Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Please Don't Go...

There are some of us who are lucky ... who have not lost very near and dear ones to Life.
And there are some of us who are not as lucky.

I have had the misfortune of having to hold back my tears as the elder child and bid brave goodbyes , in spite of the chilled feeling of being left alone.
But I was not brave the day before yesterday.

When I heard the shocking news that my colleague had just succumbed to what is the singlemost certainity of life.
No. I was not brave.
I lost my composure. My nerve.

So many thoughts juggling in my mind.
Did we talk enough?
Did we smile enough?
Did we get into petty day to day issues or did we laugh about our kids?
How many times did we share a coffee?
Exchange a book?
Share some homemade rajma rice?
Did we celebrate success together?

Maybe we did.
Yet, as I sat down near his still sleeping form, I wished I had done more.
The same way I wished when I sat next to my still parents.

What a strange teacher Life is
Drives the point home so ruthlessly yet so clearly.

That Life is about gratitude, not regrets
That we  cannot turn back the hands of time
That the more we smile, the more we receive
That work is just one part of our lives
That family needs us
That we need them
That everything we see is just momentary

That money can't buy us time
Or even a few seconds more
To hold on to people we love most

I wish I could say,"Please don't go..."
I wish....

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Bunch of Keys

I grew up, like many little girls, seeing my mother with a bunch of keys adorning her waist.
This bunch of big, small, medium, wide and narrow toothed keys would be tied to a hanky or, on occasions, to a nice silver adornment and tucked in carefully into the saree waist.

In a country where women are still on a journey of empowerment and freedom, this bunch of keys always gave  and gives her a sense of control and power within the four walls of her home.

The matriach of the house in joint families are the proud owners of these keys.
She has to unlock all the safes and food larders or "grant permission" to a younger member of the household. In older days, the keys were tied to the end of the saree pallu.They were truly hers.

It is a good feeling.
And shows that, with all the purdah and the men being men outside of home, the women of the house were given the controls.
She may not have been to school, but managed the cash and the flows.
Her sons knew how to cajole her into opening that safe and handing out the money for their dream toy.
The household help never dared to touch that bunch.
The younger women in the joint families waited patiently ( and sometimes impatiently) for their turn to own that exalted bunch.

The handing over of the keys from generations was a ritual- almost.
Tears, fears, words of wisdom accompanied the transfer of the bunch from one waist to another.

Truly, in a way, the hand that held the keys, had the power.
That made life and still makes life for every homemaker a challenging and thrilling one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bottoms Up

No this is not about that quick shot over rum cake for Christmas.
Though it is a season of cheer

I has a very pleasant experience last night.
Was back in my room, tired, rang for a light dinner in room service.
Got busy with emails etc and only when hunger pangs got the bettwr of me, I realised it was around forty minutes since I called.

What happened after that was wonderful.
A very genuine apology, a glass of wine and the meal absolutely complimentary.
And all offered on the spot by the person concerned in room service.

No consultation with bosses.
No lame excuses or empty apologies.

I came back with a smile and a great thumbs up.

This is what empowerment is.
Right from the bottom of the food chain, pun unintended.

Empower the front line staff to put that smile back.
Its immediate, spontaneous and works far better than any "we care for you" campaigns.

We cannot have the One Sale attitude anymore... today it is about loyalty, service, care..

And making every customer a happy one.

Merry Christmas to all my readers and a big thank you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Of Gods and Calenders

If we look at the way calenders have evolved in India, it gives us a good indication of the way we as a nation are evolving.

There was a time when a calender adorned every living room wall proudly hanging from a naked nail jutting out of a cracked wall.
Most calenders had twelve pages, mostly around two or three themes.

Gods. Calenders with Shiva, Lakshmi, Durga and other deities hung not only in the living room but even in the kitchen and the puja room. These calenders outlived the year they were designed for. The pages were carefully cut and pasted on  the puja room walls to replace the earlier agarbatti smoke smeared aging ones.

Babies. Smiling, gurgling, chubby cheeked babies in diapers- actually looked more like loincloths.
These calenders were lovingly hung on bedroom walls and also outlived the years.

Nature. Flowers, waterfalls, rivers formed the third popular theme for calenders.

The fourth kind was just dates printed in bold black in chequered squares on white pages with holidays marked in red.

All of these calenders bore the name of the sponsor in big and bold at the bottom, printed in a way that it was seamless with the image and could not be torn off.

So Kasturilal Family Jewellers  found place in most homes and hearths. Key dates were circled with ball point pens, casual notes were scribbled on the page ends at times.
Sometimes, calenders also doubled up as dhobi khattas- with the clothes count marked against the pick up and delivery date!

Today, we hardly see calenders on walls.
Unless it is the coveted Kingfisher one.

Boards on desks have smartly designed  planners at times.
Diaries and Yearbooks provide us flashy pages, glossy pictures and the dates.
Outlook Express and Lotus Notes pop up calenders and dates everyday.
Watches show us digital date and month.
Mobile phones do the same.

So, except for some ace photographers in India who still mail out calenders with their images to agencies and clients, are calenders, as we knew them, becoming extinct?
Should we preserve a few of the old ones, just to show our kids what calenders looked like?

Or maybe we should just move on and embrace the new, like all things in life...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Give More, Get More

Sometimes, I wonder, are we stingy as a nation?
As a culture?
Do we give readily or do we hold back?
Is "stinginess" actually a positive   for us? The quality that made us survive the worst of invasions, including the most recent economic recession?

Remember the times our dads would wear shoes till they were adorned with  the rough artwork of the neighbourhood cobbler? Of course they could afford another Bata pair- but  it was a philosophy they lived by. Times weren't so easy. Spending on themselves and not the family was not right.

Or the  way mutton lunches were reserved for Sundays and special occasions.
The skirts in our uniforms tailored with thick hems that unfurled in their bright colours every year.
The toys that were recycled between siblings, cousins.
Why toys alone? Even clothes.

Hemming, repairing, stitching up, recycling, reusing were the order of the day.

Same was the case with business.
Whether hospitality, or service- the companies gave what they had to give as a bare minimum to consumers.
Frills and freebies were few and far between.
Portions in restaurants were just about enough.

No wastage was the motto.

Times have changed now.
Recession notwithstanding, we also have plenty.
Incomes are rising, the breadearner is not just the man anymore.
We eat out more often, buy clothes more than just during Pujas and Diwali, and give our children chocolates and toys much more liberally.
We want to save for tomorrow, but live today kingsize as well.
So holidays dot our calenders, weekends are fun times, even though a drain on the wallet.

Are brands reflecting this opulence... or are they still "stingy"?
Do we have great quality products that justify the price we pay?
Do we have food on the table and our shelves that reflect the value they promise?
Do airlines promise all the comfort but get away with the bare minimum they have to offer to save themselves from irate consumers filing complaints?

Are corporate lawyers working towards how much to give or how much to get away with?

At the end of the day, it's all a philosophy we choose.
As individuals, as brands, as a nation.

But it's good to remember the old adage- When we give more, we get more.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Friend Rich, Time Poor

Facebook has changed my life in more ways than one.
I have connected and reconnected with people  who I shared my sandwich with in school.
Or poured over Economics assignments in college.
Colleagues who helped me settle down in JWT when I first joined, 16 years ago.
Networking, chatting, talking.... I get everything.

But I have also given up on quite a few things, thanks to the time I spend on Facebook.
I hardly call my friends. An FB wall message is enough.
I have forgotten the last time I read a good book.
Whenever I have some time to spare, my fingers itch to check on the latest newsfeeds.
I hardly watch my favourite TV programmes. I am busy with one eye on the small screen, answering messages.

I choose status updates over morning walks.
Prefer Facebooking to  sharing my lunch with colleagues at work.
I  am furiously keying in instead of looking out of the window, as I am driven to work everyday.
I have no time to introspect.I don't even have time to try out the new muffin recipe.

Facebook is like the butcher's knife. You either carve or kill.
It's upto us to choose  wisely....

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Love means knowing the way you want to go

Zoya was just four and a half when we moved cities. I was worried. It is not easy to explain to a four year old the whys and ifs of Life. But Zoya understood. She always does. With her little hand clasped in mine, we walked out of the airport and into our new life here. All she had for me were smiles. And eyes that looked at me with complete and total trust. Never once did she question. Or look back. Zoya showed me that when you love someone deeply, you do not choose. You just know the way you want to follow. I owe my little girl my happiness. And pray that she grows up to be a beautiful, honest, straightforward and happy person. Like she is today. Happy sixth birthday Zoya. I love you.

Monday, October 3, 2011

For those who care for us

Pujas remind me of happy families, khichdi and labra bhaji, plays in the evening, ram lilas and more.
Pujas also remind me of the young girls in their new dresses and ribbons, going pandal hopping with their families.

These girls come from different regions, speak different languages, but seem to be tied by a common thread.
The first common thread is their outfit.
If it's a dress, it is usually slightly loose, especially around the bust and waist. And has a low waist.
The shoes are a bright coloured pair.
If it's a churidar, it is usually   a poorly mixed mix and match.
While of course, new.
The eyes are darkly kohled. Usually bindis adorn the forehead.
Nowadays we do see a pair of loose jeans and kurtis or long skirts.

