Friday, October 31, 2014

A BLISS OF IVORY THROUGH THE GREENERY




You will spot this beautiful edifice on the Nungambakkam High Road in Chennai. But, you have to take time, stand near the gate and view through the trees, to get this feel :)



The best thing is the feel, that angels are really around the church. Spot them there with their wings up? And also the beautiful glass painting of the Lord in the centre.

NATURE'S SUBTLE WORK OF ART AMIDST THE WORLD AROUND IT



Years back, in the 80s, I remember seeing the black and white art movies on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the television. We did not have television at home and I would go to our neighbour's house for the same. The screen play would be so slow. For example, one would see a character walk an entire long road with just the caw of a crow accompanying as a sound in that scene. At a shop, another character would be smoking and you would sometimes see him smoke the entire cigarette. In scenes where a poor girl has lost her virginity to a cruel man, famous movie directors would after showing the struggle of the woman, show a barren tree and then fill it with sad violin music. And so, whenever I saw a barren tree I would always associate it with something extremely sad or with some extreme tragedy where someone has been robbed or stripped of something.



But, towards the later part of my life, the same images started giving me a different impression. They portrayed some form of resilience in times of adversity. Seeing a bare tree in the midst of the world around it, be it a busy urban area or the calm stretches of greenery, though without its beautiful leaves, it still brings out its own unique beauty in its bare state. It's like the tree is still smiling and giving its best to keep us happy with the portrayal of its unique image, still tenaciously holding on, while the world around is trying to subdue its image.

I have tried being so, but I have found it very difficult. Adversity shows up as tension, peevishness and anger on my face, even though I manage to bring out some humourous talk while being so. I adore the people who are able to remain calm and keep smiling in these times.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

EXTRACTS FROM THE SPEECH PREPARED FOR MY DAUGHTER: TOPIC - ZEROING IN ON A CAREER

Every student dreams of a professional journey of very high satisfaction and is equally wary about getting into anything else. The one question that always comes up into the mind of a student, is about the career that he would finally want to pursue. That is because, as a single category of activity in our life, it is our career that is going to take up most of our time. And so, a good career can take us to very high levels of professional and emotional satisfaction. Sometimes a student takes up a career because his parents dream of seeing him in a particular position of power, in that career. And after the student takes up that career, many times he or she would find the career engine losing its steam, after a journey of a few years. Only very few hit the success path in this route.

Several years back, very few dared to explore beyond the thresholds of the traditional career choices like Engineering, Medicine, Top Management, the glamourous Civil Services or Chartered Accountancy. In fact to get a good bride or a good groom, one had to be into one of these careers. Although India is seeing a huge wave of change today, these traditional choices still dominate the marriage markets in many places in the country. Over the last decade, our conservative middle class have started opening up to choices like hotel management and fashion. A career with Indian Armed Forces is of course even today something that is taken up after lots of rumination, as there are lot of challenges for the family life in such a career.

Some times a career choice is largely influenced by a business that has been run by the family across generations and it becomes a matter of prestige for the next generation to take up the reins. So here, students go through a forced choice, curtailing their probable opportunities to exhibit capabilities in another field that they would have otherwise been a part of.

Parents have a big role in helping the child in zeroing in on a choice. Many times they could help in a big way by not taking emotional and subjective decisions, but by being very objective, keeping in mind what the child is really passionate about. Sometimes children are influenced by fancy ideas and these could influence their choices too. Parents need to spend time and if possible get them to talk to people working in different fields, so as to understand the pros and cons before making a choice.

Spending a short period, like for e.g. a self driven micro internship during a holiday period can help the student to get a feel of the processes and procedures of an engineering firm, a hospital, an accounting firm or even a few days at the office of a top management executive or a civil services bureaucrat. It will prove to be a good foundation for the career decisions that are made, as the student would get a feel at a very high level, as to whether the profession would suit his interest and temperament, These aspects cannot be decided by just reading a subject in depth or by scoring high marks in a subject.


A career well chosen, will be soaked with so much passion and that will certainly put the student on a fast track towards success, not just in material terms, but by also taking him through a professional journey of lasting satisfaction and fulfilment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

MY ENCOUNTER WITH MACHINES

I remember the first week while I was into college. Mechanical Engineering was not a subject I got into after a lot of dreaming and planning, but something I got after a long wait and little to choose from. Since I was called from a waiting list, I happened to miss out on a few classes, not that my being part of those classes would have made any difference. And while I stood there in the machine shop for the practical class, I think my brain almost stopped all its processing. I was given a piece of metal and asked to machine a small cylindrical peg using a lathe. After my encounter with a cycle, the lathe was the next big machine that I had encountered.


