Friday, 26 August 2011

Ek Shaam Shammi Ke Naam

Every childhood hero takes away a little bit of one's life along with him when he dies. In the India of the 1950s and 1960s, when Indians were just learning to enjoy freedom, Shamsher Raj Kapoor or Shammi Kapoor, as he was more popularly known, became the most obvious symbol of freedom. Nearly forty years after his iconic movie "Junglee" released, it is easy to be dismissive about that yell which rose from the belly, filled the throat and then knocked your head off: "Yaaaahoooo!" It was the roar of liberation from the silly boredom of convention.

Shammi Kapoor entered the Hindi film industry when Dilip Kumar was still going strong and Rajendra Kumar was bowing out of the race for the best actor. Shammi Kapoor, who came as a breath of fresh air and became India's first youth icon with his sea-blue eyes, chocolate boys and a man with a colourful personality and an amazing sense of rhythm and dance. In a very boisterous way, Shammi Kapoor encouraged the youth to go find our voice, even if it that turned into screaming. He always seemed to promote the message to be brilliant even if it would mean being around like a fool and be authentic in a special way.

Shammi Kapoor's singing voice is Mohammed Rafi, who actually went to sing almost all his songs, which were very youthful in nature. As human beings, they seem to be miles apart from each other but the magic of crossing the bridge does the trick. In fact, it was because of the songs that Mohammed Rafi sang for Shammi which made me believe that Mohammed Rafi had a life and he could sing even cheerful songs which hinted at sex in subtle undertones. Shammi and Rafi almost resulted in the fact as important as the voice for the body. Listening to a Shammi Kapoor song today would mean instantly waking up from the seat and swaying to the rhythm of the song as easily as one could four decades ago. The indebtedness for Rafi was visibly evident when Mohammed Rafi passed away in 1980 when Shammi Kapoor remarked: "It is a sad day since I lost my voice."

Despite the fact that Shammi Kapoor started gaining weight and started hamming in the Hindi movies, he was graceful to bow out of the Hindi film industry in 1971. Though, Shammi Kapoor lifted love from familiarity and hinted sharply at sex in subtle undertones, we could simply forgive him for being India's first youth icon in the post-independence era who taught the youngsters back then to find their own voice. In his later years, he taught us to live to the fullest without a sense of regret or self-pity. In a very subtle manner, he taught us the lesson we need desperately: a colourful and youthful attitude to a situation.

Instead of mourning his demise, his life is an example of how life should be celebrated and the power of being in the now.. Truly, we lost a priceless gem in the Hindi film industry who left leaving a space which is irreparable. Tally ho, Shammiji!!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Guru Principle

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

The Guru tattva is the principal and the wisdom of a Guru is a tattva (an element), a quality which is present inside each one of us. The Guru tattva is confined to a body or form. There is a story that Lord Krishna once Uddhava, his close friend and a very wise man, to the gopis and gopans, who were full of devotion. Uddhava went to give them wisdom, to talk about liberation but none of them was interested in listening to that. They all echoed: "No, tell us about some story about Krishna, tell us what is happening in Dwarka, where He is. We don't want to hear this wisdom; you can keep that to yourself. But tell us what news you have of Krishna? We don't care about wisdom; we are happy with longing and we are happy with love. So, let us sing and dance."

That's all they wanted to do. This is how love makes you crazy. That's when all the boundaries drop and you feel one with everyone around and one with the whole universe--and that's called the Guru tattva. Devotion is the inherent nature of man. When you rest in your own nature, there is no conflict. But usually, we feel a conflict and then we feel about a negative quality we have or something that we did.

A Master is one who lifts these burdens from you that you yourself cannot carry--and kindles in you devotional love. Offer everything to the Master--your anger, your frustration, all your bad feelings and good feelings. Your negativity pulls you down. Your positive qualities bring pride and arrogance in you thereby making our life becoming a big weight. When you offer it all by dedicating it, you become free. One ends up feeling much lighter like a flower. You can once again smile and rejoice in the moment. What remains in you is pure love. Since ages, all the knowledge and wisdom have been passed on.

In India, we continually express our gratitude to the guru-shishya tradition. The festival of Guru Poornima is the day to celebrate the knowledge and love. India has been rightly called "Bharata" in our scriptures. The Sanskrit word "Bha" refers to "Bhaskar" which means light while "Rata" signifies chariot or land. Hence, the name "Bharata" could translate into the chariot of knowledge or the land of knowledge. Our mind is connected with the moon and the full moon is a symbol of completion, celebration, a pinnacle. The highest desire is to ask for knowledge and freedom. Ultimately, happiness cannot be brought by money. Comfort is a small thing. But there are only two things that will be asked which make life more fruitful--how much love did you give? And how much knowledge have you acquired? What gets imprinted in the consciousness is knowledge.