Do these girls have a poor fashion sense?
 We will never know.
Because the outfits have been picked up by their families.
Who they work for.

These are the "household help" in India.
Young girls who look after our kids, clean and cook.
We take good care of them. And they are like family.
Yet we go to great pains to ensure that what they are wearing draws the line very clearly.
The skirts and the jeans should not be mistaken for the mistress of the house.
So the poorly matched colours or the slightly ill fitting outfits.

There are more ways in which lines are drawn.
They sit in the middle of the rear seat in the car- usually no window viewing- if there are three people behind.
They get  a  stool in the kitchen or children's room  when we go  visiting friends .
They usually have their own plates and cups and mugs at home.
Their meals are usually in the kitchen.
They feel awkward when we go dining- where do they sit, stand...

But we love them.
We pay good money.
We look after their families.
And their lot would have been worse if not for us.

And they seem happy.
They are happy.
Or are they....

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Salt and Cherries

The Namak Dabba in our kitchen when we were young, would always be either an old Dalda container, sometimes hunched on one side because of the heat from the kitchen fire.The spoon inside used for measuring or sprinkling was always a plastic Lactogen milk spoon.

The salt tin was used, abused, from all fronts.
Sometimes, callous cooks would used the haldi spoon and turn the white into a dull yellow.
Instead of being annoyed with them, my mum would say- it's ok- it's salt after all.

With today's packaging innovations, we see beautiful packets of butter, ghee, biscuits, cakes, pickles... and more. Even bottled water has attitude. The Salt packaging is still the most basic.
Makes no difference to noone.

How many of us live a salt life- always adding taste and flavour - always indispensable- but never appreciated.

Noone writes eulogies about us. Noone even says a thank you.

There is no premium, no mark up.
And oneday we will slip away like a ship in the night.
Unless we learn a lesson or two from the cherries.
The fruit with the least amount of goodness compared to most others.
That wins hearts and minds by its sheer red colour, shape and brightness.

It is used as toppings on the best of desserts and is applauded for enhancing the very appetising factor.
Cherries have wormed their way into minds and refrigerator shelves .
And have a place of pride.

Moral of the story.
Don't be superflous like the cherry.
But bring out  the salt worthiness in you by showing the world that you matter.
For if we treat ourselves like salt, the world will do the same.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Escapes and Escapades

What is ESCAPE?

We talk about it at home, in research groups, at work. Everywhere.
And whether, given the chance, we truly escape or cling on to things we have tried escaping from.

Tried looking at some common escapes in our lives.

Like the vacation we have planned for ages and have sworn we won't get into work mode.

And then sign off with an automatic email reply- available on personal gmail " for urgent matters".
What can be so urgent when we are on a break?

Or the  men who compulsively hangout with the boys on a weekend to escape from wives and girlfriends.
They do need that break after a long week of work.
But  all the bonding, jokes and camaraderie, even highs, are mostly over conversations on- you guessed it- womankind!! Uh Um... isn't that what the escape was all about?

( applies  vice versa as well)

Or the women who rant and rave and weep about a non existent loveless  marriage.
And look for "alternate means" of happiness. We all have the right to be happy.
But then continue  with the same bonds  as well. Best of both worlds is always comfy.
( again applies vice versa)

And there are the little Escapes.
The books we buy. And leave unread.
The masalas in the kitchen cupboard for that new recipe. Yet untried.
The half written book.
The mildewed bag of Japanese crackers.
The unused passes to the new show in town.
The  impulse purchase trinkets yet to be worn.
The neighbourhood spa  that we have never stepped into.

All of these and more, bought or got as escapes from a boring world , but yet to be indulged in.

Maybe we are like the elephant in chains.
When the chains are removed, he doesn't run away.
He doesn't know he is free.
He likes being cared for by his mahout.

We often use "Escape" as an excuse to do things we want to.
While maintaining status quo.

Status Quo is unreal.
It is the Ultimate Balance, but before that, every escape or action has an impact.
More far reaching than we ever imagine.

Maybe we should take a leaf out of Coelho's Alchemist.
Maybe our happiness and escape lies at our doorstep.In our own lives.
We simply haven't  discovered it!!!

Happy weekend everyone and happy escapes and escapades:-)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When STD calls meant High decibels

Remember STD calls in the days of  yore.
Not calls really. Bookings.
My aunt would "book a trunk call" to Guwahati- all of 10 hours drive from  where we were in Dibrugarh.
But it was an event.

Because trunk calls were booked mostly  for breaking news.
Usually bad. Sometimes good.

There was a sense of emergency when such calls were booked.
One of us youngsters were designated to guard the phone and holler if it rang.

Once the call was connected, the designated speaker would start off with a shout if not a yell.
Immediately breaking into the news delivery , almost akin to the way brands deliver the statutory warning message on audio.
The high decibel voice is maintained- repeating meant more time and more money.

An audible sigh of relief would be heard around the room once the call was over.

No question of calling to just say a hi.
Or wonder what's for breakfast.
Or whether mum has  visited the jeweller's place before the wedding season
Or simply a call to say "I am missing you"

We have the power to do that today.
To express what we feel in just a dial.
To say what we want to in a split second.

Do we do that enough?
Or do we still call our parents only on Sunday evenings....

Friday, September 16, 2011

Letting Go

The day started off earlier than usual.
Meetings at work.
Teaching session in the evening.
Late night lawyer session.
Back to the warmth of home to see Zoya snuggled up in bed.
The soft snore of peace and comfort.
That children are blessed with.
Because, unlike us, they can let go.

It is hard to let go.
Why should we see ourselves as losers while others win the war?
Why should our enemies even dream of a victory
When we are right, we have the power, we can hold on.
Not give in.

We have been conditioned to be winners.
We applaud those who make it big.
We look up to the ones who  emerge survivors.
We want to be heroes.
We are heroes.

So what if it is at the cost of our own freedom
Our own happiness
So what if, in our not giving in, we are giving up many things?

Maybe it takes greater courage to let go.
To settle for less. Scale down our negativity.

May leave us poorer on many counts.
But will give us what we want most.

To do what we want.
To indulge in what we like.
To move on the road of happiness.

Or maybe, to simply snore a peaceful sleep at night.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Special Eyes

A dark skinned little girl toddles along with her mother.
Her mother is more than beautiful. She is gorgeous... fair gold polished skin, rose blushed cheeks that would put any blusher to shame, dark almond eyes... and a laughter so infectious that men and women would swarm around her just by the sheer sound.

The little girl is always shy because people look at her with surprise and wonder how she is so dark.
But her mother always  jumps to her rescue. Saying she is the most beautiful child in the world.
The little girl then sits on her beautiful mother's lap and her mother tells her how real beauty lies inside us and only people with special eyes can see that beauty.

Many years later, when my mother, sister and I would be lost in thought, I would dream about someone with special eyes who would see my inner beauty. And carry me away to the clouds. Where there would be only laughter and love and happiness.

With my father "missing" for so many years, my mother bore the brunt of a society that always questioned her status. Was she to be relegated to white, or was she a wife in waiting? She loved dressing up and was always looking her best. Dressing up created a mood of optimism, with me staring mesmerised at her every day and wondering how lucky I was to have such a beautiful mother.

The single and wife in waiting also made my mother prey to every conversation, every social visit where there was a man- so what if that person was a colleague at work, a friend or even a relative.

She never let anything get in her way.
We grew up- three women in a new city- with the strength that mother instilled in us everyday.
We liked seeing her happy, and she always laughed for us- even if her laugh sometimes shook with the pain of carefully hidden tears.

I wanted to make my mother happy.
I wanted to give her everything she lost with my father.
I studied and studied and worked and worked.

So that oneday I could give her back what she gave us.
 But then life engulfed me with family, relationships, career and unknowingly, my plans for my mother got postponed.
Maybe another day.
Could be next year.
What's the hurry? She is always around-  my work can't wait.

Till four years ago, in the early hours of dawn, I woke up to the ominous ring of the phone.
And I realised that everything that I  thought couldn't wait is still around.
Except my mother.

My life changed after that.
I put myself  and my happiness before  everything else.
Took calls that I could have never dreamt of before.
Moved cities, offices, clients, colleagues.
Carried my life and menories in a suitcase.

I am happy with what I have today.
My work, my family, my friends... with everything.

I realised that when I am happy, I can make everyone around me much happier.
And in this journey, I have found many  who have special eyes.
Just like my mother said, so many years ago.

Friday, September 9, 2011

That day, long time ago...

It was a regular Sunday that day, when my father left for work. He always went to check on work for a couple of hours on Sundays. Mother checking school note books- she was a teacher. My sister and I whiling away time in the garden. Me day dreaming as usual . Chicken steaming in the pot on the stove. The Hawkins cooker jumping with shrilly whistles and releasing the aroma of dal and spices. The gardener  hunched up over the weeds around the rose bushes. Crows and Mynahs out chirping each other on the giant Xilikha tree.

