Sunday, June 15, 2014

Booked For Life: The tale of the forgotten art

Growing up in a modest middle class family in the eighties, one had to pay a price for enjoying the little pleasures of life such as holding a new book every academic season. Having an elder brother in the same school with a common Board made matters even worse. Every year my brother’s text books used to get handed over to me like a legacy - battered, bruised and, more often than not, dog-eared. On such occasions, the local book-binder became my best friend in giving a new lease of life to the text books. And that’s precisely why, it pains me today to see the profession of book-binding becoming a forgotten art with the world going digital. Srinivas, my preferred book-binder who has a shop near Gulmohar Park in Hyderabad, while safeguarding the life of my book, today had some startling confessions to make. At 47, he says, he has no option but to stick to the profession which barely manages to support his life - a family of four to feed and the combined rent of 10K for his home and the shop. Srinivas has been working since 1982 and has seen the profession through its highs and lows. I didn’t think twice before giving him the 50 rupees he asked me for his quality work and will continue to trust him for the “second innings” he gives to my books, and notebooks. However, I hope, his life gets a glorious “second innings” too.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It Paes to be Leander!

I must admit that I have been a great admirer of tennis legend Leander Paes. While my love for him began with his sharp volleys at the net, he has remained consistently at the top of my sporting chart for things beyond sport. If one wipes off the thin layer of dust on his numerous grand slams, one can easily find the shining example of a life extraordinaire. His recent victory at the Australian Open men's doubles along with Radek Stepanek is yet another example of how great partnerships start from trust and lead to glory.

Difference makes the difference: The interesting part about the partnership is that both Lee and Radek complement each other not only in styles but also in life. The former is a doubles legend and the latter is a promising singles player. Radek had never won Grand Slam and Leander only needed an Australian Open to complete his slam (winning all four). Both needed each other to make their dreams come true.  And that's what great teams are all about.

Ask and you shall receive: Leander has admitted in the press that before the start of the season he clearly communicated to Radek about his career aspirations. He was forthcoming on his inability to win the Australian Open and the Masters title—the two rare ones that eluded him the most. And Radek made it happen for him by helping him win Australian Open at the very first instance.  Now, coming back to our lives, do we always let our leaders know about our career aspirations? Ignorance is not always bliss.

Trust and it will work: When Leander and Radek decided to partner with each other; it was not a made-for-each-other story. For many reasons that made them feel it can work, there were many more which would have made them think twice. However, their trust in each other turned into magic on the court. When we work in teams, it is not always that we get to choose the colleagues we would love to work with. Many a time, they happen by chance or for reasons beyond our control. All it needs is a little trust to create magic.

So, it is not difficult to see how our commitment to success can be aided by team play—a relationship where we rejoice in the differences each team member brings to the table, a relationship that is open and transparent to clearly define expectations, and a relationship that is based on unrelenting trust. Be it the team play between a husband and wife in a marital setup, friendship, sports, or professionals at work—this is one prescription that universally works.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Of process, pattern, and intent!

Coming from a small sleepy town in Orissa, it would be foolish to claim that I always knew I would be here where I am today - working for a global corporation in Hyderabad. While I always believed I could fly, the journey on ground has been more exciting than the actual take off. Below are some of my core beliefs that led to professional growth and glory.

If you want to make it then break it: Any goal or achievement can be broken into tasks. Most of the times we get so much overawed by the magnitude of the result that a seemingly small immediate step lacks focus and perfection. For example, for Sachin Tendulkar to represent India at the highest level, it was important that he reached Shivaji Park on time every morning in his early teens for the practice sessions. Focus on process and results will follow. Focus on the results and you might miss out on some integral steps in the process.

Look for the pattern: Whatever you do in life, look for patterns. And patterns will emerge only when you focus and concentrate on your life’s story. It is like writing a virtual autobiography in your mind. And the question to ask is whether the story has the strength to engage and influence readers. Once you find a pattern that you like and would love sticking to, then you carefully make choices that fit your pattern. For example, the popular Bollywood actress, Vidya Balan carefully selects her roles that fit her pattern of being an actress who does challenging roles. And when such a role is on the shelf, she becomes an automatic choice.

