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“If you are not an idealist by the time you are twenty you have no heart, but if you are still an idealist by the time you are thirty, you don't have a head” Randolph Bourne.

For the last month or so, the idea of corruption and my own position on it, has been playing on in my mind. I have to admit that the quote above reflects to a great extent where I am today as I have three more years to hit forty. I grew up as an idealist, and a very hardcore one at that. The values I imbibed while at school and home were nothing short of being so. Smiles and happiness used to glow on me, while I read lessons related to Mahatma Gandhi or Swami Vivekananda or Martin Luther King. Another lesson I remember was that of Raja Harishchandra which left an indelible mark on me. In all those formative years, growing up in the era of Ramayana and Mahabharata on TV, it was always about either right or wrong. I do not remember of a time when my teachers or parents, taught me about shades of grey. The discussion never ended with – “It depends”!

I wept inconsolably when I was not selected for the under-12 state zonal cricket team, saying things were not fair. I would have walked a distance of around 4 kilometers weeping. The exams one faced at school was all about meritocracy. There was a genuine admiration for friends who stood first or did well, and that respect stays even till today. I wish to believe that during graduation and post graduation this attitude to fairness remained unchanged. There were a few incidents during that phase which reflected this trait. However going into details of that may not serve any purpose here.

But while my own thoughts remained unchanged during that phase (1993 – 2002), I was being exposed to a world which was clearly not a reflection of the text books. My journeys from Trivandrum to Delhi in train spread over 3 days, and the interactions seen with the Train Ticket Examiners (TTEs) were a case in point. I remember having returned from a cinema house in RK Puram, New Delhi, since I was not prepared to buy the ticket in “black”. On another occasion I had a strong discussion with my ethics teacher to re-emphasize my point that “the end does not justify the means and the means is equally important.” There was pride and conviction in what I used to think and how I used to behave.

I entered corporate life in 2002 and in a way also encountered the bigger world beyond the term exams and classes. I believe India also underwent a rapid change. Access to capital improved and many more people got exposed to the changes happening globally. One could not even cling on to the communist ideology since it had long collapsed in Russia and East Europe! I believe living in a different world, made me make some adjustments. However it was never a conscious attempt to remodel oneself. It was more a case of flowing with the environment around you, and making things happen. When I look back, it seems to have slowly developed into the “end justifying the means” attitude. We are all working for the greater good of humanity, and in that process one needs to make a few adjustments, may be give into worldly temptations, and turn a blind eye to certain things.  Perfectly fine since we all know we have the good and only the good in mind! (may be for “ourselves” more and for others a little less) And probably the issue seems to be that everyone thinks the same way and there seems to be no absolute good or bad!

So as things churned through the last 10 years, I realize that I have a mind which is different from what it used to be years back. I suddenly realize that there is a problem when I want to tell or teach my kids, the difference between good and bad. (Without using the word “it depends” of course) I realize that I would like to get things done in a faster way rather than necessarily the righteous way. So when I see the world around me, with the things happening with spot fixing, corruption scandals etc, I do want to react, but I suddenly feel that I do not have the conviction or power in my voice to react as I used to have years back. Over a period of time, I feel I have become confused as to what is right and what is wrong in the context of the nation and the world as it is today!

But YES, I want to go back to as close as to when I was an Idealist, but I know it is going to be far tougher than what many of us think! But I believe I need to start somewhere! And that is where the dilemma begins.

Role Models – My Seniors and Peers…

Since I did not have an elder brother or sister, the role models when I grew up were mostly my seniors and peers. I am talking of a time when there was one TV in a colony and that too courtesy, the Asiad of 1982 when “Appu” reigned supreme. And hence, there was very little exposure to role models beyond the immediate milieu in the form of superstars like we have today.

