Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What does being an Indian mean?

A friend of mine sent this message through mail. Reading it, I could easily identify myself and my family with that of the author. I'm sure every Indian can relate to parts of this speech. Read on...

A friend remarked to me that what defines America is its veneration of entrepreneurship. The French, he added, most admired style and elegance. What defines India? That was the challenge my American friend posed.
Before I could speak a word, he admonished me, “Don’t give me the clichéd answer that anything one says about India is true and the opposite is equally true, that India is too complex and heterogeneous for a simple answer.”

It was obvious to me that like any self respecting American, and a Harvard MBA to boot, he wanted a concrete answer. I told him that like any self respecting Indian I needed time to formulate my concrete views — a few weeks I told him. Unusual for an American, he agreed to meet me later on this point. As luck would have it I received an invitation to speak to a diverse audience in Washington DC, as part of the many farewell parties in my honour as I was packing my bags to return to India for good. I spoke on the topic: What Does It Mean To Be An Indian?

Here’s the gist of my speech.
It is always a difficult task to distil from the collective experience of a humungous civilization that single defining aspect of life that constitutes the character of India. I can only try ever so humbly. In trying to piece together my several thoughts on this subject, I was helped by a few incidents of a more recent vintage. These incidents perhaps highlight what it means to be an Indian.

When I saw Ms Susan Boyle winning the hearts of the world with her talent and simple upbringing in the show Britain’s Got Talent, I asked myself whether a similar show in the Indian context might reveal to me what was perhaps hidden in the multiple images that India conjures in any mind. Sure enough I happened to receive an email forward by someone named Mary that stunned me. Here was a group of labourers performing a sensational dance relating to Lord Krishna in the wildly popular show India’s Got Talent. They called themselves The Prince Dance Group and had a physically challenged guy too. The amazing choreography, the use of traditional mythology, the perfect sense of timing and above all, the self confidence to perform before an urban audience — it was truly breathtaking.

The judges were among the best known talents in India: film director Shekhar Kapoor, actress Kiron Kher, and actress Sonali Bendre. As the act came to a close I could see tears in the eyes of the judges. Though there were not many close-ups of the audience I suspect there was hardly a dry eye in the crowd. Even as the dance came to a close I could hear shouts of “BHARATR MATA KI JAI!”

As the dance came to an end Kapoor actually wept and declared, “I have seen performers in the US,UK and Russia but believe me I have never seen anything like this . I am really proud to be an Indian.”The other judges just about managed to control their tears. Kher was ecstatic –“Fantastic, Fantastic!” she shouted .

I really cried for more than one reason.. Not only did I find the talent stunning, I had found the answer to the question I had been asked to answer — What Does It Mean To Be An Indian?

Here was a bunch of Oriya labourers — I have spent a decade in Orissa and am more than familiar with the extensive and degrading poverty there. These labourers live under inhuman conditions and as far as we urbanites can see they may have no hope of ever living a civilized life, even generations from now. Yet these guys had shown that one defining Indian characteristic ….Endurance… a quality that makes us not just put up with great odds but strive with the confidence that one day we will win — that every night is followed by the dawn, that all is never lost, that no matter how the international community jeers at our corruption, our idiotic politicians, our inept bureaucracy, our moribund education system, our abysmal health system, our crumbling infrastructure, our humungous population, we will come up triumphant.

Of course we realize that these are lofty sentiments and unless they are translated into concrete action we will remain as a nation thriving on pious platitudes. Believe me, young India has clearly told the older, fading generation, “We have seen and tasted progress. We will go ahead no matter what. Not all our vile politicians or bumbling bureaucrats or corrupt policeman or judges can hold us down. We will rise despite you guys.” Indians have endured much over thousands of years but have now decided that if you can’t beat them just dexterously move around them.

The evidence of a young India on the move is now seen in the far corners of the country as youngsters from small towns and remote villages display uncanny talent and ambition. I recall seeing a TV journalist asking a young boy in a remote village in Bihar about his role model. “Bill Gates” was the answer coming from a smiling cherubic face, even though it seemed to me that he had not eaten a fulsome meal all his life! He had endured hunger for years and his family had endured hunger for maybe generations but that did not prevent this youngster from aspiring to be the world’s richest man sometime in the future. The extraordinary confidence in that boy’s body language told me that he was aiming for the stars and at worst he may make it to the moon.

