Thursday, December 13, 2012

A square peg in a round hole

...of clich├ęs and weasel words

My bank manager has been a very unhappy man for a long time. Yes, the same guy who has ‘I am not at my desk’ on his mobile phone voice mail. He has now become a good friend of mine because I empathize with him. I listen to him and I try to offer solutions to his (many) problems. He has often told me that he feels he is from a different generation. Much to my chagrin though, he insists on saying that he is from my generation. “Saar, I am from your generation,” he says in a desperate bid to find solace even though he is a good 10 years older than me.

His current problem is that he doesn’t quite fit in with the young and modern crowd at the bank. The young people at his bank are all fresh out of management schools – known as B-schools in these parts. When I hear that term I always ask: “Arre, I don’t care about those. Where the A-schools?”

I once went to the bank to meet with him and was stunned to see a sea of young faces all around. These young folk looked like Emraan Hashmi, Ranbir Kapoor and Virat Kohli in suit and tie. The poor fellow looked completely out of place in an office full of young people with gel-laden hair, tattoos and eyebrow-piercings. They were fresh, enthusiastic and young people: "dudes" apparently. The bank manager was told recently by one of these young dudes, “You are very old school dude,” to which the manager could only muster, “Arre, what are you talking? I did not go to school only. I worked my way up through the ranks. First you learn your facts and then talk.” 

The kids laughed at him.

That was when he called me. He could not understand the language these kids spoke. “They do not speak English. The other day one of them wanted to kick a few tires. I have no idea why they want to do that,” he said and asked me for help.

So I attended a meeting at the bank to assess the extent of his problems. The manager introduced me as an external reviewer of a project that an Emraan Hashmi lookalike and Virat Kohli lookalike were working on.

After the introductions were over, Hashmi and Kohli launched into a speech on a new consumer product the bank was about to launch. I asked them to describe what the new idea was, what it was all about, what made it unique and different and what it would do for the Bank. Four simple questions, one would have thought. No?

Hashmi started off first. He said “We had lots of ideas but we needed to socialize them and workshop this holistically. We started with a blank slate and put in the hard yards. We needed to first chew the fat a bit. All ecosystem synergies were looked at synergistically before we decided that this one idea had legs.”

At this point, Kohli jumped in with his own verbiage: “This is a win-win proposition. If we can foster key relationships, we can create a paradigm shift and score goals. But for that we need to wrap our heads around this and be on the same page. However, we first needed to be proactive and blue sky this, for it won’t be a walk in the park for us. But this idea will certainly separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff as long as we walk the talk. Because, unless we aim for the skies, we will shoot ourselves in the foot.”

I was already exhausted by then. So I put my hand up, stopped them and said I had not understood any of what they had said.

Hashmi said, “I see where you are coming from,” to which our bank manager jumped out of his seat and thundered, “Arre, how do you know where he is put up and why does it mater? Anyhow, he comes from Powai only.”

Clearly, we had a problem.

But Kohli ignored the interjection and carried on, “Look, all we need is to pick the low hanging fruit. For that we need to get a few runs on the board, push past first base and look at benchmarking this gig. We will be happy to loop you in and keep you engaged.”

I still had no idea what they were talking about and so asked for clarification. “Could you tell me what exactly this product is and what it will do?”

Kohli continued, “Oh that’s easy. We are starting with a clean slate on this one. All we need is a few quick wins under our belt. From then on, all we need is to burn the candle at both ends, live it, breathe it 24-7-365 and get past first base. There are a few issues to iron out but we will certainly attempt to close the loop in a key manner.”

“Oh yes I do understand all of that,” I said, at which point my bank manager immediately fell at my feet and asked, “You really do?” 

I smiled at him, looked at Hashmi and Kohli and asked for clarifications on what they were talking about. I said “I know you guys are talking about something important but I do not know what it is.” Then, in a bid to join them, I asked, “Can you give me a thirty five thousand feet view of what this idea is all about?”

Hashmi said, “Oh that is easy. We have been underperforming as a unit. We decided to right-size our operations, wear out our shoe leathers and step up to the plate. At the end of the day, when rubber hit road, we decided that we did not have the bandwidth to do anything other than to stick to our knitting. We stuck to our core-competencies while we thought out of the box. We had to tear down our silos, and harvest fresh ideas. We developed a go-forward strategy, managed expectations and developed an open-door approach to synergise thoughts. We leveraged all talents and brought all minds to the plate. We had put many ideas to the basement and we left many others in the parking lot. But we put a stake in the ground with a winner. It has a wonderful value proposition.”

I was getting highly exasperated with this excruciatingly painful diarrhea of weaselwords. These two boys were extremely well spoken and well dressed (and well paid too). But they also appeared to be good at saying a lot without saying anything at all. By now, I was beginning to develop new respect my bank manager. “Yes, all that is fine, but I didn’t ask how. I asked what?”  I shouted, and for good measure I added with a smile, “This is the third time I am asking what is it that you are attempting to do... and as you know from your B-school notes, generally, three strikes and you are out.”

Kohli jumped in at this point, rolled up the sleeves of his crisp, white, neatly-ironed Pierre Cardin shirt and said, “See, as we said, we needed to address the elephant in the room. We were not right sized. We needed to level-set expectations for we had far too many chiefs and not too many Indians. We hired a change-agent and made him the go-to guy to run with this gig. We empowered him fully and convinced ourselves that he would not drop the ball. We had a hot potato in our hands. So we carefully looked at benchmarks and best practice methodologies to ballpark this. We also carried out due diligence and applied the 80-20 rule to many other ideas that struck us from left-field. We then decided to home run this one. We have built in redundancies for we don’t want to be thrown under a bus and be caught on the hop.”

I had had enough. I said to Kohli and Hashmi, “I don’t think you have compared apples with apples on this product. This idea has to be moth-balled. There, I have declared all my cards. Let's touch base later. We may need to take the rest of this offline guys,” and got up suddenly.

I looked at the bank manager and told him that he was, unfortunately, a ‘square peg in a round hole’ and left.

-- Mohan (@mohank)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Motivation cycles and rhythms...

I do not like intensely motivated people who get up every day at 5am to go for a jog or a gym session. These are the sorts of people who use the phrase “24x7x365” a lot in everyday conversations even with their drivers. You know what this kind of person would do that is most irritating? At a critical juncture in a work meeting they’d stretch their calf muscles and squeeze their face in agony. One of the people around the table would inevitably ask, “Everything all right?” to which the calf stretcher would often say: “Oh, nothing much, really. I overdid my run today,” pretend as though everyone else in the room wanted to hear the rest of the story and continue, “I should have stopped at the 33 kilometre mark, but continued on to complete 35 kilometres. That probably did it for me.”

That sort of intensely motivated person... The world is full of these types of people. 

