Friday, April 22, 2016

My viewpoint is not same as yours

Try to see the other person's point of view. You might have come across this advice from your friends or your mentors. Moreover, the help books also emphasise on this advice. Is it easy to see from another person's point of view? Most of the time, we can't even fit ourselves in someone else's shoes or suits. If we can't do something as simple as donning other person's outfits, how can we accomplish a hard task like seeing from their viewpoint? Let us take the example of interaction with my friend and her teenage son.

The teenage son has a friend who recently picked up a new skill, palmistry. You may not believe in this science (or non-science), but it seemed to be a hot talent judging at the way it was described to me. The teenagers of both sexes were flocking in front of this young palmist to know their future. My friend's teenage son was no exception. After carefully analysing the lines, the fortune teller informed the teenage son. You will have 4 kids. Apparently, the teenage son was shocked silent from this news.

Later in the day, he narrated the incident to his mum. He was sad even after he informed his mother of the prophecy. Sensing the melancholic mood, my friend queried to understand the source of trouble. The teenager explained his concern. Imagine he has to book a holiday for the entire family. He has to take 6 tickets. In the age of escalating costs, he would spend a fortune just to get his family from one place to another. I know you are smiling hearing this. I was too. But my friend was not smiling. She got angry at the teenager.

If you are wondering about the source of the anger, I will summarize it as the point of view. Her son was thinking of 6 tickets. One for the son, one for his wife and 4 for his kids. Isn't it sound arithmetic? No. The teenager has not counted my friend and her husband. So according to my friend, her teenage son should have thought and planned regarding 8 tickets.

Photo Courtesy: Lorraine W

Tags: Parenthood, Viewpoint

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Question of Well Being

You alright? I was taken aback by the question. Because of the surprise element, the response was not immediate. After recovering, I mumbled an answer which assured there was nothing to worry. On afterthought, my mumbling would have cemented the fact there was something wrong with me. I was hoping to put this behind me when someone else asked me the same question.

Forgive me for propelling you right into the action. Let me take a breath and give you the context. I had moved to the United Kingdom from France. Living in Paris versus Living in Reading. I feel terribly wrong by saying this sentence aloud. Those two life experiences are incomparable. So I am not going to lend the sentence any legitimacy by explaining the differences. I was disappointed. While I wallowed in self-doubt and anger, people would greet me with the "alright" question.

The word alright is pronounced in a musical way. The letters l and r are joined yet different. You can't differentiate the two, yet you can. There is giant slide down when the speaker crosses the letter a to the rest of the word and a reverse trend while finishing off at the letter t. While playing this word endlessly in your mind, you may do away with the husky voice. There is nothing sexy in this pronouncement unless you have a thing for words and husky voices.

Back in those days when I was acclimatizing with the changes in my life, the question of being alright used to bother me. These were all acquaintances. How could they get so personal? Was I so discontent with the changes that the unhappiness was so evident on my face? Like most of my worries in my life, this newfound one was also misplaced. It was the British way of asking my well being. How are you? They could have asked me the same in a much simpler way. But they chose a complicated and personal. At least for a non-native English speaker like me.

I couldn't help compare it with French equivalent. Ça va? In other words, how is it going? Look at the ambiguity of the statement. It is a conversation starter. You can answer with the non-committal mirror image. Ça va which means it is going. The end begs a start often a restart or a reboot. Now compare this with "You alright?". Should I kick start my laments? Should I hastily say okay and retreat? I am confused.

While you ponder the point, let me sign off by asking you this seemingly simple question. You alright?

Photo Courtesy: Angelo Domini Tags: British Lessons


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Books: The Road to Little Dribbling

If you live in the United Kingdom, then you should read "The Road to Little Dribbling" by Bill Bryson. You may pick up the book even if you are planning to visit this country. However, there is a drawback. If you are unaware of the layout of the country, and it is various subdivisions, you might be lost in the description. For people living outside the country, this book offers an excellent insight into the British way of living and also the British mindset.

This book is primarily a travelogue. It is a sequel to the author's book titled "Notes from a Small Island". At this point, I have to confess I have not read the prequel. After reading the sequel, I am interested in reading the prequel. I am now interested in reading the prequel. The travelogue contains a shade of anthropology because Bill Bryson has lived in this country for decades. Using the years of association, he can provide a unique perspective on British psyche. He conveys his adventures with a flamboyant coating of humour. As a result, we are glued to the novel often smiling if not laughing out aloud.

