Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunburnt Norwegians

Over this weekend, I had the pleasure of making friends with a Norwegian couple. Over dinner, I found out that they had played golf( they are just beginners, or so they said) and had a bad case of sunburn.

I realised that Norway is as different as it possibly can be from Pune. They either have day or they have night. Either its very cold or its very very cold :)

They have tons of social security, and a very individualistic, health conscious way of life. They have about half the people that Pune has and spread across their entire country. They have nuclear families, and they have a very different cuisine as well...

And yet, and yet, I found that I was able to speak about things and have a very decent conversation with them. I guess warm, interesting, decent and humour loving people are common wherever you may go, across the globe..

Thanks for the lovely time, Hanna and Arvin (I hope the spellings are right, if not, please forgive me!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Write Sense

It's funny to write about writing. A bit like the serpent that starts eating its own tail! But its so much fun, as I'm recently discovering, that I lose track of time.

I'll tell you what happens. An idea pops up into my head. And suddenly, its as if someone else has possessed me. Paolo Coelho has described this beautifully in his book- "The Zahir". It becomes an obsession of sorts, especially if you can't find a keyboard handy. Words flow, but more than the words, its the story that enslaves the writer.

I guess a novelist has to be a little schizophrenic, since he needs to live out his main characters and pit them against each other. I'm writing a book now, and I'm caught in exactly the same frenzy. The central premise is very clear to me, (thanks to my friend Prasad who caught me in time and asked me to take a step back) and so are the characters. The end I'm not so sure of. As for the actual story, it is writing itself through the main characters!

On a side note, I wonder how some authors write big books.and not key them in, by the way. Just yesterday, I tried to write something, and it was painful. I wonder if different thoughts would come to mind if I write instead of type? Have to try that out soon...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Exclusive and Inclusive

The recent trend in Pune is to own a really swanky apartment that has "amenities"- clubhouse, pool, gym, meditation centre, the works. I think it's a really cool idea for people who want a better lifestyle than what the general condition of the country provides us- as if you "swipe in" to a new country as soon as you get through your society's gate.

I just have one concern about this- if affluent guys like us choose this option, our government gets more blase about improving our standard of living inspite of us paying taxes through our nose. This sort of "growth" becomes exclusive as well- to guys who have access to the wealth that the new age economy has opened up for us.

Which is why I love what's happening with Pune's gardens. A thing of joy is the care and attention that's been paid to parks by our garden department- whether its the Pu. La. - Japanese garden, or the walking/cycling tracks that have sprung up, or the maintainence of old parks as well. This sort of thing includes all of us, doesnt it!

I especially like what they have done to the old canal between Prabhat and Bhandarkar road. This canal had a lot of old trees but also a lot of garbage dumped here and there. Now, its a full fledged garden- some sections are still work in progress, but you can have a lot of good walks/runs/cycling jaunts there.

They've kept the old trees; they've added new shrubs and grass. Perfect!

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Bulldozer on Bhandarkar Road

A few days back, I went to a really happy eating place. This is a new place- on Bhandarkar road, right with all the really old kirana shops. The difference couldnt be starker. The crowd inside was very cosmo- almost as if someone had plucked a few German Bakery afficianados and planted them in a eatery on Bhandarkar Road (which is quite Maharashtrian, although not exactly like the Peths)

Anyway. its a nice little place( sorry, no beer) but the food is well presented and the place well lit. Service is more than just functional- the waiter actually told us to order less- which was a first- and was discreet. Its more important for waiters to be discreet in a small place. And yeah,you can actually see the chefs inside. But they dont do gross things like ask you to look at the food that they are cooking :)

And the food is very nice, the sizzling brownie was the best. It's eclectic cuisine, a mix without being the drab "multi cuisine". (I hate multicuisine. No character.)

