Sunday, October 31, 2010

The City of Power

"Mother Pious Lady" has a paragraph on Gurgaon. Lapped it up eagerly this morning, being one of the freshest inhabitants of this city. The book says that Gurgaon is the city of power, not wealth. Therefore it does not have the baggage of wealth that its closest metro neighbour, Delhi has.

How true. Having heard of the "old rich" and the palatial bungalows and the wealth that Delhi is, I was very nervous when I came here four months ago. Gurgaon assured me of  neighbours who I could socialize with without feeling like a country cousin, a professional life where I  have fit in like a glove, a place where I feel charged up being amongst professionals who are from all across the country, with dreams bigger than most of the bank balances.

Set me thinking. How is Power different from Wealth.Power is influence. Power is recognition. Power comes to those who has aspired and achieved. Power is about success. Power is about talent. It is about professions, entreprenership, politics, creativity, fine arts.... anything that can  create a sphere of influence. Power is not necesssarily a legacy.It comes to the hungry. And the dreamers.

Wealth may follow closely on the heels of power. But it is the effect and not the cause. And most importantly, power can exist without wealth.

In my short stint so far in Gurgaon, I have seen the play of Power. It gives me the confidence. And the comfort that I can hopefully achieve what I want without the padding of wealth, which I definitely lack at the moment.( I mean monetary wealth).Relatively speaking.

So  here I am,  keying down these thoughts on Power before the day begins.
And raising a silent toast to the city that has given me what very few people have.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

There's something about a "happy birthday"

"Happy Birthday to you"
Out of all the birthday wishes, I remember our help Kamala's wishes to me early morning when I was still in junior school, in my skirts and ribboned hair. Kamala did not speak or understand a word of English.

There is something about a birthday. And a birthday wish.
Have realised this  even more after Facebook .
Last year ( am just two years old on FB) I lapped up all the wishes greedily and was quite smug about the long columns of wishes from friends and friends of friends who we have not met for years.

Why do  we feel so special on our birthday?
Noone really goes philosophical about remembering the day we were born and contemplating on whether we have spent worthwhile years and what we shall do with the remaining.

Birthdays are fun because of the celebrations associated with it.

It's a day when we  get lots and lots of  smiles and gifts and hugs. Even the biggest pranks ( as kids) and mistakes ( as grown up kids) get a benign smile and a nod of "It's ok". We can get away with just about anything.

A day when  we are definitely  in the spotlight. From the time we wear our "birthday dress" and share a packet of Morton's in class to today where we walk into work  with something special.

A day when  official flowers and a card make workplace feel extra nice.

The gifts. The excitement of getting the big parcels with  teddy bears and flowers printed on the wrapping  when we were young to the more demure wrapping now. The thrill of opening a gift  makes one feel like a child.

And the cake. How can a birthday be complete without the cake. With the icing. The cursive "Happy Birthday". The candles. The knife sitting consciously on the side. Standing behind a cake makes one more conscious and more happy than any podium  in the world.

None of this would have made a birthday special if we were alone.
Birthdays are what they are because of people around us.
It's a day when everyone forgives and forgets and heads pop in and out with genuine smiles and wishes.
A day when a simple birthday song is sung with more harmony than the best practised choirs.
When we leave cast off our grown up cloaks and get to smashing the cake on the  hapless victim  with a gusto no team work workshop can ever get.

No matter how old we are, birthdays never fail to bring out the child in each of us. It is a day when we  truly feel blessed.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My Papa. My father.( a short fictitious story)

He reached out for the alarm clock on the bedside and turned it off. Still one hour to go .
Sleep evaded him.
He turned back to look at the small form curled up under the blankets, heaving softly in the rhythmic breath which only peaceful sleep can bring.

Almost on cue,  her little head emerged from the cave of blankets to give him a Good morning smile.
His heart felt that ache again. She looked so much like Her . Like her mother. It was almost like fate had given him this gift as a keepsake copy while snatching away the original so ruthlessly.