Knowledge is not what you read in a book; it is derived from awareness. Knowledge is like the ocean, which cannot be measured. Some people take a walk along the beach while they receive good oxygen, fresh air and they are happy with that. Others would put their feet in the water and feel the scintillating impact of the ocean. A few more adventurous souls would go for surfing or scuba-diving and they find precious things. So, it's up to you--if you want to take a walk on the beach, swim or go deeper. Every single person on this planet is a spiritual seeker since everyone is looking for peace, love and happiness. This is precisely what the "spirit" comprises of.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

JRD: A Class Apart

Sudha Murthy

There are two photographs that hang on my office wall. Everyday, when I entered my office I look at them before starting my day. They are JRD Tata and Jamsetji Tata.

It was a long time ago when I was young, bright, bold and idealistic. I was in the final year of my Master's course in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) in Bangalore, then known as the Tata Institute. Life was full of fun and joy. I did not know what helplessness or injustice meant.

It was probably the April of 1974. I was the only girl in my postgraduate department. I was looking forward to going abroad to complete a doctorate in computer science. I had been offered scholarships from universities in the US. I had not thought of taking up a job in India. One day, while on the way to my hostel from our lecture hall complex, I saw an advertisement on the notice board. It was a standard job-requirement notice from the famous automobile company Telco (now Tata Motors). It stated that the company required young, bright engineers, hardworking and with an excellent academic background, etc.

At the bottom was a small line: "Lady candidates need not apply". I read it and was very upset. For the first time in my life, I was up against gender discrimination. Though I was not keen on taking up the job, I saw it as a challenge. I had done extremely well in academics, better than most of my male peers. Little did I know then that in real life academic excellence is not enough to be successful. I decided to inform the topmost person in Telco's management about the injustice the company was perpetrating. I got a postcard and and started to write, but there was a problem: I did not know who headed Telco. I thought it must be one of the Tatas. I knew JRD Tata was the head of the Tata Group; I had seen his pictures in newspapers (actually, Sumant Moolgaonkar was the company's chairman then). I took the card, addressed it to JRD and started writing.

To this day, I remember clearly what I wrote: "The great Tatas have always been pioneers. They are the people who started the basic infrastructure industries in India, such as iron and steel, chemicals, textiles and locomotives. They have cared for higher education in India since 1900 and they were responsible for the establishment of the Indian Institute of Science. Fortunately, I study there. But I am surprised how a company such as Telco is discriminating on the basis of gender."

I posted the letter and forgot about it. Less than 10 days later, I received a telegram stating that I had to appear for an interview at Telco's Pune facility at the company's expense. I was taken aback by the telegram. As directed, I went to Telco's Pimpri office for the interview. There were six people on the panel and I realized then that this was serious business. "This is the girl who wrote to JRD," I heard somebody whisper as soon as I entered the room. By then, I knew for sure that I would not get the job.

The realization abolished all fear from my mind, so I was rather cool while the interview was being conducted. Even before the interview started, I reckoned that the panel was biased, so I told them, rather impolitely, "I hope this is only a technical interview." They were taken aback by my rudeness and even today I am ashamed about my attitude. The panel asked me technical questions and I answered all of them. Then an elderly gentleman with an affectionate voice told me, "Do you know why we said lady candidates need not apply? The reason is that we have never employed ladies on the shop floor. This is not a co-ed college; this is a factory. When it comes to academics, you are a first ranker throughout. We appreciate that, but people like you should work in research laboratories."

I was a young girl from small town Hubli in Karnataka. My world had been a limited place. I did not know the ways of large corporate houses and their difficulties, so I answered, "But you must start somewhere, otherwise no woman will ever be able to work in your factories." Finally, after a long interview, I was told I had been successful. So this was what the future had in store for me. Never had I thought I would take up a job in Pune. I met a shy young man from Karnataka there, we became good friends and eventually got married.

It was only after joining Telco that I realized who JRD was: the uncrowned king of Indian industry. Now I was scared, but I did not get to meet him till I was transferred to Bombay. One day, I had to show some reports to Mr. Moolgaonkar, our chairman, who we all knew as SM. I was in his office on the first floor of the Bombay House (the Tata headquarters) when, suddenly JRD walked in. That was the first time I saw "aapro JRD". Aapro means "our" in Gujarati. This was the affectionate term by which people in Bombay House called him.

I was feeling very nervous, remembering my postcard episode. SM introduced me nicely, "Jeh (that's what his close associates called him), this young woman is an engineer and that too a postgraduate. She is the first woman to work on the Telco shop floor." JRD looked at me. I was praying he would not ask me any questions about my interview (or the postcard that preceded it). Thankfully, he didn't. Instead, he remarked: "It is nice that girls are getting into engineering in our country."

He smiled and started a discussion with SM. As for me, I almost ran out of the room. After that, I used to see JRD on and off. He was the Tata Group chairman and I was merely an engineer. There was nothing we had in common. I was in awe of him. One day, I was waiting for my husband, to pick me up after office hours. To my surprise, I saw JRD standing next to me. I did not know how to react. Yet again, I started worrying about that postcard.