While studying at my school I used to scamper on to the ground after having a 5 minute lunch, not to miss seeing my seniors play cricket with a make shift bat and a tree as the wicket. Once I had just come back from a visit to my native place, and argued with my parents to ensure that I was on time to go to school just at the nick of lunch time. This was to see my heroes play football in a crowded field! Incidentally I was hit on my right arm by a hard hit swirling football that day, and had to live with a dislocated wrist for the next one month!

While growing up I even started running with a forward angled shoulder just because the senior who was the best in running did that. Then there were the famous dialogues of Dr Faustus. This oft repeated declamation was another attraction to me, and I have practiced this in front of a mirror and closed doors, as I had seen my senior deliver the performance and the audience hearing with rapt attention. I tried doing the same speech in a later competition, thinking I had perfected my senior’s skills but realized the perils of aspirations without adequate competencies.

My peers were another big source of inspiration for me. I remember having changed my handwriting while at school at least twice trying to copy the style of two of my classmates, which I liked. At times, even for dressing etiquettes, there were influences of my peers and seniors. I have at times used the old sling bag, the kolhapuri chappals and the Carona canvas shoe in a certain way, wanting to copy people I saw near me.

I think this trend of imitation based on your seniors and peers, stopped sometime in college, and when external mass media started to have a more deepening influence in my life. This could also be attributable to the lesser age gaps between batches at college and the fact that we had also grownup into adults by then with numerous inhibitions. But to think and recognize that our seniors and peers have been indelible influences when we grew up is remarkable. And like me, there would be numerous others who would have been influenced as well. To think that I myself would have been a role model to many (in whatever way), imparts a greater significance of the roles all of us play while growing up.  It will be interesting to talk to my daughter and find out whether the same streams of thought flow in her mind as well or does the current generation only look at global role models and heroes.

Re-discovering Running...

After running my first Marathon at Mumbai on January 20, 2013 in 4 hours 2 minutes, I had an obvious topic for the blog. Write about the Marathon itself and how I measured up to the challenge. However what interested me more was not that run itself, but the process leading up to that. In the midst of unheralded excitement, many forget the hard work, the motivations and friends who were instrumental in this journey. This article is a snapshot of what transpired in the last one year!

While I have not taken permission from my friends to use their names, I am sure they would not mind the references here. The story probably starts in November 2011. During a visit to London, I was having dinner at Canary Wharf with some of my friends – Vinod, Akhilesh, his wife Meenakshi and my brother Rajan. Amongst many other things, we also chatted about one of our friends, Sreeram, who could not join the dinner.  The discussion veered towards his running, and his passion for mountain climbing etc. He would have done numerous Marathons in the last 7-8 years and was obviously somebody I was proud of mentioning to people when the topic of marathons used to arise! During that discussion, Meenakshi too mentioned of how she was coaxed into doing the Amsterdam marathon, and she ended up doing it successfully in 5 odd hours. This was not akin to any Eureka moment, but I think it set a few cells in my brain thinking about running. The obvious inference was that, there were mortals like me, capable of successfully doing this.

A few thoughts which came to me after that were the following – My own antecedents in athletics while at school and college, were not something to be forgotten about and the fact that I had continued to be in touch with sports in various forms could help in this initiative. The other important thing was having tangible goals in hobbies or activities you pursue. Going to the gym or playing badminton or casual swimming (all of which I had done in the recent few years) resulted in nothing tangible in terms of results apart from the fact that all of it keeps one fit. I was more in interested in something, where there was a finite sense of achievement, which say running a 10 K had. Many would disagree with this approach, but this is a personal view which influences me in many things. Anyways the result was that I decided to try running as an activity, even though I was never a fan and found this to be really monotonous. (in other words a big bore)

So one of the first things, I did was to share this whole concept with my wife Pavithra. I guess at that point in time, she felt it was probably one of my new addictions which I would give a pass after some time. She readily agreed when I said that I wanted to buy a new running shoe. We went to the Adidas showroom and bought a shoe which cost around Rs 5000. It is another story that a discount sale started 3 weeks later where the same shoe was sold at Rs 3000 or so! In December, I also found out the existence of a running group in Pune called Pune Running through facebook and happily enrolled for a 10 K event around the end of that month. With very limited practice, laziness in getting up for a training run and inhibitions of running on road, I could do the 10 K in a time of 1 hour 3 minutes by end of December’11.