It was an usual day. The toothbrush song he had taught her as  her little brush sweaked in the frothy toothpaste. The warm mug of Bournvita . The bread smothered with her favourite plum jam  and peanut butter, cut into little pieces she could fork up easily. His hands deftly buttoning up her little denims. The long brush strokes as she sat on his lap, that made her hair glisten like a raven's jet black wings.

She skipped  along side to the car and stopped at the sight of the red suitcase, sitting imposingly on the front step.
"Where are we going, Papa?"
He paused, not wanting  to hear his voice mouthing the reality that was about to strike in a while.

Her young mind did not grasp the pause as she dragged the suitcase with him to the car.
" I like helping you," she said, looking up at him lovingly.
His mind went back to another day, another time when the same eyes had looked up at him. The same love. The same words. The same emotion.

They drove into the courtyard.
She look surprised at the sea of men and women in black and white, walking about with folders and papers.
"They are dressed like penguins, Papa," she said.

" Baby, go with this nice lady for a while and play with her. Papa has some  work to finish. Then we will go for a good  burger and fries meal. "
" Pwomise?"

 He sat on the bench. Waiting for the Proceedings.

His face was expressionless when the Man walked in, his arrogance  already showing his confidence of a win. He liked calling him the Man. That took away the relationship  the Man had with Her. Took away the bitterness he felt that all he had of Her were just two beautiful years. While the Man had thirteen. Making the Man nameless took away some of the humanness and made him look at the Man like an emotionless machine. She had always called  the Man that. A Robot. A selfish robot.

The final Battle began.
Rights of a "father". By birth? By support?
Can a man who has no relation at all even claim to be a "father"?

Serious faces in black and white cite Articles and Sections and make Points and Counterpoints.
The Man sits back, even more confident.
The little girl waits in the adjoining room, playing with her puzzle, waiting for Papa .

He is oblivious to all this. All he can see  and hear is Her. Smiling at him confidently. Asking him to Think Positive. To Believe.  He nodded silently. That's what she  had been about. Always positive. Always believing in life and love.

The Verdict.  He stands respectfully like the rest, still in oblivion. The wild enraged cry from the Man brings him back to the present.

He hears the congratulations.  Accepts the pats on the back. Thanks the right people. Ignores the flash bulbs of hungry media waiting to break the story of justice.

All he could see was Her face, smiling gratefully. With a relief her living years had robbed of her.

The little girl was tired of waiting. She walked to the door and peered out.
Her worried face broke into a smile as she saw him walking towards her.

She looked at the lady who was with her, and said,
" There's my Papa. My father. We are going home."

What is it about small towns

Started writing about brand management- hangover from the weekend.
Couldn't. This blog is about what I feel and not what I should write.

So am  sharing a beautiful experience of the cobbled alleys of a small town that gave me so much joy and brought back a flood of memories.

There is something about smaller places. Some magic that the concretisation, wired up generation , wider roads, mobile operator signages  and the ever expanding boundary line have not been able to erode.

Maybe it is the smile on the face of the "locals"  when strangers roll down the car windows and ask for directions.

The small stalls lining the roadside  peddling sumptious food - steaming omelettes, chinese noodles and manchurian, sandwiches and the ubiqitous rolls. Where noone even dreams of wondering whether it is hygienic. It is. We have been having them for ages.

Where the grocery is still from the neighbourhood grocer store. Laden with toys and spices and biscuits and toiletries and everything that a household could possibly want.

The tired taxi driver who turns the wheel readily and agrees to drop us  in the dead of the night, even though his family waits for him to get back home. And asking us to pay "whatever we want" as it was not on meter.

The  service in the hotels and guesthouses where the waiters are friends and takes the babies and children out to play  while the guests can relax. Never asking or waiting for a tip.

Where neighbours are family. And the walls are just a physical separation of properties.

Where  passerbys still stand aside and make way for the elderly. And  give up a seat in the bus readily. So what if it means an hour of standing on tired feet.

Where every festival is a community celebration. Everyone gets a plate of puja  prasad   or a slice of cake and a handful of marzipan on Christmas day.

Where  there  is no mad race to get ahead, whether it is on the roads or in queues or in life.

Where people still have time to walk in the morning or stroll with the kids  at dusk.