The clock struck one. Mother called out the maid to set  the table for lunch.  She was still checking the notebooks and pushed the pile to one corner, while Bandana put out the mats, glasses, dishes and water jug. Mother asked her to leave the food in the pantry, since Father was not yet home.

Like all wives, she started murmuring, mostly to herself , about how men spend all the time at work.
I was now reading a book, curled up on the divan next to her .

The clock kept striking. My mother put down her red ball point pen which had ticked and crossed more than fifty notebooks all morning. The first signs of worry creased her beautiful face. She asked me to call up the office.

That was it. Hundreds of calls to a room where only the walls bore witness silently to what may have happened. Pen still on desk. Umbrella leaning against the stand. Visitors, well wishes, security, police. Family, relatives, distant relatives. More calls, more visitors.

My mother getting a job. We leaving our big home and life for another place, another school, another set of neighbours and friends.Strange looks, questions. Three women walking down a completely new  road replete with challenges. And always waiting. For my father to come home.

He never did.

But he left us with something that made us believe in life.
With  Hope.
That oneday he will be back.
That oneday things would be the same again and we would be happy and smiling.
That the table could still be  set for four.
That his coats and shirts could still be left in the almirah.

With this hope we had the strength and courage to lead ten long years.
Till one fateful day, ten years later,  my father's remains were discovered.
He had passed away that day itself. September 9th.

Killing everything around us but our spirit.
And the gift of Hope.

I have written this story for the first time today.
Because I have come to terms with the fact that when all the dots are joined, the picture is always positive.
We just need to believe.

Thank you Daddy, wherever you are.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Birthday Cake

It's the one thing we used to wait with bated breath for.
In the earlier days, my father  would drive home with a white paper box carefully balanced on the cushioned rear seat of the Amby. With the Digboi Stores cursive logo proudly perched on the packet.
We would crowd around the table, mother, father, the help, some early bird friends, as my mother gently opened the white box and revealed the pink iced roses and the all important letterings in sugar- Happy Birthday.

Birthday cakes have the ability of lifting the occasion to a high.
Even when there is no party or do.

In fact, during the latter years, when we moved towns, our birthdays were signalled by a cake from Diamond Bakery in Guwahati and a gift from mother. And maybe some friends in school.

But we never felt short changed. So long as the cake was there, all was well.

Birthday cakes at work now are about singing, smashing, laughing and uploading on FB and Twitter.

Shows how important rituals are in life.
In adding a meaning or significance to an otherwise regular day.
Injects an "occasion" even when there may be  none.
Adds magic to when there is one.

Holds true for brands as well.
It is not easy to make a brand a ritual.
Needs to have strong relevance and a connect that goes beyond product usage and consumption.
But once it gets into that mould, it is there to stay.

Coming back to the birthday cake, it will always be the best way to show a person that we care.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I am crying....

No I am not.
But it's good to get those tear buds active and the cheeks smeared once in a while.
It's an outflow of emotions.
A release of things pent up and we all need to  do that.

Actually a good cry does much more than just release.
It clears our clouds.
Makes us see things in the right perspective.
Most calls in life are taken after a good cry.
When the emotions that make us blind at times have been  let out.

Maybe it's a good idea to have "Cry Sessions" at work.
Where everyone gets together and just give vent to feelings.
Well not really cry but do pretty much the same thing - in fact really let go.
No seniority juniority
No calls taken at that session
No judgement passed
Just talk and crib and express and rave and rant

Will make that difference once it's all out.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Middle Common Denominator

The jargon we commonly use in advertising and marketing are Lowest Common Denominator  or LCM to work out something that can be comprehended and is relevant to the lowest demographic or psychographic cut.

This  blog on middle class values is  based on my observations and anecdotes. So here goes.

There are uncanny similarities between the Economically Deprived( ED) section of society and the Economically Abundantly  ( EA) Endowed.

For instance,
Marriages are often an "arrangement" with financial implications knotted in

Well defined and quite different passion points for men and women

The men earn for the family but splurge on themselves as well- on all kinds of indulgences. Wives do not question because their needs are satisfied.Men hang out with "boys", share jokes , talk about financial aquisitions- whether it is a new goat or a new jet, dabble in Sunday hangouts, sports and hobbies. Wives have their women friends, share jokes, talk about financial management at home- whether it is a new pair of gold earrings she managed to squeeze out of her monthly scrappings and will pay the local jeweller a small amount every month or  Cruises on the  Mediterranean, depending on whether  you are ED or EA.

Children are given ample freedom- no displinarian mom spending nights before exams and expecting star grades everytime. There is understanding that the children will grow up and take over the financial management, eitherways.

Minimalism is the mantra- from wardrobe to home decor.

Sensuality is more overt- whether navels in fields or well waxed page 3 legs.

Regular food habits are skewed towards greens and health- no oily evening snacks rule the roost
Future is today. Now is everything.

Compare this to the now defined in various ways but what we used to define as the Great Indian Middle Class.

Marriages are arranged love bondings- with couples reliving romances together in temple gardens, now malls, parks and beaches.
Husband and wife have shared passions and interests- they cannot afford to splurge on individual ones. As a result, most free time, weekends are spent together as one family unit. There is happiness in a bhelpuri snack by the beach or a Mc Donald's icecream and Aloo Tikki burger meal on a Sunday evening.
Husbands and wives, if working, put in their earnings in a joint kitty- no question on  spending on themselves. 
Children are disciplned, groomed,  coached, grilled- academics is paramount.
Future is Tomorrow. Now is temporary.

Yes there is a mix and mingle of values across all sections and demographies.

Some of us have lived out all three definitions at some point in life.
Most of my blog readers will maybe be in the EA category.

Yet sometimes I wonder... are we giving up quite a few "good values" ( for want of another term) that defined us and our parents, as we cross the line to greater heights? Do we unconsciously put "family" second stage at times and justify that it's all right- we have earned this, or this is important for my business and career?

Maybe we do, maybe we don't.
The answer lies deep within each of us.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Professor

As I walked in to the Institute where I was invited for a session, time stood still for a moment.
After 15 years, I saw some one who I respected, feared, was awestruck, and was my inspiration during my MBA days.
My professor.

It was as if things had come full circle.
I was excited, delighted and nervous at the same time.
Will he like my work?
What if there are any shortcomings....

He was there on the front row.
I began my session by saying that today I stand at the podium as a student.
Talking about advertising and marketing.
Hoping that I would be able to live up to expectations.

Things went off well.
I came back home, satisfied and happy.

Realised how we pass out and relegate our  teachers to the back bench of our memory.
How we are connected to half the world but hardly find time to drop an email to them
How we talk about our professional icons but let go of the icons that shaped us when we were mere students, with minds that were yet to be shaped with the right knowledge and thinking.

And how, in the true spirit of teaching, our teachers always shower us with the same love and warmth they had for us when we were young.
Proud of our achievements.
But never taking credit.
Not once.
Never once questioning our short memories.

I  was truly a student today.
And came back wiser and happier.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bermudas and Kurtis

Birthday parties in those days meant wearing a frilly, lacy white or pink dress.
Tailored by my mum herself or the local tailor, who would put on his thick dark rimmed glasses, slip on the snakey worn out measuring tape around his shoulders , and thumb his way through dog earred pages of "foreign" magazines where beautiful blondes posed in chic suits and little cherubic angels posed in frilly white frocks.

That was as close to fashion as we could get.
The uniqueness lay in the dexterity of mums to select the right outfit that Shombu "darzi" could muster up on his Usha sewing machine.

Then there were the "readymades" in plusher stores- if we were lucky, we would get one or two during pujas.

My first pair of jeans was extremely formal party wear.  Teamed with yet another frilly pink blouse.
Till the jeans became a more familiar sight in and around us, got paired with casual t-shirts.

College was churidars and salwars. And of course, the occasional sarees and our traditional mekhela chador.

The more fashion adventurous ones wore jeans with kurtas. Then jeans with short tops. And jeans with t-shirts. Followed by capri jeans with sleeveless t-shirts till the strict Principal   put his foot down and listed out  what is "allowed" as college wear.

Work  started off with more churidars. Common black, red and white salwars or pyjamas, and a choice of cottons and semi cotton, full sleeves, half sleeves as kurtas.

That was the time when the "bermuda" shorts made their cheeky appearance on shelves. Suddenly, young girls were wearing bermudas and tshirts for evening walks or casually at home on Sundays. Bermudas were rarely worn outside of home or locality but gave the young girls their first whiff of fashion freedom.

The short kurta or "kurti" made its shy appearance maybe 5 or 6 years ago.
Giving the Indian fashion  a facelift. And women and girls permission to  dive into "western wear"- namely jeans and kurtis.
This is the height of fashion in small towns, especially for married women and mums who had quietly folded up their "unmarried" wardrobe in the recesses of the spare Godrej almirah.

The movement is still on- it is always a process.
The latest in line of Indo western fashion fusion are "tunics" with "tights".
Belted, laced, layered, halter necked- they come in all shapes and sizes.

Fashion in mass India is truly an indicator of a change in mindset.
A sign of a sense of freedom.
A symbol of equality in relationships.

And shows that as a nation, we do not blindly adopt but redefine what we have been used to.
Like they say "make adjustments"....

