My Ten Top Moments of 2017

Life is about living. A small part of it is of course work, as we strive to enjoy the rest of it through the rewards it brings.  The sweet balance of life and work is yet to be achieved, but here’s looking back at ten moments which highlighted 2017, cherished with the slow pace that choices and Calcutta has brought.

1) TAUGHT DESIGN

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The work part, “You Can Sketch” is alive and kicking. While there are hiccups brought by after effects of demonetization, GST and other government induced disenablers; some moments were very special. In the beginning of the year itself, I was contacted by a young girl for advise on NIFT preparation. Yes, she did finally get through NIFT. Yes, she finally got subject she wanted.

2) DESIGNED A CREATIVITY TEST

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A biggest issue I face is the selection of students for my workshops. Many people who want to learn drawing for the first time are unsure where to start. To overcome this, I designed a tool to check the level and aptitude of various participants.

3) MENTORED ON COURSERA

It had been a while since I mentored last on Coursera, being one of the earliest teams of community teaching assistants on this very innovative concept. So, when I was invited to mentor on “Planet Earth & You” course offered by University of Illinois, I took the opportunity to participate in the new offering.

4) MANAGED AN EVENT

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If managing a group of 200 odd people is challenging, managing an all women group of 200 is even more so. Everything has to be perfect. While I was merely a treasurer of this all women support group, I soon found myself to be the quiz master, photographer and documenter for this monthly meet group. Poila Boisakh, is the New Year celebrated in Bengal, and was our theme reflecting in the backdrop, quiz questions, décor and also the dress code. I think I learned just enough to write a longish article on it by now!

5) HONED MY WRITING SKILLS

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Jeffry Archer was promoting his new book and T2, the local supplement of the English newspaper, The Telegraph, held a contest. The challenge was to write a story with a beginning, middle & end, in exactly 100 words. Not a word less. Not a word more. Out of 190 entries received, mine was one of the few chosen by their page editor to be featured on their page.

6) APPRECIATED ART

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Art & Calcutta go hand in hand. On one occasion of visiting an art gallery, hoping to pick up some of the famed art, I found myself the subject instead. I found myself observing a painting, on the front page of the daily, instead.

7) RODE A HORSE

How difficult can it be reaching the race course at 5:15 every morning in early spring? Not very. The air is fresh, it’s peaceful and add to that a like minded riding group and you are all set. The breeches were bought, so were the strong leather shoes and a stiff round riding cap. The trotting was not painful and a horse with a very human name, “ Mr Vijay Kumar” was allocated to me. It was a fine majestic horse with a shiny dark brown body and a tall countenance. After a week of getting accustomed to the horse, I decided to call it quits. The reason? The pain. Not to me, but to the horse? Each horse is held with a harness attached on their mouth, all the way to their teeth and to make the horse “obey” you need to pull the muzzle tight or loose as required. I don’t know whether the poor creature felt the pain, but I felt it every time I wanted to make it “obey” me. One day my instructor told me to whip the poor thing. I decided that it was the last day for me.

8) STAR GAZED

The year’s hyped astronomical event was the total solar eclipse seen after a gap of a century in America. In Calcutta we had an episode of a partial lunar eclipse.  I waited till 1 am to see the complete phenomena and tried to record it.

Then another star caught my eye one evening. Dusk had just descended on the quiet hazy evening. It blinked red, then green and appeared to give out flashes of light. Sirius is its name, the brightest star in our constellation. While my hand did shake to capture on manual mode, the colors it gives out are ethereal and almost unreal as if belonging to another dimension.

 9) THE EYE OF A ROYAL BENGAL TIGER

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The Royal Bengal tiger looked directly towards me. He was half hidden behind the leaves camouflaging his stripes. They are known to be man eaters. But I saw him from the safety of a partition wall, in the zoo. Alipore Zoo was built in the late 1800’s. He also shares the zoo with a white tiger. A lion and a leopard are the new occupants. Can sometimes hear them roaring at night. (I stay close to the zoo.)

10) TRIED DIFFERENT CUISINES   

 

Whether it is the bakers, the Mughlai cuisine or the seafood, in abundance you find it all in Calcutta. If I wasn’t online much of the time this year, I was probably eating some Biryani, the Victoria Vada or savouring an English Tea with thin sandwiches.