Small towns have their share of woes. Disgruntlement  does set in, like the load shedding that brings in darkness and flies. City returned  children shuffle and rant about lack of connectivity, handful of channels and no happening joints at night. Young men  get restless wanting to earn more bucks in the promised lands. The skyscrapers and blinking night lights in cities that never sleep attract the inhabitants and the youth like bees to honey.

People like me. Like us.
We earn, we burn, we achieve, we revel, we acquire, we lose, we race, we celebrate, we enjoy. We do.

That's what life is all about.
Yet the magic of the small towns and the simple lives haunt me whenever I go back .For a brief respite.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"Lead Kindly Light"

As I  prepare to tick one more box off the calender of my life in advertising, I take a  pause and wonder.
 Can  advertising a lighthouse, or a beacon  or will it primarily be a mirror?

My paper in the Chevening Scholarship was on Beauty and Women in advertising. That was the year Dove launched its Real Beauty  campaign and my paper was brimming with Dove and real women. Finally, advertising had reached its age. Where we could show reality and not airbrushed clones all over again.

Six years later, I am as much part of what we see around us and proud of the work as well. The work has built brands, catapulted  market share and sustained brands through the trough.

Yet there are times when I  wonder whether there is something more I can do through the work I have done for 14 long years.
Can we  be bolder when it comes to showing women and change?
Change is not a discussion about short kurtis and jeans instead of a saree and feeling proud that we have shown a modern women. Change is not enough when we limit the spirit of winning to young men and young boys.
A young modern mother's role more than  serving children food,  and worrying about her husband's cholestrol level and insurance.
Am wondering whether I can think of a  brand  that can stand up and say- I am about  change. I reflect the  dreams and desires of the young modern Indian woman. And showcase this proudly.
There is so much of advertising consumed every minute. Every second. No social media has the reach of a mass media brand spend. No NGO can ever hope to match up.

If some of the work also had an inspiring quotient,  served as a call for action for women in smaller towns who are still straining at the leashes, shone the spotlight on the working wife and mother who has done an excellent job of managing  home and life,  applauded an unsung hero who had stood against society, woven into the brand message,  there would definitely be a change. Definitely easier said than done. But then, it is fine to at least wonder and debate.

Read somewhere that the best productivity and impact happens when there is an element of greater good. Whether it is a product, service, institution, brand or industry.

Of course there is reality. Brand need to compete, brands need aspirations, brands have their own personality and need to speak in their voice. Reality also is that we are not in the business  of simply inspiring people, we inspire people to relate to, and ultimately drive preference for a brand.Reality is that real life  does not make for interesting creative. Am part of the business and know this and all the other realities we operate it. It is indeed very challenging .

Yet , in brief moments like this, when I take a pause, I long to make a  small difference. At least to the women I create work for.When the work on the brand can also inspire her to  take just one small step against the leash of life.

After all, we are in the business of weaving dreams.

It's all about Passion

Waking up earlier than the lark this week.
Burning midnight oil.
Pouring over books whose pages have yellowed with time and neglect
Writing, rewriting.....

And all this without interuppting work and family.
Can't afford to. It's my "freetime" venture.
Because  all this effort is going towards my passion.
Teaching. Rather "Guest lecturing".

Realise how important it is to feed our passions.
Brings out the best in us, fuels fire and sparks off ideas we never imagined we could dream of.

Sometimes,  people like me let work take up so much time that we kill the passions that  drive us.
Making us unhappy, monotonic, mechanical.

We complain about having no time.
We talk about time poor lives in meetings and breaks.

Yet,   it takes so little if we really put our mind and heart to it.
Just need  a strong dose of determination, a spoonful of planning and a sackful of hard work.

I have learnt so much in the last few days.
New examples, fresh insights, revamped theories... things long forgotten in the lapse of time.

Nothing comes easy.
More so, if we follow a passion that is not part of our regular work and life.

But at the end of the day, it is these passions that make us better individuals, make us complete.
Making us more productive, more enlightened.

And above all, keeping us very happy.
Because, with happiness,  comes health, comes success, comes relationships. Everything.

