08 December, 2007

Tales from Sri Lanka

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Sri Lanka? For me it is ‘Sanath Jayasuriya’, ‘The accented Tamil’ and unfortunately the rest of it doesn’t lead up to very good memories. But did any of you think ‘English Theatre’?

This August, we had the Hindu Metroplus theatre festival in Chennai, which saw not just theatre groups from all over India, but 4 International acts too, and a couple of them professional theatre groups. One of them was the Colombo based ‘Stages Theatre group’ (http://stagestheatregroup.wordpress.com/). I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about this one, since I hadn’t heard of them earlier. But being a Sunday and with nothing better to do, I decided to go for it. Surprisingly the hall was half empty and as a consequence, I got a seat upgrade.

The play was called ‘Checkpoint: Three strangely normal plays’. Hardly anything about it was normal though – either in the presentation or in what they had to convey. And the first two plays were real events, btw.

Play 1: ‘The bus ride’ (or something to that effect)
This was a one-man show, literally. One guy doing all roles.
The story starts with a drunk (referred to as ‘x’) on a bus, who keeps talking incessantly. The other passengers are visibly upset by his behavior. The bus happens to break down in the middle of nowhere and its close to 10 in the night. The drunk then offers to buy all the passengers a drink, which they willingly accept. Then when he is asked about the reason for the celebration, he starts his story. In a strife-ridden Sri Lanka, emergency has been declared, and politicians have complete control. X’s son has been missing for days and he then realizes that the local politician has kept him in custody. The politician proposes a deal that he would return the son in exchange for X’s wife. Without money and an option, ‘X’ agrees to the deal, and starts drinking to forget. His drinking becomes a habit and he keeps borrowing money from the politician, and the cycle continues. On this day, ‘X’ decides this would be the last time that he would borrow money and decides to throw it all away due to his guilt. I’m not sure of the exact ending. But it was a heart-wrenching story about life in Sri Lanka during the emergency. And the fact that one man did it all was amazing.

Play 2: 24 Hours
The premise of this play was simple. To track the news coming out from different media sources over a period of 24 hours. The sets and the screenplay (except for the first sequence) were done very imaginatively. No actual dialogues were spoken, the characters wearing masks just moved around according to the sequence, while the news was being read in the background. It was sad to see the state of affairs the country was in. From news about an attempted assassination, to news about the attack on a girls school by govt forces, since they were suspected to be LTTE rebels. The best part was a confrontation between the ethnic rebels and the govt body, where they keep throwing numbers. The play was a visual treat in terms of the screenplay, lighting and the imaginative direction.

Play 3: Forum Theatre
This was perhaps the simplest of plays, in terms of screenplay and sets, but probably the most different. The director tells upfront that the play would take up a situation and then stop at a particular point. And then the audience is asked what they would want to see happen. And so, starts the story of a husband and wife, who have a misunderstanding over an immigrant. The play stops there and the audience is asked on what they would like to see at that point of time. The best suggestions are then enacted impromptu. This is then repeated a couple of times. In fact after one of the breaks they invited a member from the audience to be part of the next scene. An ending wasn’t intended, and the aim was to talk about an important issue in an innovative manner.

All in all it was a very interesting play. And especially after an overdose of Neil Simon from the ‘Evam’ (a popular Chennai based theatre group) stable, this was a refreshing change.

02 December, 2007

Speed Guitar

Is this guy for real?? Can someone really play this fast? I thought I had some skills on the guitar... But this puts me to shame... Look at the part towards the end of this video, where his left hand moves at lightning speed... In fact it was a little too fast to be seen clearly on video... If you liked this search further for Michael Angelo on Youtube... You'll find some more amazing videos...

01 December, 2007

ICL - The beginning.

The Indian Cricket League has finally arrived – at the non-descript town of Panchkula in Chandigarh. After all the hype and media bytes of ‘BCCI vs. Zee Group’, we finally have some actual cricket, if you could call it that. But I guess even Subash Chandra, the head of the Zee group would secretly confess that he's missed a trick or two here. The Zee guys probably thought this would be a good idea and announced the 20-20 competition, with a spate of players signing in from all over the world. All this looked really impressive. The problem however was that most of these guys were either retired or were on the verge of retiring. And then, when the sleeping giant BCCI woke up from its slumber, the ICL started to look like the town circus.