This sort of person brings such supreme levels of motivation, drive, determination, energy, commitment and focus to everything they do, whether it is running, gymming, work, studies or even the organisation of the office football competition. They give the anal in analytical a new meaning. This sort of person scares me more than Himesh Reshamaiyya. This sort of person appears to have no imperfections at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a bit of a runner and a gym fiend too. I too get up at 5am and there are work meetings when I get severe cramps in my calf muscles. But I go through cycles of intensity in everything I do. There are phases when I am intensely focussed on an outcome and will work incredibly hard to get there. For example, November (2012) was a tough month for me from a work perspective. It was also a month when there was much non-work nonsense that was swirling around too.

However, what I did first in November was to cut out much of the obvious distractions (Twitter and Facebook, for example). We live in an age of monumental distractions; each with its own customizable alert tone or vibration. If an incoming email doesn’t compel you to reply immediately, even as you run on the treadmill, your Facebook will let you know, through yet another unique alert tone, that someone liked the silly picture you put up just a few seconds before you hit the gym. Most of us are almost always on the losing side of the distraction battle that today’s electronic media has with us and imposes on us.

In November, I defined my purpose and goal rather clearly and succinctly. More importantly, I was able to rid myself of debilitating negativities that tend to make the ‘calf stretcher’ look better than they actually are. For me, at times like these, I also work on shortening the list of things I do rather than lengthening; which is a temptation because there is just so much to do. I prioritize my goals rather brutally. Being productive is not about doing everything. It is about doing a few things really well. I write these down as a reminder and only focus on these.

All of this delivered the focus that enabled me to get through that work-month... and more. I was productive even though I put in many 3-hour sleep nights and 15-hour work days. My gym work and my running suffered. I had no sore calf muscles to draw attention to at work meetings. And I did not organize any office football competition. But I got through the month even though it was an imperfect month when seen through the lens of my personal fitness.

Now this is an imperfection that the intensely motivated person perhaps does not have. They focus on a few things and do them really well; they drive these to within an inch of perfection.

I am not like that. I exist in what I call ‘motivation cycles’. I like that rhythm, that imperfection and that lack of continuous focus to everything I do; and I do have many interests that ebb and flow over time.

I go through periods of lethargy. A very good friend of mine refers to this by asking me whether I am in the ‘fit or fat’ part of my fitness motivation cycle. I go through similar cycles in all other pursuits of mine; professional and otherwise.

I do normally get up at 5am and, after sending out a few work emails, I am either out on a run or I hit the gym for at least an hour and a half before I head out to work. However, when there are other priorities – such as my work-intense November – I am able to switch priorities quite easily. I easily slip into the trough-phase of my fitness regimen. I remember there were days in November when I would get up at 5am – having only slept at  2am – with the intention of going for a run. I would wash my face, don my running clothes and stealthily climb back into bed without even a semblance of guilt; I soaked it.

Even after my intense November work-phase concluded, I just could not bring myself to get into that gym routine for a week. Perhaps it was the mental exhaustion caused by work. Or perhaps I had reached a burn-out point. I just had to get out of the trough; the valley of the Sine curve I existed in. I knew I would. I had done that before too.

At times like these I rarely beat myself up with a wet towel; I build resolve. I accept, embrace, understand and cope with the resultant guilt. I do not deny the sloth. I grow determination instead.

I then monitor the return carefully until the endorphins slowly take over again. There is a process to this. I maintain records in this period; records of how much I run each day, or how far I cycled, or what weight I pressed on the bench press. I am most cautious and deliberate at times like these without beating myself up; I try and identify the reason for the sloth (usually mental exhaustion or other work  personal priorities).  And I am more honestly observant of myself at these points in time than at any other point in time on the motivation curve. The most important step in this journey is monitoring the return process honestly, deliberately and slowly. It works. Always.

Especially if you are not one of those intensely motivated people who like to complain about their insanely taut calf muscles at meetings...

--Mohan (@mohank)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The ruffian and the gentleman: a long short story

As we drove from Karnataka into the newly carved state of Madipur, I noticed immediately the colours, texture and function of the land had changed significantly since I had left the place.We drove from the lovely and expansive Bengaluru Airport along the new expressway, which ran through Malgudi before cutting through the new state of Madipur. The lazy countryside gave way to concrete, glass and steel. There was a markedly different tone and rhythm to Madipur City, the capital of Madipur state.

The Madipur City I grew up in was lethargic. Today, it was the hub of knowledge outsourcing. Most of the world’s largest companies had moved their research and development centers to Madipur. This new state had much to offer: an abundance of talent, natural resources, lovely weather, institutes of science and technology, proximity to the Bengaluru International Airport, and much more.

In exactly one hour and fifteen minutes, I had reached the Madipur Vidhan Sabha. 'It would take me that long to get from the Bengaluru Airport to Indiranagar,' I thought, as I got out of the car that had ferried me to the new legislative assembly building of Madipur. The exhaustively interconnected metro that was promised for Bengaluru was 20 years in the making and still incomplete. In direct contrast, Madipur had a fully interconnected metro network and a lovely system of roads. As we drove in to Madipur City, a large sign welcomed us: ‘Visit the State with no scams and traffic jams’.

The Vidhan Sabha of Madipur was an impressive building. Imagine the Vidhan Soudha in Bengaluru. Multiply its expanse by an order of magnitude and give it a coat of dark red paint. That was the Vidhan Sabha. Indeed, Madipur represented exactly what Bengaluru would have been but for the latter’s governance void, trust deficit and distinct lack of visionary leadership. In the beginning, constructing a new state adjoining Karnataka would have been hard. There was always the possibility the vibrant Bengaluru, with its greenery, its lively bars, strong educational institutions and young people would overshadow Madipur. However, within a short period, the young and the old had slowly moved out of Bengaluru to settle down in Madipur, “a happening place which is simultaneously a pensioner’s paradise, a hipster’s heaven, a dreamer’s delight and a teenager’s thrill location,” Poly Narayana Reddy, Madipur’s chief minister would say to me later that day. He clearly loved his alliterations.

He loved other things too, like food. But more importantly for Madipur, he had extraordinary vision and drove towards it with the energy of a man possessed. When he was elected to power as Madipur’s first chief minister, he declared he would make it the ‘cleanest and most progressive state in India’. In just 10 years, he was ready for the next big goal, having already satisfied his stated goal when he first took over as chief minister. “People talk about ‘single window’ government operations. In Madipur, we do not believe in either windows or doors. We believe in open plan offices,” he once said in an interview. Since he became chief minister, things he said were constantly quoted in business magazines; nearly 40 journal articles and case studies had been written on him and his style of open governance.

And I was here, in Madipur, to meet with him.

