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.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shaken and Stirred

The shock waves as the earth groaned and stirred in the wee hours of dawn shook me up.
I sat up in bed, as the building tower swayed gently, as if rocking itself back to sleep.
Small pebbles and cement-lings created a gentle shower as they soft landed on parapets.

Was I afraid? Not really.
But I did stay up for a while. Stirred by thoughts and musings.

Realised that moments like this  when the Hands of Nature sweeps across humanity, may make us lose everything we have. Everything we love.

What do I protect and run down with?

My baby girl, cash and credit cards,  mum's framed picture, my laptop, phones, water and some food for my daughter, the ashtray I bought from Venice , my new coats, what about my shoes, and my bracelet.... and i can't do without my favourite book... passport- how can I forget....

How many things can we carry? Can we even list down possessions we do not want to lose?
Will we have time to bundle and pack if someday we stand at the edge of the precipice?

And then I realised how blessed I was.
To be safe, and happy.

As I looked at my dear ones   gentle breathing in blissful sleep, I realised that the only list we need in life is
our family or dear ones around us.

Rest of the stuff- the bracelets and passports and credit cards can come and go......

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Guard Books- The Lost Art

One of my first tasks as an MT in advertising was to update the guard book.

My boss had used the thick big books with khaki pages stuck with proofs and  prints and posters to walk me through my brands. And then told me that it was my sole responsibility to update and upkeep the guardbook.

Senior client and agency member visits to the agency meant the guardbooks would get a thorough spring clean- brand new covers, repaste, dust and stack them neatly. And not just brand. We had competitive guardbooks too and language guardbooks.

Sometimes when there was a lot of work, I would just shove the prints into the book to be pasted later and would sometimes be pulled up  by my seniors- the book had to be updated, no matter what.

One day, we all became digital. Proofs were images on the screen. Artworks were images on floppies and then CDs and now uploaded on a link. Nothing physical and tangible exists anymore.

We were asked to gradually shift to digital guardbooks.

Never happened.
We got smart.
We knew that we could access the files, the jpegs whenever we wanted.

And guardbooks died a natural death.

With it we have lost connect with the history of brands.
With the landmark work our predecessors  had done.
With the way images used to be shot, laid out.
With the way copy was carefully written in an age where people loved reading copy.

I miss the guardbooks.
With their passing, maybe we have lost out on an important thing.
Pride in our past work. And pride in our heritage brands.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Between the Conference and the Coffee Table

Must admit, the idea struck me when I was reading about SRK saying that he wants Ganguly to be part of the team "in any capacity".

It's hard to  make tough choices. Especially when the choices are about people. About relationships.
And when things are not absolutely black and white. Or right or wrong. But blurred with greys and what ifs and why nots.

It's true in the workspace as well.
I may have my favourites as a senior colleague. But when it comes to a headcount choice, or a promotion, or a recognition or even a perk trip, the choice is and has to be professional. And nothing else.

Most of the disappointments come when we say- But how could he/she do this? We had such  a great relationship.
We fail to realise  that we ourselves cross the boundaries between personal and professional lives.

Here are some of my learnings on how to keep this line intact.

1. Explain key decisions and reason whys to concerned or affected people. Make them see the logic.

2. Be fair and just in both good times and bad. Sometimes we make the mistake of being too liberal in good times and ourselves wipe off the boundary line.

3. Share feedback throughout the year so that a key professional decision does not come as a bolt from the blue.

4. Make sure that the team and partners shares the same vision and goals.

5. A casual comment over a drink or a do about work with colleagues may be miscontrued as a professional decision. We need to be careful of the slips between the cup and the lip.

6. Being popular does not mean  saying yes to everyone. It means we are being unfair to those who really deserve.

If we are honest, fair and outspoken about what we believe are our goals and expectations at work, we will always manage to have that thick line between the conference and the coffee table.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Downturns Open New Floodgates of Opportunities

Have seen it all. My life has  seen more downs than ups but every downturn has led to a change which has, on hindsight, been for the better. There is a purpose in everything that strikes our lives out of sync for a while.