Anyway, yesterday, I watched the first match of this tournament, between ‘Chandigarh Lions’ and ‘Delhi Jets’. I must say, these guys have redefined 20-20. They’ve made what is potentially a very exciting form of cricket, boring again. A team like Australia plays more aggressive cricket in test matches. The tournament started off with a dance performance by Kareena Kapoor. A lot of people, esp politicians would be excited by this. No, not by Kareena’s dance. That’s asking too much of her.

Maybe Mayawati would use this in her election rally, giving a 20 minute speech and then when she’s tired we’d have a few overs bowled. And just as a prelude, the inaugural night of the ICL had its share of politicians pitching in for Subash Chandra. Lalu and Amar Singh were very conspicuous in their presence. Lalu, as always had a lot of gyan to pass on. After all he’s been dealing with Harvard and Stanford grads of late.

A special mention of the commentary, which was very imaginative, literally. Sample this.

First over of the match:

Wd 0 0 0 Wd

Pat Symcox: Oh this is turning out to be such an action-packed over. Everything’s happening. (Yeah, we’re just very simple folks to not comprehend the action involved in a wide delivery, and some defensive strokes).

Pat Symcox (to Dinesh Mongia): Nayan Mongia, please tell us how …

And just when a confounded Dinesh Mongia is about to reply, off goes Pat rattling about something totally irrelevant.

Tony Greig (commenting on a single): Oh, that’s a wonderful shot. Looks like the Lions are back on track (After 7 balls of no runs being scored, maybe Tony’s commentary was more exciting).

Anyway, I don’t have a lot of good things to say about this tournament - at least of what of what I've seen so far. In fact these matches have shown how any good concept can be made boring. Lets hope at least the IPL, with all its stars is worth the money – which is quite a lot in these tournaments, btw.

26 November, 2007

You are invited

That’s the wedding invitation cover of a very close friend of mine, who will bid farewell to the ‘Bachelors Club’ in another two days. I found this invitation very novel. And what was more novel was the reason for the invitation – straight out of a ‘Yash Raj’ production.

Boy traveling by train. Girl enters same cubicle. Boy decides to try his luck. Girl falls for it. Boy/girl who live in different cities, go their own ways. Gross abuse of technology follows. In come the parents. The climax of course, as in any decent Bollywood flick worth its name, ends in marriage (will in this case). And as the images posted above suggest, he had an RAC ticket that got confirmed. Of course, it was not just his RAC ticket that got confirmed (Ok, so I’m copying some witty stuff that he had printed on the 2nd sheet of a 4 page wedding invitation). But I think he’ll excuse me for the publicity that I’m giving him through this wonderful blog, which has readers pouring in from all over the world.

Nice, isn’t it? Nice – Yes. Believable – No. Yeah, it did happen in his case, but I know better. I’ve been traveling by train for the whole of my life, except for a few trips by plane, and not once have I come across an interesting girl in my cabin. I wish I were exaggerating here. Well, I guess I can’t say ‘never’, because there was one time when I had a chance, perhaps.

Last year, I was traveling to Goa for the New Year – “by train”. Along with me, was my loser pal Aravind, and we were to join 4 more friends at Goa. As luck would have it, an interesting girl happened to have a reservation in our cubicle. We decided to put up a disinterested act, immersing ourselves in the latest edition of one of those snotty business magazines, and thus putting to rest any hopes we’d harboured of impressing this girl. And what does this girl do? She picks up some alcohol that she has stacked in her rucksack and gets on with it. In the next station she is joined by some more friends and then more, and very soon, all you could smell is Whiskey. And we were left to get all the business gyan that we wanted to, on our way to Goa. Of course, we’re not total losers, and we did have our share of fun in Goa. But that’s the story of my shot at a ‘Bollywood style’ love story.

Of late I’m getting worried, that my mom has given up all hope. When she points out to the good looking girls, while we go shopping, it’s not a very encouraging sign. Its an indication that left to me, my mother doesn’t think I’d ever get married. But who knows. Maybe the next train journey would be different. In the meantime, I’ll make sure I book an RAC with has a good chance of getting confirmed.

