was a boy who lived a simple life. He had a Honda Civic car which he used to travel in and around town – usually to some movie theaters and to Ambika Departmental Stores down the street. He was happy with his car.
Then one day his friend bought a brand new Lamborghini. The friend took this boy for a drive. During the drive he boasted about the features of the car – the powerful engine, the gorgeous looks, the unmatched comfort etc.
The next day Civic boy took all his savings from Margadarsi Chit Fund Private Ltd and bought a Lamborghini. He drove it to Ambika and bought groceries for the week. He went to Forum mall and watched the 6 PM show of Aptharakshaka.
Since he had a cool car now, he bought accessories for it. He bought new clothes for himself to go along with the car. He traveled to Annapurna Departmental Stores which was in the next city so that he could drive more. He kept traveling to places which he didn’t need.
Two weeks after he bought the new car, he finally realized that he could do all these things using his old Civic too. He wanted to return the Lambo and put the money back in Margadarsi. But neither Stephan Winkelmann nor Ramoji Rao agreed to this plan.
A year later the boy applied for a city bus pass.

Moral of the story? CEOs suck, Santosh.

Your life will suck too. From the day you get an SLR.
You will begin by uploading a picture of the camera (with box) to Facebook. #Excited. Likes will rain.
This is when you will immediately decide that photography is your passion.

You will try looking for some good places to take pictures with it. Naturally beautiful surroundings will suddenly look interesting to you. Trees, gardens, leaves, bushes. Your masculinity will start questioning itself because flowers will start exciting you. Like guys your age, you will also go to parks. But not with your girlfriend.

Flower will interest you more than lover.

Flower will interest you more than lover.

From parks you will graduate to celebration photography. Birthdays, weddings, seemanthams etc. Clever people like me will invite you to all the functions possible. I get a free photographer. You get a chance to use your SLR. I will praise your photography skills, but it will take a long time for you to realize that I am just using you.

Soon you will move on to the next level. You will take your camera everywhere. Any event that happens in town will ‘interest’ you. You will be seen lurking around Comic Cons, around food festivals, around tribal art exhibitions and around Kavi Sammelans.

You remember we used to walk every evening from my room to Balaji Veg hotel in BTM to have coffee? This walk as you know it will be over. It will now become a hunt. You will click everything in that route – from the logo of Café Coffee Day to the logo of the Jockey underwear store. You will annoy everyone from college kids indulging in PDA to the roadside Pani Puri sellers trying to make a living.

Memories from your travels.

Memories from your travels.

And you know the worst thing that could happen? You traveling to USA, Santosh. The day you set foot here you are finished. Or started, depending on how you look at it. Your photography hormones will go into overdrive. Everything is clean in USA, so everything is a photo in USA.

From McDonald’s to Manhattan, you will be clicking away like crazy. Life becomes a series of albums. Every album will be uploaded to Facebook. Your profile will have albums with highly original and exciting names like ‘Starbucks Trip’, ‘Cherry Picking’ and ‘Madhu Sendoff’. And it most definitely will have an album called ‘Random Pics.’

You remember the days when holidays meant waking up at 12 pm, hanging out with friends, pizza and a DVD of Palanati Brahmanaidu? Well I have news for you. Those days are over. Gone.

If you are with your wife in the US, your vacations will be as follows. You will buy 2 pairs of cooling glasses, Santosh. One for you and one for your wife. You will start at 6 AM on Saturday morning and drive hundreds of miles to a pre-planned place. Then you guys will wear those glasses and…you will stand.
You will stand in front of Mount Rainier, of Mount Olympus, of Mount Pilchuck and of Mount Spokane.
Of Mount Maple, of Mount Fernow, of Mount Mitchell and of Mount Baker.
Of Mount Snoqualmie and of Mount Don’t Call Me. Of Mount Yellowstone and of Mount Leave Me Alone. Of Bear Mountain and of I Don’t Fucking Care Mountain.
Every time you stand you will ask some unlucky passerby to take your pictures using your SLR. They will go through the torture of getting the perfect shot of you, your wife and the mountain together, all the time enduring the sight of your various mushy poses with your wife.
The mission is to get at least one ‘Best couple ever!’ comment after you post these the next day.