But the best part was the happiness that was radiating out of that place. On a table, I spotted an African, an Indian, and a couple of Europeans eat and laugh together. Its as if someone bulldozed some happiness on staid ol' Bhandarkar road!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dont look now, I'm changing

And you can open your eyes now. Small Joys Unlimited has a new avatar. I hope you like it as much as I do... it reminds me of a playschool of sorts. An area where one can chill, have a cup of coffee and a biscuit and pick up life's sweeter moments as you go by. For any Punekar, it would be a chai at a tapri. Or seeing your favourite comic movie all over again. Or your favourite song, coming out of nowhere..

This design makes it more personal, more "the right mood" than ever. Of course, my designer friends Vishal and Tushar helped me here- I'm no good with writing HTML or cleaning up through photoshop :)

I wish I can change my mood as quickly as this design was done... but then as Calvin would say- nothing like spreading a bad mood around to make you feel better!

The joke's on me

I'm hopeless at using new gadgets. I really am. I never use many of the features, and I misuse features that I think I know. Just recently, my colleagues were laughing at me because I was snapping "pictures that moved" ( I thought it was a feature. They told me I'm videoshooting 2 second films. So sue me! )

I've never had a problem with people laughing at me- at most times. My friends, family and colleagues routinely criticise the clothes I wear, my ineptness with anything mechanical, my ability to give weird answers to straightforward questions, you name it... making an ass of myself is something that is very natural :)

I've never tried to analyse this before, but I guess I am very lucky for people to make fun of me.
It makes me feel that they are comfortable enough with me to laugh at me. Most times, I tend not to take things too seriously and laugh along.

Take what you do seriously, but never yourself, I guess.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Free and invaluable

As I read this morning's papers, doom and gloom made their appearance. In the form of terrorism, and in the form of big, established firms like Lehmann Brothers going down. I realised how much of an impact negative (but necessary to know and very real) news can screw up your mood.

You become pensive and worried, wonder what's going to happen. Its a nameless kind of dread, especially if you aren't impacted by it personally. I realised more than ever that the world works out of fear, out of greed and out of anxiety.

This mood persisted when I took a morning walk. Its funny how a bad mood thats general can impact you and how your mind can make it personal. Soon enough I started thinking about all the challenges I have at work.

Then I looked at the park around me. Trees were still growing, the sun was still warm and nice. It made me realise that some things dont change quite so often. Trees will continue to grow well(unless stupidly cut down) and the sun will be warming me (before it burns out, but thankfully its a long time later). We all talk of nature being fickle, but today, it was nature that gave me certainty and peace. It was man that made me circumspect.

Uninterrupted nature was free for me to enjoy, and it was also invaluable. It made me face up to the rest of my day with more peace and yes, hope as well.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Its all in the jeans

Dad celebrated his birthday over this weekend. He's always been a young father to me. When the rest of post independant India was wearing bush shirts and trousers, he wore jeans. He, along with Mom, were very modern in comparison to my friends's parents. We looked forward to celebrating his birthday with the usual spirits.

Dad is also a very very good surgeon. So when I saw him come up to the house from his clinic below, with a very serious face, when he should have been in party mode, it was unsettling. He told me that one of his patients had died just then. The dead man was a friend of ours, it was no ordinary faceless death for us as well.

We've always lived with the fact that Dad has to face death, even on good times, but I think this was possibly a first. It just showed me that a surgeon's life is very different. He has to face disease and death. Not just profitability and management B.S. like a lot of us in the corporate world. Its very real, and very raw. It gets him a lot of respect from all of our extended family. The fact that he has chosen to remain fiercely independant from "big hospital" culture endears him to me even more.

I had to run an errand and be back in a couple of hours. When I got back, the mood was different, and party like. Dad was chilling out with some family and friends. Death was accepted, but so was celebrating life.

Its all in the jeans. And no pun intended!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

New Nostalgia

Its a lazy sunday afternoon, and my favourite time of the year. Its that time when I fall in love with my city all over again. I think its something to do with walks that I can take in the afternoon (tell me another city that you can do this- in India- and I'll go there for a visit, surely.)