From January’12 I started running with the Pune Running group every Sunday at the Pune University. One of the first things I realized was that running was not a simple activity contrary to my initial impressions. There was diversity in people and thoughts, diversity in opinions and views, and diversity in gadgets and shoes! A few of the things I quickly saw around and invested in before I started running 10 K confidently were the following – A Garmin forerunner 305 (~GBP 135), a few dry-fit shorts and tees. For the un-initiated a Garmin forerunner is a watch with a patented technology which locks onto satellites and gives you data like distance, speed, calories and elevation! After your run, you load this data on to your lap top and analyze your runs! (LOL!!!)  The dri-fit material is nothing but polyster fabric, which supposedly dries faster and keeps your body dry through the tremendous challenges you encounter while running. Wasn’t this the same material which we instinctively disliked while growing up!  The Garmin which I bought had Pavithra’s attention aroused about my new hobby. Why on earth would one need such an expensive watch for running was her question. The line of argument continues to, whether the Africans and the other elite runners had Garmins to achieve their incredible feats. It is usually wiser not to argue in such situations and I persisted with that tactical line.

While months passed, my discipline for training also increased. Throughout the last year, the normal time I would wake up was around 5.30 am and on Sundays it would be 5 am. To put the discipline in perspective, I don’t think I have missed out on the long run (for me a run of say 10-20 kms or more) on a Sunday except while I was travelling. With a keenness to show off to people around, I can recount of occasions when I did this at the Cubbon Park in Bangalore once, and another time at the Valentine’s park in London. On weekdays, much to the irritation of my family for making noises during early morning finding my running accessories, I religiously used to go for those lonely runs during the summer and the monsoon. Looking back I think the best part was running with the Pune running group and the people I got to know. Amongst so many of them, was Milind whose discipline rubbed off on me to a great extent and we did a few practice runs together. Right from seeing people who ran the absurd 80 plus kilometers at the Comrades, to listening to tales of people who cycled from one city to another, it all added up in the form of motivation to at least move beyond the 10 K mark.

Slowly I was growing in confidence, and started doing the half marathons. The first official half marathon was a 2.04 effort in August’12 at the flyover-ridden Hyderabad half marathon. Later I did the Pune half marathon in December’12 in 1 hours 50 minutes. I did two more things along with my running, which I thought could help me with the running performance. I went for a yoga course for a month in November which I believe helped me stretch quite a bit and also added flexibility to my body. Along with that since August’12, I also decided to increase my protein intake to strengthen my muscles. Being a vegetarian and also not a great lover of food, I needed to make a significant effort in that direction. This meant consuming a few egg whites daily and seeking the aid of whey proteins available in the market. During the course of training I also found out about 2 other aspects – One, the weight of the shoes matter, which in turn led me to searching shoes on the net and buying a lighter 198 gram Hyperspeed 5 from Asics. The second aspect was the use of energy gels. During one of my trips I came across the SIS Go Gel in a London store and later ordered more of the same through the internet. The gel gives your bursts of speed which helps you run better especially towards the last segment of your HM or FM.

Along the way I need to mention that my child hood friend Anand did some excellent analysis from my Garmin data, and gave me those critical inputs during the last few months to the run up of the Mumbai marathon. The fact that he had run a good sub 4 hour marathon some years back in the US was helpful in addition.  During the last one month, in a period called the “taper” the mind was more at work than the body negotiating the challenges of a 42 km run. The facebook had a big role to play in the run, since this gave the space to inform your friends, and in turn invited some likes and comments, which I used to construe as great motivational factors!