With this short rambling, I go back to my guest lecture prep and midnight oils.
Thanking God for finally making me wise enough to realise that  if we kill passion, a part of us die.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Romancing music

Was listening to "Jab koi baat..." on YouTube on a serene Sunday morning and my ever romantic heart went a fluttering. Short of seeing the red hearts swim before my eyes like a Valentines Day graphic viral, I was completely in a romantic mood.

There was something about those songs. There IS something about them that has transcended time and generations.
There was something about the shy looks , the eyelashes that fluttered up and away, the saree acchal held demurely, the hands held together .
There was an intensity that always manages to revv me out of any mood   into a beautiful world of love.

Songs  and music have evolved today in Bollywood.  There is maybe much more technology and creativity to both  song and music, there are inspirations from  across the world and a much wider audience to appreciate thanks to the bludgeoning channels and listening devices.

These numbers are chartbusters and top hits and the latest. Downloaded  rapidly from a host of free sites,  played on FM 24X 7 and are blasted on the music channels. Discs, parties, get togethers, clubs- these popular numbers are everywhere.

Yet somehow I miss the connect.
I miss the beauty  and simplicity of the lyrics of yesteryears
I  crave for  the  wave of emotions that flood us whenever we hear  a favourite number

Music  fuels  imagination
It is one of the best forms of escape as well

The world has moved on and things are changing.  For the better.
Tastes have evolved  and Generation X thrives on the music churned out by the industry.

But nothing  I have heard so far comes close to the magic of  the music maestros of yesterday.
Through their music  they  still live on in our hearts, every time our heart goes a fluttering.
 Like mine did just now.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Mummy, Bhook lagi hai" ( Mum, I'm hungry)

Zoya ran up to me and said she was hungry. I asked her what she wants to have. She replied promptly- Chocheges ( sausages). Opened the refrigerator only to find that the usual packet of  frozen meats was  over and had not been replaced. Called my help and asked her in a firm tone why she had not told me that the sausages are over, Zoya will now have to stay hungry blah blah.

I sounded pathetic even as I said this. I was annoyed that a packet of sausages  were not there. She could have just about anything else. What if, for a moment, I had nothing at home? What if , for a second, I imagined myself as one of the hundreds of mothers in this country, whose little daughters pitterpattered upto them in baby steps saying- Ma,  I am hungry- and I had just nothing to give. Sent a shiver down my spine.

I remember my grandparents' house with the  joint family back  home. The milk would be mixed with water  so that there was enough for the fifteen children . It was called "gakhir paani" ( milk with water). My cousins were so used to it that they thought this was the way milk was had. Noone ever felt sad or deprived.

I have done focus groups with mothers across the country who  tell me stories of how , with recession, they make vegetables with gravy so that they don't have to make daal, which is expensive to the point of being a luxury. One mother smiled and said her child is very happy- says the vegetables taste so much better with the gravy. Again, no complaint. Just a smile that says- we can manage and we do it very well.

Children talk to me about how they "share" a plate of chaat or golgappa or a Mc donald's  aloo tikki ( potato) burger. They do this happily. Sharing while eating out has been a way of life.

There is a reason why most mothers in less affluent families have their meal after the entire family has had their fill. She can then give up her share of the rice  or chapati to  one of her ever hungry brood. Her body has gotten used to a meagre meal or even a glass of water most nights.

The Global Hunger Index  2010 rates India lower than Rwanda and Sudan in Hunger Quotient.
Children across the country are going to bed hungry,  cooing themselves to sleep over their mother's lullabies. Mothers across the country are over worked and under nourished, trying to find indigenious ways of  lighting the kitchen fires everyday.

Yet we are also one of the countries with a high Happiness Quotient.
We have religion, we have family, we have hope and belief.

That each day will be better than yesterday. And that tomorrow will bring a new ray of hope.

I  applaud these mothers and the sense of positiveness and hope they imbibe in their families everyday.
So what if there is just a handful of rice to be shared at night.

And  I humbly realise that  instead of berating over a  packet of sausages, if I  start sharing what I have, in a small way, with  families less blessed than me in terms of wealth, I can make at least one child sleep  peacefully with no hunger pangs. It can make a difference.  A huge difference.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Missing the Thrills

The first day of Puja. Pedalling back in time to when we would wake up all excited on Saptami day, eager to wear our new clothes. We always got two sets instead of four or six like our friends, Jhimly and Minku. But Ma would sternly reply that we also got two sets for Bihu ( Assamese new year) and that made it even.