My own family is a saga in the endurance that characterizes India. My grandfather was a laborer in a harbor in a small town in south India. He and his large family of 5 sons and a daughter endured a marginal existence. My father joined a private sector company during British rule in India. When the world went to war in 1939 my father lost his job. He told me much later that my mother had, at one stage, only one saree, the traditional Indian women’s wear. She would wash this lone saree at night and cover herself with a towel and quickly wear the saree at break of dawn. The family endured near poverty and yet I am an MBA from an ivy league Indian business school, and a modestly successful guy. My niece was ranked among the highest in GMAT scores in the world. She is a Harvard alumnus and works for the most admired consulting firm in the world at Wall Street. Her siblings are all highly qualified professionals, who in their early years endured a humble middle class existence but are now in the topmost income brackets in the USA — a far cry from their laborer great grand father.

At this point of time I look at India as a genie that has come out of the bottle. The British denuded India over 200 years. Thereafter a rapacious polity and a repressive bureaucracy kept the lid tightly closed. But now a long suppressed people have decided to endure such atrocities no more. India’s time has come.


As I took my seat there were not a few wet eyes in the room. My eyes were wet too. If you believe in what I have said please forward this to your friends.

PS: What does being an Indian mean to you?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Another doyen passes away

Mornings in my home were for studies or getting ready for school/work. My mom was never great on TV time, especially in the mornings. The rare occasions when she puts on the TV in the mornings is to listen to Thenkachi Ko.Swaminathan's Indha Naal Iniya Naal on Sun TV. With her, I got into the habit of listening to his short stories. His manner of lacing a short story with a moral made my granny comment "Manushan nachunu solraar!" Unlike some others, who are the vazha vazhaa kozha kozhaa types. Really sad that another doyen of Tamildom has passed away :( I'm sure this is yet another change from the C that I know of and morning TV programmes are never going to be the same anymore! RIP!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A split in Gen Yers?

Lots of research has gone into the spending habits of people by generation. Being part of the Gen-Y crowd, I show more than the normal interest in knowing how things are going for us, Gen Y-ers. Recently, I came across an interview(part 1, part 2) that discussed some pertinent stuff about our spending habits. It was an interesting read and I can identify most, if not all, of what was said.

But there was one thing that stuck out in this interview. She said the GenY might have to be split into two:under and over 20. True, I can see the difference between some of my friends/cousins who grew up with facebook, used cellphones when in grade school and use myspace as an active substitute for social activities. They think that googling/binging for some information is a natural thing to do and cannot comprehend it if we talk of looking up things in the papers/library. Worse, they think email is so damn uncool and the craze of forwards that held us by sway when I was a teen is the funniest thing ever! Damn! Nothing to make you feel old than that!

It is also funny how I used to think that we were the most tech savvy generation growing up with the Internet and getting to be the unencumbered generation that had the resources to try out all the fancy gadgets out there. But talking to the younger GenYers, I realize that their lives are more enmeshed in technology than ours(older GenYers) was at their age. One of my friends couldn't live without checking Facebook when he was in his village and he is only 17!! He said that it was the worst few weeks of his life because he felt he wasn't doing something that he did everyday! And Facebook didn't even exist when I was 17! And, they couldn't comprehend the joys that we had when we were kids playing in the rain and mud and dirt! An afternoon in the swing with a book and rose milk in hand or spent playing badminton/cricket all day is something they just can't relate to!

It would be interesting to see how our generation would turn out as the years go and if this subtle difference in our teen years would have a big impact in our spending habits, our approach to things in life, etc. This is a unique position to be in, for this setting cannot be recreated by any lab, not even on a smaller scale. Would we still be the same generation despite these subtle differences or would there be a big disparity in our attitudes and thoughts due to changes in our teen years? Ah! Now lets follow the 'Wait and Watch' policy!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009


உயிரோடு அவன் இருக்கையில்
உறவுகள் எல்லாம் தொலைவில்
உயிரற்ற உடலானதும்
உயிலுக்கோர் போராட்டம்

ஊகங்களும் கேள்விகளும் பல பல
உண்மை ஆடுது கண்ணாமூச்சி ஆட்டம்
உலகே அவனுக்கு அஞ்சலி செய்ய
உறக்கத்தில் சிரிக்கிறான் தாலேலோ!

PS:I wrote this for for MJ, King of Pop the day he died! Still miss some of his songs. I keep watching the drama going on around MJ's death, as shown on Larry King's show. Totally sickened by it as a common person. And the poem is more apt now [wry smile]. I'm sure MJ is ROTFLing somewhere in this big broad Universe at all the things going on here. RIP!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Another step to adulthood

உயிரென கருதும் உறவுகள் இல்லையெனில்
உலகமே இருந்தும் என்ன பயன்?

Wish my family was with me, as I take a bigger step to adulthood! Missing you loads, guys!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

எவ்வளோ பண்றோம்... இத பண்ண மாட்டோமா...

