Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Little acts of kindness

Yesterday I was waiting at the end of the small road in our colony. The road leads to the main road and one has to wait a long time to cross the main road due to the packed traffic during peak hours. And then I saw a blue Santro slowing down and the driver signaled to me to cross the road. Absolutely taken aback at his gesture I drove into the main road and crossed it, stopped the bike and waved a thanks to the guy. He waved back and drove off. I was so touched with this gesture that I could only stare stupidly at his receding back!

Last week I was crossing the road in front of my house and I saw a car coming in full speed down the road. I stopped ready to turn back but the moment the car driver saw me, he slowed down, stopped and gestured to me to cross. I said a thank you and crossed the road. He drove off but he left a very grateful girl on the road.

This has happened to me several times while crossing the road on foot or on bike. People have actually stopped and given way knowing that I am waiting for a pause in the traffic to cross the road. Some have even held up traffic for pedestrians like me. And none of them tried to act fresh or over friendly. They just did their small act of kindness and moved on. I remember every single incident because it made a big impression on me. Random acts of kindness from random strangers.

Many a times I am surprised by guys holding the door open for me. People who feel that they should hold the door for a lady unlike the twits who bang the door on your face.

What makes these people so different from others? Why do some guys try to mow you down or speed up when they see you crossing the road while others slow down to help you along?

When you are so used to an insensitive and callous world, such random acts of kindness leaves lasting impressions on you! Today as I drove to office I saw an old lady trying to cross the road. I stopped the car and she smiled gratefully and crossed the road. I thought nothing of it. Then it occurred to me with a bang that I had done the same thing that others had done for me. I guess it was because I realized the difficulty of crossing a road during peak hour traffic. Perhaps it is realization of others predicaments that makes people help them, because they themselves have been in the same situation.

I hate doors being left to swing on my face. So I make sure I hold the door till it closes. It is when you put yourself in other peoples shoes that you appreciate their position. And these Samaritans who helped me cross the road or held the door open for me were such people. What makes them sensitive and the rest insensitive? Have you observed your maid servant? If she is taking home some food and finds another maid going home without food, she will give her some of hers. That’s because she has experienced days when she did not get left overs and maybe had to do with a bun or a banana.

Being kind to a fellow stranger requires great sensitivity I guess. Or maybe just observational powers and motivation. I have never understood why some people can understand other peoples predicament having been in their shoes once, while others completely miss it.

Sikh stand-up comedy anyone? Click here, here and here! Quite good! And do check out Vijai Nathan too. Links courtesy "long time reader"

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A worrying issue and a disturbing trend...

I never thought that I would ever write a post like this...ever. I feel bad about writing this, but then blogs are your vent right? So I will vent about something that has been bothering me for some time now.

When I started blogging in 2005 there were very few bloggers. Most of us minded our business and did what bloggers normally do, and that is use our blogs to write about our little problems, poke fun at managers and just about anything that we needed to speak out about. Comments were rare and none of us were bothered about comments. The comments you see at my earliest posts are recent comments. Then came 2006 and everybody and their neighbors were blogging. Some new bloggers attracted by popular blogs entered blogging to make it big. They missed the point that their blogs was not for others but for them. And the aspiring writers amongst them did not realize that, typing a few words in a blog template does not make you a writer. Popular is what popular decides. The word popular is derived from the word “people”. Period!

Amidst the sea of bloggers is an ocean of non bloggers. They read what they like. They have a mind of their own. And aspiring writers had better be aware of this. So my advice to aspiring bloggers and newbies is chill and use your space for speaking out if it helps you, like it does to me. There is nothing you can do to attract readers. They will come if your writing appeals to them!

However more than writing, there is something more important. And that is respect for fellow bloggers and an understanding of blogs. Blogs are perhaps the only space where you can shed your hypocritical social and political correctness and BE YOURSELF. None of us are perfect. We all our pet peeves, biases, prejudices, viewpoints etc. and blogs are an excellent vent for these. Moreover you connect with people going through similar experiences and get to either give or get advice or support whatever the case may be.

Now I have had more then anyone’s share of anonymous comments. Some good, most stupid. But they were anonymous and frankly a comment without an identity doesn’t matter and I have shrugged it off. There were some instances when people took pot shot at my comments at other blogs, but again in very agreeable language. But off late I am noticing many bloggers, specially (a) newbies (b) once dormant and now active (c) dormant and only commenting kind of bloggers taking on the mantle of policing the blogosphere, chiding bloggers for airing their viewpoints, attacking commenter’s virulently for their viewpoints and going around telling bloggers how good bad or downright stupid the quality of their writing is!