With a cycle I had taken real time and went through some bizarre encounters. While into the monkey pedalling stage, I had ran the cycle right through the legs of a lady flower vendor and earned her vituperous wrath. And when I got promoted to the full pedalling stage, I had knocked a fish vendor and his entire basket of fishes, while driving on a road adjacent to a railway station heading for school. I escaped without earning his retaliation. In another incident, I had a perpendicular collision with another elderly cyclist and the impact was so much that I broke his pedal. But, I think what startled him more was the impact it had on me, as I broke down and started crying loudly and ran home. But my father came down along with me and got the cycle repaired. And that very moment he got me back onto my cycle and asked me to continue. I continued and then rode that cycle for several years. Although there were these initial alarming hurdles, I was able to transcend these eventually and loved cycling.

And while I stood there gaping at the lathe, I saw my classmate Sarkar, very deftly work on the lathe in such unbelievable swiftness as he moved about with the speed of a rat. I was doubly sure I would not be able to reach that level, even if I was given the same number of classes that he had been given. But I was sure, I would be able to do it, if I was given more time. But unfortunately, we never get extra practical classes to practice our skills in the lab, especially in a machine shop. Given the time, I would have persisted and dominated it. 

Once I got into a job, all at home talked about buying the first motorcycle. Although there were 100CCs already then, I was fascinated with the Yezdi and shared this fascination with one of my cousins. He had that flair for bikes I think although he did not have a license that time. When I was at Kerala for a holiday and one of our relatives had came home on an Yezdi, my cousin quickly spoke to him and got the bike and then, exhorted me to start driving it right away. I was already a diffident guy and also one who was extremely wary at taking risks and he was the exact opposite of it. But since he kept nudging me in front of so many relatives, I relented. He briefed me on how to ride and I don't know how much of that registered inside me. The road in front of our native home had paddy fields on both sides for about 50 metres. I remember my cousin starting the bike, setting the gears and getting the bike to move.

The vehicle went ahead and my right hand got clasped on to the accelerator. I could barely sense what was whizzing past me. I remember my cousin helping me take a curve and letting a transport bus pass by from the opposite side. And then came a road which had bushes on either side beyond which again lay the paddy fields. My eyes were already full and I could not judge the road, but I had to move on. We were already at high speed as the only thing I was doing as a reaction to getting tense, was accelerating more and more. I remember him shouting "Brake, Brake. You have to take this turn. Slow down." I don't know what I did, and the next scene was that both of us along with the bike, plummeted right through the bushes at the curve. Lucky for us, that some low running tree branch held us back and that way we did not end up falling into the paddy fields. There were some good bruises then and now, these lasting memories. But after that thrilling take off and two more accidents, through which I sailed through safely, I enjoyed driving the Yezdi for a long time.

The next encounter was with a car and the very sight of it gave me creeps. While into my driving classes in India, although the instructor had his own set of controls, I was so scared that I lost track of what I was doing. The first vehicle that came across while I took off on a car the first time, was a huge truck and I don't know how I went past it. The car moved I think with divine intervention and finally landed up amidst a number of water lorries at the Kilpauk water tank, which is the water treatment centre at Chennai city. And as I struggled to move out of that place, the instructor kept prodding and shouting at me as though I was one of those galley slaves of Rome. It was only at the end of the class I understood, why he meted out a harsh treatment for me while he treated the others like dear children often addressing them "Son","Little Brother" and so on. This was because they gave him pocket money at the end of every day's session. I obtained my Indian license but was never confident enough to drive alone.

Even after we bought a car, years later, I always ventured out with someone on my side. The real challenge opened up in Seattle U.S.A, in 2006 when I ventured for a license. All my friends got their license spending little or no money for driving lessons. But out of sheer apprehension, I took up many driving lessons and spent a lot of money. I had to attempt twice to get the license. The first attempt had to be aborted as soon as it started, as I made a dangerous action and that was the switching on of my left indicator, for taking a left turn, while I stood on the lane heading straight and did not take the left turn lane. And while getting back to the driving school that day, I hit the pavement once. My parallel parking attempt also saw the car finally land up at an angle of sixty degrees to the cars on the road. I was successful on my second attempt months later, although while on my way to the driving license examination centre, my driving instructor saved my life by timely jamming the parallel brakes, while a large truck sped past me like lighting in the opposite direction from downhill when I was about to take a left turn. I had missed out pausing for the main road traffic.

