Thursday, August 31, 2006

Little big doubts

Yesterday my cousin sister left her three and a half year old daughter with me in the evening as she had to go to her doctor for a tetanus shot. She is in the eight month of her pregnancy. I took little Neetu for a walk in the evening. She comes over regularly after playschool and her mom picks her up in the afternoon. As we walked she asked me very casually if I would love her the same way as now after the new baby comes. I have seen this situation many times. So I answered equally casually that I don’t care about the new baby as I care only about her. Then she asked the same about my mom and I replied that my Mom, Dad and brothers, sister in law and dogs all love her and we are not taking some new baby we don’t even know and replacing her. She smiled slowly, a satisfied smile and then skipped ahead happily.

It looked like the conversation had taken away some worry that was eating into her for some time. I could not help feel a stab of anger against the parents. It didn’t look like they had prepared her for the arrival of the new baby. It was evident that the child had a lot of fears that were not addressed. Over dinner my Mom told them about the conversation and advised them that they should sit with her and talk to her about it. Neetu was evidently thinking that she was going to be replaced by a new baby. She didn’t look at the arrival of the new baby as a natural event as she was too small to understand it.

My Mom told them of a similar situation when I was born. My second brother apparently took it really hard and our neighbor, a child counselor helped a lot in repairing the damage caused by the fact that my parents didn’t prepare him for the event. They naturally assumed that like my eldest brother my second brother too would accept the new arrival without much ado. Anyways things turned out for the best as he realized that he had a little fan following er….crawling and the fan was quite harmless (:p)and his parents loved him the same.

Neetu’s parents were a bit taken aback by the conversation. As they left for home I hoped they would talk to Neetu and allay her fears.

Today Neetu’s Dad called up and thanked my Mom and me. Apparently the little tyke had an enormous amount of doubts, fears and some false notions about the impending arrival of the sibling and the parents were amazed at the fact that beneath the calm exterior lay a bubbling volcano of insecurity betrayed only by temper tantrums now and then.

I have decided that I am not even looking at the new baby…and I know from experience that the new baby wouldn’t care, at least not now. At present Neetu has our undivided attention :)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The business of education

A comment by Alexis on the last post triggered this post. In the last post I described a typical working day anecdote. Small events that sometimes make you laugh. But behind this particular event lies a sad truth that is going unnoticed by the students and parents of today.

When I joined my first job in an IT MNC purely on the merit of my track record as a copywriter, there was a rush of girls in my family in Kerala to do English, Journalism and Mass Communication. Everyone thought that my present professional status was due to me taking English. Thank god for some frantic phone calls from me, which made them change their minds.

What a lot of people didn’t realize was that I have years of reading behind me that embellished my English. I am sure most people who write English have been through the same evolution. Copywriting, Content Writing, Creative Writing like Fine Arts is a talent-based profession. And the people who are now working in the communications arena are people who can pull it off. I mean make boring technical manuals into attractive and readable brochures, make website content appealing so that a potential customer goes through it and enquires about your services leading to sales. But there are thousands of students pursuing a course in Mass Communications, English and Journalism without even knowing what it entails.

Consider this. The other day a Journalism trainee was working with the Corporate Communications team as part of her College Project. The poor girl had never read any notable authors, nor could she write a line of English properly. She was near to tears when told to make a simple bulleted ppt presentation on a PR exercise done by the Corp Comm team. Over coffee I chatted up with her. She is graduating next year from a high profile private university. What she told me appalled me. She, like many others were ‘counseled’ about the scope of taking up a ‘Journalism Course’ without even checking if this girl could write English well. She is one among the 90 odd students doing this course paying almost 2 lakhs.

Another incident: My friend runs a small design studio. When she advertised for Graphic Designers, a lot of freshers turned up. All of them had been through the Multimedia course and knew the mandatory Photoshop, Corel Draw, Dream weaver etc. As I went through the process of testing them I stumbled upon another startling fact. None of these guys were artists. All of them were regular graduates who were attracted by the thought of becoming hotshot 'Art Directors’. What they didn’t realize was that Graphic Design is for artists and these softwares is just another means to transfer their art onto the computer monitor. What’s the point of giving a paintbrush in the hand of a guy who does not even know how to draw??? These poor kids knew how to operate the software but did not know how to ‘create works of art’ with it. And they too had shelled out 50 K apiece for their courses. In companies like mine only Chithra Kala Parishad or Art graduates with a Multimedia Course are allowed in as Graphic Designers. Which leaves scores of ‘Multimedia’ students out in the cold.

Students in the non-technical streams need thorough counseling so that they take up courses suited to their skills. Regular colleges don’t bother and the private universities and institutes entice students with visions of promising careers only to fill their coffers. The result, a large amount of money wasted in useless courses. These Institutes promise placement too, which is a clever arrangement with certain companies. For example students who pass out Travel and Ticketing courses are placed with small travel agencies for a pittance. The institutes have thus honored their promise, the travel agency gets cheap labor and the student soon quits, due to the abysmally low pay.