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ladies Who Lunch

I have taken the liberty of expanding the net of "ladies" here to net in almost all ladies I have come across in my career, as colleagues, as research respondents , as friends and as Indian women in general.

And no, this isn't about ladies.
It is about the Lunches.

So there are the mothers who wake up at 5.30 in the morning, pack "tiffins" for the kids, make chapati, sabzi for breakfast and pack "boxes" for husband and is a whirlwind of  cooking, chopping, running to drop kid in busstop, back to cooking, packing till the clock strikes ten. Lunch for such mothers are usually alone, or a women only affair in joint families. Which means shortcuts. So a quick serving of chapatis, chawal and sabzi , dahi ( or its eastern or southern equivalent) had while listening to the favourite FM dj belting out songs or the favourite reruns on TV. In fact one of the leading FM stations even had a promo where lucky mums could win a Subway lunch for herself.

Cut to the Working Women. Lunch means picking up the packed lunch or office thali  or dabba and plonking down at the usual ring round the table with other friends at work. Nibbling off each other's food. Food complementing the lively chatter and gossip that makes the lunch hour so relaxing. Appreciating the thepla, the choclate cake slice handed generously around, the rice and bhindi ki sabzi cooked in the morning. Lunch  is a mix of food that's pot pourri, iced with laughter and fun.

Occasionally, these lunches happen out of work in a favourite joint. Food different, same liveliness and masti.

Of course, we have the Kitty Party lunches. Lucky ladies with lucky kitties. In a favourite cool joint. Where four tables have been joined together and a "Reserved" placard sits proudly amidst cut glass vases with single stemmed roses. Mexican, Chinese, Pan Asian, Indian rules the roost.   Or the best in the Fine Dining Menu.

Then we have those other Lunches where the ladies usually meet for a late lunch and discuss serious community welfare issues- maybe the next travel book they are helping edit and co-author, the Teach India sessions in Pahaganj, the blankets to be collected for the Home for the Aged. Food here fuels productive social welfare initiatives.

On certain days of the week, we have the Fast Lunches. Sabudana khichri, fruits, sweets, banana chips. Nothing else. Women who follow this  stick to this religiously. Its great tasting food as well.

And to  end on a high, we have the Great Indian Sunday Lunches. Where the wives and mothers make special dishes and the family waits with eager anticipation. Sanjeev Kapoor,  Sananda and Grihasobha recipes  dominate the table. So does the new Ready To Cook range dishes innovatively dished out- matar paneer, pindi chana, hyderabadi biryani, chicken chettinad, kashmiri rajma and more.
 The Eastern ( also rest of India but writing more from experience) sweat out the ritualistic Sunday Mutton Curry.

Lunches are indeed special- for both Homemakers and Working Women. It is a time to relax, to talk, to connect and reconnect. A time when the woman truly plays herself and not necessarily a wife or a mom.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Car Trinkets Talk!

I have observed something quite interesting.
The trinkets that people use for decorating their car dashboards, rear view mirrors speak a lot about the kind of person or family.

For instance, we have The Believers.
Images of deities.
Sometimes fresh marigold garlands.
Agarbatti smoke trailing out of the windows every morning.

Then there are the Lucky Charmers.
Latest trend is the Greek Eye chain in blue and white dangling  from the mirror.
Feng Shui reigns supreme.
So does an occasional Ganesha ( not a deity but a decoration eg Ganesha playing a guitar)

Followed by the Fragrance Lovers
Poppy Perfume bottles with their lids off are taped to the dashboard
Ivy leaf shaped fragrance sachets swing from the mirror.
AmbiPur is edged somewhere in between.

Not to miss the Flaunters.
Small teddy wearing a I Love NY T-shirt
Car sticker proudly stating  University of Stockholm
Ornate tissue boxes
Cushions of all shapes and sizes and colours
Rows of nodding puppies ( stuffed)
And more...

Finally, I noticed some Innovators.
The first to buy the latest gizmo or trinket at the traffic lights and slap the double sided tape on the dashboard.
Solar powered flowers.
Yellow chickens that nod and hop.

And yes, we all show our patriotism on Republic and Independence day with the tricolour miniatures.

Really, cars are an extension of our personalities.
( Value equation notwithstanding)
So next time some of us are out on "research", it may be a good idea to peek into the car dashboard.

Who knows what picture it may paint......

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Crisis at work? Look at Life for answers

We talk about Work Life  Balance.
We talk about strict lines between office and home.
We erect invisible and inpermeable walls in our thinking as well.

Life however is beyond Compartmentalisation.

It doles out lessons to us everyday.
So that we each have our own archive of case studies.

The best place to look for answers- whether it is a marketing roadblock, a brand insight or a team management crisis- is at ourselves.
And at Life.

So, for instance, why refer to consumers as "they" in our thinking ( and ppts)?
It's us. Even if we do not necessarily actively use a product, we have a perception of the brand.

Why struggle to manage dynamics at work?
Be as natural when it comes to actions and reactions as we are when we are at home or with friends.

Why stare at marketing jargons like "Tyranny of Choice" in today's world?
Imagine ourselves at the fish market every Sunday, doing a mental math of our wallets and a visual postcard of the delectable fish menus for the week vis a vis the budgeted outlay and how much the two can be scaled down ( or up)

You name it. Give me any big roadblock and I can guarantee that there will be an answer hidden in our archives of Life.

After all, work is a part of Life, isn't it?

We just need to be spontaneous, bring down the walls we have erected.
The answers lie within ourselves.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Small Tribute to Vishal

It seems like just yesterday when Pranav, my creative colleague told me that his friend, Vishal, had just joined our office, from Mumbai.
Actually, it was a month ago.

Maybe I was caught up with work and life.
Maybe I just push some things back.
Basically, I did not really spend any significant time welcoming a new creative colleague.

Vishal Shah. 36 years. Young, bright, extremely talented, cheerful, lived life to the full.
I regret not knowing him better.
I wish I had gone to that last client meeting where he had presented his first piece of work on the business.
And that I had added him on as a Facebook friend.
Maybe just walked across to where he  sat and shared a laugh. Or a coffee.

This is life.
We never know what surprise lies around the corner.
We are just so busy with ourselves and our own lives that we forget to take that pause.
That break where we can look around.
And share- a smile, a word... anything...

I will miss you Vishal.
And will always wish that I had known you better.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

A castle called Eldora

Once upon a time, in a castle called Eldora, there lived a beautiful princess...

This is what flashed in my mind as I walked into Eldora a year and a half back.
My new home. The drive up the winding little hillock in Hiranandani Gardens led me up to the majestic lobby and the massive wooden door.

Every room in Eldora seemed out of a dream for me. Every piece of furniture, tasteful but inexpensive, was like a gift I was eagerly waiting for. Every room was a bonus- coming from a self owned two bedroom flat, Eldora was a luxury.

But Eldora was special to me because I felt it was mine.
For the first time, inspite of being a tenant, I felt I owned every little corner, the view from the round balcony overlooking the lake, the pantry and the kitchen... just everything.

Eldora signalled for me an achievement of sorts and  as I walked in every night, I felt proud. Of myself.

And then it was time to move on. Life signalled the change I always wanted. The change I had always worked towards.

Eldora was one of hardest to leave behind.

Yet suddenly,  I did not feel any remorse. Any negativity. I almost heard Eldora whisper to me at nights- saying- Go on Princess, fly to your new world.

As I sip my coffee , I realise that positive change is a great propeller.
It makes us embrace the new and wave out the old, willingly and smilingly.
It makes us wonder how everything is momentous and what is enduring are relationships we believe in.

And how giving up things just means we are making way for the new.

 Thank you Eldora- for giving me the wings to fly.

Monday, July 4, 2011

One Year Later

It's always great to celebrate an anniversary.

Specially when it signals one of the big changes in life.

But change is not as easy as it seems.

Change for me meant more than just a goodbye email  at work.

It meant  bidding goodbye to my colleagues of ten years.
Who made Mumbai a home for me.
The office lunches, the Koolar breakfasts, the Gajalee thalis, Banyan Tree pastries.
The workstation that I made into a second home, replete with my favourite cushion and framed pictures.
The Christmas carols, the Hard Rock evenings, the occasional Blue Frog do's.
The heated debates, the midnight oils, the floods, the samosas...

Change meant looking back at the office one last time that last evening
Hoping that I would be missed
My team  taken care of....

On the eve of one year in a new office, I also remember the office I left behind
The people I said goodbye to
The office that made me who I am today


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Children Dwell in the House of Tomorrow

I write this as I watch my little girl snuggle next to me watching a movie.
Telling me I am the "bestest mother" in the world.

Remembering my  father and mother.
When my mother would come back from a Club meeting and open her handbag and dole out some tidbits she managed to stuff into her kerchief. Not that we couldn't afford a samosa and a fruit cake. But the fact that she wouldn't dream of having a samosa when she knew my sister and I loved them.

Or when my father would always declare he loved having a not so great piece of chicken.
So that my sister and I had the choicest pieces.

Or when my mother went without new sarees and shoes, so that I could buy the most expensive Economics and Management books.