Years have slipped by and today, I am enjoying car driving. I envy the guys who have a flair for machines and their ability to tame them on the first go.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

MEMORIES OF MY FIRST SUPERIOR

The first sight of the factory from outside the gate was stunning and beautiful. Three buildings that were three different companies of the same organization stood close to each other and each looked like a master piece in civil engineering. Lush green lawns filled with flowers in full bloom, adorned the areas surrounding each of these buildings. Many times a new recruit gets so overwhelmed with the sheer grandeur of these types in a large organization and would never know the imminent political undercurrents that would soon engulf him. It was the same with me too. It was my first job and my father had come with me on the first day and waited outside till I disappeared through the entrance to the factory reception area. He was proud as would have been the case with any parent, as he could always hold his head high in his social circle and tell his friends and relatives that his son was with one of the biggest engineering giants in India.




It took about a week for the orientation to slip by and then I met my first superior. I looked at him like I looked at my teacher, with so much reverence and awe. I was already given the role of a shift supervisor along with a senior supervisor. Before my boss stepped into the bay every day, he would bend and touch the ground first and then his forehead as a mark of worship. I liked it and I also started putting the cross before I stepped into the bay. Sometimes it’s funny that we tend to learn many things from our first superior. I liked the way he walked around the bay with his hands behind his back like an army officer.

When he found some time he would tell me that he would spend some time with me to teach me CNC programming and he led me to a few manuals related to the same. I think due the busy schedules that he go into later, we never really got a chance to sit down. The manuals were soporific to be frank and I really battled with it in my night shifts, trying to get something out of it and all attempts turned out futile.  Each time I saw my boss go past me I always had this feeling he would ask me about what I have done in CNC programming and I really could not do much. But a few days later, I found a friendly worker Freddy Cunningham who took me up the CNC horizontal boring machine and gave me a good introduction to CNC programming with all the practical nuances. And with that I really took off well.

But although we saw each other many times, my boss never asked me what I was into or what I had learnt. We smiled when I wished him each morning and his smile would reveal his grayish yellow teeth dressed with the betel that he was constantly chewing. He was bald and very beautifully kept the few hairs that remained on the central part of his head well set. On some days especially when the workers showed extreme dissent, and things were beyond his control, I could see him sitting alone in his cabin with his hair ruffled and his composure all gone. I would be sitting just outside his cube in the department room and the muffled hum of the machines and cranes would still be heard through the closed door.  The smell of coolant from used waste cloth and that of tools and inserts that lay around would be all over the room. There were two glass panes for his cube through which people from outside could see him.  All the supervisors would be out in the bay and I could see my boss sometimes sit just gazing and allowing his thoughts to drift through his mind. Having been there by then for a few weeks, I had also got to hear the political scene out there and what my boss was going through. This face of my boss, that face of helplessness in the middle of extreme tension and pressure, had and still does have a great impact on me. This is what makes me unconsciously run away from political scenes anywhere.

Our CEO would walk through the factory bays on a few days in a week. No one knew when he would do that. But the moment he stepped into the bay, there would be people who would quickly send signals to all the supervisors and managers and the whole place would assume theatrical dimensions.  My boss would rush to the latest horizontal boring machine that had been procured just months back and which was the cynosure of the top leadership. He would then join the workman on the carriage and go up in it at about twenty feet and be there in the pretext of having extreme focus of the machining that was in progress. 

Once the CEO left, my boss would leave the place as though the Scene 1 of Act 1 was over with no emotions attached to what went by.  I did not like this facet of my boss. A lot of supervisors in that bay copied this behaviour and joined the boss with their own theatrical performances. I saw one of them go under an iron casting that was lifted by a crane, to wipe the base and make it clean from coolant and metal chips. This was something that he could have done just standing besides the lifted casting, but he went underneath taking that risk of his life, in the desperation to portray extreme involvement when the CEO was around. During these times I would withdraw quietly and sit inside the department as I found it extremely difficult and embarrassing to put up a performance like this.

Twenty three years have gone by and I still am a misfit when it comes to performances of this type.  And on the contrary being too direct and open has also had its ramifications. May be there is a balance that I have to strike and I want to strike that soon. But I don’t know why, I still feel so much for my first boss and for all what he was going through. Many times there are thoughts like these that you can never take out of your mind.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

MY FIRST ATTEMPT WITH ACRYLIC ON CANVAS

This painting you see is my first attempt with acrylic on canvas and it came out much better than what I expected. Drawing silhouettes is in one way a safe first step as you don't have to burn your head with the different shades that a painting of a landscape in broad daylight demands:))




I spent about 6 hours with the painting and that could be because I was doing it the first time. Prior to this I had spent about 2 hours sketching the camel, the tree branches, the mosque, the setting sun and the shrubs on the ground with a pencil after the background had dried up.