Once my Dad remarked sarcastically looking at the mushrooming institutes, that if car washing was a paying job then we would have an “ABC Car Washing Institute, 100% placements guaranteed!”

Vocational courses are big bucks now. And no one is bothered whether you have the vocation or inclination for the course.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Proof checking?

Today I got a mail from the new trainee in our team, a bright girl, fresh out of college : It said…


Just wanted to let you know that I have completed proff chekcing of the mailers. See attachmnet.



I don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A quiver of quills

I was tagged by Jina thought I mistakenly thought it was Quills after reading her tag. Apologies Jina :) Wot to do, am growing old :p So here my tag dedicated to both of you lovely ladies :)

I am a very confident person and care two hoots about what others think except my family

I said be happy with what you have yet do not stop giving your best to everything in life

I want a world devoid of hunger

I wish that every child and dog have a loving home

I miss childhood

I hear “song sung blue”

I wonder and hence I Google

I regret nothing…yet!

I am deeply affected by human tragedies like the Tsunami, I lashed out at God and asked “Why?!” I lost a little faith when it happened. Then regained it back all over again.

I dance very well

I sing all the time

I cry at the drop of the hat. I am an expressive and demonstrative person

I am not a person who beats around the bush, am brutally frank

I write for my bread and butter and clothes, shoes, cosmetics and perfumes… :p

I confuse between Kannada and Tamil. I tend to use both while talking.

I need to have my family around.

I should stop being so friendly and open with people I meet for the first time.

I finish what I have started ...never leave things undone

I pass this on to anyone who wants to take it up.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Down under to Vailankanni and Point Calimere

Every year we go to Vailankanni in January. It is a sort of a New Year pilgrimage. My parents came here soon after they were married and then with each one of us, as we arrived. Since then we have been coming here every January. I must confess that I am addicted to this place. Apart from the visit to the shrine this place is an amazing world in itself. The whole family looks forward to the trip.

Since the beginning we have always driven down to Vailankanni as having your own transport is ideal for a family like ours, that likes to explore. The drive till Trichy is uneventful. From Trichy the sights change suddenly, as banana plantations line the road on either side of the way. Somewhere along the way, the river Kaveri joins you. It flows calmly and steadily along the way and the sight is beautiful. We always take the bypass from Trichy, which means narrow well-maintained roads via green paddy fields and more banana plantations. After you reach Thanjavur, the rice bowl of India, you enter a sea of green paddy field broken only by the narrow road. The drive is sheer pleasure and you feel you are going back in time as you rapidly leave civilization and enter a very sparsely populated agrarian region.

As you near Vailankanni, the geography changes. You can smell the sea air and the earth looks like a lumpy green blanket dotted with lots of small ponds. The bird population too changes and you see a lot of fish eating birds. The land is empty save for a few cattle grazing here and there.

There is a variety of accommodation here, our favorite is the MGM Resort bounded on three sides with green paddy fields and the main road in the front. The view from the room is breathtaking. The IT boom can be seen here too. Air Conditioned busloads of families from Kerala coming in by the hour. Last year a big family joined us as we sat with our drinks on the lawns and it became a big pot luck party. They were a group of techies from Bangalore who had joined together and taken their families from Kerala and come here. And you know when Achayans get together what happens!! Some serious vellam adi :p

An hour of driving towards the south of Vailankanni takes you to Kodikkarai also known as Point Calimere. It is bounded by Bay of Bengal on the East and Palk Straits on the South. The wildlife sanctuary here is home to bluebuck, spotted deer, wild boar, semi wild ponies, bonnet macaque, water birds like flamingoes, ibises, herons and spoonbills. Also some of the endangered reptiles like olive ridley turtles, starred tortoise, vipers and marsh crocodiles. If you go around the evening, you can see the birds returning to the beaches and scrub forests to their nests. A truly wonderful sight, and they are quite tolerant of humans.

The drive itself is a delight. You drive through a forest road with an occasional village in between and on the way you suddenly come across clearings, with the sea on both sides. The sudden appearance of the sea takes your breath away. There is intense security checking here due to the proximity to Sri Lanka. You also get to see a rock with Rama's footprint, as he is suposed to have traversed these forests during his Vanvaas.

What strikes you about this place is the for bird calls and the sounds of the sea. We stopped near a scrub forest to photograph some birds and saw an old man patiently catching small fishes for dinner in the backwater. He caught about five fishes and then folded his net and walked away. My brother who was talking to him gave him ten rupees, which he declined politely. With a straight face he told my brother that if accepts the ten rupee he will drink and hence reach home late with the fish and then his wife would beat him up :)) If you know Tamil, then you get to enjoy yet another aspect of this land…Tamil humor :)

All around you see birds, that you get to see only on Animal Planet or Discovery Channel… and silence, blessed silence all around. You feel like you are the only people on the planet.