He had met me in New York the previous month where he was due to give a keynote address at a large management junket – sorry, conference! I was a part of the panel discussion that immediately followed his keynote address. He spotted me in the audience during his talk and waved. After his talk he came up to me, embraced me and said, “How are you Siddharth? We do not have much time to talk now, but you must come to Madipur. I need you there,” and quickly departed. I was amazed he remembered me. We weren't friends when we had grown up together in Madipur City. We went to the same college. However, we had had only a few dealings in my time there. I also thought he would forget our meeting in New York. However, two weeks later, I got a call from his office. The chief secretary to the Madipur state called me and asked if I would visit the city as a guest of the chief minister, Poly Narayana Reddy.

I stood outside his office wing and said, “My name is Siddharth Rao and I...” and before I could finish my sentence, Poly Reddy’s PA said, “Sure, we are expecting you. Please walk with me sir” and whisked me into the chief minister’s wing. It was called ‘The People’s Wing’ of the building.

Colourful modern paintings adorned the walls, which were all painted in solid colours and included sharp, clean corners. The furniture has sleek and, like the walls, had sharp corners. A few large plants in large earthen pots decorated the floor and helped accent the visual appeal just appropriately. Much like the people that worked in it, the place had a welcoming yet businesslike feel to it. I stood in the waiting are for exactly two minutes before I was asked to go into the chief minister’s office.

He was a big impressive man, with a thick mustache  He wore spectacles these days. He had a rather neat and cuddly tummy. That part hadn't changed. Indeed, when I was in college in Madipur, I would often wonder why he was known as Poly Reddy or Poly Narayana. Initially, I thought this was because of his cute little paunch, shaped like the ghatam, the percussive instrument often used in Carnatic music concerts. I thought his girth, the ghatam and his roly-poly appearance gave him his nickname. He would always rest his folded hands at the top of his pot, much like a ghatam player would. Sometimes when he was unhappy, his palms would rest face up at the top of the pot. That was when you knew you were in trouble; and with Poly Narayana ‘trouble’ meant losing your knee cap at the very least. It was only later that I found out that ‘poly’ had nothing to do with his roly-poly appearance. It actually translated to ‘nasty fellow’ in Kannada; that was where he had inherited his moniker from.

His office had a wall of books on a range of subjects. There were several management and self-help books. Books by Christensen and Gladwell appeared to have been read many timesover. But the shelves also had Krylov, Pushkin, Gorky, Nabokov, Havel, Garcia-Marquez, Miller, Mahfouz and more. These weren't mere show pieces either. Through the day, he would quote from Nabakov or Mahfouz. He had actually read these books and recalled passages from them. This was a guy that hardly spoke English when we were at college together.

Poly Reddy wore a dark blue Armani suit and, as always, wore Hermes cologne. Even in his college days, when he walked you felt he ruled the world. He didn't believe in slouching, nor did he drag his feet. His was a walk of a confident, arrogant man. “The word humility does not exist in my dictionary,” he told me once while we were at college together nearly 20 years ago and, on seeing my raised eyebrows, continued, “...and although I could get a new dictionary, I prefer this one that I have.” I had one look at the way he went through his work that morning and was convinced that Poly Reddy had not yet procured that new dictionary. He did not need it.

He signed many papers that morning as I waited. It was fascinating to see the man in operation. He would sign papers with a flourish that represented poise and self-belief.

He looked at me briefly, peered through the papers he was signing, and said “Two more minutes Sid. I will be done here and then I am all yours,” and, as he took off his sun glasses, he paused and added, “...for the rest of the day.” I immediately wondered why he wore sunglasses inside his office. But I didn't linger on that thought for too long. I was, instead, concentrating on what Poly Reddy had just said. I had just heard him say “...I am all yours, for the rest of the day”; this was simultaneously worrying and comforting. How would I engage with him for the rest of the day? What would we talk about? Even if he brought it up, I was certainly not going to talk about our largely murky past. Even though I remained worried and strangely comforted, I was confident of what I could and did not want to talk about. And that was one major difference this time: I was no longer in awe of the man.

I was in awe of the man when we were at college together. I was always the studious guy and would never interact with Poly Reddy, who was already developing a reputation as a deadly ruffian. I was studying Maths and he, law. So we really did not have much interaction. I would see him from a distance every now and then. For some reason, he had taken a huge liking to me and would always nod or smile at me. I would be simultaneously worried and comforted. But I was also in awe of his swagger, his confidence, his walk, his very being.

However, I stayed clear of him because he worried me. Yet, my past interactions with Poly Reddy were not orchestrated by me though. It involved a girl called Malini.

I thought about Malini and how I had fallen in love with her. I was 17 and in the first year of my two-year pre-university course (year 11). Malini was warm, bubbly, extroverted and incredibly loquacious. She was also exactly what the testosterone of some 30 boys in our class needed at that time. Of the 20 girls in the group, she was the one that everyone wanted to talk to and be with. For over a month I plotted strategy after failed strategy, on how I might approach her and ask her out for a coffee when, one day, she made the first move. As our Chemistry lecturer was spotted walking down the corridor, I sat down in the chair in front of her. I leaned back to rest my back on her writing desk when she pulled the desk towards her. In a matter of seconds, I lost my balance and my head was, instead, on her knee. I looked up at her face and saw her smile in a benign and inviting manner. I fell in love immediately. The connection was thus made. The rest of the class was more electricity and biology than chemistry!

At the end of that hour, I actually didn't need to ask Malini out to coffee. We just ended up at the coffee shop. We didn't talk much. We didn't need to. Indeed, we rarely did. We just sat and stared at each other as 17 year old kids tend to do. This would soon become our regular routine at the end of our day. There were no posh coffee shops in those days. This was in the pre-CCD era. So Malini and I would go to the nearby coffee shop, which we fondly used to refer to as ‘Cholera Bhavan’,and stare into each other’s eyes as we sipped our coffees from a glass. After our post-college coffee, I would drop her home, which was one suburb away from my own home. I would drop her at the end of the street her house was on; her parents could not see us together. Not yet anyway. Occasionally, we would go to a slightly posh restaurant. Even there, we would mostly look into each other’s eyes. From time to time we would talk about Arun or Amit or Lalita or Swaroopini and laugh at their immense immaturity, their tendency to gossip or their inability to spend money on their friends. Every fortnight, we would go to a Hindi movie. Neither of us understood Hindi, but that was hardly the point of going to the movies. We walked in the park, we held hands and wanted the world to know that we were an ‘item’. We didn't care what people said. There was a song that released around that time that became the catch cry for us lover types. The words ‘khullam khullapyar karenge hum dono’ from that song became our refrain.

Life was good.

That was until Soma Prasad paid a visit to the park bench near my home one day and asked for me. When I wasn’t with Malini, my friends and I would gather at this park bench to either play or talk about cricket. On that particular day, when Soma came calling, I was with Malini at the movies. He apparently asked for me by name.