I realize that inspite of having written so much, there are a lot more details and specifics that a runner can write about. That is probably a topic for a more subject specific write up! (if I ever join that bandwagon) However in a nut shell, this is what I did in the last one year – Woke up quite early every other day, trained quite a bit, did a lot of running related internet searches, listened to a lot of gyan, spent a lot of money, and then successfully ran the MARATHON!

(One site lists the percentage of US population which has run a marathon as 0.5% and assuming it stays the same globally as well, I think it was indeed a good effortJ)

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Desiboyz...

I have 2 brothers, which meant that I grew up in a male dominant (in terms of numbers) family, went to a boys school, studied Mechanical engineering and probably, the rest of the story was more or less predictable. I am sure many of us do have similar pathways in life. Looking back, at least in school I think it was always the “he” which was talked about, since that was the world we knew. This in hindsight led to many nice, funny instances which I could laugh at now.

If there was a guy who knew a girl, that would have been the end of it. He would be ragged till he actually starts believing that there was some cosmic connection between him and her. Tuitions with a mixed class were a welcome change to spending hours and years in an all boys set up. It was a good opportunity for the boys to impress them with their knowledge of calculus or literature or the carbon rings. Speaking about literature, it always made a difference to be a good speaker or have the correct accent! At Loyola, the annual basket ball tournament gave another occasion for the show off. There were a few schools which were regulars in the tournament. Unfortunately Holy Angels being a girl’s school never participated in the tournament. (we would wish to believe it was their loss!) Amongst the others, St Joseph’s and Christ Nagar did play well, but hardly had any value to many of us since they were boys’ schools as well. In those days there were a few schools were co-education was practiced and St Thomas was one of them. Apart from the fact that they had a very good team, the co-ed factor also made them pretty popular at Loyola. Not that we had a girls tournament, but it was probably the only chance of seeing some girls in our campus cheering for their team. Unfortunately unlike cricket, basketball is a game which gets over in forty minutes. (as a game I could never master nor play to any amount of proficiency, I always used to envy our team who were treated like stars in front of the home crowd)I remember in the 11th or 12th standard, since our team got into the St.Thomas trophy finals, we went along as cheer leaders for the team. One of those small thrills in life! Call it the NBA or the ‘crowd’ influence, I would think that many in our team would have tried to dunk the basketball, though it was physically impossible given the heights.

We were the first batch of the 11th standard at school and one of the discussions centered on whether we will have co-education introduced in those classes or not. It probably was an informal talk, but is worth mentioning in the context. In any case Loyola decided to be a boy’s only school and we all thought that it was the only and right way. At college too (specific to Mechanical Engineering), the boys only attitude meant that very little interaction happened with the girls and it was the familiar “Indian crab” story whenever some guy tried to talk to a girl. Everyone joined in pulling his leg so much that, in most cases nobody dared to pass anything beyond a smile to the girl you know. Some did develop the escape velocity in spite of all the challenges and as they say, the rest was history.

However as we grew up, many went abroad and to other cities for higher studies. Interaction with the fairer sex became a normal thing, but I believe it would have taken some effort to shed the traits since childhood. But the boys tag still remained etched so much so that my wife still feels that I behave with a boyish mentality. And similarly one more thing has happened. As we all grew up, the same girls we knew at school or college, have in some way re-connected through social networking sites like the facebook. It is wonderful to see all of them come a long way, preparing the next generation to face the world. But I am sure they too would have their own impression of us “boys” if they were to rewind to some 15 -20 years back.

While I did mention about what my wife thinks about me, the other fact that I never would have imagined is that I am now a father of two very beautiful daughters. That makes it a three-some for life. Probably making up for those lost moments while growing up! However at least for them, with the changes which have happened, they would grow in a mixed environment rather than in an all boys or all girls set up avoiding the situations we were in. And I believe, they would develop as better human beings as well.


ps – Not for a moment repenting the fact that I studied in a predominantly boys environmentJ Cheers!