Or the times when she would  spend that last fifty rupee in her wallet for my sister clamouring for a new pencil box.

I recollect times when I was unwell at night and she would wait up all night for me.
The exam days when she would sit up, half sleepy, making me tea and omelettes, so that I could study.

And then oneday we are all grown up.
Have a mind of our own.
Take pleasure in doing things we want.
Take even greater pleasure in saying things that we know will hurt them most.

As I look at Zoya, I realise that as a parent, it is just about loving.
While being firm when required.
Teaching them what we have learnt in life.
Being a guide and showing them the right direction.
Wishing them well.
And then letting go.
Mostly of expectations.

For, as Kahlil Gibran says, "You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow...."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

When Food Comes Full Circle

Life back then was very "English", as my cousins used to say.
Living in an oiltown set up by the British had touches of  the culture everywhere.
Definitely on food.

So we grew up munching "hamburgers" over a sunday evening movie in the Club, saw our mums serve roast chicken and mutton curry with equal aplomb. Our pantry shelves were lined with canned food- baked beans, sausages and sardines. The supper served at parties included soups and croissants.It was a time when puri sabzi and bacon and eggs shook hands on dining tables.

Then Guwahati happened.
Meals were mostly Indian- rice, dal, the mandatory vegetable and the special non vegetarian whenever my mother could make it. College life meant chole bhature in the canteen, aloo paratha at Kalyani, egg rolls at Feeds and oh yes- the butter chicken and naan we would treat ourselves on birthdays  at Prag.

Oh Calcutta ( Kolkata) and our Bengali cook dished up fish curries and aloo posto . Fish happened in my life like never before and at the behest of my good friend Shivaji, I also made the Sunday trip to buy fresh fish.
Gol Gappas, aloor dom, jhaal muri ruled the roost. So did the PeterCat Chelo kebab and the Prince Biryani.
The mishtis became permanent residents inside our fridge.

Mumbai  brought home a Gujrati cook who was really not a cook but managed to dish out basic stuff. Our meals were mostly chapatis and a  veg dish and dal  cooked by her coupled with maybe some sausages or cutlets from Venkys fried before dinner. She would cook in the morning and the same food would be breakfast, lunch and dinner. ( Diaries of a working woman!!!). Sundays saw me cooking Assamese fish curry and chicken.

Eating out was usually fast food or definitely only Indian and Chinese in fine dining.  And how can I forget my orders from our neighbouring Gurukripa- my daughter loved the Chicken 65 ( which I mistook for a Chinese dish)

So Mumbai was again primarily simple Indian and good Chinese and Konkani.

Finally , it's Delhi. Life  has become one euphoria of exotic roasts, pan Asian, Mediterranean, bakes, stir fries- you name it.It's like a TLC show happening live every meal.

But what I love most is the fact that everything I used to remember  from way back then has reappeared. 
Life ( and food) has come full circle.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Family First

I have to send that last email before  I leave.
Oh a brainstorm? Now? Wellll ok..
When do I reach home? Most times after nine at night.
Weekend work... of course... am always available.

That is me.
That was me.

Have made some minor alterations in life.
Like knowing when to shut the laptop and  swipe out of work.
Like  giving my little girl those precious moments every day- reading, watching her favourite show together
Or taking off on the weekend

I watch movies
I read
I walk
Even venture into the kitchen and make daring experiments

Laptop time at home is more about catching up with friends on FB
Or writing
Instead of checking, replying, forwarding, ccing, bccing emails

My family sees more of me
I see more of them
We enjoy each other's company
We have meals together
Say our goodnight prayers together

Realised that family comes first.
No matter what.

And this has made me a better person at work as well.
Coz I am happy. And  happy people are effective. Almost always.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Life's Guinea Pig

At times I used to look at Life and say- why is it that I have been chosen as the guinea pig for all trials and tribulations?
But then I realise that  each trial and every tribulation has made me richer. And stronger.

With every loss of family or friend, I have gained compassion and love from new bonds.
From every move to a new place, I have made new friends , shared passion and interests.
With every change at work, I have had newer experiences, new clients who have believed in me, old clients who have become friends.
Every role- daughter, wife, mother, companion... has taught me lessons of a lifetime.

Every tear has been wiped with a million smiles
Every sulk smeared away with laughter
Challenges have brought out strengths I never knew existed.

From bitterness, I have learnt to believe .
In Hope. Opportunities.

Thank you  Life for chosing me as the guinea pig.....

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Work to Live

Just back from a week long break.
A break from work.
A respite from responsibilities.
A rest from the daily race and pace.

I had been on many vacations before. Some for 10 days. Some for 3 weeks and more.
Yet I never really managed to switch off.
Would check my emails all the time.
Make that quick call over a coffee on a sidewalk.
Send that sms while  driving past lush meadows and chalets.
Call my maid  for telephonic  instructions  between trying out shoes in that weekend market sale.

No wonder, vacations just seemed like a longer coffee break at work.

This time was different.
Just a week.
But told myself that this was time I have earned.
And time that was solely mine.
And that the world would move on and manage very well without me.

Was difficult initially- kept checking my phone almost on rote until I boarded the flight at midnight.

But  let go soon after.
Every site and sound took on a new meaning.
Every bite seemed like heaven.
I frolicked, played, danced, swam, ate, read, walked....
Felt rejuvenated

Came back to change.
Change is a way of life today.

But this short break has made me realise that there's so much more to life than just work and ambition.
And, for the first time, I am beginning to work to live.
And not live to work.

Same words. Just a different order.
That makes all the difference.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fishy Tales

Buying fish has always been a crucial discussion and conversation point in our family.
Well, used to be.
Most of the evening small talk  between my mother and the neighbourhood aunties , as they strolled casually up and down the lanes connecting the houses, was about the rohu which Mr. Ganguly got the other day from Char Ali Bazar, or the small pabho ( pavda) that Mr. Baruah haggled for just  twenty rupees. Went on to the fish sour curry recipe and the steamed mustard secret.

My grandmother's house in Dibrugarh was by the mighty Brahmaputra and we would skip along with my father in the mornings as he went to the fish market and inspected the fresh catch, eventually  returning with a big glassy eyed fish, tomatoes, greens and ginger.

My mother would always call my sister and me when she was frying fish for the curry and give us a piece of the deep fried delicious fish with two onion rings and some ketchup.

The pieces were also carefully served up. My father would get two large and the choicest pieces. My sister and I would get the "peti" ( belly). Mother would have the tail . The guts would be fried with rice and coriander, the head with moong dal.

Kolkata saw me landing up at Gariahat market  on Sunday mornings buying fresh chingri, katla and betki.
 The betki fries served up in some of the finest diners on Park Street was to die for.

Then came Mumbai. My trust with the catch of the sea- pomfrets, surmais, rawas, gassi dishes, rawa coated fires, bombil fry, Gazalee thalis, koliwadas. Fell in love with it all.

INA Market and CR Park Delhi are my new haunts now. With my fluent Bengali , I almost pass off for one and haggle and gaggle till I get a week's stock of hilsa, prawns, rohu and the works. I have even started buying squids. Frozen fish fingers ornate my deep freezer box.

Amazing how life has such varied experience even when it comes to fish.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sunday Mutton Curry

Sunday  was mutton curry day for us when we were young.
It was a ritual of sorts.
Kamla , the help, would chop onions and grind garlic and ginger in rhytmic motions as she squatted  and sweated over the stone pestle and mortar.
The potatoes were peeled and sitting on the sink ledge, some bits of skin still clinging bravely on.

Mother would call out to my father to hurry up.
Father would amble out of the shower, hair neatly combed back, the plastic shopping bag in hand and car keys in the other.

He would walk past the garden and the chicken coop , shouting out gentle instructions to the gardener , before we heard the familiar start up rumble of the Amby.

Around one in the afternoon, the screaming pressure cooker and the accompanying stream of aroma would announce that afternoon lunch would be shortly ready.

That was a ritual that not only we, but most of the families we knew followed.

It was not the mutton that made it special.
It was the family meal.
Unlike other days, father was there at home for lunch.
There was no rush, we could savour every bite and more importantly, conversation.
Mother would be relaxed and happy.
We would be playing.
The radio would be belting out our favourite songs.

That's the difference between consumption and purchase.
The more ritualistic our consumption is, the more special the occasion becomes.

Brands that have capitalised uopn this  have had a much stronger bonding with consumers.
Like the mutton curry, these brands remain in our hearts  longer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

So little to crib about

I was cribbing about deadlines and work and late hours
I was irritated. Crabbity.
Even sulky.

Until someone asked me whether what I was going through
Was as bad as a man hanging onto the edge of a cliff, counting his last seconds and hoping for help
Or as sad as that little child who had lost both parents and longed for a loving hug
As tiring as the rickshaw puller straining at the wheels for that extra five rupees
As horrible as someone who had just lost his job
Was it even close to what the mother of the brave soldier was going through, as she remembered her little boy playing with his toy guns

I cringed
And saw how lucky I was

To have just a bad day at work to crib about.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Suitcase full of.....