25 November, 2007

The Story of Iqbal

I was home on a Saturday night after quite a few weeks yesterday. So, I just decided to laze around and catch a movie. I had recently bought a ‘War movie’ collection, but since I didn’t want my mom to get bored (the last time I watched a war movie named ‘Hiroshima’ with my mom, she was out after the first 20 mins, and so this time I knew better). DD1 was showing ‘Iqbal’. For those of you who didn’t know, it’s a sports film by Nagesh Kukonoor.

The protagonist, a young teenager named Iqbal (played wonderfully by Shreyas Talpade) is deaf and dumb, born into an impoverished family of a farmer, but is absolutely passionate about cricket. He finds an unwilling coach in Naseruddin Shah, who was a one-time cricket star, but is now a perennial drunkard. The story is about how Iqbal, makes it to the Ranji team and finally to the Indian cricket team. A wonderful film, and towards the end, you’re really praying for Iqbal to make, although you how the movie is going to end.

But other than the wonderful story of the under-dog winning in the end, there was something else about the movie that I really liked. The coach was a major factor in the success of Iqbal. But how many of us actually get that kind of a coach in real life? A coach who really wants you to succeed? Who would go out of his way to ensure that you do well? One of the biggest regrets of my college life was that I didn’t have a teacher who I could really look upto. And if you had known the rules that my college had, you’d know that there was a lot to regret about. There were some who would teach you what was prescribed in the textbook, and others who would come and chat with us and try to be a friend. But none who could inspire us to learn more about what they had to teach. Not surprisingly, when I was at a friends place recently, I could hardly remember the names of some of my teachers

Recently, I was watching a show on NDTV, where during a college farewell, the teachers had something to say about each and every outgoing student and presented each student a gift to remember. In comparison, my convocation was a song and dance show and we were not even invited onto the stage to receive our degrees.

The second story coming from Iqbal was the story of differently-abled children. And what was wonderful about this film, was the manner in which it chose not to focus on his disabilities, but rather to focus on his abilities. I think in real life too, its important that we give differently-abled people their place in mainstream society, and treat them whenever possible as normal people rather than sympathize on their disabilities.

My neighbour has two children, one of whom was born deaf and dumb. But due to the dedicated efforts of his mother, he is now able to speak and hear to a good extent. While, initially I did pity him, I later realized that he is a wonderful artist. And I’m not even exaggerating here. He’s won a scholarship and a state-level drawing competition to prove that.
I think we all strive for recognition, and not pity. So why differentiate?

21 November, 2007

31 --> 1... In progress

My worst fears have been confirmed. I've hit a new low. I've been working on this for two years now, and then I see this!!! I ask you dear lord, why this injustice?

"How could you let my blog show up only on the 31st page on a Google search?"

Yeah, you heard it right. It showed up on the 31st page, when I gave a search for Nikhil + blogspot a few days back. And now, I believe only God and perhaps some knowledge on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) can help me. Determined to get this thing sorted out, I began my quest for redemption.

First stop: 'Google Analytics'. This is really a very neat product from the Google stable and a godsend for all those on the Internet bandwagon. It basically allows you to monitor traffic to your site and analyze it based on 'keyword searches leading to your site', 'geography originating from' and a lot of other such criteria (I'm still to figure out how to use the rest of the features). I realize that while visitors from India maybe yet to discover the genius in me, I do have a good number of visitors from the US, Europe, Australia, and even places like Nicaragua, and a country I didn't know existed till now. Apparently a lot of these people were coming for the wrong reasons, and some innocuously used words in my posts were being thought of in a rather naughty context.

Time to Google (incidentally Word didn’t give me an error on Google, which it did a couple of months back. I’m not sure if I added it sometime. But if that isn’t the case, then maybe Microsoft is finally realizing what’s hit them) on ‘Search Engine Optimization’ and the ‘Page Rank algorithm’, and based on some advice, I made some cosmetic changes to my site, including adding meta-tags, mentioning ‘GOOGLE’ quite generously in this post, and then adding labels, and some online campaigning for the blog.

And then, today I borrowed a book from my office library (prompting questions on whether I have a thriving online business) called ‘Blog Marketing’. An interesting book (at least till what I’ve read) which talks not only about how best to position your blog to gain maximum moolah for the stuff that innocent visitors get lost in, but also takes a psychological look at why people blog at all.