Looking forward to more feasts on the last year of the Calcutta exploration!

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Lady In The Deluge

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LADY IN THE DELUGE. (Mixed Media: Pen & Pastels)

There is something about Calcutta which brings out the need for creative expression. The rain clouds over the sky for over fours months a year. Many times it rains when the sun is shining. Dull, dreary, this perhaps explains the slow pace of everything including traffic. The last week across the globe has been about floods. Everywhere. Typhoon. Tornado. Bursts of rain in Mumbai yet again, and of-course in Calcutta too.

Who is the “Lady In The Deluge”?

She seems to be an urban lady, dressed for a party. Wearing a cold shoulder dress, tattered at one sleeve. Her oversized umbrella doesn’t help in this rain and a stream of water finds its way down her arm. She makes a futile effort to save her smartphone from the rain, bu doubt if it would be of much use. Same with her garments outlining her silhouette. Doesn’t help. The sound of her shoes clicking on the gravel gets muted. She is perhaps trying to find the way to her car.

Is that her car? The one that is submerged? What are those pieces of paper stuck under the wheel?

In the background a couple of friendly colleagues document their adventure.

An empty soda bottle bobs along silently, trying to find its purpose.

END

Planet Mirth

In the light of the controversial internal Google memo written by James Damore, here is a story, written strictly for amusement. The concept of gender issues was in my mind for a long time, what if women would behave in the way men do? What if the roles were reversed. Lets take a look at a life of such a man.

Once upon a time in a parallel universe, in galaxy far away, was a planet.

It wasn’t your ordinary planet. It was special. It was special because the dominating race were women.

The name of the planet was Mirth.

Every morning at day break, the men would wake up and make the breakfast and pack tiffin for the family. Then they would dress to leave for work. The kids would be dressed for school by the male member of the family. The patient father would lovingly pack their meals into their bags.

Sometimes their kind wives would leave them to the school & nearest train station in their family owned vehicle. If they got late by any reason, the male member would hire a cab and drop the kids off before reporting himself to his workplace, late.

He dreaded such days. His boss was usually a woman and he had to work in a team of many Alpha women. The last boss had been fired by the company for harassment and striving for a gender diverse workplace, the HR had recommended an Alpha woman to sort the mess created by the very feminine predecessor. His new boss believed in empathy and tolerance, but he knew that his excuse of not reaching to work on time would only be a reflection on his work ethic and perhaps lower his record.

With a sigh of relief to have reached the workplace on time today, he took the first few minutes to re-organise his desk and list out his tasks for the day. Almost covertly, he made a second list in his mind; milk, eggs, fruits…, notebook for daughter…

He glanced into the glass cabin ahead and could view his boss just entered.

He next saw the new receptionist walk into the boss’s room with her coffee and he could see them make a joke.

“Perks of being a woman!” he thought in his mind as he opened his emails for the day, taking his last breath of serene calmness. Left behind were the worries of home, children, fevers and colds; as he engrossed himself in this heavenly environment.

At noon, he spotted some movement in the foyer outside his window. His boss and a couple of sycophantic males from the office had stepped out for a smoke. Between puffs of nicotine, she was shouting at a remote working team member on her phone, hurling the choicest abuses. The phone call ended rather abruptly and the smokers continued their discussion about the cricket game in the evening.

He would have liked to go early and catch up the cricket game too, had it not been for the pending customer response sheets he had to enter into the system.

“Why couldn’t they automate the system?” He thought in his mind, knowing fully well at back of his mind that it would mean his position would be redundant.

His thought process was interrupted by the phone ringing.

“Honey, can you come to my office please?”

It was his boss. That’s strange.

He adjusted his clothes as he got up and proceeded to knock on the glass door.

He entered with a sweet smile into the ceiling-less room. Not even glass.

“We have a new position in the nearby town. We notice that you have been working hard, doing extra hours, even weekend if we need. It’s a management position. A new office that we are opening. Your work will be primarily liaison, a lot of travel.”

She gave a disarming smile as she asked, “Would you like to be recommended?”

He asked what the compensation would be.

“It would be pretty much be the same. Many people are looking at this position from the team itself. Many of them are very aggressive women. How interested would you be?”

“Well, can I think it over? As you know, my wife has a good job in this town and kids are also going to higher grade this year.”