Thinking... why is it that all our new clothes happened only during a celebration or on our birthdays? Never remember randomly strolling into a store and asking Ma to buy us a dress.

That was not just us. It was India. At least middle class India. Wardrobes were refreshed only during a celebration, usually a religious one or a big social one. And I realise why.

First, the relatively low income levels. Usually  the father was the sole bread earner. Usually the father worked as a public servant, where salaries were unenviable.

Second, thriftiness was a virtue. Out of the salary every month, a portion had to go towards savings. Bank passbooks were a reverred item in the house. Random expenses were not encouraged.

So purchases were planned in a way that maximised the wallet and also kept the family happy. Celebrations were and still are a time when bonuses are doled out and discounts and sales are the order of the day. Offer cards and flashes appear everywhere.

Festivities are a time when the entire family relaxes the purse strings and goes all out  on shopping. Since everything is purchased at that time, there is a sense of bounty and plenty. Noone feels deprived. Everyone has something, even the toothless old bai in the kitchen gets a new saree, blouse and petticoat.

So while it is a very sensible and smart budget management, it actually sends out signals of richness, wealth and happiness. Savings are hidden under the blanket of unwrapped packets, gift papers, the crackle and fragrance of new clothes.

In those days, all the eating out would also happen during Pujas. Snacks, fish curries, khichdis, gol gappas, icecreams. Toys were generously doled out. Pistols with round paper pellet bullets ( golis), plastic dancing girls that nodded their heads, plastic animals that were wheeled around on strings.

Today, thanks to the rising disposable incomes ( recession notwithstanding),  younger earning groups, shift from a saving to spending economy, purchases happen all the year. Malls have sales  every month, new clothes need no occasion.

I go and buy my daughter toys and games and pretty dresses whenever I have the time. I buy myself new clothes whenever I feel I need something.

Yet today, on the eve of the pujas, I feel like I have missed out on something.

I am missing the surprise on our faces when Ma opened the brown packets , the louds screams of joy when we preened before the mirror in our new clothes, Ma's gorgeous look as she draped her new saree around her, Puspa, our household help's shy smile as she proudly showed her new salwar kameez to her parents.

Makes me think... in our plentitude, have we sacrificed small joys?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Let Passion never be fake

Yesterday was a lesson in humility for me. And I am proud to write this because I myself never like an argument for arguments sake.

The discussion which morphed into a debate was about brand passion. Is passion something that comes from within or can it be forced upon by an organisation? Do brands that have no positive benefit to society even deserve passion? Can someone who is new have the  genuine spirit to war paint and mouth the silent slogans of brotherhood?

My initial argument was that passion can be generated - it always does not have to come from within.

Five minutes into the debate and I knew I had lost. What  I learnt has nothing to do with the topic itself- like all subjects, this is subjective. My learnings were of a different kind. It was about the art of speaking with conviction . To win a debate or discussion.

1. Genuine passion screams louder than the loudest voice. Genuine passion cannot be fake.

2. Speak with conviction rather than rooting for something just because you belong to an organisation or work on a brand.

3. Listen. Rather than talk. Get what the others are saying. This gives us time to think better.

4. Do not divert and digress . Stay focussed in any discussion. Stick to the point.

5. Be well read. And informed. Informed people can be formidable opponents.

6. Don't get personal.When I realised I was cornered, I started hitting out on matters which were irrelevant.

7. Weave logic around the discussion point- cite examples from other categories, from history, from recent politics. cast a larger net. And drill deeper if you get a sense that the others are not as conversant in that subject.

Coming back to the subject under debate, this was what I concluded in my own mind as I churned the conversation later.

1. Passion  has to come from within.

2. Brands can discover passion points and fuel the fire around them

3. Brand communities  need more than just a brand purchase to belong. One needs to imbibe the spirit of the brand , understand the codes, respect the community- the same codes we follow when joining a club or a gang. A bunch of suits riding a bike solemnly on a Sunday does not give them the license for HOG. A community is much more than that.