I came across this article at the First Post (http://www.firstpost.com/politics/mr-nilekani-can-you-now-feel-team-anna%e2%80%99s-frustration-151494.html?utm_source=MC_TOP_WIDGE) and my thoughts wandered through this specific issue as well as things we see in corporate life. The First Post article is written in the form of a letter to Nandan Nilekani and is against the background of the parliamentary committee rejecting the UID bill. If you have been following the Indian media in the recent past, there have been many news items which have been floating around saying how different interest groups and people inside the government like Chidambaram and other departments have been trying to find faults with the process of the Aadhar initiative. Come to think of it, here is a man who quit a charming corporate life to take on a job which has never been done before. He is supposed to have had the backing of some of the most powerful people including the PM and the Madam. Inspite of all this support and fanfare, this initiative seems to have got stuck in the age-old issue of bureaucracy and political connivances.  At the same time, as the First Post article points out, Nandan Nilekani was one of the most vocal proponents of this very government ridiculing Anna Hazare for the methodology followed in the fight against corruption. That indeed is a different matter and needs to be seen with respect to the job he is in.

As I see it, either in the example quoted above or in corporate decision making, there are many who come with positive energy wanting to make a change. Or go into areas where none has ventured before. Mostly these are people with a positive thought and with utmost integrity trying to make things work despite numerous failed examples. Let us call this person the “believer”. The typical way it works is as follows – The believer does all the ground work and puts together a proposal after immense efforts. This is presented amongst a group of stake holders, some directly responsible and others with no perceptible or non-perceptible interest in the initiative. Yet while the presentation goes on, it is the latter group which raises the doubts citing some third hand information. Finally it is decided that the believer needs to do some more detailing and then come back with a new proposal. This becomes a circular task and finally the believer gives up saying “Mera Baap ka kya jaata hai”. Has anyone gained? This could be very familiar in the corporate world as well when anyone tries to initiate new things. You can always count on the trusted few to come up with “meaningful” suggestions which in reality gives the believer umpteen opportunities to climb new peaks of difficulties. One of my previous bosses, used to tell me that we should still try to work towards the change even if it is going to be a long haul with many difficulties. What matters is “what is best for the company.”

Coming back to the Nandan story, given his Infosys experience, he will take it as a challenge and put in his best till there comes a time when he will just walk out! To conclude, I find this is a little sad, since in any situation it is the people or the company at large which misses out on the benefits of these initiatives and not to mention the services of the people behind it. But who cares?

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School Admissions...

On Saturday, we went to the Indira National School to get my elder daughter, Sharanya enrolled in the 1st standard. Pavithra and my dad came along with me. I could not miss the faint memories (a few passed on to me), some 33 years back when my father took me for an interview at the Loyola School, Trivandrum in a Vijay scooter.  The taste of “narenga vellam” round the corner in Sreekariyam was to stay with me for the next 14 years. The admissions were for LKG and the day was about, how a dream of my parents got fulfilled by the very act of my getting admission in the school.

For the last couple of years, in Mumbai and now in Pune, we have been going through the motion of putting our daughter at school. However one significant thing I have noticed is that given a certain level of education being offered at shortlisted schools, convenience and style of education over rides everything else. This may be something specific to me, but I believe there would be more who would vouch for the same. No longer is the burning ambition of a parent to send their kid, for a 40 minute drive to the school which is seemingly the best and has all the relevant history associated with it. I am not for a minute saying that admissions are easily available, but so was the case 33 years ago when my parents wanted me to be enrolled in the “best” school available at Trivandrum.

What could be the reasons for this change in desire of parents? I believe that each group of people (meaning a family) goes through a generational change wherein their needs and desires undergo transitions. For example, for my father coming from a family of nine siblings, working in a prestigious government organization was a considerable leap in faith. This was especially satisfying after having struggled all the way to educate himself despite considerable lack of resources in the family. And for him, getting his sons educated and doing well in life was a burning desire. So much so that many a time, all that mattered was to give first priority to the education of his children keeping everything else in abeyance. Hence in a way we grew up oblivious to the factors which made him think in a particular way.