These are vermin’s of blogosphere and are a danger to a community that has coexisted peacefully even though they express very personal views in their blogs. The very nature of blogs requires complete respect for a bloggers blog and his right to expressing his/her views or the purpose of blogging is defeated. If you do not like a post, ignore it. If you want to disagree, do it in an agreeable way. If you think a writer is dissing India and you don’t agree, you can always say that you respect his/her views and that you had better experiences! There is no need to get personal and judge the blog and commenters as negative or complaining or anything else! Or you could blog about your optimism for India in your own blog! That is what it is about…to voice “your” views!!! (Please note India is used as an example only) Stop trying to change the bloggers mind!!

And for the critics of bloggers writing skills or English or topics I have only this to say. Just because we express ourselves in the English alphabet and “write” our viewpoints instead of saying it, doesn’t mean that we think of ourselves as Shakespeare’s or Arundhati Roys. So stop going around dissing bloggers writing skills. Would you tell a blogger bemoaning a loss in his blog that his English is pathetic and he should just shut up? Hope you get the point here.

This culture of intolerance is worrying me. I can hold my own against it. But there are many who can’t. Unlike these morons I cannot go around telling these people to ignore the morons and carry on blogging. So I am writing this post, hoping that at least one person on the verge of closing his/her blog because of the above mentioned people, will read and retract their decision.

Ever wondered whats with Chennai auto drivers? The answer is right here!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The murky depths of injured egos

I 'had' a lot of respect for Markha Butt. A respected TV Journalists with a fan following that rivaled that of some film stars. But it’s been a long time since a Kargil or an Earthquake. Photo ops are getting rarer and the lady is getting older. For someone who made a name as a field journalist, reporting news from dangerous terrains and conditions, the newsroom doesn't give her the mileage that a bunker on the border did in the past. The lady is getting fat and past glories are getting dimmer. The pleasant smile is a little tight and the lady showed a short fuse when a blogger reportedly wrote about her personal life. The result? A stung Markha decided to take the blogging community head on. Her program titled “Should blogs be regulated?” was perhaps the stupidest programs she made in her life. The program exposed her intent and quite surprisingly, the people she had handpicked to appear on the program, debunked her hysteria leaving her looking like a fool. Watch the program and see how see hops from expert to expert for support, only to be left bereft and exposed as a hysterical woman in need of a strong tranquilizer.

The forced smile and condescending laughter and nervous movements were too tale telling. This was a vendetta program! And for a vendetta program, she played her cards all wrong. Right from the experts she picked, who turned out to be very mature and level headed and well informed, to her constant and persistent attempt to elicit some kind of damning comment on bloggers left her agenda exposed! What a come down for a reporter of her repute!!

As an experienced journalist she should have waited to cool down before she launched her tirade against bloggers. Acting on the spur of the moment has its consequences. And I don’t need to spell it out. We have all learned these lessons during our teen years. Impulsiveness is best left out of the camera eye unless you are planning on committing a national faux pas. I guess her record and standing as a reputed journalist must have prevented the program from scrutiny before airing. Because no news channel worth the mention would allow such a program to go on air! I am surprised the blogging community missed this. Or perhaps that’s what they think of Markha Dutt, as an also ran not worth bothering about.

As a public persona, Markha has to get used to the public having their opinions about her. She has to get used to being written, discussed, dissed or praised. After all film stars go through it every single minute of the day. You don’t see them asking for regulation of film magazines do you!! And suggesting regulation on a medium for something as harmless a gossip, shows that the lady has been stung badly. What is pathetic is that she gave credibility to the rumors with her back lash! Sad!

But then programs like these can have repercussions in the future. The government that is trigger friendly when it comes to shooting down liberties that anyone with a couple of slogan shouting demonstrators ask for, can turn the clamps on bloggers and then many bloggers will have to shut shop, because everything and everything we write will be hauled to the courts, when threats disguised as comments don’t work!

Full video is here!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Kerala Talkies

Today is Ganesh Chaturthi. A very happy Ganesh Chaturthi to all who celebrate. The evening was replete with devotional film songs wafting in from the various small temples around my place. The songs were not too loud and strangely, makes me nostalgic. I have heard them a hundred times before. It is the same old Tamil film songs, played on special occasions, which is about 100 in a given year, melodious and soothing.

The songs remind me of my village in Kerala. My childhood holidays in Kerala are memories with the background score of songs coming over loudspeakers through the dense rubber and coconut tree growth to our house. The songs signaled a “Talkie” or a village movie theater, which is the hub of activity in the evening in an agrarian community like ours. I never saw the Talkie. I had only heard about it. Sometimes I tried to go to the terrace to see it. But all I saw was a thick carpet of coconut canopies. Sometimes a smoke spiral signaled human habitation, a kallu shaap perhaps, but I never saw the talkie. Families like ours were not supposed to go to the talkies, even if the movies were good. As a kid I never understood this unwritten rule of an agrarian community.