Everyone knew Soma as the local goon. He walked around with a knife hanging down the front of his trousers. He was always dressed in a tight yellow T-shirt and had a thick gold chain hanging down the front of it. The chain had a Volkswagen emblem at the end of it. I was never quite sure why this was the case, but that was what he always wore. Soon though, one gold chain grew into two and then 10; so much so that we used to sometimes refer to him as Chotta Bappi, for while he had the chains, he was only a quarter the size of the legendary gold-chain-loving musician of that era. Soma was a thug and he wore his gangster tag with immense pride. No one from our locality crossed Soma’s path. Of course, I was oblivious to Soma’s existence. I was either lost in my books or on Malini those days.

The next day, Soma came visiting again. He came over and warned me to not go out with Malini ever again, “aa Malini nann area hudigi, bit-bidu siva illandre ninage yen agaththe gothilla...” he said in Kannada. (“That Malini is from my area. Drop her otherwise I don’t know what will happen to you...”)

I told him I didn't speak Kannada but, nevertheless, understood what he was saying. I also told him, “Can’t do. Sorry.” and went on to describe the history of property and possession of property. I talked about possession as enshrined in law from the times of Renaissance Europe and of how human beings were deliberately and pointedly excluded from such ownership laws. I told him that Malini wasn't anybody’s property: not mine or his. I was incredibly angry at that stage, but also incredibly stupid, for Soma was less than impressed with the law lecture and was beginning to lose his shape.

He showed me a knife and told me that if I did not stop seeing Malini, he would have to use it. I walked away, but I was determined that I would not allow a goon to dictate what I did in my life. 

By then, I was having second thoughts about Malini. I wasn't really in love with her. We had gone past the ‘who can stare the longest into the other person's eyes and still show immense love’ stage. I needed exciting conversation more than I needed the eye exercise. I was convinced that Malini was not the one for me and was contemplating how to end that relationship. However, I was doubly convinced that I would not end the relationship on a thug’s say so. So Malini and I continued the hand holding and the eye exercises for another week.

Soma came calling again. This time, he came with two other people, who stood behind him, arms folded while Soma talked. Well, he didn't really talk as much as barked. He asked me why I hadn't stopped seeing Malini yet. I started talking about the origins of European Law once again when he lifted his right elbow and crashed it into my jaw. The speed of that one simple movement was enough for my jaw to crack. I felt my teeth rattle so hard, I thought they had all dislodged from their sockets. I could barely feel my jaw and doubled over. As I doubled over, he brought his knee up slightly. My forehead thudded into his knee. Everything happened so quickly. In just under five seconds, I was bruised and defeated. Soma and his two hooligan friends left saying he would not like to visit again the following week.

I was jolted back into the present by the strong smell of Hermes. Poly Reddy was hugging me.

While I was lost in my recall of the Malini-Soma episode, Poly Reddy had said to his PA that he had had enough for the day. He had asked everyone to leave his office. He had taken his Oakley sunglasses off and sat them on top of his head. He smiled as he hugged me; it wasn't merely a hug. His was a violent embrace.

The glasses were off and remained off for the rest of the day. I could see his eyes. They were fierce and determined; they were also the eyes of a tired man.

Poly Reddy and I talked continuously that day. We talked a lot about the Madipur that he had fought for, about his vision for his state. We talked about his passion for good governance and about how he wanted to show to the world that we could, in India, build a model city and state that the entire world could aspire to. He said, “I want the young people of my state to have career options and prosperity that people like you thought you could only secure by leaving the country.” He showed me that day that he had reinvented himself into a wonderful gentleman; a man with a large heart that had passion, pride and a place in it for everyone. 

The ruffian had given way to a gentleman. 

He was certainly a very different man from the Poly Narayana Reddy I knew in college. We talked of that man he was in college. We talked about how we first interacted with each other immediately after my needless interface with Soma.

The day after my close interaction with Soma’s elbow and knee, I was badly bruised and my face sported deep purple blobs the size of baby mushrooms. I told my parents that I had fallen down  the stairs at college. I don’t think they bought that at all. My father, Srinivas Rao, looked at me, shook his head despairingly, and walked away; we communicated mainly through a series of grunts those days. I did go to college that day even though I was bruised. Although, to be honest, I think my ego was bruised more than my face was. However, I was convinced that I would need to go through another meeting with Soma. And another. And another. I wasn't going to give up on my right to a choice.

Quite by accident, I met Poly Reddy at the college entrance that day. I really did not know why Poly Reddy needed a college education. He wasn't interested in studies. He would turn up every day for a few hours, talk to a few girls, eat some tiffin and head back home. He was the son of a wealthy businessman and land owner in Madipur. He drove to college in a chauffeur driven BMW car -- these were times when CEOs of large companies could barely afford an Ambassador car. The previous year, he saw me act in Macbeth as Mark Anthony. We played 10 nights in the college auditorium and he was there every night. He would stand up and applaud after the ‘Friends Romans and Countrymen’ speech. Every night. And he couldn't speak one full sentence of English. Yet, he would attend every play I acted in. There was a connection between us that was as baffling as it was deep. I couldn't quite understand the connection.

He wanted me to teach him English. “Teach me to talk like you,” he said one day. He knew I wanted to go overseas and study some more. He used to say he was proud to know a guy like me who spoke “such perfect English”. He wanted to speak English like me and wanted to be a lawyer. He told me once in Kannada, “I know you will become a big shot in the US. Me, I only want to wear suits and cooling glasses and work as a lawyer somewhere in India itself.”

Poly Reddy met me at the college gates that morning. He took one look at my bruised face and raised an eyebrow. That was his style. He wouldn't ask directly. He would gesture with his eyes, his hands or his face. I said the bruises were nothing much and tried to move away. But he would have none of that. He stopped me in my tracks and asked, “Who beat you up? I don’t even want to know why? Just  say who?”

There was concern, empathy and anger in his voice. I had no idea why he sought me out. We never talked at college, but he would seek me out always. We would say a hello or raise eyebrows and that would be all. But he would always look out for me those days.And today, there was anger too. I tried to avoid the issue. But he pressed and demanded an answer. He saw through the ‘fell down the stairs’ attempt and said,“Just tell me who.”

So, I told him what had happened and immediately sensed his anger and consternation. I told him that this was something that I would go through, on my own.