4. Brands that generate passion become icons- we wear them proudly as labels, they become discussion points in living rooms and occupy a place of pride in our lives.

Finally, it is the loyal consumer who takes on the reins of passion and writes the codes that make a brand into a cult. Loyalty that comes out of experience, positive feedback and authenticity. An honest bond that germinates and stays on forever.

Useful lessons-  both in the skills of a convincing argument and the understanding of brand passion. Like I always believe, knowledge is all around us. We just need to be receptive and willing.

And yes, passion can never be faked.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Notes from a "Working Mum"

October 19th, 2004. Global client coming down for a meeting. Conference room in order, the presentations sitting smugly in neatly labelled folders on the laptop, back ups in pen drives , food ordered. And we waited. For me it was not just a wait for the men in suits. It was my last working day before my baby would be born.

I had planned everything to a T. Ma and my sister would arrive on 20th. Bags packed for hospital on 21st. Off to hospital on 21st. Baby to be born out of C-section on 22nd. For an obsessive planner like me, there was no room for a normal birth that was unpredictable.

Baby Zoya was born,  the flowers arrived from my dear colleagues, Ma dutifully  spent two days with me. On Day 2, I decided that enough was enough- pulled myself out of bed, hobbled bent over till the stitches stretched and I could be upright again, waved goodbye to the nurses, gave my credit, debit and all other cards for the loaded hospital bills and I was home.

Guests and well wishers would  drop in all day, I would proudly show off Baby Zoya.  Pay the driver money to get pastries and patties from Galleria, Hiranandani Gardens, order Pepsi 1 litre bottles  for serving the guests.

Baby Zoya , like all other hungry babies, gnawed at me till I was bruised and bleeding. So rush to Hiranandani market again for tiny baby feeding bottles which I religiously boiled and steamed and boiled again for fear of infections. I was guilty -  I couldn't feed my baby, I was fat and ugly and I wished I could go back to work again.

Soon a month passed by. Zoya  was more awake than asleep, would stare in wonder at me and the world, cry when she was left alone. Ma and my sister left, I was alone. Would love dressing her up in the evening and stroll around our building Harshvardhan, pushing her pram around. Soon she was old enough to go with me to Haiko supermarket, where I would put her car seat in the shopping cart and wheel her around. We would go to Crossword where I would buy her Nursery Rhyme books and carefully write in cursive- "To my Princess. From Mamma"

Zoya and I soon became the best of friends. I would talk to her for hours, and she would gurgle her replies. We were always together. I hated leaving her even for a second. Zoya soon filled the huge void I felt in my life and  started looking forward to each day with my lovely baby.

Januray 31st. 2005. New live in maid arrived from home. I showed her around , made her boil Zoya's bottles, make  Nan 2,  instructed her how to dress her in her little baby clothes. That night I looked at Zoya sucking her thumb and sleeping blissfully next to me and tears flowed uncontrollably.

Because I was starting work the next day. She would be home alone all day with a maid. Would she be well taken care of? Would she miss me? Was I being too career minded? Was I selfish?

And then I walked into office, sat at my desk, accepted the hugs and all the flowers gracefully, and started off work. That's it. Got back into the groove again. Managed work and Zoya and home as best as I could. Work gave me the satisfaction I craved for, Zoya gave me the love I desired. And I never compromised one for the other.

This October 24th, Zoya turns five. I look proudly at my little girl, who has  held my hand when I was low and laughed with me when I was on a high. She has learnt her alphabets, swings to Bollywood , hates  food, loves chips and chocs and is still my best friend. She thinks I am "beautiful like Kareena" and she "loves me vewy vewy much".

Makes me realise that life is indeed a balance. Between good things and good things. That's the hardest balance. And happiness comes to those who always remember that it is never one at the cost of the other.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Welcome Home Maa

I woke up with a strange sense of happiness. Of belonging. A misty landscape of Gurgaon smiled at me serenely as I drew back the curtains. Walked around aimlessly, still feeling happy. Saw the laptop beckoning me enticingly. Refreshed FaceBook and saw my dear friend Kasturi's status on Mahalaya.