Standard vacation pic

Standard vacation pic

And if you are single and in the US, you will still travel to the mountains. Usually with a bunch of boys each having his own SLR. Here’s a tip Santosh. If you ever find yourself in such a group, do not participate in the photo session for a few minutes. Just take a few steps back, close your eyes and listen to the dialogues. They will go something like this:
‘You two…yes, ok…next you both…you stand behind him…good…now you come back and you join him…ok just bend a little…he isn’t coming in the shot…yes now both of you are coming…yes hold it, hold it, hold it!…perfect…now three of you…remove the jacket, its ruining the view…yes, excellent shot…now everyone come together…’.

Yep.

And if you are unlucky enough, clever people like me will take you along so that you can take my pictures while I do mushy mushy with my wife.

For the past 3 years I have wondered why the ‘Desi’s here masturbate so much to mountains, man. For the sake of variety the background sometimes changes from mountains to lakes or meadows or rivers. But the ‘joy’ of clicking their pictures remains the same.

A decade of vacations will look like this.

A decade of vacations will look like this.

Everything you do from scratching to scuba diving, you will worry about getting the perfect shot. You will worry about the clothes you wear. And about how you look. Because of your fucking SLR, your friends will be worried about how they are looking too. Outings will become more stressful than office.

And one day you will reach the highest orgasm offered by SLR Sex.
You will open a Facebook page called Santosh Photography and pester people to like it. If people like me post the occasional photo using my 4 MP HTC One phone camera, you will pounce over it and provide ‘constructive criticism’. You will tell me the filter I should have used, the angle I should have used, the lens I should have used. If I am in the picture, even the fucking color of the shirt I should’ve worn. Congratulations Santosh. You have become an asshole with an SLR. You have become an Assholar.

Save yourself man. Use the Civic.

I will be coming to India in a couple of months and will meet you. And if I see that SLR anywhere near you, I will shove it very far up your behind, click a high resolution picture of your large intestine, give it a Retro effect using Photoshop, copyright it with my signature, and then upload it to an album. And yes, I will call the album ‘Random Pics’.

Yours Sincerely,
Y. Deepak

P.S. – RIP Grandmother.

My EnigMA

So almost 10 months after I came to America, I finally got a chance to watch a Hindi movie in a theater. I hated the timing of the show. 3 pm on a Saturday afternoon.
But that was the time the guy who was driving the car wanted. And in USA, the guy with the car was like the guy with the cricket bat in your mohalla back in India.
They decide the time.

English Vinglish was interesting. 30 minutes into the movie, Sridevi playing a middle class Indian woman who didn’t know English, was traveling abroad for the first time and she struggles to answer questions in English at the airport counter. Though the scene was meant to provide comic relief, I felt a hint of moisture in my eyes. I had seen this very scene before.
Nearly 30 years ago. Another middle class Indian woman who did not know English. Trying to answer questions in English at an airport counter. Holding her breath in her throat. And holding me in her arms.

My mother was born and brought up in a small town in south India. Being the eldest of 5 children meant that you had a very short childhood. That when dad was angry you were first in the firing line. That you helped mom with the house work. That your school progress report card will be checked first and others’ will be compared to it. That you were the bridge between the kids and the parents. Many years later my grandma told me that my mother learned responsibility and started looking after her siblings from when she was 9 years old.

After my grandfather died leaving behind a legacy of tyranny and debts, my mother learned the importance of independence. She understood that each person had to take care of themselves. That the cavalry ain’t coming.

My mother did what she had to do. She studied to become a teacher. She got a government job in her town and started earning. She taught Hindi.
She met my father who was on his way to become a doctor. They both had nothing to show for their past. But they had faith in the future.

Two years after they married, I was born. My father got a chance to work in Libya. A job in a third world Arab country filled with extremism and poverty wasn’t exactly a dream opportunity. But if you had to set up practice as a doctor in India, you had to be rich enough to retire first. My father traveled to Libya for work. Soon he came to know that it would be a long term contract.

A few months later, my mother who never knew that a world existed outside her town prepared herself to travel to the neighboring continent.
She learned meanings of new interesting English words like ‘passport’, ‘visa’, ‘transit’, ‘check-in’ and ‘travelers cheques’. She practiced speaking simple sentences in English. She wrote down a list of Arabic words and their meanings.  She boarded the first flight in her life. To a country where she’d  be arrested if she wore a Sari. With a stopover in Pakistan.
Oblivious to all this I slept. I had no idea what my parents were up to.