There are times when I  remember ....
The favourite discoloured old tshirt I would wear at home
The flip camera my team had gifted me
The antique ashtray I had carefully carried back all the way from Bradford
My books
My pots and pans
My favourite  ladle
My daughter's old pram I never threw away
The old suitcase I had got as part of my wedding trousseau

After all, how much can one pack in a suitcase

And then I look at what I did manage to pack
Stacks of happiness
Packets full of hope
Boxes of inspiration
Labels that screamed Freedom

And then I realise that I did manage to pack what mattered most to me.
What matters most for everyone.
Almost everyone.

Friday, April 29, 2011

What Daddy Missed

My father passed away in 1984.

In those days, we had an Ambassador- a second hand one.
You didn't get car loans to buy a new car.
Anyways, even if you did, you could choose between a Fiat and an Amby.

My father was always budgeting and planning monthly expenses.
He never knew what a credit card was.
Everything had to be within what he earned.

He had no opportunity to travel by air.
Never been inside an airport even.
Vacations for us meant AC train and company guest houses.
And we felt quite privileged.

Daddy  was a cricket addict and was glued to his transistor during the test matches.
He never saw a match on a television.
We knew televisions only from Archie comics.
And English movies.

Daddy never had a passport.
Never left the shores of this country.
Never knew what a Pepsi Can was.
Never owned a cellphone.
Had no idea of what the computer was.
The only web he knew was cobwebs.

But we still had a good life.
We were connected to the world through radio and newspapers.
We called our grandparents much more.
Daddy went home every vacation.
We socialised every day.
We played, we swam, we picniced, we baked.

Sometimes I feel sad that Daddy never saw the life we are leading now.
Sometimes I feel, maybe he looks at us and feels sad.....

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Attitude. Cool. Buzzy. Masti.

These are some of the words hanging at the tip of most tongues and pens.
Most of us like to describe ourselves or people we talk about as cool and hip.

Makes me wonder. What exactly is cool?

Is it about being 'with it'?
About talking in text lingo?
Or sporting contemporary fashion?

Can a social worker be cool?
For that matter, a successful entrepreneur?

Social Networking sites have also successfully whipped and whetted our appetites to be cool.
Whether it is our updates, or pictures, or links.

Being a smart thinker can also be cool.
Achieving success at work can be very cool as well.

Age old values of love, expect, sharing, caring will always be cool.

We are only restricting ourselves by limiting the definition of cool to music, apparel, accessories, behaviour.

Being cool is about being confident.
Of who we are and what we are about.

Cool is a state of mind. Not just a state of being.
And we are all cool in our own special ways.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Perform, Not Present

Collecting my thoughts for an open house tomorrow.
On  how to be a good presenter.

Maybe worthwhile sharing it on my blog with everyone.
Would welcome your comments.

Being  brought up on a rigorous schedule of classical and folk dance, I often draw parallels between a performance and a presentation.
Both are to an audience.
Both make a point interestingly and  entertainingly.
Both have to justify the time the audience is investing.
Both are on stage, visible or invisible.

Some pointers which have always helped me present.

1. Rehearse. Many times over.
2. It's a Performance.
3. Passion Shows.
4. Energy is Infectious.
5. Connect with the Audience
6. Be a storyteller
7. The Power of Voice
8. Focus on the key point being made but make it come alive in many ways
9. Watch TED  and good orators like President Obama
10. Be  Yourself. It's your  show.

It's an art to  hold the attention of an audience.
It's important to understand who we are facing.
It's  good to take on questions confidently, and not be defensive.

Finally, humour always works.
So does creativity.

Making a presentation come alive with slides or charts can make that vital difference.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When Dettol was White

I grew up thinking Dettol was white.
And shampoos needed to be mixed in half a mug of water before usage
And skirts had to be unhemmed as you grew taller
And text books were hand me downs
And Cadbury's was a thrice a year treat.

No we were not poor
Yes my parents doted on me

But this was what the great Indian middle class was about in those days.
Working men had huge liabilities.
Mostly single income households, most men were responsible to getting their sisters and brothers  educated and married.
Money orders to parents every month was a must, they were not on pension plans.

My mother was an expert at making things last.
Whether it was our skirts, or textbooks, or every bit of a vegetable being used up deliciously.
Or changing the straps of the hawai chappals till they could be used nomore.

We were conditioned never to ask for expensive things
We were content with what we were given
If we weren't, there was no choice anyways.

We lived by value. Where Lalitaji ruled the roost with her "samajdari"

Later on in life, I realised that Dettol was not white.
My father would dilute the  Dettol in an empty bottle as he used it after his shaves regularly.
And that we could shampoo straight off the bottle.

Today, things are far better for all of us.
Our liabilities have reduced. Money orders have been replaced by annual gifts to parents.
Incomes have increased. Wives have started earning or becoming efficient home managers.

In all of this, I wonder  whether the value equation has also  changed dimension.
What does good value mean today?
It is obviously not just price and utility specific.
There is a big intangible dimension attached to every purchase, every brand.

What is this new conversation?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Why we should Twitter and FB at work

Yes, it's a waste of time and productivity to Twit and FB during work.
Or, is it?

Here's some good reasons why  it may actually increase all our efficiences.

1. Our work hours are NOT 9 to 5. We work for far longer, so there can't be "after work surfing hours".

2. Twitter is one of the  most effective ways of  staying connected to the world news and events- in real time.

3.  These sites give us insights into how the world communicates and for those of us in the business of communication, it is invaluable information

4. FB gives us that much needed coffee break of saying a hi to friends when our minds are clouded and tired

5. FB also enhances our creativity- we take great pains and put in much thought into crafting our FB updates.

6. We can use all such sites to do quick researches and get feedback in seconds. For eg: what do we think of the word "stress"

7. We get good understanding of that strange animal "youth" ( if we have "youth" friends that is)

8. Twitter is a great site for knowledge sharing and I have read some of the best marketing blogs and artciles thru Twitter

9. Finally, for our kinda work with long hours, Twitter and FB helps us stay awake and alert and happy,  as we wait for that final artwork to roll.

That's about all I could come up with- as I write this during my lunch break at work.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

My 100th Post today

Ok this is it.
My 100th post.
Started off in August last year. Wrote like crazy all of October, November. Basked in glory in December.
Swamped with work in February and  March.

This blog is for all my readers, my friends and colleagues who have praised and critiqued.
Thank you.

Here are some  invaluable learnings  in these seven months on What's Good Writing.

1. Write from the heart

2. Write for yourself, not others

3. Don't think too much about what to write. If there's an intent, the topics  emerge.

4. Accept feedback graciously. Every feedback builds.

5. Simple words and phrases help

6. Have a point of view

7. Be Bold

8. Be yourself.

When the writings are a reflection of what we strongly believe in, words flow unabashed.
And reach out to the readers in their own unique way.

Thanks everyone. Will start off on my 101th piece this weekend.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pickled in the Past

It's been a long gap.
Thought I would complete my 100th blog much earlier but still on the 97th.
Caught in the warp of work and fever and child and everything else. And passion as usual took a backseat.

Was clearing up some old pickle bottles this morning when I stopped for a moment to look at the vegetables  wrinkled up and masked with oil and spices and vinegar. These bottles had been a delightful accompaniment to many a simple meal and had tickled the palate with the tangy masala twist.

Realised that some people have also pickled themselves in the past.
Past glories, old ways of life, philosophies which they believed were right .
The preservatives of their thoughts keep them going.
And they appear at mealtimes to sit at the edge of the plate and tickle and tinge.
After all, it is far easier to be bottled up.

And then there are the others who change.
And accept. And evolve. And share. And liberate.
Their thoughts and actions.
They add colour to lives.
Become the main course in every conversation- steering the taste, the talk, the smiles and the satisfaction.

As I clunked the old pickle bottles out, I felt good that I am surrounded by people who like pickles. But does everything to avoid being pickled in the past.

Wishing everyone a happy holi.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A beautiful poem for all the beautiful women in my life

"The beauty of a woman
isn't in the clothes she wears,
The figure that she carries,
or the way she combs her hair.

The beauty of a woman
must be seen from in her eyes;
Because that's the doorway to her heart,
the place where love resides.

The beauty of a woman
isn't in a facial mole;
But true beauty in a woman,
is reflected by her soul.

It's the caring that she cares to give,
the passion that she shows;
And the beauty of a woman
with passing years only grows."

Friday, February 25, 2011

For Those Who Came In Late

Morning read of HT over my cuppa... and a familiar face of a forgotten friend pops out of a  weekend story.
It's the Phantom. Ghost who walks.

Took me down memory lane when we were young and comics were the biggest source of entertainment.

My collection consisted of Amar Chitra Kathas, Phantom, a couple of Mandrakes, some war comics ( dunno why I liked them though) and Tarzan.

Comics would make an entry when I stood first in class, on my birthday and when my uncles and aunts used to visit us. I would run  through the pages like an express train and then go back and read and reread. Would carefully script out- This comic belongs to Babita Baruah. And the date.

Because comics were borrowed and lent with ease. And sometimes never returned.