Every week the posters at the small shops in the village changed. Many of them had an “A” written on them. I wondered what the "A" meant. The posters were usually white with outlines of women in what looked like towel wrapped around them. However many of the posters were of old Malayalam movies or flop films of superstars. A small theater I guess could not afford anything else. Whatever the movie, come evening the workers would excitedly gather around the well to wash and discuss going to the movies. I envied them and often asked my grandma and uncles and aunts why we couldn’t also go to the talkies. My grandma would snort and call out “Leelamme, look what your daughter wants to do”. My dad’s mother on the other hand, would chuckle and say that the movie theater was for very poor people and you had to sit on the mud floor and watch. She would then distract me with something. Both grandmas were poles apart as the families.

The talkies fascinated me. The music reverberating from them was soothing in the misty evening air. It could be heard when we were frolicking in the thodu too. And its invisibility gave it its aura of mystery. I imagined it be a Church fair kind of setting. From the kids of the ladies who worked in the house, I gathered that it was a fun place. From them I heard that watching “family” movies in a talkie was fun. Most of the people knew each other and the camaraderie made the movie more enjoyable. After the movies, sometimes the ladies too joined the men for some kallu. Moments of great contentment and satisfaction in the lives of these simple people.

I wish I could go to a talkie and watch a good movie, the kind women went to. It is still a mystery place for me. Maybe I will come back with all the myths in my head busted. Maybe not. But I know for a fact that it was a happy place for many people in the past and even today.

Monday, September 01, 2008

The subtle art of time management

There is a small group of people found in every office that I admire. These are not your super achievers or diligent workers but people who have nothing to do but know how to look busy without anyone suspecting a thing. They spend their weekdays doing more or less nothing but convince everyone that they are putting as much effort and doing as many tasks as others. Even their Managers think they are doing hell of a lot and think twice before giving them “more” tasks to do. Sometimes I wonder how that happens as I for instance know what every billable minute my subordinates are doing.

My department consisting of product managers, has one marketing and communications manager (yours truly) and one training manager ( RP). Now RP sits in Delhi and has two people under her here in Bangalore. Both the girls sit next to me and I see them while away their time, talking on the phone (VOIP) and putting in barely an hour of work every day. My team consisting of three people is almost always totally working with their nose to the grindstone so that we can go home at 6pm, the mandatory requirement in our office. Weekend work is also not permitted. So we “actually” work every single second of the eight working hours in a day.

It can be argued that we have much more work doing various marketing activities for the eight product managers, while RP has to only schedule and coordinate the training activities with the training vendors. But then both the girls are champions in appearing busy. I noticed something about them that makes me admire them even more. Both have a lot of time in their hands. Hence both have scheduled the few tasks they have, to fit the working hours in a day. They then go about it leisurely, taking in a break here and there to fill in the gaps.

For example M, one of the gals was told to give the complete details of the August 2008 trainings she was in charge of. Since the training is done by training vendors like Aptech and NIIT, all she had to do was ask them for their Excels, put them in a master Excel and send them across. She took a weeks time from her Manager to do what could be done in an hour, citing various factors that require time like calling up vendors, following up with them for the latest training lists etc etc. Thus she made heavy duty of a simple task and won herself one whole week of legitimate time that she showed as productive time. Bravo!!!

Now I am beginning to notice other people in this category too. All of them know how to spread their meager work across the eight work hours and thus look like they are working every single minute like the others. What the Managers don’t notice is that the amount of work that is put in. They calculate finished tasks!!

Hats off to all you people who manage to pull this off. You save endless acrimony for no fault of yours. Everyone cannot have the same work load. But people resent those with less work getting the same amount of pay. People like M with their “time management” skills tend to remove this area of friction by their tactics. This actually makes for fewer tensions at the work place!!

But there is a flip side to this too. It was with amusement that I read the mail sent to me by RP asking if someone from my team could lend a helping hand to one of her girls. According to RP, her girls were “very busy”. The mail was cc’ed to the Boss. I replied to the mail with an Excel sheet which showed minute by minute the various tasks my team mates were doing...just to show that I couldn’t spare anyone. RP was shaken when Boss followed up that reply with a demand for the same kind of details from RP. A week later she submitted her Excel Sheet and I read with growing admiration as she put the measly tasks that her teams had to do as a war exercise. Here is an example:

M – Work Schedule for this week
Complete Training Schedule of August 2008 for IT and Developers
Work Started Aug 25th. Task completed Aug 29th.
Details: Coordinating with Vendors for lists, Follow ups, Clarifications, Correcting errors, Matching names, emails, phone number etc, Instructor bios etc etc etc…

Boss replied curtly that she would have to manage her team mates work within the resources allocated her and that’s all he could do. RP heaved a sigh of relief. She learned a lesson not to open a can of worms she cannot handle, and I thanked my stars that I wouldn’t have to contend with my people grumbling about RP’s people having less work. We all went back to our routines and peace was back in our lives. I think a lot of us have to learn that work is not all about completing tasks admirably and adding to the profits of your company. It is also about accepting certain indigestible differences at work place and swallowing it for the greater good of our sanity!

Have a nice week folks.