Listening or What is Left of It

A conversation needs two people. Duh.

What we tend to forget that conversation also means people need to listen to each other.

Invariably today when two people are talking, they are talking ‘at’ and not ‘with’ each other.

Example:

A: I watched Sanju (movie) and adored the performance of the actors.

B: Did you know Sanju is an attempt to whitewash his tarnished image?

B is all of us at some point in our lives. B has not even acknowledged what A has said. B had a point related to the topic and blurted it out. He did not care that A said something and that point needs to respond to. This is the new normal. It doesn’t need to be.

I have had such conversations with lots of people in my professional and personal life. Unfortunately, I have ended up becoming B. I add a useless point in the conversation that has nothing to do with the conversation we are having.

Silence is not appreciated in a conversation at all. When someone is talking you need silence to grasp what the other person is trying to say. Instead, we are thinking of following our agenda. Making our point is more important than understanding the context, processing the information and then thoughtfully responding to it.

A: Shouts bla bla bla

B: blah blah blah

We had a great conversation.

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Yercaud – More than a weekend getaway

You will be surprised to what length Google Maps can go to ensure you spend as little on fuel as possible! For the most part of our drive to Yercaud (a small hill station near Salem, Tamil Nadu, India) we paid exorbitant money as Toll fees. The last part of the drive was climbing up the hill and it is here Google took the matter into its own hands. To call the road narrow would be an understatement. We encountered only two oncoming cars and multiple two-wheelers on the route to the top of the hill. One hairpin turn almost gave me a heart attack! It felt like adventure sport the kind you get to see on AXN. My car a conventional sedan from Maruti (Dzire) was up for all the challenges the terrain was throwing at it. Well, what options did it have! Apparently, there were but Google wanted to make the road trip memorable. We drove through obsolete roads which were home to tainted and burnt houses like the one below.

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By we I mean my better half (definitely better) and yours truly.

There was no sign of life. It was both scary and exciting. We ventured further and found ourselves driving through patchy roads and areas which you wouldn’t call roads by any stretch of the imagination. At this point, we questioned the intention of Google Maps but having no other navigators around we put our faith in the artificial voice and pressed on the accelerator. To our surprise, we reached our destination, the sparsely populated hotel, without any hassles. The taxing 360 Kilometres drive and the warmth of a clean welcoming room put an end to the adventurous day.

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A typical hill station in India has quirky names for the high rise viewpoints, the main market selling obscure stuff and a lake that has boating as its main attraction. Yercaud is no different. The only place it lacks is a good market where you can traverse as a tourist and bargain like a local. If you are like me you will enjoy going to a tourist place when it is “off-season”. There is no crowd hobbling with you for space and the street vendors don’t charge an obscene amount for basic artefacts. At viewpoints, restaurants and the market, we were the only people posing as tourists.

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Both the photos above were taken at a point called “Pagoda Point”. A quirky name which doesn’t necessarily mean anything but is definitely catchy. We were among seven people at the point including a vendor who was trying to sell “American Corn” and fruits. Another aspect I have been trying to get my head around is why do they set up stalls where we have to shoot balloons with the air rifle? These stalls are mostly deserted barring a few stubborn children who are able to convince their parents to shoot the balloons. This definitely is more exciting for them than experiencing the nature.

Google, a rather sticky companion, suggested 13 different things to do at Yercaud. One of the places to go to was a “must-visit” waterfalls. Blindly following the suggestion we headed to the place and were warned by the locals of the 250 steep steps it would take to experience the waterfalls and come back! My better half had a hunch that the place wouldn’t be worth it but I thought otherwise.

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The daunting steps!

We took the plunge and decided to test our luck. Struggling with our not-so-fit bodies we finally reached the place of the waterfalls. It turned out to be a massive disappointment. The water was scarce and the place was not worth all the effort.

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The “must-visit” waterfalls.

The journey back to the ground zero from the waterfalls point went as you would expect. I was repeatedly told that I was wrong and I should have listened to my better half’s hunch. To make the situation better I suggested every person who was coming from the opposite direction that the effort to get to the waterfalls is not worth it. I saved few men from the inevitable. I took one for the team!

A hill station that can help you escape Chennai’s heat, make you experience cold weather in summer and has a sense of humour is totally worth your time and money.