Today, having seen more of the world, the opportunities which have increased multifold, we are much more confident of what our kids can do. If not science, there is always an arts which can make your kid successful. Hence probably the imperative of enrolling your children in the best school in town does not exist. In the last 10 years, there are more schools around (thanks to commercialization too!) which means that going to a nearby school and having a decent education is very much possible. Finally there is a view which has been with me for some years now; Life is in fact a journey which is not in the least influenced by the rank you got in first standard. Nor is it about the first job you got. I have come across people who have been considered mediocre and their tryst with a perceptibly superior performance happened say in their 40s. If one were to consider life as a journey and success measurable over a period of time, say 50 years, then your child’s admission for the 1st standard probably fades into triviality…though some may not agree!

The weight of a comparison...

In India it will take 50 years...In India, the politicians will never allow it to happen...In India, nobody has traffic sense...Compared to US, in India...Compared to China, in India...I sometimes shudder to think, why India is one of the most closely scrutinised objects amongst the non resident Indians. We teach our children not to get into the comparison game, because each one is endowed with unique traits and characteristics. As humans, while we sometimes start to compare, we tend to conclude looking at our positives and give ourselves the benefit of doubt. Yet, when it comes to India, we are "critically" critical.

I noticed this while living in China as a non resident Indian. Add to this is the fact that India and China are supposedly fighting a race to gain supremacy in all spheres. But I believe this is not to do with China alone. Looking at some of the comments on sites like facebook, and discussions amongst people who live outside India across the world, it looks to me that a significant part of the conversation is around what is lacking in India. Or atleast that is what gets expressed and probably the goodness is never talked about. Or is it a way of laughing at ourselves? I do not think so, seeing the passion with which conversations are debated against the inadequecies of India. Solutions are freely shared in the form of transferring the good practices of say US or China to India. Simple!

I do not for a minute think that these people are not patriotic. It is probably a mindset which starts developing when one sees India from a outside in view. A case of "one size fits all" syndrome. This is quite a prejudiced way of looking at a heterogenous and growing country like India. Similar to the way we evaluate our children and ourselves, we need to accept the fact that India is in the midst of transformation and all the chaos may not be bad. This does not approve of the India as it exists. Of course we need to develop faster, making it more prosperous. We do want India to evolve into a nation where poverty does not exist, no child is illiterate and people do not die due to lack of healthcare. However achieving this will be a process and will not happen overnight. We need to realise that we have chosen to follow a democracy where each section's voice needs to be heard. The unfortunate part of the situation is that most of people are contend to giving views and solutions without really attempting to make a difference. While a revolution is not practical for most of the population, small efforts could possibly add up to the bigger picture of change.

However the current state means that we will continue to develop but there will be no quick fixes. We need to allow for the diversity in opinion which many a time will create hurdles in the path of development. One of the other oft repeated views from people I meet, is to follow a system like China where decisions are taken and implemented by a group of people. And this they say is the only way to govern a nation of 1 billion people. Without getting into the pros and cons of a communist (read dictatorship) form of government, I feel this is an easy statement to make because, firstly we have not lived under a dictatorship, secondly we discount the China of pre-1978 which was poorer than India and thirdly in hindsight the experiment in China has been successful. It need not be a remedy for India. Dr Manmohan Singh had this to say in his interview with Fareed Zakaria on his show "Fareed Zakaria GPS" telecast on November 22, 2009 prior to his visit to Washington - "...they are struck by the energy with which the Chinese are both building infrastructure, the ease with which you can set up businesses. And they wish that they could see a similar process in India. Well, I have no hesitation in saying that I think development in India cannot be a carbon copy of what happens in China. And the Chinese system is very different. We are a functioning democracy. And even if you want to acquire land, I think you run into serious problems, and there's for -- of operating a democracy. And democracy is slow-moving." This statement from a person whom people across the spectrum respect and admire, hits the issue at its roots. On the other hand, it will be unfair to compare US or Europe to India. While India will continue to progress, it will not be a painless progress.