“Okay. Is tomorrow morning enough time? Think about it, it would be good for your resume.”

“Sure. Thanks for considering me.”

As he left her cabin, he could feel the pierce of a nagging migraine about to set.

Hearing the door click back into position, Boss picked up the phone and dialled the HR with her well-manicured nails.

“I told the cute boy who sits outside my office about the position. I don’t think he would be interested. A married man. Can we give him some incentive to join?”

She listened on over the line in silence, her eyebrows moving upwards with every passing second.

“I know! I am trying to promote diversity here as well. If you don’t have enough funds, get some young unmarried man from a third world country. I’m giving him time till the morning to respond. He seemed desperate for a more challenging assignment.”

By five, he could see all the women in the office slowly depart one after another.

“To get ready for the game in the evening!” He thought in his mind.

By six, he was almost done with his entries for the day. He quickly wound up while messaging his wife if she could pick him on the way.

First message. Second message. She didn’t answer. Maybe she was driving already.

He quickly wore his overcoat as he stepped into the street outside. Some fog and dust from the cars. No policewoman was on the street today. Strange.

Remembering his errands, he thought, “Should I take the alley to the train station?”

This part of the town was known for its mugging gangs of women. They would move in groups of 5 to 6 in fast moving vans, snatching jewellery of other women, bags and wallets of unsuspecting men.

He wrapped his coat closer around himself and tiptoed into the dark narrow alley shortcut.

The stench was overpowering. In a corner next to the wall, a homeless women was relieving herself.

Looking straight ahead he walked on, faster and faster.

“I just have to reach that light post ahead”. He prayed to God in his mind as he heard someone whistling behind him.

He almost broke into a run and hit someone as he stepped into the connected street.

“Watch it, man!” said the policewoman.

He sighed a sigh of relief.

“What you doing crossing the alley? It was just a five minute walk around the block. You would be safer that way.”

“Sorry. Next time, I’d take that route.”

He quickly stepped down the subway towards the train station. Milk, Eggs, school homework, cooking, cleaning, dishes, discussion with wife about the job offer…

He felt as if his day had just begun.

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the post that got me over one million likes……

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Some people become coal miners. Others are born aristocrats with a silver spoon dangling so from their mouth, if it falls, is replaceable.

Look at the world. We have divided ourselves into nation states. Nation states whose boundaries are formed by the blood of other men, whose territories were annexed or our own which we fight to defend. Others, still are in the midst of fighting, fuelled by the generous doses of capitalist dreams. And finally some …… some still seeking their historic identities.

Do we really like to fight? What do we defend?

Humanity it appears, is on the edge.

Are we living how we intended to live?

With overloads of information and overdoses of media’s sensorial enrapture?

Sense, is a simple word. Sense may mean our human sensory organs. Sense may also mean our understanding in spite of them. Our Sensibility.

Animals also have sensory organs and instincts. We have sensory organs, but also sensibility.

Funny it is, we are slaves to our senses, not to our sensibility.

Each time we see that notification, a “like” we get, or a generous reply, it lifts us with enough dopamine for the minute. The minute over, we again check our status on our various sensory (social) media sites.

At the traffic signal, we take the time to answer our various communications, many of which can wait and many of which are not worthy of our time, but our giving it time, makes it worthy of us. At the same traffic signal, a teenager would pass nonchalantly with eyes fixed on a smart screen and ears tuned to the radio waves emitted by the sound signal on their smart device. Sometimes meeting with an accident mid road. Can we sense our worth now?

We take pictures not to keep memories by as a visual record keeping of our every minute of the lives. Sometimes we pose, and while posing dangerously, many also die. (selfie deaths)Then we exhibit these so called pictures on our sensory media sites and await the feeling of dopamine rush.

We wait. We wait.

The first like and we breathe a sigh of relief!

10 likes and some comments, we feel socially included.

100 likes, we feel socially honored.

1000 likes or more, we feel socially elevated. We revel in our sensory social position like demi – gods.

What have we become? A race of disconnected individuals? Our connection far greater to our devices than even to ourselves.

What does your sensibility say to you?

“Don’t do this…”

Doesn’t it?

That is proof enough of our being highest in the living hierarchy.

But, if it isn’t what you hear in your mind, I have no words left to describe you.

I shall not pose further questions to you, but continue my monologue.