I’m hoping all of this improves my blog rank. Well, maybe I’m just doing it the wrong way. I remember having recently read a blog, where the author talks about sending Diwali SMS’ to his contact list. For some reason, he finds this complex enough to plot a graph with the ‘X’ coordinate represented by ‘prospective professional contacts’ and the ‘Y’ graph represented by ‘Closeness to him’, and then split it as 4 quadrants and… well, some more stuff, which I wasn’t very interested in. (and this when companies like Aircel have only the 'Free SMS' as their USP). I’m not sure if he did send those messages finally, but he sure made sure that everyone knew he is a recent B-School grad. ;-)

I guess, I’m also doing something similar here. Maybe all I need to do here is write some good, readable posts and improve upon the frequency of 2 posts /month.

19 November, 2007

Decoding the world - through finance

Today at office we had a session on 'Sub Prime Lending'. While the topic sounded interesting, my previous experience at such sessions, made me think twice. Anyway, the presenter seemed to know a lot about this, and did a neat job of explaining it to the ones who didn't. If you're among the ones who has often wondered what the fuss about 'Sub Prime' is all about, and if the world is coming to and end because of this, you're pretty close - or at least thats what the presenter seemed to believe... Let me try to explain this as best as I can remember it, because, its a whole lot of mess to remember in 1 hour. And having finished 'Snapshots from Hell' just a day before, I can probably relate to what Peter Robinson was trying to say.

The players: Borrowers (the ones who started the rut), Sub-prime mortgage lenders (and these guys took it forward), the i-Banks (who decided to give it a new shape, and take it still ahead) and people again (after all, what goes comes, albeit to the wrong address).

So, how did it all start?

By the year 2003 or so, The grand old man of America 'Alan Greenspan' stabilized the market, lowered the interest (to as low as 1%) and took some decisions which succeeded in bringing the recession to an end, but which also probably set the wheels in motion for another likely recession. So, with the interest rates being so low, there was hardly any investment from the people.

What do the lenders do?

In order to get some business, they decide to give out loans to just about anyone who might be interested (including the NINJA's - 'No Job No Income' category). But you don't expect them to pay up huge EMI's rite. So the mortgagers come up with a scheme, where the borrower needs to pay a very low interest for the first 2 years (as low as 3% or so, which apparently even the jobless people could pay), and after the two years the interest rates shoot up to something like 10-11% (this is based on the LIBOR rates).

And the borrowers think...

Maybe I'll pay the interest for the two years, and then try and sell off the house at the end of the second year (the real estate market was on the rise) and pay off the loans. That way, I'll make a good profit with hardly any investment. In the worst case, the property would be taken over by the bank. Pretty smart thinking huh?

And then step in the mortgage lenders..

These guys are now having good business, but then they realize they're dealing with people who can't be totally trusted to pay the money. So, they decide to pass on the risk,and bring in the Investment banks. They create a financial instrument out of this called the 'Mortgage Based Security'. In simple terms, they got cash from the i-Banks, promising to pay them money which they expected to get from the NINJA group.

But hey, the i-banks can't possibly be that dumb right...

After all the pay a whole lot of money to recruit the best B-School grads from all over the world... So, they decide to pass on the risk... to just about anyone who wants to take it. They create another financial product out of it called the CDO (Centralized Debt Obligation). Hmm... , but it can't be just that simeple right??

In come the rating agencies...

The Investment banks creates an instrument, showing it to comprise 80% good loans, 10% mezzanine (loans which can't be totally trusted, but are pretty safe in any case) and 10% bad loans (loans given to the NINJA's). The rating agencies, who need business from the i-banks, tend to ignore the mezzanine and bad loans, and give it a high rating based on the good loans. So, now what u have is a very good looking and prospective financial instrument.

Ok, so far so good.. But what next??

A lot of these i-Banks have a hedge fund arm, which is a ready market to buy the CDO. And how is the price fixed for these? Its based on what the i-Bank decided to peg it at... And how do they do it? Based on the underlying - the loan (which is actually the bad loan that is worth nothing). And the hedge fund then sells it off to anyone who is willing to buy it. Then just to complicate matters further, there are some instruments called CDS (Credit Dwfault Swap), which is like an insurance for the loan, which is given out by the hedge fund company (which still makes sense). But then there are others who give insurance for this CDO (peopl who are in no way related to / own the CDO), and so on and so forth, derivates are created and recreated...