Life in Libya was difficult. There was no accommodation allotted to my father, so we lived in the house of another doctor who had gone to India for a few months. Weekend plans consisted of meeting up with other people and going on 3 mile hikes to get groceries. Reaching home safely without getting mugged by the locals gave the adventure which life craved. Water tanker came once in 2 weeks. It was rumored that the chief of the local hospital had a phone and television in his house.

My mother did what she had to do. Over the next 9 years she went about working for our family. I saw her set up everything when we moved to our own house. I saw her help me and my brother get ready for school. I saw her set the table for lunch and dinner everyday just in time when my father came back home from work. I saw her ‘foolishly’ clean the house everyday when I couldn’t ever find a single spot which needed cleaning. I saw her cook and bake almost anything I asked, without ever once checking YouTube. I saw her play the perfect host at parties without ever referring to a lifestyle and partying magazine.
But there were two things I never saw. I never saw when she went to sleep and I never saw when she woke up.

Image

Whenever I was upset I walked into her arms. When she was upset, she walked 2 miles to the post office, placed an international call, waited 20 minutes and then spoke to her mother. For 5 minutes.

She missed having a girl child. I later came to know that she had a miscarriage before I was born. I knew that she never got over the loss.
I also knew how she would treat her future daughters-in-law.

Once in two years we came to India on 3 month vacations. She ensured that at least 15 days were spent in my paternal grandparents’ home. A week after her marriage, my mother understood that her husband shared a strained relationship with his mother. This would be every married girl’s dream, but my mother worked on repairing the relationship. She made sure we kids knew who our grandma was. Over time, I understood that my grandma had come to love my mother more than she loved my father.

We returned to India in ’94. But my parents knew that we still hadn’t saved enough to start a life here. My father had to go back for 3 more years.

My mother did what she had to do. She went to work. I saw her prepare notes everyday for her classes the next day. I saw her evaluate answer papers till late in the night. I saw her win laurels for her work at school.
I was entering my teens and went to her with my pathetic problems. She told me not to worry when things didn’t go as planned. ‘If your life went according to plan, then you haven’t really lived,’ she had said.

Image

Amidst all this I saw that she had one annoying habit. She had a people problem. She talked to people, made friends with them, helped them, asked them for help. She was always in contact with all her relatives. With the students and teachers she had worked with. With the neighbors, the milkman, the vegetable seller, the auto driver across the street. I wondered many times why she bothered with everyone especially when they didn’t care much. Years later, I got the answer when I looked down from the stage on my wedding reception.

To me the life of Mrs. Y. Janaki has been an incredible tale of inspiration, courage and above all, simplicity.
Her story needs to be told.

Because at 28 years old when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, she accepted it with a quiet silence and since then took two insulin injections every day of her life.

Because when her younger brother married a girl from a ‘lower’ caste she argued with the whole family for him and made them accept his wife as their family, because ‘caste is nothing.’

Because when she saw a Pakistani couple detained in an airport as they didn’t have money to pay for customs, she gave away the 100 dollars she had.

Because when she took me to our servant maid’s house for lunch, I learned how thankful we should be for what we have.

Because when she introduced me to a physically disabled kid in her school, I understood how unfairly fortunate I am.

Because during a train journey, during the middle of the night when she saw a delirious old woman sitting across her, she helped her get down the train at the next station, gave her water and money and asked the station master to help her with medical aid.

Because when my great-grandmother who never saw a movie in a theater due to fear of crowds said that Hum Aapke Hain Koun trailer looked good, she bought all the tickets in the balcony class.

Because at 45 years old  when she suffered a heart stroke and the doctor told her he couldn’t promise anything, she did not cry but simply said to me, ‘Be good. Look after your brother.’

Because when a tenant in our apartment was worried about money for setting up his new business she gave away all her pension money which she had saved.

Because when a newly married couple who were disowned by their families(for marrying outside religion) moved in to the house next to us, she made them her own and helped them with setting up their lives.

Because in 33 years of marriage my father never bought clothes for himself.  New clothes always magically appeared in his cupboard from time to time.

Because when I told her that I wanted to marry a girl who belonged to a different community and state who couldn’t speak our language, she asked me only one question. “Where can I buy that ‘Learn Kannada in 30 days’ book?”

Because after all these years, the 9 year old girl who looked after everyone around her, still lives.