The question itself is the crux. It’s the source of our identity. We base our identities on geographical areas, age, gender, profession, occupation or social and financial position. Our acceptance in those categories are crucial to our existence. Or so, it would seem.

Some time back, we were told that every human on earth has a unique set of fingerprints. Only suspected criminals were tested for fingerprints. Then our monitoring grew and we now have full biometric identities. India is trying to make the largest database of biometric identities of humans on this planet along with also very successfully increasing its real population to the largest in the world. I can’t own a phone connection (communicate) or a bank account (transact my savings for subsistence), if I haven’t shared these details with our nation state governance. Nor can I use an ISP to self-publish this article. (Share ideas)

What every marketer trying to sell us a frozen packaged preservative cocktail or a sugar laden drink, both of which our sensibility tells us isn’t right; revolves around our grouped identities called a “target set” or our forced grouping formed through these sensory inputs.

I go ahead and guzzle litres of fizzy carbonated drinks, thawing the chemical soups packaged for my “convenience” for the rush of mood elevating hormones released and which the “pretty” girl (usually) on TV alluded would make me a socially elevated demi god and a super mom.

We fail as humans and succumb to our senses.

Digital media wins. Over distance. Time. Social space. And us, the Humans.

Then we often make a mistake and offer the excuse,

“I, after all…… am human!”

 

PS: As you can see, I did not get any likes for this post. That was to engage you as an audience.

 

 

 

 

Visual Merchandising “on the go”

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The culture of India is diverse and we seem to thrive in the diversity. Every time you travel to a new state, city, town or even a lane; you would be thronged by a sellers with various wares. In some cases though, the quality could be questionable, but our ingenious sellers find ways to display, present and sell their wares.

Whether its a mobile shop “carried” from compartment to compartment of a local commuter train; or a pavement side display of something that would grab your attention, whether or not you require the products; your journey would be a moving canvas of color and variety.

Major audience? Women, naturally!

India and The Ipman factor

I like Burgers. I also like Mc Donalds, some American Soap operas, use Ms office and some Apple ithings and countless inventions of the western ( American) civilization.

Recently the summer heat has been keeping me mostly indoors and sometimes the modern invention of the television occupies the time. Two movies that I recently saw made me consider the factors that are present both in India and in the far eastern cultures such as HongKong and China, Japan.

Ipman2 was the movie about a martial arts grandmaster who is trying to set up his school in Hongkong. This was based in the mid 40’s when HongKong was under British colonial rule. The second movie was a romantic comedy set in Japan, about an American Girl who wanted to be a Ramen Chef.

I found beyond the characters and the story, some very interesting facts which felt so similar to our Indian values and beliefs.

We respect our culture and traditions at work and at home

There was an overwhelming sense of duty and obligation towards work, treating the workplace with reverence, respecting the employer’s decisions. It strongly resonated with how even a roadside cobbler in India cleans and prepares his workspace early morning. As he would worship his tools on vishvakarma day. Our values in Urban India may be hidden below a layer of western artifacts and clothes, but prod deeper and we have the same sensibilities as with the rest of the eastern region.

We are taught to have unflinching trust and respect for our parents and teachers

I don’t need to say more.

We like to live in families and have dinner together

The television, which the modern India mother uses as a supplementary aid to feed children at dinner time, could definitely never have been invented in India. We’ve always had larger families and plenty of social interaction compared to our counterparts in the frigid western world. Eating/living alone is something brought out of compulsion rather than choice.

We are modest and humble

“Conquer the world” is not something our texts teach us. It teaches us that we should conquer ourselves. We don’t brag about our accomplishments, unless of course our startup needs Silicon Valley funding. Our societies value those who are noble and humble inspite of great achievements.

We welcome other people to our homes

Traditionally we welcome people when they visit us. We let them into our territories and land as guests. We let them into our homes no matter how humble it may be or scare our resources be. We teach what others would like to learn without patenting our traditional techniques. And we never invented the gunpowder.

To think of it, do we really respect the Western culture? We do enjoy (consume) the comfort, perks, privileges, goods and services and variety it had brought. Once our current honeymoon with “wanting” things is over, our strategic partnership with those more attune to our value belief system would grow and that should be the right living for us.

Ironic but as it is, I write in this foreign language on this software designed in a western nation. So maybe, it’s not that bad after all.