Monday, June 29, 2009

Some things just can't be explained

"So there are these good robots and bad robots living on a planet."

And here I started smirking.

"Stop laughing! It's not that bad a movie."

"Oh sorry. No I am still listening. Go on...So the good and bad robots are living on the same planet?", I said.

"Yes."

"Ok. So what happens?."

"Apart from the robots, there is this cube of energy."

"A cube of energy?" I interrupted.

"Yes! A cube of energy."

"Ok. Just confirming..." To keep the conversation flowing, I smiled within.

"So the cube of energy lands on Earth. And the good robots follow it and land on earth to protect it. They are disguised as cars."

"As cars? Why cars?"

"Because they can transform into such stuff. That's why they are called Transformers.."

"Oh! The good robots are called Transformers?"

"No they are all Transformers. The good robots are called Opus Prime. And the bad ones are called ...I forgot...Magnet something.."

"Like...Magnetron?" I suggested.

"Yes, something like that. Let's call them Magnetron. So the bad robots Magnetrons also land up on Earth to steal the cube of energy."

"Are the bad robots disguised too?"

"No."

"No disguise? Not even like buildings?"

"No."

"But if they wanted, they could transform into buildings?"

"Yes, probably."

"Ok. Go ahead."

"So then there is a battle between the Opus Prime and the Magnetrons. The US army is also involved in a way."

I assumed the army was fighting from the good robot's side and hence didn't pose the question.

"Then the leader of the good robots slams the cube of energy into the heart of the magnetron leader. The cube breaks and the bad robot leader falls to the bottom of the ocean."

"That's the story?"

"No, this was just Transformers1. I haven't even started the sequel story yet..."

I take a few seconds to absorb the Magnum Opus plot.

"Before the story, there is some more funda about the Cube of Energy."

"Ok. Go ahead", I said, mentally preparing myself.

"The cube is powered by a Sun Harvester, where all the energy comes from for the cube."

"A Sun Harvester ?"

"Yes. Then there is also a key to the Sun Harvester, called The Matrix...."

And then, at that specific moment, I gave up.

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Related movie trashing: D-War: The Rebirth of Legend

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

After you m'lady

Our office lobby has six working lifts and the general courteous behaviour here is not to stuff your elbows into other people's guts in the quest to be the last guy in. Usually, even when it is half-full, people stay put politely and wait for the next lift. As an Indian, I think this is very unusual, but I've eventually got used to it.

Today Mallika and I reached Novena on the same bus and were walking up the escalator and through the mall corridors to reach the office lobby. As we got off the escalator, I saw my ex-boss trailing by around ten feet and greeted him with a formal eyebrow raise.

As we approached the lift lobby, from the distance I saw the nearer lift door open and just a few people slowly trudging in. Oh sweet lord there is a special joy in winning races like these! And hence I had an unbearable itch (not that kind) to make it in time. Of course, it would have to be orchestrated in tandem with Mallika (or so I thought...).

We were 5 feet away from the lift. That's when I felt Mallika was taking steps a little faster. Could it be? Did she share my disposition? Would we be able to make it to the blessed lift? I added that bit of extra pace too. The Up Arrow blinked brightly. And like an early morning moth I propelled myself towards it, just a step behind Mallika. Even through a painfully acute angle, I sensed there was space in the lift. Finally, two feet away, trashing six months of discipline, courtesy and people skills, I leaped into the lift, swiveled, waiting for Mallika to step in. Evidently she had no plans of doing so. And so we held our places.

As the lift doors closed, I assume she was giving an understanding look (knowing my inept nature); I wouldn't know because I was not looking at her, but my ex-boss. He was standing flabbergasted, right opposite the lift, with a smirk conveying a dozen emotions (I think you can guess a few). Just before the doors shut, he grinned and said, 'Wow Arvind...how very courteous..'

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Related post by Suhaib: After you m'lady

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Grace: A Guide to making a good first impression

Any management veteran will tell you that as you walk into a room with new people, it is important to crack that first impression. It is also a much proven and repeated fact that 93% of communication happens through body language - a solid amalgamation of eye contact, handshakes and grace.

This Tuesday's agency meeting was my first one on this brand. As I walked in early, I saw three agency reps in the room, new faces for me. From my brief exposure to the corporate lifestyle here at P&G, I knew self-introduction was useful and expected as well.

My colleague Lipi was already seated, nibbling gracefully at a pastry (remember the body language tip?) and sipping her drink. The agency folks, curious about the new face in the room, looked at me and smiled. Hence I smiled back at them, sliding the laptop on the table next to Lipi. As I did that, Lipi's styrofoam cup, so solidly resting on the table by the weight of the water in it, got tipped over.

I watched the water, glistening under the bright fluorescent lights, meander gently towards a cavity full of plug points. As it evoked images of sparks and short-circuits, another doubt popped in my head. Should I forgo my original plans of strong handshakes and cheerful eye contact? The answer was clearly no.