At once my heart jumped. Mahalaya.... I quickly youtubed the  Mahalaya "Yaa Devi...." Ma had switched on every morning at the break of dawn on All India Radio. Ma would be home today!!!!! Even as I said this aloud, I realised I may be sounding weird. Ma has moved on, passed away, and yet every Mahalaya day for the past three years I feel she is back again, descending from the clouds to be with her two daughters. Maybe it is my childish imagination. Maybe it is the remnants of what Ma herself would tell us as we listened in rapt attention to the slokas. That the spirits of the deceased descended down to earth on Mahalaya day and stayed with us till  Diwali. Ma would say that the spirits missed us so much that they would wait for this day to dawn.

Mahalaya has so much of significance. It heralds in the much awaited Durga Puja . It is on this day that the artists of Kumartuli in West Bengal paint the eyes of the Goddess- Chakshudanam.

Mahalaya is when people perform Tarpan on the ghats of the Ganges- an offering to the deceased.

Mahalaya is when Sewli flowers carpet the dew dotted grass and meadows. When children shake the sewli trees in glee and get showered with the coral petals. It is when shopping reaches a frenzied peak. When bonuses are doled out, songs played aloud in market places, the last  poles erected in the magnificent puja pandals.

Mahalaya is when the Goddess Durga starts her journey home with her  offspring.

But for me, Mahalaya will always be when my mother comes back home. To be with us for a while. So what if it is in my imagination.
After all, Mahalaya does mean "Homecoming".

There's something about shopping

Retail Therapy is what we call it. Monday blues, hop across to Phoenix Mills, Lower Parel, window shop, toy around with that awesome blingy handbag- what the heck- let me buy it- and voila, I am in a good mood again.

There's something about shopping that makes us happy. That makes us forget our woes and grumpiness. Instantly.

Remember the times I would tag along with my mother to New Market in Digboi and go hopping from Digboi Store to Rakshit's to the regular stop at the Society Store where Ma could buy on credit as well. She certainly seemed happy when she was out shopping.

Same with the Sunday morning ritualistic trip to Tingri haat for the  oranges, the cauliflowers, baby potatoes, fish and sometimes chicken in bamboo coops. We would be singing in the car as we drove to the haat and munching roasted peanuts on the way back. Daddy  took great pleasure in discussing his bargains with Hazarika uncle next door.

Almost all celebrations in our lives have shopping as an intrinsic part. Bihu, Durga Puja, Diwali, Onam, Christmas and so many more- we all go on a mad spree buying clothes, jewellery, gifts and come back with an empty wallet, depleted bank balance but a heart full of joy.

Sometimes I wonder- is it the  act of purchase itself that makes us happy? Or is it the feeling of bounty, of plentifulness? Or maybe it is about material acquisition? Acquiring things has always been the driving force of many things since history originated, where kingdoms were bartered, lives sacrificed... all for making our coffers overflow. It is this primievial urge to acquire that stills drives us to push ourselves at work, in life and even overflows into relationships. Most times we become slaves to this  drive.

There are so many things money can't buy. Love, relationships ( I am not too sure about this one), success, health, long term happiness. There is joy in giving as well. But I definitely don't recollect anything called Giving Therapy or Sharing Therapy to overcome our blues.

So shopping continues to be  one of the best forms of therapy and impulsive purchases  are fuelled by the choices that clamour for attention in the marketplace and the plastics in our wallet. This is what keeps the seesaw of demand  supply moving, this is what drives the GDP and all other economic measures.

This makes me feel less guilty, as I look at my bulging Anokhi shopping bag sitting coyly on the table. After all, I have contributed to the economy and yes, I am happy. Super happy.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What it takes to be Bold

It's  hard to be bold.  One of the many web definitions on BOLD is "showing a readiness to take risks or face danger". I am really not one of those risk takers or rebellers who throw caution to the winds, tie a bandana and go driving into the horizon.  But life has taught me to cross that thin line we draw within ourselves as our own boundary of taking risks , of taking that one step that's the difference between staying alive and living.

Here are some of the  learnings I have had in my  run of life till now. That made me overcome some of my own shackles.