There are two ways Bill Bryson builds the humour. You will find this style in many of his books and is also a good pointer on creating comedy. While describing an interaction with a third party, Bill Bryson starts explaining the little voice of reason without letting the reader know that the conversation is happening in his mind. So we are surprised at the witty and insulting responses thrown to the third party by Bill Bryson. While we are shocked at the audacity, Bill Bryson tells us that this was an imaginary conversation. Bill Bryson strikes a chord with us because he describes a way in which we all would like to let our steam out in such a situation, but we do not because we are prisoners of good behaviour and upbringing.

The second way Bill Bryson adopts is equivalent to the sleight of hand tricks performed by a magician. A magician forces our attention to a different object to perform a magic act. Similarly, Bill Bryson begins with a problem. Then swiftly moves on to a different topic. As a reader, we seldom notice this shift. The new item eventually ends up in a dilemma. Then he connects the new issue with the conversation he started in the form of a hypothesis. The contrast of the new topic and the correlating hypothesis makes us end up with a belly aching laugh.

This book gives a glimpse of British life. You may be an armchair traveller, a person who loves to travel or a resident of the United Kingdom. Regardless, you will enjoy this book. Your takeaways will differ depending on who you are. You may get to know a little about the people inhabiting this island. You may realise there are stereotypes. Whatever be your personal discovery, you will be doing that with a big smile.

Tags: Books,Bill Bryson,British

Saturday, April 16, 2016

How do we take away anger from our response?

There is a difference between feedback and criticism. In layman's terms, feedback is good, and we should resist the tendency to criticize. Despite knowing this fact, we lose control and end up slamming people for the results of their action. The knee-jerk reaction is to admonish or even scold the perpetrator. The wrongdoer might have come forward to own up the mistake. We overlook this fact often and start berating the person. How can we segregate anger from our reaction? Is there a solution to this problem?

Recently, a friend quoted an incident where he reacted in the predictable manner of shoot first and then think. My friend was involved in high stakes change involving multiple business units for a big organization. So it required bringing multiple teams together to conduct different test runs and also for numerous reviews. They finally secured permission to proceed with the change. The team chose a Sunday to implement the change. On Friday morning, two days before D-day, a team member raises a red flag stating he has insufficient rights to perform the a critical step in the grand change.

Upon hearing the bad news, my friend came down on the team member like a ton of bricks. After the initial flare up, they began the scramble to find the person with the necessary rights to perform the critical change. Within a few hours, they sorted out the issues. While everybody was running hither and thither to find a solution, my friend felt bad about blowing his fuse at the team member. The team member came to my friend because he was brave enough to own up his mistake. If my friend doesn't encourage openness in his team, who will? 

We are aware that we need to promote honesty and transparency to work collaboratively. But we end up shouting at the people who commits even a small mistake. When it comes to such situations, we are unable to control our inner beast. Take the example of Mark Twain. Thanks to his skills in stitching sentences, he could insult anyone vehemently with words. Although he wrote scathing remarks to many of the people, these comments never reached the intended parties. Remember letter were the predominant form of communication. So his wife intercepted these messages and never posted it. As a result, Mark Twain felt better after writing these letters and because of the timely intervention of Mrs. Mark Twain, there was no sharp increase in the haters.

We can't run to our better halves for help. But we still can implement a check which is similar to Mrs. Twain had done for her husband. We do not have to respond immediately. You could always ask for more time to think about the problem. A little time to think helps if someone phones you up with bad news. Responses over email are easier to handle. You could compose an email, save it as a draft, revisit after a few minutes and trash it or edit it again. 

Remember there is a fine line between feedback and criticism. You will never know when you have crossed it. Why do you want to lose a team member or a friend or dear one by accidentally stepping over the line? If you are still wondering about what happened on that Sunday, everything went well. My friend is a happy man. But I am not sure if he had a discussion with his team member.

Photo Courtesy: Julie Falk

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Movie Review: Chuck Norris vs Communism

Chuck Norris v/s Anything. Asking for the outcome is like shouting about our ignorance. What can survive against Chuck Norris? Incidentally, Chuck Norris v/s Communism is the name of the documentary. It is set in Romania in the eighties when Ceausescu was still in power. The documentary touches a nerve for anyone who grew in that era in a developing country. The themes of this film are the VHS tapes, VCRs, suppression through censorship, ambitions and dream. At first glance, these may seem unrelated, but this documentary brings them all together.