That night, he called me and said, “Come to the Narayanapura grounds at 11am tomorrow. Sharp,” and hung up. I did not know what to make of it. I knew it wasn't to play cricket. Poly did not play any sport, as evidenced by his immense size. I went to the grounds at ‘11am sharp’ as I was instructed. My worst fears were confirmed when I spotted Soma on the cricket pitch. I saw a crowd of 10 people standing next to the cricket pitch. Soma had been summoned at '10.30am sharp'. Apparently Soma had arrived there and for half hour Poly Reddy and he had been talking about the state of local politics. The moment Poly Reddy spotted my approach towards the cricket pitch he pointed out to me and asked Soma if he knew his ‘very good, beloved and most lovable friend Siddharth’. As Poly said this he rested his palms on his belly, face up. Soma immediately fell to Poly Reddy’s feet and asked for forgiveness, “nanigge gothilla guru, bitt-bidu nann-na,” he said (“Leave me alone boss. I did not know at all”). But Poly did not stop there. He did not let Soma get away. He held the knife that one of his henchmen handed to him and marked Soma’s thigh with deep gash. As Soma yelled in pain and anguish, Poly said that that gash should serve as a reminder to Soma to never mess around with a good friend of his.

He then turned to me and said,“Now continue your romance without fear.”

My teeth clattered uncontrollably at the sight of blood, the knife, the sound of pain and the brutal aggression I had just witnessed. Without my knowledge, I stuttered and spluttered my way through a lecture on the principle of property as enshrined in European Law. Poly Reddy waved me away and asked me to go home.

The next day I met Poly and told him that I was not impressed with what had happened. I told him that I was not interested in the staring exercises I had been indulging in lately. I told him that I was also not impressed with him defending my rights and my principles, especially in the manner he had and especially when I had not requested such help. I told him that he had no right to protect me or defend me or make me an accomplice to thuggery. I protested vehemently and told him that it was my problem to solve and confront. Not his.

He said, “Principle or love, your choice. To defend you or not, my choice. Now go.”

There was something unsettling about it though. I wondered if that choice he had made came with a price tag.

It did.

“Here have some coffee,” he said as we walked around the lawns of Madipur’s Vidhan Sabha, thereby jolting me out of the Soma episode. He would tell me later that Soma worked for him these days as his principal private secretary.

The Vidhan Sabha in Madipur was an impressive building. There were no security machines, no gun-toting policemen, no barricades. People could walk in and out of the building when they wanted to. “It is, after all,theirs. We are merely temporary residents of this building, occupying it with the people’s permission,” Poly Reddy told me.

The facade of the Sabha was like the Vidhan Soudha in Bangalore. However, behind the facade was a large lawn that covered the rest of the building. The assembly hall was buried under this lawn. Madipur’s people were invited to sit, eat and play on the lawn above. He would tell me later, “Like the parliament house in Canberra, I wanted the people to be able to sit and walk on top of the assembly area as a constant reminder to us legislators that we are only here for one purpose: to serve the people who stand above us.”

He took me on a tour of the property later on. And as we walked on the lawns I noticed a sign out of the corner of my eye. It read: “Please walk on the grass”. I had seen that sign before. It was in the botanical gardens in Sydney. The sign spoke of confidence and courage; it spoke of humility and it spoke of sharing.

As we walked around the lawn he told me of his political career and his future ambitions. It was impossible not to be swayed by his energy, his dynamism, and his animated and expansive style. He looked me in the eye and said he wanted me there. He said he had followed my career as a scientist and then as a science policy maker in Washington. He seemed to know every single project I had worked on; every single paper I had written; every single publicly available policy document I had authored. He said that he admired my own energy and drive and said that he wanted me in Madipur to help him make his beloved state an even better place. He talked about how he had completed his law degree, practiced law and moved into politics; a move that was as natural as it was necessary.

He then said, “None of this would have been possible without you.”

I didn't quite see it that way, maybe because that reminder embarrassed me thoroughly. It left a sour taste in my mouth and the only way of me coping with the discomfiture was for me to push it to the dark recesses of my mind. I was in denial. I shuddered every time I remembered what I had done as 'payback'.

Yes, there was ‘payback’ for his defense of me against the wrath of Soma.

A few months after the Soma-leg-marking incident, Poly came home. He had never been to my home up until then. He said he needed a favour. “I need a big favour from you,” he said, and the moment he said that I knew I was in trouble. He was a proud man. He seldom asked people for favours. He said it was his lifelong ambition to become a lawyer. He said he had attempted three papers twice already and had failed in all attempts. He had one more attempt at passing “property law”, “advanced English” and “interpretation of statues”. I had to remind him first that it was statutes and not statues that needed to be interpreted. I then told him that I would be happy to tutor him on these courses even though I wasn't an expert in these topics. I was already thinking ahead at the work I had to do myself to score well in my own final exams when he said, “No I do not want to be tutored. I want you to write these exams for me!”

I could not believe what I was hearing. I said I had no familiarity with the content and had my own exams to pass. Moreover, I told him that I wasn't a cheat and did not want to get apprehended for being one. I told him that it was blatantly wrong to be an imposter in an examination. “It is totally against the law,” I said, pointing to the subtle irony that these were law exams we were talking about.

I protested. But my protests were ineffective. He assured me that the invigilators in the exam hall would turn a blind eye. They had all been paid off. He said he was confident I could study the courses and pass them for him. All my protests were useless. He said he had had other people write the previous two attempts too, “All useless,” he said. In the end, he said, “You have no choice guru. You have to write these exams for me. No one in my village has a law degree. No one in my family knows what a degree is. I want it. And you have to help me get it,”and placed his palms on his tummy, face up as he said this.

And so I studied ‘interpretation of statutes’ and ‘property law’. The irony did not escape me, for after all it was my allusion to ‘property law’ that got me into trouble with Soma in the first place. I studied for my own exams too. All the invigilators in the law school exams knew I was a petty imposter. I felt horrible and irrelevant. In my own eyes, I was worse than a common thief. Even though I did not seem to have a choice in the matter, I was angry, bitter, repulsed and nauseated. This was wrong at so many levels. But the exam invigilators turned away as I wrote the three papers furiously. In each case, I walked out of the exam hall in two hours in three-hour exams.

Poly Reddy passed. Indeed, he had scored the highest marks in the college in these three papers. He came home when the results were announced and told me he had secured a ‘first class’ in these three examinations. He hugged me and said I had no idea what this ‘achievement’ did to him. He told me that I could ask him for anything I wanted. I reminded him that this wasn't his achievement. I told him that the only thing I wanted was to never be reminded of this horrible offence I had committed. He agreed to this and as he left, I said I had another request, “Never make contact again. Ever.”

My awe had given way to anger. Slowly, that anger dissolved and was replaced with indifference. I was also in denial of my own wrongdoing.

That was then.

Today, Poly Reddy talked to me from across the table. He was the chief minister and wanted me to work with him. He said to me, “I have followed your career with great interest. I know you talked to Malini saying you wanted to end it the very next day after our little event in that cricket ground. I know you went to Harvard to complete your PhD in computational chemistry and then become a professor. I know that even though you stopped publishing science papers 2 years ago, you still have an h-index of 42. I know you specialize now in Science policy.” He said he needed my help in Madipur. He wanted the best companies to come to Madipur and set up their R&D facilities there. He wanted the best colleges and universities to come to Madipur and develop talent there. He said,“You need to work with me to achieve this vision. You need to give back to the place that made you.”