So does that mean one needs to accept the status quo and be part of the frequently said phrase..."We are like this only"? Perhaps yes, but without the cynicsm. An understanding of the current reality of India, be proud of the achievements until now and the difficult path into the future. This is not a reasoning for the state of things, but a reality check wherein more efforts need to be put to perform in the model of governance we have chosen. While we need to benchmark ourselves against the best, not having a carbon copy should not be deemed as failure.

Till then, I have to agree with what the noted historian and scholar Ramachandra Guha said "It is only the non resident Indians who want India to be a super power"..."not the residents themselves..." Such is the weight of a comparison!

THE GOD

The world was truly blessed with what they saw yesterday. Around 40 years of ODIs and 2500 plus matches...Alas we had the first man on planet earth reaching the almost inaccessible milestone of 200 runs in One day cricket!

On my visit to Australia in 2003, a taxi driver chirply remarked, in India you have four gods - Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma...and I waited for what the fourth will be...Tendulkar! I could not have agreed with him more. I would have mentioned this to people many times. One of the reasons why India is united is because of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. His innings yesterday effectively ended the debate of whether Ricky Ponting is better than him. 47 test centuries, 46 ODI centuries, and over 20 years of International cricket. Amazing...

Honestly in the last few years, while I knew Sachin will go on to score many more runs and centuries, I never imagined him being the guy to get to the 200 barrier. But god lives by his rules! Yesterday's innings was a master piece that by the time he reached 180 or so, it looked like that the entire universe is conspiring to help him get to the figure. The world talks about Roger Federer being the perfect role model and champion. If there is one person who probably is on the same pedestal if not higher is Sachin. And remember Sachin is more closely scrutinised and followed than Roger ever was or will be.

The first time I heard about Tendulkar was when I was in the 5th or 6th standard. He was touted as the prodigy from Shivaji Park. Since then he has given to the masses much more than what movies or any other form of entertainment would have. Such is his class..."Poetry in motion"

We would probably see another few years of his amazing drives and cuts, before he hangs up his boots. How cricket will be, when he leaves the scene is something nobody would want to think of. I found this in one of the blogs today - "Commit all your crimes when Sachin is batting, they will go unnoticed, because even the Lord is watching!" prempanicker.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/the-unseen-stats-behind-sachins-record/

There have been many good players who have played this game. Some have been called "Greats" and some "legends". But for me Sachin Tendulkar is "THE GOD" himself.

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Selamat Datang

"Selamat Datang" means "Welcome" in Malay. Indeed it was a welcome break and a trip to a beautiful country during the Chinese New year holidays last week. This was my first trip to Malaysia. Since the time I moved to Shanghai, I have used the Malaysian airlines umpteen times. So much so that I have stayed as a gold card member of the frequent flyer program of the airline called "Enrich" for the last two years or so. This meant transiting many a time through the airport at Kuala Lumpur. The closest I came to stepping foot in Malaysia, was when during one of my trips back to Shanghai, the flight from Mumbai got delayed. The connecting flight had already left and we went through emigration to be put up at the Pan Pacific which is a hotel attached to the KL airport. It was a short 10 hour stay, limited to the hotel room.

Malaysia too is a multi ethnic and multi religious country. Essentially a Muslim country, there are 3 distinct races. Malays who kind of rule the country constitute 54% of the population while Chinese are around 25% and Indians are approximately 8%. Then there are a few other races as well. The Chinese are predominantly well off and are into business while the Indian community was traditionally the labour class which came from Tamil Nadu. While "One Malaysia" is a cause political leaders want the nation to aspire for, I did get a feeling that there is some way to go. For one, being a Muslim country, when approximately 30% of the population is not, means that these communities are naturally excluded while trying to be inclusive! (hopefully readers will not view me as anti-Islamic. I believe that a theocratic state of any religion, drives exclusivism)