There was a time in India when Hollywood movies were rare on the big screen. You could still watch a movie if you were living in a metropolitan city which you could count on one hand. In case you are wondering about the number, it was four. I took a nostalgic drive to that era. We could still see the Hollywood ones mostly on VHS. Even though video rental stores were sprouting up everywhere, we were at the mercy of the store owner. If the store owner didn't possess a love for cinema like Alfredo in Cinema Paradiso, then there would be a collection of tasteless action movies.  Since there were many stores, it was not easy to find Alfredo. Sometimes, a whiff of Alfredo was enough. Then we would get a good collection of movies. Then there were video parlors which could seat at least three dozen people. They screened the latest Hollywood movies. These parlors were the only way to gorge on a Hollywood diet.

Romania in the eighties was no different from India. The country was communist. Everything from the west was abhorred. So the Hollywood movies were smuggled in and reproduced in high quantities for the black market. People made money in the whole process, the top of the pyramid by selling the copies while the bottom by screening the movies in their home for money. These subversive tactics gave a glimpse of life outside the iron curtain. The viewers equated invincibility and hope to heroes like Chuck Norris (Missing in Action, Lone Wolf McQuade) and Stallone(Rocky, Rambo).

After this point, it gets a bit far-fetched for belief. The makers equate this event to be one of the contributing factors for the people to come out of their houses to overthrow Ceausescu. Cinema is a powerful medium. The documentary conveys this message sincerely. In addition to the key message, the documentary also captures the anguish of suppressed people. There is a subtle message of censorship. We live in a free world. Imagine the world where information is controlled, analyzed before releasing for consumption. Hideous. Outrageous. It's hard to for us to imagine this scenario. Sadly there are such places in the modern world. I recommend this documentary as a reminder of how the world was and how the world is now. The documentary is also a warning to the present-day oppressors.

Language: English

Genre: Documentary

Rating: ***

Tags: Movies,Romania

Saturday, April 9, 2016

That place where we went on a vacation

Why do we need to take a vacation? A vacation is a good break from all things routine. After a holiday, most of us are infused with higher levels of energy. The new experiences encountered in a holiday might present us with new perspectives on our daily problems. To summarize, a vacation is a good thing. But sometimes vacation has an opposite effect. Instead of rejuvenating us, it might leave us tired thereby making us desire for another vacation. Recently I was in engaged in a dinner conversation with two acquaintances on the subject of vacation.

Everyone over here in the UK prefers the Canary Islands. During Christmas, there were attractive holiday packages to the Canary Islands. It is warmer there than here. Christmas is long gone, and Easter is also now gone. The two acquaintances were discussing the Easter weekend. Apparently, both of them spent their Easter holidays in Tenerife. This revelation brightened up the mood.

Acquaintance 1: *smiling* So we might have crossed each other during the Easter holidays. Where did you stay?

Acquaintance 2: *excited* We stayed in one of the best places. It has a natural pool. The sea was rough and hence we couldn't walk down to the pool. They had cordoned it off.

Acquaintance 1: *nods* Interesting!

Acquaintance 2: *continues* The sea was quiet in the evening and loud in the morning. That was surprising. There was a place where tides were high and splashing onto the reef. It was beautiful.

Acquaintance 1: *curious* What was the name of the place, again?

Acquaintance 2: *silent*

Acquaintance 1: *looking expectantly*

Acquaintance 2: *slowly* I am trying to think.

Acquaintance 2 tried hard. He scoured the pictures on his iPhone to massage his memory to flush out the name of the place. He couldn't. Finally, Acquaintance 1 gave a sensible advice. Ask your wife. Soon Acquaintance 2 send an SMS. Several seconds later, the wife replied. Los Gigantes. 

Now was that a relaxing vacation? What do you think?

Photo Courtesy: Bob Hall

Friday, April 8, 2016

The incompleteness of childhood

The sun has set on the British Empire. But the British are everywhere. When in France, I read about the British trying to buy châteaux in rural France. Yeah, anything in rural France will resemble a château for the city dwellers. Later I read about the same phenomenon happening in Spain. British were buying vacation homes in the beach cities. So when my British acquaintance mentioned about her vacation home in rural Turkey, I was surprised. On questioning further, I found there were other British in that area where she has invested!

This piece of conversation was supposed to be the small talk or the icebreaker before we moved forward with the agenda. The way it went, the small talk became the agenda. But all conversations end in new learning. I just had to wait patiently for the lesson to emerge out of the conversation. She was very excited about talking about Turkey. Life has a leisurely pace in that part of the world. The vegetables and fruits taste how it should and not like insecticides. The air is fresh. All this add up to indescribable happiness.