The months of August, September and October make me feel nostalgic about things. I encounter this nostalgia through flowers, usually. Pune is full of flowers around this time. Cork, cosmos and various other wildish strains that you like but can never name. This season reminds me of every earlier season that I have been similarly happy with, for no apparent reason.

This year was a bit different as far as this nostalgic trip is concerned. I was on one of my many trips to Mumbai to meet clients, and got caught in a traffic jam. The enterprising driver took us through a different route. He cut off the express highway and went on to the old Bombay-Poona one. It was as if I was meeting a childhood friend. Very familiar (the monkeys, the steep curves, the stunning views) but different(no hotels, no irritating vendors). I kinda fell for the whole thing.

It was new nostalgia- the only way I can describe the feeling in my stomach. Its a mixed thing- you look for old things but find new.

In a while, I rejoined the express highway and things were mundane again. Full of modern comfort, but no steep views...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Blind man's bluff

I was in Mumbai yesterday, meeting up with a client, and was being introduced to a new team who would be looking after the project(the website we are building with them)

When we got to the meeting, the senior man over there looked at me strangely. I didn't understand the look too much, but things settled down quite quickly. The new team seemed friendly and intelligent. We had a very meaningful conversation about the way ahead. I thought it best to make the meeting more visual, so I took the liberty of scrawling some points on their whiteboard as well.

At the end of the meeting, the senior guy, who had looked at me strangely(am not disclosing his name) told me that the one problem he had with the current website was that it was not really good for the visually impaired.

And then he told me that he was blind. Partially blind, having some peripheral vision, but that's about it. He showed us his voice recognition software and how he was coping up with his blindness that came his way about a year back.

To say that my colleague and I were shocked was putting it mildly. He obviously had found a way to look at us as if he could see us! After I recovered, I asked him how he felt. He was quite nice about it and told me that he had cried for a few days, totally lost it, but then took on the job of living the rest of his life again. He said he still had a family to feed, and he owed it to them.

The whole experience was very humbling and made us understand the importance of making websites that were for the visually impaired. Of course, we know the theory, but now we just know we'll never forget this lesson.

Our meeting ended when he personally showed me the way to the restroom.( he had got me a coffee earlier!) I felt extremely comfortable being led by him. I think this comfort and courtesy that he has given me and his own team - of being himself inspite of the situation that he is facing-takes a lot of courage. I humbly salute this courage and am grateful for his brief presence in my life yesterday.

And yes, we will never ever make a website without looking at the website he had provided us for considering visually impaired standards!

Monday, September 8, 2008

An Off Day

Small joys are hard to come by on an awful day. Yesterday was typical of an awful day. Where almost everything that wasn't supposed to happen, happened. We had a major power shutdown in office. We needed to give work to unforgiving clients, and of course that wasn't happening well. Meetings were rescheduled and unscheduled interruptions were aplenty. I had to communicate some decisions that would make people within my company unhappy. This was compounded by the ill health of a near and dear one at home. To top it all, I wasn't feeling all that well myself. ( Malaise, for lack of a better word).

It's times like these that small joys are hard to identify and even harder to experience completely. But atleast this time, I was very aware of the reason why I was in a bad mood: I felt that I wasn't getting anywhere with my agenda and feeling hopelessly adrift. This led to me questioning whether my agenda was allright, in the first place!

But I did experience a small joy, inspite of all of this. This joy was about getting clarity on certain issues that this"mess of a day" was bringing forth. This joy was more like relief. Relief about understanding what my priorities were in life, and then for today. How I was spending my time, emotions and effort was, I realised, being governed by outside factors. The relief was in the sudden realisation was that the day wasn't so bad after all. It wasn't that big a deal.