Mum would take a bunch of old comics and have them bound up into a thick volume. These were my prized possessions and I would write in big and bold," Please do not borrow". Seems a little selfish now- but those were the days.

What I earned for were the more expensive Archies,  Little Archies and of course, Tintins.  Managed to coax Mum into buying me an Archie digest once a bluemoon. Never owned a Tintin. But read all of them at Rikhi uncle's place. He was an avid Tintin fan.

What made comics tick?

The stories.
The colours.
The art.
They fuelled imagination, made us lead make believe lives when we played, transported us to a different world of rakshasas, heroes, man in the wild.

Phantom was my hero. I followed every strip I could lay my hands on.
Was sad when he married Diana. Celebrated the birth of the twins- Kit and Heloise.
I marvelled at all Phantoms being called Kit.

And wondered and wondered what Phantom looks like.
For as the old Jungle saying goes- "He who sees the Phantom's face, dies a horrible death".

These were the childhood and adolescent years.
When comics helped us lead the life of fun, adventure, friendship and camaraderie.

Today comics have lost their exalted place to newer means of reading, entertainment.
But to me and maybe a whole lot of people out there, comics will always have a special place in our bookshelves. And hearts.

Monday, February 21, 2011

On Pit Stop Efficiencies and Winning the Race

There was a time when  pit stop efficiency ruled my life.
Everything done on time, with perfection.
No room for mistakes. No fall back.
The smallest of errors can lead to losing that vital race.

Did I deliver? Yes I did.
Was I happy? Yes I was.

Happiness  can be subjective and relative.

Today, I have realised that some things have changed for the better.
Efficiencies and perfection  are still key. Both at work and at home.

But I have let go of the pit stop prowess.
So what if I spend a couple of minutes more over that coffee in the morning.
So what if I my daughter spills her water colour on my kurta just as I am about to leave for work
So what if a trip is cancelled
So what if a day  hasn't gone off as anticipated

I did not dial up or down the pit stop prowess.
I just changed my race.

Sometimes it is  just the wrong race that steers us off the path of smiles and laughter.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reclaiming Those Smiles

Seventeen years  are not just dates, minutes and seconds to be struck off a calender.

They are moments to live, friends to make and cherish, work that makes you grow , passion that makes you flourish.

Once gone, they are lost forever in the mist of time.

While we make copious lists of things and possessions to be reclaimed legally, is there a way of claiming back those lost moments.

There is none.

Makes me realise  even more than before how important it is to stop by and smell those roses, take that walk together, write that letter I have promised to write, go for  that holiday with the parents, have babies, entertain. Find time for our passion,  enjoy our work and profession, smile when we enter office everyday.

For no petition can ever restore time. And what's lost with it. We can only hope to make the best of what we have left.

This and many more thoughts cloud my mind as I look out of a foggy window into nothingness.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Personal Word to your Valentine

Valentine's Day.
Roses. Teddies. Chocolates. Bracelets. Dates.

This is the usual ritual  which   most of us, me included ( once upon a time ) follow.
And enjoy. And feel good.
And why not? It's all available in stores. Or at a drop of a hat. Or a tap of a key.
The world has changed. We all have.

But then again- isn't love all about how we feel?
Isn't it the strongest of all emotions?
Isn't V-Day that oneday when we have the permission to express our innermost deepermost feelings?

Yet we share roses with a tag written "with love" by a half literate florist's shaky hand.
A card written by a commercial writer in one corner of the world.
A teddy packed in China. Or wherever.

Are we compromising on the art of writing?
Or on the  power of words?

When was it when we wrote a long letter to our loved ones?
When was the last time we bought and wrote a personal message on a card.

For those of us in marketing and communications, the one word we keep repeating all the time is "personalization".
We keep pushing for brands to be more personalized, more human.

Isn't it time we brought in some personalization  into our lives as well?

Happy Valentine's Day everyone.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sarees and Saraswati Puja and more....

Today is Saraswati Puja.
Realised it only afer reading the FB status of my dear friend, Joyi.

Took me  many years back to a beautiful wintry day in Cotton College , Guwahati, Assam.
The day would start with  me fumbling and rumbling around Ma's "Godrej" ( which stood for all steel almirahs incidentally), pulling out saree after saree, mekhela after mekhela.
In those golden days, I was , well, not so "healthy looking", so Ma's blouses had to be quickly had altered around the arms by Ma- she hated anyone wearing loose blouses.

Finally, after a  gruelling hour of decision making and almost driving Ma up the wall, I would take the final call.

Next hour was a flurry of shower, lipsticking, mad scurry for a matching bindi and earrings, slipping on my highest heels so that I looked tall, Ma pinning up the aachal of the saree or mekhela chadar.

And then,  coated with compliments from Ma and the neighbouring aunties, I would walk down the four floors of our flat and catch the bus to Cotton College.

Oh what a  canvas ... a riot of colours.... everyone dressed in their almost  bridal best, the gates lined with pillars of banana plants and woven with auspicious mango leaves,  blarring  music from loudspeakers propped up on makeshift bamboo pillars.

And the beautifully decorated pandals with the Goddess  idol, pujari chanting the mantras.

After all the compliments from friends and the appreciating looks and stares from the "boys", we would go pandal hopping around the campus.

Each hostel would vie with each other for the best puja pandal and celebration - the students would have stayed up all night decorating,  putting up lights, dancing in the small vans while ushering the Goddess into the pandal from the idol makers.

Professors and students mingled as one.

The neighbouring girl's college would be the hive of attention, with gorgeous girls and their gorgeous wear.

Lunch would be "khichri and labra bhaji" in one of the pandals and maybe in more than one of the pandals.

Love and romance dotted the air, with  romantic couples sitting close together, sharing a meal in Feeds or Hotel Prag or Sunflower.....

Droves of girlfriends would go for a stroll down Panbazar and Fancy Bazar.

It would be late evening when I reached home.

Ma would also be back from work around the same time- so usually  our puja at home was a quick lighting of the diya in our regular  puja corner in the kitchen and Ma, my sister and me chanting ," Saraswati Saraswati, Konthe gulapi......"

There would be vegetarian dinner that night- either puri sabzi or khichri and potato fries.

As we retired for the night, I would revisit the day, the pujas, the sarees..... and wished that such days would continue in our lives.
Days that brought all our friends together
Celebrations we all revelled in
Prayers which created an atmosphere so positive that there were no foes or illwill that day

That is what religious celebrations are about.
Nothing could match up  to  the spirit of friendship and camaraderie all of us felt on this auspicious day.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Bob Parson's 16 Rules for Success

Was staring blankly at my softboard when this caught my eye.

One of the random "inspiring"  things I put up  at times...

These are the rules:
  1. Get and stay out of your comfort zone
  2. Never Give up
  3. When you're ready to quit, you're closer than you think
  4. With regard to whatever worries you,not only accept the worst thing that could happen, but make it a point to quantify what the worst thing can be
  5. Focus on what you want to have happen
  6. Take things a day at a time
  7. Always be moving forward
  8. Be quick to decide
  9. Measure everything of significance
  10. Anything that is not managed well will deteriorate
  11. Pay attention to your comeptition, but pay more attention to what you are doingt
  12. Never let anybody push you around
  13. Never expect life to be fair
  14. Solve your own problems
  15. Don't take yourself too seriously
  16. There's always a reason to smile

It's good  at times to pin up or frame or just strew around things that inspire.
Or jog good memories.
Or just lighten a day or a moment.
Makes work connect with life.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A thank you... twenty six years later....

1984. Early April. It was Elocution Day at Carmel School.
My mother was up since 5 in the morning. Making me rehearse and rehearse.

The rehearsals had started a month back.
With Ma requesting Sister Concelia to "help me" with my elocution.
Sister Concelia asked me to choose a poem I liked best. I chose "Lord Ullin's Daughter".

Every morning, I would land up in Sister Concelia's room at 645 am , where she would teach me how to modulate my voice, how to pack in emotions, how to look at the judges in the eye, how to pronounce "oowoter" ( water!)- she said it sounded much better if we stressed on the "oo".

Oneday she asked me why I had chosen such a tragic poem. I told her I liked it because Lord Ullin's daughter defied her father and everyone else to do what her heart told her to.

So that was how the month rolled by. Rehearsals at school, rehearsals at home, with Ma adding her inputs on how I should  stand up straight and not get nervous.

Finally the D-Day. Ma was a teacher in Carmel School , so was one of the selected teachers to welcome the judges. Sister Gertrude Rose gave her warm welcome speech and also sang a welcome song on her spanish guitar.

Then, the contest. I stood back stage and heard students recite and was convinced that everyone was better than me.

Heard my name announced. Said a silent prayer, clenched my slightly quaking hands and walked out.

Saw him sitting at the judges table. He was one of the judges. I  saw him only once in a while when he was back from college in Mumbai. He obviously never went beyond a nod or a hello- he was more Ma's friend, so to say. Liked talking to Ma, liked her cooking and her infectious laugh. But everytime he came over to our house, I would stare at him from behind the wooden pillars. Hoping he would say a word , or at least give me a smile.
 I was too shy to venture out from my pillar.