I had dabbled with Microsoft MS Paint and done a few paintings with the computer mouse. What you see below is a collective image of these.


I had also worked on some pencil sketches, some of which I have put into the older posts in this blog. I think I would have bought at least ten books on acrylic painting to understand the nuances of mixing and shading. I read a little of all these books, but never jumped into the actual activity as the various steps in that whole process still lay as obstacles in my mind. Some of them were the place where I would place the canvas and paint, the mixing of the colours, the different brushes that I should be using, the picture that I should start with first, how to do the basic sketching on the dried acrylic after the background was done and how to make changes in the sketch in case I wanted to.

I have seen my sister struggle with pencil sketching a year back and the outputs were never satisfactory. But somehow in the last few months that went by, she took up acrylic painting. I think 'took up' is a mild word. She rather 'jumped' into it. And although there was an initial period of struggle, I saw some beautiful paintings based on the Masaii tribe come out. I believe she was going through a difficult period after quitting her job to look after my father and when many people called up home and asked her about her career, it used to pile up as a mountain of pressure on her. But it was great to see that getting channelized in this creative way.

And so when I took up acrylic painting, most of the obstacles that were there in my mind, were already sorted out  and clear as I could see how my sister had gone about. She was with me when the brush with the first dip of paint hit the canvas and also right through the sketching and the editing of the sketch before the final painting. I was really surprised to know the several little things she had already learnt from her experiments and experience.

I think what held me back was the fear of failure and wanting to come out good in the very first attempt. That way I was only holding myself back with the fear to explore.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

ENJOYING YERCAUD FROM THE GRT SKY ROCCA

I think I spent atleast two weeks talking to people and  going through reviews on the internet with the help of my daughter. None of the reviews were that impressive except for that of GRT Sky Rocca and another homestay. We wanted something that had a view overlooking the valley from the mountain slope and the Sky Rocca Nature Trails Hotel gave that hundred percent.












The way the hotel has been designed and constructed on the mountain give us a simply unique and awesome experience. Cost was indeed a factor that kept me guessing whether to go ahead,  but I believe it was really worth it. My friends told me that there was nothing in Yercaud to go around and see and so I cut short the stay from three days to two days. I realized that most of the time would be spent inside the hotel and that way I wanted to have a good stay for the family. 










And all the little pleasures we discovered were truly serendipitous. The beautiful views from different spots in the hotel, monkeys playing on our balcony, the incessant chirps of different birds, the glass floors giving a breathtaking feel and much more came in as splendid surprises while we enjoyed that brief tryst with pristine nature.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

CARROT HALWA - IT'S WORTH A TRY

When my colleague brought carrot halwa to office last week, I had asked her on how to go about preparing it. It appeared to be much easier than what I thought it would be. There are very few things that makes an Indian working wife happier than when you get a cup of coffee ready for her when she gets back from work. And last Saturday I delighted her not just with a cup of coffee but also with carrot halwa.

It is pretty easy and for all those who are keen to experiment with some food making, here's a simple one to try and make a start. You could begin with a small quantity of five carrots. Shred it using a standard manual shredder.Pour five teaspoons of ghee into a pan. Grab ten to fifteen pieces of cashews and raisins and drop them into the pan. Saute them until they become light brown. Take them out and keep it aside. Now add the shredded carrot into the pan and fry it well, till the taste and smell of the raw vegetable disappears. Add milk to an extent such that it just covers the carrot. Add two tablespoons of sugar. The inherent sweetness of the carrot will add on. Keep the flame initially high when there is more liquid to evaporate and then bring it low.One thing what I noticed here is that the milk was taking real time to blend with the carrot and evaporate. It could probably be because carrot by itself has some inherent fluid.




Continue to mix the contents well especially when semi-solidification starts so that it does not get burnt at the bottom. Once the contents become semi-solid, drop in the fried cashews and raisins and mix well. The contents can then be taken off the stove. Serve it while it’s still a little hot. The original colour of the carrot will still remain.

I would be lying if I said that I was cool right through the exercise. Whenever I have been away from my family for long term work assignments, I have had to take up cooking. I believe I was able to do a good job, so much so that I was able to call individuals and families to my house at these locations and give them dinner. I have told this to my people at home several times and they always kept nudging me to do something so that they could see it with their own eyes :)) So it was but natural that I wanted this piece to come out well in the very first shot. Many times these little pressures in my life turn out to be funny.

My wife loved it and complimented me while also telling me that I can try out the regular side dishes for lunch and dinner too :-) My daughter too enjoyed it. Give it a try.

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