A nice forward from G :)

*’எவ்வளோ பண்றோம்... இத பண்ண மாட்டோமா...’ *என்று தமிழகத்தின் விடிவெள்ளி சொன்ன பொன்மொழி, வாழ்க்கை வாழ்வதற்கான ஒரு உன்னத தத்துவம். எப்படி? இந்த தன்னம்பிக்கை கொடுக்கும் கதையை படிங்க...

பில் கேட்ஸ், மைக்ரோசாப்ட் நிறுவனத்தின் முதன்மை செயலதிகாரியாக இருந்த நேரம்.ஐரோப்பிய மைக்ரோசாப்டின் கிளைக்கு தலைமை அதிகாரியை நியமிக்க, ஒரு நேர்காணலை நடத்தி கொண்டிருந்தார்கள். கிட்டத்தட்ட ஐந்தாயிரம் பேர் வந்திருந்தார்கள். ஒரு பெரிய அறையில் எல்லோரும் குழுமியிருந்தார்கள். கருப்பு கோட், நீல சட்டை, புள்ளி போட்ட டையுடன் எல்லாவற்றையும் கவனித்தப்படி ஒரு பக்கத்தில் உட்கார்ந்திருந்தார், நம்ம கந்தசாமி.

உள்ளே நுழைந்த பில் கேட்ஸ், 5000 பேர்களை பார்த்ததும் கொஞ்சம் அதிர்ந்து தான் போனார். வந்திருந்த அனைவருக்கும் வணக்கம் வைத்தார். பிறகு, நன்றி தெரிவித்தார். சிக்கீரம் முடிக்கணும், சிம்பிளா வைக்கணும்ன்னு முடிவு பண்ணினார்.

முதலில் தொழில்நுட்ப அறிவை சோதிக்க வேண்டும் என்று விரும்பி ஒரு கேள்வி கேட்க நினைத்தார். எப்படியும் மைக்ரோசாப்ட் நிறுவனத்திற்கு, மைக்ரோசாப்ட் டெக்னாலஜி தெரிந்துதான் வந்திருப்பார்கள். அதனால், இப்படி கேட்டார்.

“உங்களில் யாருக்கெல்லாம் ஜாவா தெரியும்? தெரியாதவர்கள் மன்னிக்கவும். நீங்கள் கிளம்பலாம்.”

2000 பேர் இடத்தை காலி செய்தார்கள்.

நம்ம கந்தசாமிக்கும் ஜாவா தெரியாதுதான். இருந்தும் போகலையே!

“இப்படியே இங்க இருந்தா, எதையும் இழக்க போறது இல்ல. எதுக்கு போய்கிட்டு? என்னத்தான் நடக்குது பார்ப்போம்” என்றபடி அங்கேயே இருந்து விட்டார்.

அடுத்த கேள்வி, “உங்களில் யாரெல்லாம் நூறு பேருக்கு மேல் ஆட்களை நிர்வகித்து இருக்கிறீர்கள்? அவர்கள் மட்டும் இருக்கலாம்.” இன்னொரு 2000 வெளியே கிளம்பியது.

கந்தசாமி - “நான் ஒருத்தரைக்கூட நிர்வகித்தது கிடையாதே? என்ன செய்யலாம்?
சரி, அடுத்த கேள்வியை கேட்கலாம்.”

இன்னும் ஆயிரம் பேர் இருக்கிறார்களா? என்று நினைத்துக்கொண்டு பில் கேட்ஸ் கேட்டார், “மேலாண்மை பட்டம் பெறாதவர்கள் தயவுசெய்து...”. சொல்லி முடிக்கும் முன்பே, 500 இருக்கைகள் காற்று வாங்கியது.

”அதையெல்லாம் படிக்க நமக்கு எங்க நேரம் இருந்தது?” பெருமூச்சுவிட்டபடி பில் கேட்ஸையே பார்த்து கொண்டிருந்தார், கந்தசாமி.

ஐரோப்பிய மொத்த கண்டத்திற்கு முழுமையான தலைமை பதவியாச்சே? கண்டம் முழுக்க சுற்ற
வேண்டி இருக்குமே? எத்தனை மொழிகள் தெரிந்திருக்கும் என்று பார்ப்போம் என்று அடுத்த கேள்வியை கேட்டார்.

“உங்களில் யாருக்கெல்லாம் செர்போ-க்ரோட் மொழி தெரியும்?” - செர்போ-க்ரோட், உலகில் அரிதாக பேசப்படும் மொழி. இப்ப, அரங்கில் இரண்டே பேர் இருந்தார்கள். அதில் ஒருவர் யாரென்று உங்களுக்கு தெரியும்.

அது, “எவ்வளவோ பண்ணிட்டோம். இத பண்ண மாட்டோமா?” என்ற நினைப்பில் நம்ம கந்தசாமி.