Despite all the above good things about the life in Turkey, she also recounts the funny aspect of the country. There are many incomplete things in Turkey. They live in a well-organized community. But the access road leading to their community is not complete. The road ends abruptly, and they have to finish the last leg on the mud road. I had to suppress my smile because it brought memories of a famous resort in Coorg. There was hardly any way to enter the main property. Once you enter the property, you enter a different world. All of us has seen this in India. There are many things incomplete about things in India. So I could relate.

This incompleteness is a feature everywhere in Turkey. She has a similar experience with the pavement. Without any warning, the pavement ceases to exist. It is the same case with tracks for jogging. The abruptness and incompleteness go hand in hand. Despite all this, she summed up the experience. We regain our childhood when we visit there. It was a beautiful way to describe the experience. When we are children, we were not bothered about finishing what we started. The act of doing kept us going. We were happy with all those unfinished projects. There were no regrets.

Photo Courtesy:  Mehmet Bilgin

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pappettan talks about commitment

I hitched a cab ride with Pappettan. We were planning to have dinner in one of our favorite places in the city center. It was a tiring day, and we were looking forward to the dinner and accompanyings drinks. After reaching the restaurant and paying the driver, we were getting out of the cab when the driver asked us a question.

Cab Driver: *politely* Would you like me to book a ride back?

Me: *looks quizzically*

Cab Driver: *explains* A driver will be here to pick you up and drop you back after the dinner.

Me: *abruptly* No.

I realized I was quick to respond, and my voice also climbed a notch. While the above fact was taking full effect on me, Pappettan lit up like Champs-Élysées during Christmas. So I was curious, and I started the interrogation.

Me: *questioningly* What?

Pappettan: *still smiling* What What?

Me: *after letting out a sigh* Why are you smiling?

Pappettan: *still smiling* It is your answer for the driver. You behaved like a man.

Me: *sensing there was a derogatory tone to the usage of the term man* What did I do?

Pappettan: *passes the judgement* Commitment Phobia.

Me: *shocked* What?

Pappettan: *explains* Booking a return cab means you have to finish the dinner at a particular time.

Me: *challenging* What is wrong with that? So I have freedom to choose to do whatever after the dinner.

Pappettan: *with a twinkle in the eye* So what do you after dinner normally.

Me: *sheepishly* Get a cab and return.

Pappettan: *smiling again* So you are not going to paint the town red. You will go home and sleep. You have a problem with committing yourself to that.

Tags: Pappettan Says

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Movie Review: El Desconocido

The title El Desconocido translates to The Stranger. So I wonder who decided to name this movie as Retribution when it was marketed outside Spain. The whole movie revolves around a phone call from a stranger. The stranger is trying to exact revenge from the protagonist. But the name "Retribution" tends to classify the movie as a B-grade or even a C-grade. On an ordinary day, the hero gets into his car with his two kids. Once inside the car, he gets a phone call. As soon as the trio sat in the car, a bomb was activated. Now they can't get out of the car. Sitting inside the car among the hysterical kid, the hero has to finish financial transactions over the phone to keep his family alive. The theme is reminiscent of the Hollywood movie Speed but set on a much smaller scale. Even the movie Phone Booth has a similar theme. But still, the movie keeps us engaged.

Dani de la Torre kicks off his movie without wasting time. So a few minutes into the film, we know the hero Carlos(Luis Tosar) works in a bank, has a strained relationship with his wife, and the bomb is activated. At this point, we are worrying about the next 80 odd minutes. How will Dani de La Torre takes us through the rest of the movie without making us yawn? It is indeed a daunting task. As all the events unfold inside the car, there is nothing much the director can move the camera around to focus on the various actors in a close-up. With each successive acts, Dani de la Torre introduces situations and characters that make this thriller engaging. There are arguments inside the car, revelations about relationships, car chases, bomb squads and the confrontation with the tormentor. All the above are neatly packaged and revealed in such a smooth manner that we are hooked all the time.

The movie succeeds to capture our interest because of the effortless performances by Luis Tosar and the actors playing his kids on screen namely Paula del Rio and Marco Sanz. The trio manages to keep us on tenterhooks. They are a dysfunctional family who has to come to terms with each other by trusting each other. There are complications in the third act. At this point, we are ready to suspend our disbelief despite the nagging doubt about the possibility of such events.

With never-before-seen faces, close up photography and suspense, I still recommend this movie for a quiet evening.

Language: Spanish

Genre: Thriller

Rating: ***

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