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Yercaud’s sense of humour.

If you are planning a trip such as the one above Google is here to help! Trust it blindly. Conditions apply.

Padman – A superhero movie

The closing shot of Padman is as good as the brilliant ending shot of Truman Show. Akshay Kumar’s character finally has achieved what he had set out to do and the society has accepted him with elan. He stands alone at the center dressed in a pristine white shirt and the camera pans out showing us the full view of his village’s  beautiful Ghat.

I do not remember a lot of closing shots of Bollywood movies. Most of them are cringe-worthy photo ops that are a mere depiction of the end and nothing else. This was different and it stayed with me. It was powerful.

I had read a few reviews before venturing into the cinema hall. The problem with the reviews is that they influence your thinking about the movie. When the UN speech at the end was being delivered by Lakshmi (AK) I was wondering if the speech was long. Rajeev Masand had mentioned this in his review and it was clouding my judgment of the scene. A good percentage of the reviews have given Padman an average rating calling it a public service advertisement and a little too long. This also was playing in the back of my mind while watching the movie. It is clear then that for me reading reviews is detrimental to enjoying the movie!

Lakshmi is an intelligent mechanic who is a school dropout (8th standard we are told) and has a progressive mindset. He lives in a village in Madhya Pradesh on the banks of Narmada. Post his wedding he gets to know the trivial details of menstruation and how his wife Gayatri played by the eclectic Radhika Apte suffers for the five days every month. He finds it appalling that Gayatri uses an old cloth instead of a sanitary napkin. He learns from the local doctor about the ill effects of using unhygienic clothes during menstruation and is convinced that he needs to get the sanitary pads for his wife. Gayatri, on the other hand, does not want to spend money on the pads because it is going to eat into the household milk budget. Lakshmi at this point finds a purpose in life:

To build affordable sanitary pads.

His enterprising nature and experience as a mechanic help him figure out the basic process of making a home-made pad. But his lack of knowledge and resources prevent him from making the all elusive pads that will act as an alternative to the costly pads sold by the heartless money minded corporations.

Most of the movie deals with how he learns about the process to manufacture the pads and in the process also how to reach out to his target market i.e. menstruating women. There are many embarrassing moments where he struggles to find volunteers to try out his inventions. This clearly shows how obsessed he is with making the invention work that he has forgotten how sensitive is the topic he is addressing and attempting to solve. While his intentions are in the right place but the method to pursue the goal is not.

Enter Sonam Kapoor who plays Pari to fill the gaping hole in Lakshmi’s life.

She inadvertently becomes the first customer of Lakshmi’s pads and also a staunch supporter of his invention. The scene where he pulls out the pads from his pocket and gives them to Pari’s friends in the middle of the night is hilarious. Both Lakshmi and Pari together make a business out of Lakshmi’s pet project.

Sonam’s character was definitely needed in the movie. Without her, Lakshmi was pretty much done and dusted. He did not have it in him to build out the large-scale business. She makes him realize what he has been doing wrong all along. Women do not talk to men about women issues. She becomes the vehicle through which Lakshmi’s invention reaches its intended market.

That Sonam ends up falling in love with Lakshmi is questionable but I beg to ask why is it that not possible? She found in him a progressive man who is intelligent and has a passion to lead a meaningful life. The whole love angle does look like a blot in the story standing alone distant from the plot but it isn’t totally implausible.

The chemistry between Akshay Kumar and Radhika Apte is riveting. Both of them shine in depicting emotions through tenderly acts of love. The scenes between them have been written marvelously and their acting shines radiantly (Okay too many ly words there!).I personally couldn’t imagine Radhika Apte in such a role but she has pulled it off brilliantly. Contrary to popular belief she is not in the movie for just crying. Watch out for the scene in which she is in the crowd watching her husband in the river drowned with shame and how she shows that she has had enough of him.

Sonam Kapoor seems to be a favorite for receiving a lot of flak for her limited acting skills. She could have been better but she was not bad at all. Her character is a woman in today’s world who has multi-field interests and does not speak pure Hindi. What’s the problem if she is also a good Tabla player. Why do you have a problem with that? ( This is targeted at the reviewers who question her being depicted as a tabla player and then not showing anything about it later). She looked natural, beautiful and her charming self in the movie. And guess what that is how her character was written.