I got up slowly and placed my palms on my own tiny belly. Face up. 

I told him I had lived with the examination blot on my conscience for way too long. Despite the remarkable progress he had made for Madipur, this was not what I wanted as a constant reminder. And despite his own progress as a human being,  and regardless of his immense energy, vision and passion, I told him that he wasn't a person I wanted to work with. I told him, "You are an impressive gentleman today. But I cannot forget the ruffian that forced me to be a cheat."

His hand too rested on his ghatam; his palms, face up. 

His shoulders tightened. I feared that he would force me to do something I did not want to, again. But then, after what seemed like an eternity, his shoulders drooped. He then jumped up from his chair, rushed forward and hugged me. He thanked me for my honesty and said ruefully, “...Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” He was even quoting Shakespeare now! He then said, “Go in peace Siddharth. I understand. Some blots are indelible and are impossible to remove from the copybook.”

He waved me goodbye at the end of the day and as I drove away, I noticed his folded hands. His palm rested atop his ghatam, face down...

- Mohan (@mohank)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The 34k Mark

I've learned the most when I've been pushed to the edge, cornered.

I was reminded of this the other day when Arathi (@miffalicious) said on Twitter: "Your true strength is identified when you soldier through immense difficulties despite how vulnerable you feel." 

I don’t quite know why, but that statement immediately reminded me of the first full marathon that I attempted; The Melbourne Marathon. This was several years ago. I had trained intensely for this race. In the lead up, I had read every single online ‘marathon training for beginners’ guide and built my own specialized program. I don’t know what I was trying to prove and to whom. However, I knew I always wanted to run, but couldn't. I would only be able to run 100m before collapsing in a heap due to acute shin splints. Yet, I never lost the desire to run. 

So I learned how to run. I learned to blot out pain. I strengthened my shins. I sought the advice of experts. I visited and started a relationship of utter trust and dependence with Jane, my physiotherapist. And then I started to run long distances. At first, I didn't care about distances. I would run songs. I’d run one song, then two, then three, then four. Soon, I was running 10 songs. I needed to fill my iPod shuffle with more and more songs. The songs had to all be between 80 and 85 beats per minute. I could not run to any other beat. The rhythm was more important than the melody. The songs were as much a drug as the endorphins produced in long distance runners that gave me the 'runner's high'.

A few years later, I was able to run 25 songs and I completed several half marathons.

But that wasn't enough. I wanted to run 50 songs. I wanted to run the Melbourne Marathon. I signed up for it, and devised a training program for myself. I got a colleague, a veteran marathoner, to look at the program I had devised. I commenced my training only after he gave it the seal of approval. I had all my gear ready right at the start: the shoes I’d train in; the shoes I’d ‘wear in’ a few weeks before race day; a new heart-rate monitor; a new watch; 'skins' for recovery; energy gels; magnesium tablets; and more. I was prepared. I then embarked on a substantially rigorous 16-week training program. 

I was meticulous in my training and did everything possible to ensure that I was in the best shape I could be to attempt this goal. I don’t remember missing even a day’s training due to lack of motivation or lethargy. If I missed a day’s training it was only because I was unwell. Even when I traveled inter-state for work in those 16 weeks, I would carry out the training that was scheduled for the day.

It was grueling, but fun. I always undertook my long runs on Sundays with my running buddies. I remember some incredibly tough and unpleasant long runs that I undertook and some of the more pleasant ones too. A week before the race, when we were meant to complete a 38 kilometre run – my longest ever run up until then – we encountered terrible weather. It was windy, gusty and presently it started to rain as well. We were two kilometers into the start of our training when we stood at a traffic light, hopping from one leg to the other in order to keep ourselves warm. We waited to cross the road on to Beach Road in Melbourne. That day, were to run along the Esplanade and then along Beach Road for 12 kilometers before turning back. A cyclist had stopped by our side and asked, “Long way to go?” We had just started our long run for the day. I said, “Yeah, 38 today, 36 left,” to which he asked, “Minutes?” I replied: “No kilometers!” The expression on his face is one I will never forget. He mumbled, “In this weather? You guys are mad,” and cycled off at great speed. But we completed our training that day and tapered off for the rest of the week before the big day.

On race day, I was completely focused and felt I was really well prepared. As we walked up to the start point just outside the MCG and as we were flagged off, I was confident this would be a good day for me. As we ran along Lakeside Drive, where the Melbourne Formula 1 race is conducted every year, I was humming; perhaps even 'motoring' along quite nicely! I remained confident and collected for much of that part of the run. I remembered the simple tips I had picked up in the preceding months: ‘Do not go out too fast’, ‘Hydrate regularly’, 'Expel bad air from the lungs regularly'. I was doing just fine. At the half-marathon mark, I had achieved my personal best time for a half-marathon. At that point, I even had dreams of a sub-four-hour full marathon finish time, which would have been just great.

And then the weather turned nasty as we ran back up Beach Road, after the half way point. The previous weeks’ training run along this road was a walk in the park in comparison. On the day, it was hot, windy and dusty. At one point, I had dust in my mouth and occasionally, a leaf would slap me in the face with a force that simultaneously stung and woke me up.

‘But all that training that I had put in will come good,’ I said to myself as I maintained my pace as we headed along the lovely Beach Road. I had the choppy blue ocean on my left and the lovely, expensive $1m houses of Beach Road lining the road on my right. But I had eyes only for the road ahead. The scenery could wait. The rich folk who stood on their glass-edged balconies and waved the runners along as they sipped their morning coffees could also wait.

Around the 34k mark, just as I had run up Fitzroy Street, I turned left onto St Kilda Road. I remember telling myself ‘All I need to do now is plod along this lovely tree-lined street for a few kilometers, head off right down Birrarung Marr and into the grounds of the MCG before completing the marathon with a lap inside the MCG.’ 

You see, the Melbourne Marathon concludes inside the MCG. It concludes with a lap of The ‘G’. For a cricket tragic like me, there can be no better joy than the completion of a long and exhausting run inside what must rank as the finest sporting Colosseum in the world. The grass had played host to the shoes and the soles of heroes of mine from the cricketing world like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Mark Taylor, Sunil Gavaskar, Alan Border, Steve Waugh, David Gower, Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Saurav Ganguly, The West Indies Team from the 1970s and more. I would have an opportunity to run on that turf too.

In a bit. In a bit.

But that wasn’t on my mind as I trudged up the nasty Fitzroy Street incline, and reached the 34k mark in the race. Mind you, the incline is not really 'nasty'. But after having run nearly 33km in hot, dusty and terribly windy conditions, even a gradual and kind 10-meter gain over the one kilometre that Fitzroy Street represents can be quite an experience.