We take the hour-long drive to Point Calimere every year. The year of the Tsunami devastation was the only time we didn’t visit Vailankanni as it was not advisable due to the outbreak of diseases. Somehow down the years, going to Vailankanni has become more than a pilgrimage. It is a time of family bonding and having our otherwise busy Dad all to ourselves. Nothing like walking with him on the beaches of Kodikkarai, listening to his gyan or just being one with Nature’s silence.

(Ideal time of year to visit:December and January)

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Sivakasi of the West

I have heard a lot of derisive comments about India and the Indian IT scene by relations who are settled in the US and are US citizens. They scoff the so-called development saying that we are the sweatshop of the West. Do I smell a hint of uneasiness or are they aware of another reality, something that I don’t see?

We have foreigners arriving at our office everyday. They are picked up from the hotel by the taxis and bought to the office. Some are our US counterparts, some are customers, some are stake holders. Sometimes the Taxis come via a circuitous route to avoid the traffic on the main road. This means going via lower class neighborhoods. Over the years I see less exclamations on the level of poverty and a more accepting attitude. As soon as they land, they are at the office and work systematically to finish their business so that they can go back as soon as possible. There is visible relief at the thought of going back. I don’t blame them. The level of pollution in the air is exhausting and the dust and grime outside can sap even the hardiest among these people. They plow through each day with methodical efficiency so that they can pack as much work as possible during their stay and go back in time. They side step dirt, overflowing sewage lines and crap like practiced veterans, ignore the filth and squalor stolidly and go back the same way they came.

Which is what makes me wonder if we really are a sweat shop of the west. I am not talking of the IT companies and the scores of people working there. I am talking of the whole set up. The rush of investments to Bangalore inspite of poor infrastructure and the resultant overcrowding, lack of basic amenities. Bangalore now reminds me of the Sivakasi, where maximum work would be extracted out of cheap labor with minimum resources. While we enjoy the firecrackers and watch the sparklers as it lights our nights with a thousand stars, we blissfully ignore the filth and squalor in which it was made. And the little children working there and their parents thank their lucky stars for the blessing of a job.

Yes, it definitely reminds me of Bangalore.

Happy Independence Day to all who stumble here...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Peddler of woes

There seems to be a war declared on humanity, by terrorists. The recent uncovering of the mass annihilation plot doesn’t surprise or shock me. What do you expect when you arm and breed terrorists for your selfish purposes and even promote terrorism in some places to meet your economic agenda? And then they express surprise when the snake they have kept as a pet bites them!!

During the US invasion of Afghanistan, the TV footage showed the terrorists handling some very sophisticated regulation army weaponry. How did arms like these and that too in such huge quantities reach these people? There is obviously a munitions industry that makes and supplies arms. Why aren’t they regulated? Why aren’t the raw material used to make arms and ammunitions regulated? If a strict worldwide embargo on Nuclear weapons can be positioned successfully, then why not for munitions?

Instead of the exhausting and costly task of using the army to fight terror why, can’t the countries of the world get together and lay down strict regulations for arms production and sales? Guess that would shut down a lot of arms factories and be a big blow to the western economies.

If an alien were observing us from up above, he would perhaps be befuddled by the species called ‘Humans’. Always fighting, killing, scheming and aggressive over territory, water, religion and just about everything. We seem to thrive on conflicts.

From what I see, it is possible to stop escalating terror if the Western democracies have the political will to do so. You can’t peddle peace and arms in the same shop.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Last week I had to go to Chennai for a day. I took the morning flight and got back by the evening flight. On the way back, the flight was crowded. I had an aisle seat, seated next to me was an elderly lady and on the window seat, sat a foreigner, a white gentleman in saffron robes. As soon as we had boarded the flight and taken our seats, the white man called for the hostess and told her in no uncertain terms that he could not sit next to a woman as it was against his dharma. He had apparently checked in late and couldn’t get a seat of his choice. He asked the hostess to either find a place for him elsewhere or shift the lady to another seat. The helpless girl looked around and could not find any seat for him nor was she able to convince any male passenger to change the seat …maybe because it was a middle seat.