The small joy was also this- I hadn't escaped what I was feeling, and was able to use it to reprioritise my life. It made me feel good- in a different way. A sudden burst of clarity shone through, and I felt OK again, and in charge. It felt good to face up to my demon of the day, stare at it and watch it dissolve.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Unseasonal Rain

This year hasnt been very happy as far as rains go, especially in Pune. Normally, the weather in August and September is champagne like- just the right amount of sunshine and cool breeze. This year, it has been noticeably warmer. All that talk about global warming and the like has been bandied about-without anyone really understanding anything much about it:)

I guess I am influenced overmuch by the weather. Hot days make me wish I'm someplace else, with a cool drink in hand. So needless to say,the months of August and September now have been a bit disappointing.

So it made what happened a couple of days ago very special. It rained elephants. No, dinosaurs.. and it kept pelting as if it was just a staged thing, not real rain at all. As luck would have it, I got caught in the rain. And it felt nice to run from where I was to my car.. laughing when big drops slapped on my back.

I saw complete strangers, being pelted away, smile at each other. That memory should last me for the rest of this season.

Fixing the right thing

I'd been trying to understand the lack of spark between the design work that my company creates and the stuff that was produced by (outside-consultant) digital designers of note. While all the usual suspected reasons are very much there (more experienced, more creative, more exposed to the right culture etc), I think I stumbled upon a little truth today.

What I found out was that the designs that my team produces(and they are a talented lot in their own right) smelled of wireframes. To the uninitiated, wireframes make up for the foundation that a good design rests on. Its an earlier step that is more analysis than art.

If I have to compare,its almost like being able to smell each individual ingredient's raw smell in a cooked dish. Who'd want to eat that? Ah, thats chicken, and oh, here's mushroom and hey, that's salt :)

The work from the outside consultants- well, thats a complete dish by itself, with no raw smell of individual elements coming across. I shared this feedback with my inhouse designer.

I think I could see the joy of discovering what was going wrong in his designs from his face. I could see hope- of his own designs improving and evolving.Of course, this dialogue could only work because he is an open enough person. A lot of designers aren't. We then talked of a possible process which he could try to not make it smell like a wireframe the next time round.

The Joy of discovering what's really not working- and fixing it- a very rare one indeed!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Alexander McCall-Smith

Alexander McCall Smith: heard of him? He writes some really nice books. Its a meandering, journey- more- important- than- the- main- theme type of read(people who want tight scripts avoid), but has real characters who connect with you.

Why do I think his books are a very nice "small joy"? Its because he writes so lovingly about the place that he cherishes- Edinburgh, Scotland. You can feel his enthusiasm for the place. It's as if he knows every nook and cranny, and in your mind's eye, you see Edinburgh. You smell the rain, you see the hills, and you salivate over the food descriptions.And you fall in love with the city yourself. I certainly did.

Of course, it is a romanticised view, and I'm sure in reality Edinburgh has its warts, but just hold on a second. I think its more likely that I will look out for whatever he has seen when I do see Edinburgh.

And to tell you the truth, I'm sure the place that I love the most- Pune- has its warts too. Its just that I dont see them too many of them when I have rose tinted my view already.

Cheers to rose tinted views of other places. In the safety of my own home!

Rock On, Farhan

Cheers for Farhan Akhtar. Cheers for getting out of his own comfort zone and allowing himself to be made a fool of. After all, which acclaimed director would take the risk for his reputation to be smudged just so that he can pursue a dream project?

And in doing so, he gives us a beautiful small joy. For the uninitiated, I’m talking about the film “Rock On”; a real, genuine film that celebrates the journey (and not just the pursuit) of what truly matters to you. The film made me laugh, it made me cry, and it made me connect to my own self with all its frailties. It talked of compromise, and it talked of deep love. A love that supports and nourishes.

It’s wonderful to see a film that truly connects to your soul, without being burdensome. I’d call this film to be in that category. And while of course all films would have their critics, I feel that we should celebrate as well, when something does touch you. And this film does. It leaves you thinking, but also with a smile on your face.

I won’t waste any more words- go and see the film that has made it as my small joy for the weekend.