As I turned right from Beach Road the coffee and breakfast smells of the cafes the lined Fitzroy Street hit me. The chairs that decorated the pavement were filled with people who applauded the marathoners that ran, or walked, or trudged or labored up the gentle incline. Some of the morning breakfast-goers clapped. Some of them offered a word of encouragement. All of them sipped coffee or bit into their wholemeal fruit bread toast on this Sunday morning.

I was hurting. I could barely feel my feet. My thighs were burning. I think I had a rash of sorts under my left armpit. My back hurt. My calf muscles twitched. I was in pain and was digging deep to try and blot it all out.

And that is when I told myself for the first time, “Why am I doing this really?”

For me, that was immediately a sign of trouble. All through my training, I had never questioned the goal. I just accepted it, embraced it and did everything I needed to do in order to ensure success. And here I was, laboring up Fitzroy Street, questioning why I was putting myself through what I was doing. It is then that I knew I had to dig deep. The months of training would have to pay off. I had to find that inner strength that would enable me to "soldier through immense difficulties despite how vulnerable" I felt. 

At the top of Fitzroy Street, I remember fondly that I was passed by ‘Digger’. Now, Bruce ‘Digger’ Hargreaves is one of the Spartan Legends of the Melbourne Marathon; an exclusive club of marathoners who have completed over 10 Melbourne Marathons. Digger is also a part of the '100 Marathon Club', a collection of runners who have clocked more than 100 marathons around the world. On that day Digger crossed me as part of the 4 hr 30 min ‘pacing bus’. In fact, he was the pacing bus.

Clearly, my pace had slipped considerably. I was now being crossed by the 4:30 pacing bus. From entertaining thoughts, however briefly, of a sub-four-hour completion, I was now looking at a completion time of at least 4 hours and 30 mins, if not more. I looked up at the sign that Digger carried on his back (to indicate his pacing bus) in a somewhat forlorn manner. I felt myself disintegrating at that point. Perhaps Digger sensed this too, for as he turned into St Kilda Road, he looked back at me and said, “Keep going, mate. I have run several marathons. And these are the very worst conditions I have encountered. You complete it today, all right?” I nodded and touched his extended hand. It was a hand of encouragement; a hand that talked to kindness and empathy. And I had touched and felt a running legend.

I told myself as I looked at the looming 34k marker that I would make it to the finish line. I convinced myself that my questioning of the ‘goal’ was a momentary lapse of reason. I was determined to finish. I convinced myself that I would complete that lap around the MCG. I had to take my shoes off at the finish line and feel the grass that Tendulkar, Dravid, Taylor, Border, Waugh, Gower, Dev, Khan, Viv, Hadlee, Ganguly and others had walked on. I had to savor the feel of that grass under my feet, however bruised they were.

And then I then blanked out.

I remember nothing much of the race along the lovely, tree-lined St Kilda Road. The trees that used to once offer shelter from sun and rain to passers-by, now shed leaves, unable to withstand the force of the winds that morning. The breeze swirled around. Leaves dislodged from branches and flew around. There was much dust in the air. It was a horrible day for walking; but a whole lot of us were running towards the MCG.

Apparently, Girija was there although I do not remember seeing her as I ran. She said later she was concerned at the pain I was going through; pain that marked my face. My face was already white with streaks of dried sweat salt. She told me later that she would see me, jog along with me for a few meters, hop on a tram to the next stop along St Kilda Road and wait for me to catch up. She said she did this till I reached Birrarung Marr, where I was told I was met by a few of my friends who were there to encourage me on to the finish line. Apparently one of them ran along with me from the top of Birrarung Marr to the ‘G’.

I came to my own as I entered The ‘G’ and came to my senses again. I did not know how I got there. Then again, when Girija told me, later, that she was there on St Kilda Road from the 35k mark onwards, I was able to recall it. When my friends told me, later, that they had waited for me at the corner of Birrarung Marr, which marked the 40k mark in the race, I seemed to remember it. Although I have no recollection of nearly 8 kilometres of the run, I was able to piece it all together later on.

Maybe I had hit the ‘wall’ at the 34k mark. And maybe from that point on, in the remaining seven kilometres, I was able to cut out many other thoughts from my mind. The ‘wall’ is something many long-distance runners experience. Dick Beardsley, one of USA’s best marathoners, said this of the ‘wall’ he encountered in the second marathon he ever ran: "It felt like an elephant had jumped out of a tree onto my shoulders and was making me carry it the rest of the way in.” He overcame that, learned from it and went on to run several more marathons. He made history by finishing two seconds behind Alberto Salazar in the 1982 Boston Marathon.

When I hit my own ‘wall’, I was focused merely on my own processes. Left leg. Right leg. Left. Right. It was as though I had blotted everything out of my mind and wanted to train all my mental thought processes just on completing the race.

In that sense, I had always compared my long distance running with a research scholar going through a PhD degree. It is a thoroughly lonely process. You sometimes do ask yourself, “Why am I doing this really?" You need to train really hard and ensure that your background, preparation and methodology are just right. But, your training, background and ability can only take you that far. In the end, when we hit a ‘wall’ (or a dead-end in your work), what one needs is intense focus, will-power and determination. Focus is as much cutting out needless things as it is training your mind on the very thing(s) that needs to be accomplished.

And so I focused hard and completed the race that day. And as I ran through the welcoming corridor and into the 'G', I saw myself on the big screen. I waved. The big screen waved back at me. I was on it for a full eight seconds! And then I ran a lap inside the ‘G’. It was my own lap of honor. After completing the run, and as my legs gave way, I slumped to the turf. I felt and kissed the grass that many of my cricketing heroes had played in.

Today, whenever I hit a difficult phase in my own life I say to myself that as long as the preparation has been good, and as long as the processes in the lead-up have been honest and sound, this is nothing but the 34k mark in a tough race...

-- Mohan (@mohank)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A terrific tragedy

The other day an uncle of mine said to me, "I hear you have no issues." Now I am a fellow that always has plenty of issues. I have issues with anything and everything. I battle issues on a daily basis. So I said, “No uncle. You are wrong,” to which he pressed on “No, I mean you have no issues, no?” I said, “Believe me, I do; lots of them!” He looked a bit distressed and said, “Arre, I mean, you are issueless no? You do not have any issues that have resulted in good newses for your parents right?” Then it struck me.

But ‘good newses’? Really?

By the by. Myself Mohan.

The topic of “Indianisms” like the one above has been the generous subject of many a blog and newspaper column. Indeed from ‘years back’ many ‘kind authors’ have felt the need to ‘discuss about’ Indianisms and have been ‘doing the needful’. Without 'eating their brains' they have all ‘reverted’ and ‘preponed’ their ‘updations’ of these articles. Examples of such articles are here, here and here. (It was a few hours after the current article was published that I was alerted to this rather delightful post too.)