I must have slipped into my usual reverie for a split second. Heard Sister Gertrude Rose saying " Babita, please begin."
"Lord Ullin's Daughter. By Thomas Campbell".

.............``Come back! come back!'' he cried in grief
``Across this stormy water:
And I'll forgive your Highland chief,
My daughter!--O my daughter!........

I was the father, the daughter, the highland chief.... I could feel them as I recited, I could see the raging waters, I  trembled at the fear in her voice, and exulted in her love for the Highland Chief as she chose the stormy waters over her father's rage.....

Thanked the judges... looked at him once more.... and walked back into the wings.

Shared the nervous wait with the other contestants as the judges whispered and debated.

Stood straight on stage as Sister announced the winners.....
The voices around me blurred and dimmed till I was once again in another world, though I could see what was happening... Ma and Sister Concelia jumping up from their seats, clapping and looking at me, my friends cheering....and the voices became loud again, dragging me to the present.

I looked at him again. Why didn't he give me a smile at least? So what if he was so handsome and grown up and I was a shaky, gawky, thin, dark twelve year old? He was almost like a prince in my dreams.....

But only in my dreams.... noone knew... noone ever would....

I walked out of the auditorium, clutching my trophy....
Saw Ma  and him together. They were talking about me!
" She was really very good" I heard him say.

I slipped up to them, my breathing nearly stopping... finally he would be congratulating me....
Once again, I went unnoticed... as Ma and he talked about his college and holidays and visits and the contest..... and once again I slipped behind a pillar, this time the school stoned  pillar....

And realised that sometimes dreams  bring one closer to  people than reality...
Dreams made me happy..... and made me feel like a princess.....

Twenty Six years later, I am a princess. In my mind.
I believed in my dreams and dreams do come true.

It's time to say thank you for that trophy for Lord Ullin's  Daughter.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

One Sunday , a long time ago...

The  long wail of the siren blasts across the early morning air , waking up the inhabitants of the oil town. Including me.

It is Sunday today.

The steady creak of the wooden planks , aged with time and footsteps,  announce Ma's footsteps to the kitchen, where she would be making " bed tea" for us.

We never have it in bed, but she insists on calling it bed-tea.

The creaks sound heavier. It is my father, getting ready for work.

Well, it's a holiday but my father always make his regular rounds to the refinery on a Sunday. Much to Ma's irritation at times. Ma would rather go  to the nearby Tingri Sunday Market for vegetables, and the occasional poultry.

I can hear Ma calling out to my father for his tea, my father walking up to my bedside, can feel his lips on my forehead as he kisses me goodbye.

For some strange reason, I still keep my eyes firmly shut. It's Sunday after all.
And I like dreaming anyways. Dreaming about fantasy lands and travel and magic and miracles. I always have magical powers in my dreams.

The domestic sounds increase in intensity. My father  revving up  our old family Amby, the sound of the car backing up and driving off, Kamla the maid making beds, the rustle of the jalpai plant outside my room....

Breakfast is the usual puri and potato curry, with omelettes. Ma  asks Kamla to keep father's portion aside , warming up on  the iron stove.
The iron stove is one of the many remnants and reminicenses of the British watermarked oiltown of Digboi. A dot in the north eastern tip of Assam. My home.

I can see Ma absentmindedly playing with her food on the table and ask her what's up.

"Just thinking of all the question papers I have to set today for the second terms," she replies. Ma is a language teacher in Carmel School. She teaches my class too. Class VIII.

I know when to stay out of Ma's way when she  uses her firm voice. So I take my Enid Blyton , walk down the wooden stairway to the garden and sit under the old deodar tree. It's my favourite spot.
Where I can be unseen but can hear Ma calling out to me. Or hear my father drive up the driveway. Or my sister running around with Bimal, Kamla's son.

Time stands still. And flies at the same time, sometimes. The heat of the afternoon sun overhead tells me it's lunchtime. And Ma would be making her special mutton curry with potatoes.

The thought of it makes me hungry. I peer out towards the house, trying to catch a glimpse of Ma. Or the car. No sign of  either.

Ma must be busy making Kamla clean the house. Sunday is also  a thorough dusting, polishing day for Kamla.

The sudden call from Ma shakes me out of my usual reverie. And something in her voice tells me it's not a call for lunch.

"Your father is very late. And he hasn't called as well.  I have been trying his phone number since the last two hours. Go and try Sharma uncle's number."

I wonder why Ma sounds so worried. Father is late at times. Well never this late, I must admit. Sundays are just a one hour visit.

I spend the next one hour making calls to every number in the refinery, asking for my father. Noone has seen him.

Ma  is trying to concentrate on her papers, but I can see her worry.
Her sharp voice, calling out to Kamla or my sister, is tinged with a shaky nervousness.

Finally she can wait no more. She looks at me, hoping I nod a yes as I  furiously dial another number. All I can manage as  I look at her is a shake of head.

Ma quickly changes her saree, grabs her bag and walks  down the driveway, me in her wake.

"I am going to  the Singh's garage. Your father had mentioned that the car is giving trouble- think he is there. You stay near the phone, in case he calls."

I nod. Dumb. Not knowing what to say. I want to go with her. It's a long walk down the winding road down the hillock and a longer walk to the nearest rickshaw stand near the railway station. Everyone drove their own cars in the oiltown.

As I turn back to go inside, I feel Ma's hand on my shoulder. She gives me a quick kiss and says," Don't worry. Father is fine."

I nod again. I seem to have lost the art of conversation today.

Time crawls now. Every second is an eternity. No phonecall. I can hear the phone in his office cabin ring almost angrily, trying to tell me that there is noone around. I still keep trying. Keep whirring the numbers- 3369.

I hear a rickshaw bell and run outside. Ma pays the rickshaw wallah and looks at me, with hope." Is father back?"

I was about to ask her the same question. We look at each other in silence.

For the first time, Ma dials the numbers she knows she has to. For help. Silent tears flow freely down her face.

I stare at her. Stare at my sister, bawling away in Kamla's lap.

It is late evening. Our house is teeming with people.
Uncles. Aunties. The Police Inspector. The Oiltown Security officer. My maternal uncle from  the neighbouring township, Duliajan.

Phone ringing incessantly.
Ma talking loudly, recounting  how father had left normally for his morning visit. For the  hundredth time.

Small circles being formed on our verandah, as the senior uncles, the senior officers discuss the best ways to  search.

More phonecalls. Kamla serving tea on trays. With biscuits that remain untouched.

I am lost in the sea of people. I don't want anyone to see me.

I slip out into the darkness. To my comfort seat under the deodar tree. My fear of snakes and rats quelled temporarily by a greater fear. One that is biting me, clawing me in a tight grip.
I wish I could  slip into my usual dreams. Where magic and miracles rule and I have magical powers. Today the dreams seem to evade me. And I am a powerless little girl

I look at the last car finally driving out. Hear Ma calling me out. Her voice now laced with fear.

As I walk back into the house, the home where I grew up, surrounded by father's love and ma's care, I know that things would never be the same again.

This was Sunday. September 9th, 1984.
The day we lost our father. He never came back.

And with that day, our lives changed forever.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Of Fear and Hope

God fearing.
This was a good term. A Virtue. A descriptor that stood out and maybe swung many marriage proposals.
God fearing  automatically created perceptions of someone religious, someone who would uphold what was good and denounce what was evil.

In the days when every household began its evening studies and kitchen duties with the lighting of a lamp and incense , every family member would close their eyes for a split second at least .We were all religious. And still are.
The question is- are we God Fearing? Is God Fearing a not so good term?

My dear friend  shared a wonderful hypothesis the other day when I was downloading my fears of the dangers prowling the night streets of my new city. He said- Imagine if the people were not God Fearing. The crime rates would explode. Lot of us hold ourselves back not out of fear of the law but out of fear of God.

Food for thought.

Maybe, in today's world, fear is a negative term.
Maybe it should be God Believing.

But the conversation is the same. That the adult generation of today , most of us at least, had been brought up to believe that God loves us beyond reason but if we do wrong things, God will definitely punish us.

Households would talk about unfortunate mishaps or a not so liked person down in  the dumps of misfortune as something he/she deserved- after all God is there.

We prayed to God before our exams and never cheated.
We respected elders and touched their feet- God was in everyone.
We gave alms to the poor and the needy and   shared old toys and clothes with our household helps' children.

Our schools had Moral Science classes.
Our mothers had prasad as a first  food offering on every birthday.

We prayed before our exams, before our interview, after our interview, before our engagement, after our engagement, fasted on the wedding day, fasted later on certain auspicious days.

Even if we did not fast, some of us abstained. From non vegetarian. From alcohol.

Even if we did not abstain, we did spend an extra five minutes in the prayer room or prayer corner

Somewhere, maybe unconsciously, this religiousness does have an impact of us.

Whether it is about self control.
About not raining fury and venom.
About  not striking out in anger and frustration.
About   not breaking down in mind and body when disaster strikes.

Because, more than Fear, Religion brings Hope. Eternal hope.
That things will get better tomorrow.
That noone can be down without a blessing round the corner.

And it is this hope that propels us to a better life and to take on more challenges, as life goes by.