The white man became rather rude and told the hostess that he could not possibly sit next to the woman. I found his behavior appalling. Then he turned to the lady in the middle seat and told her that she should respect his ‘dharma’ and find a seat elsewhere. He went on to admonish her that as an Indian she should respect his ‘brahmacharya’. The poor lady was perplexed, as she was clearly not a regular traveler and got up. By this time I had had enough and told her to sit down. But she was clearly intimidated by the white man who was looking at her like she was a worm. So I told her to sit on my seat and with vicarious glee, I took the middle seat. The sight of the young and hence more ‘sinful’ woman moving next to him incensed the white man, but my don’t-mess-with-me attitude was very evident and he refrained from making anymore noises. I had planned to ‘accidentally’ touch him if he didn’t behave himself. I put my hand on the arm rest deliberately and he shrank away from me as though I was an untouchable. He remained in that position till we landed, cowering against the window like a trapped animal. He even refused the food given because it was offered by a woman and not prepared according to his strict vegetarian beliefs. Throughout the flight he kept his gaze stolidly out of the window.

When the plane landed and came to a halt, he remained seated and waited for people to disembark lest he touch a woman while disembarking I guess. He finally got up, took his cloth bag and walked out from the front exit, ignoring the hostess who stood smiling and wishing people on the way out.

I have met some of the strangest people while flying, but this guy takes the cake er …eggless cake.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Not an ad mad world anymore

This week we had advertising agencies ‘pitching’ for our product launch in some markets abroad.

Going through each presentation, I noticed something striking. Most of the creatives presented were similar. The thoughts were similar and the approach was similar. Not a single agency impressed me. There was not a single out-of-the-box kind of thinking anywhere. I cursed the time I had wasted sitting through the patronizing presentations, the loud laughs at the weakest joke that my boss made and the ingratiating attitude to please.

Nothing much has changed I realized. People still trying to pass off shitty work with well worn platitudes and hyped up PPT presentations. In fact the hype is so arranged that when they reach the part where they show the creatives or the ads, you feel so let down… when you open those promisingly puffy Lays packet and find two and a half pieces of potato wafers. In plain words, crap packaged in glitzy materials.

Where have all the copywriters gone? In my team of seven, all seven of us are ex-copywriters. Someone rightly called the drain of advertising talent to IT companies as, ‘talent hemorrhage’.

At present there is no panacea to stop the hemorrhage. Hope the morrow brings better news for the Indian advertising scene. Till then the 'talent hemorrhage' will go on unabated.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The ‘returning’ Malayalees

There is something I have noticed amongst us Malayalees, right from the time I was as a kid. Something strange, that perplexed me very much. On our regular visits to Kerala, we would inevitably bump into a lot of NRK’s who were also down for the vacations like us. Whether it was the usual meeting at Church, weddings or visits, what struck me as strange was a refrain that was said very eagerly the moment you met an NRK. And this was “We are going back in 10 days” or a week or some number. This was perhaps the most common thing you heard from these people. It was said very eagerly, almost as if they were reassuring themselves. The reason it perplexed me was because I knew that all NRKs looked forward to visiting Kerala.

Perhaps the visit sparks off memories of realities that were theirs not so long ago and the thought of returning back to their place of employment is kind of reassuring. I don’t know. I found an interesting article today in
The Hindu. It answers my query somewhat. Any other plausible explanations?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Today I saw a couple of lovelorn earthworms, wriggling together in the throes of passion near the kitchen. I picked them up with a dustpan and placed them gently in one of the pots to carry on with whatever they were doing. Hope they give me lots of babies for my pots. Earthworms are good for the earth as they aerate the soil. My maid always looks at me oddly when I do things like these.

It was much later that it struck me that what I had done was a direct result of a lesson taken by a science teacher long time ago in school. I guess all of us have gone through the ‘earthworms are farmers friends’ kind of lessons. What is amazing is that these lessons taught to us during our school days impact our lives even today. And Teachers made a big impression on most of us.

I remember being told regularly to brush my teeth in the night, without much effect. But the day teacher started a lesson on dental hygiene I was more regular at brushing my teeth than the clock. And then lessons in Nutrition...and I finally started taking an interest in vegetables. The lesson on intestinal worms and how they are contracted, made me rabidly fanatic about washing my hands. I still do it religiously. Taking baths daily, combing hair, eating right et al…everything was influenced by lessons and teachers than by a million lectures from my Mom. Such is the power that teachers wield.

I was lucky to have some really good teachers in school. Many of them were unmarried spinsters, totally dedicated to their profession. Many are still serving, the last of the genuine teachers left in the city.

Teaching is a Penguin act. Teachers have to understand complex subjects and regurgitate it so that students understand it. Therefore it is imperative that people with the right aptitude and attitude for the profession be selected for the post. Children emulate teachers sub consciously. Good teachers make for good students and I am not talking about the subject knowledge of the teacher but other subtle things, like the way the teacher interacts with students, the respect or dignity with which he/she handless his/her students.

And lessons in matters like respect for girls etc in school, will go a long way in shaping the way young boys look at girls and women in general. Teaching and school curriculum is a huge opportunity for the government to bring in radical social changes, but how many governments are using that opportunity? Not many I am afraid.