Looking back, I realized that JRD had forgotten about it. It must have been a small incident for him, but not so for me. "Young lady, why are you here?" he asked. "Office time is over." I said, "Sir, I'm waiting for my husband to come and pick me up." JRD said, "It is getting dark and there's no one in the corridor. I'll wait with you till your husband comes." I was nervous. Out of the corner of my eye, I looked at him. He wore a simple white pant and shirt. He was old, yet his face was glowing. There wasn't any air of superiority about him. I was thinking: "Look at this person. He is a chairman, a well-respected man in our country and he is waiting for the sake of an ordinary employee." Then, I saw my husband and I rushed out. JRD called me and said, "Young lady, tell your husband never to make his wife wait again."

In 1982, I had to resign from my job at Telco. I was reluctant to go, but I really did not have a choice. I was coming down the staircase of Bombay House after wrapping up my final settlement when I saw JRD coming up. He was absorbed in thought. I wanted to say goodbye to him, so I stopped. He saw me and paused. "Sir, I am leaving Telco." "Where are you going?" he asked. "Pune, Sir. My husband is starting a company and I'm shifting to Pune." "Oh! And what will you do when you are successful?" "Sir, I don't know whether we will be successful." "Never start with a diffidence," he advised me. "Always start with confidence. When you are successful you must give back to society. Society gives us so much; we must reciprocate. I wish you all the best." Then, JRD continued walking upstairs. I stood there for what seemed like a millennium. That was the last time I saw him alive.

I consider JRD a great man because despite being an extremely busy person, he valued one postcard written by a young girl seeking justice. He must have received thousands of letters everyday. He could have thrown mine away, but he did not do that. He respected the intentions of that unknown girl, who had neither influence nor money and yet gave her an opportunity in this company. He did not merely give her a job; he changed her life and mindset forever.

Close to 50 percent of students in today's engineering colleges are girls. And there are women on the shop floor in many industry segments. I see these changes and it reminds me of JRD. If at all time stops and asks me what I want from life, I would say I wish JRD were alive to see how the company we started has grown. He would have enjoyed it wholeheartedly. My love and respect for the House of Tata remains undiminished by the passage of time. I always looked up to JRD. I saw him as a role model for his simplicity, his generosity, his kindness and the care he took of his employees. Those blue eyes always reminded me of the sky; they had the same vastness and magnificence.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Dhobi Ghat

The Dhobi Ghat is a unique feature of Mumbai. It is situated near Mahalaxmi station near the Saat Rasta roundabout. It can be easily seen from the bridge of Mahalaxmi station.

Dhobi Ghat is where chaos, colour, activity and sounds mix together in a freakish blend. The name "Dhobi" refers to a person who is specialized in washing clothes and a "Ghat" is the name of the place where they wash clothes and hence "Dhobi Ghat".

The Dhobi Ghat in Mumbai has row upon row concrete wash pens, each of them fitted with a concrete flogging stone. There are nearly 700 washing platforms, each of them being nearly a century old. It is currently the world's largest open laundromat. In most cases, the ancestors took up the occupation of washing clothes evolving over time, who are bound by rules of endogamy. For some dhobis who wash clothes here, it runs down as their family business.

A dhobi is traditionally a laundryman who collects dirty clothes, wash it and return it neatly ironed to your doorstep for a mere pittance. The dhobis here generally work in the open and wash dirty and soiled clothes, bedsheets etc. which are predominantly collected from the housekeeping departments of Mumbai's hospitals and hotels. The dhobi marks a unique symbol or character on garments belonging to a particular. This is generally marked in black indelible ink to prevent it from being washed off. On an average, half a million clothes are sent for washing.

The clothes are soaked in sudsy water, which is generally covered with lather, then it is thrashed on the concrete flogging stones, then tossed into huge vats of boiling starch and then hung out to dry. Next, these clothes are neatly ironed and piled up into neat bundles. In spite of the fear that clothes might get lost or get exchanged with others, surprisingly, none of the clothes is mixed, misplaced or exchanged with each. Washing and the dyeing of clothes, giving stone wash look to jeans are the major chunk of work here.

Dhobi Ghat recently fell on the tourist map of Mumbai, owing to the Hindi film made by filmmaker Kiran Rao. The Dhobi Ghat is strangely popular with foreign tourists who generally look for a piece of quintessential "Indian-ness". It is physically difficult shooting in the winding lanes due to the lack of space. The place is naturally so beautiful that there is no way one can shoot it badly. You can shoot the Dhobi Ghat from any angle and you would go home smiling. It is like a picture postcard. The clothes line, the loops, the narrow lanes, different colours and its proximity to Mahalaxmi station makes it an amazing canvas for photography.