So, what brought the happy story crashing down??

Two things... 1) A majority of the bad loans were made out in the year 2005. So two years down in 2007, when they have to sell off the property,they realize the market is suddenly turning bad, and so a huge number of loan defaults surface.. 2) Morgan Stanley (or one of the cmpanies) realizes that something is going wrong here,and offloads a large amount of CDO's in the market... This creates a chain reaction, and suddenly there is no market for the CDO's, with practically millions of CDO's and CDS' floating around. Add to this, many small time insurance firms have insured products for which they have no money to pay. And so that matters don't go out of hand futher, the banks finance these insurance companies so that it looks hunky-dorey... But for how much longer? Banks are taking huge losses, and its just expected to get worse...

Did, u say its just the US?

There's a fire in the forest and u expect to be safe in ur cabin in the woods?? The European market has been equall badly hit, and the Indian market, while mainting its position thanks to strong fundamentals in the market, is beginning to feel the effect. With the dollar rate going down, the RBI has increased CRR rates, which mean fewer loans and has bought 35B worth of USD, to stabilize the rates... And the industries are just showing the effect...

Ok, thats a pretty long explanation. But thats a whole lot of mess too....

18 November, 2007

A long weekend

Well, it was still just the Saturday and Sunday, but there’s just so much that I could get done these 2 days, that it feels pretty long. An English Christmas play to begin the weekend, followed by dinner at Don Pepe, a fusion music performance by a Korean band, dinner at New Yorker (which is surprisingly empty nowadays), a couple of Hindi flicks (Bhool Bhulaiya and No Smoking), a visit to an orphanage, and the weekend classes that I help with. Add to this, a jog at the beach after a pretty long time, and now I’m still left with time to post a blog…. Will someone please remind me of this weekend, the next time I complain about not having enough time?

21 October, 2007

Reclaim your life

An older one from the Dicor series… Sounds like your own life??


Finally an ad that makes me want to buy the product without even needing it…. And while there have been ads that have been funny, smart and meaningful alternatively, this is the only one that makes me think of my own life – and all in a matter of 90 seconds. Check out this Safari Dicor ad… Simple yet powerful….

18 August, 2007

The dying spirit.....

Every day I meet people, and greet them with a customary ‘Hi’, and enquire about what they have been upto. And every time I get a customary ‘Nothing much’. It’s almost as if, people are afraid to talk about or worse, they have nothing to talk about, other than watching a movie over the weekend, or going shopping, or just talking about work. And it’s the same everywhere. Can our lives be really this boring?

Ok, so what’s the last time we did anything that had an impact on a person or a situation? When was the last time, that we stopped when we thought someone was not right, and decide to set it right? Either, I’ve been meeting the wrong set of people, or for most of us, the answer would be ‘a long time ago’ or ‘never’. And, the justification is that we are just normal people (and would in all probability remain so). In a country like ours, there are ample opportunities to make an impact. And yet, we would find the least percentage of people who are involved in the society or community around us. Why do we have this sense of apathy? I guess we’ve just become comfortable being ‘nobody’s. We’ve developed a very narrow perception and so all we crave for is respect at office or a good standing among our friends and relatives - we’ve just lost our sense of identity.

I’m sure a lot of us have wanted to do something at different times. And then, we just look around and decide to follow the crowd. Probably we must all just think of the things that we always wanted to change. And instead of blaming the system, we should try to be the change. It’s not that tough really. When we talk of the quota system being unjust, do we join the protests that happen all around us, or do we find out about and approach the civic body when the road in our locality has been ‘Under Construction’ for a long time? Simple things and small initiatives from each one of us can really make a huge impact and only when we start believing that, can there be a change.

So, are you a 'somebody' or a 'nobody'?

06 August, 2007

A new low in newspaper advertising...

I was traveling down Adyar bridge recently and happened to notice a huge billboard of a scantily clad female wearing a bit-n-pieces T-shirt. The writing on the T-Shirt said ‘Institute reveals vital statistics’ printed across the shirt. And for a while I couldn’t find what this brand being advertised was. Cosmopolitan? Stardust? And then, I noticed it… A small print revealing the name of the brand – Deccan Chronicle. Surprise, surprise!! I never really had a very high opinion of this newspaper, but never considered it that cheap either.