We took the China Eastern from Shanghai and travelled through the night to arrive at KL and further on to Langkawi by flight at around 11 am the following day. Amazingly refreshing, Langkawi consists of 99 islands. We stayed at the Rebak Island Resort which is a Taj Property on a private island. While I would recommend this to any one who may want to visit the place, it is a little on the expensive side. In fact during the Chinese new year holidays, most of the flights and locations in this part of the world becomes dearer. The Chinese are in fact travelling a lot more these days, and it points out to the prosperity they have achieved in the last 10 years or so. At the resort itself there were people from all the geographies. We did notice a few Indians at our resort. The only difference being that they all looked to be the honeymoon couples, with dreams of having an equally exciting life in the future! (sarcasm not intended) With Sharanya and Pavithra around it was an enjoyable stay at Langkawi. One of the new things we did, was Parasailing. Its quite a treat being alone in the sky with the sea beneath, as long as you think and feel that you are going to be safely back on land!

After a couple of days, we headed straight to Kuala Lumpur. We were quite impressed by the roads and cleanliness around. I have gone to over 20 countries including some in Africa and would rate roads in India as amongst the worst. The Petronas twin towers provided a very imposing view and I believe it was the tallest building in the world till 2004. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza which is quite close to the towers. The area itself has many shopping centers and multiple hotels including the Mariott, Ascott and Renaissance. The next day we visited the Batu caves, which is around 13 kilometers from the downtown. It houses arguably the tallest Murugan statue in the world. Housed atop 272 steps is the Sri Subramania Swamy temple. The area looked a like a mini Chennai with distinct Tamil experiences. After a quick visit, we headed to a shop at the base which sold Tamil DVDs. Buying new Tamil and Malayalam movie DVDs has become one of the most important tasks since we moved to Shanghai.

With Sharanya not too well during our KL stay, our movement was to an extent restricted. However on the final day we decided to take the "hoponhopff bus" which runs around KL and is valid for 24 hours. The price of a ticket is 38 Ringitt. While we used it only for around 4 hours, it gave us a quick snap shot into KL. We got a glimpse of Little China, Little India and the Merdeka square which is a symbol of Malaysian Independence. Our flight back was at 3.30 am which meant that we had to spend close to 7 hours at the KL airport. We had quite a few dosas in our trip including twice at the KL airport. The dinner that day on our travel back consisted of ghee dosas! Pavithra had a wholesome South Indian lunch when we visited the temple.

Malaysia is an amazing place to visit and I believe they put in a lot of efforts to make it a tourism friendly nation. "Truly Asia".

I think India has a phenomenal potential for tourism but we still need to get the small things right for it to blossom. Arrival into say 3 Asian cities (Shanghai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur) and taking a taxi out, and comparing it to the experience in say Mumbai will be a simple case to compare.

ps - view some of the tour photos at share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome

The Game of Badminton...

In the last week, we had the Shanghai Indian Association badminton tournament.  While me and Pavithra lost in the mixed doubles finals, my run also ended in the semi finals in men's doubles and in the quarters in singles. But thats not the real point I am trying to convey. This game is pretty universal, seemingly easy and fun for people to participate. Unlike say tennis, this requires lesser infrastructure and even novices can aspire to hit the bird with the charm of a champion.

However what I have noticed over the years is that probably more than many of the games, this game is highly tactical. After a certain level when you have mastered to hit the shuttle well, if you need to move into the next level, its imperative that you learn the tricks of the trade. Every form of this game, has to be played with different strategies. While fitness is a must, more important is how one utilises the area of the court and make the opponent play into your game. This also explains the fact that, over a period of time, I have seen some 50 plus year olds, playing amazing badminton. Literally eating novices like me for breakfast.

Last 2 years has been good living in our housing complex in Shanghai, with a game of badminton every weekend with many of the Indian families joining in. In the future, I would love to get some coaching and play with some of the better players, so that I have the required skill sets to play this game when I hit 50! (and win too!)