Amit Trivedi’s music is on point and is in his usual characteristic style. Aaj se Teri has quirky lyrics and is a compelling composition. The title song sung by Mika is entertaining and is also great to sing along!

After the endearing final shot of Akshay Kumar, they show an equally elegant shot of Arunachalam Muruganantham and call him the real Padman. Yes, the movie might have been made with the focus of minting money out of a social message but why do we find it difficult to accept that the message is important as well? The Padman challenge was termed as a marketing gimmick. It could be just that. But it has made the menstruation a living room topic. That in itself is an achievement. Yes, the movie will not make the percentage of women who use sanitary pads magically higher. But it celebrates the person who is attempting to do just that. So for once keep your cynicism aside and stretch your arms and hug the idea of Padman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coco breathed his last today

A year back one of my friends lost her dear dog. She was devastated. I couldn’t fathom her loss. Though I understood how much people loved their pets I just wasn’t able to relate to the sense of loss. Since I couldn’t empathize sincerely I wasn’t in a position to support my friend. I did not have enough experience.

Today, I understand or at least am able to relate to that loss. Life has given me that dreadful experience.

Meet Coco.

On Preeti’s (my wife and definitely the better half in this marriage) request we brought home two love birds. We named them Coco and Bluee. Conventional bird names we chose. It has been only a month since we have the company of these wonderful birds.

Unfortunately, Coco breathed his last few hours back today. In an accident he was hit by a moving fan and died instantly because of the shock. We tried our best to bring him back to life but unfortunately we weren’t good enough.

Preeti was sobbing continuously. I was also shocked and sad but was trying to not breakdown emotionally.

If you had told me few months back that “I would be crying because a bird I own has died”, I would have laughed at you.

I was reluctant in getting close to the birds as I do not like the touch of the animals. Don’t ask me why. I wouldn’t know.

Yet, I was getting used to them around me. Preeti on other hand had trained them nicely and made them sit on her shoulders and eat her earring. They have this unusual taste.

I thought I will take some time and eventually get comfortable with the birds. So I was giving it time.

Time unfortunately doesn’t stop for anyone. It is surprising to see how less we realize the impermanence of life. Waiting to get comfortable! Coco is no longer with us and I am still waiting for time to elapse.

We did not know much about birds. We learnt through videos and articles on the web. Bird owners have put up some extremely resourceful notes that help newbies like us.

Preeti soaked in all the information and became in the in-house bird expert. It was amazing to see her train these stranger birds to eat, drink and play.

Of the two birds Bluee is the quiet one and Coco was naughty and playful. He would sing along the peppy numbers we played on YouTube and fly around the house making Preeti run behind him. He also fought incessantly with Bluee and always stopped her from eating food. However, he did love Bluee and they looked lovely together.

Coco would be the one who would respond to our cries and shouts from distance. He would be waiting at the entrance of the cage for Preeti to open the gate. He would usually be the first one to fly out and sit on top of the shelf. He would have no idea on how to come down but that wouldn’t deter him from going to the top.

It was just yesterday when we were asking each other whom did we love more Coco or Bluee. We both immediately took Coco’s name. He was extremely lovable.

We had discussed how these birds will grow up and become an extension of ourselves in the family. We had figured out our collective future. We were also planning to take them along on a weekend trip soon.

All that will still happen but without Coco. It was tough to see the immovable body of Coco. We tried earnestly to make him get up from the slumber. Our minds had declared him dead but hearts were still crying out loud hoping that he would wake up and make us run behind him. Preeti would be up in a second to catch hold of him. But none of that happened. We had to bury him in the garden. It was difficult but had to be done.

Again, if you had said this to me few months back that you will find it difficult to bury a dead body of a bird I would have laughed at you.

Coco spent only one month with us but he was increasing the capacity to love in us. His playful nature made us fall in love with him and just when I was getting comfortable with him he left us. This reminds me of Calvin when he lost his raccoon.

I don’t know why this accident occurred today. Why did Coco come into our life and then decided to leave us. I don’t have answers to the questions that Preeti is asking me. The only thing that I know is that Coco is no more with us. All that remains is the love and the memories.

The big sick

Image courtesy – Kumail’s Twitter account.