So I proceeded with the self-introduction, devoting one-tenth of my attention to the water spillage. After all, a fire hazard would have been quite unpleasant for the whole meeting. The agency folks, polite sparkling people as they are, appeared quite concerned about the water and one fumbled inside her purse for tissues. "Oh don't worry, Lipi will take care of it" I said; and with the same bounding confidence shook hands and absorbed each person's name.

During this time Lipi rushed out, appearing soon with a crumpled bunch of tissues in her hand. Deftly, she planted them over the major blobs of water. Defeated by Lipi's fortitude, the water hid inside a million tissue pores. The tissue, serving its ephemeral purpose of existence, extinguished and turned limp. It was all quite fascinating to watch.

Exhausted with Lipi's efforts and straining to remember three new names, I sighed and sat down, pushing the laptop away to rest my elbows.

It was at this moment that I happened to tip over the water cup, again. Given, it did not possess copious amounts of liquid like before, thus lacking its former potential for causing sparking damage. But nonetheless, it served its symbolic purpose of sparking chaos.

Lipi glowered at me. Thankfully, in her panicked state a minute ago, she had managed to bring in some extra tissues. I admit, that this time I could have taken over the cleaning act. But as she had done such a splendid job of cleaning up the first mess, I thought it was worth observing all over again.

So I sat besides Lipi as she gracefully wiped the table. I chose to give determined nods of appreciation. After all, such social mis-etiquettes, messing up everyone's time and table, can be quite embarrassing. A bit of encouragement is always helpful in these situations. And I must admit she handled it with utmost poise.

The meeting went off fine. We discussed, we debated and then went back to our normal work. In the end I found it heartening that apart from our business acumen, the agency also saw a fine display of teamwork, a can do attitude with a sprinkling of 'no crying over spilt water' values.

Like I said, it's all about the eye contact, strong handshakes, and of course, grace.

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Found this to be useful? Here are some previous guides:
Rubik's Cube: A Guide to not appearing Stupid
A Guide to Girlie Shopping (by a guy)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Living the moment

At 12am today, as we sat satisfied after smearing delicious vanilla cake on birthday girl Chetna's hair, we began a new standard ritual of birthday questions. A spirited discussion about 'The Best Birthday Ever' did not materialize, as Chetna got increasingly disheartened by the quality of our interrogation. Regardless, we continued to annoy her. I too began my own independent thread of thought on what was my best birthday.

It just took a second to pick one. 9th grade. A good selection of gifts from friends which were promptly torn open and inserted in the music system. A barrage of new 90s music of Backstreet Boys and Ricky Martin for the party! Lots of dancing. Snacks. Some more dancing, followed up a standard Army party cuisine of samosas and chips. A 'return gift' for each guest and a huge exit procedure of Thank you Uncles, Thank you Aunties.

A note to my early 80's born Indian friends - admit it! You did listen to and enjoyed Backstreet Boys/Boyzone. You may jeer at their saccharine and boy-bandish videos now. But when you were first exposed to their songs in 90s, you were no doubt awestruck!

It first seemed odd to me that birthday celebrations in ensuing years did not translate into a coherent narrative in my head even after a lot of effort - though I had a lot more pictures of the same.

While we are growing increasingly hasty in clicking a torrent of pictures for every experience, the number of pictures you have for an event is probably no indicator of its worth in your life. Nevertheless, having sufficient batches of pictures has become the basic criterion for validating an activity. "Arre...photo nahi kheechi kya??"

This phenomenon is happening because of two technological transformations 1. Digital cameras and mobile phones, with seemingly infinite capacity for content 2. Platforms like Orkut and Facebook for you to share and respond to other people's content. And this is further fueled by a growing number of people contributing to online 'shared narratives'.

Experiences now are measured brutally from their facebook-worthiness. You make a trip with friends, you want every activity captured on camera. You see a beach and a mesmerizing sunset, you feel a stronger urge to show your back to the mellow sun and get a picture clicked rather than sit and enjoy its enchanting plunge into the sea. As Renny Gleeson eloquently says in this TED video, through technology our social world is changing 'where the experience we're having right now is less interesting than what we'll tweet about it later.'

This moves away from the main topic, and I may be incurring some curses here. But girls seem to have this tendency a lot more than the guys. I first ascribed it to a teenage overdrive of self indulgence. But the strain persists through later phases too. A typical girly-girl album would have definitely have pictures like this - a picture template for 'me doing fun cuddly stuff' which thankfully hasn't percolated into manly-man albums!
We are constantly a distraction to our own present. We experience, we click with an aim to post it later. After the initial joy of discovering an online footprint abates, our highs come from a splattering of responses from our online friends - and pictures form the easiest medium to create this narrative. We live life hoping to paint a better version of it online.

I am skeptical if we will go back to living a moment for the moment itself.

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You might also like to read:
A piece on the 1980s generation: 1980--85
A comparison of childhood vs. present life: The Song Remains the Same