I would often read these and get upset. What is this compelling need to mock Indian English? Why do these authors attempt to ‘nose cut’ us? Are they our ‘uncles or nephews’ to take so much interest in us and our way of communicating? Why make fun of it all the time? 

Speaking of which, I have no idea why people use ‘ish’ when they talk about time in India. It is not "9.45 ish"; it is either 9.30am or 10am. But I suppose because we are famed for our punctuality in India it can mean anytime around 9.45 and it is used a lot. I sometimes feel that IST, the Indian Standard Time should have been renamed ISH.

I once told my friend’s 12 year-old son I would meet him at 11am to go with him to a book store. The poor kid looked stunned. He was expecting an “ish”. He got a precise time instead. He replied, “Give me a call when you leave home, no?” so that he could be ready when I got to his place. I said, “No. I will be at your gate at 11am” and requested him to be ready at that time. He said, “Come downstairs and give me a ‘missed call’ no?” I said, “No. I will be there at 11am.” The poor kid was confused, all because he could not respond to a time that did not contain an ISH in it.

But that is the way we are.

Is it ok for English folk to say “tata” when they actually want to say bye? Do they not know that TATA is a proud Indian company and brand name? Why can’t they say “Chrysler” or “Leyland” when they want to say goodbye. Instead of that they ‘take the name’ of an Indian company. Do we laugh at them? 

Talking of byes, have you noticed that we seldom end phone conversations with a ‘bye’ or a or a ‘ciao’. It is always “humph” or “ok” or “haan”. I never know when a conversation has ended unless I look at my phone which confirms ended conversations with a red ‘Disconnected’ symbol. This rude form of disengagement is particularly harsh when you talk to people who offer you a service that has gone horribly wrong; say a bank officer, an insurance claims officer, or some such. My neighbour told me of one such incident. He said, “These phone agents act too ‘pricey’. The fellow ‘put the phone’ down rudely and ‘cut the call’. He was acting so funny I wanted to give him a ‘tight slap’.”

Talking of phones, why is it that few Indians have voice mail or a message service on their mobile phones? It is just not done, is it? A colleague thinks that it is 'dicey' to have a phone message, so I do not have one either. 

A few weeks ago, I came across one bank manager who had a strange message on his mobile phone: “I am not at my desk. Leave your good name and your number behind and I will revert forthwith.” I do not wish to delve into references to ‘good name’, ‘revert’ and ‘forthwith’. I do, however, worry about the use of ‘behind’ in a message. The use of ‘not at my desk’ on a mobile phone message seemed to go against the very reason for having a mobile phone! 

Now this bank manager is a typical ‘big shot' in the ‘hurry-burry’ that represents the world of banking today. His was a ‘rags to riches’ story. Legend has it that for a long time he was also ‘under the scanner’ of the headquarters for a few ‘underhand dealings’. The Tax department tried hard to ‘hunt him down’ but still, ‘heads did not roll’ because he did not quite ‘run amok’ nor did he ‘run roughshod’ over procedures and processes. But it was common knowledge that he ‘swindled’ lots of money. 

Anyway, after leaving a message on the bank manager’s mobile, I called the deputy manager who informed me that his boss was ‘not at his desk’ because he ‘used his connections’ and ‘greased many palms’ to go ‘out of station’. The manager’s grandfather had ‘kicked the bucket’ recently. So he and his children had to ‘leave in a huff’ by the ‘shortest cut’ to Sholapur, which also happened to be his ‘native place’. The kids were the ‘worst hit’. One of them was ‘mugging’ for his ‘class twelve and IIT Entrance’. Note that if the phrases ‘class twelve’ and ‘IIT Entrance’ are not used in unison, it means your kids are doing some ‘useless’ commerce or arts or worse, home-science course that will do nothing for their careers. Anyway, as the bank manager was unable to ‘join duty’ for another week, I had no option other than ‘leaving my good name and number behind’. I did. I wasn't expecting to hear from the manager for a while.

I was, therefore, surprised when the bank manager returned my call just five minutes after I had left my number behind. “I am on my way to Sholapur sir. I got tickets with a lot of pull. But on my way to the train station, my car was met with an accident,” he said, as I choked on my lunch. The manager did not meet with an accident; his car did not meet with an accident. But the car was met with an accident. How quaint, I thought.

He then said, “You know, everything was going spic and span. Even my son, Sriram’s class-12 exam got over yesterday. As a max person you will be very happy to know that his best subject is max. But he will not get centum. His max paper was out of portions, but that was also ok. At least I am glad he will be passing out as a proper convent educated now. He never bunked school. You know he got into this school without any pull. His IIT entrance, next week. Full pressure. Suddenly grandfather was off. I don’t know what happened. He was always in tip-top condition. But he became suddenly off. So we have to leave immediate to Sholapur. I have enough leaves. So that is ok. But everyone was hither thither. But I was calm. We have large joint-family. The whole jing-bang wanted to go to Sholapur. ‘No fierce’ I said. But everyone said this-that-a­­ll-that. They wanted to go to pay respects. All logistics were in place. I wanted to make a bus, but my family made me take the Sholapur passenger train instead. The car was to ply us to the station. My car was reported at sharp 10am. And then we left. Suddenly, bang. My car was met with an accident. Now everything has gone for a toss. Try and understand my position. I need your kind help. Everything has gone for a six now. But I must ignore this accident hocus-pocus and I must make a move now. Can you send me your vehicle for a few hours? I can send someone to pick it up also. Where are you put up?”

Every line was a gem. The son had got into a good non-government convent school without the need to exploit the father’s networks and connection (commonly referred to as 'pull'). His son would not max ('centum') his maths ('max') paper since some of the questions were out of syllabus ('out of portions’). The son had no need to make the maths paper a portion of a meal, although he may well have 'passed out' had he done that. Quite like the sons’ great grandfather who was recently “off” – or, in other words, had recently passed away. The manager wasn’t a tree that grew shoots and leaves. He was talking there about the number of holidays he had accrued ('leaves'). Nor was the manager also an automobile assembly line production manager to physically 'make a bus'. He implied that he had gathered enough family members to hire a bus. Moreover, the manager’s car wasn’t 'reported' like a petty thief. The car turned up at the appointed time.

But rather than admire and decode his English, I had a more pressing problem. I had to respond immediately to the managers’ request. I muttered, “Sir, I am sorry I 'cannot able to help you' especially when you are facing 'commute-shammute conveyance difficulty'. Also what a 'terrific tragedy' you are facing right now. I am going to 'hill station' myself. The time is 10am already and 'my car hasn’t reported' yet although my driver said he will be here 9.30-ISH.”

-- Mohan (@mohank)