Have the right intent: No matter what we do in life, it is important to do things for the right reasons and with the right intent. If you are involved in community initiatives, have the intent that you want to make a difference to the world around you. If you are a coach or mentor, have the intent to help groom somebody’s career. The only difference between motive and intent is that while the former is a trade-off, the latter is your personal contribution for the right reasons. For example, one of the primary reasons why Anna Hazare has shaken the imagination of our nation is because we are convinced that he really wants to make a difference. His intent is palpable.

So, for all those who love to dream big, spend time in finding the right pattern with the right intent and be ready with a sledge hammer to break your process into tasks.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The InQuizitive Brigade

One of the many legacies that I have inherited from my elder brother (Sunil Ranjan Mallik) is our passion for quizzing. And the hobby started with Siddhartha Basu's India Quiz on Doordarshan. It went on to became the passion of a lifetime with my brother being the torchbearer. We loved watching the likes of Bournvita Quiz Contest and BBC Mastermind. We also sent our answers on postcards for the lucky draw after each episode of Surabhi - which ran on Doordarshan for more than ten years showcasing small documentaries on art and culture. To improve our chances of winning, we also used to send one nomination on behalf of each of our family members. On top of that, just to make our postcard reach early, I used to walk (sometimes in evenings) till the Balasore Railway Station to drop the postcards directly at the Railway Mail Service (RMS) office located on platform number two. These fruitless endeavors continued for many a television series till my brother left Balasore for Delhi to pursue higher education in 1996.

Although, we have never competed in a quiz competition as part of the same team, there was once in 1995 that we competed against eachother. As part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations at Fakir Mohan College - I was in my First Year (English Hons) and he was in his Third Year (Chemistry Hons) - we came face to face in the team quiz competition finals. His team (surely the best on that day) was declared the winner while mine was the second best. When I look back, I feel proud of the fact that in the one of the biggest colleges of coastal Orissa we two could finish on the podium. We later received our trophies from the then chief minister of Orissa Biju Patnaik who was the chief guest for the prize giving ceremony. I had also won awards in debate (English, Hindi) and essay writing. However, to share the podium with my brother is what I remember the most. The trophies have lost their shine, but the legend still shines on.

Postscript: This post is also dedicated to all those avid quizzards who made Balasore proud during those times (1993-1998): Azijur Azam, Ajib Raut, Siddharth Mohanty, Sunil Ranjan Mallik, Debabrata Mohanty, and Debabrata DasMohapatra. I apologize if I have failed to mention any of the names.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Cricket: A step into my Dad's shoes...

As far as I can remember, I have always loved to play the game of cricket - like anybody else from my generation. During childhood, most of my afternoons were dedicated to playing the Game at Sahadevkhuta (several venues). We had some simple rules. We first divided players (any number more than 6 was considered good attendance) into two teams. Both the teams had to field for both the innings consisting of 6 to 8 overs. There was a ceremonial toss of the coin and there you go.

My first big opportunity, which I failed to capitalize on, in the Game came when I was in my intermediate. The opportunity was to become a part of the Fakir Mohan Junior College Cricket Team. And as always, I was fighting against the odds. First, I didn't have a sports shoe - in fact I didn't have a shoe in any form or shape. I had no track suit or the white pants that players used to wear. Second, like any typical Indian family, my folks were against me following any sport. But, I desperately wanted to be part of the team as it would have given me access to play with leather balls (normally, we used to play with cheaper cork balls) and also use some decent cricket equipment - like pads, gloves, thigh pad, and helmet etc. For the experience bit, it would have been great.

Although, I was in a tough spot, I didn't want to give up without a fight. I soon figured out that there was an extra pair of old shoes at home. The pair belonged to my father and was two sizes more than what I would have liked. On top of it, the shoe was kind of a slip on without any laces. I filled the top part of the shoe with some papers and could manage to wear it without too many issues. I had to also keep my escapade secret as the ramification of my parents and elder brother coming to know about my adventure would have been worse than the shoe.

And on the first of day of the trials I faced another challenge. I was told by some “sure shots” that the shoe I wore was not meant for cricket and that I should wear a proper sports shoe. I was able to convince them by saying that I was in the process of buying one. On the first day of the trials, I bowled well (I was a decent off spinner) and could guess that I will find a place in the top 15 if not the playing eleven. However, little did I know that that fateful afternoon, by elder brother had spotted me participating in the selection trials.