ஆனாலும், மனசுக்குள் பயம்தான். மூன்று பேரும் ஒரு வட்ட டேபிளை சுற்றி உட்கார்ந்தார்கள். இருவரையும் பார்த்தார், பில் கேட்ஸ்.

டிக் டிக்... டிக் டிக்... டிக் டிக்...
“ஏன்ப்பா, இப்படி பார்க்குற? சீக்கிரம் ஏதாவது கேளுப்பா... ” - மனசுக்குள் கந்தசாமி.

”இப்ப, நீங்க ரெண்டு பேர் தான் இந்த மொழி தெரிந்தவர்கள் இருக்குறீர்கள். செர்போ-க்ரோட் மொழியில் மைக்ரோசாப்ட் நிறுவனத்தை பற்றி, அதன் தொழில்நுட்ப திறன் பற்றி விவாதம் செய்யுங்க..”

கந்தசாமி அமைதியாக, பக்கத்தில் இருந்த இன்னொருத்தனை பார்த்தார்.. சின்ன வயசுக்காரன். நெஞ்சை நிமிர்த்திக்கிட்டு உட்கார்ந்திருந்தான். மூளைக்காரன் போல!

கந்தசாமி ஆரம்பித்தார்.

மெதுவாக, ”தம்பிக்கு எந்த ஊரு?” - கேட்டது தமிழில்.

"திருநெல்வேலி பக்கம். நீங்க?”

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Books and Movies - this week

Sometimes, it happens that movies and books that you read sync up to a particular issue by sheer coincidence. I guess Nazi occupation is the theme that's currently going on.
My Enemy's Cradle - this is a story set in Nazi occupied France about a Jew girl who goes to a German run institution to deliver her baby. She also falls in love with the (supposed) father of the child. The narration is poignant and fast. It shows yet another light on the Nazi occupation of Europe, just like the Inglorious Bastards. Read it if you are looking for something poignant and want to dig into the less known 'A child for Hitler' program (I forgot the actual name of the program).
Love marriage - This is a novel by a SriLankan writer about three generations of two Tamil families from and in Sri Lanka linked through marriages of all kinds. Their lives are intricately twisted into the wars, LTTE rise, suicide bombings, etc and yet holds on to the quaint cultural flavors seen in every Tamil village. It also reflects a lot on the rights and wrongs of each generation and what they mean to others in the past, present and future generations. Sometimes, the places that we are makes decisions for us than the places we came from. And some other times, the vice versa is true. This was not a page turner but if you are interested to peel away the news-ridden scenario of LTTE and Tamils of Sri Lanka, this view of a family might help.
Night Smoke - Totally girlish. Just one if you don't want to think of anything.
The A-list - this was more a teen novel about the celebrity teens of Hollywood. They are no different from other teens, but have more scrutiny on them (and yeah! they can buy a $3000 handbag just to show off at a party on their parents' amex card). Again, a no-brainer.

Shaurya - Hindi - Suggested by a friend of mine. A lot like 'A Few good men' but Rahul Bose's acting is good. Powerful message, taut storyline but I don't know if it captured the masses. The masala is definitely missing...
Final Destination 1, 2 and 3 - Did a movie marathon on this one. The first one was interesting but the second one was "oh! I think it might repeat the first". The angle of new life defeating death started some interest in the second movie but showed that death was uncheatable. Actually, the new life was the kid of the pregnant woman. But if the kid was alive inside the mother's womb, wouldn't it have died in the accident as well? Or is life taken into account only after the kid is born into the world? But technicalities aside, it was an interesting take that failed to gain momentum. The third one shifted to the camera linking the people who are about to die. But I guess a pattern can be created from any set of random deaths if that was the case. True! Knowing that pattern before hand is kind of wacky but hindsight can show the pattern clearly.

Allavudinum 1000 watts bulbum - Another of Crazy Mohan's comedy that had me in splits. Going through the list compiled by a friend one per week so I get the full fun out of it :D

Have a happy labor day weekend!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Food Combinations!

Did you make a fuss when you were forced to eat the sambar rice first, rasam rice second(usually with appalam) and finally the curd rice? And given certain combinations of food and not others? Like the jaggery and adai? Or how about coconut milk and idiappam? And the ubiquotous upma and curd? (For Cians, I'm sure you'd know how much importance is given in our cuisine for wheat upma). Well, there might be a reason behind all that! Food experts say that certain food combinations actually increase the chance of absorbing more nutrients or additional quantities of a nutrient. Check out this link for more details. Wish someone could do research on Indian food combinations and tell me why exactly upma is best had with curd or adai is best had with jaggery? (other than the taste reasons, of course!)