The advantage of making a good movie is that it doesn’t need in-your-face promotion. People will talk about it even weeks and months after the release. I heard people talk about “The big sick” on twitter a couple of times. Then the other day I saw this tweet which pushed me over to leave everything and watch the movie.

It is surprising that Amazon Prime did not showcase this flick on the front page of prime video. Who decides what goes on front and what gets watched? Shouldn’t we have more of a say in it?

The voice remote on Amazon Fire Stick works like a charm. I found the big sick waiting to be seen. I paused my household chores and began watching the movie.

I have seen Kumail Nanjiani’s work in HBO’s Silicon Valley and hence it was difficult for me to separate the characters of Dinesh and Kumail.

The movie works for more reasons than one. The chemistry between Kumail and Zoe Kazan is fascinating and believable. I was afraid that it was going to fall flat. The supporting characters are really well written especially the parents of Emily (Zoe). I loved the scene where Emily’s mom played by the beautiful Holly Hunter connects with Kumail on the eve of the Emily’s surgery. Ray Romano who plays the father has an awkward sense of humor and his lines work marvelously in the movie. Watch out for the scene in which he tries to say something profound about love and fails miserably.

Zoe is her charming self and eases through the character. She doesn’t have much weight lifting to do. Kumail on other hand had a lot of scenes where he had to dig deep and use his acting prowess. He succeeds mostly. There are few scenes which he wasn’t convincing especially when he had to show is angst at the poor vendor selling burgers. Other than that he played himself on the screen with great conviction.

Kumail’s family portrayal is down right funny. His baseball fanatic brother, the overbearing mother, typical sister-in-law and the restrained father. The scenes on the dining table will make you laugh out loud. Though I felt they stretched one routine a little too far, to the point that it looked repetitive .

The big sick isn’t your typical rom-com. It is much more than that. It has drama, depth, silliness, awkwardness, and above all a lot of humor. It is guaranteed to make you laugh.

This movie also brings the Asian immigrants in the mainstream. We know that US is filled with Asians but they have been represented poorly in the Hollywood movies. Up until now they have had to take stereotypical roles. Much like what Kumail plays in Silicon Valley. They were never the story themselves. Always a sidekick.

But it seems the times are now changing. Aziz Ansari’s Master of None being the another example of the Indian subcontinent actors taking the Centre stage. Can’t leave Hasan Minhaj’s The Homecoming King from this eccentric mix.

The big sick is a new age rom com that is endearing to watch. It is available on Amazon Prime. Add it to your watch list now.

Meeting Arjun Reddy’s Grandmother

Photo credit: Greatandhra. Com

I had always considered myself unlucky when it comes to meeting stars or celebrities at the airports or inside the flights. My friend who invariably meets someone every time she travels makes it look so easy. This for me wasn’t a goal but I wouldn’t complain if it happens to me.

I was traveling to Lucknow from Chennai on November 4, 2017. I was flying Indigo 6E 847, apparently the best airlines India has to offer.

Just like anyone else I sat near the gate waiting for the boarding to start. I was consciously making an attempt to not use my mobile phone. Why you ask? Let’s just say I don’t like that we have become slaves to our phones. More on that later. Of the hundreds of people sitting in the waiting area only handful were actually mindful of their surroundings. Most of them had a screen to stare into or were listening to music. Nothing wrong in doing either.

The moment they announced the boarding people flocked together and tried their best to beat everybody else to the line. After much effort I got onto the plane. The charismatic and inhumane air hostess welcomed me with a authentic fake smile which obviously dint work for me. I know better. While I was making my way through the aisle, expecting people to behave civilized and make way for others, I saw a familiar face.

An old lady trying to get comfortable in her seat. I couldn’t remember where had I seen her before. By the time I got to my seat at the backend of the plane i realized she might be the actor who played the role of the charming grandmother in the movie Arjun Reddy. Since I wasn’t sure if it was her and also did not know anything about the actor I dint do anything. The only thing I had read about her was a two line reference to her acting career in one of the movie reviews. Hence without giving it too much thought, I got comfortable in my seat and forgot about her.

Four hours later the plane landed in Lucknow. The moment the seat belt sign was turned off people got up in a jiffy, unloaded their bags from overhead cabin space and then waited in a line smelling each other’s odor. I can’t understand why people do that. By saving those 2 minutes how are they making their lives better? More on that later.