Why would a newspaper advertise itself in such a manner? And what were they trying to position themselves as? A newspaper, that provides enough eye-candy for the bored teenagers? Or a magazine, which provides some daily news? Either way, I don’t see how it made sense. Majority of the people subscribing for newspapers and reading them are the middle-aged people. A younger guy might either just check the news on the net or Google whatever takes his fancy at the moment. And in any case there are a lot many avenues for eye-candy other than the daily newspaper. And a more serious youngster would actually prefer a more serious newspaper.

Luckily, better sense prevailed and the next time I passed the bridge, the advertisement had been replaced by a surprisingly witty one. One, in which the letters A.D. were in the first line and B.C. were in the line below. And so if you read vertically, you’d have D.C. And with the caption, ‘Sometimes two letters can denote a generation’. Very smart advertising, but not before they touched a new low in newspaper advertising.

31 July, 2007


No, I’m not dedicating this post to anyone. Rather this post is about true dedication that I see in people around me, dedication to their job, a cause, or doing what they like to do. It’s this dedication that has inspired me to keep going many a time when things are not going too well. So here goes….

Dedication is:

--> The 70 - 80 year poor old woman, who I have been seeing for almost 15 years now. Everyday, as I pass by the temple close to home, I see her pushing her mentally handicapped son in his wheelchair, taking him somewhere, or probably just talking, showing him things in the hope that one day when he recovers, he’ll probably remember all that she has said. She is a real testimony to all that a mother stands for.

--> Bhanumathy ma’am – my math teacher at school. I haven’t seen too many teachers like. Absolutely dedicated to teaching students math, and not just preparing them for exams. A frail, soft-spoken woman, who has never had a harsh word to say to the students. And we never took advantage of that either. Respect, they say can only be commanded, not demanded. I guess they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

--> The priest at the temple that I visit every weekend. He’s an extremely old man, who can barely stand up and say the mantras clearly. But every time someone comes over to the deity that he sits near, he’s up on his feet and each time, he recites the prayers, while the younger priests just ask you to help yourselves.

--> My neighbor, a very talented musician, who can play as many as 6 instruments proficiently. He’s more than 30 now, and not earning the kind of salaries that society tends to expect of someone of that age. But that has not waned his dedication one bit. For him, music is his first love.

--> Oscar Pistorius, who has lost both his legs and has prosthetic limbs and is now running so fast that he wants to compete in the Olympics – for the abled. Just for the info, his best time for a 100 m dash is 10.6x.

--> My mother, who took care of my grandmother while she was very sick.

--> The soldier, who fights in hostile conditions, for people who would never know him. And for what purpose? His dedication to protect his motherland, his country.

Well, there are so many people, that I can think of who make me feel, that there is so much more that I can do everyday, who inspire me to give in that extra bit into whatever I do. I’m sure all of you have many such people in mind, who might inspire you when all seems lost.

27 July, 2007

It’s a wonderful life – an adaptation.

Last week, I watched the movie ‘It’s a wonderful life’. We have a movie club at office, which screens movies every Thursday. I had heard a lot about this movie and so when I heard they were screening it at office, I wasn’t going to miss it. It’s a nice movie with a simple plot - too simple I would say. But it’s quite an inspiring movie, and somehow it strikes a chord. But although I had never seen this movie before, I had a sense of Déjà vu.

Only then did I remember something that happened a long while back – so long that I had almost forgotten. I was in the twelfth standard and we were just done with our half-yearly exams. The cultural season was just beginning and we all were pretty excited about it. Not that I was planning to participate in a lot of events, but importantly this meant we would be having a lot of free hours. I thought this was the right time to expose my talents (or whatever little I thought I had). And so I gave my name for the dramatics event, not knowing what I was getting into.