1. Ask the "Why Not" question we have so often read about. It fuels us much more than the simple "Why".  We end up questioning ourselves, challenging ourselves.

2. There is only one Plan and that's Plan A. Sometimes it's the Plan B's and C's and Z's that make us comfortable. So comfortable that we fallback on these plans even before we give Plan A our best shot.

3.  There are no "shortcuts". To be bold  needs courage and hard work.  Most times we give up halfway or even earlier because it is so easy to look for an easier way, a shortcut that never exists.

4. Put yourself before others at times. The "I" coming before "We" makes us look at life and challenges from a very different lens.

5. Believe in both logic and magic. Life is a mix of both. It's foolhardy to skew towards either. But worthwhile to believe in Life's mysteries while listening to our minds.

6.Believe in our goal.  With this comes focus and singlemindedness. "Either" "Or" and similar words do not have room for  bold actions.

7. Unplay the Rules. Rules set by families and societies  have evolved over time. They remain constant only in our minds. Unplay them . Imagine they are not there. ( Of course do this judiciously. I am assuming we are all matured and capable of knowing what rules to unplay)

8. Ensure that our actions impact us the most and others the least. I have always followed this principle rigorously. Multiply my own success, happiness but reduce the effect on others, if it does have an effect.

9. Be ruthless if required. Starting with ourselves. The first thing that comes in the way of a bold decision are emotions. The "What ifs".

10. Believe in the Power. Whether it is ourselves, the Divinity we worship, the Power we believe in if we don't worship.believe that if we are true to our actions, the Universe listens. ( Paulo Coelho and the Alchemist has been my guiding force)

Some of the above, if not all, apply to the work we do as well. Being in the brand building business, I have seen how difficult it is to be bold and how it is the brands who are bold that have rewritten all the rules. That have created disruption. And a new order.

Ending with   this quote I love from Steve Jobs  "We’re here to put a dent in the universe".

Shaun Smith: What are 'bold brands' - and why do they win?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Art and the Artist

I watched the young  lad walk into the royal courtyard with a basketful of flowers. He  walked straight, oblivious to the guests  sipping morning tea or coffee on wicker chairs placed in squares in the courtyard of Chomu Palace Hotel, where we had gone for  the weekend. Perhaps  his purposiveness whetted me out of my lethargic morning spirit and I sat up to look at where he was headed.

He knelt beside a  stone vat  filled with clear water and started arranging the petals in the bowl. I stared mesmerised as  his hands deftly, in a matter of seconds, crafted out a beautiful pattern of floating petals. It was almost as if he was arranging it on an invisible pattern that only his eyes could see on the  water. One last flourish, and he walked away with his basket to the next  water bowl.

My mind drifted to the Lakshmi footprints my mother would draw with rice powder paste from the doorway to the puja room  every Lakshmi puja. The garlands of sewli flowers my sister and I would make for the Xorai ( offering) on Uruka morning. 

The dreamlike patterns women weave into their looms everyday , for the  most gorgeous sarees and fabric. The  skill with which aunts adorn the brides with the sandalwood bindi patterns on the wedding day.

The  expertise with which the neighbourhood vegetable and fruit vendor arranges his wares every morning, creating a riot of colours that appeal to every taste bud. 

The speed and alacrity with which my mother and her friends would knit every winter, making us beautiful patterened shawls and cardigans, sometimes recycling old wool. The embroidery of demure brides as they shyly displayed their pillow cases and napkin and cushion covers.

The calender artists, the firework boxes, the  trucks that roll across the heartlands of India in all their painted glory. The lightsmen of ChandanNagar, the  craftsmen who make our Pujas so fascinating with the Divine idols, the puppet makers who make our childhood so much fun.....

All this and so much more. 
There is an artist in each one of us.
Art resides in us, and around us.
We all live art, we appreciate art and art is what makes everyday memorable in a small way.

I write this piece today in all humility. Reminding myself that art is not just a talent. It is a spirit that lives in each of us. And every piece or work of art, big or small, deserves appreciation.

The smile on the young man's face as my daughter and I complimented him on his patterned floral art  reflected that.