So, when I came back home, I was told by my brother that I had to stop going for the cricket trials. The secret was now out and there was no point in me being a rebel in this case. But, I did like the feeling of stepping into my father's shoes. Literally, in this case.

Friday, December 03, 2010

To Gouranga Sir, With Love...

Early into my high school at Balaosre (Orissa), I was confident that I was bad at numbers. For me, permutations were more important than mere calculations which have a definite end. Permutations had infinite possibilities that I could use while interpreting a literary text. And that is where I owe it to Gouranga sir who gave me the freedom to interpret.

When I passed my Class VII board exams from Balasore Zilla School, I had the option to choose my English teacher for private tuitions. To either choose Chakradhara Sir, the most popular English teacher of our district, who ensured that his pupils get good marks in the exams, or Gouranga Sir who was sort of an all rounder from the old school who apart form being an English teacher, was also a practicing homeopathic doctor, and a farmer. They were both teachers in my school and were totally different in their approaches to life and education.

Gouranga Sir always wore a dhoti and walked bare feet, while his modern counterpart Chakradhara Sir loved to watch Hollywood action movies in his free time and wore formals. Gouranga sir looked similar to former prime minister Chandrasekhar in his stubble, while Chakradhara Sir always came to school clean shaven. But I must agree that while Chakradhara Sir “taught” me grammar at school, Gouranga Sir helped me “learn” the language.

Gouranga Sir’s methods of teaching English were both interesting and erratic. I remember those chilly winter mornings when I would go his place for tuitions while sir would be doing his daily puja. He would make me wait for five to ten minutes before starting his lectures with the distribution of prasad (offerings). The beauty of his style was that he had no style.

Some days he would just ask me to translate some Oriya text into English and on some other occasions; he will just give me an old question paper used in competitive exams to solve. I could never understand why sir gave me question papers from competitive exams (Railway, Banking, and PSC etc.) when I was just in Class VIII/IX/X. And that too without teaching me grammar or even lessons from my school text books which help me get better marks. But over a period of time as I started solving these complex questions applying my own logic and understanding, it became clear to me that Sir wanted me to figure out the language myself. He gave me the freedom to learn right things in my own way.

Some days, sir would even teach mathematics right in the middle of the English tuitions just to break the monotony. And some other days he would just ask me to help him in his household chore without teaching a thing.

But, when I look back, I see teaching everywhere. He taught me about breaking the pattern and keeping things simple. He taught me the fact that if you feel like reading something read it – it does not matter if it fetches you marks or not. He taught me the value of interpretations and exploring permutations rather than mere calculations. Sir, I have not heard about you since many years, but you are in my prayers and heart.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My first unsuccessful job application

This incident dates back to 1993. The year I passed out from school. I was like any other normal 14-year old who thought he was grown up enough to take his own decisions. And since I had got the bare minimum to apply for any government job, I was convinced it was time for me to start the search. So, the hunt began for a job and not the dream job. In those days, getting a job was a dream.

I used to daily cycle to the district court compound (known as kacheri at Balasore, my home town in Orissa) and visit the vendors who used to make a living out of selling forms and envelops for government jobs in Railways, Army, Public Service Commission and Public Sector Banks. Although, jobs for matriculates were not many, I found one which was for "Drivers in Indian Army." I read the eligibility criteria and found that apart from the age, I was 14 years old, I had all other qualifications. I bought the form with the faint hope that "the authorities might relax the minimum age criterion in case of brilliant candidates like me."

When I was filling the application form at home, my father came to know about it and instead of scolding me for my "lofty" ambitions, he encouraged me to fill the application form and send it before the deadline. I managed to successfully post the application in time. And then began the long wait for a favorable outcome which never happened. I was upset but not for long as I got busy with my college admissions.

Now when I look back, I thank my father for having the foresight to teach a important few lessons so early in my life. Through this incident I learnt to fill job applications. He could have always told me that such a job was not for me, but by not doing so he taught me the value of a job - rather any job.

For some, failure is the pillar of success. For me, any failure is a window to have another go at what you aspire for. And for my father, however, my aspirations for the nonsense always made some sense. And I realize all this now when I can see the pattern.