Rush Of Blood

I tried a funny thing today. I was in a state of affairs where I was waiting for something to happen- someone to come for a meeting, some mail to be received not received yet, some unexplained delay that was making me wait. I was alone and just about to get bored. Either that or anxious. That seems to be the favorite time pass for my mind. But instead of doing what I normally would do, I just flooded my body with attention.

And I mean really flood. I’d read it in “The power of Now”, but I experienced this consciously today. And let me tell you a little secret- I found out that even if I don’t need to chant anything, sit cross legged or in a sleeping position, blah blah blah, it helped me. I can do this anywhere, anytime. Perhaps it will helped that I was alone when I did this, but I’m not entirely sure of this.

It helped me because it made me feel lighter and more alive. I noticed how my heart pumps out blood. Strong, systematic and certain. How my heart has a rhythm that connects to what I think. How an intense emotion makes its way through my blood and infects every cell that I own. In both positive and negative ways. It was almost like getting real time feedback on what my body thought my mind was upto.

Will this cure cancer? Thats baloney. Will this make me more alive? Definately. As Charles Chaplin once said- "I hate the sight of blood, but it's in my veins".. so let me atleast be friendly with my body!

The idea is to be in a state of giving to my body what it needs the most from me- attention- and be curious enough to see the results of the attention that I am paying.

What I found was very interesting and funny. I found out that I actually didn’t like it when what I was waiting for actually happened- I was so busy enjoying this rush of blood.. I hope you have the same experience. And if you do, please drop me a note on what exactly happened. I'd love to know what your experience was.


Don’t you just love it when you really, really, need some help and a friend just comes in from nowhere and bails you out? No? Awww… everyone should have that experience once. Of course it’s not all fun. Actually, It has to start off quite badly for you. You need to be in a real jam of sorts. You know, the kind of jam that makes you sweat and wonder if you are going to lose something real big. Like you job. Your pride. Your reputation.

And then it happens. Someone, somewhere – a friend sent from heaven – comes in and cleans up for you. He/ She does it so effortlessly that you don’t even realize what has happened. Till of course, you go “whew. Saved” and feel an outpouring of love and gratitude… till the next time!

You know, kind of makes me wonder. Especially when we get help from friends whom we may cherish but don’t really expect to have helped us. And the really strange part is- you almost never get the kind of help you want from people who you expect help from. Why does this happen? Does the universe work this way to guide us about what real friendship is all about? Does the person who helps feel liberated himself in the same way? Or is it just one of those unexplained things? Whichever way, I am NOT complaining.

To that friend, Thank You!

Birthday Bump

It’s my birthday today. I am thirty six years old. And before you start feeling sorry for me, consider this:

The sun shone brighter today. The birds sounded just a little bit better. Even the grouch at office managed a smirk instead of a frown. I suddenly felt a lot better. Younger, too- and I’m not kidding myself. I felt younger because I remembered how I used to feel when birthdays had some meaning and felt magical.

And I’m so glad this finally happened. You see, I had lost that magical feeling that accompanies birthdays for quite a few years now. The same “all’s right with the world” type of feeling you have and the feeling of being special when you are a child. So I got my mojo back, and boy does it feel great! I just feel lighter and brighter, if you know what I mean. In fact, unless you are really unlucky, you know exactly what I mean- everyone has had that feeling and that day that I am talking about.

Then I started thinking about it more. Why can’t we have the same special feeling every day? Surely we are all old enough and mature enough to notice the good things in life and about ourselves every single day. But I stopped this over-thinking in time. Why did I stop?
Because while it’s good to have the ability to feel cherished and special on an ordinary day for no reason at all, there are some small joys like feelin’ like what I’m feelin’ on a birthday.

Let’s just call it a” birthday bump” that someone has created for me to make me realize , from time to time, to be selfish without guilt and have the whole world play along indulging you a bit. So I'd say: wherever you are, whoever you are, celebrate your own birthday like a preteen, and without guilt!