It was a lot of fun initially. And afterwards, with just a week to go, it didn’t seem like a lot of fun after all. We had not even decided on the script and the other teams were doing quite okay. And then I thought of this idea of a man, completely frustrated with life and who then commits suicide. After his death he lands in Heaven, where ‘Yama’ shows him ‘Heaven vision (or something of that sort)’ – which allows him to see what’s happening to the people on earth whom he thought didn’t really care for him. After seeing the impact that he had on their lives, he begs to be given a second chance. Simple story, right, so not much can go wrong, huh?? Or so we thought…

On the day of the event, we came all prepared, and as fate would have it we were the first team on stage. Alas, last minute panic stuck. The boy who was supposed to cross-dress (a combined team of boys and girls was not viewed favourably in our school) as Rose from ‘The Titanic’ just could not find the right costume, and so he had to make do with a nightgown on stage. Not a very pleasing sight that – me romancing with a guy in a nightgown and giving a lot of cheesy lines. But that was just the beginning. Our story required us to talk while in motion. Unfortunately there was just a single mike on stage and as a result, we had to stop, deliver a dialogue and then move on. Ok, so we’ve had our share of bad luck… time for something good to be happening… Apparently not. In a scene where the phone rings, we had a person backstage playing the phone ringing on the keyboard. (mobile phones were not all that common in those days and none of us had one). And then just as I’m expecting to hear the phone sound, and about to pick up the handset, I hear an ambulance for a full 3 minutes (fancy ring tones were also unheard of in those days). Oh, how I wish I was not the person holding the phone. The last few scenes after that are still a blur.

We ended up as the fourth best team (I guess it wouldn’t be necessary to tell you that there were only four participating teams). The actor who had cross dressed as a woman, could not find his pants and had to be in the night gown for quite a while. Talk about adding insult to injury. Well, for the positives, the audience was quite appreciative of my changing clothes for a scene very quickly. And this play will always give me something to laugh about when I think back.

‘All the world’s a stage’

25 July, 2007

20,000 feet above sea level !!

20,700 feet to be exact. That’s the height at which the 75 km wide Siachen glacier sits at the northern tip of India. It was a location that had for long, ceased to be of any significance to the people on its either side, a pristine location untouched by humans, a view to behold. But then it all changed in the year 1984, when the place became popular – as the highest battlefield in the world. A once insignificant glacier, became the ultimate symbol of supremacy which neither side was willing to give up.

So, how did it all start? The 1972 Simla agreement, signed between India and Pakistan, failed to clarify which of the two sides controlled the Siachen glacier. In the 70’s Pakistan began giving mountain expedition permissions to anyone who wanted to scale the peaks from their side. This alerted the Indian army, who then decided to mount an army expedition as a counter exercise. On 13th April, the Indian army launched ‘Operation Meghdoot’ and marched into the glacier. Pakistan responded by deploying its own troops and tried to beat India to the top. Because of the head-start that India had, she was able to occupy most of the region, while Pakistan had to settle for what was remaining. Since then Pakistan has launched several attempts to conquer the glacier and India has stuck on to its position and Siachen has become a virtual boiling point in the Indo-Pak relations.

For us people commenting from the comforts of our homes, its just another of those several conflicts which are happening all over the world – taking comfort in the knowledge that such a conflict would never touch us in any manner. But spare a thought for the soldier - away from home, in hostile conditions and with the enemy right in front of him and with only each other for support. In winter, temperatures fall to below 50 degrees Celsius and you can see only snow for miles together, and frostbites and the hostile weather claims more lives than the gunfire, what keeps them going. Is it pride of serving in the toughest conditions? Or the hope of a comfortable life later on? A deep sense of patriotism and a staunch belief in the nation and its lawmakers? I don’t know because I’ve not been in their shoes. But what I do know is that they are the real heroes who have not been given their due. Its only when a Kargil comes do we suddenly realize that there are people out there fighting to protect us, while we are busy making our fortune.

While part of me argues, ‘What’s the point of this war? Someone has to cede power. And if the other side is not willing to, why not us’, part of me also argues ‘Why should it be us? Why can’t it be the other side’ and ‘Maybe we should hold on till we reach an amicable agreement’. Deciding is tough, more so for the decision-makers who would have to live with the tag of ‘the people who gave away a part of the nation’. But is it not worth it if that would mean you could die, knowing that you were the reason that so many lives were saved? Although it might seem utopian, if we view countries as just land demarcated by lines, does this whole land struggle make any sense at all? After all, I don’t know the person in Kashmir any better than I know a person in Uganda and a person in Srinagar might relate better with a person in Lahore and similarly a person in Karachi might relate better with the people from Lucknow. So, what’s all the fuss about?