Sometimes we get very cosy and comfortable with status quo.
We condition our minds like Pavlovians to like what we have and to not let go.
Because we are scared of what lies around the hairpin turn.
We analyse, criticise,  witch hunt, and start  battles noone is willing to fight.

And then Opportunity reveals itself.
Things change colour. We regain confidence. Shake hands.
Realise that if we just had the confidence in Life being Fair to everyone, we would have saved everyone a whole lot of trouble.

Works for brands too.
When  a brand faces a downturn, there is myopic panic and we  end up trying to fix the wrong things.
We start blame games, roll heads, usher in change.

Sometimes, maybe, if we just pull back, we can see that it was just a signal for a better opportunity, a new innovation, a disruptive strategy, a pathbreaking creative... anything.

At the end of the day, everything happens for the better.

It is the law of life.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year Eve across 4 cities and 1 little oiltown

This was my 40th New Year Eve celebrations. Can't say I remember the first 5 , but definitely remember the rest.

Starting with Digboi- the township set up by the British for excavating and refining oil in one of the  oldest refineries in the world. New Year's Eve in Digboi in the late seventies and early eighties saw Mum and Dad dressed up for a night out at the Club. There would be a live  band, and a great supper. Digboi would hit 2-3 degrees at night, but  for the Cluber Goers, it was a night of warmth and cheer as everyone, year after after danced  the night away and wished each other a Happy New Year.

I was not part of this, so what I have painted is a recount of what Mum would  tell us  the day after, as we listened in rapt attention. We were too young to be "allowed" to these parties.

1986. First New Year Eve in Guwahati. Chandmari house. Mum, my sister and me alone. Had an early dinner, tried cheering each other up. But the spirits still sagged. Till one of us switched on Doordarshan. And we sat glued to the New year program, the songs, the acts, the jokes and the final fireworks. Brought a smile to our faces as we wished each other a great year.

This continued every year, but the choices increased. Cable TV had happened and we could switch channels and see what was happening on a  Star  Plus or a Zee TV. We could also see what was happening across the globe when we switched to a news channel.

1997. Calcutta happened. I was working on Wills, in the then HTA and as part of the team, was sent invites by the client for the Made For each Other Nights in the Clubs. Soon Tolly, CCFC, Saturday Club became our New year haunts, as we got to know more people, became more social and got invites. New year Eves in these Clubs were very "English" affairs- great hits belted out by top Indian bands, a full dance floor with couples jiving or swinging to an elegant ballroom dance,   martinis and malts flowing out of the gleaming wooden enclaves housing the bars.

2000. Mumbai. No Clubs- at least  not the ones like Tolly. New Year Eve meant paying a couple ticket for a do at a four or a five star. We would go with friends, get a good deal, sway to the now popular Bollywood numbers, oggle at a Bollywood celeb who made a last ten minute entry and disappeared soon after, rub shoulders with strangers on the packed dance floor. Food was always good- long vegetarian sections  showed the veg- non veg mix in these parts of the country. Since  there  was no entry barrier- whoever shelled out the money could join the party, sometimes it would lead to bar brawls and dance floor  revellry. It was all part of the fun. It would end with stealthy driving across lanes and gullies to avoid the ever vigilant police force arresting drunken drivers.

2010.   My first New Year Eve in the Capital City. Was wondering what it would be like.
Decided on a close family affair. Just a couple of friends and us. Grilling potato wedges and kebabs on a barbecue on the lawns.  Hugging each  other when the fireworks in the sky announced the dawn of 2011, and enjoying a simple but delicious home cooked meal. Was one of my best  New Year Eves.

Realised that  life has indeed come full circle.
And that, with time, celebrations are what we make of every moment.
Not necessarily what we pay for.