Thursday, April 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Sachin (for the 35th time)

I do not know of any other living sporting icon from India, who's birthday is a red letter day in the Indian calendar.

April 24 of every year is a day when Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar makes national headlines(just like he does at every other time of the year). But this date is special. It is special because it is a time to salute a man who has offered yeoman service to Indian cricket, and indeed, Indian sport in general. It is a day when the entire nation, cutting across artificial and real differences, unites to celebrate a man who lives a life that millions dream of. Sachin Tendulkar is the aspiration and inspiration of an extremely ambitious nation.
This day is a celebration of a real life dream!

What Sachin has done on the sporting arena usually gets overpowered by the things that he has done off-field. The sheer weight of expectations that every Indian sportslover showers on him every time the champion plays cricket, is a pressure that very few on this planet can handle. To expect him to win every match for India on a world stage, for the last 18 years is in itself a part of Indian cricketing legend. I actually recognise the man more for his temperament, his ability to handle such pressure, his mental strength, his poise, and indeed his sense of balance and simplicity that he retains till this day.

For a man who can command things in Indian sport (if he wishes to), Tendulkar remains committed to the country and his team and always puts these two gems ahead of his personal milestones. That is incredible, given that most sportsmen live a short life in their stream and are remembered for their records.

But not Sachin. He will be remembered for his contribution to India as a whole. He will be remembered as a man who taught Indians to prove to the world that we are well and truly capable of being the best in the business. He reminds every Indian that it is possible to dream big and achieve great things in this world. His name echoes the distant possibility that one can realise one's deepest passions, ambitions, dreams, and desires by the sheer dint of courage, hard work, performance and indeed meritocracy. All that one has to do is to constantly reinforce his/her belief that one is good enough, come what may.

I think the greater recognition of the man's stature in international cricket is represented by the immense adulation he enjoys with cricketing audiences worldwide, and the fantastic camaraderie, respect and fear that opponent teams have for him, even as he enters the twilight of his illustrious career.

And I think, to Sachin's credit, he makes every Indian proud. Very, very, very proud!

Happy 35th Birthday, Sachin!

Colourful day at the office

Its Grail day today - the second anniversary of this start-up, Grail Research, that I am a part of. And it was an exhilarating day at the office, with a lot of fanfare, colour and immense cheer all around (not to mention the complete absence of motivation to work!).

The festivities actually began before everyone got to the office in the morning, when our worldwide CEO sent an enthusiastic email to everybody highlighting the firm’s achievements, and recognizing key milestones in the last 2 years. He also set the tone for the times ahead with future challenges and also acknowledged some key performers since the inception of the firm.

As soon as I entered the office premises, I was greeted with a majestic, yet colourful view of endless workstations decorated, ceilings hooked up with red and white balloons. There was more to come -, flowers and garlands at the office main entrance, wonderful artistic decorations (rangolis) donning different spots in the office, posters with photographs from the past capturing some memorable moments such as the offsite at Dehradun, training sessions and birthday celebrations in office etc.

The mood in the office was extremely cheerful, with people smiling at each other and celebrating the spirit of the day in colourful attires. Of course, the highlight of the day was the theme that each "set of workstations together i.e. bay", came up with. There were diverse themes floating around the office with some bays taking the pains to actually source real ingredients to reflect the authenticity of the theme in question. For example, there was one bay on the 7th floor that came up with the theme of a dhaba (an Indian traditional, countryside food joint); another bay came up with the theme of a jail; another one thought of converting their bay into a bar; yet another bay sold their idea to the intellectuals with their theme of a knowledge centre.

There were a handful of folks who did not participate, but that was more on account of the premium on their time in the recent past(read, client pressure!).However, they did come up with a last minute wisecrack full of hoardings that marked arrows to other bays in the office and suggesting that they would have done a better job than the rest of the pack!

Our bay was full of folks filled with energy and creativity. We came up with the Grail Disco!I almost did not recognise the place that I sit in everyday, what with pictures of dance partners, frilly material, designer cardboard, bartender indications(water bottles depicted as beer bottes!) etc. We coined our theme as Groovy Grail, and also had a disco ball that was affixed to a bulb on top of our bay!(Its a different story that the ball kept falling down, every other hour - but it was a rotating ball, you see!).

As the evening neared, the entire office congregated on the 7th floor and there were announcements on promotions, special awards for people who had made key contributions and a few other formalities. The fun committee(responsible for deciding the best themes in various bays), then made their announcements - and we were the second runner-up! Not a bad effort at all, given that a large number of ideas actually hit us only an hour before everything had to be ready!

After this meeting, there was beer, pizza and garlic bread - on the house, which was just what the doctor ordered for the vibrant set of under-30 folks in the office!

All in all, a red letter day(our logo is red too!) for everyone Grail Research!
ps: It is also the cricketing legend, Sachin Tendukar's birthday today!:)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Old world charm...

Its been years since I sat back and had a long, engaging and incredibly fulfilling conversation with any friend. The pressures of the professional world have seriously put a premium on such charming pleasures of life. But today was a rare exception. I got to spend a good 2.5 hours with a very good friend of mine at Barista. It was one of those fascinating evenings where we tooks turns in going through time, and through some of the most poignant moments in our lives.

Of course, my version of the story has just scratched the tip of the iceberg - but, it was fascinating to learn of some seriously mixed set of times that my wonderful friend has undergone in her life. Learnt a lesson or two as well, in the course of this long conversation.