I waited for the aisle to get vacant. There were handful of people struggling with their luggage. I walked to the front end of the plane and to my surprise found the old lady standing near her seat. I couldn’t resist and asked her “Aren’t you the actor who played the role of the grandmother in Arjun Reddy”?

She said yes and I could sense a little pride in her voice. Not knowing what exactly to do in such a situation I continued to talk with her as I would talk to any stranger. I accompanied her on her way to the baggage carousels. She was in a wheelchair and an attendant was helping her drive the chair. The next 15 to 20 minutes of my life were enriching to say the least.

We quickly began to converse in Kannada and she told me about her experience of working in movies in different languages. I still did not know her name or anything else about her. She had apparently won an award in Karnataka and was telling me gleefully about the message she delivered while accepting the award. She took pride in saying that she is still earning at 78. She expected people to do their duties and told me repeatedly to allow people to do their duties. I was being helpful and trying to find a trolley for her but she insisted on the attendant to do it. We are paying him and he should earn his money was the reply I got form her. She did not budge in saying that people like me should not try to be extra nice and do other people’s jobs.

She was charming and energetic. Her zeal to talk about her life was exciting to see and it was clear to me that she must have been a strong woman in her hey days. I accompanied her till the exit gate where her family was waiting to receive her. Throughout the conversation I had umpteen number of opportunities to ask for a photo but I refrained. I was fighting the urge to take tbe selfie. The purity of the moment gets muddled when you bring in the moment capture device.

She asked me where I worked and stayed in Chennai. When I told her about the area I stay in, she was surprised and said we stay close by. I don’t remember if she said come over for a visit but even if she didn’t it doesn’t matter.

She introduced me to her family and was checking with them if they could drop me to a nearby place. I said my goodbyes to her and truly felt good for meeting her.

I still did not know her name. I called up a friend from office and narrated the incident to him and he told me that she is Kanchana.

Guarding the door & National Anthem 

The problem with the “yes principle” is that you invariably encounter problems that could have been avoided with a simple no. 

When I was asked to play the role of Seargent-at-arms (SAA) for a Toastmasters division conference meeting I reluctantly said yes. I knew how difficult it is to find role players at the last minute. 

There is a six member SAA team that coordinates the logistics of the stage, venue and other similar mundane but important part of the meeting. 

My responsibility was to guard the door that led to the all important washroom. Definitely not a promising start to the day. 

My job was to ensure people do not use this door during the meeting. Speakers on the stage shouldn’t be perturbed by the cranky noise of the door opening and closing. Fair enough. When the audience is listening to the speaker with rapt attention the ajar door is actually a huge disturbance. 

It hurt my bloating pride a little. Am I not a VP-Education of my club? Am I not receiving a award on the stage today? Then how can I be made to do such a menial job? Pat came the reply from my inner voice – You can be all that and still be nothing. Shut up and be humble. Do your role and move on. 

Few things I learnt that day. 

  • People need to go to the bathroom right in the middle of a speech being delivered! 
  • They can’t take no for an answer. Going to the bathroom is apparently the first fundamental right provided by the constitution of Sulabh complex.
  • When you got to go, you got to go. 

At the end of the conference when the co-chair was giving vote of thanks I breathed a sigh of relief. Well this is about to get over. The much awaited results were announced and my evaluation was spot on! I had predicted the winners accurately. I should have been a judge and not a washroom door SAA! Nonetheless, I was thankful that the event was getting over until it happened. 

Out of the blue the person on the stage rather than saying thank you said let’s stand to the national anthem. 

I immediately thought – What the heck?  Why? Did we pay homage to our motherland by conducting a Toastmasters conference meeting? Did we secretly hold a meeting with a national agenda? Are we going to watch a movie? 

I questioned the move for two seconds before my colleague said – 2 minutes Aditya. 

During the anthem I was looking at everyone on the stage and in the hall. There was lot of pride in their stance. It was almost as if they had just returned from the Wagah Border. I found the whole exercise pointless. It was better when we used to play the national anthem during special occasions. Now we play it whenever we feel like playing it. The stupidity of this incident made me feel proud of my menial SAA role. At least what i did made sense to me.