This has to rank as one of the finest evenings in a long time. The old world charm of spending quality time with a good friend, at a coffee shop, and engaging in deep, animated dialogues,without ever realising the passage of time - wow! Old charms of life, in its truest essense!

Friday, April 11, 2008

My Friend From France

She is much taller than me. She has a dazzling smile. She is strong in the fundamentals of finance. She is well-qualified. She has lovely brown eyes. She is incredibly down-to-earth. She eats with her hands more adeptly than any villager in the country would.She is a fascinating human being. And believe it or not, I am talking about somebody who I have grown to admire, respect, love and indeed cherish, even though she is not born in India. She is a special girl!

I am not talking about any girlfriend that I have (wish I did!). But, I am talking about my lovely friend from France, who has been living in India for the last few years. She came to India on an exchange programme in a top business school and has since been working here. I first heard her voice when my boss was recruiting a foreigner into our team. And he said France - obviously, my ears caught that word - I mean, how many guys will get to have a French girl as a team mate in India! Finally, my boss managed to recruit her, get her visa done and then she arrived in our office in Bangalore - back in the summer of 2005.

We worked together, but very quickly became good friends. She knew a lot about India even before she arrived and had seen so much more of the country than my friends and I together had. She was good at her work and picked up the Indian way of working pretty quickly ( meaning, long hours and working on weekends!). I will never forget those lovely Friday afternoons when she used to bring a home baked chocolate cake to the office and share it with the entire team. It was an unseen culture in our office - but she carried it off & brilliantly at that.

I quit that firm and we kept in touch. I saw her transform from the regular European, bland food-eating individual into more and more of an Indian. She started eating spicy Indian food. She learnt the variants of the north Indian and south Indian palette. She picked up the tricks of the trade, so to speak, in eating without a fork and a knife. Of course, she did crazy things along the way - such as mix gulab jamun and curd for dessert, that had us in splits! But, that's the kind of effort she put in, towards understanding the Indian way of life, not just the food. I have seen her take great efforts to be as Indian as possible on Ethnic Day at the office, when she would turn up in a saree and dumbfound the most ardent of Indian male admirers. Her height, her charisma and her poise were exemplary at all times even when she was surrounded by men and women who spoke the local language - poor thing, she never understood Kannada or Hindi! That's something she always told a good friend of mine and me (we were all in the same team) - that both of us, never ever speak the local language in front of her. We understood what she meant - imagine surviving in a country of over a 1000 languages, and knowing only one language i.e. English! Tough life! But my lovely French friend has done it, and done it with style for a long time now. She is even training to learn Hindi nowadays.

There have been some memorable moments with her - like going to a Hindi movie and translating every word for her, so that she gets the context of the movie (she must be one of those rare girls who does not drool over Shahrukh Khan when he is on screen; but instead was all ears to my translation efforts - possibly the only time I scored over King Khan!). There have been other times with her as well, such as long walks in and around her neighbourhood, or catching up on evenings at Coffee Day and having a nice little conversation or two, or going to watch a play, or watching a concert at Rangashankara (a famous Bangalore art centre), or just driving around Bangalore in the car and listening to music and engaging in long conversations, or trying out some new cuisine in town. Interestingly, there have been so many variants to our outings that I have forgotten which is more memorable than the other - they have all been special!

The fact that she has become so much of an Indian is demonstrated by the fact that she is able to fight with rickshaw drivers on the tariff! Another testimonial is her ability to drive in Indian traffic, that too the pathetic Bangalore traffic, which is a nightmare for the most seasoned of drivers. But for my European friend, its no big deal! She will glide through the traffic at ease. Her road sense, her ability to jam on the brakes at the eleventh hour, her sense of navigating around cyclists and buffaloes and what have you are a revelation in the art of learning to live in a new country. Imagine, for someone so used to picture perfect situations back home in Paris, where there is no trace of a bullock cart of a cyclist on the main highway, to driving a four-wheeler in the nightmarish, one-ways of Indian roads! Some transformation and ability to adapt, that!

I have been away from Bangalore for a while now. But every time I go home for a vacation, I ensure that I meet my lovely French friend. She is a delight to hang around with. Just reliving old times, catching up on old office gossip, learning about her trials and tribulations in our country have taught me the lesson that great friendships have no barriers - not of geography, not of language, and definitely not of food etc. She knows that I am a vegetarian and that I am a tee-totaler. And she respects that. All the same, she has taught me many things about how life pans out in France; how people end up going out to restaurants 3 - 4 times in a week; how family dinners are a special place; how people work in one firm for many years, unlike what we find in India, where the average Joe jumps jobs at the drop of a hat and how the French government takes care of people without a job.

All in all, my French friend is one of the finest human beings I have ever met. Incredibly sweet girl and somebody whose friendship I genuinely treasure. I know that she will go back to France eventually, but to have gotten the chance to meet her and get to be such great friends with her while she is in India, is one of the privileges of my life. And one of the truly memorable friendships in my life, which I am confident, she reciprocates!

Cheers to you, girlie!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Summer rains!

Its been raining here in Noida for the last 4-5 days. And the weather has been nothing short of a spectacle - breezy and nippy in the air, dark, misty clouds in the morning and cloud cover for most of the day, lovely greenery with wet leaves dripping with raindrops - the sights of the north Indian rains in the summer is a rare one indeed. And quite beautiful! Reminds me so much of the weather back home in Bangalore, where its pleasant for most of the year.

The lovely weather here in Noida this week has brought about smiles on people's faces. There is a sense of cheer in the air, in the absence of the hot sun that is the norm here at this time of the year. No wonder people use the word, moody!